The Dream Killers
It was the late seventies and the Comics Code Authority had been relaxed quite a bit. Wolfmen and Vampires were back and so were more adult themes. Spider-Man and Green Arrow had significant anti-drug messages several years previous to this comic. While The Amazing Spider-man #96 – 98 and Green Lantern #85-86 are more famous comics than Ragman #4 the message is no less significant. Comics carrying an anti-drug message could reach a lot of young readers and while Ragman is not Spider-man I’m sure plenty of kids must have read it.
Writer – Bob Kanigher
Artist – The Redondo Studio (I assume this is Nestor Redondo and Joe Kubert)
Ragman created by Joe Kubert and Bob Kanigher
Let’s start with the amazing Joe Kubert cover. Ragman is walking towards the reader carrying the body of a young blond woman. There are four pistols aimed at him The green hooded figure really pops on the orange background. The whole thing is a very dramatic image that just makes the reader want to open the comic.
The story begins with young Jeanne Wilson getting high and then overdosing. The imagery here is very realistic with Jeanne being offered a small white envelope and then she is back in a room alone getting high. Finally her lifeless corpse is shown being surrounded by three men. I have no idea where these guys came from and the story doesn’t really explain it. It is all pretty intense.
The men talking among themselves decide they have to get rid of the body. As they are trying to dump the body in the river Ragman shows up. The men fire on him but after a couple of punches they run off. Ragman recovers Jeanne’s body and gives the reader a dire warning that “unless the dealers of death can be burned out of their nests anyone can be next!”. He brings the body to the morgue where the mortician tells Ragman and the police officers with him that they have to stop this plague. It’s all pretty ominous.
Back home Ragman removes his costume revealing his true identity, Rory Regan, junk shop owner. The following morning Rory is woken up by a young child named, Teddy and blond woman, Bette. They are from the local orphanage, because of of course they are, and they are going to Funland.
Rory, Bette, and a big group of orphans take the ferry to Funland, an amusement park that is on an island. When the kids arrive in Funland they are greeted by a heavy bald man who gives all the kids some coins, I assume for arcade games, and tells them to enjoy themselves, everything is free for them today. Why does he give the kids coins if everything is free, I think it is just this guy’s thing because it’s going to show again later. The whole thing has a very Pinocchio vibe to it. If this were not a story about drugs, I would assume that Ragman would be rescuing a bunch of kids who had been turned into donkeys later in the story.
The kids all have a great day riding roller coasters and the mini submarine ride. There is actually a lot of focus on the submarine ride, foreshadowing that it is going to show up again in the story. On the Ferry ride home the kids are all worn out and sleepy. Not all the kids are resting though. One young man is on the back of the ferry and he thinks he can fly. He starts yelling while standing on the guard rail and slurring his speech. He then takes a nosedive into the water thinking that nothing can hurt him. Rory sees this, thinks the kid is stoned out of his mind, and dives in after him.
Rory tries to save the kid but the young boy ends up getting swept away by the current. Back on the boat Rory is upset that he was not able to save the boy but everyone else says that it was not his fault, that the kid was “gone before he fell into the water”. It feels like a pretty cold judgement of a kid who who just drowned when he was stoned. Well Rory is not having that so Ragman heads back to Funland that night to investigate.
While exploring the park, Ragman comes across the bald man, who runs the place, and a group of shady characters. He showers Ragman with the same silver coins he gave to the kids earlier that day, except these coins are electrified. Ragman is then subdued, bound to one of the roller coaster cars, and then launched into the water as the car speeds around the coaster. This is why I never ride rollers.
After Ragman frees himself he sees one of the subs that he rode with the kids earlier that day. He then figures that is how they are bringing the drugs in. The mini subs must be meeting the supplier out at sea and then bring the dope back to Funland. As the drugs are being unloaded from the submarine Ragman calls out to the men from the roller coaster. He then attacks and makes short work of the thugs. In the final panel the bald man sits in a jail cell muttering to himself that Ragman is the devil and that he cannot be killed. That wraps up the first story but there is more Ragman action to come.
There is a back up story in the comic with no dialog. The story has a brief introduction and then a couple newspaper headlines at the end. It takes place in a cemetery. Ragman is just hanging out when he sees three grave robbers enter the graveyard with sledge hammers and shovels. The men start destroying tombstones and then dig up a coffin.
In the coffin they examine the corpse and the tattoo on the arm. The tattoo is of a hooded figure with wings. One of the men points to a large grave marker of a hooded figure with a scythe and wings. They start digging up that grave. When they open the coffin the corpse is covered in jeweled necklaces which the men steal. It turns out the first corpse was a bit of a treasure map. It is then that Ragman attacks. He takes out one guy when the leader smashes him in the head with a shovel.
Ragman is knocked into the winged grave marker and it falls forward on to the remaining grave robbers. He gets to his feet and simply walks away with the bodies under the stone wings. The newspaper headlines explain that the grave robbers tried to use vandalism to hide the fact that they were digging up graves to steal belongings.
I picked this comic up because whenever I hear anyone talk about Ragman they always sound excited. I do not recall ever reading a comic with the character before so I had to see what he was all about. I am very glad I did because I really enjoyed this.
I’ve already mentioned how great the cover is but one more thing that makes it so good is that the scene depicted actually happens in the comic. This is awesome. The stark reality of a drug overdose is portrayed right at the start of the book and it doesn’t pull any punches. This is serious message and the story gives it the weight it deserves. It doesn’t pander and it does not portray drugs in an unrealistic manner. A young white girl overdoses alone in her room. It does not use goofy slang terms or make it seem like you have to do a lot of drugs to have something awful happen.
Through the rest of the story the characters and action do not overshadow or minimize the message that is being conveyed. On the flip side there is enough of a comic story here that it does not feel like a free PSA comic to be handed out in a special assembly in the school auditorium. As someone who grew up in the “stranger danger” and “just say no” era, this book feels more honest than the Teen Titan PSA comics or that episode of Diff’rent Strokes that Nancy Reagan showed up on.
Ragman himself was really interesting. I like the idea of a vigilante being a small business owner. He can avoid all the inconveniences of having to get away from his job to do something heroic and then struggle to have an explanation for the boss. If he wants he just puts the closed sign up and goes after the bad guys. It is too bad this volume only lasted for one more issue. The art is fantastic and does a great job invoking the grittiness and dirtiness of the urban environment from that era. All in all I thought this was a good comic and worth the dollar I paid for it.
I’ll close this out with what is probably my favorite toy soldier advertisement of all time, the 100 toy soldiers for $1.50, footlocker storage box included.