(This is a continuation of last week’s post on the 1956 “Blackhawk” comic book story, “The Master Race.” It’ll be my last post until after Labor Day. I’m taking the month of August as a break from blogging. I’ll be back the week of September 1.)
“Venn der Fuehrer says ve iss de Master Race,
Ve Heil! [raspberry] Heil! [raspberry] right in der Fuehrer’s face.
Not to love der Fuehrer iss a great disgrace,
So ve Heil! [raspberry] Heil! [raspberry] right in der Fuehrer’s face.”
—Spike Jones, 1943 (followed by Donald Duck)
The Master Race, actually, is called Vril-ya, and it dwells beneath the surface of the earth. It’s featured in British author Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s enormously influential hollow-earth novel The Coming Race, published in 1871.
Bulwer-Lytton is mostly known today as a butt of ridicule. His name has been co-opted for an obnoxious contest, premised on the idea that his 1830 novel Paul Clifford has the most hilariously awful opening sentence of all time. (“It was a dark and stormy night …”) Actually, if you’ll read the beginning of Paul Clifford dispassionately, and bearing in mind that his Victorian audience was more tolerant of florid language than we are, I think you’ll find it isn’t half bad. You just have to cleanse your mind of any image of Snoopy pacing back and forth atop his doghouse.
In his own day, Bulwer-Lytton was wildly popular. In 1872, when a utopian novel called Erewhon was published anonymously, it sold well at first because people thought Bulwer-Lytton had written it as a sequel to The Coming Race. When the author turned out to be a nobody named Samuel Butler, sales fell off 90%. (So, at any rate, I learn from Wikipedia.)
The Coming Race, as religion scholar Jeffrey Kripal describes it, “is set in an underground kingdom of Egyptian columns and super-evolved beings, the Vril-ya, the coming race that is destined to supplant the human species on the surface. It features two protagonists: an Englishman, who has fallen into the underground world while exploring a mine, and his female Vril-ya savior and guide, a superwoman named Zee. The novel orbits around a mysterious electromagnetic-spiritual energy called vril (likely a contraction of virile), which is most potent in the feminine members of the Vril-ya.”
I gather from Kripal’s summary that Zee puts the moves on her guest from the surface, who “is warned what might well happen in ‘her amorous flame’: ‘if you yield, you will become a cinder.'” That’s vril for you.
You can already feel the echoes of Bulwer-Lytton’s Vril-ya in the underground “Lemuria” depicted in the 1956 “Blackhawk” story that I posted about last week. No Egyptian architecture, admittedly, and the ladies are noticeably (and unaccountably) absent: it’s an all-male world. But the idea of a super-technology, befitting a super-race, is there. “Sacre bleu!” cries the French “Blackhawk” Andre at the sight of the cave’s interior. “Look at zis place! Fully electrified! And zose machines! I-I’ve never seen equipment like zat!”
The Coming Race had impact far beyond the British Isles. The Theosophist Madame Blavatsky was influenced by it. So were certain Germans, in the years between the World Wars. The popular science writer Willy Ley, who fled Nazi Germany, wrote in 1947 an article called “Pseudoscience in Naziland.” In it he spoke of a group called the Wahrheitsgesellschaft, the “Society for Truth,” which “devoted its spare time looking for Vril. Yes, their convictions were founded upon Bulwer-Lytton’s ‘The Coming Race.” They knew that the book was fiction, Bulwer-Lytton had used that device in order to be able to tell the truth about this ‘power.'”
Whether this Wahrheitsgesellschaft had any real influence on the rise of Nazism is (according to scholar Joscelyn Godwin) more than doubtful. But vril turns up again, according to Godwin, in a nauseating piece of occultist Hitler-worship published in 1984 by Chilean diplomat Miguel Serrano (1917-2009). Hitler, hailed as the Tenth Avatar of the god Vishnu, supposedly escaped after the fall of Berlin through an underground passage into “the inner earth,” “an impregnable paradise, from which one can continue the war and win it.”
(“On the fall of Berlin,” the evil General Von Kummel boasts to the “Blackhawks,” “I fled Germany by plane! I ditched on the coast and made my way here,” to the underground caves.)
This theme, of Hitler alive and well somewhere underground, seems to be a staple of post-War Nazi revivalists. In the article “Hollow Earth and UFOs” in his marvelous UFO Encyclopedia, UFOlogist Jerome Clark describes a book published pseudonymously in 1976 by Canadian-German Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. The book is called UFOs–Nazi Secret Weapon? It claims, according to Clark, that “at the end of World War II Hitler and his Last Battalion were whisked away via submarine to Argentina and then established a base for advanced saucerlike aircraft inside the South Pole … the Nazis were ‘outer earth representatives of the “inner earth”‘–thus accounting for their racial superiority.”
It would be unfair to blame poor Bulwer-Lytton, who’s already taken enough lumps from Snoopy’s plagiarism of his most famous line, for the truly horrifying uses to which the 20th century put his Vril-ya. Yet maybe not totally unfair. This may not have been as clear in 1871 as it is today, but when you start talking about super-races you’re heading for very bad places.
So how does the Blackhawk story of “The Super Race” fit into all this?
On the most obvious level, it’s a spinoff of the Shaver Mystery, with its “Lemuria” and “deros.” That’s how I originally took it. I imagined comic-book writers scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas they could recycle in their stories, and finding inspiration in Gray Barker’s They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, which has an eerily compelling chapter on the Shaver Mystery. It’s surely no coincidence that, like the Blackhawk story, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers came out in 1956.
But from what we’ve seen about the Vril-ya tradition, and its afterlife in neo-Nazi mythology, it’s clear there’s a lot more to it than that. The writers drew on the Shaver Mystery, yes. But they combined it with something else.
It’s as if the stuff that Serrano and Zundel were later to peddle was already around in the mid-1950s, and the creator(s) of the Blackhawk story felt an impulse or obligation to crusade against it.
Of course I can only guess at their (his?) motivations. I’d take this as my starting point: that “The Super Race,” for all its attacks on the idea of racial superiority, isn’t exactly innocent of racism itself.
The blacks who appear in the early pages of the story are stereotypic “native” savages, who for all their ferocity are no match for the two-fisted Blackhawks–as you’ll see from the page reproduced at the end of this post. Although they’re as much victimized as anyone else by Von Kummel and his “deros,” they deserve the beating they get from our heroes. After all, they’ve committed the ultimate lese majeste against the white race: “We were flying too high to be sure, Blackhawk, but it looked as if the natives were driving a white woman out of the village!”
Superstitious primitives that they are, they yell things like, “I-it is forbidden mountain! Run! Run!”
In the 1950s, Blackhawk Comics were still in the process of correcting a grotesque bit of racism from their past. The seventh Blackhawk, the diminutive Chinese Chop Chop, was originally a horrendous “Oriental” caricature added to the team for comic relief. By 1956 he’d been given some measure of dignity, and had been relieved at least of his “Chinese” pigtail. But he was still half the size of the others; he wore a bizarre green and yellow costume while the other Blackhawks had snazzy blue uniforms; and he was the only one who didn’t pilot his own jet. (You can see him on the second page of “The Super Race” in Blackhawk’s cockpit, looking over Blackhawk’s shoulder.) It wasn’t until 1983 that he finally got his uniform.
“Blackhawk” was a microcosm of its country.
In 1943, Americans had laughed to scorn Nazi pretensions that “ve iss de Master Race,” inimitably caricatured by the Spike Jones song with which I began this post. This was while we were fighting Nazism with our own brutally segregated military. In 1956, when “The Super Race” appeared, the Supreme Court ruling (“Brown v. Board of Education”) that demanded school desegregation was an event of the recent past. The implementation of the ruling lay in the future. Some would say: the far, far distant future.
So when “Blackhawk” lectured its readers that “One would think that the insane theories of a ‘super’ race had been buried in 1945 in the ruins of Nazi Germany!” and that “They never were and never will be [superior] … because there are no super races!” it was sermonizing to white Americans who, without quite realizing it, did think of themselves as a super race.
Sermonizing, indeed, to itself.
by David Halperin
Learn more about David Halperin on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/davidjhalperin
Connect to Journal of a UFO Investigator on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/JournalofaUFOInvestigator
and Find David Halperin on Google+
Have a good month of August, and stay cool! I’ll see you back here right after Labor Day.