Be Advised: The scans in this week’s Comic Book Compulsive aren’t of the usual high quality I regularly post; both stories are a great deal darker than I would like but they’re the best scans currently available and should be readable once expanded to their full size.
It’s hard saying why some characters appeal to you but if I was going to be absolutely honest I’d have to say my initial interest in Radar the International Policeman sprang mostly from bewilderment. My first exposure to him came while leafing through my copy of Steranko’s History of Comics. There he was on the cover of Master Comics, a guy in a suit and a killer cravat , palling around with Captain Marvel Sr. and Jr. I had to wonder who that Dick Tracy looking guy was and why was he hanging out with superheroes. Who was Radar and what, exactly was his deal?
Facts first; Radar made his first appearance (in drag) in Captain Marvel Adventures #35 where Private Timothy “Pep” Pepper was literally introduced by comedian Bob Hope during a USO show. Along with Captain Marvel the story featured guest appearances by Dorothy Lamour, Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Chang Kai-Shek.
His own series started in Master Comics #50 where he replaced Minute Man, one of Fawcett’s patriotic heroes who never quite made the big time*. There he used his telepathy and ill-defined ‘radar sense’ (yes, he had it first) to fight for world peace until his last appearance in #88 when he was replaced by real-life cowboy Hopalong Cassidy.
Radar made his debut in 1944 and I always kind of assumed he ( like Nyoka the fully clothed jungle girl, the teenagers Ozzie and Babs and his ultimate replacement Hopalong Cassidy) was part of the publisher’s attempt to come up with new kinds of characters what with the interest in superheroes reaching their zenith.
But the truth was a lot more interesting; Radar was, as they used to say back in the 40′s, strictly propaganda.
He was the creation of Fawcett editor Will Lieberson, the man credited with eliminating the character of Steamboat, Billy Batson’s toxic racist stereotype valet. Lieberson spoke to a committee of the Office of War Information (which included intellectual Clifton Fadiman, creator of detective Nero Wolf Rex Stout and sports writer Paul Gallico, best remembered for the novel The Poseidon Adventure) and convinced them they could deliver the OWI’s anti-fascist messages to kids in comic book form.
Together they worked out outlines for a half dozen Radar stories, the bulk of which were written by Bernie Miller and drawn by Al Carreno. In a post-war world increasingly menaced by Communism Radar remained solidly on anti-fascist message. He arrested war criminals, made sure humanitarian aid arrived safely, thwarted right-wing profiteers, helped overthrow fascist dictatorships, supported democratic governments abroad and democratic ideals of tolerance and inclusion on the home front.
So, yeah, Radar the International Policeman was strictly propaganda, but it was well intentioned propaganda, propaganda for the kind of things America is supposed to stand for. The kind of things which are apparently way too hot for either Marvel or DC to touch on these days for fear of offending someone. And I can see their point; bullies and bigots buy comics too.
Radar also starred in one of the first graphic novels, 1947′s Comics Novel #1: Anarcho Dictator of Death, a 52 page one shot written by Otto Binder and drawn by Al Carreno. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this was an attempt by the Fawcett to come up with new formats. It was also the only issue of Comics Novel ever published so I’m also going to go ahead and also assume it wasn’t a success.
And while he never had his own comic…in America, a Swedish publisher named Allers published at least one issue of Radar.
And that was the brief career of Radar the International Policeman. Maybe it was due to the fact he chose the wrong post-war enemy, or as it has been suggested, his stories had too much politics and not enough action for it’s intended audience. But regardless he was gone and mostly forgotten; I’d like to assume he inspired at least the name of the character of Radar O’Reilly from M*A*S*H but if so I couldn’t find any evidence of it online.
But maybe he was a short-lived character because Radar was decades ahead of his time. I mean, the idea of the world’s only telepathic policeman, empowered by the United Nations to bring genocidal war criminals to The Hague. One who receives his missions from a secret radio station that broadcasts directly into his head; that’s the stuff of a new cutting edge Vertigo series.
*Minute Man was Private Jack Weston, a regular guy who, without benefit of powers, dressed up in a very generic looking star-spangled outfit and beat the crap out of Nazi’s. He was clearly Fawcett’s attempt at doing a Captain America type of character who never went big because, in my opinion, he was pretty dull.