The Secret Lives of Villains #256

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Golden Age Showcase: The Face

You know who everyone loves?  Batman.

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You know what one of his greatest lines is?

“Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot”.

I love that line because it sums up Batman perfectly.  So much of his character is about instilling fear and dread into his opponents and it’s an integral part of the costume, especially the mask.

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This is part of what made Batman so popular and as we all know, popularity breeds imitators.

Today we’re going to talk about one of Batman’s earliest, and least successful, imitators simply known as…The Face.

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Hold on to your seats ladies and gentlemen.

Origin and Career

The Face was one of the hallmark creations of a little known comic book publisher called Columbia Comics.

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The company was formed in 1940 through a partnership between a newspaper company called the McNaught Newspaper Syndicate and a man named Vin Sullivan.

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Interesting fact: Vin Sullivan was the man who bought the rights of a little known character named Superman from Siegel and Shuster for a company called National Allied Publications, although you know them better as DC comics.

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Anyway, Columbia’s biggest seller was an anthology comic called Big Shot Comics and the Face was in the very first issue published in May of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Big Shot Comics #1 - Version 1

He was created by an artist named Mart Bailey.

As for backstory, the Face was the superhero identity of humble radio station announcer Troy Trent who decided to fight crime just because he could.

Comic Book Cover For Big Shot Comics #1 - Version 1

In order to do this he decided to don a horrifying green mask with red hair, long fangs, and yellow eyes.  This disguise proved to be incredibly helpful since it struck enough fear into his enemies’ hearts that he could either get the jump on them or wrangle a confession from them quickly.

Comic Book Cover For Big Shot Comics #1 - Version 1

In his first adventure the Face helped save a group of sick orphans who were being poisoned by food supplied by a greedy businessman who was pocketing government aid money and selling sub par supplies back to the people that needed them.

Comic Book Cover For Big Shot Comics #1 - Version 1

No, I am not joking, this comic was absolutely serious.  I know that it may seem a bit much for our more developed brains to accept a story where the bad guy is just that evil and the good guy’s job is to save a bunch of orphans, but I thought it was sincere enough and just well written enough to make for a pretty good story.

Come to think of it, “pretty good” describes most of the Face’s stories.  The art work was pretty good, for Golden Age comic book standards, and while he never graduated past fighting crooks and gangsters his stories were either interesting enough or had some twist to them that made the writing a step above most of the crap that was being published at the time.

The character had a nice gimmick, with a good artist, and some good storytelling behind him.  He would wind up becoming one of Columbia Comic’s greatest heroes and I could easily see him making the leap into modern times along with more well known heroes like Batman and Superman.

So what happened?

The same thing that happened to Columbia Comics, he disappeared after they went out of business in 1949 due to declining sales.

Despite the fact that the Face was successful the sad fact of the matter was that superheroes just weren’t selling in the late 1940’s and by the early 1950’s the entire comic book industry would be on the ropes.

Sadly, the Face’s career was over.  However, a new hero who was heavily based off of him called “Mr. Face” did appear in Dynamite Comics’ Project Superpowers comic book series.

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His powers got a much needed update after being thrown into a mystic object known as the Urn of Pandora.  When he emerged he realized that people would see their worst fears come to life if they looked at his face and mask.

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Boy, this is a short section.  I wonder if there is anything I can do to add to this article?

How could he be remade?

What’s this?  A new section for long time readers in an attempt to remain fresh and interesting?  Well alright then.

In this section of the article I’m going to take a look at the character of the week and see if he/she/it could be remade and how it could be done.  Think of it like a pitch for a superhero revival only I’m not being paid for it.  Also, if anyone reading this should take a look at the article and be moved to turn it into a story of their own please feel free, I wouldn’t have put this on the internet if I didn’t want people to copy it.

Alright, so here’s what works.  The Face has a cool gimmick and costume.  Sure Batman has the whole “strike fear into criminals using the costume” deal but he also has decades of training and a bottomless bank account to help.  Our modern take on the Face would double down on the “using the mask to cause fear” idea and not rely on martial arts as much.

Maybe he could use the mask in conjunction with a fear inducing chemical like the Scarecrow,

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or maybe it could be some sort of mystic curse or ancient deity like a much more serious version of the Mask?

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What doesn’t work that much is the backstory and secret identity.  Having a superhero fight crime and have a life outside of crime may have been okay in the 1940’s but that just won’t fly here.  We need to give him a semi plausible backstory and motivation for fighting crime.

So, without further ado, here’s a short paragraph describing my idea for a revamped Face.

Tony Trent is a government scientist working on a top secret drug for the United States government.  He is a brilliant chemist working in conjunction with a psychologist named Tanya Ferguson (his love interest and helper) and they have been partnered together  in order to develop a drug for what they think is for crowd control purposes but is actually a powerful hallucinogenic drug for interrogation and discrediting enemies of America.  Tanya discovers the project’s true purpose and threatens to go to the press with the news.  Fearing reprisal the government shuts down the project and attempts to liquidate both Tony and Tanya.

The assassination attempt fails and both of them manage to flee.   The rest of the comic is the two of them trying to find the people responsible for trying to kill them and shutting the project down.  Tony is able to use the prototype fear gas, along with a plastic mask that he randomly picks up, as a weapon against anyone who would try to take them out.

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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