Jen Van Meter’s recent “Black Lightning: Year One” series suffered from over-earnestness. It tried so hard to say something important about the relationship between crime and society (and superheroes) that it became little more than a modern update of one of those social-consciousness comics from the early Bronze Age. (Harry Osborn popped some pills! Egads! What are we to do?)
In “Miss America Comics 70th Anniversary Special” #1, Van Meter gets to avoid the over-earnestness by doing something more fun: the faux-earnestness of the more innocent days of WWII, when men were men, women were riveters, and Nazi saboteurs were Teutonic goddesses disguised as feminist college grads. This comic has a long, silly story to match its long, silly title (a title that doesn’t even make sense, since the character didn’t appear until 1943, and didn’t have her own comic until the following year, which would make this the 65th Anniversary Special, actually). Marvel’s been pumping out a bunch of these “70th Anniversary Specials,” and they’re all pointless exercises in nostalgia (some play the characters straight, while the better ones play up the wackier sides of the Golden Age Marvel Universe), but they’ve been generally done with a surprisingly high level of craft. And between Van Meter’s self-mocking script and Andy MacDonald’s distinctly non-cheescake art, this issue is no exception.
MacDonald is the kind of artist who provides the nitty-gritty background details for every scene. He draws the rivets in the steel structures. He delicately layers the shadows on the shell casings, spending as much effort creating an off-kilter but believable mise-en-scene as he does drawing superhuman ladies in their dashing attire. Even when he gives us that most stale Golden Age superheroine trope — the buxom protagonist bound in chains — our attention is diverted to the lovingly rendered links instead of more lascivious matters. MacDonald was a wonderful choice to draw this story.
This comic revels in its foolishness, giving us lines like “God, how I loathe you Americans, with your moxie…your boogie and your woogie. Your rivers of beer…” while at the same time providing a multi-panel fight scene between Miss America and the forces of female Nazi evil. It’s fun because it doesn’t try to be anything else, and the MacDonald art is so layered and spectacularly un-flashy that it helps to keep the comic from getting hammy and wink-winky.
For your $3.99 you also get a couple of Golden Age Whizzer reprints — for no apparent reason, except the Whizzer appears in the opening Miss America sequence — and those, like many Golden Age Marvel Comics are terrible in a bland, unfunny way. But no one’s getting this comic because they have a hankerin’ for more old-school Whizzer. I don’t know why they’re getting it, but if they are, they’ll find a lot to like in the Miss America story. It’s better than it has any reason to be.