Sgt. Boyle and Captain Twerp.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: MLJ/Archie Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Abner Sundell (writer) and (artist)
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It isn't too surprising that America's superheroes were wrapping themselves in the American flag even before the country was officially involved in World War II (not only was DC's Star-Spangled Kid early to make that fashion statement, so was Marvel's Captain America himself). They were fighting unofficially, not representing anyone but their creators' desires, and popular sentiment was already leaning heavily in favor of bashing the Nazis. But it's not quite so expected …

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… to see regular military men in ordinary uniforms fighting the the war in American comics even before America was fighting it in real life.

But Sgt. Henry "Hank" Boyle was part of the British military, which made it possible to for him to fight the war in uniform, like so many readers would willingly have done if they'd lived in a country that was sponsoring that sort of thing at the time. Which made it possible for him to debut in the first issue of MLJ Comics' Pep Comics (January, 1940), just like The Comet, The Falcon (no relation) and The Shield (who, by the way, was another of those pre-war flag wearers). MLJ is the company that later renamed itself after its most popular character, Archie.

Boyle was actually an American, a student living in London, and was dragged into the war when he tried to go home, and his ship was sunk by a German submarine. He was rescued, but decided not to continue on his way. Instead, he enlisted in the local expeditionary forces; and by the time his series opened, had worked his way up to sergeant.

Boyle wasn't all that military, except that he did wear a uniform. He wasn't, for example, very good at following orders, or even keeping his commanders "in the loop" about his plans. He was liable to take off on a mission against the enemy at any time, without the permission or knowledge of his superiors, commandeering whatever equipment suited his fancy, even a general's personal aircraft. An exception was Captain Twerp, a skinny, funny-faced. ineffectual little man who usually accompanied Boyle, more often by accident than design. Boyle's other close associates included Corporal Jim Collins, his sidekick at first, but who was gradually displaced by Twerp.

Sgt. Boyle didn't seem to be stationed in any particular place — he and his entourage could turn up anywhere in the world, from the depths of eastern Europe to the Pacific, where he'd been placed ostensibly to help out the Australians. Whether or not this represented an effort on the part of commanders to get him away from them is a matter of mere speculation. (In real life, that wouldn't be a problem. His behavior would quickly get him killed; and if he somehow managed to survive, he'd be drummed out of the service before he could do too much damage.)

After Pearl Harbor, of course, American military heroes abounded in comic books, as in real life. But Sgt. Boyle remained the company's most popular military man. He remained in Pep Comics for the duration of the war, even as the back pages were starting to fill up with funny stuff, and even visited the MLJ offices in #31 (September, 1942). And when MLJ launched an anthology of its most popular features, Jackpot Comics, Sgt. Boyle had a starring slot alongside Steel Sterling, The Black Hood and Mr. Justice.

But in the postwar world, non-super military guys (and Boyle had only a superhuman ability to dodge bullets and the super power to deliver a ten-minute speech along with a split-second punch) were even less interesting to readers than the surviving superheroes, who at least had non-political crime and evil to fall back on. Boyle hasn't been seen since.


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Text ©2008 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.