Wednesday, February 5, 2014

GONE AND FORGOTTEN REVISITED : HANSI THE GIRL WHO LOVED THE SWASTIKA

Mitzi, The Girl Who Got Her Rocks Off To The Sauvastika

Hansi, The Girl Who Loved the Swastika was the first book ever covered on Gone&Forgotten, lo these many moons ago, and has also been responsible for the vast majority of hate mail received by the site over the last decade. (For the record, second place goes to pretzel-shaped, contrarian essays about the inappropriateness of graduate student Reed Richards getting ogled by pre-pubescent Sue Storm in the pages of John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, all – I assume – written on a gymnastics rig while bent over backwards. Third place goes to letters and comments from fans and family of artist Rich Buckler, because I once described his art as a prescription-strength soporific. What’s the fuss, soporifics are positive things, they’re a CURE).

One of the things which most of the letter-writers had in common – I’d suggest “all of them” had it in common, but only a few ever mentioned it or addressed it when asked – was that, unlike yours truly, they’d never read the comic. Nonetheless, they chose to defend the comic because, obliquely, they’d felt as though a blithe article which snarkily disassembled a comic-book testament meant that their faith was under attack.

Of course they gotta get a bust in on science early on...
(To be fair, I see their point – while I’d still argue that I avoided blanket condemnations, whatever the other problems with that early article, I ultimately couldn't resist the urge to end with a zinger. It was de rigeur for the site, but was  also uncalled-for – save the cheap shots for the comic, right?)

I sympathize with their larger feelings of targeted bullying, because I honestly would agree with them, their faith was suffering an assault – thing is, not from me.

As an adaptation, Hansi suffers profoundly under Al Hartley’s heavy hand and weird emphasis.

The source material for the comic is the written testament of Maria Ann Hirschmann, a girl who experiences a journey through Nazism to awareness of its scourge and ultimately to a Christian ministry in the US.  Hartley’s adaptation skips much of the actual journey towards awareness, and paints a broad, juvenile picture from enthusiastic Nazi to American harpy without the essence of the journey, which would be like cutting Star Wars so all you ever see of Luke Skywalker is him bitching about hot sand and then getting an award. (Alternate answer: Cutting Die Hard so that all you see is John McClane frustrated by his troubled marriage then cutting to the end where he’s murdered a bunch of people).

A perennially chipper Nazi nitwit through the first half of the book, Hansi morphs into an excoriating hector with such unheralded rapidity that might expect a wizard was responsible for it.

Candy sniper
I will tell you that the title of the book becomes a great deal more fun to say if you make it really sarcastic; Hansi, the Girl Who Lo-o-o-o-oved the Swastika, she just Lo-o-o-o-o-oves the Swastika. She ought to marry it, she loves it so much.

We join Hansi in 1938, shortly after Hitler has annexed the Sudetenland, which – being an American and ignorant of geography – I assume is the part of Disneyland you can’t go to anymore, behind the orange safety cones. Gifted with a Nazi scholarship and a free ride to university in Prague, Hansi is admonished by her mother not to forget Jesus, although our heroine responds by putting the lord and savior of mankind out of her mind so quickly that she wouldn’t recognize him if he was sitting next to her on the train, still pinned to his sticks.

Quickly, Hansi is working as some sort of gestapo candy striper at the German front, cheerily telling injured soldiers to suck up their amputated limbs and missing sensory organs for the glory of Der Feuhrer. And people complained that Walter White and Don Draper were unlikable protagonists.

Like, ALL the gum at once, from the look of it.
Russians overwhelm the school or hospital or whatever where Hansi and her fellow nurses or stuents or whatever were working or studying or whatever, and soon the lot of ‘em find themselves in a POW camp, at which point let’s break to discuss the rape scene.

I should more accurately describe it as the threat of rape, which makes up an overwhelming portion of the comic – it’s a thirty-two page book, and Hansi is motivated either by rape or the threat of rape for roughly eleven pages, about a third of the whole story. It’s an inordinate amount of pulp to spend on the topic, particularly considering that Hansi manages to escape the threat consistently throughout the arc.

Not that it’s accomplished in any particularly heroic manner – and I should point out I don’t know the source material, I’m speaking only of how it was adapted into the comic, but Hansi is just (in the first attempted rape) too “pure” and (in the subsequent second-plus) “too skinny” to be raped.

Obviously this comic was intended for young kids, you shouldn’t put a rape in it – hell, any writer should think very carefully about utilizing rape as a story element in any medium – but surely there’s something much more grotesque about Hansi rising above the freshly battered and violated pile of her fellow prisoners, stunned and reeling as their tormentors dash off with boyish enthusiasm, and one of the recently molested victims screams at her with an accusing jealousy “You’re lucky you’re skinny – they don’t WANT you!”

I worry about what the message of Hansi’s lucky escapes from sexual assault seemed to be – she was the heroine of the story, so she had to remain … good grief, is there a good word for this? “Unsullied”? “Untainted”? Hartley’s Spire Comics had a bad habit of excoriating characters for unremarkable sins and excesses – eventually I’ll get some of the Archie/Spire Comics up here to illustrate how Jughead is going to Hell because HE EATS TOO MANY BURGERS (imagine the smashing of a gnarled hand on the table with every all-capped word).

The way the sound effects are drawn don't help anything, either.

Particularly, knowing what was omitted from the adaptation – Hansi’s growing awareness of the atrocities of Nazism – would suggest that the rape-threat portion of the story probably should have been skipped altogether and the Nazis-are-trubble part maybe could have used some beefing up. I mean, look at it this way - In the entirety of the comic, the only bad guys are Russians.

Which is another problem with the comic, in that Hansi’s journey from enthusiastic Bundist to haranguing evangelist is only ever positively motivated; The Nazis gave her books that said Nazis were great, so she goes full Nazi! Then she read the Bible, whoops, Go Bible! As a heroine, Hansi’s primary characteristic seems to be gullibility – if she’d read “A Modest Proposal”, this would have been an EC book.

So eventually Hansi does come to America, finds the Bible, opens her home to troubled youths but – again, betraying some of Hartley’s prejudices as a writer – the majority of her energy and speaking parts are dedicated to lamenting the poor condition of sinful, lazy, ungrateful America. Personally, I only feel so comfortable being lectured about supermarkets by a woman who, fifteen pages ago, was chirping at a still-wounded soldier to shut up and be proud he lost his eyes for Hitler.

I dunno, does it have a Statue of Liberty?

I do have to say, Hartley has his strengths – the interior artwork is appealing, even if the story is stitched together only by double exclamation points at the end of every word balloon. Primarily, though, he’s in his element on the cover – all of the Spire Comics which Hartley oversaw packs a cover wallop, and it’s hard to imagine failing to notice the bold logo and broad white-and-red frame surrounding Hansi’s beaming, untroubled expression. It’s Hartley’s home court – Attack!, God’s Smuggler, Archie’s Sonshine, these are all potently vivid and visually dynamic. I really love Hartley’s covers – I sort of wish he’d stopped there.

It does remind me that comic book Hansi is about as one-dimensional a character as Jughead or Reggie so I’d love to see her hit Riverdale. “Hansi and Veronica”, "Hansi's Gags Und Gulags", "Hansi's Hofbrauhaus of Laffs" …

Also, this scene is really late in the book.


10 comments:

neofishboy said...

I remember as a kid buying an Archie comic from a 7-11, not realizing that there was a difference between the traditional Archie universe and the Spire version. It was like taking a bite of chocolate that turns out to be carob ... vaguely dissatisfying and a little off-putting. It also had an ad for "The Cross and the Switchblade" which included that quote about someone being cut into a thousand pieces(which would apparently still love me). Freaked me right the hell out.

And somebody needs to make a "Hansi, The Girl Who Loved Eating Irish Babies."

Calamity Jon said...

The cover dialogue from The Cross and The Switchblade, burrrned into your humble editor's memory:

"I could kill you..."

"Yes, you could Nicky! You could cut me up in a thousand pieces and every piece will still love you..."

I forgot to mention how the inside cover of Hansi has an ad for the celebrities whose stories are told through Spire comics, and one of them is Anita Bryant, which means Spire had something in common with Howard the Duck.

Michael Hoskin said...

It's "And every piece will SAY I love you."

I too had the cover burned into memory - so much so that I quoted the line as it was said in the feature film (much to the irritation of my siblings).

Unknown said...

Where can I find the original article? It was hilarious. I had the comic as a child and was trying to prove to someone it was real, when I stumbled across your article, which then led me to your review of another book I used to have, "Superman 2000", which was also hilarious. Can that article still be found?

David Lawrence said...

Where can I find the original article? It was hilarious. I had the comic as a child and was trying to prove to someone it was real, when I stumbled across your article, which then led me to your review of another book I used to have, "Superman 2000", which was also hilarious. Can that article still be found?

Calamity Jon said...

I rewrote the original article because more than a few of the jokes did not (and I'm being kind to myself) "age well," by which I suppose I mean that they were intentionally offensive in that woebegone 90's fashion of "ironic" humor. I decided to rewrite it to clear out all that reactive negativity and to give better service to the book's (and Al Hartley's) relative charms.

Superman 2000 is around here somewhere, although I'll be damned if I can find it. This site is getting packed with backlog. I'll keep looking ...

neofishboy said...

I've got a link to a Wayback Machine snapshot of the old GAF archives from the Ape-Law site (hey, sometimes a guy just needs to see Spider-Man raising the fuck out of your awareness about the dangers of bull-riding again) from June '06. The links to all the articles seem to work. I'm not sure about the etiquette of such things, but I can post it if you're cool with it.

Jesus, I just saw that I made the exact same "Spire Comics=carob" crack over three years ago. I think I'm getting old.

Calamity Jon said...

We all get old, it's the price for having once been young and beautiful.

Yes please, link them Waybacks up! Anything to save me from having to do any work!

neofishboy said...

https://web.archive.org/web/20060616001406/http://ape-law.com/GAF/archives.html

Hopefully, this isn't one of those freak-ass things that only works for me for some reason. I can only barely computer.

neofishboy said...

"Here to teach you about bicycle safety, it's Spider-Man and Ghost Rider. You know, Ghost Rider. The self-immolated guy with no skin whose motorcycle is on fire. That guy. He's here to teach you about wearing kneepads."

Heh. Good times.

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