Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Heroes of the Public Domain.

Today we’re going to talk about a Kickstarter comic called Heroes of the Public Domain.

Regular Edition Cover

This project is seeking funding to create a catalog of superheroes that are in the public domain.  This means most of them are from the Golden Age of Comics, a time period that many historians place between 1938-1952 where comic books exploded onto the pop culture scene and superheroes became incredibly popular.

The project is being led by a Canadian group called Temporal Comics and is seeking $1,776 USD in funding.  At the time of writing the project has reached $1,432 with 23 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1973136011/heroes-of-the-public-domain-golden-age-guide-issue?ref=discovery

Why I like it

If you’re a fan of this site than you know that we at Cambrian Comics love writing about Golden Age superheroes.

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For anyone who doesn’t know, over the past three years we’ve been running a blog series entitled “Golden Age Showcase”, where we talk about old school heroes from a time when comic books were new and superheroes were somehow even more popular than they are now.

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While it’s fun to study the absolutely ridiculous characters from the Golden Age of Comics,

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it’s also important.

The Golden Age gave us many of comics’ most important and recognizable heroes.  Characters like Batman,

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Wonder Woman,

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Namor the Submariner,

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and the one who started it all, the one who inspired every modern superhero in existence, and the one who just turned 80 years old this year: Superman.

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But it wasn’t just a time where every superhero became a pop culture icon.  After the success of Action Comics #1 it seemed that every two bit publisher and pulp magazine auteur thought they could make it big by creating a superhero of their own.

The results were ridiculous and hilarious with heroes such as Dynamite Thor,

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Lady Satan,

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and The Fin.

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Sure, many of these heroes were silly, poorly written, or even blatant clones of Superman,  But there is not denying that the Golden Age of Comics was a time of exploration, experimentation, and glorious cheese that built the industry we know and love today.  A lot of people worked very hard to bring us these characters and their legacy is worth remembering and studying.

Also, full disclosure: We’re probably going to use the list provided in the Kickstarter description as a resource for more names.  It really is amazing that we’ve been doing this for over three years and still haven’t run out of heroes to talk about.

Why you should donate

Because the culture of the past informs the culture of the future, mostly by ripping off stories from the past and using our familiarity to open our wallets and giving artists our money.

At some point, I’m sure many of you have expressed your frustration at the endless sequels, reboots, and adaptations that make their way into our movie theaters and Netflix queues every year.

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I know because I am one of those people, but I also understand that one of the most prominent and important aspects of art is the ability to emulate and expand upon past works.

We may complain that Hollywood lacks originality when it comes to making movies, but it’s not a modern issue.  Over half of the movies that Hollywood has ever made are adaptations of some sort.  And let’s not forget that the most successful movie of all time,

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was adapted from a book.

In a way it makes sense, movies cost a lot of money so producers would want something that already has enough mass appeal to get people into the theaters.

What’s funny is that this isn’t even a modern thing, artists have been doing this for centuries.  The Renaissance artists were avid lovers of Classical art and blatantly ripped off the style and practices of the ancients.

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Michelangelo once tried to scam the Catholic Church by carving a statue and trying to sell it off as an antique.

Even the great William Shakespeare ripped off the work of his contemporaries.

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It’s true, Romeo and Juliet was inspired by the works of Italian author. Masuccio Salernitano and his two doomed lovers Mariotto and Giannoza.

Yeah, copyright laws didn’t really exist back then.

While we can moan and complain about how originality in art is dead the simple fact of the matter is that it works.  The unfortunate truth is that, at the end of the day, most artists are looking for the kind of success that allows them to get paid, and borrowing from what is familiar can be an incredibly lucrative option.

Don’t believe me?  Just look at Disney, the current owners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the empire they built with stories and characters from the past.

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Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Alice and Wonderland, Robin Hood…the list goes on.  All of are well known, all of them were borrowed and revamped by the Disney company, and I’m willing to bet that most of these stories made up a healthy portion of your childhood.

Even though comic books are a relatively new medium, it hasn’t stopped companies like Marvel from taking one of their earliest characters.

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and giving him a modern update.

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So if giant corporations and famous artists can do it, why can’t we?

There are thousands of fantastic superheroes out there who are free to use and have so much potential.  This Kickstarter gives us a head start by giving us a list of some of the best.

 

All-Art Variant Edition

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1973136011/heroes-of-the-public-domain-golden-age-guide-issue?ref=discovery

 

 

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Golden Age Showcase: Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross

WARNING: This article contains a frank description of the history and politics of the American hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan. This group has a long and ugly history of racist violence that unfortunately continues today.  Also, this article contains images and descriptions that many people will find offensive.  If this bothers you, it is perfectly okay to not read this article.

Superman is 80 years old today!

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Today I want to talk about one of Superman’s greatest, and most important, stories.  It’s not a comic book, it’s a radio show, and it is one of the most important pieces of superhero media ever produced.

It’s Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross, the story where Superman literally, not figuratively but LITERALLY, helped bring down one of the most vile and awful hate groups in American history.

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Background and History

The KKK was a white nationalist group that was initially founded just after the American Civil War in 1865 by a group of former Confederate soldiers.

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Their goal was to intimidate newly freed black slaves and prevent them from voting and trying to improve their lives.

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The Federal Government cracked down on them, declaring them a paramilitary terrorist organization and forbade them from assembling.

While this version of the group was crippled, they would make a comeback in the 1920’s with the premiere of D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: a fictionalized and highly romanticized account of the original klan.

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Unfortunately, the movie was an incredibly effective recruiting tool and the new version of the klan exploded in popularity.  They adjusted their message slightly, instead of targeting black people they became anti immigrant and for the prohibition of alcohol.

They even managed to become involved in politics.

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By the 1940’s the Klan returned to form, campaigning against equal rights for black people across the American South through violence.

One of the people who saw all these horrible things happen was a man named Stetson Kennedy,

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Kennedy was a writer and activist from Florida who saw what was going around him and decided that he didn’t like the KKK very much.  So he decided to do something about it by infiltrating the organization and finding out as much as he could.

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He discovered that the Klan was less intimidating and had some really stupid customs and rituals, not really surprising considering that it’s a bunch of guys dressed in sheets, and decided to make them look as ridiculous as he could.

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Sadly, there was a problem: how was Stetson going to share his information with the public?  What could he use to reach as many people as possible?

This is where The Adventures of Superman radio show came in.

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The show was produced and syndicated by the New York radio station WOR and starred a man named Bud Collyer as Superman and Joan Alexander as Lois Lane.

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In 1946, Mr. Kennedy approached the radio show and asked them if he could use Superman to share his findings about the Klan with the world.  DC comics was more than happy to oblige since the Second World War was over and Superman couldn’t fight German Nazis anymore.  Now he would fight the American version.

Here’s the first part of the radio special for your listening pleasure.  I skipped the first two minutes of the video because it’s an add for a discontinued breakfast cereal called Kellogg Pep, but it’s still pretty good and I highly recommend tracking down the rest of the series and giving it a listen.

So what was the impact?

The effects of the radio broadcast were immediate and massive.  Within two weeks recruitment into the Klan was down, and by 1948 people were openly mocking its members at their rallies.

Kennedy would go on to share the rest of what he learned about the Klan with the authorities, and even wrote several books which led to arrests and prosecutions for several chapters.

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So the Klan was substantially weakened, thanks to Superman.

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Sadly, while the Klan was substantially weakened it wasn’t killed off completely.  The organization maintains a violent anti immigrant and white nationalist stance and holds rallies to this day,

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and there’s a former low level politician named David Duke who is a member of Klan who has gained an unfortunately large amount of attention.

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It’s worth mentioning that the FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes and hate groups in America over the past couple of years, it’s not a very large rise and can be attributed to a small number of very vocal fringe groups.

A lot of people say that Superman is boring, too powerful, and too much of a goody two shoes to be interesting in the modern world.  But in a world that is filled with some awful people and vile ideologies,

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it’s good to know that we have characters like Superman who stand for what is true and just.

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Here’s to 80 more years.

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Jill Trent, Science Sleuth.

It’s funny that popular culture doesn’t associate women with the sciences, and it’s especially interesting when you consider that women have been responsible for huge advances in science from early mathematics and astronomy,

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to creating the genre of science fiction,

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to taking us to the moon,

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and basically inventing the whole idea of computer sciences and programming.

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Interestingly enough, the comic book industry had a female science hero to call their own in the 1940’s, and I thought it might be fun to talk about her today.

This is Jill Trent, Science Sleuth.

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Origin and Career

Jill Trent made her first appearance as a back up story in Fighting Yank #6 in 1943.

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She was created by artist Al Camy, a man who had done a lot of work for Standard Comics including work on one of their most popular heroes, the Black Terror.

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The setup for each story followed the standard Golden Age setup with not a lot of attention paid to the backstory and not a lot of effort being put into explaining how Jill makes a living.  She’s just a genius who invents stuff and solves crimes with them.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #9 - Version 2

As you can see from the page above, Jill Trent was a genius inventor and scientist.  Not only did she develop a way to see through walls, she presumably figured out a way to defy gravity as well.

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To help her with her adventures Jill had a friend named Daisy Smythe, who was her confidant and sidekick throughout her adventures.  This were their sleeping arrangements.

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Sure those are double cots placed side to side and it’s no different than what Batman and Robin were doing around this time,

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but let’s face it, your mind already went there didn’t it?

Not only was Jill a genius, but both ladies were actually very capable fighters and had no qualms about defending themselves by any means necessary.

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Also, they weren’t above the use of guns either, especially in one particular adventure when they were fighting off a bunch of goons over a copper bedframe.

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Granted, the crooks were trying to get the bed back because it had a large stack of money in it but still, it certainly puts a vicious spin on customer complaints.

Despite being a bit controversial Jill and company were actually reasonably successful.  They appeared in two issues of Fighting Yank and were then moved to a title called Wonder Comics where they appeared in twelve issues.

So what happened?

Her publisher suffered with the rest of the comic book industry in the 1950’s and she was cancelled in 1956.

With that being said, she may have been cancelled but she hasn’t been forgotten.  She’s actually in the public domain and free for anyone to use, although the sources I’ve checked have said to be careful since there still might be some legal issues.

However, legal grey area or not, that hasn’t stopped the independent comics scene from reviving the two heroines.  In 2015 a Kickstarter was launched to give Jill a modern update and it was incredibly successful.

Cover art by Rafael Romeo Magat.

Sadly, I have no idea where you might be able to buy this if you’re interested.  If anyone knows, please post a comment.

Jill Trent isn’t just progressive and potentially subversive, she’s pretty awesome as well.  She throws down like Wonder Woman, she’s dedicated to the pursuit of scientific knowledge like Einstein, and she has the ability to come up with more gadgets than Q from James Bond.

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She would make a genuinely fantastic modern heroine and more people deserve to know about her.

Golden Age Showcase: Olga Mesmer

When writing about the Golden Age of Comics, one of the fun little treats is discovering and sharing the origins of the tropes and ideas that permeate the genre to this day.

Batman was the the first superhero to have his parents killed,

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Doll Man was the first superhero who used his ability to change size as a superpower,

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Superman was the first hero to have a secret identity,

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the list goes on.

We’ve talked at great length about the impact that female characters have had on the comic book industry, and while Wonder Woman may be the most famous super heroine of the Golden Age,

there were several lady superheroes who came before her and a woman named Fantomah is considered to be the first female superhero in a comic book.

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However, today’s entry comes from a time before we knew what superheroes were.  Heck, it comes from a time when we didn’t even know what comic books were.

Today we are going to talk about a woman with strange and mysterious powers and who some consider to be America’s first super heroine: Olga Mesmer.

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Origin and Career

Before comic books were a thing there were comic strips, serialized stories that were published in newspapers across the country and could range from a strip with a few panels,

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to grand and complex illustrations that could take up an entire page.

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While the comic strip industry laid the groundwork for an entire generation of comic book artists, it was the pulp magazines that laid the foundation for the themes and tropes that would define the future of superheroes.

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The pulps were fiction magazines that were really popular for the first half of the 20th century.  They got their name from the cheap pulp paper they were printed on, one of them many ways they cut corners and lowered production costs.

They made up for the cheap quality with lurid and fantastic stories that helped influence the heroes that came after.  The Shadow was a pulp vigilante who prowled the streets at night and hunted criminals,

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and John Carter was a war veteran who found himself transported to Mars, where the planet’s gravity gives him superpowers.

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While it’s impossible to pinpoint it exactly, it’s easy to see how the creators of Batman and Superman must have been influenced by their popularity.

Olga Mesmer was an interesting case.  She was a comic strip that was initially published inside a pulp magazine.  Specifically, she appeared in a magazine hilariously titled Spicy Mystery in September of 1937.

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The book was published by a company called Culture Publications.

As for the art itself, nobody really knows who created the artwork or wrote the stories, since old timey publishers didn’t give a damn about creators rights or credit.  However, we do know that the artwork was contracted out to an art studio known as Majestic Studios, which was owned by a man named Adophe Barreaux.

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Barreaux was a well known and established comic book artist from Charleston, South Carolina who worked for several ad agencies and drew other comic strips for Spicy Mysteries such as the raunchy “Sally Sleuth”,

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and his own syndicated strip: “The Enchanted Stone of Time”

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As for Olga Mesmer herself, her origin story is actually quite interesting.

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She was the daughter of a royal family originally from the planet Venus and ruled a secret kingdom under the Earth.

It’s really interesting to see how people in the past were convinced that there was a whole different world underneath our feet.
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Olga’s mother was the queen named Margot who had been removed from power during a coup d’etat from a villain named Ombro.  She lost her memory in the escape and met a scientist named Dr. Hugo Mesmer.  The two fell in love, married, and had a child together.  But while she was pregnant, the Doctor began to suspect that his wife was different and his curiosity led him to exposing her to “soluble x-rays”, which left her blinded and bedridden.

Yeah, real father of the year material there.

Margot eventually recovered and discovered that she had the ability to see in the x ray spectrum and could see through walls.  This gift wound up killing her husband (people didn’t really understand x-rays back then) and Margot fled back underground.

Olga was born shortly after and inherited her mother’s ability to see through walls and super strength.

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It’s worth mentioning that there aren’t any pictures of Olga where she doesn’t have ripped clothing.  In fact, there aren’t that many pictures of her at all.

She wound up rescuing a man named Rodney Prescott from a group of assailants, which she dealt with by casually killing them.

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However, Rodney was seriously wounded and was only saved by a blood transfusion from Olga, which granted him a small measure of her power.

Yeah, people didn’t really understand blood transfusions either.

The two became a duo, traveling underground to rescue her mother and defeat the evil machinations of Ombro.

The story ended in 1939, with the two traveling back to Venus and being proposed by a prince of Mars named Boris.  Apparently the two planets were at war with each other and their union would hopefully bring peace to the two cultures.

I have no idea what happened next, although I would like to assume everything wound up fine.

So what happened?

Action Comics #1 came out in 1938 and pop culture and entertainment was changed forever.

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Comic books became the new literary fad for young boys and girls and while comic strips continued to exist through syndication, the age of the pulp novel as a dominant cultural force was over.

Adolph Barreaux went where the work was and wound up producing comic book art for a whole bunch of publishers.  He ended his career in 1953 after working as a children’s book illustrator for a company called Trojan Publications.

Olga Mesmer is less than a footnote in pop culture history.  She played a small part in a fairly small magazine that was part of a culture that preferred to read her stories and then throw them away.  Even her status as America’s first super heroine is up for some debate since she doesn’t display many of the tropes we associate with heroes today.

However, it is my honest opinion that Olga Mesmer was a hero and that she deserves far more recognition than she is currently getting.  Plus, it’s kind of cool to see a woman from the 1930’s kick so much ass.

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Golden Age Showcase: Waku Prince of the Bantu

Did I go and see the Black Panther movie this weekend?  Of course I went to go see the Black Panther movie this weekend!

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It’s a great movie, if you haven’t seen it yet than you need to stop what you’re doing and go watch this movie right now, you can read this article while you’re watching the dozens of previews attached to the movie.

But I’m not here to talk about how this movie is important, other people are doing a better job of that than I can.  While he was the first black character in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first black character to star in his own series.

That was Waku, Prince of the Bantu.

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Origin and Career

Waku made his first appearance in Atlas Comics’ Jungle Tales #1 in September of 1954.

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Yes, the title says “Jungle Action” we’ll get to that.

The character was created by artist Ogden Whitney,

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who worked as a fairly successful artist for several comic book companies and is most famous for co creating a hero named Herbie Popnecker.

It’s pretty clear that the comic is following in the footsteps of the old Tarzan stories, which makes sense because this book came out during a time when comics were moving away from super heroes and into alternate genres such as romance and westerns.

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It was also released at a time when race relations in America weren’t at their best.

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What’s interesting about comics is that black people have actually been part of the comic book landscape since the beginning.  It’s just that the way they’ve been portrayed hasn’t always been…

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well let’s be polite and say “sensitive”.

Waku was the first black character to star in a series of stories as the main lead.  Not only that, but the stories featured a predominately black cast.

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Certainly sounds familiar.

The character was the head of a tribe living in the depths of South Africa, and it is worth mentioning that there is some respect paid to actual history here.  The Bantu Migration was an actual historical event and is widely considered to have played an important role in developing African politics and identity.

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You can read more about it here.

The character’s first adventure has him inheriting the leadership of the tribe from his dying father, who tells him to forswear violence and govern with kindness and wisdom.  This proves problematic when he refuses to participate in ritual combat in order to take his place as king and loses his throne to a greedy and ambitious rival, who tries to sell his people’s services to “white hunters” at great personal profit.  Waku winds up killing this usurper and is about to kill himself in penance for what he’s done when his father appears as an apparition and frees him from his vow.

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The character would go on to appear in seven more issues and in each issue he would fight off some challenger to his throne or threat to his people.  This ranged from wrestling lions,

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to evil shamans capable of raising armies of the dead.

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In all of his appearanc

So what happened?

Jungle Tales lasted seven issues and was later changed to Jan of the Jungle.

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I guess it’s true what they say, sex sells.

Normally changing a title like that hints at some serious problems for the publisher but this time it wasn’t the case.  Atlas Comics re branded in the 60’s as the more familiar Marvel Comics.

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I’m sure they need no introduction.

Marvel rode the coattails of a little known writer who had been working for them since the 30’s and an artist with an incredible work ethic and a penchant for smoking cigars: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

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For the handful of people that don’t know their names, these two men basically invented the entire Marvel Universe that we know and love today.

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And in 1966 they  introduced the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52.

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After a couple of guest spots with the Fantastic Four and Captain America, Black Panther was given his own solo series.  The title of the book?  Jungle Action.

Now, I’m not saying that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used Waku as a direct inspiration for Black Panther, there isn’t any evidence of that and any allegations made would be unfounded and unprofessional.  But it’s worth considering that both characters were kings of African nations and tribes, both of them were capable warriors, and both Lee and Kirby were working for Atlas at the time Waku was being published.

I’d say that is one hell of a coincidence.

Is Waku a better character than Black Panther?  Not really.  Should Waku have been the face of black characters in comics? No.  But Waku was the first black character who was the star of his own stories and he was treated with respect and dignity.

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He was a good man, a capable ruler, and a good starting point for Marvel’s long and storied collection of black comic book characters.

Golden Age Showcase: The Eye

Last week we talked about a superhero known as “The Hand”.

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Everyone seemed to like it so here’s a write up about another body part that decided to become a superhero.

Yes, there was more than one of these, and this one was actually a bit more successful.

Say hello to The Eye.

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Origin and Career

The Eye made its first appearance in Keen Detective Funnies #12 in December of 1939.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The book was published by a company called Centaur Publications, one of the earliest comic book publishers in American history and the company that helped Bill Everett get his start in comics.

Bill Everett is the man who helped create Namor the Submariner and Daredevil.

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The character itself was created by a man named Frank Thomas.

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You may not know the man’s face, but I’m willing to bet that if you’re an animator or a Disney fan you know his his name and his work.

The man was one of the original animators on Walt Disney’s creative team when the company was just starting out and helped produce some of the most recognizable classics in modern animation history.  One example?  He animated this scene from Snow White.

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He also helped write a book with a colleague of his named Ollie Johnston called The Illusion of Life,

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a book that remains one of the most important milestones in 2D hand drawn animation to this day.  In fact, the two men were so influential that they were given a cameo appearance in The Incredibles, one of my favorite movies of all time.

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Basically Frank Thomas was a big deal, and The Eye was his contribution to the comic book world.

As for The Eye itself, his first adventure starts with the whitest Afghani family on the face of the planet.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The old man laments that he was once a prosperous businessman but had his livelihood stolen from him.  Suddenly, a disembodied eye appears in the room.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Meanwhile, in Kabul we’re introduced to the vain and pompous villain of the story, a man named Herat, who wants the old man dead.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

You know, I can’t help but wonder how differently this story would play out if it was published today.

Anyway, the villain tries to hire two hitmen to take out his rival.  Fortunately The Eye stops them with his ability to travel anywhere and shoot heat blasts out of his…well eye.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Boy, I know red eye flights are a pain…but this is ridiculous.  (wait don’t go…come back!)

The story resolves itself quickly and just in the way you would expect.  The villain is defeated, and justice is served.  The Eye has saved the day and the old man and his daughter are free to return to their business.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The Eye would go on to become something of a regular back up feature in the comic.  The stories weren’t connected, it was more of an anthology tale where The Eye would drop in on a group of criminals committing a crime and use one of his many ill defined powers to save the day.

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He was also given a sidekick, a young attorney named Jack Barrister who would assist The Eye whenever it needed a hand.

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The Eye ran for eight issues in Keen Detective and must have been popular because he was given his own series in November of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Detective Eye #1

So what happened?

The Eye may have been popular enough to get his own series, but his publisher wasn’t so lucky.  While Centaur may have been one of the first comic book publishers ever, poor distribution and business sense saw the company go under in 1940.

While the company folded, it did retain something of a legacy.  In 1987 one of his stories was reprinted in a book called Mr. Monster’s Hi Shock Schlock by Michael T. Gilbert.

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And in 1992 a company called Malibu Comics revived a bunch of Malibu characters into a team known as The Protectors,

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and the Eye was cast as a supporting character.

The Eye was a genuinely interesting idea and character for a superhero.  He had an interesting gimmick and he had a legendary creator behind him.  If it wasn’t for his publisher going out of business I’m willing to bet it would have gone on to become a staple of modern comic book superheroes as well.

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It’s a real shame to see an idea like that go to waste.

Golden Age Showcase: The Hand

This one is going to be a short one, but boy is it a weird one.

We’re all familiar with the idea of a giant hand that is used as a metaphor for controlling things.  The hit video game Super Smash Bros. has the “Master Hand” as a final boss,

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Marvel Comics has the super secret group of ninja demons known as “The Hand”,

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and many real life people love to claim that our lives and fortunes are at the whim of the “invisible hand of the market”.

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Yes, the hand is always there.  It’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s completely unknown to we small pathetic creatures.

But did you know that someone tried to take this idea of “The Hand” and turn it into a superhero in the 1940’s?

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Told you this was going to be weird.

Origin and Career

The Hand made his first appearance in Speed Comics #12 in 1941.

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The comic series was the first comic book title published by Harvey Comics, a relative newcomer to the comic book scene and a company that would become famous for licensed titles such as Caspar the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich.

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Fun fact: Speed Comics had been bought from a struggling publisher called Brookwood Publications and was Harvey’s entry point into comic book publishing.  Without this title, Harvey wouldn’t go on to become a major comic book publisher.

The character of The Hand was created by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, two men who would go on to create the Golden Age version of the superhero known as The Atom.

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Unfortunately, both men would wind up joining the armed services in 1942, and while both men survived they did not return to comics after that.

In his first and longest adventure, the Hand doesn’t fight Nazis or stop saboteurs.  Instead, he stops a couple of card sharks from ripping off a casino.

He is introduced with no fanfare, no explanation, and no backstory.  He just appears and warns two men that they better watch themselves.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

The two men ignore the warning and begin to clean out the house.  The Hand warns management, who takes it all in remarkable stride and agrees to let the disembodied hand help him.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

I like to imagine that the hand belongs to some sort of cosmic being that is actually a child and is trying to act all grown up by helping people.

Why not?  It’s more explanation than the comic gives.

The Hand is also a capable fighter…and capable of phasing through walls.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

However, when the criminals attempt to stop The Hand by confessing, The Hand realizes that they will not be arrested or charged for their crimes.  So he brands them on the forehead so the world will know what they’ve done.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

Apparently, The Hand has never heard of hats.  Which kind of makes sense.

On a side note: this comic issue deserves special mention for the story that came directly after this one.  Since most comics at the time were anthologies publishing short stories of only a couple of pages, we got treated to this one.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

A kid taking out a head of state with a rifle and people being okay with it?  Boy the times really were different back then.

Anyway, The Hand would have one more story in the following issue of Speed Comics where he played the patriotic game and helped the F.B.I defeat some foreign spies.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #13

It was shorter, but had more action.

So The Hand was an established hero with a gimmick and a creative team behind him…

So what happened?

…and that was it, those were the only two issues that featured The Hand as a superhero.

It’s really not that surprising really.  The character was a small backup feature in a series that didn’t last very long and was published by a company that shifted focus away from original characters and into licensed stories.

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Plus, let’s be honest, the two stories that The Hand appeared in weren’t that exciting or good.

The Hand may have been a small time character with boring stories, but that doesn’t mean the concept wasn’t interesting or that he didn’t have any value.  Sure, the creature was a hero and had a sense of agency and purpose, but it always had room for normal people to step in and take over when the time was right.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #13

It appeared that The Hand was some sort of benevolent spirit who helped where he could and allowed normal people to do the right thing, and if that isn’t heroic I don’t know what is.

The Hand had potential, it would be a shame to forget that.

Golden Age Showcase: Alias X

We’re back!

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After a nice relaxing Christmas break, and a nasty cold, we’re back to deliver more strange and interesting superheroes of the early days of comics.

2017 was a great year for this blog and we look forward to more of the same this year.  In fact, let’s get started with a good one.

Here’s a hero that never made it past 1943, but could actually be a perfect hero for the modern day: Alias X.

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He even has a cool name.

Origin and Career

Alias X made his first appearance in Captain Fearless #1 in August of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

We are definitely going to cover the guy on the cover later.

Alias himself was created by Ray Allen and Al Ulmer, two men who will remain mysterious since I can’t find their pictures.

The cover of the book says that it’s published by a company called Holyoke Publishing, but that isn’t true.  It was actually created by a company called Hellnit Publishing, which was owned by this man: Frank Z. Temerson.

Remember this, it becomes important later.

The character himself was created by Ray Allen and Al Ulmer, two people who are so obscure that I can’t find any photos of them anywhere.

The hero’s story starts in the middle.  A mysterious costumed hero who goes by the name of “X” has been terrorizing the criminal underworld and the police commissioner and a newspaper editor are talking about him.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The hero makes an unexpected appearance and decides to tell the two men his backstory.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

He refuses to give his name, but mentions that he was a small time taxi operator who was charged with the murder of a cop.

The man decides to do the right thing…by escaping prison and bringing those responsible to justice.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

A man on trial for a crime he didn’t commit?  Being forced to answer questions without a lawyer?  Making his escape in order to clear his name?  Yep, sounds like a comic book character to me!

The man doesn’t have any superpowers, but he does use his time in hiding to become a master of disguise.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The comic says his home was only ten miles away from the prison.  He’s either the smartest man in the world or these cops are idiots.

The new hero manages to foil a robbery using his powers of disguise, and tells the commissioner and newspaper editor that if he manages to complete his mission, someday he will reveal who he really is.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The rest of Alias’ adventures would follow a similar pattern where he would find and catch a group of criminals using his powers of disguise.  Sadly, he didn’t have a whole lot of time or enough attention to give him an established super villain, although he did appear in a comic called Captain Aero where he fought a Nazi spy ring.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Aero Comics v1 10 (4)

Alias X would only have a handful of appearances and ceased to exist after 1942, a much shorter lifespan than his contemporaries.  Why?  Well…

So what happened?

So you remember the start of the article, where I said the character was originally published under Helnit Publishing under the control of Frank Z. Temerson?

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Well, get ready for legal shenanigans because here’s where it gets weird.

Holyoke Publishing wasn’t a book publisher, it was a newspaper business.

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The company decided to enter the comic book business by taking books created by Helnit Publishing, along with the bankrupt Fox Publications, and repackage them under the Holyoke name.

This was how Holyoke became the publisher of the Blue Beetle, a Golden Age hero with a much longer history than Alias X.

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If this sounds sketchy than you’ve got good instincts.  Documentation over who owned what was pretty poor back then and the owner of Fox Publications would wind up suing Holyoke and winning.

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Temerson, being the original owner of Alias X, would also reclaim what he lost and Holyoke would cease publishing comics in 1944.

Alias X is an interesting case as far as Golden Age superheroes go.  Since he was published by a company that had a small audience and a troubled history he didn’t get a whole lot of attention and respect.  Also, unlike most of the heroes we talk about on this blog he fell off the map at the height of popularity for super heroes in American culture.

Could he have survived the post war years?  Would he have gone on to become one of the great heroes of the modern age?

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

Probably not, but I think it would have been interesting to try.

 

Golden Age Showcase: The biggest space opera of early science fiction

I feel compelled to talk about a well known, nostalgic, space opera about a small group of plucky rebels against an all powerful empire that threatens the freedom and safety of the entire galaxy.  It would also help if this space opera has a rabidly loyal fan base and has gone on to influence popular culture for decades

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What, you were expecting something else?

Origin

Before Superman made comic books profitable in 1938 the best way to get sequential stories published was through a newspaper comic strip.  The strips were published and distributed through something called syndication.  This was where a syndication company would hire a creator to create a strip and then distribute it to various newspapers around the country.

One of the biggest names in the industry at the time was King Features Syndication.

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How big is it?  Well, it’s still around today and if you’ve ever picked up the comics section of a newspaper before, I guarantee that you’ve read one of their strips.

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Anyway, in 1934 King Features had a problem.  A rival company had just rolled out a science fiction adventure comic called Buck Rogers to huge commercial success.

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King didn’t want to miss out on this explosion of sci fi popularity, so they turned to a staff artist in their employ named Alex Raymond.

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He was the man who created Flash Gordon and in May of 1934, the first comic strip debuted.

The strip begins with the end of the world.  A giant planet named Mongo is on a collision course with Earth and a half mad scientist named Dr. Zarkov kidnaps a Yale polo player named Flash Gordon and his true love Dale Arden to stop the collision and save Earth.

They manage to stop the collision and save Earth, only to come into contact with Mongo’s evil ruler: the awesomely named Ming the Merciless.

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Impact and legacy

The comic was a huge hit and would go on to inspire dozens of adventures, re imaginings, and become a massive multi media franchise with the release of several movie serials between 1936 and 1940.

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The character remained popular through the 1940’s and 50’s, transcending the backlash that so many comic book characters faced in post war America.  He even got a big budget re imagining several decades later which was a pretty blatant attempt at cashing in on its nostalgic value in 1980 where the main hero was re imagined for modern audiences.

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Because the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Side note: the comic has a website that publishes strips every week.  You can find it here and it’s really worth checking out.

Everything about the character, from the comic to the movies, is deliciously cheesy and over the top.  It’s got strange aliens, grand romance, and the forces of good triumphing over impossible odds.  It was also a massive influence for a lot of film makers and creative types at the time, including a little known film student named George Lucas.

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Lucas would go on to use the Flash Gordon space opera, along with ideas from film legend Akria Kurosawa and a host of others, to create a little film called Star Wars.

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It’s a really obscure movie, you’ve probably never heard of it.

The more you look at it, the more similarities you can find.  Like Flash Gordon, Star Wars has a band of plucky rebels,

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resisting an evil ruler,

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and tells a deeply personal story set against the backdrop of a massive and violent sci fi universe.

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Oh, and both franchises are famous for the sheer amount of merchandise and spin offs they managed to produce.

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Flash Gordon is one of the greatest and most influential science fiction stories of all time.  It’s epic scope and scale, along with it’s amazing story telling and imagination, have ensured its place in the annals of pop culture history and as the direct ancestor of one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.

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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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