Howard Chaykin’s tribute to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s ‘kid gangs’ is weird and dark, and certainly won’t make any new fans of the Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos.
This week’s DC Comics tribute to Jack Kirby for his centennial revives The Newsboy Legion and The Boy Commandos, two groups created for DC Comics during World War II. Howard Chaykin brings the two teams together in The Newsboy Legion and The Boy Commandos Special #1. Unlike last week’s The New Gods Special, this one features one full-length story.
Here’s the official synopsis from DC Comics:
Jack Kirby’s two wartime kid gangs share their first adventure together in a novel-length tale written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin! When the Boy Commandos arrive in New York on the trail of a secret Axis agent, they’re greeted as turf invaders by the crime-fighting Newsboys! Can these kids put aside their rivalry and join forces to protect the home front? Also features a Kirby reprint!
In “A Separate Peace In Pieces,” Chaykin brings the Boy Commandos, a group of young Europeans who fight with the grown-up Captain Rip Carter, to New York, where they meet the Newsboy Legion. They are after an Axis agent who wants to turn Americans against the U.S.S.R. by suggesting they join the Nazis! But the agent is no match for the scrappy group of street-smart youngsters.
Chaykin’s art is his typical rough-around-the-edges work, which fits the characters well. The original stories of these “kid gangs” by Joe Simon and Kirby certainly don’t look as wild or as violent as Chaykin’s work, but they are just as gritty. After all, Kirby & Simon’s Newsboy Legion lived in Suicide Slum, facing criminals with guns while The Guardian tried to keep them safe. The Kid Commandos fought the Nazis on the front lines in the war.
The included Kirby reprint shows just how violent the original stories could get. In “Cabbages and Comics,” a story from Star Spangled Comics #29, bullets fly in the direction of the Guardian and the kids are kicked into a prison cell, where they think they might get buried alive. The story also highlights the street-talk from Simon’s pen, bringing a New York dialect to life in text. Chaykin uses it in his story, further connecting his work to the original.
However, there was still some care taken by Simon and Kirby to make stories about kids connect with younger readers. Chaykin doesn’t bother trying. Where Suicide Slum was a brightly-colored world for Kirby, the colors by Qil Quintana and Chaykin’s art go dark. Also, the book isn’t very welcoming to anyone with zero familiarity with the Boy Commandos and Newsboy Legion. While Shane Davis’ New Gods story feels like a welcoming introduction to the Fourth World, this story feels aimed directly at those who already know these characters. In fact, it’s not until the climax of the book that Chaykin suddenly stops the action to introduce every member of the teams.
Chaykin getting the job to tell a story starring Simon and Kirby’s “kid gangs” is a strange decision, almost as weird as the decision to publish a story with them at all. Kirby’s The New Gods characters will be used over and over again by DC, but can you honestly see DC using the Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos again? Perhaps if you’re looking for a better introduction to these characters, you should just pick up DC’s recently-released new collections of the original stories.