Pep Morgan was the all-round athlete went from high school to university, moving to Ardale with his parents, and alternated between college and professional sports. In his last stories, he had become a bodyguard for an industrialist, and was heading home on vacation. As the series continues, Pep would go through some wild career/schooling changes, and I believe we can see the sad story underlining it.
Pep is an athlete, but when it comes to dealing with the bad guys, he basically just beats people up. When he can get his hands on a gun he will use it, but essentially he is just a brawler, and I think the stories we read of him show those in a positive light, but I suspect he had many fights that did not. It would explain a few things.
So he comes home on vacation and is playing baseball on the city team when Jimmy Dee crash lands his plane on the diamond. Pep helps save the man, who offers him a job as his mechanic as he competes in the Air Races. Apparently aside from needing no qualifications, the mechanic sits in the rear seat of the biplane – perhaps to perform repairs while the fly. At any rate, Jimmy passes out and with no teaching time whatsoever, Pep takes the controls and wins the race.
He then takes a brief job as the bodyguard to a racehorse owner in Florida, then returns to Ardale and spends his time hanging out with the volunteer firemen. This boy has lost his direction in life. He goes to Pennsylvania to aid a cousin who owns a mine against workers who want to strike – now he is simply a hired goon.
Pep goes back to Florida in issue 24 and gets a tryout to be a substitute pitcher on a professional team. He gets wind of a plot by gamblers to kill the primary pitcher, Fog Bellows, and Pep messes up his tryout to save Fog’s life. He gets booted, and although at the end he is told he is back on, this must just mean he is allowed to finish the tryout, because in the very next issue Pep is in England, on a cruiser in the Channel, as a war correspondent.
So there is no way he made the team. Now why on earth a newspaper would choose to send this boy to England as a reporter is beyond me – and, in fact, the story goes far beyond the bounds of reality. After not only the ship Pep is on gets torpedoed, but the rescue ship as well, the lifeboat capsizes. Pep swims around tirelessly saving people until the sub surfaces and they are brought on board. Despite being an american kid and not in the military, Pep is brought before the sub`s commander, and manages to get his gun from him and single-handedly take over the sub.
The commander of the sub wears a white uniform, which I thought was odd. As they are showing England at war, why would they not depict the nazis as they appeared?
Then it become clear. The art “error” is our clue to confirm that this story is a preposterous tale – this is the story Pep told people to explain why he left for a while, rather than telling them the truth about his dismal Florida tryout.
Pep has a pretty good adventure in the Saskatchewan “district” of Canada in the next issue, 26. He is hunting with a local guide, who speaks French and is named Pierre, but I let that pass. After Pierre breaks his leg Pep endures quite genuine threats in a snowstorm to get Pierre to some safety, and then to a Hudson’s Bay Post to get help.
Pep battles some more gamblers in two adventures as he competes in college track meets, though it is unclear what college he is in, I believe these should come after issue 29, and be placed in Midtown.
George Papp takes over the art with issue 29, as Pep goes on a summer vacation to Cambodia to hunt a legendary monster that turns out to be a dinosaur. I think we can put this tale in the “Pep’s lies” category.
So with issue 30 Pep is now attending Midtown College, sharing a dorm with Slim Pickens, and they talk a fair amount about studying chemistry. His failed professional career behind him, Pep is taking another shot at schooling. But Slim seems not to be the best roommate for Pep, perhaps. Slim is rich, he buys himself a jet plane and takes Pep on a couple of adventures in it, and his uncle lives on an estate nearby, which he rides to by horse. Pep gets a taste of the good life, and maybe a bit more.
Pep and Slim are on many teams together, and after Pep scores a goal in a hockey match, Slim says “I could kiss you.”, to which Pep gives the response, “That’s just like you, Slim, getting romantic with ten thousand people watching. Why don’t you wait.”
Soooooo, Slim and Pep are more than just roomies.
Slim gets kidnapped in issue 38, and Pep of course is the one to hunt down the kidnappers and save his guy – but this may have outed them? Slim is not seen again after this story, and with issue 39 Pep is playing baseball at a new university, Midwest College, with a different chemistry instructor.
Given Pep’s propensity for violence, I’m going to toss a lover’s quarrel into the pot, and make that the explanation. Whatever it was, it was extreme enough to make Pep change schools and cities midway through a term.
In issue 40 Pep is out of school again, and takes another bodyguard job, this time for Don Alvera, from the South American country of Chileanos, who has come to the US to sell diamonds on behalf of the government. Impressed with Pep, Don Alvera beings him back to Chileanos, just in time for Pep to rescue the president of the country from being kidnapped. In 41, the final issue of Pep’s run, Don Alvera brings him to his ranch in the country, where Pep is pitted against the local bandit king, Tuerto, whom he kills.
The last we see of Pep he is embracing the prone Juantia, as her father Don Alversa looks on approvingly. After his failed gay relationship, his failed professional baseball career, and his many failed attempts at college, Pep settles down in Chileanos, becoming the muscle behind the powers the run the country. And after marrying Juantia, and becoming heir to Don Alvera, Pep was sure to rule like a warlord.
I imagine, in the end, Pep was unable to accept the frailties of age, and attempted some fight or daring act when his body was no longer capable of it, and died stupidly.
Pep Morgan: Action Comics 20 – 41 (Jan 40 – Oct 41)