It's a Golden Age Christmas Eve!

Now that the stockings are hung on the bookcase with care, I got to wondering about just what might be the most appropriate post for this time of year.

After a long period of consideration, I decided the only logical action was to review a Captain Marvel comic in which a Civilized Tiger (representing Negroes) is harassed by the inhabitants (representing white male oppression) of the nice suburban neighborhood he moves into.

The Story, titled "Captain Marvel and Mr. Tawny's New Home", appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #90, with a publication date of November, 1948.

After that adorable opening panel that establishes the premise, the story proper begins with Billy Batson discovering that his good friend, Mister Tawny, the civilized Tiger, has been thrown out of his boarding house.

It seems that the landlady has put a 'no animals allowed' policy into place in order to drive him out. She thought no one would feel safe with one of his kind living in the building. If this didn't make the story's secret point obvious enough, the next scene really drives the point home. Captain Marvel decides the best place to look for people who could help Mr. Tawny is the 'Jungle Club For Men', a private social club for big-game hunters and explorers of the dark continent. Really, who would be more likely to help a talking tiger than them?

Even after Captain Marvel explains things, J.Q. Harsch, the president of the club isn't convinced. In fact, he proves to be quite a bigot, announcing that no animal is fit to associate with humans. He throws them out of the club, which has quite an effect on Tawny's state of mind.

After a quick search, they manage to find a man who believes in most positive aspect of capitalism - the only color that really matters is green.

Captain Marvel quickly moves Tawny into his new cottage at Wildwood estates, then heads on his way. But not before noticing, as the tiger signs his contract, that Mr. Tawny never actually received a first name when he was... born? Or civilized, or created... I'm not really sure what this character's origin is. Which just goes to show you can love something while knowing almost nothing about it. A point of view that absolutely no one is disputing, now that I think about it.

Things take a sharp turn for the worse when it's revealed that one of Mr. Tawny's new neighbors is J.Q. Harsch, the very man who threw him out of the Jungle Club!

I put the above panels in for two reasons. 1 - Because it recaps the plot more efficiently than I ever could. 2 - Because there is almost nothing on earth funnier than a Tiger in a shirt and pants raking his lawn.

In the next panel, the writer, clearly worrying that the subtext of the story might be lost on the readers, has Mister Tawny speak directly to them:

Unwilling to just let bygones be bygones, Harsch goes around the neighborhood with a petition demanding that Tawny leave immediately. At first everyone is reticent, but Harsch spins tall tales about the dangers that Tigers pose to children, and, having played the 'threaten their children' card, gets the signatures he needs.

Upon seeing the petition, Mr. Tawny immediately agrees to leave Wildwoods. He's not much of a fighter, you see. Luckily, Billy Batson happens to drop by for a visit just as Mr. Tawny is leaving, his possessions packed up in a bindle.

As silly as this story might seem, I'm impressed by just how clearly they're putting across their anti-bigotry message. It would be quite a few years before the subject of racism could be broached openly in a comic, let alone one intended for children, but I can't imagine many people didn't understand the subtext of this scene, in which a rich white businessman announces that his neighborhood is too exclusive for the African Tiger to be allowed to live there.

Captain Marvel isn't about to take this lying down, though, and he quickly tears up the petition and announces that Tawny won't be going anywhere. Harsch storms away, fuming and determined to get his revenge. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel once again proves why he's among the best role models a kid could ever have. Although Mr. Tawny, ever the one to avoid a fuss, just wants to leave Wildwood, Captain Marvel insists they stick it out:

It's at this point that the writers and artists, worried that there might be a few thick kids reading the comic who just can't take a hint, decide to throw all subtext out the window and make their point incredibly clear. That night Harsch assembles a crew of like-minded bigots who decide to get rid of Tawny once and for all. Of course, they don't want anyone to know who's doing the rousting, so the need to disguise themselves. Which results in:

They dress up in robes and swear an oath to rid their community of the Tiger. Who they refer to as an 'undesirable PERSON'. That's right, this is a story about Captain Marvel battling, with only the thinnest layer of fiction disguising them, the KKK. As one might imagine, this doesn't go especially well for the Klan, who find their clubs useless against the world's mightiest mortal.

Revealing themselves to be extremely sore losers, the Klan then hurls flaming torches (or 'firebrands') onto the roof of Mister Tawny's cottage. Captain Marvel promptly douses the flame, but it turns out that 'aiming' wasn't among the traits of the mob, and they've managed to set the two neighboring cottages afire as well.

Captain Marvel and Tawny each rush into a cabin, quickly rescuing the people trapped within. Everyone is so happy with his act of heroism that they apologize to Tawny for signing the petition, and even elect him the honorary mayor of Wildwood! Wrapping the whole thing up in a nice bow, Harsch is even thrown in prison for arson - teaching the kids at home a valuable lesson about the wages of prejudice.

The comic wraps up with the announcement of a naming contest! It seems that, since he elects to live as a human, Mr. Tawny needs a first name to put on documents, and it's up to the readers of Captain Marvel to make suggestions. Too bad I'm sixty years too late to enter - I'm sure my suggestion 'Michael Tawny' would have knocked their socks clean off!

In a final note, I'd like to point out that while Harsch clearly is a villain, he does have a point. If Mister Tawny represents the blacks who were attempting to move to the suburbs and Harsch represents the white establishment excluding them, then he's just plain awful. Of course, if we take the story at face value, then Harsch actually has a pretty good point. After all, what are the odds that a tiger isn't just going to go nuts and start mauling kids if you let him live in a suburban neighborhood? He is a tiger, after all.

So if this has post has taught us anything, it's that I've got a lot to learn about feline equality.

Merry Christmas everyone, and be sure to look for more wonderful tales from the Golden Age of comics in the new year, right here at Castle Vardulon!

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