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.
Captain Marvel Adventures #50 (Fawcett, 1945).
According to DC Indexes this issue came out in October, so it's an early post-war one. It contains three Captain Marvel stories and two pages with filler items, for a total of 25 comics pages (not counting ads). It also has a contents page and a text story.
In the first Captain Marvel story, "The Twisted Powers", defective lightning bolts leave Captain Marvel powerless and give Billy his powers instead. The lightning is depicted as sent by Zeus, rather than Shazam, and as manufactured by a smith who is not named, but is presumably Hephaestus/Vulcan. This was the cover story. Not all that much is done with the premise.
In the second story, "Villain's Valhalla!!", a trio of very elderly retired crooks return to crime to prove they can stand up to Captain Marvel. The story treats them as deluded and past it.
In the third story, "Sivana's Crime Newspaper", Captain Marvel learns that Sivana is publishing an underworld newspaper. His actual goal is to get himself elected mayor of the underworld, and at this he succeeds. He then tells his men that Captain Marvel is really Billy Batson, and has him grabbed and tried for his activities against crime. This story reminded me of "The Joker's Journal!" from Detective Comics #193 (1953). There are some similar details in the depictions of the papers, but their storylines are quite different. The cover tale is two pages longer, but this one is more imaginative and the issue's best story.
The filler items, each a half-page long, are "Dopey Danny Dee", "Sergeant Sandy", "Tumbleweed Jr." (about a young Indian), and "Captain Kid". At this point Captain Kid wore a superhero costume with a green cape and tried to stop crime.
The text story is another National War Fund war story, this time about how a man in the USO received the surrender of a German town.
The issue has a couple of comics form ads, including a Volto from Mars one which, if the information in the comment here is accurate, was likely drawn by Frank Robbins.
Underneath the ad there's a one-line ad for the Hop Harrigan radio show.
The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.
They were never consistent on who knew Billy was Captain Marvel. In Captain Marvel Jr.'s origin, he just knew, but Mary had no clue until they transformed in front of her. Yet a page later she changes for the first time in front of some crooks and they don't realize she's the girl they just kidnapped.
When I first found those tabloid sized reproductions of Action#1, Flash#1, and the rest, I found the non-costumed stories boring and never did get the Flash#1 because the rest of the book after Flash and Hawkman looked so dull. Now I find myself more interested in the plainclothes detectives and sailors stories than the lead characters.
I'm willing to like them, but in early Golden Age comics they often don't have that spark of inspiration in their characterisation or art that would make them individual and special. But there were some very successful non-superhero features: two that leap to mind are Sheena and Blackhawk. Blackhawk started as a cover-feature, but Sheena is an example of a feature that started in the back pages and became a lead feature. (Another is Archie.) I'm not really too fond of Sheena, but I like Blackhawk.
I think Chester Gould's Dick Tracy was very good, and it was very successful in the period, so I can imagine someone creating a hit police/crime series. Possibly the crime comics of the later 40s and 50s were partly inspired by it: Gould often followed the criminals for long stretches. The early Golden Age westerns I've seen were forgettable, but there were good ones in the 50s. Good art in westerns helps a lot.
Fiction House's theme title approach - Jungle Comics, Wings Comics, Planet Comics - may have been an imitation of the approach of Detective Comics, which DC followed up with its initial concept for Action Comics, and then abandoned.
Dick Tracy had a great rogue's gallery. Of course, if he'd been a comic book character, they'd've all come back from the dead multiple times. I think the only one Gould brought back was Mumbles, and he wasn't that interesting a character. I believe he was also the only bad guy that didn't get killed in the Warren Beatty movie. He wanted to make a franchise, but the first movie killed off all of his best villains. Three villains in a movie is too many, but that film had over a dozen, and many were just in throwaway bit parts.
Master Comics #50 (Fawcett, 1944)
This issue carries four features, "Capt. Marvel Jr.", "Bulletman", "Radar the International Policeman" and "Perils of Nyoka". It also has a "Tumbleweed Jr." filler page, a text story, and a couple of comics-form ads.
Capt. Marvel Jr debuted in the Captain Marvel story in Whiz Comics #25, which was written as a sequel to the "Bulletman" story in Master Comics #21, in which Bulletman and Captain Marvel teamed up. He then appeared in "Bulletman" in Master Comics #22 before getting his own feature and taking over the covers with #23. By the time of this issue he'd been around a bit over two years, but he'd gotten his own title quickly, and it was a monthly from the beginning, so he was well-established.
The present issue's story is an imaginative one in which Captain Marvel Jr. gets involved with ghosts. The ghost of a crook causes a traffic accident that kills Freddy, and he becomes a ghost himself. The rest of the story plays on the idea that things work differently in the ghost world. The story is introduced by an extract from Freddy's diary, and ends with his completion of the entry. I've seen that device in the 70s Captain Marvel Jr. stories in Shazam!, and didn't know it was taken from the Golden Age feature.
The art of the instalment is in the Mac Raboy style, but I don't know if it was actually by him as other Fawcett artists may have been able to imitate his style. It's quite impressive, with interesting visual effects. The GCD attributes it to Al Carreno, but it also tentatively attributes the Capt. Marvel Jr, paper drive ad that follows it to him, and it doesn't look the same. The paper drive ad looks more like the "Radar" story, which it tentatively attributes to Carreno as well. On the other hand, unlike those other ascriptions the attribution of art of the "Capt. Marvel Jr." story is not tentative, so it may be the indexer had a solid reason for it.
In the "Bulletman" story a crook manages to steal Bulletman's helmet, and uses it to commit crimes. Later he captures Bulletgirl (by hitting her with a golf club! She's lucky he didn't fracture her skull.) Bulletman outfights him, rescues her, and reclaims his helmet, Bulletgirl makes the final capture. This is a good, standard Golden Age superhero story. The art is in a non-cartoony, non-Kirbyish Golden Age style. "Bulletman" first appeared in Nickel Comics, and moved across to Master Comics as the new lead feature with #7 when that title was cancelled. The feature continued in Master Comics to #106 (skipping #104), and also appeared in other Fawcett titles, including 15 issues of its own title.
"Radar the International Policeman" started in this issue. The title character was a trenchcoated hero with mind-reading powers and "radar eyes" who was appointed to the role of international policeman by the leaders of the Allied Big Four. He was introduced in a Captain Marvel story in Captain Marvel Adventures #35, and the present instalment continues directly from that one. He's an interesting attempt at different kind of hero, but his "radar eyes" power is not well thought-out - it seems to be unlimited super-vision - and he has, at least in this instalment, a propensity for practical jokes which is odd for such a character. The art of the story is attractive and clear. The feature continued to Master Comics #87, and he also starred in Fawcett's Comics Novel #1.
Fawcett treated Radar as a potential star. On the cover of Master Comics #50 he is introduced to the reader by Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr., and he also co-starred with Junior on the covers of #52-#53, #62-#64 and #83. His image was also part of the masthead for awhile.(1) According to this page he was created as an anti-fascist propaganda character by Fawcett editor Will Lieberson working with a committee of the Office of War Information that included Clifton Fadiman, Rex Stout and Paul Gallico. Steranko tells the same story in The Steranko History of Comics #2 but he does not say that the initial impetus came from Lieberson and is not clear on what the propaganda aim was.
"Perils of Nyoka" also debuted in the issue. According to the splash page "thousands" of readers wrote in asking for more Nyoka adventures after Jungle Girl #1 was published but "a limited paper supply makes it impossible for us to bring out a complete magazine of her adventures at this time". Fawcett gave Nyoka her own ongoing title the next year (it started on a quarterly schedule and went monthly with #5), but her feature also continued in Master Comics to #132, the second-last issue. This instalment is more like the Jungle Girl story than her later Fawcett adventures: it uses Larry Grayson and Nyoka's father from the Perils of Nyoka serial, and Nyoka is portayed as plucky but as needing to be saved from danger by Larry. The instalment is also not drawn in the cartoony style the feature later used. The GCD attributes the art to Jack Sparling, and it's good. He had strong storytelling skills, and the last page is particularly nice. The instalment is the first part of a serial about a rug that for some reason is surrounded by violence.
The text story is the twenty-second part of a war serial, "Hoodoo Hannigan", by Joseph Millard, and is set in the Pacific.
The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus. My acknowledgements to the GCD for some of this information.
(1) From #55 to #87, but the image was sometimes dropped when he was shown in some other manner on the cover.
Comics Novel No. 1, Anarcho, Dictator of Death (Fawcett, 1947)
This comic features a book-length Radar adventure in five chapters. The story starts on the inside front cover, and runs all the way to the back cover,(1) and there are no filler, text or ad pages. The cover is drawn to look like a book seen from an angle, so that the spine and pages show. Simon and Kirby had previously used this visual trick on Stuntman.
In the story Radar tracks down and defeats four leading traitors, from Norway, South America, the UK and China respectfully. They are all working for the top American traitor, Anarcho, who the world, including Radar, believes dead. The reader knows this from the beginning, but Radar only finds it out in the last chapter. Anarcho's plan is to involve every nation in a war, clearing the way for fascists to take over. By this point Radar was represented as part of a International Police force, the other agents of which wear police uniforms. He is assisted for much of the story by a Chinese agent called Chiang.
The art is clear and shows a Caniff influence. According to the GCD the comic was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Al Carreno. Steranko, on The Steranko History of Comics #2 p.50, describes it as "well-written thriller" and the art as "rather dull". That strikes me as a bit kind to the writing and a bit hard on the art.
There are some interesting details to the villains' plots. One of them tries to start a war between the US and South America by faking reports that America is shooting down South American planes and an American bombing, another plots to start fighting between UK and Soviet troops in Berlin, and a third attempts to arrange the bombing of China with V-1 style missiles from Tibet.
The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.
(1) I owe this point to Steranko.
On The Steranko History of Comics #2 p.45 Steranko describes "Spy Smasher" as one of Fawcett's best drawn strips. I described its art, after its early cartoony period, as often ugly or crude. I've only read a portion of his stories, so there might be better later ones I haven't seen. I do like the art of some of the early cartoony episodes, but the artists he mentions in that context are later ones: Charles Sultan, Ken Bald, Jack Binder, Alex Blum (and Carmine Infantino, who he says inked a "stack" of the tales).
I've heard about this book. It was a weird one-shot like the Crime-Smasher issue.
Radar was Fawcett's most popular character that was never revived like DC's Hop Harrigan.
I don't know if he was ever actually popular or just pushed by Fawcett for a time. For a while his stories even appeared first in Master Comics, although Junior continued to hold the covers.
The GCD couldn't find DC revival appearances for me by Golden Arrow or Phantom Eagle, both of whom had longer runs than Radar. But one could regard Marvel's Phantom Eagle from Marvel Super-Heroes #16 as a revival of the Fawcett character, although he was a WWI hero and Fawcett's was a WWII one. Marvel has used the Golden Arrow name for a member of the Squadron Supreme. The GCD does list an appearance by Lance O'Casey in The Power of Shazam! #34, and a cameo appearance by Commando Yank in Starman #40.
The longer-running non-Marvel Fawcett titles included a number starring characters Fawcett didn't own: Hopalong Cassidy (85 issues, and Fawcett also published Bill Boyd Western for 23 issues), Nyoka the Jungle Girl (77, including the Jungle Girl issue, and she also had a long run in Master Comics), Don Winslow of the Navy (69), Captain Midnight (67). Several of its movie star westerns also had good runs - Tom Mix Western (61, and he also appeared in stories in Wow Comics and Master Comics), Rocky Lane Western (55), Monte Hale Western (54), Gabby Hayes Western (50), Lash Larue Western (46). Fawcett also published a couple of longish-running romance comics - Sweethearts (54), Life Story (47).
Contrast Mary Marvel, whose own title only lasted 28 issues. She did have a 50 issue run as the lead feature in Wow Comics, but lost her slot there in 1947, before Fawcett gave up on Mary Marvel. Phantom Eagle's and Commando Yank's features in Wow Comics both preceded Mary Marvel's and outlasted it, which is interesting given that they were war features. Fawcett's Funny Animals lasted 83, but it arguably counts as a Marvel title as it starred Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, for much of its run.
Information mostly from the GCD.
Wow. Radar did all that before joining the 4077? Being a superhero might explain how he had a 60s Avengers comic in the 50s. Probably beat some villain and stole his time machine.
It's a shame that comics fan Radar O'Reilly never mentioned the comic book hero who's name he shared. While the only comic I remember seeing him with was that infamous Avengers issue, it seems like most of the mentions he made of comic book characters involved the original Captain Marvel, so it's unlikely he was unaware of his counterpart. Sadly, the folks who wrote his dialog most likely had no idea.