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Golden Age Showcase: Minister Blizzard

It’s December, which means for those of us living in the northern climes it usually means a lot of this:

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Sure, it’s not always this dramatic or extreme, but when it snows it generally puts a damper on everyone’s plans.  Not a whole lot of people like the cold, except for the children who get the day off when school is cancelled.  What I’m getting at here is that the ability to control snow and ice makes for a fantastic super villain power.

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Sure, there are plenty of superheroes who can control snow and ice, but if you ask me it makes for a much more…chilling power in the hands of the bad guys.

Some of the greatest bad guys in comic book history are ice themed villains, and two of the greatest are Flash’s Captain Cold,

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and Batman’s Mr. Freeze.

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But while they may be two of the greatest villains around, they weren’t the first ice themed super villains in comics.  That honor belong’s to a Wonder Woman villain named Minister Blizzard.

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Side note: if anyone knows about an ice powered super villain who was published before this guy, please let me know.

Origin and Career

Minister Blizzard made his first appearance in Wonder Woman #29 in May of 1948.

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The script was written by Wonder Woman’s creator: William Moulton Marston and the art was done by early Wonder Woman artist Henry G. Peter.

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The story starts off with a scientist named Professor Chemico (gee, I wonder what he specializes in) traveling to the North Pole to test an invention that can control the climate of a surrounding area.  His intention is to raise the temperature of the North Pole in order to turn it into a warm and fertile place for humans to live.

This is hilarious when you consider that in any modern comic, this man would be a very clear cut villain.

However, despite the comic’s positive spin on global warming, it turns out that the actions of the protagonist will wind up causing a considerable amount of damage because there are already a group of people living in the fictional location of Iceberg Land at the North Pole.

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The people are led by the princess Snowina (groan!) and her Prime Minister is Minister Blizzard.

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At the start his intentions seem pure.  He helps protect his people from the seeming advances of the foreign invaders by capturing and freezing them.  However, it turns out that he’s a bit power hungry and decides to take the Professor’s machine and use it to take over the world.

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He attempts to threaten New York with a giant glacier, but Wonder Woman manages to stop him in time.  He’s captured, returned to the custody of the Ice People, and relations are repaired between the two civilizations.

So what happened?

He only had one appearance in the Golden Age books, but he would actually go on to have a fairly long and decent career in the later years.

His next appearance was in 1966 in Wonder Woman #162 where he tried to repeat his plan to take over New York by freezing it over.

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He even joined a bunch of other ice themed villains in an attempt to freeze and blackmail Ecuador.

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It turned out that the group had been formed to be a distraction for a much larger crime going on.

He would even make a few small modern appearances and this time the writers actually made him into an environmentally minded villain who was hellbent on creating another Ice Age.

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More recently, he has even had the honor of getting the stuffing beaten out of him by Batman in DC’s recent Rebirth series of comics when he tried to stop a billionaire from creating what he called a “fake winter town”.

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Minister Blizzard could be considered a small, one time super villain, but he has certainly gotten around.  As one of the first super villains with the power to control ice and snow he deserves a place in comic book history and a spot in the pantheon of DC comic book villains.

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Golden Age Showcase: Igor the Archer

So last week we talked about a Golden Age Canadian superhero and I thought it might be nice to continue our brief foray into international Golden Age superheroes and talk about a Russian comic book character.

Russia has a long and proud tradition of folklore heroes and fantastic individuals.  After all, you don’t wind up becoming the home for invading Vikings and Mongols and not develop a long and violent history.

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However, Russia’s contribution to the comic book world has been somewhat limited.  This can probably be attributed to two reasons.  First, it’s a well known fact that Russia’s greatest contribution to the world’s literary scene is the long and impossibly dense novel.

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Second, while America was using its superheroes to fight Nazis in the comics, Russia was in the middle of fighting the Nazis in a war that would have made the Red Skull cringe,

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and this was right after Stalin took over and celebrated by killing even more of his countrymen.

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(side note: this is the most G rated picture I could find.  Reading up on the Soviet purges is not for the faint of heart)

So Russia/the Soviet Union was a little too preoccupied to get in on the new comic book fad, but that didn’t stop the Americans from trying for them.

Today we’re going to talk about an American made Russian hero: Igor the Archer.

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Origin and Career

Igor made his first appearance in EC Comics’ International Comics #1 in the Spring of 1947.

Cover for International Comics (EC, 1947 series) #1

As covers go it’s pretty good, not up to the excellent EC Comics standards, but pretty entertaining.

While I can’t imagine the exact logic behind the creation of the character, I can imagine that the idea was tossed around as something exotic for an American audience.  After all, we had just finished fighting a war with the Soviet Union and while they were still our friends,

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Russian culture and history was just exotic and mysterious enough to be unknown and exciting.

As for the character himself, who created him is something of a mystery.  We’re pretty sure that the art was done by Captain Marvel and Superman stalwart Kurt Schaffenberger,

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and it’s rumored that the writing was done by comic book legend, creator of Barry Allen as the Flash, and author of almost 4,000 comic books, Gardner Fox.

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As for the character himself, well…he’s an archer from a noble family and the only champion of the oppressed who dares to fight back against a corrupt sheriff, I mean czar.

Comparisons to Robin Hood are inevitable.  No seriously, they even have an archery competition where the hero manages to split an arrow with another arrow.

The opening story itself is pretty bog standard, evil ruler tries to arrest the good guy and the good guy manages to escape.  It’s worth mentioning that he actually does this really cool “arrow ladder” thing to escape that would make Legolas proud.

It’s worth mentioning that the artwork is pretty good and the costumes are fairly historically accurate.  That hat that the czar is wearing?  That’s modeled after the crown of the early Russian czars.

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Also, the idea of a Russian ruler abusing the absolute power he has over the common people is nothing new considering that the Russian czars have a long history of violence against their subjects.

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So we have the set up for a long running and successful comic book series starring a character that is just familiar enough to audiences to be welcomed, just exotic enough to be interesting, and created by a writer and artist who were well known and successful for one of the greatest comic book publishers of the Golden Age.

What could possibly go wrong?

So what happened?

Everything went wrong almost immediately.

For starters, America and the Soviet Union went from being people who tolerated each other to passive aggressive neighbors with the capability to end the world at a moment’s notice.

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superheroes went the way of the dodo bird and EC Comics switched to publishing highly successful horror comics that got them in so much trouble they had to shut down,

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and Gardner Fox would go on to become one of the greatest comic book writers of all time.

The origin story above is the only evidence I could find online of Igor’s existence.  Apparently he had more appearances in more modern comics, but I can’t seem to find them.

With all things considered, it’s not very surprising that Igor the Archer didn’t become the next big thing.  Comic books would later use the Cold War to turn the Soviet people and culture into a comic book staple.  More often than not, they were portrayed as villains.

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But every now and then they had good guys like Colossus (my personal favorite X-Man),

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and devious antiheroes/double agents like Black Widow.

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In many ways, I’m actually kind of sad that Igor the Archer didn’t go on to have a successful career.  He was from an interesting time period of history and while his power set and motivation were a bit cliche, I think that with the proper guidance and a very passionate writer and editor, he could have turned into a great hero.

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Golden Age Showcase; Nelvana of the Northern Lights

Canada.  From what I’ve heard it’s a pretty nice place.

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As an American I may not know a whole lot about our neighbor to the north aside from hockey, poutine, curling, Celine Dion, hockey, maple syrup, universal healthcare, hockey, Justin Bieber, Molson, and hockey, but I do know that Canada has a respectable place in comic book history as the home of Marvel’s greatest cash cow…I mean greatest bad asses: Wolverine.

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and to all the people complaining about me not bringing up Alpha Flight,

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they came out after Wolverine.  But don’t worry, they factor into this article later.

But Wolverine wasn’t the first Canadian superhero.  Everyone’s favorite hairy man with foot long murder knives in his hands was first published in 1974 and it turns out that Canada had been in the comic book publishing business since the Golden Age.

Today we’re going to talk about Canada’s first true superhero: Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

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Origin and Career

Nelvana of the Northern Lights made her first appearance in Triumph Adventure Comics #1 which was published by Hillborough Studios in August of 1941.

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She was created by Canadian comic artist Adrian Dingle,

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who was inspired by stories told by Canadian painter Frank Johnston.

There are a couple of things to note about this comic.  For starters, the cover is in black and white and you’ve probably never heard of Hillsborough Studios.  That’s because the publisher was created by Dingle and two others to create something resembling what we would call an independent publisher today.  The reason why the comic is in black and white is to cut down on costs, partially because it was a small operation, partially due to the lack of resources thanks to the war effort, and partially due to the fact that the Canadian comic book market wasn’t very large at the time.

Nelvana would turn out to be Dingle’s greatest and most lasting success.

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For starters, she was one of the first comic book heroines ever published.  She wasn’t the first, but she beat out Wonder Woman by three months.  However, she was the first truly Canadian superhero and she was a member and protector of the Inuit people,

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and you could make the argument that this makes her one of the first Native American superheroes ever published (someone correct me in the comments if I’m wrong).

Nelvana is a demigoddess, the child of a human mother and a god named Koliak who was the king of the Northern Lights.

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Her powers were pretty fitting for a demi god.  She could fly, turn herself invisible, travel at the speed of light along the Norther Lights, and could summon a heat ray that could melt through almost anything.

Also, she had a brother named Tanero.

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What makes Tanero interesting is that he couldn’t be seen by white men, he had to turn into a dog whenever they were present.  Thankfully, her brother/household pet proved to be useful as a noble steed Nelvana could ride on.

That’s not weird at all.

In her first seven stories, Nelvana and her brother protected the Inuit people from all kinds of threats from slavers to Nazi agents, thus fulfilling the standard “Golden Age hero kicks Nazi butt” quota.

After seven issues, Dingle took his creation to a company called Bell Features, which allowed Nelvana to add some color to her adventures.

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Her stories took a left turn into crazy awesomeness after that.  Now instead of just Nazis and gangsters, Nelvana fought aliens and mad scientists with death rays.

While her enemies became crazier, Nelvana became a bit more grounded.  She adopted the civilian persona Alana North and gave up a good portion of her mystic origin to become the standard spy smasher super heroine that the real life war effort called for.

Fun side note: did you know that the Nazis actually landed on Canadian soil during the war?  They established a weather station on Newfoundland in 1943 and used it to determine weather patterns in Europe for the rest of the war.

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So it turns out that Alana North would have had an actual job on her hands and that threats of invasion weren’t that far off.

So what happened?

While Nelvana was able to hold her own and become a Canadian symbol during the war, she and her publisher could not survive the glut of American comics that flooded the Canadian market when trade restrictions were lifted after the war.  Nelvana had her last appearance in 1947 and Bell Features ceased publication in 1953.

Thankfully, despite her short history, Nelvana’s story actually gets a happy ending.  While she didn’t last very long, her impact on Canadian identity and culture lives on to this day.

The Canadian animation company Nelvana Limited is named after her.

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They bought the rights to the character in 1971 and currently share said rights with Library and Archives Canada.

And for those of you who are upset that I didn’t talk about the Canadian super team Alpha Flight don’t worry, it turns out that Nelvana is actually the mother of one of the team members: Snowbird.

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But the best part of the story is that reprints of her old stories are actually being published to this very day!  In 2013 comic book historian Hope Nicholson launched a Kickstarter campaign to reprint six of Nelvana’s old stories and bring them to a modern audience.

The campaign made its goal in five days and the project is currently being published through IDW.

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Nelvana of the Northern Lights deserves a special place in comic book history as one of the first, and most powerful super heroines in comic books.  While she got left by the wayside due to the limitations of the Canadian comic book industry, she proved that great superheroes don’t have to be American to be popular.

I like to think she was the Canadian version of Superman, a heroine who inspired thousands of other creatives to imagine and create superheroes of their own.

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Golden Age Showcase: Mister Mind and the Monster Society of Evil

So the Justice League movie came out this weekend.

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I haven’t seen it, I probably will despite the negative reviews, and I think I’ll use this opportunity to talk about super hero team ups.

The idea of superheroes teaming up to fight evil together is nothing new in comics.  The very first time it happened was in All Star Comics #3 in 1940 when the Justice Society of America was formed.

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Super hero team ups like this can happen for a couple of reasons.  In the case of the JSA above and the original Luke Cage and Iron Fist books,

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it was a successful attempt at saving the characters from poor sales numbers.  In the case of the modern day Avengers,

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It was a reward for the fans for watching the movies and making the MCU into the most successful franchise of all time.

But it’s not just superheroes that have been brought together, the bad guys get their team ups too.

While one of the most famous examples has to be DC’s Suicide Squad,

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today I want to talk about the first super villain team up in comic book history: The Monster Society of Evil.

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Origin and Career

The Monster Society of Evil was a collection of super villains that were published by Fawcett Comics: the original creators of Captain Marvel.

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Captain Marvel was an interesting hero, mostly because for a brief period of history he was actually more popular than Superman.

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But we’re not here to talk about Captain Marvel, we’re here to talk about the bad guys and the devious mastermind that brought them together.

The Monster Society of Evil made its first appearance in Captain Marvel Adventures #22 in March of 1943.

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The story was drawn by the original Captain Marvel artist C.C Beck,

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and written by one of the most prolific Captain Marvel and Superman writers of all time: Otto Binder.

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The comic starts off with the mysterious and intimidating Mister Mind intercepting a broadcast about an Indian Princess who has a set of jewels that she wishes to donate to the Allied war effort.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

For starters, props to the villain for having a moon base and second, it’s amazing how just on the nose a bad guy named “Captain Nazi” can be.

Why is Mister Mind helping someone like Captain Nazi?  Because it’s evil of course!

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

It turns out that there’s more to the princess’ jewels than  meets the eye, and that Captain Nazi is very good at disguises,

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

even if his henchmen are idiots.

Captain Marvel manages to track down Captain Nazi, only to find that it was all a trap set up by Mister Mind.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

While the hero is able to take the villains out one by one, both sides manage to track down a second pearl and the villains make their getaway through the power of teamwork.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

The race to retrieve the pearls would go on for several issues, with Captain Marvel taki.  Interestingly, the mastermind behind the whole operation would continue to remain hidden for two more issues until Captain Marvel finally decides to take the fight to Mister Mind’s moon base.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

It’s a pretty awesome story, with Captain Marvel fighting robots,

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

and squid men.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

The Captain decides to search as his alter ego, Billy Batson.  After brushing off an insignificant little worm he’s confronted by a giant of a man who appears to be the real Mister Mind.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

Our hero manages to defeat the villain with an epic headbutt!

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

But it turns out that the giant wasn’t Mister Mind at all!

Not to worry though, they reveal the true identity of Mister Mind in the next issue.  You know that worm Batson brushed off of his shoulder?  Yep…that’s the criminal mastermind!

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Oh yes, that’s certainly the face of a criminal mastermind and genius.

Despite his small stature and lack of long range vision, Mister Mind is a capable villain with the ability to hypnotize creatures and humans to do his bidding.  So naturally he teams up with Hitler.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #28

Mister Mind turns out to be a very slippery nemesis for Captain Marvel and the two would continue their game of cat and mouse (worm and human just doesn’t have the same ring to it) for over twenty issues and ended in Captain Marvel Adventures #46 when he’s captured, tried, and executed via electric chair…

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #46

somehow.

And that was the end of Mister Mind in the Golden Age of Comics, one of the smallest and most devious villains in all of comic books.

So what happened?

Sure the evil worm may have been killed, but we all know that death is but a revolving door in comics so he could have made a comeback.

Unfortunately that wouldn’t happen.  Fawcett stopped making comics in 1953 and DC wound up suing Fawcett for copyright infringement in one of the longest court cases in comic book history.

In 1972 DC Comics began publishing their own Captain Marvel stories under the title of SHAZAM! due to Marvel Comics snapping up the copyright to the name.

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Mister Mind would be reborn as a DC super villain in the second issue of the series where it was revealed that he had survived the electrocution and hypnotized a taxidermist into creating a fake corpse.

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The villainous worm would reform the Society of Evil to include some of the most powerful and deadly villains in the Captain Marvel franchise.

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This would continue until DC reset its entire universe in 1986 with the Crisis on Infinite Earths event and everything was reset.

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Mister Mind would wind up returning to the DC universe in the limited event series The Power of SHAZAM!, only this time he became a tad more…intimidating.

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This version of the villain was a member of a species from Venus and almost destroyed the Earth in a nuclear holocaust.

The worm would continue to be a nemesis of the Captain Marvel series and DC heroes as a whole.  His most recent appearance was in the company’s New 52 reboot, although the Society of Evil didn’t make an appearance.

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He has yet to appear in any recent DC comics.

Mister Mind is one of the most interesting comic book villains to ever come out of the Golden Age of Comics.  He was smart, capable, and evil to the core but needed to manipulate others to do his dirty work for him.  Outside of stalwarts like Lex Luthor and the Joker, Mister Mind has one of the longest and most successful careers of any comic book super villain and I would be very interested in seeing if DC decides to do anything with him in the future.

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Golden Age Showcase: Stuntman

We all know who Jack Kirby is right?

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Okay, so for anyone who doesn’t know the name all you need to know is that Kirby was the main artist and one of the biggest creative voices behind many of Marvel’s greatest superheroes.  The man had one of the most prolific art careers in comic book history (there are stories out there that said he could draw five to six pages a day) but  was sadly, and unfairly, overshadowed by his more famous counterpart: Stan Lee.

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With such a legendary career you would think that Kirby created nothing but legendary stories.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case as evidenced by today’s hero: Stuntman.

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Origin and Career

Our hero made his first appearance in the self titled Stuntman #1, which was published in April of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

A couple of things to note here.  First, the cover claims that it’s not a comic book.  Instead, it’s a comic novelette which makes me think the comic’s creators were trying to create something a bit classier than the throwaway pulp that made up most of the comic book scene of the 1940’s.  Second, you’ll notice that the book was created by Jack Kirby AND Joe Simon, the creator of Captain America.

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So we have not one, but two of the greatest comic book creators of all time working on single project.  This ought to be good.

The story starts off with a criminal gang trying to shake down a travelling circus, implying that there will be several accidents if management doesn’t pay up.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

Sadly, the criminals succeed in killing the circus’ greatest act: a group of high flying acrobats known as “The Flying Apollos”

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

The only survivor is their young ward Fred who vows revenge and accidentally runs into a movie star/amateur detective named Don Daring.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

What?  Is the origin of an acrobatic superhero who used to work for a circus before his parents were murdered starting to sound a bit familiar to you?  Shut up and focus on the excellent artwork!

Anyway, Fred takes a job as Don’s stuntman in his pictures with the purpose of getting a new job and working with Don in order to solve the case by acting as bait for the killer.  Fred is eventually attacked and decides to don a costume to go after the killer

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

Hmmm, could use more black.

Don discovers that it was a circus manager who was behind the crime all along, but before he can carry out his dastardly deed he is ambushed by the Stuntman and the day is saved.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

The rest of Stuntman’s adventures would have a similar theme to them.  Don would do all of the detective work while Fred would swoop in as the Stuntman to do the fighting.  The two men were a duo, dynamic even, and their adventures all centered around the entertainment industry and the various people looking to fleece audiences and entertainers alike.

For a Golden Age comic the writing and artwork were fantastic.  But then again, that’s what you expect from the minds and talents of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.  Surely the Stuntman would go on to become one of the greatest superheroes of all time.

So what happened?

The Stuntman Comic only lasted three issues and the character would only make nine appearances for a single year.

Honestly, considering the talent behind the character and quality of the artwork and writing, I’m really surprised it only lasted that long.  Maybe it was the post war backlash against superheroes, or maybe it was Harvey Comics’ decision to focus on licensed characters instead of original content.

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but sadly we were deprived of more excellent stories.

However, it’s safe to say that the legacy of the Stuntman superhero lives on in another circus performer who watched his family get murdered before his eyes and eventually wind up fighting crime under the guidance of a rich amateur detective.

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Okay, so maybe Stuntman bears too much of a resemblance to Robin for comfort and maybe if the title had kept going Harvey would have found themselves on the receiving end of a DC lawsuit, but I honestly think that comic book fans and readers missed out on something fantastic with this Golden Age hero created by two of the greatest comic book creators of all time.

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Golden Age Showcase: Unknown Soldier

This Saturday is Veteran’s Day.

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For our non American readers, this is a holiday where America honors those who have served in the armed forces in conflicts past and present.  It’s also an exciting time for this blog because it’s a great time to talk about war comics!

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When looking at the time period, it’s easy to see why war comics became so popular.  America found itself at war and sent thousands of young men and boys to go off and fight in Europe and the Pacific.

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However, America had the advantage of being separated from the conflict by two massive oceans and it’s people didn’t have to come face to face with the true horrors of war.  With that being said, the United States became a military industrial powerhouse during the war and almost the entirety of American culture became obsessed with doing their part for the war effort and protecting the home front.

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Comic books took advantage of this shift in popular culture, and stories about ordinary soldiers fighting against the forces of evil were quite popular during the Golden Age of Comics both during and after the war.  Many of the greatest artists and writers of the Golden Age of Comics made a living writing and drawing war stories which resulted in some of the most complex and interesting stories of the time, along with some absolutely breathtaking artwork.

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The intent and purpose of the war stories that were written during this time was also pretty varied.  War and combat stories ranged from fantastical adventure stories for young boys staring ordinary soldiers fighting in fantastic situations,

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to very thinly veiled propaganda stories promoting American patriotism and fighting spirit.

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It’s worth noting that most of these adventure and propaganda stories were created and published during the Second World War.  After that war was over and the Korean War began a lot of comics became much more realistic and brutal in their depictions of war.

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So there’s a brief rundown of the early history of war comics.  Unfortunately, since most of the early stories have so much talent behind them and were published by the big important publishers of the day, there isn’t a whole lot of material out there for free reading.  However, today’s comic is available in the public domain and is a pretty interesting look at the early days of the war comic genre.

Today we’re going to talk about the thinly veiled propaganda hero The Unknown Soldier.

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Origin and Career

The Unknown Soldier made his first appearance in Our Flag Comics in 1941.  He was published by a company called Ace Comics and was the title character of the series.

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The funny thing is, despite the fact that he was popular enough to appear on the cover of his debut issue, I can’t find any information on who created him or drew his story.

The hero himself has an interesting backstory, mostly because he really doesn’t have one.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

He’s just a super being who appears out of nowhere firing explosive bullets and using his superpowers to defeat injustice and oppressive “gangster nations”.

What makes this kind of interesting is that this has some pretty close ties to real world American military culture.  In Washington D.C you can visit a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery that honors the unnamed American soldiers who died in every war America has ever fought.

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It’s called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and while the comic doesn’t tie the hero to the memorial, I like to think the creators of the story had this monument in mind when they wrote it.

Anyway, in his debut issue the Unknown Soldier helps defeat the Nazi invasion of Britain.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

It’s worth mentioning that in 1941 this was actually a scenario that was terrifyingly plausible.

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However, in this comic the Nazis don’t succeed because of superior tactics or planning, in fact their kind of idiots, but because of English traitors willing to betray their country to the Nazis known as Fifth Columnists.  We actually get to meet one and learn about his motives.  His name is John Jennings and he has made the classic mistake of believing that his country would be better under the rule of Nazism.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

The Nazi war machine starts rolling and crushes everyone in its wake.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Thankfully the Unknown Soldier arrives just in time to murder every Nazi he can lay his hands on.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Naturally, the invasion is turned back but not before the story does something really unique and interesting.  Remember the British fifth columnist John from the beginning?  He has a change of heart when he and his gang of saboteurs attempt to blow up a hospital.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

He actually redeems himself and dies a hero’s death while protecting his mother.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

All while the superhero stands by and does nothing.

So the story isn’t actually about the Unknown Soldier, it’s actually a story of redemption for a man who was once blinded by ideology and hatred and sacrificed himself for a noble cause.

Pretty good stuff for a Golden Age Comic.

After that first adventure the Unknown Soldier continued in a similar capacity.  While the stories were actually about ordinary people doing their part for the war effort, the Unknown Soldier would show up when it was time to knock heads or save someone from dying.

He wasn’t a hero with a secret identity, he was a representation of America’s fighting spirit.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

Also, he got a costume change.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

Despite all the murder done by our hero the creators were quick to make sure that the Nazis were just as bad if not worse.  Case in point, they invade Manhattan and use flamethrowers on civilians.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

So what happened?

Our Flag Comics only lasted five issues, but The Unknown Soldier was popular enough to be moved to another title called Four Favorites where he did pretty much the same thing.

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He lasted for over 16 issues until November of 1945 when he fell into the public domain.

While this Unknown Soldier would fade from the public eye, the idea and name would continue when DC comics published another character called The Unknown Soldier in Our Army at War #168 in 1966.

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The comic was created by DC legends Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, two men who knew how to create a really good war comic.

This version of the Unknown Soldier was a lot more tangible and slightly more realistic.  Instead of a real superhero, the Unknown Soldier was an intelligence operative who was so disfigured that he had to bandage his face.

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He was actually a master of disguise and in his final appearance, he kills Hitler and disguises himself as the dictator to end the war without further loss of life.

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This iteration proved to be a bit more popular and he got a new limited series in 1997 under the Vertigo imprint at DC.

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As for the original Unknown Soldier, he would make a slight comeback in 2008 when Dynamite Entertainment launched their Project Superpowers title to bring many of the Golden Age public domain heroes back into the mainstream.

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He was renamed “Soldier Unknown” to avoid copyright issues with DC.

As a superhero the Unknown Soldier is not a very good one.  He’s bland, he has no backstory or secret identity, and he’s even more overpowered than Superman.  But that’s not really important.  The Unknown Soldier isn’t a hero, he’s a symbol of something much greater than himself, the creators who made him, and any single person.  He is the personification of the fighting spirit that rises up against tyranny and oppression, and while it would be nice to have known his name, it’s important that we know that he did his job so we could live.

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Happy Veteran’s Day everyone.

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Comic book showcase: Invaders #32

So Thor: Ragnarok is coming out this weekend.

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I’m really excited for it because I have a soft spot for Marvel’s Thor.  I like his power set, I like that he gives the Marvel Universe a sense of scale and grandeur,

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and I’m a big fan of Norse mythology so his connection to the gods and heroes of the past is greatly appreciated.

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With all that being said, I’m a bit surprised that Thor is such an important part of comic book history and lore.

The Norse god of thunder made his first appearance in Journey into Mystery #83 in 1962, he was created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.

The date of his creation puts him far outside the Golden Age of Comics and into the part of comic book history that saw the rise of Marvel Comics and the Silver Age.

Why did Thor arrive so late?  Well, I’m not so sure, but I’m willing to bet that part of the reason is because the Golden Age of Comics was more interested in Greek and Roman mythology,

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and another was the fact that the Jewish American comic book creators of the 1940’s weren’t too keen on using the Germanic and Norse gods in any of their work, mostly because the Norse gods were being co opted by America’s enemies.

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Now, the Nazis weren’t the first to use Thor and Norse legends to promote their agenda.  Norse mythology was a big part of the rise of German nationalism in the late 19th century, especially in works of art such as Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

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It’s worth noting that Hitler was a huge fan of Wagner and the Nazis would go on to use a lot of Nordic imagery in their propaganda and recruitment efforts.

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So what makes the Thor of Marvel Comics so different?  What would convince two Jewish American comic book creators to take one of the biggest gods in the Norse pantheon and include him in their comic book universe?

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Well, for starters the Thor of Marvel Comics has a few key differences that separate him from his Nordic cousin.  For starters, Kirby gave Thor and the Norse gods a very unique design and background.

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Marvel’s Asgard is still inspired by Vikings in their appearance and mannerisms, but there’s this sort of techno mystic vibe about them that sets them apart from actual history and more into heroic fantasy.

Second, Marvel’s Thor is actually presented as a fully mortal human in his origin story.  In his first appearance, the mighty god of thunder is actually a mild mannered and meek human named Donald Blake who stumbles into a cave and discovers a walking stick that turns him into Thor.

Image result for journey into mystery 83 donald blake

Image result for journey into mystery 83 donald blake

Marvel’s Thor was a human before he was ever a god.  Was this a way for Lee and Kirby to get their revenge against the Nazis by co opting the mythology they had used?  Was it part of a long term plan for the Marvel comic universe?  Was it just there because it sounded and looked cool?  I have no idea, but I’m sure there are smarter and better people out there who know more about this sort of thing than I do.

So we’ve established that Marvel’s Thor is different enough from the Thor of myth to the point where we can consider them to be two separate entities.  However, there must have been someone in the Marvel offices that wasn’t convinced because in 1978 Marvel published Invaders #38.  

For those who don’t know, the Invaders series of books was a way for Marvel to tell more stories using their characters that had been created during the Golden Age and fought during World War 2.

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We can see the classic heroes: The Human Torch, the Submariner, and Captain America, and they’re all doing what they do best and punching Nazis in the face.  But for issue #32…well look at the cover.

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Yes that is Thor, and yes that is Adolf Hitler gloating about how he controls the god of thunder.

The plot of the comic was pretty straight forward.  The Nazis figure out how to access other dimensions and manage to summon Thor to Hitler’s bunker.

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The confused Thor is easily duped by Hitler into believing that the Germans are the victims of the war and that if Thor wants to be a real hero, he needs to go and kill the Russian leader: Josef Stalin.

In the next issue Thor faces off against the Invaders.

Invaders Vol 1 33

However, Hitler makes the classic super villain blunder and begins boasting about how he will use the Norse gods to conquer the world.

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Thor manages to listen in thanks the efforts of Victor von Doom and he finally sees the error of his ways.  The day is saved, good triumphs over evil, and the story ends after two issues.

So there you have it, the time that Thor fought for the Nazis in the comic books.  You could say he was duped and fooled into doing it so you could argue that it really wasn’t his fault.  But considering the relationship that Thor and the rest of Asgard had with German nationalism and the Nazi movement I would argue that these two comics were a necessary part of Thor’s mythology in order to distance himself from any unfortunate comparisons to one of America’s greatest enemies.

Anyway, enjoy Thor: Ragnarok folks!

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Crowdfunded comics that deserve more attention: The Death Defying

I think it’s time we revived this blog series…again…probably for a few weeks before I get overwhelmed with other stuff or can’t find anything interesting to write about.

Anyway, since it’s close to Halloween here’s a write up of a comic with horror over tones called The Death Defying.

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The comic is a fictionalized account of real life friends turned enemies Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  According the the description:

“The Death Defying becomes a battle of wills, words, faith, science, fisticuffs, handguns and magic that stretches from the windswept menace of Stull, Kansas to the small apocalypse of Tungaska, Russia. Beliefs will be tested, lives will be threatened and the scariest specter of all is whether or not any of this is real.”

So it looks like we’re in for a twisted mystery thriller with two of the greatest figures of the early 20th century battling it out for the soul of mankind.

The campaign is seeking $8,000 to cover art and printing costs.  At the time of writing it is sitting at $1,580 with eighteen days left to donate.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/xtop/the-death-defying-1?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

I’m a sucker for historical stories, especially if it’s a story about two people as famous and as awesome as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.  I’m pleased to say that the people behind the comic did their research well.  Houdini and Doyle were actually good friends in real life,

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and wound up drifting apart due to their disagreements over spiritualism and the existence of the supernatural.

For anyone who doesn’t know, after the First World War most of Europe and the United States became fascinated with the idea that magic was real and that people could communicate with spirits and the undead.

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This led to the explosion of seances and mystics who claimed they could summon spirits to appear as apparitions in photographs,

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or most famously knock on walls and levitate tables.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the most famous supporters of this idea, even going as far as claiming that fairies existed based on photographic evidence.

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Houdini was the exact opposite and devoted a good portion of his life to disproving spiritualism and exposing many of the so called mystics who used parlor tricks to swindle people out of their money.

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Personally I’d have to side with Houdini on this one.  Sure people are allowed to believe what they want, but this was just after the First World War and the Spanish Flu killed millions of people and I think many of these mediums and spiritualists were scam artists who were able to cheat a large amount of desperate grieving people out of their money.

Anyway, that’s the time the comic sets its story in.  It’s a fascinating time period in human history and the story promises to deal with weighty themes such as science vs. belief and chaos vs. order.

It should be good.

Why you should donate

The creative team behind this story is top notch and professional.  Every one of the people involved in the comic has at least one professional credit to their name and they appear to be passionate about this story, so you know that they will deliver a quality product in a timely manner.

Speaking of quality, the art is fantastic and manages to balance the dark shadows of the occult with the practical and direct lighting of the provable very well.  

What I really like about this page in particular is how it manages to balance the two opposing points of view.  In the world of this story either man could be right in his beliefs and it’s well known that the best and most realistic kind of conflict is the kind where both sides believe they are right.

The first six pages of the comic are on the Kickstarter page for you to check out along with the rewards and bonus artwork.

The Death Defying is a historical occult drama that deals with weighty themes and stars some of the early 20th century’s greatest human beings in an adventure for the ages and a battle for the soul and future of humanity and is definitely worth your time and money.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/xtop/the-death-defying-1?ref=category_newest

 

 

 

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Golden Age Showcase: Eerie Comics

It’s nearly Halloween, and if I had a better sense of timing and theme I would have done what lots of other comic book journalists and writers do and dedicated the entire month of October to horror comics.

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The horror genre is an incredibly popular genre for comic books with plenty of opportunities for fantastic art with strange and shocking story material that is perfect for grabbing the readers attention and persuading them to buy the book. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if wasn’t for superheroes, horror comics would be the most popular comic book genre today.

We’ve talked about how the post World War II comic book scene saw a boom in horror titles, particularly the rise of EC Comics with their shocking and grotesque morality tales such as Tales from the Crypt.

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But the history behind the horror genre goes back a little farther.  These creepy and horrific stories have their roots in the pulp magazines and penny dreadful novels that were the ancestors of comic books and the first horror comics were simple adaptations of those works.  Many people consider Classic Comics’ The Tale of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde to be the first horror comic published in August of 1943.

But the first standalone horror comic, the one that would lay the ground work for the genre’s explosion of popularity, would come four years later in 1947 and today we’re going to talk about it.  It’s title was Eerie Comics and it was the first standalone horror comic book ever published.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

Origin

Avon Publishing was created in 1941 as part of the American News Company.  It was originally intended to be the publisher of a type of book known as “dime novels” which were cheap, exploitative works that enthralled readers with anything from lurid romance to exciting adventure.

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These were the kinds of magazines that H.P Lovecraft published his stories in.

Naturally, Avon was the right kind of publisher for comic books, although they shied away from superheroes and stuck to the material that kept them in business, which led to the creation of Eerie in 1947.

Despite the inherent cheapness in the publisher and the medium it was created for, the comic actually had some pretty solid talent behind it.  While the writer was a relative unknown named Edward Bellin, the artistic team was amazing.  There was Fred Kida,

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who created a Golden Age superhero named Air Boy and would go on to find steady work in comic strips, particularly in Marvel’s Spider Man comic strip in the 1980’s.

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There was George Roussos,

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who worked for Marvel as an inker and helped Jack Kirby create some of the most iconic stories in Marvel,

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(yes he inked that one)

and the whole thing was overseen and pencilled by comic book legend Joe Kubert.

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While he is famous for his artwork, perhaps Mr. Kubert’s greatest legacy is the school of  comic book art that bears his name.

Anyway, the book itself was an anthology series containing six stories of strange events and horrific consequences for the wicked.  The stories themselves are pretty tame, with such an amazing team of artists on this book it was only natural for the artwork to be gorgeous.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

My personal favorite is the first story called The Eyes of the Tiger.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

It follows a man who tries to get a life insurance policy but is rejected because of his poor health.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

Apparently he wants to leave his policy to his cats, but the best part?  He threatens the doctor with a live tiger.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

The man wakes up in the middle of the night to find himself being chased by a tiger and winds up suffering from a heart attack and dying.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

I love this story for just how absolutely ridiculous it is.  Never mind that a man wants to leave all his money to his tigers, never mind that he hallucinates a tiger attack, the insane part of the story is that it treats an insurance company like they’re the good guys.

So what happened?

For some reason the first issue of Eerie was pulled from newsstands after it was published.  However, as the horror genre continued to gain in popularity the series was brought back in 1951.

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The title ceased publication in August of 1954, probably because of the backlash against comics in the 1950’s.

Eerie would continue life as a science fiction anthology series called Strange Worlds,

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and that lasted until 1955.

While audience’s appetites for lurid and suggestive comic books would wane, Avon would do just fine.  They discontinued their comic book line in the mid 1950’s and spent the rest of the century staying true to form, especially in the romance novel market.  Currently, they’re operating as an imprint of Harper Collins and specialize in romance novels.

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Eerie was a strange little comic.  On one hand, the writing was kind of crappy and it only had one issue for several years before someone decided it was popular enough to be rebooted.  On the other hand, it deserves its place in history as the first original horror comic ever published and the grandfather of all the horror comics that came after it.

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Plus, it’s amazing how something that old can look that good.

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Modern film, the Golden Age of Comics, and Wonder Woman

So this little movie is in theaters now.

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I haven’t seen it, although it is currently on my list of films to see, but I have seen the trailer and a good portion of the promotional media for the film.

A quick summary: the movie follows the real life journey and exploits of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman.

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In real life, Marston was a respected psychologist and the inventor of the lie detector,

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he was also engaged in an unconventional relationship with his wife Elizabeth and his partner Olive Byrne.

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As for the exact nature of their relationship, all you have to do is take a look at the comics that Marston wrote to get some idea of what was going on.

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Frankly, I’m glad this became a movie and I would love to see more films like this since the story behind the creation of some of our most beloved superheroes is often just as interesting as the characters themselves.

Personally, I would love to see a movie about the trials and tribulations of Supmerman’s creators Siegel and Shuster,

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and we’re probably getting a Stan Lee film soon.

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but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

There’s a scene in the trailer for Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman where a group of people are burning a pile of comic books.

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While I don’t like seeing anyone burning books this actually got me pretty excited.  This is the first time I’ve seen any movie talk about the decline and fall of the Golden Age of Comics and while it is presented as a backdrop for the story the movie wants to tell, it’s an important time in American pop culture where the nature and effect that art has on our minds and souls was being hotly debated.

So today I’m going to give a brief history of the comic book industry in the late 1940’s and 50’s and in order to do that we have to talk about:

The post war comic industry

After the Allies won the Second World War Americans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated by coming home, starting a family, and giving up on superhero comics.

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Yes, the infamous “superhero fatigue” that so many people say is  coming with this current glut of superhero movies is actually nothing new.

Naturally, the comic book industry reacted to this shift by switching to different genres and trying new things.  Post war America saw a boom in non superhero comics, especially romance,

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humor,

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and horror comics.

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Post war America was actually a pretty good time for comics.  More people were spending money on entertainment, readers were getting older and more mature, and some of the greatest artists of the time were doing some of their best work.

Unfortunately comic books were confronted with a force more powerful than any super villain doomsday device: concerned parents.

You know how concerned parents thought violent video games were turning kids into mass murdering psychopaths?

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Well, it turns out that that isn’t all that new either.  In the 1950’s comic books went through the same process and things would come to a head with,

Backlash, Dr. Wertham, and Seduction of the Innocent

Maybe it was the soldiers coming home from the war trying to process the violence and destruction they saw, maybe it was the Red Scare and the rise of anti Communist sentiment in America, or maybe comic books have a bigger place in our psyche than we think, but for some reason these hearings swept the American people into an anti comic fervor that saw a tremendous backlash against the art form.  This resulted in crazy events like mass comic book burnings as early as 1948,

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but sadly the real destruction would come in the form of a well meaning man in a suit and tie.

Every art form, at some point in its early history, has had a vocal opponent who claims that said art form is destroying our children’s minds and must be censored before it’s too late.

Rap music had Tipper Gore,

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video games had Jack Thompson,

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and comic books had Dr. Fredric Wertham.

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Now, I don’t think Dr. Wertham did what he did because he hated comics or because he was an uneducated hack who was simply making wild accusations because he wanted the attention.  He was actually a highly respected psychologist who did a lot of good work, including providing cheap psychiatric care to under privileged children.

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Unfortunately, he noticed that a lot of the children under his care read a lot of comic books and he started to believe that it wasn’t societal woes or a poor home life that turned kids bad, but violent and disturbing imagery in the media the kids consumed.

Things would come to a head in 1954 when Wertham published his most famous work Seduction of the Innocent

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where he blamed comic books for the rise of “juvenile delinquency” in American youth.

The book was a hit and led to a Congressional hearing on the effects of comic books on children’s minds, and Wertham was the star witness.

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The hearings were incredibly destructive for the comic book industry and effectively brought mass censorship to the medium.  Companies that depended on risque and controversial content to stay afloat, such as the horror and comedy powerhouse EC Comics were the hardest hit and were forced out of business.  The industry underwent a massive contraction and thousands of people lost their jobs as publishers went out of business left and right.

The Fallout

In an attempt to save themselves from excessive censorship the remaining comic book publishers formed an organization known as the Comics Code Authority.  It was an organization that reviewed comics before they could be published and made sure they followed a certain set of rules in order to ensure that they were suitable for children.

The most famous and notable legacy of the Comics Code was the stamp that appeared on the far right corner of almost every comic for the next forty years.

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While the Comics Code didn’t kill the comics industry it did cripple it so badly that it’s still recovering today.  Since comic book writers weren’t allowed to tell complex and morally ambiguous stories if they wanted to get their book published comics became simple and almost boring in their predictable story lines and basic morality tales.  Sure, mature and grown up comics existed, but they could only be found in small press, out of the way places such as the “comix” scene of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

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Eventually cracks in the Comics Code would start to show and historians widely believe that it lost its power after Amazing Spider Man #96 told a story where Spiderman helped a friend who was addicted to drugs and was published without the stamp.

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But if you ask me, the damage had already been done.  The Golden Age of Comics was a time where characters like Wonder Woman could talk about deep and meaningful issues like man’s tendency towards hatred and how women could bring about a more peaceful world, whereas the immediate post Comics Code publishing industry decided to celebrate its newfound freedom by throwing all subtlety out the window and indulging in a lot of violence for violence’s sake.  This,

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is downright childish in comparison to the early issues of Wonder Woman.

Now, I firmly believe that we as a society have gotten better in dealing with art and the effects that it may or may not have on our minds, and I also think that the comic book industry telling better stories today than it did twenty years ago, but it is vitally important that we never forget why heroes like Wonder Woman were created and how important it is that we apply the same passion and thought into our stories today.

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