By Deejay Dayton
Apr 25, 2015 - 23:24
Tex Thomson's series continues, but more than any other series from this era, it will alter dramatically throughout the duration of it's run. In fact, the changes it goes through, coupled with Baily's ever-improving art, makes it one of the more enjoyable series to read. If only it wasn't for Gargantua T. Potts.
That being said, Gargantua makes his final appearance in Action Comics 25, spending some time with Tex and Bob Daley at Tex's camp in Maine, Golden Gates. They encounter a mysterious amnesiac, being pursued by gangsters. For a few panels it looks like Gargantua will be the one to save the day, but again he is reduced to racist comic relief.
In Action 26 Gargantua is gone. We learn that he has enlisted with the French army as a cook, and that he is of Senegalese descent (meant to explain why he did such a thing). While I was glad to see the last of him, this story was cover-dated March of 1940, meaning Gargantua joined the French army just in time for the Nazi invasion of France.
Issue 26 also introduces Special Prosecutor Maloney, who swears Tex and Bob in as agents reporting directly to him, needing their skills to help fight a crime wave. Tex infiltrates the main gang, discovering that their leader is the supposedly honourable Vander Wallace. Tex winds up shooting and killing Vander Wallace as he gives a public address, the audience completely unaware of Wallace's criminal ties. One would expect this to have some major repercussions, but Maloney is content to keep Tex and Bob as his staff.
Issue 26 also introduces Miss X, a woman with knowledge of the mob, who sometimes seems to be working with them, but who will constantly act to protect or aid Tex. She will return in issues 27, 29 and 30. It seems fairly clear that she is meant to be the daughter of Maloney, who is introduced in Action 27 as Janice, though called Peggy in 29 and 30. As Miss X, she sometimes has a hat on, and always a pair of sunglasses, but that's it for disguise. Tex mentions to Bob in issue 30 that he believes he knows who she is, and if she is in fact Maloney's daughter, Tex certainly should be able to recognize her. But as her plot thread gets simply abandoned, there is never a big reveal of her identity. Neither Miss X nor Janice/Peggy Maloney appear again after issue 30. Perhaps they went to join Gargantua in France.
Issues 27 and 28 also feature the return of the Gorrah, still seeking vengeance on Tex for his earlier defeats. The Gorrah manages to get Tex under a hypnotic spell in issue 27, sending him out to kill. Miss X shoots Tex to prevent him from becoming a murderer, and though it's just a glancing wound, the shock breaks Tex out of the spell.
In issue 33 the series changes name to Mr. America. Tex resigns from Maloney's staff when he is given a special assignment by the war relief commission, to accompany a ship across the Atlantic, and prevent a plot to blow it up. He fails at that, the ship gets sunk and Tex is believed dead. Later, a black haired man wearing a red cape, white shirt and blue trousers, a domino mask and carrying a whip tracks down those behind the explosion and brings them to justice. He calls himself Mr. America, but Bob almost immediately recognizes him as Tex.
Tex decides to maintain the Mr. America identity, for some reason feeling that it's important that the world believe Tex Thomson to have died when the ship sunk. In the first few months, we will see blond haired Tex hanging with Bob, before going into action as the black haired Mr. America. It's difficult to tell if he is meant to be wearing a wig or dyeing his hair, but as he simply stops ever appearing as a blond within a year, it becomes safe to assume it's a dye job.
As Mr. America he uses what he calls a "yankee doodle feather" to announce his presence. This is a feather coloured red, white and blue. Tex will drop one of these in among the bad guys before he starts fighting them, and although it always has the effect of scaring the bad guys, one cannot help but think Tex would fare better with the element of surprise, particularly as they often have guns, and he just has a whip.
Tex's main prey as Mr. America are spies and fifth columnists, and the series becomes far more military-oriented. The Gorrah makes one last appearance, in issue 38, working with Nazi agents, though he betrays them in the end, preferring to pursue his goal of vengeance over their plot against the army. At first Gorrah believes Tex to have died, and is out to kill Bob, but he learns the truth, and the identity of Mr. America, just before perishing in the explosion intended for a educator's convention.
I should also point out that Tex's last name is consistently spelled Thomson in this era, though in later times it will always be spelled Thompson. So in case you are thinking that I just made a spelling error in the title, I didn't, it was an active choice, and a difficult one.
In Action 42, sad at being left behind so often, Bob Daley decides to take on a masked identity of his own. He puts on long red underwear and a lampshade on his head, and armed with a broom and a squirt gun of ink, takes to the streets as Fat Man. Tex has no idea of Fat Man's identity at first, he has been busy in his secret cabin/laboratory in the woods making his cape function as a flying carpet. This issue also introduces the Queen Bee, the first of many DC villains to use this name.
The following issue takes the series to its goofiest point. Maloney makes his final appearance as giant monsters attack Centre City (the only time the city is identified). Tex flies around on his cape and Fat Man hits people with brooms. Tex talks all manner of crap about Fat Man to Bob, only later discovering the two are the same man. The giants are revealed as robots (which is hardly less dangerous), and Tex takes out the bad guys after Bob is knocked unconscious, but leaves them so Fat Man will get the credit.
Action 44 has Bob learn that Tex knows his identity, and it is also the final appearance of the flying cape. Tex uses it to escape from German agents who have been sabotaging factories, making it fly while it is still around his neck. Although he does get away, I think it likely caused some major neck strain, probably why he retired it.
From issues 46 -49 Tex deals with the machinations of the Queen Bee. This Queen Bee has no powers, she is a heartless criminal mastermind, content to work with Nazi spies as they attempt to terrorize the public with giant robots, rob a Red Cross benefit, or attack the navy. In Action 49 we meet her scientist father, and learn that it was a failed experiment with a machine that would eliminate worry that caused her to lose all sense of right and wrong. The Queen Bee gets captured, and her father manages to de-program her, ending her criminal career.
Issue 52 features Tex chasing down a Nazi who escaped from a Canadian prison camp and entered the US, but the billing is Mr. America and Fat Man as The Americommandos. Bob only appears in a non-speaking cameo in this story.
In issue 53, the credits read The Americommando and Fat Man, as they head to Hollywood to deal with sabotage on the set of a war film, and discover the producer is working with the Nazis. Tex is called the Americommando, but there is no apparent reason for the change of name.
With issue 54, the series truly does become Americommando. Tex is secretly brought to FDR himself, and ordered to undergo extensive training to become the Americommando, proficient with all weaponry, able to pilot planes and tanks, and multilingual. Bob is requested to stay behind and fight crime as Fat Man, and this is his final appearance, unless one considers The Golden Age miniseries from the mid-90s as canonical.
Tex travels to England, and is given the assignment to go undercover as Captain Otto Riker of the Gestapo, and sent behind enemy lines.
Tex only manages to succeed in the Riker disguise for issue 55, with 56 Hitler himself brings in the Japanese Dr. Ito, also called the Little One, to determine who the Americommando is, and Ito has little problem figuring out Riker is a fraud. This prompts Tex to take on the identity of a French painter in issue 57, but he calls himself Jean Valjean, which Ito recognizes as the main character from Les Miserables, so that disguise fails as well.
One thing that makes it easier to figure out Tex's identity is that he no longer wears the mask with the rest of his Mr. America costume. In fact, that is about the only difference between Mr. America and the Americommando. Despite all his weapons training, he still tends to rely on his fists and whip.
Ito pursues the Americommando in France again in issue 58, but then Tex starts travelling a bit more, heading to Italy, Greece and the Netherlands, uncovering Nazi plans, communicating defenses, and working with the undergrounds of the different countries.
Dr Ito returns in issue 62, as Tex blows up an oil storage facility in Romania.
Action 63 sees Tex's greatest challenge, to steal plans that Hitler carries on himself at all times. He succeeds by turning Hitler's propaganda against him accepting a challenge to fight a Nazi champion in the ring. Actual German heavyweight champion Max Schmelling appears in the story, although he is not the one to fight Tex. This is sort of sad, part of the anti-Schmelling view the media played up during the war. In fact, though he was drafted into the service, Schmelling was not a Nazi, and even risked his life to save two jewish children. At any rate, Tex triumphs in the ring, and not only escapes the Nazis after the match, but punches Hitler in the face while stealing the plans.
Tex gets a new sidekick in issue 63 as well, a Greek prisoner of war, Poppy, who is his assistant during the match, provided by the Nazis. Poppy joins Tex on his next mission, in Russia, but is not seen after that. I expect he returned home and worked with the resistance until war`s end.
Tex heads east with issue 66, heading to Burma for a bit of an awkward story that contrasts how much better the Burmese were under British subjugation than under Japanese subjugation. 67 has a delightful tale as Tex races the Japanese to find Shanghai Rose, with her knowledge of Japanese troops movements. It`s Tex who determines that Shanghai Rose is a parrot.
Tex is in China for the next couple of stories, and then breaks into a prisoner of war camp in Tokyo itself in issue 71. Another attempt is made at having him impersonate a German officer, this time Captain Brand, at the German embassy in Tokyo, in issue 72. This starts well, but Dr. Ito is brought to Tokyo in issue 73. Ito recognizes Tex almost immediately, though Tex avoids capture by pre-setting a leaflet drop that he uses as an alibi. Still, in issue 74 Ito gets proof that Brand is really the Americommando, as Tex was stupid enough to enter Brands room while still in his hero costume.
The series really does go out with a bang in Action 74. Tex and Ito are both aboard a Japanese bombed heading for the California coast. Tex has been revealed as Brand, but escapes his captors and takes over the control of the plane. Ito shoots Tex, but not before Tex manages to open the bomb bay doors, sending the bombs and Ito plunging down into the Pacific Ocean.
The series ends with the wounded Tex seeing the coast of the US come into view.
Although this is the final appearance of Tex Thompson in this era,he appears as a member of the All-Star Squadron in a couple of stories set during 1942.
Tex is shown in the Justice Society Returns miniseries to be back behind enemy lines as a German officer before the end of the war, which is backed up by the events in The Golden Age mini previously mentioned. Although Golden Age is technically an Elseworlds, James Robinson considered it canonical during his run on Starman, and I tend to follow the train of thought that it is as well, meaning Tex makes his final appearance in it`s pages, captured and killed by the Ultra-Humanite.
There is one further Mr. America story, in Secret Origins in the late 80s.
Tex Thomson: Action Comics 21 - 32 (Feb 40 - Jan 41)
Mr. America: Action Comics 33 - 53 (Feb 41 - Oct 42)
Americommando: Action Comics 54 - 74 (Nov 42 - July 44)