The Whip was an interesting adaptation of Zorro, set in the present day. In the series, a hundred years ago in the town of Seguro in an unidentified state in the southwestern US, Don Fernando Suarez would don a mask and ride his horse out to defend the poor against exploitation, calling him El Castigo, the Whip. In the two-part introduction to the series, New York playboy Rodney Gaynor is driving across the US with his servant, Wing Tai. Hitting a crossroads, he flips a coin, which makes him head to Seguro.
The town is basically ruled by the Ranchers Association, who have the sheriff in their pocket. Local worker Carlos has been framed for a crime, and is imprisoned, but likely to be lynched, although he was set up by the ranchers. Marisa Dillon is a crusading reporter for The Seguro Journal, run by her father, and convinced of Carlos’ innocence. Rod purchases the old Suarez estate, and dresses up as The Whip to bust Carlos out of prison, exposing the sheriff’s corruption. As The Whip Rod wears a flamboyant latino outfit and mask, and adopts an embarrassing accent (“eef you weel horry over to the police headquarters, Mees Deellon, you weel get a wonderful story.”)
Rod sticks around afterwards, romancing Marisa, who of course is more interested in the Whip. She suspects Rod briefly, but he does a fairly good job of covering his tracks at first. This becomes more preposterous as the series continues, as both Rod and The Whip ride the same black horse, King.
Carlos comes to work for Rod, though both he and Wing Tai are only sporadically seen through the course of the series.
For the first year, this strip is fairly remarkable in consistently portraying the latinos as oppressed, manipulated and exploited by the whites. The Ranchers Association has their stranglehold over the town broken, and Rod also goes after corrupt police, judges and newspapers in the region. Not every white person is a bad guy, but all the bad guys are white.
This all begins to change after issue 14. In that story, Marisa decides to travel the state to find interesting stories, and stumbles upon some claim jumpers, who capture her and abandon her out in the desert. This is not resolved until issue 18. The stories between these two no longer have a southwestern feel to them, they are simply city based crime stories, with white victims and villains. There is also the awkward question of Padre Demo.
The Padre debuts in Flash Comics 3, and makes his only return in the story in issue 15. In this tale, a cleaning lady sees a tax collector stealing from his safe, and tells the padre. He goes to Rod Gaynor and tells him, so the Whip catches the tax collector. The implication that the padre knows Rod is the Whip is made explicit at the end, and Padre Demo promises to keep Rod’s secret.
Which makes the opening of issue 16 all the stranger. Wing Tai and Carlos are re-introduced at the start of this story, neither having appeared in months. Wing Tai is called Rod’s valet, and Carlos given the curious job description of being Rod’s “other “man””. That looks weird, but the quotation marks around the word man appear in the comic. Homosexual inferences aside, after this intro they are referred to as the only two people who know Rod is the Whip. What about Padre Demo? More disturbing is the fact that Demo never appears again. I think Rod did not trust the good padre to keep his mouth shut.
After issue 18 picks up and resolves the Marisa in the desert plot (did I make it clear that between issues 14 and 18 Marisa was not lost in the desert?), the series makes a big change, as Rod and Marisa head to New York City. A very abrupt move, makes you wonder why it was so sudden. A dead padre in a shallow grave perhaps?
From this point on the series becomes more like other non-powered hero strips, with Rod and his friends stumbling across, or being victims of crimes, which the Whip solves. Marisa never clues in to the two men being the same. She continues to work as a reporter, but probably is not a very good one. Aside from never figuring out that Rod is the Whip, she is said to be working at the Daily Star in issue 30, but is writing for the Evening Bulletin in issue 39, and then the Evening Sentinel in issue 46.
The only really great moment from this part of the run is in Flash Comics 25, when Marisa gets captured by stock swindlers and is thrown off the roof of an office building. The Whip makes his horse jump from rooftop to rooftop, while he lassos and saves Marisa.
The social consciousness that marked the first year of the series is long gone. In issue 53 Rod and Marisa help two homeless men, who take advantage of this, plotting to rob them and other wealthy people at a society function.
It takes a while for World War 2 to influence the stories. Issue 32 has a tale about a Japanese-American who refused to work with Nazi spies, getting shot because of this. Wing Tai, being Chinese, has no sympathy for the wounded man, but Rod does not jump to the conclusion that because he is of Japanese descent he must be a spy, and gets him medical help, as well as catching his attacker.
Issues 45 – 52 are pretty much all World War 2 stories, with foreign spies everywhere, not just sabotaging ships and munitions plants, but also working out of beauty parlours (issue 46), and, my favourite, a salmon canning factory in issue 52. Oh, those dastardly nazi salmon canners.
The Whip does head out west again in issue 49, and in the final story of his run in Flash Comics, issue 55, he is back on his estate in Seguro, dealing with the murder of a wagon train driver. Wing Tai is with him, but there is no sign of Marisa.
Although his series was over, The Whip would make two more appearances in the Late Golden Age.
The Whip: Flash Comics 1 – 55 (Jan 40 – July 44)