Sunday, July 1, 2012

April-June 1940: A Fawcett/Quality/Archie catch-up

Hello everyone.  I'm back!  I have the blogging itch again, so I am going to try and get this blog back up to speed.  I won't be covering the issues as comprehensively as I did before, but I'll still try and get to everything.  I'm just going to focus on the really interesting stuff, and gloss over the cowboys and mounties.

The first thing I did after taking a break from the blog was do a catch-up on the non-Marvel and DC comics, which I had abandoned in order to speed my progress here.  Here is a list of the comics I read to get current:

Blue Ribbon Comics #5-6
Pep Comics #6-8
Top-Notch Comics #7-8
Zip Comics #6-8


Master Comics #3
Nickel Comics #1-4
Whiz Comics #4-5

National Comics #1-2
Smash Comics #12-13
Hit Comics #1-2
Crack Comics #3-4
Feature Comics #34-35

Sorry, no covers today.  Look 'em up yourself!

Top-Notch Comics #8 has the introduction of Roy the Super-Boy, a kid sidekick for the Wizard.  I gather this was probably a reaction to the popularity of Robin at the time.  The Wizard also becomes a newspaper publisher, which is a good move; it's a genuinely good way to generate plots.

The same issue also has the debut of 'Firefly', a strip written by Harry Shorten and pencilled by Bob Wood.  His deal is that he studied insects, and learned how they coordinate their muscles in order to lift weights much greater than themselves (nothing to do with square-cube law, nosiree!).  He trains himself to use his muscles in the same way, and fights crime.  From there it's generic golden age super-heroism, and not of particular interest.

Nickel Comics is an interesting book.  It's half the price of a regular comic, and consequently half the length as well.  I was expecting it to be a quicker read, but the stories in here are dense.  Every single panel has a narrative caption, which gets a bit wearying after a while.  The book also comes out fortnightly, so it's not like my reading time is cut down here.

The first issue sees the debut of 'Bulletman', written by Bill Parker and Jon Smalle.  Bulletman is a police scientist named Jim Barr, who developed chemicals that enhanced his physique, and a bullet-shaped helmet that defies gravity.  His stories are the usual gangsters-and-racketeers fare, which is the sort of thing I'm getting a little tired of.

Also in the first issue: 'Jungle Twins' (by Sven Elven), in which a civilized guy finds his twin brother living as a savage in the jungle; and Warlock the Wizard (by Creators Unknown), an occult investigator with a very strange-looking head.

Nickel Comics #4 introduces a couple of new strips.  The first is 'The Red Gaucho', by Harry Anderson.  He's kind of like the Whip, an American who has swashbuckling adventures in South America.  The second is 'Captain Venture and the Planet Princess', by Rafael Astarita.  Captain Venture rescues a princess, and together they travel from planet to planet fighting weird aliens.

National Comics is another series making its debut here.  The headliner here is 'Uncle Sam', which against my better judgment I find quite fun.  Written by Will Eisner and pencilled by Dave Berg, this is unashamedly jingoistic, but what do you expect in a book called National Comics?  Uncle Sam is the literal spirit of America, who shows up to beat the hell out of some Americans who are forming a Brownshirt-style militia.  I really shouldn't like it, but I do.

The other highlight is 'Wonder Boy', written by Toni Blum and possibly pencilled by John Celardo.  Rocketed to Earth from a dying planet, he winds up in an orphanage before stopping an invasion of Europe by the Mongols.  He's basically a ten-year-old Superman, only more powerful.

Also in this comic: 'Prop Powers', a generic aviator hero; 'Sally O'Neill, Policewoman', a female cop; 'Kid Dixon', a generic boxer; 'Merlin', a generic magician; 'Cyclone', a generic space pilot; 'Pen Miller', a detective/comic book artist; 'Paul Bunyan', a very large lumberjack with a blue ox as his pet; and 'Kid Patrol', a kid gang complete with a black kid named Sunshine.

Smash Comics #12 sees the final appearance of 'Flash Fulton', which was written and pencilled by Paul Gustavson.  Flash was a photographer who travelled the world having adventures.  It was never all that remarkable, although he was starting to display a cheerful recklessness that I found endearing towards the end of his run.  And Gustavson's art was always reliable.

It also has the last installment of 'John Law, Scientective', written and drawn by Harry Francis Campbell.  This strip was mostly on the good side of average.  Its main flaw was in dragging out the storyline with the villain known as the Avenger.  The Avenger is killed in this strip, so at least there's some closure.

As old strips die, new ones must arise to take their place.  Smash Comics #13 has the debuts of 'The Purple Trio' and 'Magno'.

'The Purple Trio', written by S.M. Iger and drawn by Alex Blum, features a trio of circus performers who solve mysteries.  One is an acrobat, one is a stage magician, and the last is an angry cigar-smoking midget.  Their stories are forgettable, but I loves me an angry midget.

'Magno', written and drawn by Paul Gustavson, is a lineworker who was electrocuted and then revived with awesome electrical powers.  That's seriously all I remember about him.  The guy hasn't made a mark in my brain just yet.

Hit Comics #1 seems to me to be the dregs of the Quality line.  Most of the strips featured are utterly forgettable.  'Hercules' (by Dan Zolnerowich) is not to be confused with the guy appearing over in Blue Ribbon Comics.  That guy is the mythological character; the Hit Comics version is a super-strong do-gooder, but otherwise just a regular dude.  'X-5 Super Agent' (by Will Eisner and Charles Sultan) is a spy doing spy stuff.  'Jack and Jill' (by Leonard Frank) are a brother and sister who solve mysteries.  'The Red Bee' (possibly by Toni Blum and Charles Nicholas) is a superhero who fights crime with the help of bees.  Really.  'The Strange Twins' (by S.M. Iger and Alex Blum) is probably the highlight of the book.  It features twin brothers split apart at birth, one a cop and the other a crook.  'Bob & Swab' (by Klaus Nordling) are navy guys who spend as much time fighting each other as the bad guys.  'Weird Tales' (by Pierre Winters) features an old witch telling horror stories, with some effectively creepy art.  'Neon the Unknown' (by S.M. Iger and Alex Blum) is a French Foreign Legionnaire who drank from a magic oasis and gained super-powers.  Again, I remember nothing more.  A lot of the lesser material really doesn't stick in my head.  'Blaze Barton' (by Henry Kiefer) is a man in the future, where World War 2 raged for a century, who fights subterranean monsters.

With that done, I can return to where I left off.  Come back soon for All-American Comics #17!

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