Saturday, March 17, 2007

Henry Boltinoff teaches us another lesson

This two-page gag featuring Doctor Rocket that appeared in My Greatest Adventure #21 (May-June 1958) is an example of one of those jokes that you could do in the less-socially aware past, but is not appropriate for today. Written and drawn by Henry Boltinoff, the feature is clearly filler material to bring the page count of the comic book up by occupying unsold ad space or the lack of story content. While the entire set up leading to the punchline is awkwardly padded and drawn out for the sake of filling a page the feature nonetheless manages to educate and enlighten a reader, even if they are not aware of it doing so. The gag contains elements of class war, anti-intellectualism and slavery.

My Greatest Adventure #21- Doctor Rocket (1) My Greatest Adventure #21- Doctor Rocket (2)
The content and what the story might be trying to say is pretty much what I've come to expect when I read one of Boltinoff's filler strips for DC Comics.

The haggard appearance of the alien servant in the final panel of the strip is telling. The creature does not have the poise and demeanor of a professional servant similar to that of his British counterpart that appears earlier. The presumably forcibly-relocated creature appears frightened and exhausted, as befits someone unexpectedly kidnapped from his native lands to toil in perpetual servitude to survive only at the whim of his upper-middle class captors.

I've often suspected Henry Boltinoff's filler strips to have a hidden agenda in what message it is trying to convey behind the comedy. It may be that this Doctor Rocket strip also contains a commentary of his opinion of class struggles and equality. Not knowing Boltinoff's actual views I could be way off in my evaluation of his strips but I prefer to see him as a kind of hero cautiously educating kids of the Silver Age via covert morality tales. Past and present creators are famous for slipping in messages both good and bad in their work and I'd like to think I'm not reading too much into the strips. Not every comic book needs to be a sledgehammer like Green Lantern #85 to make a point.


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