Fighting the Good Fight
Brett Dakin ‘94 on lessons learned from an “American Daredevil”
To teens and adults who followed comic superheroes like Daredevil, Silver Streak, and Crimebuster in the 1940s and early 1950s, Lev Gleason was a comic book publisher whose series highlighted progressive, anti-fascist themes. To the members of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Gleason was an enemy of the state in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide names of potential communists.
And to Brett Dakin ’94, author of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason, he was “Uncle Lev,” a great-uncle and “magical figure” he knew best from the stories and photos his mother fondly shared.
As Dakin explained to former Upper School faculty member and coach Dan Entwisle (P ’08, ’10) during their recent Conversation with Friends, researching and writing this book was a way to learn more about how his Uncle Lev ended up in relative obscurity after his years as a successful comic book publisher.
“The book is really about his battles on two fronts: one, his battles on the political front, because of his anti-facist, progressive, and perceived Communist affiliations and beliefs; the other, the forces that were very unhappy with his comic books and were really pushing for the government to step in and censor comic books,” Dakin said.
Almost as soon as he began his research, Dakin was surprised to find words like espionage and treason linked to his great-uncle’s name in public record and newspaper archives. Gleason was deeply patriotic, enlisting and serving in both World Wars. He was also not shy about his particular political agenda: fighting against Nazism and facism at home and abroad, something that comic book issues like “Daredevil Battles Hitler” (1941) highlighted. Yet it was not his publications but his board service on the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugees Committee, where he helped displaced refugees of the Spanish civil war, that brought him before HUAC.
Dakin explained the journey he took to find the primary sources that gave him new insights into Gleason: FBI files, materials in the National Archives, and more. As he explained during the conversation, much of this book was a journey of piecing together Gleason’s story from public records—rounding out his life beyond the Uncle Lev his family knew.
He also revealed that the process of research Lev Gleason was a personal journey beyond an academic or journalistic one. He realized that Uncle Lev would recognize in today’s world many of the people and struggles that he faced in the 1940s, sharing a quote Gleason made in 1947 that Dakin sees as equally relevant today: “We are in a period of reactionary swing in this country, a very dangerous swing which holds many of the elements of potential facism.”
“It was eye-opening for me to realize that a lot of the issues he faced are with us today,” Dakin said. “And while we’ve made such extraordinary progress, this is a battle—as Uncle Lev would say—that we need to keep fighting.”
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