There’s a section of the second chapter of Seduction Of The Innocent I didn’t go over because the darn thing ran two parts to begin with. That’s more than Chapter By Chapter ever gets for a single chapter. It’s like the opposite of The Black Stallion’s Ghost where I actually combined chapters. The section was on comics involving drugs and one comic he brought up was Teen-Age Dope Slaves, which is actually Harvey Comics Library #1, but if he can’t figure out Superman I don’t expect him to understand the bizarre titling system of 1950s comics. Whiz Comics #2 is the first issue for example.

When adolescent drug addiction had finally come to public attention, it led to the publication of lurid new comic books devoted entirely to the subject, like the one with the title, Teen-Age Dope Slaves. This is nothing but another variety of crime comic of a particularly deplorable character.

So I had to check this book out, because it’s the closest thing to a source name I’ve seen in this book, and I have to wonder if Fredric Wertham even bothered to look into it. This is not a comic that is going to push kids into drugs. Nothing about this comic makes drugs look cool. You know why? IT’S AN ANTI-DRUG PSA COMIC! Wertham seems to come from the “ignore it and it will go away” school which is funny considering that one woman who thought ignoring the neighborhood kids molesting girls and breaking into houses was the answer and was surprised to see things keep getting worse. How stupid can you be? The only thing that comes from not warning kids about drugs is that they won’t be prepared when they’re offered the stuff and are told how cool it is to see planets shooting out of your fingernails based on what color they turned. And you wonder why I have issues with the psychiatric community? With the past few years I’ve had I could probably use some therapy but guys like this is why I’d rather not.

But back to the comic. The story features comic strip character Rex Morgan, MD, the creation of two comic creators and a doctor who doesn’t want to be named. I’ve never really read the comic so I can’t tell you anything about it. What’s important is this comic, as Rex and his nurse (and future wife from what I just read), June Gale, are drawn into the life of a promising young football star who becomes addicted to drugs. I don’t know if this was created for Harvey Comics Library or not, but it’s written like a newspaper strip, in that you have things being repeated that the reader should already know from a few pages back. The question is how off the mark was Wertham with this one? To be honest I though this was a visit to crazy town. I was surprised.

Was this ever the title of a grindhouse movie? Because I feel it should be.

Harvey Comics Library #1

Harvey Comics (April, 1952)

“Teen-Age Dope Slaves”

(so when did we lose the hyphen in “teenage”?)

WRITER: Nicholas Dallis?

PENCILERS: Marvin Bradley [as Bradley] & Frank Edgington [as Edgington]

INKERS: Marvin Bradley [as Bradley] & Frank Edgington [as Edgington]

This is all the credits you got from comics in those days and I can’t help but think Comic Book +, the website I got this from, was guessing on some of the credits they gave at the time. Oh don’t worry, these comics are in public domain, so you can read this one along with me free and legal.

Our tale begins as June is in the office alone because this is the 1950s and doctors still make house calls. Two men wearing handkerchiefs break in just before Rex Morgan returns. The guy in charge tells his partner to take out the “sawbones”, and his associate whacks him with a blackjack, and I don’t mean a deck of playing cards. Don’t worry though, this is fiction. Morgan’s waking up with only a mild neck-ache instead of a major concussion. It’s only slightly more annoying than having a heavy glass beer bottle cracked upon your skull. Just a mind annoyance really.

The bad guys are there to steal narcotic tablets, but all Rex has in his bag are six tablets, and that’s only for emergencies. I guess that’s supposed to deter drug addicts and pushers from robbing doctors. The associate accidentally calls his boss, Manny, by name and gets smacked for it. Turns out the associate is actually one of his customers and he wanted to prove to the kid that he was the only way the kid was going to get his fix. As we’ll be seeing, Manny’s last name is Sadist; they just forgot to call him that in the story. Manny Sadist.

June calls the police and the narcotics bureau. The bureau sends agent Mel Presser in to check out the situation. He’ll be our exposition for the evils of the drug trade while Rex talks about how evil drugs are to your body. Mel immediately figures out what Manny Sadist was doing here, that he knew Rex wouldn’t have enough drugs and he was trying to prove to his client how badly he needed him. Speaking of Manny, it’s time for the traditional “sure you can have your drugs while you’re in painful withdrawal and suffering but you have to give me the money first” scene that keeps showing up in these stories, PSA or not. Manny does give the kid, Bruce Grayson, the drugs they stole from Rex (if only his cousin Dick knew) but neither of them knows how much to use. This will be important later. Manny does relent when he sees how bad Bruce is doing, but charges him extra for the hit. He also tries to talk Bruce into convincing his girlfriend, Louise, into trying weed even though she hated it last time and Bruce isn’t sure he wants to drag her into this.

“Well that misses the point of buying the sexy cheerle…I mean ha ha, good joke Bill.”

They do have a date later and we start to learn more about our young Bruce. He used to be a football player on her dad’s team (I’m assuming college because they talk about him being “at state”) but dropped off, obviously to the audience because of the drug use, but he says there are more important things than sports. Some friends from the exposition dorm show up to tell us the team has been getting wacked and we’ll later learn Bruce was the star player. Not surprisingly her dad hates Bruce and doesn’t want her seeing him, so she has to go behind his back. Bruce has also been skipping classes.

So the coach goes to his old friend Rex Morgan, because we need to keep him here somehow. He’s hoping Rex can…I’m not sure. Talk her out of it? Find out if they are dating? Anyway, during the date Bruce goes into withdrawal again, Manny later saying that he can’t go six hours without a hit anymore. He gets some money from Louise and scores a hit. We later learn she suspected Bruce may be on drugs (I think this was a huge red flag) but tries not to think about it. Manny also suggests Bruce should do a few “special chores” for some friends of his. I know what you’re thinking and I’m pretty sure it’s more drug delivery than that. Let’s not give Wertham any more fuel for the fire, okay?

Then that sadistic side shows up, pretending to be helpful. Manny warns him that he should cut down, that Bruce is burning through it too fast, but this just gets Bruce mad and the kid insists he’ll never come back and that’s he’s going to quit! He also knows some cartoon characters who are going to help him. Who can say no to Winnie The Pooh? But this is all part of Manny’s game, to make him come crawling back for another hit. He doesn’t just push drugs, he likes to make them suffer. I gave him that last name for a reason besides the comic not giving him one.

The next day Bill tells Louise that he’s invited Rex over for dinner and with the wife apparently dead and it being the 1950s Louise has to do the cooking. (Of course for all we know Bill can’t boil water and its bad weather for a BBQ.) So she won’t be able to see Bruce tonight. This news surprises Bruce not because the date is canceled but the guy he just robbed recently is now having dinner with his girl and her Bruce-hating father. That’ll rattle your chain. So does the withdrawal later that night and Bruce ends up calling Manny, although to his credit Bruce does at least try to fight through the pain. Manny simply calls him out for screaming he was quitting yesterday because he still likes making him suffer. Instead Bruce goes into the stolen pills and breaks them up for his needle anyway. Because that can only end in good.

Not being able to study he calls Louise, and while this sounds stupid (remember, guy he blackjacked and robbed is having dinner with her father who hates him) it ends up saving Bruce’s life. She tries to hide who is calling, but while they’re talking Bruce ends up overdosing since he used too many tablets. Bill and Rex hear Louise trying to get him to answer and when she mentions Bruce’s name he ignores the “he may be in trouble” part and starts yelling for her to never see him again. Rex luckily pays attention to “he may be in trouble” and talks him down but Louise gets the busy signal when she tries to call Bruce back. The two of them finally convince Bill that maybe they should see if the kid is going to die and safe his life, and Bill, like a smart per…yeah, I linked to the comic. You already know he’s a total dumbass and refuses to listen even when Rex speaks up for “don’t let the kid die”, so Louise takes off without his permission. Rex and Bill follow, presumably with Bill screaming “LET THE KID DIE LET THE KID DIE” out the window the whole time.

Louise makes it to Bruce’s apartment building but the landlord is a bitchy old lady who won’t let her in because decent people don’t visit each other at night. They just finished dinner a little while ago. What time did they eat, nine o’clock? And what business is it of yours if she stops by to visit? Maybe it’s an emergency. In fact she still tries to get rid of them when a doctor shows up to say he may not be well.

“Can’t you see him in the morning?”

“He may be dead by morning.”

“Will I still get the back rent he owes me?”

And that’s another thing about this story. Rex, Mel, and June are the only adults in this comic who aren’t jerks! Bill doesn’t care if the kid dies, the landlady doesn’t care if he dies, and Manny is on his way because he spent the past hour standing in mud to make Bruce lick them clean and he hasn’t come crawling to worship the drug god yet. What the heck, guys? And sure enough there he is passed out on the floor. Rex sends Bill for his medical bag, Louise to call for an ambulance, and presumably the landlady went back to bed. Then he notices the vial that was stolen from him and Rex is smart enough to put it together. Manny isn’t happy to see Bruce being taken out by the ambulance and for once it’s not to be further sadistic. It is to save his own backside because he doesn’t want Bruce to talk to the cops. So Manny plots to kill the kid with a shot of his drugs. In the hospital. After they’ve already gotten him over the hump and know he couldn’t have gotten more drugs. Are you surprised to learn Manny is a client as well as the president?

“Which reminds me, know where I can get a cheerleader outfit?” “Ummm…why…” “Nothing, forget I asked.”

Bill seems to be a bit calmer now knowing that Bruce is going to not die and that Louise is honestly in love with him. Does that mean he’s going to lighten up on the kid? Not for a few pages yet. Manny and his goon talk their way into visiting Bruce while Mel calls some cops to keep away visitors who might want to kill him before he talks. A bit late, Mel. Rex walks in just as Manny and Underling are about to OD the kid for good and Underling isn’t really up to the whole murder thing. He also says Manny’s name which gets him hit, and tries to talk him out of forcing Rex to OD the kid because he somehow thinks the cops and the hospital are going to believe he ODed a kid under his care and the gun fairy shot him. Underling gets shot for not wanting to murder people and Rex manages to squirt the needle into Manny’s eye just as Mel and June come in with the cops. Don’t worry, Mel, Rex did your job for you. The underling gets treated and Manny is pulled away demanding his pills back because he needs a hit. Maybe don’t use your drugs to kill someone and they won’t be taken away, numbskull.

But the story isn’t done yet. It’s not a proper PSA if we don’t see what Bruce is going to go through next.

Bruce wakes up and tells Mel what he needs to know, but Rex is going to put the boy through a strict program to get off the drugs. For the next ten days (it takes that short a time?) Bruce will be confined to the hospital and slowly weaned off of the narcotics until his system gets used to not relying on them to function again. It will be painful, and we do get to see how painful it is. Bruce is begging for hits, begging to be let go and will totally stay off of the drugs now, and none of it works. Rex knows what Bruce will do and keeps him right where he is. The pain starts really getting to Bruce and he accuses Rex of trying to torture him. And considering he used to hang out with Manny and practically every adult he knows has been practicing to dance around his grave you can’t be that surprised.

Bruce manages to get past Rex and runs into Louise and Bill on the steps, where he accuses her of being part of the torture plot and heads up to the roof. I love how Rex says there’s no way off the roof and then we see Bruce on the other side of the railing ready to jump in a drug withdraw haze. My immediate reaction to Rex saying there’s no way off was “oh yes there is, but you ain’t gonna like it”. And then the grammar police showed up and gave me a ticket. And luckily everybody who loves him is there to talk him out of it. Unfortunately so is Bill.

So glad you came along, Bill. How’s that suicide hotline coming? Surprisingly the comic seems to indicate that Bruce slipped and didn’t jump. Look, it’s one thing to not sugarcoat Bruce’s failings. He screwed up and needs to own up to them. It’s a completely different story to practically shove the kid off yourself! Not-so-fun Fact: Right now as I write this there’s a controversial case in which a rather nasty girl was encouraging her suicidal boyfriend to go through with it with such vigor that the judge decided she deserved to go to prison for it. Just something to think about, Bill!

Rex manages to save the kid, who still acts like he’s being brought back to the torture chamber. and Bill later asks Rex and Mel what’s going on. They tell him that it was the drugs and the pain of withdrawal that was making Bruce act not just as he was on the roof but all the other crap he’s been doing lately. And this seems to finally break through to the thick-headed dummy. Now he actually wants to be helpful. A week later the drugs are finally washed out of Bruce’s system (after a beautiful for the time montage of Bruce imagining June, Rex, and Louise are there on his case but trying to help him) and he can go home to his sweet adorable landlady. But rather than suffer that torture (which would have Bruce back on drugs before the night was over), Bill offers to let him live with them, and I’m actually convinced it’s not so he can kill the boy himself quietly in his sleep. Think about it. Even today in 2017 bringing your daughter’s boyfriend to live with under your roof with her unmarried is a rare event, especially with drugs involved. Imagine in 1952 (the story probably written a few months prior, in 1951), where that would be considered {gasp} scandalous!!!!!!!! So that’s a lot to accept on Bill’s part to keep the boy off of drugs.

So I have to ask: did Fredric Wertham actually read this comic instead of skimming the pages? This is actually a pretty good anti-drug PSA. There are exposition parts but they’re kind of necessary and done organically. Bruce’s problems aren’t exaggerated and (this is rare for one of these stories) we actually get to see him going through detox and coming out clean. We can only hope he stays there but with Louise’s love and Bill not telling him to jump the kid might make it. It’s actually a good story and I would hope would keep kids off drugs or seek help. But all Wertham seemed to see is a story about drug use and assume it would drive all the kiddies to needle up. This comic was intended to warn people away, but if Wertham got what he wanted what would exist to keep kids off of drugs? I think he spent too much time with mentally ill kids to know what kids who didn’t have problems were responding to stuff.

But I think that’s enough of Fredric Wertham for this week, don’t you? Three articles is more than enough. Let’s talk about something else tomorrow, can we?


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

3 responses »

  1. Sean says:

    The Rex Morgan comic strip is still printed in the Hartford Courant comics section. This is a pretty powerful anti-drugs story. It’s too bad that comics like this aren’t published in our current drug saturated time period. Even more kids and young adults (and older adults) are on drugs now than in the 50s. I wonder what kind of drug it was that the character Bruce was using. It was never identified in your article.


    • I think heroine, or at least some kind of narcotic.


      • Sean says:

        Yes, it must be some type of opium derived drug (heroin is connected to opium). Opium was being abused in America during both the 19th and early 20th centuries. I just looked at this morning’s Rex Morgan, M.D. strip and teens are the focus once again. This time it appears to be the issue of teen jealousy in dating. At the moment, the good doctor is nowhere in sight, but I’m sure eventually he will reemerge to offer some doctorly advice to help these young lovebirds.


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