J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Benedict Arnold and the “Dynamite Duo”

In October I wrote about how for some years after 1780 Americans burned effigies of Benedict Arnold as they had once burned effigies of the Pope or the Stuart Pretenders on Pope Night, or Guy Fawkes Day. Just as the pre-war pageantry had portrayed the Devil whispering into the Pope’s ear, the patriotic young American culture showed the Devil guiding Arnold.

That linkage of Benedict Arnold and the Devil has had a surprisingly long life in American popular culture. As evidence, and as the wrap-up to this Comics Week at Boston 1775, here are panels from the first issue of Batman Family, published by D.C. Comics in the fall of 1975. The art is by Mike Grell, and the script by Elliot S! Maggin.

The story, such as there was of it: Barbara Gordon (secretly Batgirl) is a young Congresswoman in Washington. Dick Grayson (secretly Robin) is working as an intern in her office between college terms. They confront a mysterious and powerful apparition of Gen. Benedict Arnold, determined to overthrow the American republic.

Though Arnold is dressed in Continental Army blue, he’s supported by redcoat infantry, as well as horsemen and a couple of cannons. After the “Dynamite Duo” hold their own against those forces, they all vanish as quickly as they arrived, leaving only Arnold. He challenges the crime-fighters to combat by swords.

And who is that man in red, watching the action? He reveals his true nature when Robin and Batgirl once again thwart Arnold’s murderous intentions.

The Devil takes Arnold back to hell, Robin and Batgirl shake their heads in wonderment, and the U.S. of A. sails safely into its Bicentennial celebration. With an adventure like that, Batman Family sold so well that D.C. rushed out another issue reprinting an earlier story of the “Dynamite Duo.”

2 comments:

Lori Stokes said...

This could not be more hilarious. It's heartening to know that Arnold was still so hated in 1975, and that the devil was so in tune with 70s style.
By 1975, I'd have thought Nixon would be the American traitor in league with the devil!

J. L. Bell said...

The great thing about having a national enemy way back in history is that there are no longer any political sensitivities to portraying him as a villain in league with the devil. Doing that with Nixon, or even Jefferson Davis, could have alienated some of D.C.’s readership.