The Newsboy Legion by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby v.1
Written & Illustrated by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, with Arturo Cazaneuve, Steve Brodie, John Daly, Gil Kane and Harry Tschida
Published by DC Comics
As they’ve done with previous Jack Kirby hardcover editions, DC Comics puts together a nice package here – 300+ pages, hardcover (though personally, I’d pay a couple extra bucks for a stitched spine rather than a glued one), newsprint paper (preserving the pulpy origins of the material, though many readers may prefer a sturdier stock to ensure that their $40 books last a few years) – in the first collection of the Newsboy Legion stories created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Star-Spangled Comics #7 through 32, originally published from April 1942 to May 1944, are compiled here, introducing Tommy, Gabby, Scrapper and Big Words, four doggedly determined newspaper hawkers from the worst part of town. Together, they battle mobsters and Nazi spies with last-minute assistance from their guardian, policeman Jim Harper and his alter ego, The Guardian (clever, that).
In comparison to other 1940s adventure comics, the Newsboy Legion stories hold up reasonably well. They’re not as sharp or surprising as the top-notch newspaper strips of the day, such as Milt Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but Simon and Kirby imbue their stories with a vitality that most of the comic books of the era fail to muster. It’s an intangible sort of quality, but the duos’ belief in their work stands out from the work of other 40s artists who were happy to put out any bit of uninspiration for a paycheck.
Now, this enthusiasm doesn’t mean the stories lack for predictability or clichés. In truth, it’s hard to read more than two or three of these tales in a row, though it’s interesting to see how the creators reacted to World War II’s ongoing concerns. The stories are short, ten to twelve pages, typically revolving around some basic gimmick – the boys getting a chance at having money, one of the boys having an opportunity apart from the group, etc.
The artwork isn’t showing the bombastic exaggeration that become Kirby’s hallmark in later years. The pages here show a more traditional cartoon exploitation of the human anatomy – rotund jaws, square hulking shoulders, gnarled sweet potato noses and the like. Kirby and Simon exhibit a clear understanding of their medium – their ability to lay out a page and move action from panel to panel stands out among their contemporary peers.
If you’re not a fan of Joe Simon or Jack Kirby, or interested in the creative evolution of the medium, The Newsboy Legion by Simon & Kirby isn’t really essential reading. But if you’re an archivist or at all curious about the growth of these legendary creators, DC Comics has done a fine job creating this collection of nearly seventy-year-old comic book stories. Taken in small doses, there’s a certain charm to them.