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BRUCE BLACKBURN

 
Full Name: Bruce Blackburn
Series Name: Bruce Blackburn Counterspy
Nationality: American
Organization: Military Intelligence
Occupation Agent

Creator: Harry Campbell
Time Span: 1940 - 1942

ABOUT THE SERIES

       Bruce Blackburn is an agent with Military Intelligence.
       Holding the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army, he has been an agent with that organization for some time, though how long is not mentioned. In fact, not very much at all is mentioned about Blackburn. We know by observation that he is still fairly young. He is certainly athletic. He is also quite good looking with black hair and a strong rugged face. Other than that, not much else is available.
       Except, of course, that he dies in the first recorded adventure.
       His death is faked, of course. So is that of his friend and fellow officer, a lieutenant known as Jackson (what Jackson's first name is we never learn). The two men serve together in G-2 and are of similar age and height and build. This is important to the storyline because as the first case we know about is beginning, someone has leaked a picture of Blackburn to the media and a newspaper splashed it on the front page. Since Blackburn was working mostly undercover, that was a very bad thing to have happen.
       So, to compensate for his exposure, Blackburn decides he must die. It is not certain whose idea it was, his or their boss, the Colonel, but the fake car accident was reported to have claimed the lives of both Blackburn and Jackson. The two officers then headed to the office of a plastic surgeon who performed his magic and two weeks later, both report back for work looking like identical twins.
       To continue the illusion that Blackburn was dead, they take over an antique store in New York City and use it as their base of operations. There, Jackson routinely runs the establishment while Blackburn goes about his undercover counter-espionage work. Jackson's role is usually a small one, if any. Trailing people seems to be his forte. Their look-alikeness comes into play on a few occasions when Blackburn is being watched or must be in a secret meeting with bad guys and needs to get away for his own work - in comes mirror-image Jackson.
       Once or twice Jackson saves the day but it is Blackburn who nabs the bad guys and rescues whatever needs it. Helping out a time or three is Sergeant Gurk, apparently an employee of the antique shop who is also good at following folks or just guarding them. Gurk is there for the first few missions but then disappears (transferred?). Even Jackson plays less and less of a role in the activities though he never disappears for good.
       A tad over halfway through the adventures, a young beautiful foreign agent arrives in America to cause all sorts of trouble and plays havoc with Blackburn. Known only as Sonya, she is the daughter of a notorious World War One female agent and is carrying on her mother's line of work. For quite a while it is not stated exactly who she works for except it is European and prone to goose-stepping. Towards the end of the series' run, the word Nazi is finally used clarifying the matter. Sonya will prove to be a resilient and very resourceful adversary and extremely good at escaping after being captured.

COMIC BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Number of Stories:25
First Appearance:1940
Last Appearance:1942

       Feature Comics was one of many comic book publications which operated as an anthology presenting a wide assortment of repeating characters, each with his or her own short episode. It was published by Quality Comics. According to Wikipedia, its forerunner was Feature Funnies, put out by Harry Chesler from 1937 to 1939 lasting 20 issues and then renamed, coming out at just Feature Comics with issue #21.
       As Feature Funnies the magazine presented a lot of comedy strips and a fair assortment of crime-fighters or adventures. It also gave us Black X for a while. When it turned into Feature Comics it moved into the nascent superhero arena, though not at first. Initially it just continued with the new work by Will Eisner (via his many pennames) and reprints of newspaper comic strips. Its superhero, staring with issue #27, would be Doll Man, an Eisner creation who could shrink down to the size of a doll but still pack a heck of a wallop.
       It was in issue #32 in May of 1940 that Bruce Blackburn, Counterspy, made his debut, fighting the enemy agents from often unspecified European countries who want to either disrupt American diplomacy or mess with the U.S. straight out. This ambiguity would last until shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the mutual declarations of war between the U.S. and the Axis powers. Blackburn stayed in constantly action for 25 issues.
       Many comic characters saw their final episode end while promising more action "next month" or "next issue", never to be actually happen. This is not the case with Bruce Blackburn for though his continued exploits are touted at the end of each mission, when his last came, the promo was for a new character, Spider Woman.

       One interesting tidbit about Bruce Blackburn takes place in the 8th and 9th adventures (Feature Comics #39 and #40) when the intrepid operative put on a costume and hit the streets as the Destroying Devil (although he was also called Destroying Demon by a bad guy and Avenging Devil by the Colonel). Whether this was intended as an interesting one/two-spot story or a planned transition to a crime-fighter role is not known. Whichever the intent, it did not last long and Blackburn was back in his normal suit and tie.
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MY COMMENTS

       I had no experience with comic writer/aritst Harry Campbell before I started reading the Bruce Blackburn adventures so I did not know what to expect. What I got was a pretty darn good action-packed mission in each issue, all told in 5 pages. That is quite impressive.
       Now with just a short amount of room in which to tell a full story, it is not surprising that we do not get any background on the character(s) nor is anything of their private lives ever mention (except for a tiny budding romance between Blackburn and his nemesis, Sonya that might have been more my imagination that actual). That is a pity but considering that few other spy series in comic form during that time did anything more than Campbell did with the history of Blackburn, hardly surprising.
       I would recommend the Blackburn stories only for their historical value as they show the mores and attitudes of that time. This is especially true in the pre-WWII adventures when the worries of upcoming conflict were growing monthly but the desire to not actually name an enemy state held firm. Of course, the Germanic accents and surnames conveyed the truth but deniability was ever there.

GRADE

My Grade: B

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