Rich Kreiner reviews Green Lama Archives Featuring the Art of Mac Raboy Vol. 2

Posted by on December 11th, 2009 at 12:01 AM

by Raboy and others; Dark Horse; 176 pp., $ 49.95; Color, Hardcover; ISBN: 9781595821546

lama

This volume contains the final four issues of Green Lama, #5-8 from 1945 and `46. Its title correctly identifies its chief attraction and it ain’t the headliner, the “Buddhist” hero who gains generic superpowers by chanting the phrase “Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Mac Raboy had already established himself as the (comparatively) gritty realist among the artists drawing Fawcett’s extended Captain Marvel family. With the Lama he offers more handsome, statuesque figures in picturesque poses done in fluid, expressive line. Covers and splash pages especially testify to his talent in composition and graphic design.

But the real news here is the casting of racism and prejudice as villains in the Lama’s first two stories. The offenses are not only portrayed as evil in their own right but as expressly anti-American, undermining even the country’s war effort.

Issue #5’s “The Four Freedoms” begins with a soldier at the PX objecting to “inferior races” and ends with him buying blacks ice cream sodas, thanks to the Lama’s intervention. Implicitly indicting Jim Crow laws, such a bit of mass entertainment goes out on an early limb. With “An American Story” of issue six, Raboy draws himself and publisher and series writer Ken Crossen as a piece of real-life hate mail arrives at company offices. An imagined perpetrator is again shown the light courtesy of the Lama.

That letter testifies that the series’ staunch egalitarianism ran afoul of entrenched intolerance of a certain demographic. In his introduction, retailer Chuck Rozanski sketches how a backlash could have accordingly deprived the book of its slender profit margin. His plausible chronology would also account for the descent in content, particularly in supporting material, from amusement of some idiosyncratic flair to more typical pedestrian filler.

As in “Lieutenant Hercules,” a source of humor in long-johns, who begins by foiling smugglers in the homage-crowded Comic Land with the help of “Little Coughin’ Fanny.” For the escapades of magical imp “Angus MacErc,” George Roussos created some ambitious if erratic hallucinogenic visuals (whereby one character believes he’s suffering from the DTs). Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson both drew the adventures of a WWII version of boy bands, the “Boy Champions.” But by issue #8, more strips are going uncredited, like orphans no one wants to claim, and even Rayboy’s Lama appears thin and rushed.

Too bad, especially after the Lama’s Christmas story in #7. How’d Rayboy get that look? Paint over graytone stock? It’s another surprise in a title surprisingly busy with them.

Panels from “The Four Freedoms,” drawn by Raboy and written by Kendell Foster Crossen.

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