Comic book company showcase: EC comics

Happy Halloween everyone!

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A while ago we did a write up of an old comic book publisher called Camera Comics and since that post did pretty well so we decided to do something similar.  Today we’re going to talk about a comic book publisher from the 1940’s, but this publisher isn’t obscure or unknown.  In fact, this publisher was one of the greatest comic book companies ever created, a company that pioneered the comic book as an art form, and one of the founding fathers of the horror comic.

Ladies and gentlemen: EC Comics.

Origin

The company was founded by a man named Maxwell Gaines.

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If you don’t know the name you definitely know his work.  Gaines actually helped pioneer the modern comic book in 1933 when he worked for a company called Eastern Color Printing and was struggling to come up with an advertising idea for one of his company’s clients.  He would up packaging newspaper comic strips into a magazine format with an included coupon from the client.

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In 1934 Gaines published a collection of stories called Famous Funnies through a company called Dell Comics.

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It was the first book of its kind to be distributed through newsstands and is widely considered to be the first American comic book.

Gaines would continue to publish original material and in 1938 he partnered with a man named Jack Liebowitz

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and began publishing material under the name All American Publications.

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Liebowitz just so happened to be a co owner of another comic book publisher named Harry Donenfeld, who owned a company called National Publications and agreed to fund All American Publications.  Gaines and Liebowitz would go on to publish little known characters such as

Wonder Woman

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Green Lantern

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and Hawkman

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In 1944 Donenfeld would buy All American Publications and merge it with National (and several other companies) to form a company called DC Comics.

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While many people would have probably have just taken the money and enjoyed the retired life secure in their legacy, Max Gaines wasn’t done by a long shot.

Gaines used the money from the sale to start his own company: Educational Comics.

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Gaines decided to not focus on superhero stories and published educational and historical stories instead.  Titles like Picture Stories from American History and Picture Stories from the Bible were going to be published and marketed to schools and churches.

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While it could have been a great direction for the company to go in, the plans were sadly derailed when Max Gaines died in a boating accident in 1947.

The company would be taken over by his son, William Gaines.

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William wanted to take the company in a new direction.  While he kept the Bible stories he decided to change the name to Entertaining Comics and publish non educational material.

The new EC Comics quickly gained a reputation as a publisher of high quality comic books. Among their many innovations was a letter section in the back of a comic book where artists could communicate with their fans.  This was a first in the publishing industry and would go on to become a staple of comic books.

Another thing that EC did was adopt the novel idea that their artist SHOULDN’T be treated like complete and total garbage.  This may seem like a strange thing to bring up but you have to remember that a lot of early comic book publishers didn’t pay their artists very well and didn’t give them the credit they deserve.  EC was unique in that it paid their artists well and encouraged them to develop their own styles and techniques.

This paid off big time.  EC Comics attracted some fantastic artists for their stories about more mature subject matter such as crime,

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war,

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and science fiction.

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But by far their biggest sellers were their horror titles such as The Vault of Horror

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The Haunt of Fear,

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and most infamously, Tales from the Crypt.

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These weren’t your average comic book story.  More often than not they would feature tales of wicked people suffering gruesome and ironic fates which were narrated by macabre individuals such as the Crypt Keeper.

Times were good and in the late 1940’s EC comics became known for its fantastic art and lurid storytelling.

So what happened?

In a perfect world EC Comics would have gone on to become one of the greatest and most popular comic book companies in the world and would have helped to advance the medium of comic books into a legitimate art form.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and in 1954 a German psychologist named Fredric Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that comic books were corrupting the minds of American children.

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The backlash grew so strong that there was a Congressional hearing to investigate the rise of juvenile delinquency in America and the comic book industry suffered.

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In response, the industry leaders banded together and created the Comics Code Authority.  It was a regulatory body that established certain guidelines for what could be published and distributed to children.  A company could still create any comic they wanted, but if they wanted to get it distributed they had to submit it to the Comics Code for approval and get a stamp if they wanted to see their book sold to make a profit.

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The Code decimated the industry and EC comics was hit especially hard since you were no longer allowed to publish comics with words like “horror”, “crime”, or “terror”.  You can read the full list of limitations here.

Despite poor sales and a decimated title library, EC Comics did manage to survive.  Despite the fact they couldn’t publish any of their old comics they had a small title simply titled Mad.

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Gaines decided to publish the title as a magazine, thus avoiding the Comics Code, and the new Mad Magazine continued to sell well and is still around today.

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Gaines would sell EC Comics to the Kinney Parking Company in the early 1960’s.  The history of that deal is way to complicated for this article but long story short, EC Comics would eventually be owned by the same company would later own DC Comics and Warner Communications.

William Gaines would die in 1992 and despite all the terrible things that happened to the company that he and his father built, the one thing that is ensured is their legacy and great comic book creators.  Even though they had been decimated by the backlash against comic books in the 1950’s EC comics still had a fantastic reputation among fans and creators alike.

In the 1970’s Tales from the Crypt was licensed as a horror movie.

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The movie followed the anthology style of the comic books and was a big enough hit to spawn another movie based off of the EC Comics title The Vault of Horror.

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In the 1980’s there were two movies titled Creepshow and Creepshow 2.  Both of them followed the EC horror comics format, both of them were influenced by EC Comic stories, and featured scripts written by Stephen King and George Romero.

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In the 1990’s HBO would take Tales from the Crypt and turn it into a long running horror anthology series that lasted for ten years.

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The legacy of EC Comics would be ensured, but if you’re interested in reading the original work then have no fear, reprints are here.  While many publishers have made a killing off of reprinting these fantastic stories they are currently being republished by Fantagraphics Books.

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In a world where superheroes dominated the comic book landscape EC comics dared to be different.  To this day they are well known for their fantastic art work and exceptional storytelling abilities.  They were the founders of the modern horror comic and deserve a place as one of the greatest, and most chilling, comic book publishers out there.

Happy Halloween everyone, sleep well.

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Comic book showcase: Magnus, Robot Fighter.

So let’s close out the “Gold Key to Valiant Trilogy” (a name I just made up) with the final hero that was published by Gold Key Comics that made its way to Valiant Comics in the 1990’s: Magnus, Robot Fighter.

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Origin and Career

Magnus, Robot Fighter was first published by Gold Key Comics in February of 1963.

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He was created by comic book writer and artist Russ Manning.

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There are a couple things that should be noted about Russ Manning.  First, while Magnus, Robot Fighter was his single greatest creation, he rose to prominence in the comic book world with his work on Tarzan comics.

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You will also notice that his artwork is jaw droppingly amazing.

Magnus, Robot Fighter was a man born in the future society of North Am, a futuristic mega city that spans the entire continent of North America in the year 4000 A.D.

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While humans are nominally in charge of North Am, they have slowly become more and more dependent on a massive robot workforce.  One of their own, a robotic police chief named H-8, hates humanity to the point where he wants to take over North Am and rule over the humans.

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Into this story steps Robot 1-A, who appears to be a much older and wiser robot than his companions.  He raises a boy named Magnus to fight robots with his bare hands and protect humanity from evil robots and humans who seek to use robots for their own wicked plans.

The adventures of Magnus were pretty straight forward.  He would find a robot, or group of robots, that was doing something wrong or detrimental to humanity and beat the ever loving piss out of said evil doers with his bare hands.

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Magnus had a girlfriend who would assist him in his adventures named Leeja Clane.

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She was the daughter of a North Am senator and possessed telepathic powers that she used to help Magnus from time to time.

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Magnus, Robot Fighter was a success and I think there were three reasons why he sold as well as he did.

First, the early sixties were a heyday for some of the greatest science fiction ever written.  The scene was dominated by “The Big Three” of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Issac Asimov.

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One of Asimov’s greatest contributions to the world of science fiction was his work on robotics, specifically one of his most famous books: 1950’s I, Robot.

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In the book he introduced his now famous Three Laws of Robotics,

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This was important to Magnus, Robot Fighter because Robot 1A, Magnus’ teacher and mentor, mentions the Three Laws and believes in them so strongly that it serves as Magnus’ origin.

The second cultural event in the early 1960’s was the introduction of karate to every day Americans.

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American soldiers who had been stationed in Japan and Okinawa had learned karate from Japanese/Okinawan masters and brought it back to the States.

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Since it looked cool and was just exotic enough to impress a lot of Americans it found a home in Hollywood where it was used by Frank Sinatra in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate,

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and by Elvis.

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when you have a comic that combined popular science fiction with a martial art that was used by two of the coolest men to ever walk the Earth, you know you’ve got a hit.

Also, I mentioned at the top of the article that Magnus had been created by a man who made his mark in the comic book industry by drawing Tarzan stories.

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When you put Magnus side by side with Tarzan there are a lot of pretty striking similarities.  They were both raised by non human parents, they fight other worldly threats, and they both have a pretty lady friend they get to save and treat as arm candy.

Magnus was basically a futuristic version of Tarzan, and I’m okay with that.

So what happened?

Magnus may have been a popular Gold Key character (I guess people just really like robots and karate) but he fell victim to a force more powerful than any mindless robotic automaton: low sales figures.

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The series was cancelled when Gold Key started suffering in the 1970’s.

However, the rights were published by Jim Shooter’s Valiant Comics in the late 1980’s along with Turok and Doctor Solar.

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The Valiant version of Magnus was pretty faithful to the Gold Key version, although there was a pretty popular issue where Magnus fought the Predator in 1992.

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After Valiant’s parent company was bought by Acclaim in 1995, Magnus was rebooted two years later in 1997.

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The series was more of a self parody of the original creation and it was not very well received.  Acclaim would close its doors in 1999.  It was not sorely missed.

Magnus was picked up by Dark Horse Comics and his original stories were reprinted in 2002.

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A new original series was announced in 2010 with Jim Shooter writing which lasted four issues until it was cancelled in 2011.

Currently the series is owned by Dynamite Entertainment which bought the rights in 2013 and began publishing a new original series in 2014.

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I have the first volume on my phone.  It’s a good story, the artwork is fantastic, and I would highly recommend it.  In it’s own special way I think it’s come full circle.

Magnus, Robot Fighter was a silly idea with a silly name and only the most basic story lines and motivation.  However, the endearing nature of such a wonderfully simple concept (coupled with the fact that it borrowed heavily from established characters and jumped on the two major bandwagons of karate and 1960’s science fiction), made the comic a classic of the medium and ensured that it would be several times better than it had any right to be.

Next week we’re going to be talking about the little comic book publisher that became one of the great icons of horror but was squashed by the ever rolling tide of history.

Crowdfunded comics that deserve more attention: Aldous Spark: Meddler in History and other Unsavory Affairs

Today we’re going to talk about a comic book with one of the longest titles I’ve ever seen: “Aldous Spark: Meddler in History and other Unsavory Affairs”.

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The project is the first book in a series following the adventures of Aldous Spark, an adventurer, magician, master thief, and member of the secretive anarchist Black Moth society that wages a never ending battle against the powers that be.

Aldous is accompanied on his adventures by his apprentice Isaiah,

and over the course of his adventures he meets a whole host of colorful and dangerous individuals such as a drug addled heiress Araceli who has the ability to see the future.

Aldous’ on again, off again rival in crime Marla,

and a mysterious and terrifying order of silent and emotionless religious zealots called the Red Priests.

The comic is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter and seeks to raise $5000 by November 20th, 2016.

Kickstarter link: here

Why I like it:

If you spend any amount of time around me you will find out that I am a rabid fan of history and like a lot of people I am fascinated with Victorian England.

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It’s a wonderful era for story telling filled with tremendous wealth,

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crushing poverty,

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fantastic technological progress,

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exploration,

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and political intrigue that would shape the world for decades to come.

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From what I’ve seen, this Kicstarter project takes a lot of these tropes, ideas, and imagry and turns it into its own special type of story where there is something for everyone.  You’ve got cool looking technology coupled with ancient mystical artifacts,

intrigue and danger,

and all sorts of strange artifacts and codes that look like they could create a fun and engaging mystery that will leave the reader scratching their head and wanting more.

This is Victorian fiction done right and I can’t wait to see what happens.

Why you should donate:

First and foremost, the artwork is fantastic!

I was really drawn into this project for the story and atmosphere but for all you art fiends out there this is some really fantastic stuff.

But there is a deeper, more important reason why I think a lot of other people will like this book.

As I said before, Aldous is a member of the Black Moth Society.  It’s a group of anarchists dedicated to foiling the schemes and machinations of the powerful elite.

The Victorian era was a great time of progress, but it was also a great time of turmoil.

There were the wealthy industrialists,

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bankers,

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and inventors.

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While these men made fortunes and created the world we know today they also created tremendous poverty and squalor,

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and a new brand of imperialism that left most of the world in shambles.

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It was during this time that anarchists rose up and organized themselves against the ruling elite of the time to protest what they saw as unfair treatment and horrific living conditions of many for the needs of a few rich men and women.

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This is the social and ideological divide that Aldous Spark plays around with and as I said before, it’s a tremendous opportunity for a great story.

Any historian worth his/her salt will tell you that history repeats itself, but that’s ridiculous.  After all it’s not like there are modern day wealthy industrialists,

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bankers,

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and inventors,

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who have become fabulously wealthy while a lot of the world lives in crushing poverty.

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Are there differences?  Yes.  Have we learned from the mistakes of the past?  A little bit.  But it doesn’t change the fact that the world we are living in is eerily reminiscent of the Victorian world that Aldous Spark takes place in.  Sometimes in order to fix the problems of the world you need a little bit of chaos and anarchy.  Sometimes you need to be a meddler in history and other unsavory affairs.

Kickstarter link: here

Comic book showcase: Doctor Solar

So last week was a success, what other heroes from Gold Key Comics that made their way to other publishers after the company folded can we talk about?

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Oh…that works.

Origin and career

The hero shown above is Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom.  He has the honor of being the first original character created under Gold Key Comics after their parent company split from Dell Publishing in 1962.  He first appeared in his own #1 issue in the summer of 1962.

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He was created by writer Paul Newman and editor Matt Murphy.  While I can’t find any pictures of Matt Murphy I’ve talked about Paul Newman last week.

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The man has the honor of being the most prolific comic book writer in history after publishing over 4,000 comic books over the course of his career and if I ever decide to talk about Silver Age comic books I’m pretty sure his name will definitely be coming up more.

Art responsibilities fell to artist Bob Fujitani.

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Who was a well established comic book artist who had done work on titles such as Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, and even worked on Black Condor for Quality Comics.

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We’ve talked about him on this blog before.

Doctor Solar was definitely a hero for the times.  In the 1960’s the Cold War was in full swing and we came terrifyingly close to ending the world as we knew it in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Solar’s origin was a harsh reminder of the dangerous new times we lived in.  He gained his powers after stopping a catastrophic nuclear meltdown that killed his co worker.

SOLAR 1

Despite the fact that the radiation killed Dr. Bently, Solar remained unharmed with the exception of his skin turning green.

SOLAR 1

A fun fact: Doctor Solar didn’t get his costume until issue #5, when his title switched artists and he was drawn by Frank Bolle.

The uniform was designed by the Doctor himself,

Frank Bolle

and actually looked pretty good.

Frank Bolle

As for bad guys to fight, Doctor Solar didn’t bother himself with petty bank robbers and villains of the week.  His principal nemesis was a man named Tanek Nuro, a shadowy power broker who never showed his face.

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The man looks like a cross between Kingpin and Lex Luthor and was one of those villains who never directly interfered with the hero, he just manipulated and created threats for the hero to face.

 Frank Bolle

It’s a good thing that Nuro didn’t engage Solar directly because Solar was a hero who could have probably gone toe to toe with Superman at his most powerful if he really wanted to.  The man’s power set was pretty wide ranging.  From super senses

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to energy blasts,

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to size manipulation,

Covers

and the ability to manipulate the environment around him in whatever way he saw fit.

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The man was basically a god, and with this incredible power came the standard problems of what to do with a man who could vaporize you without batting an eyelash.

Since his body was now a giant nuclear battery he no longer needed food, sleep, or air.  However, like any battery he had to recharge himself and if he used up too much of his power he would die.

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So what happened?

Solar reached his peak popularity in 1965 but then the 1970’s happened and Gold Key went out of business.

Solar would have a brief revival in the 1980’s under Gold Key’s successor company, Whitman Comics,

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but he only lasted four issues before the series was cancelled.

Solar took a hiatus in the 1980’s when Whitman went out of business.  He was later revived when Valiant Comics licensed the character and decided to use him in their budding superhero lineup.

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He kept his costume but his origin was tweaked a bit.

The new Doctor Solar’s name was Phil Seleski.  He was a physicist working on an experimental fusion generator that went critical.  Seleski shut down the reactor but was exposed to a lethal dose of radiation that should have killed him but gave him superpowers instead.

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The new Doctor Solar, who just went by the name “Solar” in the Valiant Universe, actually played an important part in the larger story.  After gaining his powers he attempted to use them for good by attempting to destroy the world’s nuclear weapons.

The world’s governments were not partial to Solar’s actions and branded him a criminal.  During their attempt to stop him, Solar lost control of his powers and sucked Earth into a black hole.

Solar then travels back in time and splits into two personalities: Phil Seleski, who remembered everything that happened to Earth when it was destroyed, and Doctor Solar who was a representation of Peter’s childhood hero and believed that Phil was a dangerous criminal.

They meet, they fight, things get weird and very meta.

Eventually everything gets resolved and it is revealed that Seleski didn’t travel back in time, he simply recreated his ideal Earth after it was sucked into the black hole.

It was also revealed that Doctor Solar could split his personalities even further into various forms such as the Destroyer.

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This new Earth would establish the foundation for the Valiant Universe and the new Doctor Solar would play a crucial role.  From fighting evil aliens to defeating a super powered being named Mothergod who just so happened to be a former co worker of his,

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Doctor Solar was an important part of the Valiant Universe.

In the comics he blew himself up in the year 4000 A.D to prevent an alien invasion of Earth.

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Solar would live on when Acclaim bought Valiant.  This time the hero’s identity was twin brother and sister Frank and Helena who were given their powers after Peter left them with a portion of his own strength.

Acclaim Comics would go out of business but in 2004 Solar was picked up by Dark Horse Comics.

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Dark Horse published reprints of Solar’s original adventures until 2008 when they started releasing an original series that lasted eight issues.

In 2013 he was picked up by Dynamite Entertainment and had a twelve issue run from 2014 until February of 2015.

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Doctor Solar is, and remains, a pretty popular comic book character.  Like Turok, he was a product of comic book culture during the 1960’s and while he may not be as well recognized as some of his older superhero rivals such as Superman or Batman, I like to think he holds a special place in the hearts of dedicated comic book fans everywhere.

Speaking of legacies, did you know that Doctor Solar was a major inspiration for Radioactive Man, the superhero spoof that is a mainstay on the popular tv show The Simpsons? 

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As legacies go…that’s not half bad.

 

Comic Showcase: Turok, Son of Stone

Happy Columbus Day everyone!

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For our international readers, Columbus Day is a day for Americans to celebrate the first European to discover the continent of North America and helped kickstart a new age of European expansion into the New World that laid the foundation for modern day America.

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However, the truth is a bit more complicated.  Columbus wasn’t the first European to discover North America, that honor belongs to the Leif Erickson and the Vikings.

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Also, Columbus has a REALLY unsavory reputation among the Native American population as a thief, criminal, and as the man who did a lot of terrible things to the native population.

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We would like to avoid talking about Christopher Columbus on this blog so instead we’re going to talk about a comic book starring a Native American.

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Now the history of Native Americans in popular culture runs the gamut from well meaning and respectful to outright offensive but the fact of the matter is that Westerns were really popular in the 1950’s and comic books were nothing if not blatant trend followers.

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Today we’re going to talk about one of the more well known Native American characters in comic books.  Not only was he treated with a surprising amount of respect and dignity, he was one of the greatest examples of the glorious insanity that was so prevalent in the early days of comic books.  Ladies and gentlemen: Turok, Son of Stone.

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Origin and Career

Turok was first published by a company called Dell Comics, which got its start publishing pulp magazines in the 1920’s and moved into comics when they became popular.  They have a long and complicated history that we’re not going to talk about here but long story short, they were best known for publishing non superhero comics and at one point in time they were the most successful comic book company in the world.

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They made their money turning the old pulp characters into comic books and were most successful with licensed properties like Disney characters and popular tv shows.

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Dell also published an anthology series called Four Color Comics and in December of 1954 they published the first appearance of Turok.

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The credits for who created Turok are a bit shady but it is widely believed that he was first drawn by comic book artist Rex Mason (not shown here because I can’t find his picture) and early issues were written by writers Gaylord Dubois, who was well known for his work on The Lone Ranger, 

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and Paul S. Newman, who holds the world record as the most prolific comic book writer with over 4,000 published stories to his name of the course of his fifty year career.

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Sadly, I can’t go into any great detail about the adventures of Turok here because unlike most of the characters we talk about on this blog he’s still under copyright and his comics aren’t available for free (we’ll get to that later) but what I can say is that he was a Native American who fought dinosaurs and was therefore awesome.

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Under the Dell Comics label Turok and his younger brother Andar found themselves stranded in a place known as “The Lost Valley”, a mysterious place in the wild west of New Mexico.

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The Lost Valley was a strange and savage place, a place that time and reason forgot.  There were cavemen, dinosaurs, monsters, and a whole host of other ancient wonders that should have been extinct a long time ago.

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It was up to Turok and Andar to survive, thrive, and try to escape the hidden valley and their adventures were so popular that they kept going from the 1950’s all the way to the 1980’s as one of Dell Comic’s most successful and long lived characters.

So what happened?

Turok’s adventures were popular.  His journey as an actual comic book title was long, confusing, and in many ways even more interesting than then the character himself.  So this is going to be one of the longest and detailed “what happened?” segments this blog has ever seen.

If you look at the top left corner of each of the old Turok covers I’ve published you’ll notice that the company publishing him changes between three logos:

Western,

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Dell,

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and Gold Key.

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See, Western Publishing was a separate comic book publisher and was the studio who created Turok.  However, Western had a deal with the much larger and more successful Dell Comics where they would develop and create series that would be licensed and published by Dell Comics.

This deal would continue from 1956 to 1962 with and published over 27 issues of Turok.  However, in 1962 Western decided to leave Dell Comics and published comic books on their own.  Western went on to create their own publishing imprint, Gold Key comics

Sadly, both Dell and Gold Key suffered during the 1970’s due to decreased demand for comic books.  Dell ceased operations in 1973 and Gold Key ceased operations in 1982.  While Western did publish a few more Turok titles under another imprint called Whitman Publishing, it was no longer interested in comic books because they were making more money with toys, tv shows, and their Golden Books series.

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Western lasted the longest, but they declared bankruptcy and in 1997 they were absorbed into Golden Books Family Entertainment.

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Golden Books didn’t last long and the early 2000’s they were bought by Classic Media,

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which was then bought by Dreamworks Animation,

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which was then bought by NBC Universal in April 2016.

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With all this going on you would think that Turok would have disappeared.

NOPE!

In 1992 a small startup company called Valiant Comics picked up three original Gold Key characters to use in their fledgling comic book universe.

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Those characters were Magnus, Robot Fighter,

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Doctor Solar,

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and Turok.

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These titles, along with original Valiant works such as X-O Manowar, Harbinger, and Rai were incredibly successful.

However, Valiant fell victim to some unfortunate corporate problems that are far too complicated to get into here.  Long story short, Valiant was sold in 1994 to a company called Akklaim Entertainment, who was a video game publisher.

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Akklaim wanted to turn Valiant characters into video games and in 1997 they launched Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.

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The game was a hit and spawned a franchise of five more games.

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Akklaim would go out of business after some terrible business decisions and Valiant would abandon Turok when it made a roaring comeback in 2005.

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Today Turok is no longer a comic book or video game mainstay.  Dark Horse published four new issues of Turok in 2010,

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and Dynamite published twelve new Turok stories in 2013.

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While Turok is no longer a comic book mainstay he is an important part of comic book history.  He had an incredibly long shelf life as a character, his stories of fighting dinosaurs were epic and awesome, and he played an important role as a publishing mainstay in some of the most important comic book publishers of the past fifty years.

Not bad for one of the greatest Native American comic book characters.

Golden Age Showcase: All Negro Comics #1

So this show just came out on Netflix.

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I freaking love it.  The actors are awesome, the soundtrack is phenomenal, and while it’s probably the least “comic booky” of all the shows Marvel puts out, it is a fantastic homage to the 1970’s blaxploitation films that the comic took influence from.

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Luke Cage was a product of the 1970’s, a time when American black culture was really coming into its own, and comic books responded with a whole bunch of new and interesting black characters, including Luke Cage himself.

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (1972)

Black Lightning #1 (1977)

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While black people and culture would come into its own in the late 60’s and early 70’s, black people were actually part of comic book culture from its very beginning.

In a lot of the Golden Age Comics I’ve read over the course of this blog I’ve come across a lot of black characters.  The downside is that the overwhelming majority of these characters were not exactly culturally sensitive.

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However, that didn’t stop black people from looking at the racism and stereotypes prevalent in the early days of the comic book industry and trying to do something about it.

It a time when it was still illegal for a black man to use the same restroom as a white man.

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there were black people who took a look at comic books, this new form of mass entertainment that was capturing the hearts and minds of millions, and said,

“we deserve our own comic books and we’re going to make them ourselves.”

Today we’re going to look at the first comic book created by black people, for black people.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Origin

Despite what you might think by looking at the cover, this comic has a hell of a pedigree behind it.

The idea for the comic came from a man named Orrin C. Evans.

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Mr. Evens was a reporter from Philadelphia.  Not only was he a reporter, he worked for a paper called the Philadelphia Record

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and was the first black reporter to work for a mainstream newspaper.

When the Record went out of business in 1947 he teamed up with several of his former co workers from the newspaper and published All Negro Comics #1 in 1947.

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Evans was a member of the NAACP and a strong advocate for racial equality and it shows in the very first page of the comic, where he explains that the comic was created to educate people about the contributions and accomplishments of black people in America, celebrate those achievements, and “to give American Negroes a reflection of their natural spirit of adventure and a finer appreciation of their African heritage”.

 Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

This was a comic written by black people, drawn by black people, for black people and the stories and artwork are pretty darn good.

It was a 52 page anthology comic that had a bit of everything.  Besides the introductory letter there were prose stories along with a collection of diverse stories from crime mysteries and comedies.  There were even some PSA’s and “crime doesn’t pay” advertisements.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Some of the more notable characters were figures like Ace Harlem, a detective who managed to chase down and capture a pair of thieves who held up a barbecue restaurant and killed its owner.

 Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

the man was intelligent, observant, and capable of dishing out a beating when he needed too.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Another story was a single page comedy featuring a character named “Lil’Eggie” who suffered at the hands of his over bearing wife.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

and then there’s my personal favorite: “Lion Man”

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Lion Man was an American college educated man who was sent to Africa at the behest of the United Nations in an attempt to safeguard a large natural deposit of uranium in order to prevent evil men from seizing it to make a bomb.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

He had a sidekick named Bubba, who was often more trouble than he was worth.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

He tried to be helpful.  After Lion Man stopped the evil Dr. Sangro from seizing the mountain,

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Bubba tries to help by using a machine gun to attack the assailants.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

the plot is foiled, but Dr. Sangro survives to fight another day.

What I really like about this comic is how it portrays the traditional “African savage” with a lot more respect than other comics from the time.  Granted, Lion Man is American and Bubba does fall into a lot of the tropes that belong to annoying, mildly racist sidekicks, but when all is said and done it is probably the fairest and most reasonable portrayal of black men in Africa in the 1940’s.

The comic had good writing, good artwork, and a heartfelt message behind it.  It was a great representation of what black people could do for comics and deserves a place in the history books as the first comic of its kind.

So what happened?

While there were plans for an All Negro Comics #2 but the title was doomed from the start.

For starters the comic was only distributed to segregated African American communities

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which meant that the audience for the comic was sadly limited.

Second, the price for the comic was 15 cents during time when every other comic was selling for 10 cents.

And finally, good ol’ fashioned racism reared its ugly head when everyone from the people selling the newsprint the comic was printed on to the distributors who put the comic on newsstands refused to do business with Evens and his business partners.

All Negro Comics would only last a single issue, even though we don’t know how many comics were sold it’s safe to say it didn’t sell very well.  However, I like to think that this comic represented an important moment in comic book history and the history of race in America.

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For the first time, a group of black people looked at an industry that was overwhelmingly created by and for white children and said “No, we can create comic books and stories that deserve to be told too” and they did.

There’s no way of telling what the impact of All Negro Comics had on the black community at the time, but it’s important to recognize and acknowledge it as a foundation for black people in comics.

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