Chaykin’s Crusade

Posted by on March 23rd, 2010 at 2:44 PM

By the time the series ended, however, it proved something of a disappointment. The first issue promised pulsating action and throbbing sex. Subsequent issues teased with covers depicting Dominick in his best fighting togs, embracing beauteous femmes, but the interiors never lived up to the titillation.

Hazel Fontaine, whose nekkid debut gave the first issue one of its better moments, disappears from the continuity until the last pages of #4; and the foul-mouthed Delatriz Betancourt talks a good game, and walks around in clingy gowns or lacy underwear, but doesn’t get as much of Dom’s time as the three over-the-hill Hollywood actors do, spouting outrageous anti-Semite slurs and sex talk. Although she gives Dom one roll in the hay, Delatriz spends most of her time with the Nazi anti-Semite Upshaw.

The adventure turns on a 1936 Nazi plot to take over the U.S. government, which Fortune eventually uncovers when he learns that Upshaw is smuggling money into the U.S. to pay the storm troopers that will conduct the coup. Fortune foils the plot at the last moment by landing an airplane on the storm troopers as they assault the White House.

The drunken old actors, who stay in the spotlight so much of the time, have no part in the main action of the narrative: because Dom’s been hired by their studio to babysit them and keep them out of trouble, they provide the excuse for his travel—the rich old lechers chase pussy (to sink to the level of their lingo) from New York to Germany and back—but otherwise contribute nothing to the mystery that animates Fortune (although they do inadvertently contribute to the mystery’s solution: Dom discovers that they are the couriers for Upshaw’s cash). Although a nearly superfluous comedic distraction, they yield a toxic side-effect.

The villains are Jew-hating Nazis, and Fortune, the stalwart Jewish protagonist, pounds on them. Fine. Three rousing cheers. But the nastiness of the anti-Semitism of the period is represented in the old actors’ remarks and in Upshaw’s, of which there is a plentitude. In thus characterizing the bigotry of the time, Chaykin supplies anti-Semite readers (if there are any) with something to applaud—namely, the very attitudes that the anti-Semite dialogue embodies.

With this curious unintended by-product of his otherwise laudable crusade, Chaykin undermines his purpose with the oddly self-defeating rhetoric of some characterizations. In effect, the rhetoric tends to encourage the kind of bigot Chaykin is attacking.

This is not the result Chaykin intends, of course. And he is by no means the only writer whose work can have an unintended consequence. In fact, given the perversity of the alleged thinking of those who may misapprehend Chaykin’s message in this way, I doubt he could avoid the pitfall. But it’s there, regardless of the purity of his motive.

Unhappily, Chaykin also contributes to the insidious catastrophe by caricaturing one of the German Jews that Fortune questions, giving him an enormous hooked nose—the very personification of ethnic bigotry. (See the visual aid below.)

As always, Chaykin’s drawing is bravura, his page layouts dramatic, his pacing headlong, and his dialogue urbane and witty, sarcastic and satiric.

The action is sometimes not as clearly depicted as it might be: Fortune’s first issue fight with the intrusive bully in the lobby gets a little confusing when the guy pulls a knife, seemingly to attack Fortune but, in execution, is not. And Malcolm Upshaw’s bald dome assumes gigantic proportions in its final manifestation—a little sloppy.

Every once in a while, Chaykin stumbles badly in simple rendering —Upshaw’s head, for example; and Dom’s—which is often as flat on top as a pool table. Once he gets Dom’s nose wrong: on the same page, it’s a Sherlockian beak in one picture; turned-up pug in the next.

Sometimes the figures themselves suffer from uncomfortably stiff anatomy. And in the final issue, Upshaw wears jodhpurs that are proportionately out-of-whack: they’re as baggy-looking as today’s teenage fashion. And sometimes Chaykin’s line deteriorates into a fuzzy mass, as if his scanner needed more pixels. But Chaykin’s page layouts are always stunning.

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On almost every page, he puts both a long-shot scene-setter and at least one tight close-up of one of the actors on stage at the moment; the extreme alternation in focus produces on every page a visual variety that imparts energy to the proceedings even when they consist mostly of talk.

The pages radiate atmospherics with elegantly detailed architecture and interiors, but after a while, the repeated intensity of tight close-ups becomes somewhat monotonous —particularly Fortune’s ponderous jaw.

One of the best features of the series—plot summaries on the first page of each issue, so you know exactly where you’re jumping into the story in each issue.

And the story keeps you jumping: despite the flaws I’ve noted here, Chaykin keeps us turning pages with Fortune’s first-person narrative in snappy patter and outrageous stunts, and Edgar Delgado’s colors give Chaykin’s drawings a glowing elegance they otherwise lack, but Chaykin has introduced a new visual quirk: his feathering of facial features with squiggly lines is now transformed by Delgado into an overlay of flesh color a shade darker than the basic skin tone, with the unhappy result that modeling lines appear sometimes as skin blemishes.

But these are quibbles. The title is a revel in our often not very refined natures and an outrageous assault on political correctness and genteel posturing, so over-the-top as to be vastly amusing in its in-your-face audaciousness.

Footnit: One of the things Dominic Fortune murmurs to himself during the unemotional drone of his first person narrative is this: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, holding a cross.” This ringing declaration is apparently available these days on buttons and bumper stickers nation-wide. Dom attributes the insightful phrase to the novelist Sinclair Lewis, who, it may be presumed, wrote it in his novel about fascism coming to America, It Can’t Happen Here. But the Sinclair Lewis Society assures us that the novelist didn’t write it there. Nor, apparently, did he write it anywhere.

The origin of the phrase is attributed to Huey P. Long, the radical rabble-rousing governor of Louisiana in the 1930s, who apparently once said something like: “When fascism comes to America, it will be on a program of Americanism.” But no one has found documentation to support this attribution.

In 1971, a scholarly writer named Harrison Evans Salisbury included in his summary of Lewis’ book this sentence: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’” A nicely turned variation on the phrase, but whistling the national anthem just repeats the jingoism of being wrapped in the flag. The cross is a happier addition: it supplies another dimension to the fascist impulse in America.

Lewis probably heard a report of Huey Long’s utterance—Huey was everywhere in those years, blurting out slogans by the crimson foot. And Lewis is supposedly quoted in a newspaper interview as saying something like it: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag.” Later, some anonymous patriot added the cross—i.e., religion—a notion that would invest the crusade with an appropriate spiritual fervor. Whatever the origins of the phrase, it seems frighteningly appropriate to our times.

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images ©2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.

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