Thursday, April 21, 2016


The publishers of Spitfire Comics must have felt a bit of pressure to justify the title of their book. That's most likely why a diving Spitfire fighter plane is depicted on its cover, involved in fierce aerial combat with a Nazi bomber over an imperiled bridge.

The thing is -- Spitfire Comics was a superhero book, while its cover promised dogfighting war adventures. So the burden ends up falling on 17th century English swordsman "Black" Douglas, an English adventurer who turns a mishap on the high seas into a brief mid-20th-century superheroing career - and doubles down on the book's masthead.

Overtaken by pirates during one of their adventures, Douglas' ship is captured and his crew shanghaied into serving the thieving rogues. Only Douglas resists and, for his trouble, is dropped overboard in a lifeboat, somewhere in the middle of the ocean. After several hot, thirsty days of drifting, he stumbles across a desolate island -- from this point, pay close attention, because it's going to come fast and furiously.

Who could think of anything else?
Douglas slakes his thirst as a peculiar-tasting spring, unaware that he'd just drunk from the "Spring of Eternal Life," which the text tells us was Ponce DeLeon's ultimate goal. Maybe it goes under different branding in Douglas' part of the world. Likewise, the tiny island is dotted with plumes of fiery gasses which pop periodically around Douglas' landing site, like the land itself is trying to fart him off of it.

The gasses turn out to be some sort of sedative, but also preserve fabric in perfect condition, so that when an underground earthquake closes the vents, Douglas awakens after a 200 year-long nap with his undies still bunched just the way he left them.

We're not done yet! Taking to the sea, the sleepy beauty is intercepted by a "Natzi" U-Boat, whose commander entertains the English dandy in order to "show this dog that we Natzis are a superior race!" How does he do this? Well, he lets Douglas slap him into unconsciousness. Further Natzi soldiers are repelled by Douglas' breath -- and who wouldn't recoil at two centuries' worth of morning mouth?

It turns out that the gasses he'd been breathing for centuries have now settled in his very cells or something, and he can breathe them out at will -- causing his targets to fall asleep. Also, when he breathes them over a flame -- POOF -- he can ... spit hot fire! Supa hot fire!

And he's not even a rapper!

So that's why he's called Spitfire, but that's apparently not good enough. Escaping his Natzi tormentors, Douglas wanders into (well, under) an aerial dogfight between British and German planes. A fatally shot pilot lands his Spitfire before dying, and willing Douglas trades places with him, launching into the sky with relative ease ("Once in the plane, Black turns every gadget and the plane takes to the air" explains the caption, unexplainingly). Ta-daa, now he's the Spitfire! Maybe even Double Spitfire! And it only took two centuries and a lot of coincidence to get there!

The best thing about Spitfire is his absolute absence of period dialect. He shouts things like, when he takes control of the U-Boat, "Wow! I'd better beach this baby!" And with smoke shooting from his nose, he declares "Boy! This is great!" They didn't even talk this modern on Upstairs, Downstairs, and that took place in the same century!

Spitfire was a product of Malcolm Kildale, whose best-known work (to me, anyway) was Sgt.Spook. As it is, Spitfire didn't take off, although he did manage to fit in quite a lot of spitting fire during his brief run, and that's what really counts.


Hopper said...

The enemies are called "Naztis" twice in the panels shown -- was "Natzis" a mistake, or was the letterer groaning too hard to spell consistently?

Calamity Jon said...

It's probably just a transliteration of a regional pronunciation. A lot of Americans hit that "Z" really hard. Plus I imagine that Kildale lettered this one himself, and he would have been pretty young and possibly more of an artist than a speller ...

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