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.

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Here's the splash panel from the first instalment:

The GCD lists the feature as "#711". I missed the number symbol above, but it's there! It was also used in the feature title in #3, #4, but not otherwise.

Police Comics #103 (Quality, 1950)

With this issue Police Comics was made over into a police/crime comic. The preceding features were dropped and a wholly new line-up introduced.

Prior to the makeover the line-up had been "Plastic Man", "Candy", reprints of "The Spirit", and "Manhunter". Manhunter's feature ended in #101: #102 instead had a final instalment of the "Jeb Rivers" series from Hit Comics. "Plastic Man" and "Candy" already had their own titles, and continued in them. Quality had also been reprinting Spirit stories in The Spirit, but this was the point where it ended.

The two most successful features from the new line-up were the new lead, "Ken Shannon", and "Treasury Agent Trask", quickly renamed "T-Man". Police Comics continued to #127 in 1953. Shannon held the covers until the second-last issue, and starred in 10 issues of his own title in 1951-53. Trask snagged the last Police Comics cover, and starred in 38 issues of T-Man from 1951-56. His series only ended when Quality stopped publishing.

By the time of the present issue Quality had a house style. The art was clear and detailed, and the inking used thick lines. The inkers sometimes buried the pencillers' styles.

The GCD, following Lou Mougin, attributes the scripts of the "Ken Shannon", "Inspector Denver" and "Treasury Agent Trask" stories and "Badge of Honor" to Joe Millard. It doesn't have guesses for the others.

"Ken Shannon": "Kiss and Kill!"

Shannon and Dee Dee visit a nightclub. The lady singer acts like she knows him and gives him a kiss. This makes Dee Dee jealous, but the lady actually did it to cover slipping a note and key into his pocket. It says she's in terrible trouble, and asks him to hide the key...

This is a jokey private eye series. Dee Dee is Shannon's secretary and his steady girlfriend. I don't know if the feature maintained the jokey approach through the whole of its run, but it's what I liked most about it: it keeps the feature from being too standard. The art has a matching comic element.

I don't know who the penciller was, but I'm sure it was not Reed Crandall, who worked on the feature later. He drew Shannon's face differently. The GCD tentatively attributes the pencils to Gene Colan, but I take it that's a wild guess. I can't discount it as I don't have a clue what his work looked like in 1950, but I can't see a sign of it.

"Badge of Honor"

This is a non-series story. A patrolman messes up stopping a getaway from a bank robbery. In punishment he's transferred to a beat all the men regard as murderously dull.

This is the shortest of the issue's stories, albeit only one page shorter than the next item. The art is the issue's most restrained, DC-ish, but not in the Barry style.

I could believe the writer meant the story to be the first instalment of patrolman feature. But the line-up regularly included a non-series story henceforth.

"Inspector Denver of Homicide": "Cop Killer!"

Denver investigates the murder of a patrolman.

Denver identifies the murderer using procedural methods, and traps him by a trick. In the course of the story he roughs up a witness who's lied to him to make him talk, and endangers his life and treats it as a joke. At the capture he beats the murderer up. He's like the Dirty Harry of 1950.

The GCD tentatively lists W. G. Hargis as the artist, but I can't evaluate that as I don't know what his art looked like. The credit might be a guess from Jerry Bails's information that he worked on the series.

"Treasury Agent Trask": "A Date with Death!"

Trask was a T-Man before the war. He joined up after Pearl Harbor and flew in China. In Indochina he shot down a Japanese plane that was going after a French transport, but not in time to save its target. He landed to check for survivors and found the body of an American counterfeiter, superb forged printing plates, and an unconscious woman. He hid the plates in a temple.

Soon after he was shot down by the Japanese. He spent the rest of the war in a prison camp and some years after that in hospitals. On his return to the Treasury he told his boss about the plates, and his boss made their recovery his first assignment...

Trask is an intelligent, broad-shouldered hero. He would get out of scrapes by some combination of quick thinking and fighting, and he appreciated pretty women. His missions took him around the world.

There's not as much humour in this story as in the "Ken Shannon" one, but it crops up in the portrayal of the gangsters who enter the story p.5. The head villain, Karenz, is modelled after the villains Sydney Greenstreet played.

"Pict-O-Crime": "The Case of the Popping Corks!"

This is a two-page murder mystery with a challenge to the reader. The solution is given in a box on the text page. To guess this one you'd need knowledge from outside the story. I didn't have a clue.

"Dan Leary: State Trooper": "Hot Rod Homicide"

Two men rob a town bank. As they escape one of them shoots the pursuing cashier. The state troopers quickly establish roadblocks, but the criminals aren't seen by them. Leary guesses they've holed up and tracks them to a fishing shanty. When they reject his demand for their surrender he fires a machine gun through the wall and kills one. (This is straight out of Dick Tracy.) The other surrenders.

The police have a witness who identifies the survivor as the gunman. They protect him, but when he arrives for the trial he's run down by a car. Dan pursues it in his own car, but reaches a roadblock without sighting it. How did the car evade pursuit?

This feature stands apart from most police series by being not city-based. It was dropped after #107, but the other features continued to the title's end.

In the text story a rookie detective assigned to assist a fierce inspector solves a murder case.

Atomic Comics #1 (Green Publishing, 1946)

This comic is dated Jan. 1946 in the indicia, so it may have come out in late 1945. The contents are reprints from issues of New Comics, More Fun Comics, and Detective Comics, except "Barry O'Neill and Fang Gow", which is a redrawn version of the "Barry O'Neill" episodes from New Fun #1-#4.

These were all early DC comics, and the issues in which they appeared predate the point when Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was forced out. He wrote the "Barry O'Neill" instalments retold here himself. From #2 Atomic Comics had Iger Shop contents, and that issue introduced a wholly new line-up. The indicia gives the publisher's address as Chicago and the office of publication's as Akron, so it wasn't New York based.

It's my guess this issue was rushed out to secure the name Atomic Comics before anyone else did. The contents presumably came by some route from Wheeler-Nicholson. Perhaps he put issues together trying to get back into comics, perhaps he sold his comics assets.

The GCD says more early DC material was reprinted in Cavalier Comics #2 from A.W. Nugent Publishing Co., including the Barry O'Neil/Fang-Gow instalments from New Fun #5-#6, More Fun #7-#8, and More Fun Comics #9-#10, "extensively reworked". The issue has no date, but it was copyrighted to 1945. I think that issue must share a connection of origin with the present one.

The GCD tentatively attributes the cover to Creig Flessel, and notes its closeness to the cover of Detective Comics #8. Perhaps it was a rejected version Wheeler-Nicholson kept. The jewels aren't supposed to be glowing with radioactivity, but because of the title that's what I think when I look at it.

"Calling All Cars"/"Radio Squad"

Kean and his partner answer a domestic disturbance call. This turns out to be due to a woman arguing with her son about his gambling. Kean treats the boy roughly and learns the location of the club. He and his partner go there. Kean smashes the tables and arrests the proprietor, Dan Bowers.

Bowers has political pull. He's quickly out of jail, and he plots to discredit Kean by pulling robberies in his district and spreading word he's on the take. But Kean, riding with Jimmy Trent, spots a fur robbery in progress. They trail the truck, and catch Bowers and his gang with the goods.

At the trial Kean testifies that he caught Bowers and co. with the goods. But Trent appears as a surprise witness for the defence, and says he can't recall having seen anything incriminating...

This is a Sandy Kean serial by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, from More Fun Comics #17-#22. The serial appeared in two-page instalments. Three of the pages are printed out of order. Pp.10-11 (=the instalment beginning "Excitement reigns at headquarters as news of Sandy's coup spreads") should follow p.4. P.5 ("Lawyer Twist opens the trial with a brief statement") should be the penultimate page.

Reading early comics helps one appreciate just how important good storytelling is to comics. The artists of the issue's other stories were better draftsmen, but Siegel and Shuster tell their story better.

"King Arthur"

This is a collection of episodes adapting Arthurian stories, from New Comics #3-#7. It contains versions of Arthur's birth, reception of Excalibur and wooing of Guinevere (mixed together), Gareth's mission to rescue Lyonesse, Geraint and the sparrow-hawk tournament, and the opening part of the story of Lancelot and Elaine.

The GCD tells me the opening instalment was four pages and the others were two, but the opening one, with the Arthur and Gareth stories, was evidently two instalments run together. The Geraint story was told in two instalments. We also get two instalments of Lancelot and Elaine here, but the story was evidently continued in the next instalment, which the GCD says was the last.

The adaptations were certainly drawn Rafael Astarita, as some of the pages are signed. The GCD's pages on the original issues assign the writing to him as well, but the Atomic Comics #1 page leaves this slot open.

The account of Arthur's birth leaves out the adultery, and represents his mother as having been forced to marry Uther after he slew her husband. There's no account of the Sword in the Stone, or the circumstances surrounding Arthur's reception of Excalibur. We're just shown him receiving it. The Gareth adaptation is too pared down to be enjoyable, and ends too abruptly, before Gareth has even met Lyonesse (here, Lyonors). The Geraint and Lancelot and Elaine adaptations are better.

The pages have big feature banners at the top. Since the panels also all have text beneath them, and the full length of the page isn't used, the pictures are all small. Astarita draws the costumes and other period details well. In some panels he skimps on backgrounds but they're good when he doesn't.

"Barry O'Neill and Fang Gow"

Legrand of the French secret police has sent for O'Neill to obtain his assistance against Fang Gow. A minion of Fang Gow's named Fu Yak plants a bomb in O'Neill's car, but he survives because he drops his case on it before getting in.

Later Fu Yak attempts to kill O'Neill in his hotel room, but he trips before he can strike. O'Neill knocks him out the window, and he falls into the river.

Fu Yak swims to a scow. Legrand's men see this. He and O'Neill mean to search it, but as their boat approaches it Fu Yak and his superior, Ivan, leave in one of their own. O'Neill and Legrand pursue them, but their boat catches fire and they are forced to abandon it. Ivan spots this and orders Fu Yak, at the helm, to turn around, declaring "This time they do not escape us!"...

New Fun/More Fun was tabloid-sized. It became More Fun Comics when it went down to the smaller size Famous Funnies had introduced, the Golden Age standard. "Barry O'Neill" debuted in the first issue and ran in the title to More Fun Comics #29. Then it was moved to New Adventure Comics/Adventure Comics from #31 and continued in that title to #60 (skipping #33).

Many of the early adventure features in Wheeler-Nicholson's titles were serials. His comics were initially modelled after Sunday comics sections, and the slots were short. "Barry O'Neill" started with part-page instalments, but they were tabloid pages. It got a full page from New Fun #3. When the page size was reduced from More Fun Comics #9 the count was raised to 2 pages. It became 6 when it was moved to New Adventure Comics, and stayed that way to the end. The GCD's titles indicate the original serial continued to Adventure Comics #37. After that Fang Gow wasn't always the villain, although he mostly was. Non-serial stories apparently predominated from Adventure Comics #47.

The first four instalments were drawn by Lawrence Lariar. Leo O'Mealia then handled the art to Adventure Comics #35.(1) The GCD credits him with the scripts of many instalments too, but I suspect that's because they were bylined "by Leo O'Mealia", and that needn't mean he wrote them. Whoever indexed the instalment from New Adventure Comics #31 assigned O'Mealia the script and inks but left the pencil slot blank. Presumably the pages in this issue were done as replacements for the Lariar ones.

Wheeler-Nicholson had previous used the Fang Gow name in a pulp adventure. O'Mealia had been the artist of Fu Manchu newspaper strip. Instalments from the strip were reprinted in Detective Comics #17-#28 and the villain was cover-featured on #18, but all of that was after Wheeler-Nicholson had been forced out.

O'Mealia's art has a similar fine-art look to Astarita's "Captain Terry Thunder" instalments in Jungle Comics. The story starts well - I particularly like p.2 - but once the pursuit begins it becomes an episodic series of action sequences, and the action is placed too far from the camera, although the seaplane is well-drawn. The depiction of the Chinese villains is racist.

Here's a comparison of the page from New Fun #2 and corresponding pages from Atomic Comics #1. There are slight changes in the script, but only slight:

"Captain Quick"

Kendal Quick is in love with Marjorie, the daughter of Lord Barlow. But he has refused to join her father's privateering expedition against the Spanish. Lord Barlow insults him as they board his ship.

Quick paces the dock deep into the night. Two saboteurs murder a watchman and attempt to set fire to the ship. Quick fights and kills them, and puts out the fire. Barlow asks his forgiveness. Quick says he can now go with him.

Marjorie is left at Plymouth, and the expedition begins. The lookout spots a Spanish man o' war. It is much larger than their own ship, the Bonnie Bess. Quick orders the starboard cannons be turned inward and the majority of the men to hide. When the Spanish board they are met with cannon fire, and the hiding men emerge. The Spanish are forced to surrender.

The vessel proves a rich prize. Lord Barlow returns to England with it, leaving Quick in charge of the Bonnie Bess...

This story is made up of the "Captain Quick" instalments from New Comics #1-#2, #4-#6. These were each two pages. The first two parts were drawn by Jon Blummer, and the others, and the series subsequently, by Sven Elven. I could not have guessed from his style here that Blummer was the artist of the reprint's first 4 pages. But the GCD's attribution must be correct, because the instalments were credited to "John Elby" and Blummer was credited as "Jon Elby" on "Hop Harrigan". His credit doesn't appear on the reprints here, but Elven's appears on his instalments.

Some of the GCD's pages attribute the scripts to the artists, but that's probably an inference from the bylines again. The New Comics #1 and #6 entries credit Wheeler-Nicholson, on the information of Jerry Bails.

Blummer's art here uses heavy lines. He costumes the characters and draws the ships well. (I'm not sufficiently versed in the history of clothing or ships to catch anachronisms). He sometimes skimps on backgrounds.

Elven uses fine lines, like O'Mealia's and Astarita's. His art is finely-detailed, with many figures and much detail on the costumes. The costumes look very authentic. But there's also an impressionistic element in his style - it shows up in the backgrounds - which reminds me of Shuster.

As with "King Arthur" the story is told using captions and the pages have large banners at the top.  The panels again feel too small, but not as badly so as the "King Arthur" ones.

The Golden Age Who's Whose has an image of the first page of the first instalment at it originally appeared. This made me realise it was B&W. It's coloured here.

Apart from the bit where the cannons are used against the boarders the content is all stuff I've seen in Hollywood movies, but I did want to know what happened next. As with "King Arthur" and "Barry O'Neill" the reprint ends on a cliffhanger. The GCD says the final episode ended on a cliffhanger too.

The issue also has Ripley's style "It's a Fact!" page reprinted from More Fun Comics #11.

The text story is an impossible crime murder mystery with a weak solution, from Detective Comics #4. It's bylined "Paul Dean". According to the GCD this was Vin Sullivan, and the spot art was done by Creig Flessel.

My acknowledgements to the GCD.

Atomic Comics #4 (Green Publishing, 1946)

This was the last issue. The stories were evidently prepared by the Iger Shop. Not only are the majority of the stories in the shop's style, the "Lucky Wings" stories are bylined "by S. M. Regi". "Regi" is "Iger" backwards and his full name was Samuel Maxwell Iger.

The adventure features in this issue were all introduced in #2. That issue also had humour features that didn't reappear. #3 had different humour features and a "Zero, Ghost Detective" story instead. This issue has a different humour feature again and a second "Lucky Wings" story.

"Lucky Wings: The Atomic Bombshell"

Gangster Red Donahue partners with a professor who "knows how to extract the energy from the A-bomb an' put it to work again".

Lucky flies over the sea area "where they staged the bombing" so she can write a story about it. Something suddenly blinds her, and she crashes. She's rescued by fishermen and winds up in a hospital with her eyes bandaged. But she quickly leaves.

Donahue and co.'s atomic device looks somewhat like a searchlight. They have been using it to extract atomic energy from the "recently exposed elements" at the bomb site. But the side effects of the process are extraordinary: atmospheric disturbances, and havoc and destruction...

Lucky is a case-cracking lady reporter who's also a pilot. She flies a small plane in both stories. The supporting characters are her editor; a police detected called Denny Blake she spars with, who's also her love interest; and perhaps the mechanic in the second story, Mac. The editor is the only one who appears in both stories, and he only appears briefly. Her paper is the Bington Ledger.

The GCD tentatively attributes the script to Iger, apparently on the basis of the byline. The entry's assessment is several artists contributed to the art, including perhaps Jack Kamen.

The cover is based on the story. The projector is like the one in the tale, Donahue and the professor are both shown, and the climax takes place at such a location. The GCD tentatively attributes it to Kamen.

Lucky doesn't track the villains at the climax. She just stumbles onto them. The idea might be she was checking where the blinding light came from, but this isn't stated. Even worse, Danny turns up to save her without real explanation. All he says is he had a "time" tracking her down. I suppose the idea is he was searching for her because she vanished from the hospital, but why is a policeman with him? The lack of explanations makes the last part of the story arbitrary.

The SF aspect of the story is too wild. The shot of the ship in trouble p.4 is pretty good, but the art isn't up to depicting the destruction of the buildings p.5. On the plus side, on the opening page Lucky is drawn well as a modern, confident woman, and Donahue's cynicism about his good publicity is a nice touch.

The GCD takes "The Atomic Blondshell" as the title. It could be, but the phrase is used again in the closing caption. I think it was meant as part of the feature name and was supposed to tie the feature to the comic's title.

"Inspector Dayton"

Rich Gloria Debb has become engaged to an explorer, Tom Hunter. Out with Hunter, she insists on stopping at a clock shop. While Hunter isn't looking she pays the proprietor, James Tinker, to give her some letters. A woman named June Manners enters the shop looking for Hunter. There's something she means to do. Suddenly, Hunter cries out there's a pain in his chest, and collapses. He's been shot!

This is a fair play murder mystery. Dayton challenges the reader to solve it in the last panel of the penultimate page. I couldn't.

Dayton is assisted by his girlfriend, Cotton, who's like the Wasp: she behaves like a dizzy dame, but isn't one. She adds an element of fun to the story. The other supporting character is Commissioner Craig. I think she's his daughter, but it's not clear. (They both have white hair. In her case white hair=platinum blonde.)

Dayton bungles the arrest: the killer slugs or shoots a cop and almost gets away.

The GCD again takes the art to be a group effort. It suggests the splash panel and "a few others" are Matt Baker's work.

"Hoibert and Happy"

This is a bigfoot item about a young jockey and his racehorse. The bigfoot art is ugly. The story is standard stuff, but it has a couple of good touches.

"Prop Powers"

This is a WWII adventure. It's set in the Pacific and involves a secret Japanese weapon. Powers is a flier in the Army Air Corps.

The story has a caption declaring the story could not be revealed until now. It's my guess it was prepared during the war and this was added to package it as not old news for the post-war audience.

The art shows the influence of Noel Sickles. I originally wrote Milton Canfif, but I think Sickles is more accurate. The GCD doesn't know the creators. The opening pages are particularly well-drawn, with nice colours. The story is nothing special, but the art is worth a look for the care with which the backgrounds are handled. I've posted p.2 below.

"Congo King"

Congo King and Tonda see lights in the sky. Kuta summons him, and Congo King saves a man from a rhinoceros. When he recovers the man explains his government has heard the Narssi can make diamonds from marsh sand, and sent him and another agent, Baker, to learn how. The Narssi took them prisoner, but he escaped.

The Narssi worship an idol called the Burning God. It is made of clear diamond, and has a hollow body which they use to perform human sacrifices. The Narssi mean to sacrifice Baker. They are also the ones who produce the lights, and the lights mean war.

The three jungle people set out to rescue Baker. Congo King travels ahead of the others as he's much faster. He marks the trail with arrows. He enters the Narssi's shrine and confronts Krangi, the Jewel Priest. Krangi shows him Baker, imprisoned in the Burning God. Congo King threatens him and the other priests with his wrath, but before either side can take action more Narssi enter, with Tonda and Kuta their prisoners...

Congo King is an imitation of Tarzan. They were thick on the ground in the Golden Age. Tonda is his mate. She's another jungle person rather than a woman from civilisation. Kuta is the strip's equivalent of Boy.

Congo King speaks in good English. His dialogue has a formal quality. ("I would have words with you, O Krangi. Why do you make war against peaceful men?") The other jungle characters speak the same way. Congo King can also talk to gorillas and is friends with a band led by a gorilla called Ug.

The art is in the Iger Shop style. The GCD doesn't have a name for the artist. He didn't know how to stage action well, but he could draw a good Tarzan. His work has a naïve element, but I'm fine with this kind of style in this kind of story.

The rhinoceros at the start behaves like a hippopotamus. The Burning God initially has a form like a casket (p.3), but later is shaped like a mummy case (pp.5-6). P.2 would read better if Tonda's dialogue panel 4 was Kuta's, as he seems to be the one who's well informed about the Narssi (p.1 panel 1, p.2 panel 5). The mat p.5 seems to have been placed to prevent the sun shining through the open roof; but the way the roof's drawn it would fall off if it opened, so one wonders if its weight is holding it closed. Perhaps the writer had in mind a sliding opening.

There are also a couple of anomalies at the climax of the kind one finds in repurposed stories, so it's possible this story was originally prepared for some other series or had appeared before. Congo King tells the gorillas to spare the priests who surrender, but they sure don't look like they're sparing anyone. (The panel is very much like a Wambi one I noted here.) When Congo King escapes the idea seems to be that the opening of the roof will result in Krangi's death from the Burning God's concentration of the sun's rays, but this isn't made explicit. Tonda's and Kuta's plight right at the end comes out of nowhere, as if a sequence has been dropped.

Also note the balloon p.1 panel 3 and the first balloon p.2 panel 3. Their violation of their panel's borders could be a result of the letterer's not having room to fit a new name in. But on the other hand the name doesn't look squeezed in elsewhere.

Evil priests are standard villains for jungle stories, but the cult's ritual method of sacrifice is interesting, and I like the fact that Congo King implements a plan that brings him victory, instead of simply fighting. 

"Kid Kane"

This is a feature about an army boxing champ. In this instalment he meets a star lady trapeze artist. The strongman is jealous of her because he used to be the star attraction. Trouble follows.

The splash panel shows Kane hitting the strongman. Since the latter wears a spotted strongman costume and Congo King wears spotted trunks this creates an impression that the hero of this feature is slugging the hero of the previous one.

The GCD attributes the art to Matt Baker.

"Lucky Wings"

This is another WWII story, set between VE and VJ Day. Lucky is getting ready to leave on a mission. She receives a letter from a fortune teller asking her to visit. Since she has time to kill, she does. The fortune teller knows she's going to the island of Nicobar and says her crystal has warned her of danger. She asks her to return a ring to her brother. Lucky asks to look into the crystal ball to see the danger, and sees the Japanese. She agrees to deliver the ring and leaves on her mission.

On Nicobar the ruler, Leroc, seeks to learn the whereabouts of the sacred ring from the priest of the Snake God. His position as ruler is under challenge, and he needs the ring to cement his power. The priest says "the Spirit of the Fire" tells him it will be returned to Nicobar "in the hands of a white woman who flies on the wings of a bird". As he is telling him this Lucky arrives in her plane.

Lucky's editor has gotten her a cover job as a bar singer. Leroc talks with two Japanese agents while she's singing.

Later she takes the ring to the fortune teller's brother, Daro. He invites her in, but when she offers him the ring he says it's too late: he can already hear the "wings of death" heading for him. Leroc is outside the window watching with two henchmen. He blows a dart into Daro's back, and he falls dead!...

Since reporters don't get sent on missions with sealed orders, or hand over prisoners to their editors (p.10 panel 6), it seems evident that this story was prepared during the war and Lucky was originally a government agent. Since she flies her own plane I think the story's heroine was an earlier version of Lucky Wings, rather than some other character.

The story has the "by S. M. Regi" byline, but the splash page also has the signature of the artist, Robert Webb. He used an Iger Shop style, but he mixed it with a more illustrative look, and it's a much better-drawn story than the issue's first story. The plotting is much better too, although the story's elements are all familiar. Webb also drew the story in #3.

The text story is an SF story with an atomic theme. A physicist has developed a new process for splitting the atom called X-Plus. But when it's tried, the atom, doesn't split. It grows. And grows and grows and grows and...

Just read Lars of Mars from PS Artbooks.

It was only two issues, so the book was fleshed out with Crusader from Mars (two issues) and Eerie Adventures (one issue). All three titles are from Ziff-Davis, and all are from the early '50s.

Lars was really kind of interesting. He had an elaborate set-up. He was the greatest Martian agent, sent to Earth because Martian scientist detected an H-bomb explosion. He was sent here to guide us to the sort of civilization that could use nuclear energy responsibly, or barring that, report back that we should be destroyed. He was mistaken for an actor when he arrived, and became the star of the TV show Lars of Mars -- with everyone thinking he was just an eccentric actor who dressed as his character all the time. He had a foil in a pretty producer who was constantly put out by his taking his role too seriously ("You're not really from Mars, remember!") and, of course, constant disappearances. Meanwhile, he would fight "crime and corruption" because evidently that's what leads to us getting destroyed.

That was a pretty elaborate set-up for the '50s. But what made it even better was that the strip was drawn by none other than Murphy Anderson! And, yes, though he was younger, it looked very much like his Silver Age DC work -- especially Adam Strange. Lars even dressed a bit like Adam Strange, and employed both a personal rocket pack and a ray-gun. His mid-air poses looked exactly like what we'd see years later in Mystery in Space and Hawkman. All three uniforms are very similar, leading me to believe they were all designed by the same guy. Before Lars I would have guessed Carmine Infantino, but now I'm thinking Anderson.

Lars only appeared in two short stories in each of his two issues, with other SF filler in between that was unremarkable.

Crusader from Mars is equally unremarkable, rather on the bland side. I don't expect much from Eerie either (which I have yet to read), given its unprepossessing run.

I haven't started Lars of Mars (et al) yet. I'm working my way through 13 volumes of Planet Comics.

I skipped Planet Comics and Frankenstein (even though I have both series) because I knew they'd slow me down too much!

Jerry Siegel was the art director at Ziff-Davis for some period, and also wrote for the titles. He's credited as having written Lars of Mars by Jerry Bails's Who's Who, and the issues have some of his characteristic elements: humour, here present in the concept and the name, and the professional woman love interest who's often frustrated with the hero.

I think Ziff-Davis's comics had a pretty good art level. But the line was short-lived. Apart from G.I. Joe and a movie adaptation the GCD dates all the issues 1950-52. G.I. Joe was the company's success, and ran to 1957.

The Lars of Mars/Adam Strange look derives from Buck Rogers. Murphy Anderson had two stints on the newspaper strip: the first in the later 1940s, the second in the later 1950s. (Mike Sekowsky drew the opening "Adam Strange" episodes in Showcase. But Gil Kane did the covers, so I suppose he may have designed the uniform.)

The painted Lars of Mars covers, by Allen Anderson, are both distant versions of scenes from the issues. #1's corresponds to the scene where Lars attacks the actors thinking they're menaces. 2's corresponds to the bit where he fights the winged critter while travelling through the "fourth and fifth dimensions".

His trick of exceeding the speed of light to do this reminds me of Superman's method of travelling through time. I recently learned from an article of Clark's that he first did this in a Siegel story.

Martin O'Hearn believe Siegel's last story with Joe Shuster was an inventory Ziff-Davis "Invisible Boy" story published by St. John in Approved Comics #2.

I should have mentioned the "faster than the speed of light" bit, because it was intriguing. The pseudo-science hasn't changed much in the last 60 years; going faster than light allowed Lars to essentially fold space/time, although that wasn't how it was phrased. That must have been some rocket pack!

Reading Tom Corbett, Space Cadet now. The first three issues (all I've read) are drawn by Al McWilliams. Not his best work, but you can see his style beginning to emerge. GCD says the writer is the ubiquitous Paul Newman. After three issues in Dell's Four-Star, the strip got its own title, beginning with issue #4, giving archivists headaches for eternity.

Dell's Tom Corbett, Space Cadet didn't last very long, and the franchise moved to at least two other publishers before sinking into limbo (and, presumably, before "space cadet" became a pejorative). I'm hoping PS Artbooks continues the title through these other publishers (small ones, like Prize and Cleland). I want to see if the same team continues, or if Newman/McWilliams were restrained to Dell.

Weirdly, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet has been revived at least twice in the modern era, by Bluewater and Malibu. I never even saw those.

Voodoo #1 (Farrell, 1952)

This issue was evidently a production of the Iger Shop, as much (all?) of Farrell's horror work was. The cover is a so-so one showing a giant ghoul emerging from a grave.

("South Sea Girl"): "The Shelf of Skulls"

A woman and her lover plot to murder her supposed boyfriend, who has made out his will in her favour. He is famous for his hobby of collecting skulls. When she visits him she asks to see the skull room. He takes her inside and begins to tell her the story of a skull he uses as a cigarette stand...

South Sea Comics was one of the few titles published by Leader Enterprises / Universal Phoenix Features, which the GCD says was Jerry Iger's own imprint. One of its features was "South Sea Girl", about the female ruler of a Pacific people. This appeared in all 6 issues, and was cover-featured from the third. According to the GCD the stories were written by Manning Lee Stokes and drawn by Matt Baker.

The present tale is "apparently a reworked South Sea Girl story, possibly hitherto unpublished". As the GCD notes, the heroine of "South Sea Girl" was Alani of the Vanishing Isles. The heroine of this one is Olane, of the Banishing Islands. The GCD credits the art to Baker. It doesn't have a script guess. Perhaps it was Stokes again. The instalment from South Sea Comics #2 also has a flashback structure.

In South Sea Comics the heroine and her people were coloured white. Here they're brown, so the tale is an early story with a non-Caucasian action heroine. Trent looks older in the framing portion, so the events of the flashback presumably took place some years previously.

The flashback is a violent jungle queen story. P.4 has some particularly strong shock content. The framing sequence is a complete story itself, and grim. Baker's art is in the Iger style, but particularly good. The story is cleanly-drawn, and the art is full of detail.

Wrapping a jungle queen story inside a horror one is an odd thing to do, which raises the question of whether the shop had Baker replace the original framing story. My best guess is no, for the following reason. On all the pages after the first the text in the panels in the top tier is placed a distance below the top border. Either the art has been extended, or the shop wanted the top strip to be droppable if necessary. Since both framing story and flashback pages have this peculiarity, presumably they were done at the same time.

The title appears both at the top of the page and in the opening caption. That's the case with the "Lucky Wings" story too, and a sign that the story was prepared with a feature title which the large version of the title has replaced.

("Lucky Wings): "The Golden Ghouls"

Lucky has been assigned to obituaries. She notices an anomaly: Central City has reported four deaths, but has had fifteen funerals. She takes it upon herself to investigate.

One of the funeral parlours registered eleven burials. She attempts to arrange a funeral, but is turned away. So she arranges to have herself put into a state of suspended animation, in order that she might be taken into the parlour as a corpse...

According to the GCD this story first appeared in Atomic Comics #3 and carried artist Robert Webb's signature there, but it was removed from this reprint. He also drew the second "Lucky Wings" story from Atomic Comics #4.

When I reviewed that issue above I took Denny Blake to be a police detective. In this story it's plain he's another reporter at Lucky's paper. Her editor also appears, as does a cub reporter or copy boy who has red hair and freckles and wears a bow tie, like Jimmy Olsen. I saw him in the first story in Atomic Comics #4, but I didn't spot him as a recurring character. He's clearly intended as one here.

The story is a jokey light adventure. Webb's art is OK Iger work, less cartoony and precisely-drawn than Baker's.

("Chuck Ayres"): "The Werewolf"

After spending a weekend in the country Ayres and Vicki head back to town. As they take their leave their host jokingly warns them to watch out for the werewolf. 

It rains heavily, and the narrow road they're following gives way ahead of their car. They see the lights of a house and head for it. As they approach it they hear an animal cry, like a wolf's. Then they see a running figure. The lightning flashes, and for an instant they can see its hairy face, animalistic features, jutting teeth...

This is a horror mystery with a comedy element in its first half. Ayres solves the mystery, but by the time he does there's only one possible suspect.

The GCD notes the story was reprinted from Superior's Ellery Queen #4, so Ayres was originally Ellery, and Vicki was Nikki Porter. It was cover-featured its first time out. You can see Ayres's name has been relettered.

As with the previous two stories the tale has a large title in place of the original feature name and a title in the opening caption. The GCD doesn't currently list the original title. My guess is it was the caption's "The Werewolf of Walpurgis Hollow!", but the original cover called it "The Crooked Mile!" The hollow's name is from Walpurgis Night.

The plot is a standard one, so what gives the story charm is the comic interaction of Ayres and Vicki. The art is OK Iger work with the same slight cartoony element as Baker's.

"The Haunted One!"

A young woman calls her lawyer, terrified. She says her uncle's ghost has been walking again. He promises to send Dr Trimm to her. We learn that her uncle is alive, and the lawyer has been faking the manifestations...

In Golden Age comics the lead items were often placed first and last. Although the first story in this issue was recycled, it apparently hadn't been published before. So it may be this final story was a new one done to lead the issue, but bumped from the lead slot because "The Shelf of Skulls" was deemed better.

There is a point which might be evidence the cycle was another recycled one: Trimm hasn't previously known the heroine, and the story never explains why he's called in. That could mean he was a originally a series character who didn't need explaining. But the only ghost-hunting hero I know of that he resembles is Drew Murdoch from "The Ghost Gallery" in Jumbo Comics,(1) and I ran through the instalments of "Ghost Gallery" and didn't see this story. Murdoch's surname is also too long for some of the spaces in the word balloons where it would have presumably appeared. Perhaps it was drawn from a rejected script.

This is a standard fake haunting story. The art is again OK Iger work. The GCD doesn't have an artist guess. My guess is it was partly drawn by Webb and another hand also contributed. As with the first story most of the pages have a discardable strip at the top, but the ones here are mostly less wide and the last page doesn't have one.

The issue also has a one-pager titled "Fact or Fancy?" This briefly recounts three supposedly-true uncanny stories. The second one is a real story, and the third one reads like it is, although I couldn't confirm that using Google. The first one is related as the writer's own experience, but he doesn't give his name. I think it was actually drawn from the song "Grandfather's Clock".

In the text story a doctor has to prove himself a magician in order to save a jungle tribe from a plague.

(1) According to Murphy Anderson some of Fiction House's stories were done by Iger and others were done in-house. (Source: The Life and Art of Murphy Anderson by Murphy Anderson and R. C. Harvey, p.14.)

Sam Hill Private Eye #1 (Archie, 1950)

This title ran for 7 issues in 1950-52. The second issue didn't appear until six months after the first.

Archie became a humour company in the second half of the 1940s. In 1949 it launched two romance titles, Darling Romance and Darling Love, but it dropped the former at the end of 1950 and the latter only ran for a further four issues in 1951-52. In 1950 it tried adventure in the form of Sam Hill Private Eye and Adventures of the Dover Boys, but the latter comic didn't get a second issue. These four titles weren't badged as Archie comics. Archie's next adventure titles were The Double Life of Private Strong and The Fly in 1959.

The present issue has three longer stories, two shorter items, and a text page. All feature Hill.

The GCD doesn't know who wrote the Sam Hill stories. Harry Lucey signed stories in later issues of the series and the GCD credits him with the art of the first two stories here. It currently credits the rest of the issue's art to Harry Sahle, but I think it's not likely the two-pager and the third longer story were drawn by a different artist to the first two. My guess is the indexer meant Lucey and mistyped.

Hill speaks in private eye argot and narrates the stories in the captions. The other recurring character is his secretary, Roxy. The stories are decent private eye mysteries with a recurring element in their solutions.(1) The writing and art styles remind me of 1950s Quality.

There's a running gag that Hill only drinks milk. The scenes in his office also have sight gags. "The Double Trouble Caper" and the two-pager have headlights panels.

The cover doesn't entirely match any of the stories. Hill has to flee a room to avoid being discovered with it by the police in "The Cutie Killer Caper", but he's alone, the room isn't on the first floor, and there's no fight going on outside.

"The Cutie Killer Caper"

A woman who's separated from her husband hires Hill to prove he's seeing another woman so she can get a divorce. When Hill accompanies her to her apartment she makes a pass at him. She leaves the room to put her necklace away and runs back in saying her jewels are missing and her husband must have stolen them. Hill goes to the husband's apartment, but someone knocks him out. When he wakes up he sees the husband, dead...

"The Double Trouble Caper"

A prudish woman hires Hill to document her sister's low morals because their uncle left is fortune to whichever of them is the most deserving. The sister is an exotic dancer at a nightclub, and Hill goes to see her act. She invites him to her dressing room and gets him to escort her to an illegal nightclub. She loses her money, makes a fuss, and shoots the proprietor...

"Tangle Wits with a Killer!"; "Clues from Sam Hill's Private Notebook"

"Tangle Wits with a Killer!" is a two-page can-you-solve-it story. The mystery is not whodunit, but how Hill knew. In the final panel he breaks the fourth wall to issue the challenge.

"Clues from Sam Hill's Private Notebook" is a one-pager which has the solution and is otherwise made up of miscellaneous items relating to detection. The clues are visual and I didn't spot them.

"The Mad Money Caper"

Hill receives half a $1,000 bill in the mail. The note with it says to go to the Pink Turkey restaurant that night to find out how to get the other half, and is signed "Alex Brock". At the restaurant he's given an envelope with half a second $1,000 bill telling him to take a car Brock has waiting. The bartender says envelope was left by a woman.

Sam heads for the named location and is taken to the car. A woman is waiting inside, and she offers him the other half of the second bill if he refuses the case...

The text story is written as an account by Hill of one of his cases. It's bylined to Hill, so the GCD lists him as the author, which makes him a rare case of a comic book character who has a creator credit at the site. A woman hires Hill to fetch her jewels from her husband's place. She says they're separated and she means to divorce him, and she wants to avoid seeing him. Hill goes to the address and finds her husband, dead...

(1)  photo spoiler-1.gif In every case Hill's client turns out to be the villain or co-villain!

Crime Smasher #1 (Fawcett, 1948)

Spy Smasher's series commenced in Whiz Comics in the first issue. In Whiz Comics #76 (1946) the hero was demobilised and retired his Spy Smasher identity. He got the idea of fighting crime in place of enemy agents when he overcame some thugs who had stolen the blueprints of his gyro-sub and the policeman he handed them over to said men like him were needed to smash crime. So he became a private detective known as Crime Smasher. His girlfriend Eve became his secretary. The new feature didn't last long, and ended in #83 (1947).(1)

In 1948 Fawcett tried the feature again in its own comic, Crime Smasher. But it apparently didn't sell very well, as that was the only issue. Or it could be Fawcett was scared away from the genre by early anti-comics agitation.

The cover makes it look like a tough crime comic, but it's actually pretty tame. Alan is only referred to as Crime Smasher. Eve assists him in his adventures. His preoccupation is solving cases, she worries about making money.

According to the GCD the cover and the issue's "Crime Smasher" stories were drawn by Earl Lonsbury. It doesn't know who wrote, and it doesn't have credits for the humour items.

Like many Fawcett comics the issue has an opening contents page. These often used art from the stories, but this one has a stylish original image.

"Crime Smasher": "The Trapping of Public Enemy No.1!"

Crime Smasher is investigating a missing rabbit, but Eve wants him to go after Killer King. She tells him she's made an appointment for him with Kane's arch-enemy Al Mone. Actually she hasn't, and when Crime Smasher goes to see him Mone assumes he's learned he's really King's pal. He and his men try to kill him, but Crime Smasher gets away.

Mone tells King. King isn't worried. He believes he can take care of Crime Smasher easily, because he knows his weakness...

This is the most fun of the stories. It's also the longest: 13 pages, while the others are 7.

 photo spoiler-1.gif Crime Smasher's weakness is he never turns down a request for help. He escapes Mone's circle of thugs by ducking at the right moment. Later in the story he escapes a trap by sliding down a bannister.

The walls and furniture (!) in King's hideout are steel-plated. The inspiration there may have been the movie Scarface (1932), where the antihero has steel shutters.

"Crime Smasher": "The Last Request"

A former state legislator has been convicted of murder and is soon to be executed. He tells Crime Smasher he was framed and asks his help.

In this story Crime Smasher and Eve break and enter, damage private property, and steal a button. Eve saves the day at the end.

"Richard Richard Private Dick": "Lumber Camp Mystery"

This was an unfunny cartoon feature with punny dialogue about the cases of an incompetent detective  that appeared in several Fawcett titles. I reviewed the instalment from Captain Marvel Adventures #40 on p.1. In this one Richard and co. investigate the theft of felled trees from a lumber camp.

"Crime Smasher": "The Unlucky Rabbit's Foot"

A man comes to Crime Smasher's office with a job offer, but CM's absent, so he relays it through Eve. His offer is a thousand dollars for delivering a package to his brother. The package is not to be opened. When Eve tells Crime Smasher he says he's not a delivery boy, and the two of them go to the client's apartment to return the package and money. They find a model three-legged rabbit on the mantle, and their client, dead...

It doesn't seem to occur to Crime Smasher that the job offer is so fishy it must be something shady. The bit where Crime Smasher and Eve are tied up and left to die and escape is like a Billy Batson sequence from a Captain Marvel story. The story concludes on the inside back cover and back cover.

The issue also a comedic "Sherlock Monk" one-pager, about a monkey detective. The GCD tells me he also appeared in stories and fillers in Fawcett's Funny Animals, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and (once) Captain Marvel Adventures. The pictures are energetic but the joke is unfunny.

 

(1) According to the GCD the feature also appeared with other Whiz Comics features in a 1946 Wheaties Whiz Comics premium giveaway.

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