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.
Nyoka the Jungle Girl #14 (Charlton, 1955)
This was the first issue of Charlton's series. The Nyoka story is a reprint of "The Jungle Myth of Terror" from Fawcett's Nyoka the Jungle Girl #75, retitled "The Sinister Jungle Myth". This involves Nyoka with a pride (flock?) of giant griffins. The story is in three parts, as Fawcett's Nyoka tales often were. Once again, the GCD tentatively attributes the story to Rod Reed and Bert Whitman.
The Charlton version of the story has a new opening splash panel, probably because of a difference in format: the Fawcett issue has information about the publisher at the top of the page and the incidia at the bottom, whereas the Charlton issue lacks the former and has the indicia at the bottom of the inside front cover. The new splash image looks like it could be by the original artist, although the griffin is drawn differently, but it isn't taken from a panel in the story.
In the original story Nyoka was dressed in the costume Fawcett gave her for her final three issues, a white backless top and red shorts. Charlton altered this into a red top with straps on the back and red Capri pants. This is actually a great improvement, as the ensemble looks more like something a woman might wear in daily life, albeit not on safari. Although she has blonde hair on the cover she has brown hair inside, as in the original issue.
The original concluding page of part one was only 2/3 of a page long as it had a Statement of Ownership notice under it. Charlton added imagery related to the part's cliffhanger and a question mark in this space. This works very well. The second part of the story was shortened in a couple of places.
The back-up story in the Charlton issue is the "Jo-Jo Congo King" story from Fox's All Top Comics #18. Jo-Jo was one of many Golden Age imitations of Tarzan. Toonopedia describes him as "even less articulate than the average jungle hero", but in this story he's portrayed as intelligent and speaks well. His mate, Tanee, does not appear. The story's title has been changed from "The Bloody Broadcast" to "The Startling Broadcast", and the dialogue has been altered in a sequence where a character is killed, apparently to soften it. The tale involves a broadcaster's plans to get rid of his fellow broadcaster and girlfriend, who he secretly hates. The GCD attributes the art of the story to Jack Kamen.
The issue's text story is also taken from Fawcett's Nyoka the Jungle Girl #75, but the author's byline has been removed.
Charlton's second and third Nyoka issues also featured Fawcett Nyoka reprints. It ran original Nyoka stories in its remaining issues, and coloured her hair blonde from #18.
Whiz Comics #2 (Fawcett, 1939)
This was the first issue of Whiz Comics. There was no issue number on the front cover, and the number comes from the indicia (on the inside front cover). The issue was cover-dated February 1940, but according to DC Indexes it went on sale around Dec. 1 1939, so I've given the year as 1939 above. The two ashcans that preceded the issue were cover-dated January. As others have noted, the Whiz Comics name was likely drawn from the title of Fawcett's founding publication, a humour magazine called Captain Billy's Whiz-Bang. The title was Fawcett's third choice: the ashcans were titled Flash Comics and Thrill Comics.
The issue was Fawcett's first comic. The cover, which depicts Captain Marvel throwing a car, may have been modelled after the cover of Action Comics #1. The covers of the ashcans instead had an image of Captain Marvel bursting free of chains, and can be seen at the GCD. Captain Marvel was originally going to be called Captain Thunder, but the name was already claimed: "Captain Thunder and the Congo Lancers" was one of the initial features in Fiction House's Jungle Comics. Fawcett was only just beaten to the name: according to DC Indexes Jungle Comics #1 went on sale in Oct. 1939.
The comic carried seven features. According to the GCD these were all written by Bill Parker, a Fawcett staffer, but I don't think they're all equally well-written. My recollection is Steranko, in The Steranko History of Comics #2, criticised the use in early "Bulletman" stories of narration which describes what the reader has just seen in the panel. According to the GCD Parker was also the author of the those "Bulletman" stories, and that narrative style is present in Whiz Comics #2.
The first instalment of "Captain Marvel" doesn't yet have the light touch and humour the feature had later, but it puts many of the feature's key elements in place, including the acronymic nature of the magic word, Billy Batson orphan status and radio job, and his boss Sterling Morris. Although it introduces Shazam, he's killed in the instalment and wasn't a regular character in the feature initially. (It was his ghost who appeared in the feature later.) Sivana was also introduced in the story, looking just like he did later but not yet displaying his trademark delight in evil. C.C. Beck drew the story in an clear cartoon style, but it's not as pleasing to look at as his work became later.
I can't seen any holy moleys in the instalment. Captain Marvel's costume was apparently supposed to look like a military dress uniform. One of the nicest touches is the statues of the seven deadly sins that line one wall of Shazam's cavern. It's an interesting detail given that the writer may not have envisioned the cavern ever appearing again.
In an interview here Beck argued that the real hero of Captain Marvel stories was Billy Batson. I can see what he meant: Billy's pluck is a big part of the series. Arguably that element is already present in this instalment. It's Billy who finds where Sivana's men are based, forces his way in to see Morris, and talks himself into a job.
The issue's second feature is "Ibis the Invincible". According to the GCD this was also drawn by Beck. The instalment has good elements - Ibis is an ancient Egyptian prince, the story takes him to war-torn Europe, and he revives his girlfriend at the end - but it's basically boring because the power of the Ibistick seems to have no limits, so that Ibis doesn't even have to exert himself to accomplish his wonders or use his ingenuity. At one point he uses the Ibistick to create money, which is forgery. The instalment ends on a cliffhanger, with Ibis chasing a thief who has grabbed the Ibistick. The instalments continued to end on cliffhangers for a couple of years.
The third feature is "Golden Arrow". This story is drawn in a chiaroscuro style. The GCD attributes the art to Pete Costanza, but Toonopedia instead ascribes it to Greg Duncan, who it says also drew the issue's "Dan Dare" story. The GCD also ascribes the "Dan Dare" story to Duncan, and it does look like it's by the same artist, so I'm inclined to believe Toonopedia here.
The instalment is another origin story. Golden Arrow's father sets out to cross the US with his family by balloon to prove the utility of a gas he's developed. His parents are killed when the balloon is shot down by the minions of a western gang boss called Brand Braddock, described as an "outlaw ex-munitions maker", who wants to obtain the formula. A prospector rescues and raises him, and as he grows up he acquires strength and skill with a bow and arrow. At 18 he catches and tames a wild stallion that he names White Wind. The prospector, on his deathbed, tells him about his parents. Golden Arrow forces Braddock to give up the formula and donates it to the army.
Golden Arrow doesn't wear a costume, unless one counts a striped cummerbund. The Golden Arrow name is said to have been given to him by the Indians because of his habit of making his arrowheads out of the prospector's gold. I would guess that element was modelled after the Lone Ranger's habit of making his bullets out of silver. The main part of the story is set in the present day - Braddock refers to "another war going on", meaning WWII - as Toonopedia notes about the series.
When Golden Arrow confronts Braddock he tells him he's going to let the law handle his murder of his father rather than take personal vengeance. He doesn't attempt to take Braddock into custody, though, and the GCD tells me he was a recurring villain in the feature's early instalments, so I think the original concept was that Golden Arrow's series would depict him fighting Braddock's schemes specifically, rather than as a roving knight errant. The story gives Braddock two sons, Bronk and Brute, who don't do much here but were perhaps intended as his chief heavies.
(To be continued.)
In the Music Man, Professor Harold Hill mentions Captain Billy's Whiz-Bang as one reason why children are becoming juvenile delinquents (although his biggest attack is on the game of pool) and says wastes of time are the devil's playthings.
Unless his Ibistick is given limitatations later in the series I can't see why it would last very long. Like the Spectre, who could already do almost anything and then was given the Ring of Life which made him even more powerful, who was cancelled several months before WWII ended. Or a Johnny Thunder that isn't stupid.
Sivana also appears in today's installment of Liberty Meadows.
Thanks, gents. Apparently I was wrong to put a hyphen in Captain Billy's Whiz Bang. It's said to have been risqué for its times, but the issues I've looked at online were pretty tame, and not sexually harping. Possibly it got more risqué later: I've seen some covers and cartoons that suggest so.
Wikipedia's page on Fawcett points out that the reference to the magazine in The Music Man is anachronistic, as Fawcett began publishing after WWI, and The Music Man is set before it.
Possibly. Martin Goodman's cartoon magazines were pretty dirty in the 60s from the one I've seen, but they were probably much tamer in the 30s.
Whiz Comics #2 continued
The fourth feature is "Spy Smasher". This is actually my favourite feature in the early issues of Whiz Comics. Initially it was drawn in a cartoon style, like Captain Marvel's feature, although one can see there were changes in artist. Spy Smasher was not clearly shown from the front, and his identity was not revealed to the reader. The stories were about Spy Smasher's foiling the schemes of a Nazi spy called the Mask. Admiral Corby and his daughter Eve appeared in each instalment, and were often the targets of the Mask's plots.
The first instalment also introduced Eve's fiancé Alan Armstrong, eventually revealed to be Spy Smasher. Eve learned his identity in the second instalment, but it wasn't made explicit for the reader until later. He was probably intended as Spy Smasher from the beginning - as Steranko wrote, there were no other plausible candidates - but re-reading the first instalment for this review I wondered if the reader was supposed to be misled into thinking that Alan might be the Mask. Alan is first seen in a tuxedo and bow tie, and has a high hair line. The Mask wears a tux and bow tie, and has a similar hairline. On his introduction Alan is described as a Virginian sportsman, and the Mask at one point flees with his men to a hideout in Virginia. At the start of the story Corby discusses his problems with Alan, and at the end Spy Smasher sends him a message to not trust anybody: "You never can tell." But it's possible I'm imagining things: in the fight on the dirigible the Mask's suit is shown to have broad blue lapels and a stripe on the leg, and these aren't seen on Alan on the dinner scene.
Around a year in the formula starting changing. In the splash of the instalment in #13 Spy Smasher was seen clearly from the front for the first time. In #14 a less cartoony art-style was adopted, the tone became grimmer, and the storyline was started that led to the Captain Marvel/Spy Smasher crossover in #16-#18. In #15 Spy Smasher's true identity was finally established for the reader, and the Mask was killed. Eve remained an important character into the crossover but was afterwards not always used. As a result of these changes in formula and style the feature became more conventional and stops being enjoyable for me. This is not least due to the art, which was now often ugly or crude.
But that was later. The Whiz Comics #2 instalment is credited by the GCD to C.C. Beck, and is visually more pleasing than the issue's "Captain Marvel" story. It's not quite as cartoony in style as some of the subsequent instalments. The feature seems to have been carefully put together, more so than "Ibis" or "Golden Arrow", although they were placed earlier and "Golden Arrow" got more pages.
(To be continued.)
We don't clearly see him until #13 and his other identity isn't revealed until #15? Keeping a mystery going that long is common now, but it sounds very odd for an old series. We found out Bruce Wayne was Batman in six pages.
In the period he wasn't appearing in other titles yet, so it's not all that many stories. On the other hand, he gave up his costume and became Crime Smasher in 1946, so in terms of time it was over 1/7 of the feature's life.
Whiz Comics #2 part 3.
The fifth feature is "Scoop Smith". Smith is a top reporter, who works with a cameraman called Blimp Black. Black is plump and stutters, but saves the day in the story, although it's Smith who does the fighting. Smith and Black have distinctive faces and may have been based on actors. The instalment is drawn in a chiaroscuro style, and the GCD attributes the art to Fred Duncan. I thought the style of this story had a looser look than that of the "Golden Arrow" and "Dan Dare" stories, but on reconsideration I guess that's likely right.
In this instalment Smith is assigned to investigate radium thefts. His investigation takes him and Black to an evil doctor who has trick chairs in his office, a dungeon, henchmen, and a radium machine that can restore the dead to life. Despite these fantastic elements this is a mundane story. The instalment ends with a segue into the next, as Smith and Black are sent on assignment to the Antarctic.
The sixth feature, "Lance O'Casey", is about a "sailor of fortune" of the South Pacific. His yacht is called the Brian Boru and his crew is a monkey called Mr Hogan. His home is on an island called Manoala. In this tale they rescue two Americans from a tribe of Pacific raiders ruled by a white renegade called Barracuda Brent. The story is drawn in a cartoon style but is basically an action-adventure story. Brent is killed by a tiger. Mr Hogan rescues Casey and the Americans by steering the yacht in to shore Rex the Wonder Dog-style. The GCD attributes the art to Bob Kingett.
The final feature is "Dan Dare", about a private detective. This is the third story in the issue drawn in a chiaroscuro style, and as I said above the GCD attributes its art to Greg Duncan. Dare has a small plane and takes cases from all over the country. His assistant, and implicit love interest, is a woman called Carol Clews. The instalment ends, as each instalment of the series did, with a telegram initiating Dare's next case. Dare is a stock hero, but unlike the "Scoop Smith" tale the story is one of the issue's more carefully-written. The plot might be the plot of a decent B mystery.
Captain Marvel's feature was allotted 13 pages, Golden Arrow's 10, and the others' 8. "Scoop Smith", unsurprisingly, was the first to go: in Whiz Comics #7 it was replaced by "Dr. Voodoo". "Dan Dare" lasted to #22, after which its pages were redistributed to other features or used for filler pages or ads.
"Ibis the Invincible", "Golden Arrow", "Spy Smasher" and "Lance O'Casey" were all tried in their own titles at some point. The longest-running of these was Spy Smasher, which lasted eleven issues. They also appeared in other Fawcett titles. "Lance O'Casey" ended its initial run in the title in #53 (after skipping #52 and appearing in Master Comics #49), but returned in #103. It was during the hiatus that it appeared in its own title. After its return it skipped a number of issues but lasted to the end. Spy Smasher abandoned his costume and renamed himself Crime Smasher in #76, but only lasted under that name to #83. He subsequently appeared in a single issue of Crime Smasher. "Golden Arrow" lasted in the title to the second-last issue (skipping #15, when it was replaced for an issue by "Companions Three", which then moved across to Master Comics). "Ibis the Invincible" lasted to the final issue, #155.
The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus. My acknowledgements to the GCD for its information.
Lance O'Casey #1 (Fawcett, 1946)
In 1945 Fawcett reduced the number of story pages in its issues, getting down to around 25 in the titles I checked. Then it increased them again. This issue came out as the page count was going up again - DC Indexes says it went on sale in Mar. 1946 - so it has 29. It also has an opening contents page, as was normal for Fawcett titles in the period. I've seen length troughs in the titles of other publishers in the mid to late 40s, but I haven't examined to what extent they happened at the same time.
The issue has two "Lance O'Casey" stories, respectively 16 and 13 pages long, and a text story. The cover blurbs O'Casey as "the seafaring hero of Whiz Comics", although he'd lost his slot there in 1944. Another blurb, narrated by Captain Marvel, describes the comic as having 68 pages, but the version at Comic Book Plus only has 36, counting the covers. It's clear from issue's content page that the scan, at least with regard to the issue's stories, is complete. My guess is the issue was originally planned for an earlier date and when it came out, at a reduced length, the editor forgot to have the cover text changed. In the second story a character says he wants to donate the wealth he has obtained to "America's war effort", suggesting the story was prepared during the war.
By this point Lance had acquired a human chief mate, Mike Bellew of Brooklyn, and his ship was called the Starfish. Lance is the leader and Mike provides comic relief, but they're both portrayed as big, tough seamen who are good in a fight. Both stories have a lot of breezy action and banter. They reminded me of Sgt Fury tales. The art of the stories is clear and has a slight element of comic exaggeration. The GCD attributes it to Clem Weisbecker. It attributes the cover to Harry Anderson.
In the first story the pair are carried by an uncharted current to a Sargasso Sea-style graveyard of ships inhabited by a community of pirates descended from pirates who raided Chile in the 18th century. The story is largely an action-based one depicting their escape. The plot reminded me of the 1968 Hammer film The Lost Continent (which was based on Dennis Wheatley's 1938 novel Uncharted Seas, but reportedly fairly loosely. I found a description of the novel here.)
In the second tale the pair travel to Antarctica in search of a lost explorer and find a castle inhabited by the descendants of lost medieval English colonists who have a princess who adores the colour red and who are menaced by a race of caveman-types who live in igloos. In the course of the story the heroes acquire a pet penguin, but it doesn't appear again in the later stories I've checked.
The text story concerns a baseball competition between workers from the maintenance and construction arms of an unnamed state's Division of Highways.
The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.