Golden Age Showcase: Lance Lewis

I love superhero stories, but every now and then I get tired of men and women with impossible powers and I want to read something else.

When I get tired of reading about superheroes like Superman and Spider Man I like to turn to the science fiction category.  Granted, while superheroes and sci fi do share a lot of similarities, some times it’s nice to just relax with a book about normal human beings using their intelligence, fists, and cool sci fi gadgets to solve all the world’s problems.

Image result for batman

Okay, not that one.

Thankfully, this was something that comic book publishers understood as far back as the 1940’s and the folks at Standard Comics were more than willing to accommodate the need for non superhero stories with strange and fascinating science fiction stories about space men and aliens from the future.

Let’s talk about the detective from the 22nd century: Lance Lewis.

Image result for standard comics lance lewis

Origin and Career

Lance Lewis first appeared in Standard Comics’ Mystery Comics #3 in 1944 during the post war boom in non superhero comics.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Although is first appearance didn’t credit the author or artist, later issues revealed that the character was written by Bob Oskner,

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who had done some early work for Timely Comics and made his name in humor comics but would later find steady work at DC in the 1970’s,

Image result for bob oksner superman

and was drawn by Graham Ingels, a man who would become famous for his work on EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt.

Image result for graham ingels tales from the crypt.

Anyway, back to Lance Lewis.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Our hero was a detective from the distant future tasked with keeping the solar system free from bandits, brigands, and other criminals.

In his first adventure Lance was tasked with overseeing a race between two space ships that belonged to two rival companies who were vying for a lucrative delivery contract.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Sadly, the race did not go well and Lance was tasked with solving the murder of one of the pilots.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

What’s rather interesting is that this story did present a genuine mystery for the reader, who was left with no idea how a pilot could have been killed in the middle of space without a mark on him or without any apparent sabotage to the ship.

It turned out that the ship was sabotaged by the competition.  The rival company hired a saboteur to drill microscopic holes into the ship’s engine which led to all the air escaping from the ship.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

There are a couple of things that are pretty noteworthy about this comic.  First, the art style is pure “ray gun gothic”, which was an art style that was very popular in early science fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Image result for raygun gothic 1950's

Image result for raygun gothic 1950'sWhat I’m saying here is that the art is awesome and I personally think there should be more of it.

Second, you’ll notice small lines of war time propaganda on the bottom of the page.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Such were the times I guess.

Lance would get a girlfriend named Marna in the following issue after rescuing her from a group of evil blobs from Saturn who were bent on total domination of the Solar System.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics v2 1 (4)

Then he took a three year hiatus and would return as the cover character on Standard’s Startling Comics #44 in March of 1947 to capitalize on the boom of non superhero themed comic books.

Image result for startling comics #44

The rest of his appearances were pretty standard “sci fi detective” affairs, where he would solve a case that involved some strange technology or evil alien race with his girlfriend.

His last appearance was in Startling Mystery Comics #53 in September of 1948.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

His last case deserves special mention because it is an honest to goodness clever bit of writing.

Lance and Marna are on Jupiter watching a broadcast of the Planetary Music Festival, a music competition that has a huge cash prize for the winner.  Lance brings Marna’s attention to a little boy who is incredibly skilled with the violin.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

However, Lance is interrupted by his superiors ordering him to investigate a mysterious accident in space where a cargo ship was destroyed, which was strange considering that it wasn’t carrying explosives. Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Things get weirder when Lance finds out that the boy’s manager, an evil looking Mr. Gorman and his associate Namar, placed a stack of greeting cards onto the ship that exploded.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Long story short, it turned out that Mr. Goman and Namar were blackmailing shipping companies into paying protection money and would blow up the ships of people who refused to pay with specially treated cards that were coated with an atomic explosive that was set off when a certain tone was played over the radio.  The person who set the tone off was the boy who was playing the violin.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

The comic has a happy ending, in turned out they boy wasn’t in on the plot and was only playing to support his mother, and the criminals are all brought to justice in one of the best written Golden Age stories I have ever read.

So what happened?

Lance Lewis was actually published by one of Standard Comics’ imprints, Nedor Comics.  Nedor and its sister company Better Publications were folded into Standard Comics in 1949, a few months after Lance Lewis stories stopped being published.  While I can’t say for sure why these stories stopped being published (mostly because everyone involved either isn’t talking or is dead) I’d like to speculate and say that this merging was due to financial troubles at Standard Comics and Lance and company got lost in the shuffle.

That being said, Lance Lewis would have a brief revival in the early 2000’s thanks to one of the greatest modern comic book writers alive today: Alan Moore.

Image result for alan moore

Alan Moore started a company called America’s Best Comics in 1999.

Image result for america's best comics

One of the series he created was about a “science hero” named Tom Strong,

Image result for america's best comics tom strong

The series proved popular enough to warrant a spin off series known as Terra Obscura in 2003.  It was a series about an alternate Earth on the other side of the universe and utilized a lot of the old Standard Comics heroes that had fallen into public domain.

Lance Lewis made an appearance Tom Strong #12 as a time traveling scientist who sent himself back to World War 2 so he could fight in “The last good war”.

He would die three years later when he was killed by a villain named Mystico who needed to obtain the heart of a time traveler.

Lance Lewis was an interesting case study of the Golden Age.  While many people, including myself, dedicate most of our time and effort into studying the old superheroes we tend to forget that there were comic books that told other types of stories as ell.

Lance Lewis may not have had super powers, but he was definitely a hero using his brains, fists, and toys to deal out justice to the criminals of the future.

Image result for lance lewis golden age comics

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Golden Age Showcase: Mister Future

Today we’re going to dive into the deep end of obscure and interesting Golden Age superheroes.

A lot of people tend to think the comic book industry is overwhelmingly dominated by what is referred to as “The Big Two”.

and today that is certainly true considering that today Marvel and DC account for almost 70% of the comic book retail market.

But that wasn’t always the case, especially in the early days of the comic book industry.  When Action Comics #1 hit the stands in 1938

it was so successful that it spawned a whole host of imitators and rival publishers who realized that there was some serious money to be made.

One of these new competitors was publisher Ned Pines.

While Pines Publishing started out it originally published pulp magazines, cheap disposable text based magazines that told lurid stories about shady and intriguing individuals and were the precursors to the modern comic book.

Pines saw all the money that comic books were making in the 1930’s and in 1939 he started his own comic book imprint called Standard Comics.

Standard Comics would become the parent company for two other comic book publishing titles: Better Publications and Nedor Publishing.

Despite the fact that a lot of people don’t know about Standard Comics they were incredibly proficient during the Golden Age of Comics and today we’re going to talk about one of their first and most successful heroes: Captain Future.

Origin and career

Captain Future originally appeared in what would become one of Standard Comics’ longest running titles: Startling Comics #1.

The hero was created by comic book artist and writer Kin Platt.

and was based off of a pulp magazine character that was also published by Standard Publications.

The comic book Captain Future was originally mild mannered research scientist Dr. Andrew Bryant.  When pressured to create something that could be sold for profit or lose his job Dr. Bryant attempted to “cross infrared light and gamma rays” in an attempt to create a short wave radio signal.  The experiment fails and explodes in his face.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

For some reason the explosion gives him super strength, enhanced senses, flight, and the ability to shoot electricity from his hands instead of killing him.  After foiling a group of robbers attempting to clean out his company’s cash Dr. Bryant decides to become “The Man of Tomorrow” and calls himself Captain Future.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

In his first adventure Captain Future manages to foil a plot by the mysterious “Knights of the Purple Plague” to rob a shipment of gold from a cargo ship.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

What I personally find interesting is how Captain Future doesn’t immediately endear himself to the police, who are actually quite suspicious of him at first and try to charge him with murder.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

The story has a happy ending with Captain Future bringing the Knights of the Purple Plague to justice and even manages a small measure of revenge against the police.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

Captain Future would go on to be the main story in the Startling Comics title for an impressive 40 issues.  Most of them would be similar to his first adventure, where he would use his powers to defeat the “gangsters of the week” who were attempting to steal something or take over the world, pretty standard villain stuff.

What’s interesting was that while Captain Future was nearly invulnerable with his super powers he could lose them if the conditions were right or the villains had the right kind of tech.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #3

Also, Captain Future’s power supply was finite and required Dr. Bryant to charge himself up like a battery in order to become Captain Future.

Author’s Note: You may notice that this article has a lot of complete comic book pages in it.  That is because I discovered a website called Comic Book Plus, which is an archive of a ton of Golden Age comics.  If you would like to read more of Captain Future’s adventures and some of Standard Comic’s other titles feel free to check him out here.

So what happened?

Sadly, Standard Comics didn’t change with the times and went defunct in 1956.

However, many of Standard’s old heroes passed into the public domain (Captain Future is free for anyone to use if any one is interested) and they have found life in other publisher’s work.

Captain Future would have three guest appearances with many of his former colleagues.  First, in 2003’s Sentinels of America #1 published by AC Comics.

Second, in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura which was published in 2004.

And finally, Dynamite Publishing created a title called Project Superpowers which was created specifically to bring many of the more popular Golden Age heroes back into the modern day, including Captain Future.

Captain Future was a real “Man of Tomorrow”.  He had an interesting power set and was just flawed enough to keep readers interested in his stories for years.  It’s safe to say that if it wasn’t for the unfortunate gutting of the superhero industry in the 1950’s, Captain Future could have become a much more famous and recognized character.

This was fun, I think we could definitely do more obscure comic book characters from Standard Comics later.

Golden Age Showcase: The Blue Diamond

When you look at the subject of today’s blog post, the Blue Diamond is probably one of the more thought out and coherent Golden Age superheroes we’ve ever talked about.

Despite the fact the he was well put together and could have made it though the 1940’s with more famous Timely heroes like Captain America and Namor the Submariner he appears on this series because he was only able to last through two issues in the 1940’s.  However, the Blue Diamond does have one thing that sets him apart from many of the other heroes we’ve talked about on this blog.  He is one of the best showcases of how to take an old school hero who doesn’t have a whole lot of backstory and character and turn him/her into a fully fleshed out and realized part of a much larger comic book universe.

Origin and Career

The Blue Diamond first appeared in Daring Mystery Comics #7 in April of 1941.

Daring Mystery Comics Vol 1 7

The hero’s real name was Professor Elton Morrow (get it?) and he was an archaeologist.

Professor Morrow was on an expedition to the Antarctic and instead of finding an army of Shaggoths and Elder Things (H.P Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness if you’re interested) he found a giant glowing diamond.

Unfortunately while on the journey home Morrow’s ship was found by a German U boat.  Despite the fact that the United States was technically neutral at this time the Nazis torpedoed the boat and when they discovered Morrow floating in the wreckage clutching the container that held the diamond they shot at him with a machine gun.

Historical side note: it is nearly impossible to overstate just how terrifying German U boats were to the American population at the time.

The Nazis were actually able to attack American shipping in American waters for a time during the war, which explains why a large number of villains in the early war period comic books were U boat captains and enemy submarines.

Anyway, back to the Blue Diamond.

Despite the fact that Professor Morrow had been machine gunned in the middle of the ocean he actually wound up surviving.  It turned out that the diamond had absorbed most of the impacts from the bullets and had fractured into thousands of pieces and most of those pieces had embedded themselves into Professor Morrow, granting him diamond hard skin and immunity from pain and external damage.

Naturally, the heroic minded professor decided to use his powers to become a hero and the Blue Diamond was born.

Professor Morrow would go on to have one more adventure in the 1940’s in the following issue of Daring Mystery Comics.  

Daring Mystery Comics Vol 1 8

In this issue Professor Morrow was investigating a collection of bodies that appeared to be “Mongolian aboriginals” (he was an archaeologist after all) when suddenly the bodies sprang to life and walked out the door!

Morrow changed into his Blue Diamond costume and followed the ghouls to the basement of the Federal Reserve bank where he literally beats some sense into the helpless zombies.

It turned out that the “ghouls” were actually hypnotized people who were under the influence of the evil Dr. Eric Karlin.

 

Karlin was a master hypnotist who was sent to America by the Nazis in order to steal back German gold that America had confiscated at the beginning of the war.

The wicked doctor also had a habit of throwing his enemies into a vat of acid and displaying their remains in his lab.  The Blue Diamond confronted Dr. Karlin at his hide out and during the fight the hero knocked the villain into that vat of acid, killing him.

The Blue Diamond was horrified at what he had done but felt that his actions were justified because they helped give Dr. Karlin’s victims some peace.

So what happened?

The Blue Diamond got lost in the explosion of comics during and after World War Two.  Daring Mystery Comics was replaced by the Comedy Comics title the following month,

and while Timely would later revive the Daring Mystery line a few years later the Blue Diamond was in the new line up.

However, the Blue Diamond had something that a lot of comic book characters of the time didn’t have: pedigree.

The Blue Diamond had been created by comic book legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two men who were responsible for the creation of Captain America among other famous Marvel heroes.

which meant that even though the Blue Diamond didn’t survive the 1940’s, he was still big enough for other comic book creators to remember him.

The Blue Diamond would be reborn in Marvel Premiere #29 in April of 1976.

Marvel Premiere Vol 1 29

This was the first appearance of a group known as the Liberty Legion, a superhero team that was set in the past of World War Two and was made up of old Timely characters.

It’s worth noting that this book was first published in the 1970’s, which makes the idea of mining older titles and stories for nostalgia dollars nothing new.

In their first adventure the Liberty Legion was tasked with saving another old school superhero team, the Invaders, from the mind control of the Red Skull.

The Blue Diamond went face to face with Namor the Submariner and managed to capture him although he managed to escape.  The Liberty Legion would later face down the brainwashed Invaders and defeat them a couple issues later.

The Blue Diamond would follow up this adventure by teaming up with the Fantastic Four’s “The Thing”, who had traveled back in time and found himself in several adventures with a variety of Marvel’s heroes.

Marvel Two-In-One Vol 1 79

You’ll notice that the cover of the comic introduces a new character named “Star Dancer”

See? Ballet!

It turned out that Star Dancer and the Blue Diamond were destined to be husband and wife (as if comics weren’t sappy enough) and she saved the Blue Diamond’s life after he suffered from a heart attack while trying to hold back an angry mob that wanted to attack her.

Star Dancer gave The Blue Diamond a new, more durable body made entirely out of diamond and the two left Earth for the stars.

That was his final appearance as a comic book character, although it was later revealed that the diamond that had given Professor Morrow his powers was actually part of a rock called the Lifestone in Thunderbolts #46

While The Blue Diamond didn’t have much of a Golden Age career he is a prime example of how some characters managed to get a second chance further down the road.  He was a hero with a solid origin story, a cool power set, and most importantly his adventures showcased a special kindness and passion for doing good and protecting those around him that transformed him from a decent superhero to a pretty gosh darn good one.

Here’s hoping he’s still wandering the universe as a happy man.

Crowdfunded comics that deserve more attention: SHAMSEE: Lone Idiot and Cub

Today we’re going to talk about SHAMSEE: Lone Idiot and Cub, which is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

The comic is written by Tristan J. Tartwater and drawn by Adrian Wicker.

The story is about a small time thief named Shamsee who discovers a mysterious child named Blue

and proceeds to try and use the kid to swindle the residents of Oakstand out of their hard earned money.  However, robbery becomes the least of their problems as the two find themselves pursued by everyone from law enforcement to a mysterious figure that Blue is absolutely terrified of for some reason.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/672576444/shamsee-lone-idiot-and-cub-graphic-novel?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

When I was browsing through Kickstarter and trying to find a comic book project to write about I saw this and I was immediately grabbed by the title.

I bring this up because it’s a play on the title of one of my favorite comic books of all time.

Lone Wolf and Cub is about an assassin with his only son traveling across late feudal Japan on a quest for vengeance that leaves piles of dead bodies in its wake.  It’s really good and I cannot recommend it enough.

The reason why I like this comic (besides the copious amount of blood and sex) is because the author makes the relationship between the father and son a central part of the story.  How can a man balance the need for vengeance with his ability to kill people and his duties as a father?

SHAMSEE appears to be working towards those same questions, only with a lot less blood and gore and a bit more humor.  How can this thief balance his life as someone who swindles people out of their money all while trying to look after a kid.

Actually, come to think of it, this story reminds me of another favorite story of mine:

I won’t get into details but let me just say that this Kickstarter campaign is in fantastic company and I am really happy to see where this story is going.

Why you should donate

Be warned: this is where I do a little mini rant about the life and tribulations of a creative type in today’s day and age, so if you’re not interested please just go and donate to these guys now.

This is not the first comic book that this creative team has created and this is not their first Kickstarter.

Ms. Tarwater and Mr. Ricker are true blue independent comic book creators who are doing their own thing without tying themselves to a big time publisher.  You can find out more about Ms. Tarwater here and Mr. Ricker here.

They are here to promote their work and their vision to the masses and are hoping to raise enough money to make this project happen and to continue a story that was created by them, written and drawn by them, and promoted by them.

This is what sites like Kickstarter was supposed to be about.  It’s a way for individuals and small creative teams to raise enough awareness and money so that they can fund their dreams and projects.  I say “was” because Kickstarter is rapidly turning into part of the very thing it set out to stop.  Sure we get a lot of small groups and individuals who manage to successfully fund their ideas but SO MUCH of the projects that I see on this site are actually medium to large scale companies trying to use Kickstarter as a platform for their products to make money without putting in a whole lot of time and effort into actually creating them.  It is bullcrap and if it was up to me it would be banned.

Okay, rant over.

So if you want to fund a great story, with a great creative team behind it that is showing the world what an actual Kickstarter project should look like, please give these guys a look and a donation.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/672576444/shamsee-lone-idiot-and-cub-graphic-novel?ref=category_newest

Golden Age Showcase: Monako

So I’m really excited for the new Dr. Strange movie coming out in November.

What’s even better is that, thanks to this movie, Marvel decided to give Dr. Strange his own modern comic book series in order to increase awareness and interest in the character.

I really like this series, mostly because it’s written by one of my favorite comic book writers: Jason Aaron.

If you’ve never heard of him I HIGHLY recommend Southern Bastards and Scalped.  They are fantastic comic books that elevate the comic book medium to an entirely different level.

The reason why I bring this up is because in Mr. Aaron’s Dr. Strange run there is a character named Monako.

Without going into too much detail (I don’t want to spoil anything, you should really be going out and buying the comic) Monako is a grizzled old veteran magician who takes no crap from anyone and is one of the most powerful magicians in the Marvel Universe.

Also, he was originally created in 1940 so we’re going to talk about him today.

Origin and career:

Monako first appeared in Daring Mystery Comics #1 in January of 1940.

He was written and created by writer Larry Antonette.

Larry Antonette 001

In Monako’s first appearance he rescues a childhood friend, Josie Nottington, from being run over by a car.

Monako sees that the car was being driven by his mortal enemy Mr. Muro,

It turns out that Mr. Muro is after Josie’s brother Al Nottington because he as developed a secret formula for an explosive that Mr. Muro wants.  However, it turns out that Al has memorized the formula and destroyed all his notes, prompting Muro to kidnap Al and attempted to torture him into revealing the formula.

Monako manages to follow Mr. Muro using his magic (he uses an astral form, kind of similar to what Dr. Strange uses) and Monako manages to put up a good fight.

but unfortunately he is captured and tied up beside Al.  Muro intends to torture them with a swinging ax blade.

Here’s where it gets fun.  Monako manages to escape by talking to the ax blade and convincing it to let them go, and the ax listens.

Monako manages to escape by shrinking himself down to the size of an ant and crawling through a key hole.

He proceeds to save Josie from a bomb,

and they all manage to escape and save the day.  Sadly, Muro has escaped as well and would return for another round.

Muro and Monako would meet three issues later in Daring Mystery Comics #4 when Muro attempted to take over secret military fortifications that were supposed to guard the Panama Canal (not a bad plan actually) and Monako was able to stop him.

You’ll notice that Monako has a fez now, which is awesome.

Despite the fact that Muro managed to escape the two would never meet again.  Monako would have two more appearances, one where he thwarted a gang of jewel thieves, and another where he helped a man rescue his sister from a gang of thugs.

His last story featured the first and only appearance of Pere Kauraka, Monako’s super strong and super durable assistant.

It should be noted that while the artwork is somewhat lacking (not necessarily the artist fault since it’s fair to assume they were pressured to cut corners due to tight deadlines) Monako’s stories feature the magician using his powers in very interesting and creative ways.  He could project his form on the astral plane, he could talk to and influence inanimate objects, he could use magic to punch people, and in possibly the greatest use of magic ever…in his final adventure he turned a pit of snakes into puppies (god I wish I could find a picture of that).

So what happened?

Monako disappeared.  I wish there was more to his story but it’s probably because he just wasn’t popular enough to warrant future stories.  His last appearance was in September of 1940 so he never got to kick some Nazi butt during the war.

Also, he didn’t have any sort of revival in the post war comic book scene (although someone like that would have been perfect for the boom in horror comics that were popular after World War 2) and he would remain unused until recently where he was re introduced in Jason Aaron’s Dr. Strange.

Monako was an interesting hero.  Despite his short story run the man was one of the first Timely heroes to utilize magic in some of the most interesting and creative ways imaginable.  He was an interesting hero and one of the most interesting characters to come out of the Golden Age.