Saturday, 17 January 2015

Three words: Giant Robot Hitler.

I spend a lot of my time reading old comics, hoping to find those bizarre little forgotten oddities I can share with you, my faithful reader. Sometimes I get an inappropriate selection of uncomfortable racial stereotypes or tarnished childhood icon.

And sometimes I get a GIANT ROBOT HITLER.

The following strip is taken from The Beano and The Dandy: The Comics That Won the War, last year's annual collection of archive comics from DC Thomson. As you can tell from the title, it is mainly strips published during World War II which in some way reflect the war effort. This collection has content from The Hotspur, The Rover, The Magic and others as well as the ever-present Big Two but, as usual is a bit sparse on information.

However, "Wild Boy of the Woods" was a strip drawn (and presumably created) by Richard "Toby" Baines, who was particularly skilled at animal art, being also responsible for "The Ape's Secret" and "Black Flash the Beaver". Go on, snigger at the word "Beaver" and get it out of your system, we're off on a long journey.
 In spite of a logo which made him look more like the unbeatable Squirrel Girl (no bad thing), Wild Boy was billed as "a picture story of a young Tarzan", albeit one who lived in the forests of "Barchester" rather than African jungles. It originally ran in The Beano from 1938 to 1942, with a couple of revivals (the last in 1958) and concerned a young boy who was found in the woods by a hermit (known only as "the hermit") as raised with the ways of the animals.

By this point he had developed the ability to talk with the animals (or grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals) as well as some magical "Peter Pan Pipes" with which he could call them (like Tarzan's yell, only created by someone who confused the Roman god with the beloved children's character) and, in this two-part story he also had A GIANT ROBOT HITLER! Oh, and his name is Derek. Derek the wild boy.
 Our story begins during the early years of the war (can't be specific but 1942 at the latest) and, for some reason, the British government has followed the advice of a child raised in the woods on military strategy. "Somewhere in England, in a secret underground factory, a giant statue of Hitler was being built." Everything I put in quotation marks will be taken directly from the captions beneath the images you will see.
 We are told that the statue is "a giant Hitler so lifelike as to be terrifying." And that the steel frame was covered in "a thin rubber-like substance that looked like real flesh" as well as having bullet-proof glass eyes! It was towed out to sea...
 When it was far enough out in the North Sea, Derek and the hermit climbed aboard and "touched a secret spring" opening a door in the chest where they entered and took control...
 They walk the mechanical maniac to the coast of Germany where they leave it in a saluting pose and wait to be found...
 "A few of the braver Nazis returned the salute" before someone told the Gestapo of this strange arrival at the "little German town of Goeringshaven". Which is making me picture a shaven Goering. Tanks arrive and some officer who has no knowledge of the Iliad decides to transport the thing to Berlin...
 When Derek determined they were far enough inland he "thrust over a switch, turned a wheel" and brought Giant Robot Hitler to life...
 "Three sentries who tried to stop it with their guns were crushed underfoot"! Imagine the Wilhelm Scream now. Remember: It's okay to kill people in a children's comic as long as they are Nazis.
 So we find the true purpose of Operation Giant Robot Hitler: rescuing British RAF prisoners of war! Bullets cannot stop it as it smashes through the barbed-wire fence!
 "Derek appeared in the statue's mouth and when he had explained matters to them they climbed into the statue one by one."
 On the way out it destroys a machine-gun nest and steps on a tank...
 However, forces were gathering to stop Giant Robot Hitler. Dorniers came dropping bombs...
 As Derek pulls at controls to protect his human cargo from the Heinkel attack we can reflect on what it would have been like to be Hitler's Numskulls.
 Now we get this pretty awesome picture of Giant Robot Hitler fighting a Messerschmitt. Baines must have really wanted to draw every German warplane. We have reached the sea, having defeated the air force but now we at risk from an approaching battleship!
 Gah! That's going to give me nightmares! It's like a lesser Dali painting. Derek has called on some eagles to help and is giving them lit dynamite sticks...
I'm sure this sequence was only added to remind us what Wild Boy's deal is meant to be: Talking to animals. Also, we should remember, that "the hermit" is somewhere on board even though we only see him in the beginning and end panels of this story. Derek persuades the eagles to carry the sticks over to the battleship...
 "[T]he dynamite went off with a roar that shook the earth for miles around"! Hoorah, more mass death!
Derek is informed "through the statue's speaking tubes" the Messerschmitt damage has been repaired... by... someone. So Giant Robot Hitler stomps across the water to get home. And if you can see that image without imagining Godzilla's screech then you and I will never truly be friends.
 But then! As they are further out at sea, they are spotted by a U-boat! Now only the head is above water and luckily "the U-boat commander's aim had been bad" but we might not get lucky twice!
 Now THAT is a great album cover. The sub needs stopping and it is brought to an end "merely by shaking the U-boat till the engines stop throbbing."
 Das Boot is considered a cheeky bonus and carried home: "it could be taken apart and examined by naval experts." But given the achievement of this particular all-terrain amphibious craft I doubt it is necessary... Look there's Blighty!
And so our story ends with a ceremonial burning of the giant, steel-framed engineering miracle. Inside are chicken, goats and Edward Woodward. This won't bring back your bees!
I am also imagining the Ewoks' victory song here.
Apparently it had to be destroyed because "Now the Nazis knew about it, it was no longer of use." And not because it had developed sentience and believed it was the real Hitler. That was just a rumour.
I'm also interested in the man with his hand on Derek's shoulder. "The hermit" is to our right and the other chap appears to be wearing a yarmulke. Which adds an interesting historical dimension.
And so ends one of the more bizarre stories I've ever seen. I know it's only January but I think I won't see anything better this year.
Bonus: In the interest of balance, here is a picture of Giant Robot Churchill from Sparky Book 1976:


  1. The estates of Edgar Rice Burroughs and J M Barrie famously have a light touch when it comes to copyright infringement, so I can see how this young Tarzan with Peter Pan pipes managed to be printed in 1942 and then reprinted in 2014 with no trouble whatsoever.
    Artist suspiciously incapable of drawing the British flag too.

    Next week animatronic Benito Mussolini and his Tommy Steele gun.

  2. They were always careful and precise with their military details in British war comics so - Dornier Do 17 then Heinkel He111 then oddly enough a Junkers Ju 86P?with its distinctive Jumo engines (not radial).

  3. I don't think I'm ever going to get over that picture of Derek climbing out the mouth of a giant robot Hitler and summoning eagles. Sleeping with the light on tonight.