“[Madame Blavatsky] also admired the fiction of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose oeuvre included the hollow earth romance The Coming Race (1871). Its hero wanders underground and contacts a race of superhumans who, through the use of wands, control ‘Vril,’ a mysterious energy akin to the life force. Vril could blast through rock or heal the sick. The Vril-ya, alternately of Atlantean or Aryan descent, were destined to emerge from underground and destroy and supplant human civilization. (The book later became a favorite of the Nazis.)”
–Fred Nadis, The Man From Mars
This post is about a comic-book adventure story that’s deeper than it looks on the surface. Puns only partly intended.
The story appeared in the August 1956 issue of Blackhawk comics, and it’s entitled “The Super Race.” The central action takes place in a network of underground caves called “Lemuria,” inhabited by a self-defined “super race” called the “deros.” Although dressed as spear-bearing, half-naked savages, these “deros” are in fact an advanced technological civilization, led by an unrepentant ex-Nazi general. They kidnap people into their caves, and use them as slave labor.
All too soon, they’ll emerge to conquer the world.
If you’ve been reading the past few posts on this blog, you’ll easily recognize themes from the “Shaver Mystery” of the late 1940s. The underground caves, and the names “Lemuria” and “deros,” are the giveaway. But the Shaver Mystery never mentioned any Nazi general. Where does he come from?
You can read the whole story on the wonderful website Comic Book Plus, and I’d encourage you to do just that. But I’ll start off with a summary of it nonetheless.
Actually, the story summarizes itself on a full-page panel at its beginning (reproduced just above):
“One would think that the insane theories of a ‘super’ race had been buried in 1945 in the ruins of Nazi Germany! But the Blackhawks, following the will-of-the-wisp trail of a vanished expedition in Madagascar, stumbled across a volcanic vestige of such madness in the strangest place! And not even on the face of the globe…but under it! Suddenly, unexpectedly, the intrepid Blackhawks found themselves propelled into a desperate struggle not only for their own lives, but for the fate of mankind, against…
THE SUPER RACE.”
(A didactic touch here–not quite expected in a comic book. We’ll see more of it as we go on.)
In the foreground of the panel Blackhawk, the American leader of the seven-man international team of “Blackhawks,” threatens to “blow you and your two-bit super-race to your two-bit Valhalla.” The French “Blackhawk” Andre, wearing a similar blue uniform, stands beside him, holding sticks of dynamite. The other “Blackhawks,” including the diminutive Chinese Chop Chop (no uniform) emerge from the right-hand cave in the background. The “deros” come running out of the left-hand cave.
The menacing figure with the monocle and the purple uniform … well, you surely don’t need to be told who he is.
As the story opens, the Blackhawks fly their jets to Madagascar in search of a mining engineering team that’s mysteriously disappeared. While still in the air, they see an appalling sight in a native village below them: a crowd of loincloth-wearing black primitives attacking a (very good-looking) white woman with rocks and spears, driving her out of the village. They land and wade into the native crowd with their fists.
“Sacre!” cries French Blackhawk Andre, who has a taste for pretty women, as they punch out the savages. “Ze nerve of treating la femme zis way!”
The woman turns out to be the wife of Jim Judson, leader of the missing mining team. The natives have been attacking her because she’s been trying to get them to help find her husband at the pyramid-shaped “forbidden mountain” where he and his team disappeared. They have a superstitious dread of that mountain, going back 2000 years. “Forbidden mountains destroy all who go there!” they cry.
But the native superstitions aren’t so crazy after all. Setting up camp with Mrs. Judson, the Blackhawks are attacked by what appear to be spear-carrying savages, but this time with white rather than black skins. All are taken prisoner. “Naturally!” crows one of these white “natives.” “Who can defeat a super-race? For 2,000 years we deros have been unbeatable!”
Yes, deros. Just like in the Shaver Mystery. Only here they’re not dwarfs, but strapping, muscular specimens of humanity.
“This is what we call ourselves! We live in Lemuria … a system of underground caves! We deros are the most brilliant, science-minded people living below or above the earth!”
Blackhawk: “Then why the spears and bow and arrows which are the mark of savages?”
“Savages? We? Fool! We merely dress this way in order to pass among the natives! One day the whole world will know us and fear us!”
For the past 2000 years, the leader of the “deros” tells Blackhawk, they’ve kidnapped people found wandering in the vicinity of their mountain and brought them as slaves into their “Lemurian” caves. That’s what happened to the Judson team. It’s what’s happening now to the Blackhawks.
The cave into which they’re brought is fully electrified, filled with amazing machines. (Shades of Shaver’s Lemuria.) There’s also a uniformed man who speaks with a German accent. “T-that face! That uniform!” exclaims the German Blackhawk Hendrickson. “I remember dot face from ten years ago! He vas vun of Hitler’s vorst generals! Von Kummel!”
Von Kummel explains: He fled Germany upon the fall of Berlin, and found in the deros “a race of people who shared my hatred of the world.” Now he and the deros are plotting to bore their caverns under all the important cities of the world, invade and conquer every nation.
They need the Blackhawks to bring them plutonium and cobalt. Blackhawk agrees to this. As he and Andre set forth with a guard of deros, Andre whispers to him: “I hope you do not intend to play into zere hands, Blackhawk! Zere is no way to appease zis super race mentality.” Blackhawk assures him: he’s only stalling for time. “Argument is useless with these characters.”
Once outside the cave, Blackhawk and Andre quickly overpower their guards. “Ze super race is not very superior right now, eh, Blackhawk?” says Andre as they bash the deros with those amazing fists of theirs, which is the closest thing the Blackhawks have to a super-power. To which Blackhawk responds: “They never were and never will be, Andre! Mostly because there are no super races!”
I told you it’d be didactic, didn’t I? Blackhawk and Andre return to the cave with sticks of dynamite. The dynamite is lit; the slaves are rescued. They escape with the Blackhawks just before a natural gas explosion blows the mountain apart, trapping Von Kummel and the deros inside. “Once again,” the narrator helpfully instructs us, “those who would dispense evil meet with a disaster of their own making!”
That’s the story–the “text,” as we academics were wont to say.
But the subtext? The rationale behind the didacticism? Behind the linking of Shaver’s “deros” and “Lemuria” with resurgent Nazism?
There’s a story there too, going back at least to 1871. I’ve hinted at it in my opening quotation from Ray Nadis. It’s an interesting story, but not very pleasant. I’ll talk about it next week.
by David Halperin
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