In 1940, the world was in the grips of World War 2. In America, patriotism was at an all time high. Everything in the current pop culture landscape was jumping onto the patriotism bandwagon, especially comics. Comic books of the this era — now known as the Golden Age of comics — laid the groundwork for the modern comic as we know it. Most of the comics coming out at this time would simply go away quietly into the night. Others would re-work themselves to service a post war America. MLJ was one such company. What soon would become Archie Comics, MLJ created many superheros under their umbrella, as well as a number of comic anthologies. One of their most popular — and long time standing — anthologies was Pep Comics.
Pep Comics #1 has a cover date of January 1940, but came out in November of 1939. Pep Comics #1 introduces The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary. The introduction of The Shield is an easy read. The FBI needs Shield to stop a Stokian Spy Ring. The Shield, in his civilian form, gets to work. The Shield bears a lot of similarity to other known superheroes — he's strong, bulletproof, metal proof (seriously, a sword is shattered when it hits his head), and his uniform is even bomb proof. Of course as is the norm, Shield saves the day.
The next story introduces readers to The Comet. A young scientist, Comet gets his powers from a gas that is lighter than hydrogen. As a result Comet has the ability to leap tall bounds (or even fly), and he can also shoot power beams from his eyes. After Comet saves the day, we have an animal comic, Jocko. I won't get into this one, as Jocko is clearly based on racist tropes that were the norm in 1939.
We then have Sergeant Boyle, a war story. Then The Queen of Diamonds, Fu Chang: International Detective, a short story by Will Harr, Bantly of Scotland Yard, Jack Dempsy, The Press Guardian, Animal Antics, The Midshipmen, and Kayo Ward.
The stories are very much so products of their time. They can be crude and vulgar, but sometimes fun and interesting. The art ranges in this book, but expect for lifelike renderings, and animals who are almost human. And while all of them do exist within the time frame of WW II, not every story is a war story. Some characters even remind me of later MLJ characters. Kayo Ward, for example, reminds me a little too much of K.O Kelly from Katy Keene. Both Kayo and KO are boxers who are just trying to do the right thing. He even has a beautiful woman by his side, Connie. But unlike Katy, Connie is a blonde. But the similarities are there.
None of the stories really stand out on their own. They each serve as an introductory to these new characters, most of which will be forgotten over time. But this is still an important comic in the overall Archie universe. Afterall, if we never got Pep #1, we wouldn't get Pep #22.