The Terrifying Torture Tech of Timely Comics!
As we drift through the peaceful days of the Christmas season, it’s time to pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa, sit back in a cozy recliner, and watch the gently falling snow as you contemplate leering, sub-human Axis agents subjecting the assorted girl Fridays and boy sidekicks of World War II superheroes to extravagant torture devices.
That’s right…we’re taking a break from decking the halls to examine the gruesome torture chambers that were a common fixture of World War II comic book covers, particularly those of Marvel predecessor Timely Comics. As everyone knows, the United States focused its full attention on beating the combined aggression of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy following our 1941 entry into WWII. That meant that every aspect of American life was geared toward that end, including the covers of superhero comic books. As a result, the former threats of gangsters or crooked union bosses soon made way for superheroes pounding the stuffing out of depraved (often sub-human) Axis forces and their terrifying array of death machines.
Though human decency (and possibly the Geneva Convention) prevents me from featuring every Nazi gulag gizmo or Japanese doohickey of depravity, the following covers should give you at least some idea of what our costumed champions and their hapless supporting cast members were up against.
WARNING and DISCLAIMER department: If you’re the squeamish type or one of those sensitive souls who feel bad for Guantanamo inmates getting a little water splashed on ‘em, these covers probably aren’t for you. Another thing to keep in mind is that I don’t in any way endorse the racial stereotyping that appeared in WWII era comics, so let’s not go there.
Now, before we get too far into the sadistic specifics, let’s first take a look at Marvel Mystery Comics #28 for the standard features of a comic book torture chamber:
A. A Damsel and/or Sidekick in Distress.
B. Easily identified bad guys, often broken into groups of:
(1) Active torture participants or
(2) A gallery of amused/perplexed/outraged observers.
Extra points for hoods or robes.
C. Conveniently labeled torture devices or harmful substances.
D. A hero breaking in at the last possible moment to stop said
torture devices or harmful substances.
E. Arrogant overlord figure outraged over the hero’s intrusion.
F. Random, poorly-aimed gunfire.
Of course, each cover varied in their use of these common features…and sometimes added variations of their own…
…such as the very next issue of Marvel Mystery, which combined two popular species of bad guys: Purple Hooded Henchmen and Bug-Eyed Goblins! Was it novel enough to overcome the somewhat clichéd Suspenseful Buzz-Saw of Death? You be the judge.
The Purple Hooded Henchmen (and the hooded overlord guy) showed up again a few years later, this time brandishing red-hot swastika branding irons. Definitely a persuasive form of interrogation….that is, if the prisoner wasn’t Toro, the young sidekick of the Human Torch who could also burst into flame at will. What’re they gonna do…burn him?
The same stupidity gripped another gang of Nazi freaks when they tied Toro to a slow-roast rotisserie. Again, guys…fire don’t faze the kid!
However, even in full flame mode, Toro couldn’t avoid capture…as you can see here as he faces the whirling death of the Corkscrew Tank driven by the tiny Sadistic Swollen Brain Squad!
Lest we judge young Toro too harshly, I should point out that Captain America’s sidekick Bucky also found himself on the business end of a murder machine or two (or ten). For example, here we find a trussed-up Mr. Barnes awaiting 5,000 pounds of instant ventilation courtesy of spear-chucking Nazis and their cadaver-like master of ceremonies.
Bucky’s single Pin Cushion Special was soon upgraded to a Queen Size model by the time Marvel Mystery #52 rolled around, this time accommodating yet another anonymous dame and…you guessed it…TORO!
Next came Nazi Germany's Big Bowl O’ Spikes, created solely for the foot-mangling amusement of Big-Head Hitler and his gibbering hordes!
Not to be outdone, the Japanese developed the Wall-Mounted Spike Slab, complete with an anxiety heightening hand-cranking vice feature.
How do you top the Spike Slab? Well, how about a Double Slab of Spikes operated by a sweaty giant?
Another giant freak operates what appears to be some sort of high-tech chopping block/reducing machine combo as his shrieking minions fire tommy guns and what experts believe to be a flame-throwing peashooter.
Of course, when you really want to instill fear into your Allied captives, nothing can top molten lava. That is, unless you’ve got molten lava with a blue-skinned Nazi hag-witch thing and a scary black cat! Reeeerrrrrrr! Hisssss!
Always the innovator, the Red Skull developed a vat of green lava, complete with a clearly labeled control panel. Watch out for the guy waving the Extendo-Reach Mace, Cap! Ouchie!
Outraged feminists will be happy to learn that Axis torture chambers weren't all about dress-wearing damsels in distress, as Mystic Comics #7 makes clear. Hitler himself unleashes his Trunk of Terror upon an elderly war minister (who may or may not possess lower legs). But...why torture the poor old chap, when his clearly labeled "secret plans" are lying on the dungeon floor next to him? Because they're Nazis, that's why. That, and the four-armed blue demon demands his entertainment!
As our wartime dungeon tour draws to a close, young Toro finally escaped Perpetual Prisoner status and actually accompanies the Human Torch on a mission. That mission? To put at end to the perverse Imperial Japanese game show Truth Gas or Consequences!
Sticking with the game show theme, these medieval death priests enjoyed playing The Wheel of Death with their captive contestants. Instead of buying a vowel, Captain America opts to spear the host through the torso…to the clear delight of a Vanna-like beauty seated below him.
Now that images of spike-encrusted fear machines operated by drooling sub-human maniacs are dancing in your heads, Comic Coverage now returns you to your regularly scheduled season of silver bells, sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting over an open lava pit…er fire.