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.
Best of the West #2 (ME, 1951)
This title featured four of ME’s Western features in each issue. Most featured the same line-up seen here: “Straight Arrow”, “The Durango Kid”, “Tim Holt” and “The Ghost Rider”. #1 had “Bobby Benson’s B-Bar-B Riders“ instead of “Tim Holt”, and the final issue, #12, had an Indian feature called “Red Hawk” rather than “Straight Arrow”.
“Straight Arrow” was licensed from a radio show, and the Durango Kid was a movie hero played by Charles Starrett. The character had a double identity, and the Durango Kid was the masked one. Tim Holt was a Western star. He played Bob Curtin in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The Ghost Rider was ME’s own creation. His feature was the supporting feature in Tim Holt, and he also appeared in his own title.
ME portrayed Tim Holt as a man of the Old West of that name. At this stage he had a Hispanic sidekick named Chito who liked pursuing women. To spice up the stories ME gave Holt a costumed identity, Redmask, in Tim Holt #20. The Redmask costume was very similar to the Durango Kid’s, but red where the other’s was black, with the trousers tucked into the boots and a cavalry sword on the right hip.
“Straight Arrow” was about a Comanche brave who was raised by ranchers and maintained a double identity. So in fact, all the heroes in this issue had them. But Straight Arrow doesn’t use his Steve Adams identity, and his tale is wholly set among Indians. The Durango Kid and Tim Holt stories aren’t too similar. And the Ghost Rider spends most of his story as the Ghost Rider, and his story is more fantastic than the others. So the four features don’t come across as all the same.
The indicia gives the issue number as “BEST OF THE WEST No. 2 (A-1 No. 45)”. A lot of ME comics were double-numbered as A-1 issues like this.
“Straight Arrow”: “The Face of the Devil!”
An Apache man, a hunchbacked giant, is known as Devil-Face because of his ugly looks. Filled with anger, he leaves his tribe to live alone.
When he comes upon the Comanche he hates them and resolves to prey upon them. Soon a series of mysterious thefts begins. The thefts seem supernatural.
The Comanche discuss the thefts at a pow-wow. As the chief is speaking disembodied arms reach out of the night, grab him, and throw him down!...
All the stories in this issue have good art. This one was drawn by Fred Meagher, the feature’s regular artist. His art is slightly more naïve than the other artists’, but very detailed and pleasing to look at.
Straight Arrow enacts a scheme to expose the thief pp.4-5, and the story climaxes with a three-page fight. It has a twist end.
Spoiler warning. Devil-Face’s invisibility trick is basically the same as the Ghost Rider’s: he wears a dark robe that can’t be seen at night. The story treats the trick as a mystery, but his robe can be seen the first time he uses it.
“The Durango Kid”: “Never Say Die!”
Tom Barnes, heading west with his wife and son Davy, has inherited a fortune and doesn’t know it. His cousin means to murder him for it. He goes after the Barnes’s wagon with gunmen, but Tom makes a run for it and throws his son into a gully in the hope he’ll survive.
When Davy recovers he finds the burned-out wagon. He resolves to get the killers. His plan is to get the help of the Durango Kid.
By the time he reaches a town he’s very hungry. Steve and Muley spot him staring at people eating through a window and give him a meal. They ask after his folks and his situation. He replies he’s got a lot to tell, but will only tell the Durango Kid…
The GCD ascribes the art to Joe Certa. According to the GCD he drew the hero’s feature up to Charles Starret as the Durango Kid #18. Certa simplified his style in the Silver Age, but earlier on he drew a lot like Dan Barry, and that’s the style used here. The art is attractive, and the story looks (and mostly reads) like a 1950s DC one.
The Durango Kid was Steve in his other identity in the movies. His having a sidekick is also from the movies, but from what I can tell only the one in the comics was called Muley. Steve only becomes the Durango Kid on the last two pages, but his costumed identity is spoken of throughout the tale.
“Tim Holt”: “Peril on the Paddlewheeler!”
The Black Rider and his gang rob a bank. Holt attempts to stop them, but an accident fells him. As he recovers, he finds a hairpin.
The Black Rider is revealed to be a young woman. She and her gang seize control of a paddlewheeler. They rob and imprison the passengers, and force the crew to continue operating the ship. Their plan is to stay aboard until they’re close enough to the border to escape into Mexico…
The instalment was again drawn by the feature’s regular artist. This one’s was Frank Bolle, who used a beautiful clear, precise style. The splash panel has a particularly nice shot of the paddlewheeler, and the villainess is attractive.
The Black Rider’s identity as a woman is another of those mysteries-that-aren’t, as she’s depicted as a masked woman in the splash panel and one can tell the Black Rider p.2 is the same person. The story is somewhat like a Blackhawk one: you have a big criminal scheme, and a really ruthless woman behind it.
What's interesting is the Black Rider is virtually the same character as the Black Phantom, a recurring villainess from Tim Holt’s own title who later reformed. She debuted in Tim Holt #25 in 1951, the same year as this issue. The present issue's indicia gives no month so I can’t establish which story appeared first. My guess is this story came first and the editor decided to make the villainess a recurring one, but started over with a new name because the Black Rider name was already taken by a Marvel hero.
Holt only appears in his Redmask identity in the splash panel and on the last page. His second identity isn’t otherwise referred to, so this is less of a Redmask story than the previous one is a Durango Kid one.
“The Ghost Rider”: “The Monster in the Mist!”
A fire-breathing dragon haunts the bluff trail at night...
Once more the art was by the feature’s regular artist, this time Dick Ayers. Don Markstein described him as having "truly shone" on this feature, and it’s true. His style here is more exaggerated and dynamic than the other artists’.
ME’s Ghost Rider pretended to be a ghost to fight crime. He often encountered the apparently-supernatural, but in all the stories I’ve seen the phenomena turn out in the end to have mundane explanations. The trouble with this kind of story is when the fantastic stuff is fun the explanation is a let-down. The fantastic stuff is fun here. After the revelation we get a big fight, and - how is the Ghost Rider pulling those other manifestations? There’ll be an explanation, right? I mean, I expect it to be contrived, but there’ll be one. There WON’T?!
And there isn’t. I suppose they’re supposed to projections of the crooks’ imaginations in the smoke and flames, promoted by ventriloquism. But the narration neglects to say that.
Starting a big fire in a cave is a bad idea. GR is lucky he didn’t asphyxiate everyone.
The dragon is like the one from Dr. No. The novel didn't come out until 1958.
Read Adventures into the Unknown Vol. 10, which preceded the volume I wrote about earlier where one issue was done in "3D Vision." Almost this entire book is in 3D Vision, so it was a longer experiment than I knew.
I'm now reading Ghost Comics, a Fiction House book. The artwork is superior to the off brands, especially the covers. Who is Maurice Whitman? These are terrific covers. One of them looks a lot like a Murphy Anderson cover in the 1960s:
The first issue or two was all ghost stories, but I've already reached a point where they've dropped that restriction, and are just doing generic horror stories. I approve -- a steady diet of ghost stories gets repetitive (and you can usually guess the ending, since ghosts are sure to be involved).
He did a few comics for Dell in the 60s, including several issues of Jungle War Stories, and a story called "A Night's Lodging" for Warren's Creepy #17 in 1967.
Apparently he did some scattered work for DC in the later 70s, but his only superhero tales were "Tales of the Amazons" back-ups in Wonder Woman.
I've had the same reaction to his Ghost Comics covers. He did good ones for other Fiction House titles as well, but his Charlton ones don't show as much flair. I like this one from Planet Comics #71:
But it's not signed, so I can't be completely sure it's his. The GCD ascribes it to him. Here's my favourite of his Charlton covers:
Again, it's not signed. The identification is Nick Caputo's.
I'm not very familiar with his stories. When I was reviewing issues of Jungle Comics I had a look at the last one, #163, and was struck by how good his art on "Kaänga" was. He drew the feature from #114. Here's a couple of pages:
So he's an artist I want to get to know better, but I don't yet know whether his later work was as good as his best Fiction House stuff.
All scans from Comic Book Plus.
There's a lot of "Good Girl" art on those Ghost Comics covers, but as I've said before, I find that most Good Girl Artists are just good artists, who do everything well. Matt Baker, Dave Stevens, Adam Hughes -- yeah, their girls are gorgeous, but so is everything else they draw. Since they do pretty girls well, and pretty girls sell comics, pretty girls go front and center. But as you can see on the covers above, Whitman drew everything from clothes to jungles to space suits well. HIs skills weren't remotely restricted to pretty girls in gauzy nightclothes. (But he does GREAT pretty girls in gauzy nightclothes!)
I don't know if the Anderson cover should be considered an homage or not, but it's close enough for me. And I think I've seen the floating head on other covers as well, but right now they're not suggesting themselves to me.
Valor #1 (EC, 1955)
This was one of EC's new direction titles. The issue has four non-series stories with historical settings. Each story is set in a different time and place.
The cover has a medieval combat scene drawn by Wally Wood. Wood's story this issue also has a medieval subject, but it doesn't depict a scene from it.
A Roman gladiator named Andronicus becomes the lover of the empress. She prods the emperor to give him a commission. The emperor does, and sends him to Greece to put down a revolt. Andronicus is successful, and takes many Greek captives. On the way back to Rome he falls in love with a captive woman...
This story depicts the brutality and decadence of Rome. The Code had just been introduced, but EC didn't adopt it for another two months. I doubt this story could've gotten past it, as it involves adultery, brutal military discipline, sexual mistreatment of captives, and execution in the arena.
The story is beautifully drawn by Al Williamson and Angelo Torres. The GCD interprets them as penciller and inker, but my recollection is they sometimes co-drew stories. Their detailed art here gives the Roman world they depict an exotic reality.
The GCD credits the writing to Carl Wessler. My guess is he took inspiration from The Sign of the Cross (1932), but in this story Christianity plays no role.
I felt kept at a distance from the characters, so the story didn't strongly move me. But its visuals make up for this.
The French plot to regain control of Haiti after the Haitian Revolution.
There's a scene where the Haitian blacks show they have no table manners, but otherwise they're depicted as intelligent and the whites' equals. The story is wholly on their side.
The tale is historically inaccurate. The Haitians are depicted as led by Henri Christophe. He claims the title of king, and confers with a subordinate named Toussaint. Toussaint Louverture was a leader of the revolt. He was arrested by the French and died before the French surrender. Jean-Jacques Dessalines was Haiti's first leader post-independence. Christophe's establishment of the Kingdom of Haiti came later.
The GCD doesn't know the author. The art is by Bernard Krigstein.
This story is set in France before and during the French Revolution. The son of a baker and the daughter of an aristocrat love each other. When she and her family are arrested he resolves to save her.
This is another beautifully-drawn story, with art by Graham Ingels. The GCD credits the writing to Wessler. The story rejects the partisans of the Terror, but it doesn't take the political side of the aristocrats either. The hero's father is a radical, but the hero is apolitical until the Terror. He saves his lover's family with masked derring-do. One cares more about the lovers in this story than in the first one as one understands them better.
"The Return of King Arthur"
King Arthur returns during the Crusades and liberates Cornwall from Norman rule. But there's a reason you didn't read about this in history books.
This is the most interesting story as a story in the issue, as for a fair part of its length it's not obvious where it's going. It's a medieval fantasia rather than a historically accurate tale. The art is by Wally Wood. It's quality work, but I like the art of the two stories I praised above more.
The issue also carried an editorial page explaining the title's scope and the New Direction, and a text page about the Roman army.
DC's The Brave and the Bold initially had a line-up of features with historical settings. It's my guess it was an imitation of this title. It started five months later.
The end of the "New Trend" line and the beginning of the "New Direction" line is what signals the end of the Golden Age and the beginning of the SIlver Age for me. Actually, I believe it it the CCA code itself which I use as the demarcation. Oddly, none of the first issue "New Direction" titles carry the code, but the second issues do.
I think I've read that interview before, but I forgot (or glossed over) that fact that Gaines wasn't a member for those first issues. Those first issues were obviously created with the Code in mind (the Code being designed to drive Gaines specifically out of business), but I thought the lack of a seal on the cover was an oversight or perhaps a sort of protest.
Gaines: “So I didn’t join the association. But then I decided to drop all those books anyway and put out the New Direction stuff. I put out the six first issues, six bi-monthlies, and they sold 10, 15 percent. You can’t believe how horrendous the sales were. And I later found out that it was because the word was passed by the wholesalers, ‘Get ‘im!’ So they got me.
“As soon as I heard this I joined the Association. You’ll notice that from the second issue of each title on, I’m an Association member. So my sales went up from 10 to 20, but it was still disastrous.”
Marvel's Black Knight commenced the same month as Valor. It's my guess Marvel was aware of what EC was going to try. Eastern Color's Conquest! #1, another historical anthology, came out the same month as Valor #2.
Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid #32 (ME, 1954)
This issue is from the period when Fred Guardineer was the feature's artist. Guardineer's art is stiff and has a naïve element, but it's pleasing to look at. Everything is clearly drawn.
The GCD tentatively attributes the scripts of "Revenge of the Tigress!" and the Dan Brand story to Gardner Fox. It doesn't have writer guesses for the other stories.
"The Durango Kid": "Revenge of the Tigress!"
A girl is raised as a member of an outlaw gang after her parents are killed in an Indian raid. Her foster-father calls her the Tigress, and she doesn't know he's not her real father. The Durango Kid and Muley interrupt the gang's getaway from a train robbery. Her foster-father is shot dead, and she determines on revenge.
Guardineer was the creator of Zatara. Zatara's debut instalment pitted him against a lady gang-leader called the Tigress. She appeared in quite a number of his early stories. She was a ruthless blonde who wore a yellow shirt with heavy black stripes and a red head bandana. This story's Tigress is a blonde who wears an orange top with thinner black stripes and a white neck kerchief. She turns out to not be thoroughly bad.
Worth comparing are the Black Rider and the Black Phantom from "Tim Holt", who I wrote about in my review of Best of the West #2 above. The resolution reminds me of "Dead-Shot Debby" from Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid #35, in which outlaws trick a lady sharpshooter into joining their gang.
"The Durango Kid": "Death Duel on Main Street!"
After Muley is apparently killed the Durango Kid accepts an outlaw's showdown challenge. What he doesn't know is the gang have replaced his bullets with duds.
This episode's story structure - a tense situation in the present explained by flashbacks - reminds me of EC and 50s Marvel. I didn't see the end coming.
"Dan Brand and Tipi": "Bloody Stalemate at Fort Watson"
Dan and Tipi are captured by the British during the siege of Fort Watson. Can they escape?
This was the title's second feature from the first issue. Brand is a white man of the 18th century who was taken in by Indians after he was mauled by a bear and learned Indian ways. He came to be regarded by the chief as his elder son. The chief also had a young son, Tipi. After the chief's death Brand avenged him and his own murdered wife with Tipi's help, and accepted Tipi as his brother. Brand wears Indian dress, and is miscoloured Indian red in this instalment.
The feature was also known as White Indian, and appeared under this name in its own title. Its original artist was Frank Frazetta, and I assumed he was the artist here, but the GCD tells me it was Frank Bolle. Apparently this was his Frank Frazetta impression. I must say I like it. The GCD tentatively attributes the writing to Gardner Fox.
The net tells me the Durango Kid's alter ego was always named Steve something in the movies. He was Steve Brand in this title. The debut Dan Brand story says he was Steve Brand's ancestor.
The story is set during the American Revolution, and uses the British as antagonists. That recalls DC's "Tomahawk". "Tomahawk" predates "Dan Brand'/"White Indian", but neither feature used the Revolutionary War theme from the very start - they were both initially set before it - and I don't know which adopted it first.
The siege depicted in the story is authentic, as a footnote indicates.
"The Durango Kid": "Killed by his Friend!"
A newspaper gives Steve Brand credit for an exploit of Muley's. The editor tells Muley that's how Brand told the story. Muley confronts Brand in the street, a shot rings out, and Brand collapses. He's pronounced dead. Muley is found to have a gun with a chamber empty and a warm barrel in his holster...
This is the cover story. Muley is initiallly a bit of a dope here - he's lucky he wasn't killed at the pass - but he does figure out how the gun was planted. (But how did the crooks fire the gun without Muley hearing so it would be warm when they planted it? Did they heat up the barrel some other way?)
The issue also had a two-page glossary of Western terms.
Conquest #1 (Eastern Color, 1955)
This was a historical anthology title from the publisher of Famous Funnies. The publisher was nearly at the end of its time comics publishing, and this was the only issue.
The cover boasts "11 adventure stories", but that counts all the one pagers. There's really four, and "Lochinvar", at 5 pages, is shorter than the others.
Here's a curiosity. "Richard the Lionhearted" and "Swamp Fox" are 8 pages, but "Beowulf the Mighty" is only 7. The editor could have supplied "Beowulf" with an extra page by dropping one of the one pagers. So why did it get only 7? Did the editor shorten the script by a page to improve the pacing?
"Richard the Lionhearted"
Richard needs to raise money for the Third Crusade. His brother John tricks him into a trap.
The story starts with an account of the Crusades. They are represented as an attempt to win back the Holy Land from its "Saracen" conquerors. The Islamic conquest of the region was in the 630s/640. The First Crusade came just over 450 years later, at the end of the 11th century. The story says "two Crusades failed". Not so: the First Crusade was a success. It established Crusader states and captured Jerusalem. Jerusalem remained in European hands for 88 years. The Third Crusade was a response to the conquests of Saladin, including his capture of the city. Richard was unable to retake Jerusalem but he saved the Crusader state.
The story's action sequence is out an Errol Flynn movie. The art depicts Richard as a dignified, vigorous man with white hair. When he became king and during the Third Crusade he was in his 30s. The instalment seems to be intended as the first of a series.
The art is by Jim McArdle. It's solid, on a level with lesser 50s DC art. The GCD tells me McArdle did a lot of work for DC in the decade. The page about the Crusades is the story's best.
"Beowulf the Mighty"
Beowulf hears a monster people are calling Grendel has "possessed" the palace of Hrothgar, and travels to Denmark to fight it.
Spoiler warning. Grendel is depicted as a dinosaur! Beowulf is shown to be superhumanly strong. He doesn't tear Grendel's arm off. He head-butts it, tosses it around a bit, and then throws it in the ocean.
This is the most fun story in the issue, and it has the best art. It was drawn by Bill Ely, who drew Rip Hunter ... Time Master from #8. His art here gives an impression of roughness, but it has good detail and I like the way he draws Beowulf.
Notice the trees through the door pp.6-7. That's a nice effect.
This is a Francis Marion story that uses Col. Tarleton as its lead villain. Its real star is a boy named George Spidle who acts as a messenger for the British but is secretly a spy for Marion. Spidle was a real person. His account of his activities as a spy for Marion was recorded by Joseph Johnson in his book Traditions and Reminiscences Chiefly of the American Revolution in the South. Rather than being a messenger for the British, he was employed on a trading boat and was a courier for the rebels.
The art is again by Jim McArdle. His work on this story is superior to his work on the King Richard one. The splash page has an image of an engagement between the British and the rebels in a swamp, and is particularly nice.
This is the most interesting story as a story in the issue, the one I can imagine DC publishing. Like the King Richard one it reads like an instalment of a series. It predates Disney's The Swamp Fox episodes.
This story is based on the Lochinvar song from Sir Walter Scott's Marmion. In the song Lochinvar is said to be "dauntless in war", but it describes no episode involving fighting, so the story adds a couple. In the song he swims the Eske river because there's no ford. Here he swims a river to escape enemies. At the climax he fights his way to freedom with Ellen. In the poem he gets her away by a trick.
Once again the art is by McArdle. It's drawn well, but I liked this story least. The changes are at odds with the spirit of the poem, where Lochinvar is brave and clever. Whether Eastern Color meant to tell the further adventures of Lochinvar in subsequent instalments I can't tell.
The one pagers are as follows:
-The inside front cover is on the subject "Heroines of History", and well-drawn by Bill Walton.
-"Korea's Joan of Arc" describes the life of Louise Yim up to when she became a member of cabinet.
-"Balto the Hero Dog" tells the story behind the Balto statue in Central Park.
-"Freedom Fighter" is about Bernardo O'Higgins. Higgins was a commander in the Chilean War of Independence, and Chile's ruler after it declared its independence.
The page focuses on a supposed episode in which his force was about to be trapped. He reversed the situation by rounding up all the animals he could and driving them towards the Spanish lines. The animals “crushed the Spanish camp”. This is a garbled version of the end of the Battle of Rancagua. O'Higgins’s force had been surrounded by the Royalists. He had lost many men and he was running out of ammunition. He escaped with a few hundred men by charging through the Royalist lines. The battle was defeat for the Revolutionaries. According to some accounts before the charge the baggage mules were driven towards the Royalists to create confusion. (E.g. Chile by F. Scott Elliot : “the baggage mules and other animals were driven out of the barricades, raising clouds of dust.”) I haven’t been able to find a contemporary description.
The art is by John Belfi, who I know from his Charlton work. His style is slightly naïve and he dresses the Revolutionaries and Royalists in wildly out of date costumes.
-"He Turned the Tide" tells a story about an exploit of Samuel Howe during the Greek War of Independence. Howe was an American doctor who fought with the Greeks. According to the item he rallied the Greeks and turned the tide in a key battle by charging the enemy. I’ve not been able to find evidence this happened. His daughter doesn’t mention it in her biography.
-The inside back cover has a hodge-podge page of items about famous men, “They Were Great”.
-The back cover tells the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, an early woman doctor.
I've given the artists in the cases where the items are signed. The GCD doesn't have guesses for the others.
My acknowledgements to Google and Wikipedia, which I used for research.