Around in Europe with Johnny Hazard
Back in 1944, after working on some strips written by others, a soon-to-be star by the name of Frank Robbins came up with his own comic strip, Johnny Hazard!
For me, Johnny Hazard and the Phantom went hand in hand for about 10 years from 1966 onwards! Why? Because of the choice of supporting comic the publisher of the Phantom (Fantomet) in Norway made for their new magazine!
When I had flicked through one of the earliest issues, and after reading the Phantom story, I finally took notice of the ‘filler’. At first I found it to be darker, both in tone and the use of black. To put it simply, Frank Robbins used another style than Wilson McCoy did in his Phantom story!
Well, as always I did not pass over the chance to peruse a good story, and I soon found Johnny Hazard to be a comic well worth reading!
What stories did we get then? Well. I remember ‘Dead or Missing’ (Sunday 1954), which brings me to the most powerful period in Robbins storytelling about his hero pilot!
War in the Orient – 1944
This is when it all started. About a year before the WWII came to an end, Johnny Hazard and some friends managed to escape from a POW camp in Germany. Robbins was sure the war would end very soon and subsequently sent his hero to the part of the world where in all likelihood the war would continue for quite some time, namely the Orient!
End of the war and then what?
Well, the war ended and so Johnny and his friends had to return home without money or jobs. But there was never a dull moment. The world has always been filled with dishonest people, and Johnny Hazard seemed to find them very easy, if they didn’t find him first!
In the first five years of dailies, Robbins wrote extremely long, pacy stories, filled with gangsters of all kind, one more gruesome than the other; and mostly the action took place in the Orient and on planes.
Goodbye Orient – hello Europe
Then something new emerged! We got shorter and perhaps more interesting stories, the supporting cast became a bit more ‘human’, and we got to know several interesting people. Johnny Hazard did not run as much as he used to in earlier stories. Gone was also some of the flying. We still knew he was a pilot, and of course the planes were used to transport his party from place to place and country to country.
Saide the System, diamonds and Africa!
First out was ‘Sadie the System’ – 1950-10-23 to 1951-1-15! This was a story about diamond smuggling, but the plane was still in heavy use, if only primarily as a mode of transport! In the next story Johnny met his arch enemy ‘The Orchid’ once again and made some new friends. Johnny also got a new job, contracted to ship diamonds around the world, and in a hurry! I bet it felt good to be a jet pilot!
The first assignment brought him to the diamond market in Algiers, and it was at this point that the real 50s action started!
New country and new crimes!
These were the stories from my childhood ‘Fantomet’! Who doesn’t remember the ‘Frogman’ – 1951-4-23 to 1951-9-22 and the following story ‘When the time stood still’ – 1951-9-24 to 1951-24-11! Both these stories took place in Africa, but from there it was soon back to Europe again!
It was handy being a pilot, but sometimes the going got tough, like when the criminals wanted to use your service to bring them and their stolen goods to a new destination: fly or die!!
Johnny and his new friend Wee Dorrie ended up in the Middle East and from there they flew to Paris! Wee Dorrie was going to meet his girlfriend, but this did not happen without some dramatic action in ‘With this ringer I Thee Wed’ – 1951-11-26 to 1952-3-29!
Johnny was now in France, and what could possibly happen on such “a relaxing day”, as Johnny optimistically thought to himself in his hotel room! (The art in these strips, from the early to mid-50s, are in my opinion the best there are from Frank Robbins.)
But of course the action did not stop! This time, the story ‘The Yankee Dollar’ – 1952-3-31 to 1952-8-9 took Johnny to Berlin! We all remember the sequence where Johnny and his old girlfriend Paradise were running around in Berlin with ‘Herr Umlaut’ high on their heels! The action culminated with everybody ending up in a ‘spinning-barrel’, where Herr Umlaut received the spin of his life!
From deadly skiing to walking on a tightrope!
If death in the circus was not enough, we now also got ‘Death on Skis’ – 1952-8-11 to 1952-1-11! This took us to the Swiss Alps! I would think that skiing in the Alps would be exiting enough without bombs or any other dangerous contraptions going off all the time, but bombs we got!
Of course with a hero as Johnny Hazard it may not have been such a dangerous thing after all, and especially not with a good looking girl involved! But then again he had yet to meet ‘The most Beautiful Woman alive’ – 1952-11-3 to 1953-1-31. Courtesy of a desperate looking fellow, he was soon to be introduced to such a woman, and barely lived to tell the tale. This action took place somewhere outside Monte Carlo!
Well, everything went well, and the desperate fellow turned out to be an English gentleman. And believe it or not, the next place of action was London, just in time for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in ’London Bridge is Falling Down’ – 1953-2-2 to 1953-6-6.
It is not easy to be an American hero in foggy London and wake up one morning seeing a man suspended in mid-air and no-one believes you. Well, the Queen’s coronation certainly was in danger, and Johnny Hazard had yet again to punch his weight very high up in the air, only this time without his plane! But thankfully good help is never far away in comics. Cue the two American high-wire artists who helped Johnny to catch the dangerous criminal who had a nasty habit of walking on top of high bridges in foggy London!
The next drama should have been easy enough to settle peacefully, but that is just what Johnny Hazard thought. The victim of a brat like Myles Standish Alden III’s pea-shooting would not agree with that assessment. So we were off to France again in ‘Watch the Birdie’ – 1953-6-8 to 1953-9-12
It is not easy to be a criminal, earning one’s living by robbing banks. The police tend to pop up at the most critical moments and spoil a man’s work. So you have to run, hide your loot and hope for the best. Well, this time the worst happened. The criminal got caught by the police and had to spend many years in prison. So one lives on and looks forward to the day of release, glory and richness after digging up the hidden treasure, only to find out that the hiding place is in the cellar of the local police station! A lot of things can apparently happen in fifteen years and during a war…
Well, to make a long story short, the criminal had accomplices, and, unwilling to share, they killed each other in the end!
Pearls, art forgery and Coliseum!
Once again we found Johnny in ‘peaceful’ Paris, and our hero had to eat. It was the oyster season, but the plate Johnny Hazard was served in “On the Half Shell’ – 1953-9-14 to 1953-12-12 had pearls in every oyster! Surely that can’t be right! Who doesn’t remember the funny moment when Hazard was ‘casting pearls before swine’?
Pearls in shells are one thing, but when a very rich Texan has decided to invest in art, it is indeed good to have a Johnny Hazard around. So we found ourselves “In the Art” – 1953-12-14 to 1954-3-13! Naturally, forgeries were discovered and the people behind them were taken care of, after which it was time for the rich Texan to find the girl he had come to marry. Unless her local ‘friend’ found her first.
In ‘Roman Circus’ – 1954-3-15 to 1954-5-7 we were gripped by a frighten girl running from her mad ‘lover’, who had vowed to kill her rather than see her marrying another man. We were given clowns and other ‘fun’ stuff at a circus, and even Coliseum (Rome) came to life with live lions and killing like in the old days!
Lost identities are hard to live with. The problems in ‘Whit what is my name’ – 1954-6-21 to 1954-9-18 propelled Johnny Hazard to yet a destination in Europe: Venice. The canals were not a good place in which to bring an entire evening, but if you have been hit on your head you most likely not remember much of it anyway, perhaps not even your own name in the morning. (Hardly the one in your passport!) But where there are heroes in distress there are also beautiful girls (and vice versa), always ready to help each other, as in this story, so Johnny Hazard lived on!
I think it now time to leave our hero, and wish him good luck on his journey around Europe. It will not last long. The ‘happy days’ will soon come to an end and Johnny will find himself back ‘at work’. We will see more of Johnny flying jet planes, and the action will intensify! The stories are good enough, but I did find the years just reviewed to be the best.
Later we also find Johnny working for Wing, an organization that dealt with spies and other mysterious goings-on during the Cold War! But that is an entirely different story!
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