I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!
Welcome to another "Retro Review" edition of Longbox Junk!
Once again, I step outside of my usual bargain bin finds to take a closer look at a comic from my collection that might be considered more "valuable" than most of what I own and give the internet a classic comic review that NOBODY ever asked me for.
This time out, I think I've really outdone myself on the "Review that nobody ever asked me for" front, in that I believe that this will be the only review of this comic that has EVER been done. . .and I'll take a safe bet that there probably won't be another one.
I'm not exactly sure how rare this comic is. . .there's a few low grade copies for sale on the internet. . .but I had a bit of a hard time even finding out ANY information on the creative team, let alone any reviews of it. And even what information I could find was incomplete. I found out who painted the cover fairly easily, and one of what appears to be 3 contributing artists, but I can't even find a hint of who wrote this comic.
So sit back and enjoy a trip back to the Commie-Bashing days of 1952 as I take you through the one and only issue of Cloak and Dagger.
Ready? Let's do this!
CLOAK AND DAGGER #1
ZIFF - DAVIS (1952)
PENCILS: John Prentice & Unknown
COVER: Norman Saunders
So I basically bought this comic for its cover in a lot of "collector comics" at an estate sale auction last year. Got some nice Roy Rogers, Weird Science, and Four Color comics in the same lot (coming soon to a Retro Review near you!) 18 pre-code comics in very nice shape for $350. But it was THIS particular cover that made me bid on the lot in the first place, so let's talk about it for a moment.
I love EVERYTHING about this cover.
The fierce expression on the woman, the colors, the logo. . .the whole thing just screams "PULP" right in your face. Okay. . .I know. . .the hero is holding his pistol sorta funny. But other than that, this is the kind of cover that was made to catch the eye on a newsstand and it succeeds in a big way. Of course, it really has nothing to do with what's actually inside the comic, but that's how comics rolled in those days. Come to think of it, that's sorta how they still roll.
Moving along. . .let's get into the first story!
The Krosno Butcher is one of the two stories in this comic that can be attributed to artist John Prentice on pencils and inks. I was unable to find out who the writer is. The story goes like this:
Special Secret Service Agent Al Kennedy and his partner Casimir "Cass" Stryzinski (formerly of the Polish Underground) travel to Lima, Peru to investigate the brutal murder of an American businessman.
After speaking to the dead man's wife, the duo are pointed in the direction of a local wine merchant, but when they arrive at the merchant's shop, they discover that he has also been murdered. After Kennedy and Cass split up to try and find more information, Kennedy is attacked and brutally beaten by thugs telling him to forget the case and go home.
Despite his injuries, Kennedy stays on the trail but is ambushed a second time by the same thugs after a shifty taxi driver delivers him to their headquarters, where they beat him unconscious. Later he wakes up with his head in the lap of a beautiful woman named Tatyana, who introduces Kennedy to a one-armed man wearing a Nazi uniform named Major Martin Klempner.
Upon seeing Klempner, Kennedy flashes back to post-war Poland where he was in charge of the inquest of "The Krosno Butcher", who brutally murdered the entire population of a Polish village and escaped Kennedy's courtroom before judgement could be passed. . .none other than the same Major Klempner standing before him.
Klempner informs Kennedy that he is speaking to the New Fuehrer before ordering his thugs to take Kennedy down to the basement to die along with the wife of the murdered businessman who put Kennedy on his trail. . .but first, Klempner decides to tell Kennedy the full details of the scheme he's stumbled upon.
Barrels of guns are bought on the black market and stored in the basement of the murdered wine merchant's shop, waiting to be used by Klempner's troops on the day they take over Peru.
Fortunately for Kennedy (and the murdered businessman's wife), Klempner's villainous monologue is interrupted by the arrival of Casimir and the Police. After a short fight, Klempner makes a run for it, pursued by Kennedy, who shoots the filthy Nazi three times in the back with his own Luger. . .just like filthy Nazis deserve. All's well that ends well.
Okay. . .not a bad little story at all.
A little hardboiled detective action combined with a little Cold War spy action that establishes Al Kennedy as the type of no-nonsense guy who will shoot a filthy Nazi in the back if that's what he's got to do. I'm starting to like Al Kennedy more than I thought I would.
The art on this story was also pretty damn good. Nice clean lines with heavy inks. Even the faces of the bit players were well done and individual. If this comic stopped right here, I'd be satisfied with this small dose of well-drawn detective/spy/Nazi shootin' action. . .but there's more.
As you can see, Kismet obviously has a different artist than the first story. Unfortunately, I have no idea who that artist or the writer of this story might be. Looks like the same colorist, though. Here's how the story goes:
Special Secret Agent Al Kennedy and his trusted assistant Casimir "Cass" Stryzinski (formerly of the Polish Underground), are tasked with travelling to the Middle-Eastern nation of Caesarea in order to prevent an assassination of the King and uncover the conspiracy behind the attempts.
Upon arrival, they meet the King, his scantily-clad daughter (Princess Jasmin), and the scowling Minister of Justice (Cadi Hamid). Before they even have a chance to unpack their bags, the agents room is broken into and Cass's notebook detailing their investigation is stolen from their luggage. . .pretty much immediately blowing their cover.
Soon afterward, while exploring the city, Kennedy and Cass are fired on from a speeding car and they accidentally find themselves taking cover in the King's harem, which is forbidden. They are taken before the Minister of Justice and sentenced to death, but Princess Jasmin orders their lives be spared. Kennedy and Jasmin start making lusty eyes at each other while third wheel Cass is just glad to be alive.
Later, in the early hours of the morning, an assassin sneaks into Kennedy and Cass' room and falls for the old "stabbing the pillows under the blankets" trick and is captured and interrogated by the agents, who get him to spill the beans by threatening to stuff him into a pigskin suitcase and killing him wrapped in swine so he won't go to heaven. Better than waterboarding. Just sayin'. BUT I DIGRESS!
The assassin tells the agents that a holy place the King will be visiting that day is loaded with dynamite and rigged to explode, but before they can get the name of who's behind the plot, a second assassin shoots the first through the window and escapes. Cass tries to warn the King of the assassination plot, but discover that the King and Princess Jasmin have already left for the holy place.
Kennedy and Cass hustle to the Minister of Justice (who's in charge while the King is gone) and inform him of the plot. Hamid grabs a vehicle and the trio head out across the desert to try and catch the King before he arrives. Unfortunately, Hamid turns out to be the bad guy and surprise attacks Kennedy and Cass, leaving them to die in the middle of the desert.
Luckily for them, after wandering through the desert for a while, Princess Jasmin JUST HAPPENS to stumble across the stranded agents just as the vultures begin to circle. She'd conveniently headed back to find a bracelet she had lost. As Princess Jasmin and her guards rush to the holy place to protect her father, Cass runs in to disarm the bombs. Kennedy takes on Cadi Hamid in hand to hand combat as the Minister attacks the Princess.
After a short battle, the King and Princess are saved, the bomb is defused, and the plot is foiled. Unfortunately, Hamid escapes during the fight. Kennedy gets a kiss from the Princess and a bag of diamonds as a reward, and with a smooth "I wish I could stay baby -- But my work is over now." Kennedy is summoned back to Washington.
As they fly back home, Cass and Kennedy spot the body of Hamid in the desert getting eaten by vultures and solemnly agree that Moslem bastard got what he deserved.
Okay. . .not bad.
Not quite as good as the first story, but still not bad at all.
This one didn't have any of the hardboiled detective elements of the first story, but was all Spy action. I like that these stories are switching up the locations a lot. The first in Latin America, this one in the Middle East, so they are spreading around the mildly unconscious racism one expects from comics made in the 1950's equally.
To tell the truth, this story was pretty thin and the bits of unintentionally funny racism (with a bit of good old 50's misogyny thrown in) are the most entertaining parts of it. That and establishing Al Kennedy as not only the guy who'll shoot a filthy Nazi in the back when he has to, but also as a guy who'll threaten to stuff a "Moslem" into a pigskin suitcase.
Screw James Bond. THIS guy needs a movie!
As I noted at the start of this one. There's obviously a different artist. Unfortunately, even though it's not BAD, the art definitely takes a downward turn. In particular, this second artist doesn't have much of a sense of scale when it comes to vehicles. In a scene toward the end when Kennedy is ready to head home, the plane they are leaving in looks like a toy. The other vehicles as they cross the desert to rescue the King are also much too small for the human characters. The coloring is also REALLY slapdash on this story as well.
MOVING ALONG. . .
We come to a one page story. It looks like it MIGHT be John Prentice's work (based on the art in the first story and the one following this one), but I can't really be sure.
The story goes like this:
Well. . .it's not really a story. It's all right up there if you want to take a look. It's more of a Red Scare pamphlet using historic events as examples of how you shouldn't let the Commies scare you with their filthy mind warfare tactics.
I found it to be interesting and I will now continue to work at the factory, safe in the knowledge that those goddamn Reds can't keep ME from contributing to America's vital industries with their lies!
We have a two page text piece entitled "ARCH - SPY OF THE REVOLUTION".
There is no information I can find on who the writer is. It's a non-fiction tale of the American Revolution and Washington at Valley Forge trying unsuccessfully to get supplies from France through Benjamin Franklin. . .the problem being that the shipments kept getting intercepted and either captured or destroyed. The villain at hand being Franklin's own personal secretary, Edward Bancroft, who was a secret British agent that went undiscovered for almost 100 years.
The lesson of the story being that Secret Agents aren't always flashy adventurers, but can also be the unassuming clerk working in your factory office right under your nose every day.
The story was well written and interesting, and has renewed my efforts to be vigilant in reporting all suspected un-American activities to the proper authorities, no matter how insignificant they may seem.
This is the second story that can be attributed pretty solidly to John Prentice on pencils and inks. Once again, I have no clue as to who wrote or colored it. The story goes like this:
Special Secret Service Agent Al Kennedy and his trusty assistant Casimir "Cass" Stryzinski are sent undercover as a Soviet Commissar (Cass) and a renegade Frenchman (Kennedy) into Indo-China to prevent Viet Minh General Dow from attacking French forts and joining up with Chinese Communists. . .thus preventing a similar conflict to the one raging in Korea from happening.
After parachuting in, the agents quickly find General Dow's headquarters and convince him that they have been sent by Moscow as advisors and that Moscow will not take no for an answer. Reluctantly, General Dow agrees to bring the pair along on a raid.
At the targeted village, Dow demands all their food and the Village Head protests. He is beaten for his trouble and his son, Yap Rok, attacks and kills one of Dow's Lieutenants, escaping into the jungle afterwards. In retaliation, Dow orders the village burned and all the men shot. In order to preserve their cover, Cass and Kennedy are forced to stand by while the men are machine-gunned.
After the raid, General Dow invites Kennedy and Cass to his birthday party. Remembering that Yap Rok's father mentioned Yap was a baker, Kennedy decides to try to find him in the jungle as part of a plan he's concocted to assassinate General Dow.
Unfortunately, because the agents are wearing Soviet uniforms, Yap Rok ambushes them and it's only through the unlucky attack of a tiger on the villager that Kennedy and Cass have the chance to save him and let him know they are on the same side. Yap agrees to bake a cake that Kennedy will fill with explosives.
But on their return to camp, Kennedy and Cass are taken prisoner because a REAL Soviet advisor happened to show up and blew their cover. Fortunately, Yap Rok saw them being taken prisoner and brings them some explosives in order to escape.
Kennedy and Cass break into General Dow's headquarters and replace his birthday cake with the explosive-filled cake Yap Rok made, then sit back and watch the fireworks after that filthy Commie declares "We shall share the world as we share this cake!" and sets off the explosives.
Yap Rok's small band of anti-communist freedom fighters join up with some French Legionnaires to finish off the rest of General Dow's troops. Afterward, everyone eats the real cake, proving that when it comes to fighting the Commies you CAN have your cake and eat it too.
Okay. . .not the best of the bunch.
I'd say it's the bottom of the three main stories, but still not bad at all.
I found it to be a bit chilling to be reading the light-hearted adventures of America trying to prevent a war in Indo-China. . .Vietnam for those who don't watch the History Channel. . .in 1952, right in the middle of the Korean war.
The story itself wasn't great, but it was extremely interesting for me to see the tensions of the Cold War that eventually exploded into the Vietnam War being represented fairly realistically in a comic book.
PLUS we discover that Al Kennedy will not only shoot a Nazi in the back and threaten to stuff a "Moslem" into a pigskin suitcase, but he's ALSO the kind of guy who'll kill a Commie on his goddamn BIRTHDAY. Thank God America has sturdy men like Al Kennedy to watch over her!
AND FINALLY. . .
Another one pager. It looks like it was done by yet another artist, but it MIGHT be Prentice's work with someone else inking because it looks a bit different. No way to really be sure, though.
As you can see, it's a short tale taking place during WWI involving a Frenchman risking his life to gain information on a German ammo dump and getting that information to the French army.
I'm not sure if it's based on an actual event. . .an internet search didn't turn up any information on French wine merchant spies during WWI. . .but it's somewhat interesting and pretty well drawn.
I suspect this one was filler because there's not really an anti-Commie message except for the implied one of every citizen having a patriotic duty to work against their nation's enemies.
BUT WAIT. . .BONUS!
This isn't a story, but in the back of the book is what has to be one of the most "WTF?" ads I've ever seen printed in a comic.
According to the text, this is a book that not only tells the story of Leonardo Da Vinci but ALSO includes instructions on how to build an actual glider AND parachute.
"People laughed and said it couldn't be done but Leonardo went right ahead and built the wings and then carted them to a nearby high hill and took off. . ."
That's an actual quote as to what you're supposed to do with those instructions. And there's more!
"Yes you too can make a parachute out of cloth and string by just following Leonardo's drawing - no special tools or knack needed"
This ad is actually probably the BEST part of this whole comic. I read it and the only thing I can think is: As long as you weren't a Commie, the 1950's did not give a DAMN!
Well. . .THAT's one of the longest Retro Reviews I've written.
But I sort of feel that this comic deserves it because it's likely to be the only review that ever WILL be written of it. It seems to be a forgotten relic of its time that practically no information exists on.
Hopefully, this review will come up on searches and, by describing the stories inside, I will have added something to what's available when someone else comes across one of these comics and is interested in finding out a bit more.
It might be a small contribution, but as far as I can tell, nobody else has even bothered.
As for the comic itself. . .
I liked it. I've definitely read worse comics from the 50's. This one is pretty well-written and generally well illustrated. The coloring was pretty sloppy, but I'm finding that was a fairly common problem in comics from this time.
Truthfully, Cloak and Dagger is a relic of its time, and most of the interest I had in it came from that. It is like a sort of time capsule of the 1950's with its casual racism, xenophobia, paranoia and misogyny that went hand in hand with the Cold War. The normal of then seen through the lens of what is normal now is an extremely interesting thing to me.
I'd have to say that my favorite parts of this comic were probably the last main story because of the weird feeling it gave me as I read in an obscure comic book a story predicting the roots of the Vietnam war. It was just a strange thing to see history playing out in an unexpected way and place.
And then there's that ad in the back. What the hell, 1950's?
Now I want to build a goddamn glider.
Overall, this was a pretty good comic. Is it the best comic I've ever read? No, but it's nowhere close to being the worst. Once again, I'm glad that I decided to start doing these "Retro Reviews" because they give me an opportunity to learn a little more about the comics that I collect and also to pass along a little of what I learn to others.
In the case of Cloak and Dagger, I have the feeling that it was a fairly unique opportunity to present some information that has never really been seen before, and just for that, I'd have to say that this has been one of my favorite reviews to do.
Up Next. . .
Back to Longbox Junk business as usual with some more video game-based one shots.
Be there or be square!
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