|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...|
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.
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.|
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.|