I've started a thread on Golden Age comics before. My idea was to review runs or portions of runs, but that turned out to be difficult to do; Golden Age features sometimes changed direction in significant ways, so to get a full overview of a long-running feature one has to read a lot of stories. The result was I ended up only reviewing short-running series or one-shots.
So I thought I'd start a thread for reviews of individual issues instead. I mean to review comics from the 50s as well as the 30s and 40s. Please feel free to contribute your own reviews.
I've included the transition era in the scope of the thread so there need be no debate over when exactly the Golden Age ended. Any pre-Silver Age title is fair game. DC's Silver Age is usually regarded as starting with the Silver Age Flash's debut in Showcase #4, which went on sale in July 1956. The analogous event at Marvel was the appearance of Fantastic Four #1 in August 1961.
And of course Etrigan the Demon is Prince Valiant wearing a goose over his head as a mask. I was surprised that Kirby didn't make alterations to his appearance so it wouldn't be so obvious. Marvel attempted to claim Mr. Fantastic was based on a Timely character, the Thin Man, not Plastic Man, but there's no doubt Thin Man was based on Jack Cole's character. There's a strong Gil Kane influence in the work of Frank Miller. And it didn't start in the Golden Age. Martin Nodel's Green Lantern artwork had a strong Dick Calkins Buck Rogers influence.
And Thin Man didn't stretch anyway. I reckon Mort Weisinger (Elastic Lad), Julie Schwartz (Elongated Man) and Stan Lee all figured that since Plastic Man was no longer being published his powers were up for grabs.
Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert and Alex Toth were all Milton Caniff-school artists early in their careers. There's also a Caniff influence in the work Simon and Kirby did together.
Stan probably thought Plas was gone for good. Turned out Weisinger and Schwartz didn't need to worry since DC ended up with, as a song in a 70s record put it "the one, the original elastic man". I've read they really just wanted Blackhawk but got the other Quality characters while picking him up. That would explain why they did so little with Uncle Sam, Black Condor, the Ray, and the Human Bomb. The Jack Kirby Collector stated there was a lot of argument on who the king of comics was, Jack Kirby or Lou Fine, but the question was solved when Fine left comics. Kubert showed a Moldoff influence while he was on Hawkman. I forget the name of it but there was a crazy old comic strip around 1910 or so that I'm sure influenced Bill Everett.
Exploits of Daniel Boone #1 (Quality, 1955)
In late 1954 and early 1955 Disneyland aired three episodes about Davy Crockett. These started a Davy Crockett craze. A number of publishers put out Davy Crockett comics, but no long-running title resulted in America.(1) Charlton's Davy Crockett lasted 8 issues, and it also ran Crockett stories in the first 6 issue of its title Wild Frontier.(2) DC's Frontier Fighters, which carried stories about Crockett, Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill, lasted 8.
DC's Tomahawk was not created as part of this wave. He first appeared in Star Spangled Comics #69 in 1947, and received his own title in 1950. DC had Tomahawk meet the young Davy Crockett in Tomahawk #35 and #36 (1955). The GCD's pages on the issues point out that this was anachronistic, as Tomahawk's adventures were set during the American Revolution, and Crockett was born after it. I've long thought Tomahawk was likely based on James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo/Hawkeye, from The Last of the Mohicans and other novels. Wikipedia's page on Daniel Boone suggests Cooper's character, in turn, was modelled after Boone.
The present title was presumably aimed at the Crockett audience. According to DC Indexes it went on sale shortly before the first issue of DC's Legends of Daniel Boone. Quality's title lasted 6 issues, DC's lasted 8. ME's published Dan'l Boone for 4 issues, and Charlton published "Dan'l Boone" stories in Wild Frontier #2-#6 and Frontier Scout, Dan'l Boone for 4. Avon had published a Fighting Daniel Boone one-shot in 1953, before the Crockett craze started.
The issue has three "Daniel Boone" stories, but these are really three parts of one story which is based on an episode from Boone's life. According to Wikipedia, in 1778 Boone was captured by Shawnees. He was made to run the gauntlet, adopted into the tribe, and later escaped to warn and help defend Boonesborough, which he had founded. The issue's account of these events doesn't entirely correspond to Wikipedia's, but it basically tells the same story. The comic gives Boone a younger companion, Sam Esty, who I take to be fictional.
According to Martin O'Hearn (credits via the GCD) the instalments were written by Joe Millard and drawn by Sam Citron. They're not very exciting taken as stories, but as retellings of history they're not bad. Citron's figures are a bit stiff, but his art had come on since his time on "Superman".
The remaining story in the issue is "How the Cheyennnes First Got Guns". This describes how an old Cheyenne woman called Owl Bird overcame braves from another tribe who meant to kill her. This is told in a more lively way. It could be based on a traditional story, or entirely made up. O'Hearn credits the story to Millard and John Forte. The art is livelier than Forte's later work, but I can see from some of the faces that the attribution is correct.
The text story is about the defence of a homestead against an Indian raid.
(1) The longest running Davy Crockett title listed at the GCD is Davy Crockett from Britain's L. Miller and Son, which ran 52 issues. The issue at Comic Book Plus, #4, is a reprint of Charlton's Davy Crockett #4, but the publisher may have commissioned original stories when it ran out of Charlton ones (the GCD's page on the issue has the note "British original material. Reprint content also likely.") The next longest running one is Paul Wheelahan's Davy Crockett from Australia's Young's Merchandising Company, which lasted 20. Paul Wheelahan was an Australian comics creator, so these stories were probably original.
(2) The comics ones in Wild Frontier #1 are all filler pages.
The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.
Amazing Man Comics #5 (Centaur, 1939)
This was the first issue. The lead feature is "Amazing-Man", by Bill Everett. The title character is Aman,(1) who was selected as a child by a group called the Council of Seven and raised and trained at their base in Tibet. The members of the Council wear masks when in conclave,(2) and possess esoteric knowledge and skills. One of its members, the Great Question, is evil and plans to influence Aman telepathically. This plotline is only introduced here, but later instalments picked it up.
In the first part of the story the members of the Council test Aman to see if he has adequately mastered their lessons, and when he passes send him out into the world. Before he leaves one of their number, Nika, gives him an injection of a formula he has developed that will allow him to "disappear", leaving behind a green mist.(3) In the remaining part of the tale Aman travels to America and investigates a series of railroad crashes.
On the cover, showing a scene from one of the initiation tests, Aman has on only shorts. This recalls his later costume, which shows a lot of skin. But it turns out he only adopted the costume in #11, in the last instalment drawn by Everett, and wore ordinary clothes in the earlier instalments. The costume can be seen on the cover of #11 and other covers (including those of the first two issues of Stars and Stripes Comics, in which he also appeared). Everett based Namor's features on his own, and may have done the same with Aman; in some panels in #11 he looks just like Namor. In this instalment his face is sometimes angular, but not to the same extent.
The GCD attributes the script of the story as well as the art to Bill Everett. It also does this with some of the other Everett instalments, but it ascribes others to Allen L. Kirby. Most of the Everett instalments only have Everett's name on them, but the one in #7 is bylined "by A.L. Kirby and Bill Everett". Kirby's name also appeared on some post-Everett instalments. This makes me wonder if he was the feature's writer from the beginning. It may be a fallacy to assume that a "by Bill Everett" byline indicates Everett both wrote and drew a story: but, of course, he did write elsewhere. The variation in how the issues are credited by the GCD could be a result of the issues' having been indexed by different indexers, or could be grounded in records or testimony I don't know about. The powers-through-injection concept was later used in Hydroman's origin in Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1, which Everett drew and is taken by the GCD to have written.
The second feature is "Catman" by Tarpé Mills. A newly-released criminal takes revenge on his former associates, who let his wife die in poverty, by (spoiler warning) disguising himself as an old woman, poisoning the claws of his cat, and having it scratch them. The poison is slow-acting, and the next day he sends them notes telling them that they're going to die at such-and-such a time. This last element reminded me of the first Joker story in Batman #1. He gets them all, gets away with it, and the final panel promises a sequel "in an early issue". This appeared in #8.
Third is "River Subs (featuring Jack Rhodes)" by Larry Riley. Rhodes, a G-man from an unspecified department, breaks up a smuggling operating that is making use of submarines.
Fourth is "The Iron Skull" by Carl Burgos. Burgos created three other android heroes: the Human Torch, Manowar or the White Streak, and the M.F. Enterprises Captain Marvel. It's commonly supposed the Iron Skull is another, but the story doesn't say this. He wears a suit, has an inhuman face, and bullets bounce off his skull.(4) He also has "steel fists/steel driven fists" and great strength (but perhaps not inhuman strength). In the tale he takes it upon himself to investigate and break up a criminal operation that is making of use of robots. The villains in the story are particularly ruthless, and kill a number of innocent people. This is the most carelessly-plotted of the issue's stories, but I like idea of an android (if that is what he is) private detective hero. In this story he doesn't work closely with the police, but leaves a message behind for them after defeating the head crook.
Next is two "Stranger than Fiction" filler pages, followed by an Aman text story. This represents him as having a residence in the Himalayas at which he has guests. He tells a story about how his masters gave him a test which involved an execution. The story is bylined "Matty Point".
The fifth comics story is "The Congo War Drum", illustrated by Paul Gustavson. This is an imitation of Jungle Jim, and is drawn in a style like the early Alex Raymond's. The hero is "Sandy" Throne of the Congo Patrol. He has a servant who resembles Jungle Jim's Kolu and calls him "tuan". In the story he investigates a headhunting raid. The instalment ends on a cliffhanger.
Sixth is "Minimidget the Minature Man" by John F. Kolb. Minimidget apparently narrowly preceded Doll Man; Amazing Man Comics #5 was cover-dated for Sep. 1939, and Doll Man first appeared in Feature Comics #27, cover-dated for Dec. 1939. He's somewhat smaller ("only as large as a human hand"), and he has a female counterpart, Ritty. They were "reduced from normal people by a mad scientist", and were left permanently small. In later instalments Minimidget was a hero, but in this one he and Ritty are depicted as under the control of the mad scientist, who sends Minimidget on murder missions. There is no indication he has a will of his own. The story was probably created in imitation of the film The Devil Doll (1936). It doesn't seem to be intended as the introduction of a heroic character; the Minimidget and Ritty names are not used after the opening caption, and by the end of the instalment both have apparently been killed. I take it that the story was originally intended as a one-off tale, and suggested the idea of a series about two heroic little people to someone.
Seventh is "Chuck Hardy in The Land Beneath the Sea". This is by Frank Thomas, who later drew "The Owl" for Dell. The protagonists are two scientists, Chuck Hardy and Jerry Peterson. An eruption on the surface opens up a fissure while they are exploring the sea bed by a South Pacific isle, and they fall through into an underwater land. There they find a primeval jungle, monsters, and a race of humanoids with frog-like eyes and antennae. They also learn that in this land they have super-strength, like John Carter on Mars, because they are shielded from the pressure of the surface atmosphere by the Earth's crust. There's a noticeable drop in the quality of the art after the third page, and the panels become larger. Possibly Thomas had to finish the story in a hurry. It's a shame, because the third page is very well-drawn and coloured, and a pleasure to look at. It shows a Caniff influence.
Eighth is ""Slim" Bradley Forest Ranger" by Dick Hayes. The son of a millionaire has been kidnapped. The kidnappers start a forest fire, intending it as a distraction. Bradley rides to a mine to save the miner and finds the miner, the boy, and one of the kidnappers. He succeeds in bringing the boy and the miner to safety through the fire. (The kidnapper escapes but is recaptured.)
Ninth is "Mighty Man" by Martin Filchock. The instalment introduces Mighty Man as a giant, twice the size of an ordinary man, "a Paul Bunyan character out of the great Western country, come to life!" Later he acquired the ability to control his size: I've often wondered if he was the inspiration for Giant-Man. In the story a professor and his friend enter a hidden valley where everything is gigantic. They are followed by claim jumpers who think they have found a lost mine, and are saved from them by the good-natured giant who is the sole remaining human occupant of the valley. He decides to return with them to their world "to help put it on the right track". Filchock's art has a bigfoot element and his work is pleasingly amiable.
The inside front cover has an ad for Amazing Feature Funnies spotlighting "Speed Centaur" and "The Fantom of the Fair", and the back cover has an ad for Keen Detective Funnies spotlighting "The Masked Marvel".
The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus. My hat tip to the GCD for its information.
(1) After he travels to America he introduces himself as John Aman, but the "John" may be an assumed name.
(2) Except for the member who pronounces the Council's judgement, when he does so. Those members of the Council who are shown without masks in the story are depicted as Asian.
(3) It's not clear from this instalment whether he turns invisible, turns invisible and intangible, or turns into the mist. Nika takes his mask off when he takes Aman aside after the conclave to give him the injection. He is a very positive Asian character: a scientist, a man of high ideals, and a mentor to Aman.
(4) The story emphasises that bullets bounce off his skull, but never addresses whether they also bounce off his body. At one point he is held at gunpoint and puts his hands up, implying his body is vulnerable. But if it is, one wonders how it is that he's always shot in the head and never in the body.
The AYCYAS site has another, much longer review of The Devil-Doll here.
Interesting a mysterious group in Tibet uses super advanced technology like sleep rays and injuects Amazing Man with some sort of chemical made in a lab to give him his powers. You'd think they'd teach him some ancient secret mystical tecnique to turn invisible. And whatever saved him from being killed by the knives, it wasn't some sort of concentration or belief in not being hurt, because he yelled she was going to kill him. Sounds like he's some kind of inhuman creature like an android. And he has to take the chemical every week without fail? What if he doesn't for some reason? What happens when the vial is empty?
I believe there was a pulp character that dressed like a woman like Catman does.
A giant named Mighty Man is interesting. In the Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show there was a shrinking hero named Mighty Man who usually had his dog, Yuck the Ugliest Dog in the World stop the crooks for him by taking off the doghouse he always wore over his head. Seeing Yuck's face caused everyone (including Mighty Man if he couldn't look away in time) to scream and pass out. A fourth wall gag showed him start to remove the doghouse only for the screen to shatter before we could see him. Strangely, the goofier heroes in Plas' show fought more serious monsters than he ever did.
I remember Doc Savage's men worrying that while their outfirst were bulletproof, there was no way to bulletproof their heads so there was always a chance a crook would shoot them there. Interesting seeing someone with the opposite problem. Carl Burgos must have been a big sf robot fan, the way he kept making androids for his heroes. Actually he never explained why Toro was fireproof. Maybe he intended to eventually say he was also an android but left the series without getting to that storyline.
The problem with Fantom of the Fair was the World's Fair didn't go on forever.
I took the idea with the knives to be that she placed them perfectly and they didn't sever anything vital.
There was a comics hero called Madam Fatal who disguised himself as a woman. In films, the antihero of The Devil-Doll used such a disguise. So did Lon Chaney's character in the silent and sound versions of The Unholy Three.
The stories in Amazing Man Comics #5 are definitely early Golden Age stories; there is some crude art, and a lack of complex plotting. But the issue has a higher general level of quality than Action Comics #1, from the previous year. One can also see that some of the artists had the potential to become very good.
Amazing Man Comics #6 (Centaur, 1939)
This issue impressed me even more favourably than the last. Jack Rhodes and ""Slim" Bradley Forest Ranger" do not reappear. "The Congo War-Drum" continues, but is wound up this issue. A new feature, "The Shark", starts. Tarpé Mills contributes a non-series story, and there's another one by "Clyde Don", who the GCD says was Clyde Yeadon.
The cover, by Bill Everett, depicts a giant hand lifting a submarine. The GCD interprets it as corresponding to "The Shark", which is blurbed on the upper left, but it doesn't match the story.
The first feature is ""Aman"- the Amazing-Man" by BilI Everett. Aman's car is carjacked by two members of a gang that is holding a magnate's daughter for ransom. After he is imprisoned with her the Great Question gets control of him and temporarily turns him evil. He sets about taking control of the gang and tries to ransom the girl himself, but later his better self resumes control.
In this instalment Aman wears normal clothes, but he loses his shirt in the course of the adventure. Towards the end of the tale he comes into a room in his mist form around the edges of a door, which implies he actually turns into a mist. On the other hand, in another panel he's depicted as flying off with the girl in his arms and mist around him. To my surprise he's depicted as aware of what the Great Question is trying to do. This story has some nice early art by Everett. I particularly liked a shot of the ranch where the gang is based.
Second is "The Shark" by Lew (Louis) Glanzman. The Shark is a water-breathing superhero. According to DC Indexes Marvel Comics #1, with the debut of the Sub-Mariner,(1) went on sale two weeks before this issue. But the Sub-Mariner was initially an antihero, so the Shark can claim to be the first sea superhero. Aquaman resembles him more than Namor. Louis Glanzman later became a painter, and passed away last year. He was Sam Glanzman’s brother.
The Shark has webbed hands and feet, and in water he “has the strength of ten whales and can swim as fast as the same”. Out of water he has only ordinary strength. He also has an ability to use hypnosis to project images of himself “out of any water as if he were a genie”. Sharks “are his friends the same as the apes are the ape-man’s friends”, and he can communicate with them. The opening blurb calls him “king of all sea-life”, but it’s not clear from this instalment whether he can also communicate with other sea-creatures. His costume consists of a blue mask and scaled trunks of the same colour. (Namor only began to wear scaled trunks later.)
In this instalment he breaks up a plan to cause war between the US and “Furvania” to sell munitions. The villains mean to sell munitions to both sides: assuming their factory is in the US, this makes no sense. The notion that munitions manufacturers cause wars to sell munitions was earlier the basis of the Superman story in Action Comics #1-#2.
Although they debuted so close together, Namor and the Shark need not be independent creations. Everett and Glazman both worked for Funnies, Inc. According to Wikipedia, Lloyd Jacquet worked for Centaur before founding it. I don’t know when Glanzman started working for Funnies, Inc., if it packaged Amazing Man Comics #6, or if Glanzman had personal contact with Everett (the Wikipedia page quotes a comics historian as saying many of the artists worked from home); but whatever the exact situation, it’s clearly possible that someone involved in the Shark’s creation - Glanzman, the editor, the writer if that wasn't Glanzman - was aware of Namor.
Third is Clyde Yeadon’s story, “Forbidden Island”. In this a young couple row out to an island about which the young woman has always been curious. They suffer a boating accident on the way and have to swim into shore. The man has been hurt, so the woman tries to find help and is saved from a bear by a wild man who has been living alone so long he sees images of a giant naked woman he calls the fire lady in the flames of his fire. There are two panels showing the fire lady in the flames. The story is only three pages long, but the first two have twelve panels and the last sixteen.
Fourth is “The Iron Skull”, again by Carl Burgos. As this instalment opens he is investigating raids on U.S. armouries that he suspects may be connected to a plot against the fleet. As in the first instalment his opponents make use of advanced technology. This time around they are a gang in the pay of a foreign power. An undercover man working for the Skull is killed early in the story by a ray device that must be absurdly difficult to carry around. The Skull is knocked unconscious by gas, but survives an attempt to kill him with acid and twice survives being blown up. The crooks keep shooting at his head so I still don’t know if his body is bulletproof. This story is better put-together than the previous one but still more action-packed than carefully-plotted.
Next come a “Stranger than Fiction” filler page, and the text story. In the future, a rocket pilot of the "Eastern Republic" sacrifices his life to kill a formerly-popular general turned dictator. My guess is the general was modelled on Chiang Kai-shek.
The fifth comics story is the conclusion of "The Congo War-Drum". This is bylined as "Illustoried by Paul Gustavson". I found this an enjoyably tense jungle tale up to the conclusion, which is talky and resolves the storyline without interesting action.
Sixth is "Minimidget the Miniature Man" by John F. Kolb. Minimidget has survived the trap that seemed to kill him in the preceding instalment. He and Ritty are taken in by an old lady and save her when she is left to die by a robber. As a reward they are given a plane, and they are later sent in it to warn people threatened by a dam collapse. After warning everyone they have to fight off an eagle. Minimidget wears green trousers and an orange shirt, so he looks like Aquaman.
Seventh is "Chuck Hardy in the Land Beneath the Sea" by Frank Thomas. Chuck and Jerry survive an encounter with a carnivorous tree and meet a race of people with antennae and advanced technology. The carnivorous tree is nicely-drawn.
Eighth is "The Ivy Menace" by Tarpé Mills. A scientist in New Jersey has developed a formula that causes plants to grow to enormous sizes. His cat spills the bottle on the ivy on his house and it starts rapidly growing and overwhelms him. Soon it has covered a wide area. It keeps growing and growing, and covers New York.
Ninth is "Mighty Man" by Martin Filchock. In this instalment he and his friends help out a lady rancher whose life is in danger. Mighty Man uses his intelligence to unmask the villain. The feature's bigfoot style and amiable writing make it unlike other Golden Age superhero features. I like both. The lady rancher is notably unfazed when she first meets the giant Mighty Man.
The inside front cover has an ad for Keen Detective Funnies which mentions "The Masked Marvel", ""Spark" O'Leary Radio Newshawk" and "Spy Hunters". The back cover has an ad for Amazing Mystery Funnies ("A magazine created and designed 'specially for all you kiddies") that mentions "Speed Centaur", "The Fantom of the Fair", "The Inner Circle", "Air-Sub 'D-X'", and "Don Dixon".
The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.
(1) He appeared earlier in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1, but according to the GCD this was produced but not distributed. The "Sub-Mariner" story in Marvel Comics #1 was a reprint of the story with four extra pages.
Since Iron Skull is by Carl Burgos he's probably an android. I noticed in the first story someone wipes off his makeup realing his iron head, so he apparently doesn't take it off. But then where's the guy in the first panel making the iron skull? Did he die? Did he put it on his head and now it won't come off? It's like Burgos left out some pages.
I've heard Motion Picture Funnies Weekly#1 was distributed, but possibly only to a few theaters near the publisher. Surprisingly difficult on the GCD to find the three never used covers. Had to click two places to get them, and they're not worth looking for.
Cat Man debuted in the last two issues of Crash Comics. In his first two appearances he looks like Tarzan wearing a cat mask. Obviously he proved to be the most popular character, since the series then switched to Cat Man, and booted out the original star, Strongman. For Crash Comics I'm just going to review his two stories. Difficult heroes appear in his series than the ones in Crash.
Like Tarzan, Cat Man is a baby when his family is murdered, although Tarzan's parents were killed by apes in Africa, while Cat Man's parents and his big sister are murdered while in "deepest India" by "jungle wild men." A tigress finds the baby and, we're told, maternal instinct causes her to sense his loss and take her home to raise him with her cubs. A single panel of text on page two tells us he eventually save the life of one of his foster brothers and the old tigress took him to civilization out of gratitude. We're told he's horrified when he sees how awful other human beings are and becomes a crimefighter, using the tiger abilities he's learned over the years living with the tigers (seeing in the dark with glowing eyes that light up the darkness and leaping from trees and buildings) and becomes known as the Cat Man. Then the story starts. A detective gangster program is being aired on the radio. While the text panel said finding evil in the world scarred him, we see David is really enjoying listening to the gangster program. Then real crooks break into the studio, forcing the actors to continue the play and act like nothing is wrong. But David realizes the prop man is firing his machine gun so that is says SOS in Morse Code and becomes Cat Man to find out what's going on. Having cat powers he climbs out his window and down the wall, hurries to the studio, and climbs up the wall and in an open window, only to find the crooks have already left, taking an actress with them. Cat Man senses their whereabouts. We're told he's been in many fights against evil and he and the main villain, Bull Jackson, have fought before. After showing that his eyes glow like flashlights in the dark, Cat Man escapes with the actress, who tells him Bull wanted her to give messages in her show every evening to make it easier for his men to stage hold-ups. But one of Bull's henchmen pushes a roof down on them while Cat Man is running from rooftop to rooftop with the actress. Bull orders them taken to his prison like dungeon. His men don't bother to guard them, however, so as soon as Cat Man recovers from the bricks hitting him, he picks up the actress, climbs up the wall, and escapes with her again. Bull, not surprisngly is furious they let them get away. Cat Man goes to fight Bull, who's sent his men out to find him so he's alone. Surprisingly, however, Bull stabs Cat Man with a knife, killing him, then goes to the prison where the actress has been left in protective custody to grab her again. The gangsters break into jail and overcome the guards. But Cat Man has 9 lives like a cat. The spirit of the tiger that raised him appears and gives him his second life. He rushes to the prison. The warden asks him to join the force but Cat Man insists he must "play a lone hand."
A lot was made of the fact that Cat Man had nine lives. So every story at first had him killed then come back. Naturally if they'd continued that idea he'd only have nine appearances, so it was soon dropped.