Margo the Magician
Created by Bill Bydem
Appears in Uncle Sam Quarterly #2 (1941)
Stepping forth from the veils of mystery and illusion comes MARGO -- a “lovely assistant” to a has-been stage magician who receives a surprise upgrade to “defender of liberty and scourge of empires!”
Wandering occupied China during the height of World War 2 is THE GREAT PRESTO and his youthful assistants, the adolescent Jimmy and no-nonsense Margo -- who are also his kids! Once a great magician performing to the practically-proverbial “crowned heads of Europe,” Presto now accepts pittances to perform for nearly-empty theaters. In his quiet hours, his kids keep an eye on the dissembling mystic. “Dad’s hitting the old bottle again!” Margo has a chance to exclaim early in the story, and probably not for the first time...
There’s no Mrs.Presto in the equation, but that doesn’t mean anything special -- most magicians reproduce asexually. You just do the “sawing a lady in half” trick very very wrong and, voila, you get two kids.
Presto’s subsequent performance in a war-damaged opera house is interrupted halfway through by a desperate pair of Chinese soldiers. Fleeing Imperial Japanese military police, the duo are hidden inside the magician’s cabinet -- an illusion custom-made to make a body disappear! As Japanese soldiers continue to fill and search the theater, the act of life-saving stagecraft seems to pay off! The Chinese audience, naturally, is reluctant to assist an invading army, and neither Presto nor his kids are eager to confess to hiding the runaway soldiers.
But then -- no joke, straight-up finale-of-M*A*S*H style -- some kid in the crowd goes “What has happened to the soldiers that the great magician hid in the box, mama?” and the Japanese soldiers overhear. SHUT THAT CHICKEN UP. CAN’T YOU SHUT THAT STUPID CHICKEN UP??!
An impromptu firing squad is set up to execute the soldiers as well as Jimmy and Margo, as punishment. It is at this exact moment that Presto suddenly remembers that he has Satan’s phone number. “O, Rulers of Darkness … Never have I called down the vast powers vested in me! I implore you to make this trick work…” he declares, adding silently “Please make this trick work. It will probably be the most decent thing I ever do for my kids.”
Wielding this strange and tremendous power, Presto directs the rifles away from his children and towards himself, dying in a volley of bullets. It’s only because this was a very emotional scene of dramatic sacrifice that you don’t wonder why he didn’t force the rifles to shoot upward, or at the floor, or to not shoot at all. He had a lot of options besides (A) Death. Still, in his final moments, he breathlessly explains the mechanics of his power to his daughter, likely dooming her to death by needless sacrifice at some future date.
Awed by her father’s final act of selfless love and the gravity of the tremendous powers with which she has been entrusted, Margo makes a solemn pledge to use her powers nobly, wisely and always for right: “Boy-o-boy am I really going to go to town on this magic business now.” Uh-oh.
Escaping together, the rebel soldiers introduce themselves as “Hi” and “Lo.” Hi was educated at Oxford and Lo bummed around America for a few years, so the pair speak idiomatic English appropriate to their individual ESL programs. Outside of that and the canary-yellow skin color you tend to see on Asian characters in the era, neither Hi nor Lo were presented as particularly stereotyped. There was certainly an element of caricature, but at least it wasn’t an egregious caricature. Anyway, also joining the cast is newshawk and lothario Chick Benson, whom Jimmy met in prison. Long story.
Margo’s amazing illusion ability allows her to strike powerful blows for freedom, largely by way of freaking out soldiers so bad. Her first effort involving her power causes two Japanese soldiers to see a gently-lobbed pebble as an ENORMOUS FUCKOFF BOULDER COMING RIGHT AT US HOLY SHIT OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK AHHHHH. Margo also causes other opponents to believe that their legs are becoming tree trunks, or that their guns are melting. Curiously, Margo never has to communicate the intended effect of her hypnosis -- it simply happens. Either she has a tremendous strength of will or it’s a wild coincidence.
Sabotaging a supply train, Margo and friends liberate its cargo for the benefit of starving farmers and peasants. Unfortunately, with the cliffhanger set to resolve in a non-existent second appearance, the strip’s readers are left to wonder if hypnosis is any good against a sudden barrage of Japanese bombs. Oh well, it was a short but vibrant career!
Thanks to the Digital Comics Museum for scanning, uploading and making available these comics. Please visit and support Digital Comics Museum.