Wears Long Pants
(originally published in the July,
1976 issue of Once Upon A Dime)
part one of this article,
Donald set the stage for an incredible example of
editorial crumbling. After over a decade as an example
to boys everywhere, Liberty Lad was about to face
the one enemy few have been able to withstand: censorship.
figures of wish-fulfilling inspiration, superheroes
should have been invulnerable to the psychologist's
stare. Dr. Wertham slid innuendo towards them. Specifically,
he cited Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson's relationship
as a "homosexual dream." And of course, generally,
that tarred an entire genre.
didn't help that within the industry, some jokes
had been made about guys like Sam Clay, who did
seem to create an awful lot of boy sidekicks the
moment he'd inherit a feature. McNeal almost certainly
would have been among those making remarks, arching
his eyebrows and lifting his pinky in jest. Talk
to many old-timers now, and they'll still express
regret over the "ribbing" they gave Clay in particular,
ribbing that was none too subtle and eventually,
none too contained when the government came sniffing
In 1954, public reaction to some of comics' more
lurid contents had grown to the point that the politicians
had to get involved. As part of the function of
the Subcommittee To Investigate Juvenile Delinquency,
the U.S. Senate held public hearings in New York
in the Spring.
Publishers grew nervous, especially when it became
clear that the Subcommittee considered comic books
"…to be neither humorous nor books," as their interim
report would say. Though both Chairman Senator Robert
C. Hendrickson, N.J., and later Chairman Senator
Estes Kefauver, Tennessee, would claim that censorship
was not their goal, certainly the public would demand
something very much like it.
It is not my purpose here to rehash the better-known
consequences of these hearings and the subsequent
report, how the industry offered up EC Comics as
a sacrificial lamb. Others have covered that ad
No, my corner of history is a little dustier, but
no less shameful for its victory over good clean
fun. When rumor reached McNeal that writers and
editors were to be subpoenaed to testify before
the Subcommittee, he panicked. Any book of dubious
substance was immediately cut from production.
Gone were Those Glorious Gangsters, Teen Tomboy,
Flesh Eaters, DOPE! and Bloodcurdling Tales
For Children. When McNeal had run out of iffy
titles, his still fearful eye turned toward the
remaining characters in his stable.
No one would accuse Amazing Comics of being less
than rugged and confidently heterosexual, at least
not while McNeal was in charge.
Immediately, Commander Courage's longstanding platonic
relationship with Guidance Counselor Joan Danfield
heated up into something chaste and child-friendly
but no less fiery for all that. Within months of
the Subcommittee Report, the ill-conceived superhero
romance comic Courage To Love would be born.
All funny animals in Barnyard Jamboree had
to be depicted only from the waist up. If that was
unavoidable, then trousers were required, even on
finally…Dusty Dale, Liberty Lad. He'd run barelegged
through his adventures since 1942, and McNeal declared
that he needed to dress less shamefully, so that
it would be clear to readers that Commander Courage
and Liberty Lad were fellow crimefighters and nothing
more. (The recurring but not particularly popular
school nerd character Milton Swishwell disappeared
forever from the strip at this time, too.)
Artists on the strip argued with McNeal that Liberty
Lad's uniform simply echoed those of circus performers,
and nobody thought that there was anything wrong
with life under the big top. Allegedly, McNeal retorted
"Not yet, anyway," before slamming his office door.
Times were tough for comics, regardless of the heat
of censorship. Even without Kefauver, several companies
would have folded anyway. The giant imprint Fawcett
quietly withdrew from the field entirely while still
maintaining its other publishing interests. And
so comic book creators could not well afford to
stand on their principles.
With the January 1955 issue of Commander Courage
Comics, Liberty Lad wore long pants. And an
industry had lost its innocence.
Ironically, the final Subcommittee Report completely
glossed over superheroes, focusing instead, as promised,
on horror and so-called true crime. But the damage
McNeal edited the Amazing Comics line for another
decade before retiring. When interviewed in 1967
for Alter Ego, he expressed no regret for
his shameful role in the history of a classic character.
"They were just comics," the bitter septugenarian
complained, "get over it already."
We are over it, Mr. McNeal; we're just not willing