Saturday, July 23, 2016

THE PULL LIST: Comic books pre-ordered for September 2016

It's that time of the month again -- time to submit my pull list to the local comics shop!

Last month, for reference, I pre-ordered 40 comics books, retailing at $143.60. However, after the 20 percent discount I get for committing to my books in advance (which helps the shop owner know how much of what to order, so he does not get stuck with too much leftover product), and after adding in Maine's dreaded 5.5 percent sales tax (it's a new thing, there was no tax on periodicals up until a couple of years ago), the total hurt came to $121.20.

That was just a tick over my spouse-set limit of $30 per week, or $120 for the month. How close did I get to budget this time out? Let's see!

First, for books to come in August, I ordered 20 from DC Comics, and just six from Marvel. DC has always been my preferred realm, all things being equal, but over the past couple of years I had reached a certain level of parity, ordering about equally from both companies each month. However, with DC's Rebirth era again holding the line at $2.99, and Marvel in the middle of a giant company-wide crossover event, the scales have again tipped in DC's direction. Also on the order form last month were five books from Image Comics, three from Archie Comics, two from IDW, and one, each, from Aftershock, Joe Books, Dark Horse Comics, and Titan Comics.

Helping to clear up the budget this month, DC's LEGENDS OF TOMORROW came to an end at No. 6; THE AUTUMLANDS from Image skips a month, and is probably done given recent sales reports; and AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHE goes back into hibernation, while BETTY AND VERONICA skips (at least) one month.

Then come the "must have" new solicitations. The biggie of the month for me is DOOM PATROL, from DC, which promises to be either an epic win or a total train wreck. Time will tell. Also, it's an on-month for SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP, which actually goes monthly starting in October.

From Marvel, DOCTOR STRANGE ANNUAL is a no-brainer for me, even if Jason Aaron's involvement may be minimal.

Also warranting an instant, "Yes, please," is the return of Terry and Rachel Dodson's RED ONE at Image Comics, and (for the first few issues, at least), JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS, from Archie.

Finally, I add in GREEN LANTERNS. I had picked up the Rebirth one-shot off the stands as an impulse buy, because the week it came out happened to be one with not a lot arriving from my pull list. Rather than leave the shop with just four books, I grabbed a couple more off the "New Arrivals" shelf. GLs proved good enough that I've been picking it up "raw" ever since, and this month take the leap,  committing it it for the foreseeable future via the advance order.

That put me over budget by almost $15 so I had to take a look at what I was willing to cut.

Failing to make the grade are DC's NEW SUPER-MAN (unlikeable lead character and a derivative plot line), and Marvel's MOON KNIGHT (just not giving me enough story per issue for $4). I also reluctantly cut PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN from Joe Books, even though I haven't seen the first issue yet. But, it had to be done.

I also temporarily (maybe) cut BATMAN at No. 7, because it's a crossover with NIGHTWING and DETECTIVE COMICS, two titles I've not been buying. With no room in the budget to add two titles (or, at least, not finding two others I want to cut badly enough in order to make room), it's easier to just drop the main Bats book until it gets back to doing its own thang.

Those cuts still left my almost $5 over budget, so I went ahead and cut BLACK HAMMER (Jeff Lemire is a good writer, but tends not to provide enough plot to chew on per issue, so, at $4, it's not too hard a decision), and TORCHWOOD (because it was a leap of faith anyway, I have no idea how well, if at all, John Barrowman & Sis can write). If either turns out to be decent, I can always buy them off the stand as opportunity allows, until eventually re-adding them to the pull list.

The cut books join titles dropped last month, including HARLEY'S LITTLE BLACK BOOK, from DC (No. 4 will be my last issue), SQUADRON SUPREME from Marvel (leaving after No. 9), and MICRONAUTS from IDW (off my order after No. 4).

Finally, in a last-second decision, because I had not noticed it previously, I elect to exceed budget by a few bucks in order to add SKYBOURNE, No. 1. Because Frank Cho.

The final order came to 41 comics for $144.59 retail, or $122.03 after discount and sales tax. The finally tally: DC Comics (20 books), Marvel Comics (six), Image Comics (five), Archie Comics (three), IDW (three), and one, each, from Aftershock and Boom.

The actual issues ordered:

DC Comics (20 books)
• ALL-STAR BATMAN, No. 2 ($4.99)
• AQUAMAN, No. 6-7 ($2.99, ea.)
• ASTRO CITY, No. 39 ($3.99)
• BATGIRL, No. 3 ($2.99)
• BATMAN, No. 6 ($2.99)
• BLUE BEETLE, No. 1 ($2.99)
• DR. FATE, No. 16 ($2.99)
• DOOM PATROL, No. 1 ($3.99)
• THE FLASH, No. 6-7 ($2.99, ea.)
• FUTURE QUEST, No. 5 ($3.99)
• GREEN LANTERNS, No. 6-7 ($2.99, ea.)
• HARLEY QUINN, No. 3-4 ($2.99, ea.)
• SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP, No. 18 ($2.99)
• SUPERGIRL, No. 2 ($2.99)
• SUPERWOMAN, No. 2 ($2.99)
• WONDER WOMAN, No. 6-7 ($2.99, ea.)

Marvel Comics (6)
• DOCTOR STRANGE, No. 12 ($3.99)
• THE MIGHTY THOR, No. 11 ($3.99)
• Ms MARVEL, No, 11 ($3.99)
• PATSY WALKER, a.k.a. HELLCAT, No. 10 ($3.99)
• SILVER SURFER, No. 8 ($3.99)

Image Comics (5)
• JUPITER'S LEGACY, Vol.2, No. 4 ($3.99)
• KILL OR BE KILLED, No. 2 ($3.99)
• MANIFEST DESTINY, No. 23 ($2.99)
• PAPER GIRLS, No. 9 ($2.99)
• RED ONE, No. 3 ($2.99)

Archie Comics (3)
• ARCHIE, No. 12 ($3.99)

IDW Publishing (3)
• DONALD DUCK, No. 17 ($3.99)
• UNCLE SCROOGE, No. 18 ($3.99)

Aftershock Comics (1)
• CAPTAIN KID, No. 3 ($3.99)

Boom! Studios (1)
• SKYBOURNE, No. 1 ($3.99)

As I took at the list, it does occur to me that I'm buying more comics with female leads than I ever have before in 45+ years of collecting. But those are simply, in my opinion, the best books being published right now.

Meanwhile, here's a list of some things I probably would have bought, given unlimited funds, but which, because I'm poor and spending more than I should on comics already, never even made the first draft of my order form:

• TARZAN ON THE PLANET OF THE APES, No. 1 ($3.99, Dark Horse)
• RISE OF THE BLACK FLAME, No. 1 (of 5) ($3.99, Dark Horse)
• GROO: FRAY OF THE GODS, No. 3 ($3.99, Dark Horse)
• TRINITY, No. 1 ($2.99, DC)
• ALTERS, No. 1 ($3.99, Aftershock)
• PINK PANTHER: TRICK OR PINK, No. 1 ($3.99, American Mythology)
• ART OF ATARI, ($39.99, Dynamite)
• LITTLE TAILS, Vol. 1: IN THE FOREST ($14.99, Magnetic Press)
• NIGHT'S DOMINION, NO. 1 ($3.99, Oni)
• VIKINGS: UPRISING, No. 1 ($3.99, Titan)
• ALTER EGO, No. 143 ($8.95, Twomorrows)
• BACK ISSUE, No. 88 ($8.95, Twomorrows)
• THE QUALITY COMPANION ($31.95, Twomorrows)
• BRITANNIA, No. 1 ($3.99, Valiant)

Well, that's it. Come September, what comic books will you be buying?

Friday, July 15, 2016

BRIEF REVIEWS: For comics on sale July 13, 2016

It was a small week at my local comics shop, Zimmie's, in Lewiston, Maine, with just four books arriving from my regular pull list. For the record, those were CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, NEW SUPER-MAN, WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, and WONDER WOMAN. Next week is going to be huge, with enough new product coming in that I won't be able to buy it all and still limbo under the $30-per-week limit set by Sainted-Wife Sheila. 

So, I should have banked some coin for next week, but I just could not bring myself to leave the ol' LCS with just four comic books. So, I grabbed a few things off the stands that I had not pre-ordered. And that's how HAL JORDAN AND THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS: REBIRTH, No. 1; MICKEY MOUSE SHORTS: SEASON ONE, No. 1; and NIGHTWING: REBIRTH, No. 1, ended up being part of this review. 

Oh, I also picked up a copy of ASTRO CITY, No. 31, that I somehow seemed to have missed when it first came out, but that's not covered here.

Full retail on the books I am reviewing came to $23.93 (an average cover price $3.42), but after my 20 percent pre-order discount and 5.5 percent sales tax, the actual damage came to a $20.24. I guess I have some wiggle room to argue for spending more than $30 next week, after all.

Anyway, here's what I thought:

(Archie Comics, 44 pages, $3.99)

[29 pages — 168 panels — 3,111 words — read time: 22:00]

"Witch Pitch"
[6 pages — 38 panels — 495 words — read time: 2:45]

I have the first five issues of Sabrina but have not gotten around to reading them. I thought I'd wait and devour the first arc in one session, but then they ended up being so few and far between, I now can't seem to find the earlier issues. So, this was a good test of whether this series can be picked up anywhere along the line and followed without too much trouble. Well, turns out, not such a good test after all, as this is pretty much a stand-along tale, featuring the origin of Salam the cat and the cobras, Nag and Nagaina. Both stories are pretty much straight-ahead plots, with no real surprises, but each is genuinely chilling in its own way, and well drawn by Robert Hack. That was particularly true in the first half, I thought, although some of that may have been due to a slightly more faniciful color palette used by him for the mideast scenes. Sabrina herself only makes a cameo on the last page, but, like The Spirit in some of his better tales, only needs to be present as a reason for the true story to take place around her. Combined with the text page by writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and a classic Sabrina story from the Archie vaults — which features a quick-to-swoon Sabrina that nicely compliments the hormonal lovelorn version briefly seen in the main story — this book is easily the best entertainment value of the week, taking nearly 30 minutes of time to digest and giving a good trade on the dollar in quality, to boot. My one and only critique: I wish they had told as were the classic Sabrina story was originally published. GRADE: A


(DC Comics, 44 pages, $2.99)

[20 pages — 68 panels — 1,061 words — read time: 8:30]

The Rebirth issues are supposed to be jumping-on points, and in that regard, this issue — by writer Robert Venditti and artist Ethan Van Sciver — fails, utterly. I mean, why is Sinestro old? Did he get old at some point in his own title, which I did not follow, or does this story, as seemingly intimated by his dialogue, take place in the far future? I have no idea. We get some explanation for the state Hal Jordan is in at the start of the tale, but then I get lost. He mentions not knowing were anyone is — not knowing if they even still exist — but then we see them appear in panels that seem to imply they emerge from the strike of his construct-hammer against a chuck of his willpower given physical form. I interpret that to mean Hal somehow pulled off a Superboy-Prime punching-the-universe deal. This supposition seems reinforced by a subsequent panel that appears to be corps members warping back into reality. But, still, I'm not sure if that's actually what's happening, or if we're just getting random panels of supporting cast members elsewhere at the time and, yet, somehow sensing Hal's work at forging a new ring for himself. Now, we do get some history of Hal and the Corps, albeit in exposition form as Hal recounts things he already knows. I guess that's him trying to hold onto his sense of self and not get lost in the willpower energy. But this history has something new, and I'm not sure if it's intentional, or an editorial error. Hal only mentions having one brother — Jim. So, what happened to his other brother, Jack? [UPDATE: Venditti advised my on Twitter that "Jack died a while back." I guess I missed the funeral.] But really, my biggest issue with this story is that there is no story. It's really just a 20-page prologue that could have accomplished the same amount of business in four or five pages at most. Worse, the main business of this prologue is to reset the stage, so it's no story at all. You know, a GL Corps books doesn't need to concern itself with any past continuity, not in my book. What I want is something much, much simpler. Think: "Hill Street Blues in Space." That's it. Take that concept and just tell me a  good yarn each outing. Anyway, this book was an impulse buy. There was nothing here that would entice be to jump on board for the ongoing series. GRADE: C-


(IDW Publishing, 36 pages, $3.99)

"Dog Show"
[6 pages — 43 panels — 294 words — read time: 1:55]

"Tokyo Go"
[6 pages — 47 panels — 287 words — read time: 1:50]

[6 pages — 43 panels — 291 words — read time: 1:40]

"Futebol Classico"
[6 pages — 46 panels — 275 words — read time: 1:25]

"Third Wheel"
[6 pages — 46 panels — 320 words — read time: 1:45]

There's a difference between cartoons and comics, a difference that's on prominent display in this book. This limited series adapts the new Micky Mouse animated cartoons that began in 2013. Some of the drawings have a Ren and Stimpy vibe to them, but that's okay. I'm not married to the classic Mickey style sheet. The real problem is that the five stories here are not merely comic book interpretations of the new shorts, they appear to be actual frames lifted directly from the digital animation "cels" and arranged on the comic book page. But what was probably laugh-out-loud funny on the screen falls flat on paper. The second story, "Tokyo Go," in which Mickey tries desperately to change lines on a crowded commuter train in order to make work on time, is particularly dependent on movement for its jokes, and just doesn't translate at all, at least not the way it's done here. That's because of the layouts. The panels are arranged in a more or less static grid of tiers with backgrounds that feel flat and somehow not in the same plane as the characters. This arrangement robs the stories of their punch by skipping all of the tricks of camera angle. story pacing, panel compensation, and line weight that make for good comics. There's a reason Carl Barks and other masters of the Disney oeuvre excelled. It's because they recognized that comics and cartoons, although they easily exchange the same characters, are completely distinct art forms. What works in one does not work in the other. My other issues is that the total read time of these five stories is just a little over eight minutes. That makes a $4 comic book pretty steep in terms of entertainment value. GRADE: D+


(DC Comics, 44 pages, $2.99)

"Made in China: Part One"
[20 pages — 100 panels — 1,998 words — read time: 14:00]

An okay book. Nothing spectacular. In truth, it feels a lot like any standard DC super-hero launch of the mid-1980s. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. Certainly, at 14 minutes, we get more story for the dollar that just about everything else in the DC line these days, and the characterizations and storytelling of penciller Viktor Bogdanovic and inker Richard Friend are quite charming, at least in the first half. The story breaks down on the south side of the four-page Snickers ad, however. The way Kenan is shepherded into testing by Dr. Omen does not strike me as believable at all. Sure, Kenan's dad was busy elsewhere, but even in China, even with the Ministry of Self-Reliance, could a minor really just sign off on making himself a lab rat, subject to potentially deadly testing? Meanwhile, and this is my biggest complaint, the comparison to a standard '80s book is so palpable in part because nothing about this story strikes me as remotely Chinese. This story could have been set in Metropolis, or Gotham, or Central City, as easily as Shanghai. Sure, I get that Shanghai is among the most westernized parts of China, but I would have expected writer Gene Luen Yang to have focused more on making the setting a significant character in its own right, detailing the differences between American and Chinese cultures. That might have given the standard super-hero origin story seen here a compelling twist. But, as it is, even in the parts that are well done, there's really nothing here we haven't seen before from 1,001 other comics. Still, I'm not so sure how much Yang actually knows about China. There were stories before this issue dropped about how the main character's name had to be changed because he got something about it wrong, and based on what little I know about the Chinese education system — based on interviewing exchange students over the years, and a quick Google search just now — I find it very unlikely Kenan and Lixin would be attending the same high school, or senior secondary school, as it's know in China. That level, for students 16-18, would have probably directed Lixin to an academic school and Kenan to vocational education long before this story opens. And, as I understand it, most secondary schools in China are actually boarding schools. I don't know how different Shanghai schools are, but I expect they'd be a lot closer to the Chinese model than the typically American depiction we get here. Oh, one other thing — I found the white lettering on red caption boxes kind of hard to read. GRADE: C++


(DC Comics, 44 pages, $2.99)

"Nightwing Rebirth"
[20 pages — 80 panels — 2,105 words — read time: 15:05]

This is a book that doesn't seem to get the point of "Rebirth." Less the launching pad for a new series of adventures, maybe even a whole new directions, this whole issue acts more as a epilogue to the previous GRAYON series. As someone who dropped that title after its second issue, most of what we get here, then, is meaningless to me. I don't know if Tim Seeley was writing the GRAYSON series over its last few issues, but whoever was should have been given instructions to wipe the slate clean and do the goodbyes there, for the benefit of those who were reading that book. Instead that's what we get here as the Grayson cast is ushered off, stage right, in a series of vignettes, while other lose threads are tied up. But me, I have no idea who Tiger Tony and Keshi are, or Lincoln March, for that matter, making it hard to work up too mach passion for his passing. And, once again, all this bidding adieu to Agent 37 means nothing to me as I had nothing at all invested in that identity. What I would liked to have known, was exactly HOW Dick got his secret identity hack. I mean, how does that happen? How did the whole world just forget?! Finally, not having been in on the Court of Owls' scheme to put a bomb in Damian's head, taking it out provides no closure for me. Actually, I've always hated Damian. I'd kind have preferred if they had left the thing in . . . and blown it! Oh, well, at least the artwork of Yanick Paquette is real nice to look at. GRADE: C-


(IDW Publishing, 44 pages, $3.99)

Mickey Mouse in "Night of the Living Text!"
[16 pages — 78 panels — 1,482 words — read time: 8:35]

Donald Duck in "Swallowed Whole"
[10 pages — 70 panels — 747 words — read time: 4:00]

Mickey Mouse in "Night of the Living Text! Part Two"
[14 pages — 58 panels — 1,276 words — read time: 6:05]

The Micky story, reprinted from a 2011 Italian comic book, is pretty fun. In it, Mickey & Co. are attacked by comic book caption boxes come to life and have to work their way through a host of comic book storytelling conventions before chancing on a way to end the narrative tyranny. Of course, caption boxes like the ones our heros face have long been out of vogue in U.S. comics, so any young reader here — being, I presume, the target audience — might be forgiven for not automatically getting some jokes that are clearly inside baseball. Still the art by Andrea "Casty" Castelian is fun, even if I think they would "read" better on newsprint than the hi-gloss paper this book is printed on. I do wonder about the translations by Joe Torcivia, however. In many places the English dialogue is not as long as the space provided in the balloons for the original Italian-language script. I tend to think it might be better to just go ahead and rewrite a little bit here and there in order to fill the available space, rather than leave jarring blank areas due to a literal translation. Sadly, while I'm usually more of a Duck man than a Mouse aficionado, I didn't think much of the Donald story, originally published in Denmark last year. It's by William Van Horn, but clearly not his strongest work. He is 77 now, after all, so maybe that's not too surprising. I'm just glad I looked to see who the artist was before writing this brief review, because my original instinct was to label both story and art "amateurish." Clearly, that's not the case. But, as with all great comics artists, the final years are not always the best. GRADE: C


(DC Comics, 44 pages, $2.99)

"Year One, Part One"
[20 pages — 68 panels — 1,063 words — read time: 8:15]

This is a prime example of decompressed storytelling in modern comics. In the parallel tracks Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor take during the year or so before their first meeting, we get a script that is very well written, and drawings that are just exquisite, but almost no plot at all. It's just a bunch of day-in-the-life scenes leading up to the legendary plane crash that brought man to Paradise Island. We get a page of Steve and his buddy hanging at the firing range, and an entire page that's just Princess Diana riding a horse, with lots of insights in the character of what will be our main protagonists, but, in the broader scope, nothing really happens.There is a bit with Diana discovering some big-ass weird tree, where she's bitten by a snake and takes ill for an indeterminate period of time, and maybe writer Greg Rucka will reveal something about this that will end up being significant later on, but for now it's just something that happens, taking up three pages for no apparent reason. Thankfully, the artwork of Nicola Scott is gorgeous to look at, especially as nicely complimented by the colors of Romulo Fajardo Jr., which add mood, and depth, and shading, without announcing the work with fancy tricks that district from the story . . . such as it is. GRADE: B


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

THE NEWSSTAND: Comics on sale 75 years ago this week

Oh, lordy, 75 years ago! If you're my age, your grandpa (or maybe even your grandma) might have purchased one or more of the comics books listed below fresh off the newsstand. Any younger than me, though, and you'll probably have to hit up a great-, or even great-great, to see if they've still got these treasures tucked away anywhere.

Using release dates available on Mike's Amazing World of Comics, it appears 21 comics books were put on sale during the second week of July, 1941, between Sunday the 13th and Saturday the 19th. Today, comics are only released at local comics shops on Wednesdays, but back then, with many, many magazine distributors in the game, just about any day of the week promised new product.

For young comics fans, the big whoops of the week may have been the debut of Super-American, seen on the cover of FIGHT COMICS punching out yellow-skinned invaders, and American Crusader, socking it to Nazis. Keep in mind, both of these books hit stands five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor! The yellow menace also takes it on the chin with the debut of RANGERS OF FREEDOM, which will become RANGERS COMICS with its eighth issue. Meanwhile, over on the covers of MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS and VICTORY COMICS, the Human Torch and the less well-known Conqueror have also beat America into the war in Europe, as they each square off against German soldiers — in the Torch's case, by the boatload.

Yes, comic book creators always here a prescient bunch.

On-sale Monday, July 14
(Timely Comics [Marvel Comics], 68 pages, 10¢)

While Superman and Captain Marvel shied away from war stories, the Marvel heroes were in it early, and often. In fact, of 23 Marvel Mystery issues so far, this is the 10th to feature either the Human Torch or Sub-Mariner either needling Nazis or taking it to Tojo.

This issue features The Human Torch by Carl Burgos (15 pgs), Sub-Mariner by Bill Everett (12 pgs), and Ka-Zar by Ben Thomson (6 pgs). Also on hand are the original mustachioed Angel by Al Avison (9 pgs) and the original green-skinned Vision, by Simon & Kirby (7 pgs). The Vision also merits a two-page text feature written by a young office boy then kicking around the Timely bullpen — some kid named Stan Lee.

Lesser lights on the roster are The Patriot by Ray Gill and Art Gates (5 pgs) and Terry Vance, schoolboy sleuth, by Ray Gill and Bob Oksner (7 pgs). This is just the fifth appearance of The Patriot, whose feature would continue through No. 44 (on-sale April 26, 1943). He'd re-appear in 1976 as leader of the retroactively-created WWII super-team, The Liberty Legion. In another retcon, circa 1977, Marvel scribe Roy Thomas would establish it was The Patriot who acted as stand-in for Captain America after Steve Rogers disappeared, thus explaining the Cap comics published in the 1950s.

Terry Vance, a young genius detective and inventor, who frequently frustrated Nazi spies with the aid of a talking pet monkey, appeared in Marvel Mystery from No. 10 (on-sale June 15, 1940) to No. 57 (May 18, 1944), getting the cut when the title truncated from 60 to 52 pages. He's one of the few Timely characters to have never been revived in any way by Marvel.

On-sale Tuesday, July 15
(Dell Publishing, 68 pages, 10¢)

It's always surprised me that, as hard as DC fought to defend Superman, it never took Dell to court over The Owl, which, to my mind, is a lot closer to Batman than Fox's Wonder Man was to the Man of Steel. But maybe the masked avenger trope was, even then, too common to copyright. Probably it was because, Dell being much bigger than Fox, had better lawyers. Or, maybe, as you can see here, the Owl feature just wasn't that great. Certainly, the Owl only appears for a couple of his eight pages, and nothing inside lives up the promise of this cover.

As big a deal as Dell was, it was a late and perfunctory player in the super-hero game. The Owl had made his debut exactly one year earlier, in Crackajack No. 25 and can't have done much for sales. The title would not last out the year, ending at No. 43 (on-sale Dec. 15, 1941). At that point, the Owl would move over to POPULAR COMICS, where he proved no more popular. He only lasted there for one year, from No.72 (Jan. 2, 1942) to No. 85 (Feb. 1,1943).

Following the mega-hit BATMAN tv show, The Owl got a brief camp-style revival in 1966, written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. Dell finally folded its comic book line not long after, in 1973. Now in the public domain, The Owl has most recently appeared as part of the Project Superpowers line from Dynamite Entertainment, including his own four issue mini-series in 2013.

Rounding out this issue were Cyclone (a bare-chested cowboy in furry chaps) by Gaylord Dubois and John Hampton (11 pgs); jungle explorer Clyde Beatty, by Jim Chambers (6pgs); lost family The Crusoes, by Al Micale (8 pgs); boy scouts Bob and Bill, by Robert Brice (6 pgs); air ace Stratosphere Jim and his Flying Fortress, by Al McWilliams (6pgs); and reporter Gabby Scoops, by Bill Treadwell and Bill Connor (4 pgs), as well as strip reprints of Smokey Stover, by Bill Holman (1.5 pgs); Ellery Queen, by Bill Ely (6 pgs); and Don Winslow of the Navy, by Frank Martinek and Leon Beroth.

(Eastern Color Press, 68 pages, 10¢)

It's the grandpappy of them all, America's first ongoing comic book series, now closing in on its 100th issue. Launched June 1, 1934, ol' FF would last until No. 218 (on-sale May 1, 1955), a mere 14 months before The Flash would come along and start the Silver Age of comics. This issue, like all, is mostly strip reprints, with well-known features like Buck Rogers (excised from the issue linked above because the material is still under copyright) alongside characters now largely forgotten, such as adventurer Scorchy Smith, Invisible Scarlet O'Neil — the closest thing to a super-hero here, she was a starlet who could, in fact, turn invisible — Sky Roads (an aviator), Napoleon (a dog), Jitter (a monkey), Speed Spaulding (sci-fi adventurer), Dickie Dare (a young adventurer), Babe Bunting (a boy adventurer), Oaky Doaks (an errant knight), eagle scout Roy Powers (yet another young adventurer), Big Chief Wahoo (not at all racist), Olly of the Movies (an actress), Somebody's Stenog (a secretary), Pasty (a girl adventurer), Seaweed Sam (a sailor), Connie (a sci-fi female adventurer), and Hairbreadth Harry (a bumbler), in addition to a host of gag panels and other features.

(Fiction House, 68 pages, 10¢)

Originally a title of high-adventure and, for a time, super-heroes, Fight would convert to a war comic as soon as it could after Pearl Harbor and feature Rip Carson, the "daredevil Jap-smashing 'chute trooper," starting with No. 19 (on-sale April 10, 1942). The title would then convert to a women-in-danger cover theme before war's end, finally closing out as home to jungle honey Tiger Girl from No. 49 (Jan. 1, 1947) until No. 81 (April 10, 1952). The title would end with Rip back in command for its final four issues, ending at No. 85 (Feb. 17, 1983).

As for Super-American, he'd only hold the cover spot for three issues, and last just one more beyond that. Fiction House had even less luck with super-heroes than Dell did, but, no worries, the company would eventually find its footing with "good girl" covers. This cover, however, is pretty great, and, on its strength, this issue generally sells at $200 or more these days than those that immediately preceded it.

In his 13-page origin story, by an artist Dan Zolnerowich and an unknown writer, Super-American does not even get a name. He's just a dude from the year 2350 recruited to help fight the forces of Hitler-stand in "Tyrannus." And, because he's from the future, he has super-strength, invulnerable skin, and the power of flight.

Rounding out this issue are F.B.I. agent Frosty North, "the one representative of American law and order" in Alaska (5 pgs drawn by George Appel); Navy man Strut Warren, who, oddly enough, also fights Eskimos this issue (in 5 pgs drawn by Seymour Reit as "Ed Norris"); boxer Kayo Kirby (6 pgs by a presumably pseudonymous "Chuck Walker"); sea-faring adventurer Shark Brodie (6 pgs by "George Aksut"); jungle adventurer Oran, in his last appearance (5 pgs by "Hugh Bartlett"); sea captain Kinks Mason, who was "always alert for adventure and intrigue" with his trained seal Battler, but also making his last voyage here (6 pgs by "Cleve Brodie"); Saber the Spy FIghter, who, unlike Super-American, battles actual Nazis (5 pgs by Leonard Frank as "Jay Walker"); and aviator Chip Collins, who also fights Nazis (7 pgs by "Ted Torrence).

There's also a four-page non-fiction sports biography "The True Life Story of Georges Carpentier," and a two-page sports-themed text story, "The Fighting Kansas Kid" (making for three boxing tales in this issue!), written by some heroin addict names "Hy P. Dermic.

(All-American Comics [DC Comics], 68 pages, 10¢)

At this point, Flash is still technically the product of a separate company headed by Max Gaines, even though this issue does sport a "DC publication" brand label. Gaines eventually sold out his majority interest in the company to Jack Liebowitz, business partner of DC owner Harry Donenfeld. Liebowitz quickly merged All-American with Detective Comics (home of the titles Donenfeld inherited from Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson) to create National Comics, then just as quickly merged that entity with National Allied Publications (home of ACTION COMICS and other post-Major titles) and distributor Independent News to form National Periodical Publications, DC's official name until 1977. And so, FLASH COMICS was not officially a DC title until No. 68 (on-sale Oct. 12, 1945).

This issue features The Flash (13 pgs by Gardner Fox and Hal Sharp as "E. E. Hibbard); Hawkman (9 pgs by Fox and Sheldon Moldoff); and Johnny Thunder (8 pgs by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier); as well as lesser lights like Les Sparks, radio amateur (6 pgs by Don Cameron); The King (7 pgs by Fox and Harry Lambert); The Whip (6 pgs by Wentworth and Homer Fleming; plus Minute Movies (8 pgs by Ed Wheelan) and a two-page text story by Max's niece, Evelyn Gaines.

The Flash and Hawkman stories were reprinted in DC's old hardcover Archives series. For the rest, you'll need to track down this original issue.

(MLJ Magazines [Archie Comics], 68 pages, 10¢)

Pity the poor Shield — running high and ruling the roost, he had no clue what was going to happen in three short issues, when a certain red-headed teen, then going by the nickname "Chick," would make his debut. He'd been the star of this book, and, really, the MLJ line, since Issue 1. And why not, with adventures (like this 13-pager) by Harry Shorten and the great Irv Novick. He's joined in this issue by The Hangman, another Mighty Crusader staple making just his third appearance, in an 11-page story drawn by George Storm, and Fireball, who always seems to get short-shrift in Achie's periodic hero revivals. Here he lights up seven pages by Paul Reinman. There's also the short-lived Madam Satan, a murderess tasked by Satan himself with seducing men into giving their souls to the devil. She only appeared in Nos. 16-21, when her series got cut to make way in No. 22 for some new teen humor character by Bob Montana. She's appeared most recently in the first issues of Archie's new THE FOX series, circa 2013.

Rounding out this issue we have Danny in Wonderland (7 pgs by Shorten and Lin Streeter); Sergeant Boyle (7 pgs drawn by Carl Hubbell); boxer Kayo Ward (6 pgs by Shorten and Storm); and Bentley of Scotland Yard (6 pgs by Joe Blair and Reinman).

As the popularity of Riverdale's favorite son grew, each of these characters would fade away, never to be revived (that I know of). Danny ran from No. 12 (on-sale Dec. 15, 1940) to No. 39 (March 16, 1943); Sgt. Boyle from No. 1 (Nov. 16, 1939) to No. 39; Kayo from No. 1 to No. 28 (April 10, 1942); and Bentley, the longest-lasting of the bunch, from No. 1 to No. 41 (June 4, 1943).

(United Features Syndicate, 68 pages, 10¢)

Making its debut the previous month (on-sale June 13, 1941), Sparkler was mainly newspaper strip reprints. It went though a host of cover features until settling for good on Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy and Sluggo with No. 69 (June 13, 1947), and ultimately ending its run with No. 120 (Sept. 1,1954).

Early on, however, United Features, did jump on the obligatory super-hero bandwagon, featured an original creation, Spark Man, on the Sparkler covers. He was a violinist who found he somehow built up and retained an electrical static charge while rosining his bow. So, naturally enough, he built a pair of weird looking gloves (replete with extra-long index fingers) that would allow him to throw lighting, and began fighting crime. He only held the cover through No. 9 (March 13, 1942) at which time he changed his costume. Kicked down to a bottom page glance box for No. 10 (April 14), the same issue in which he finally revealed his name, Spark Man then did something unusual for a super-hero of the era — he actually enlisted in the U.S. military! He'd change his costume once more, losing the gloves, with No. 11 (May 15), before finally ending his
career as a uniformed soldier, taking his cover-featured bow with No. 18 (Dec. 15, 1942). His adventures would last through No. 30 (Jan. 14, 1944), when he got the boot as the book shrank due to wartime paper rationing from 60 to 52 pages. He'd see on final adventure thanks to use of an inventoried tale in No. 40 (Dec. 15, 1944). Still, he did at least merit one issue of his own title, SPARK MAN, which hit stands in 1945, collecting his adventures from the first three issues of this title.

Rounding our this issue — which, by the way, is the second SPARKLER COMICS, No. 2, as United Features gave this title a two-issue run in 1940, before relaunching it Marvel Now-style with a new No. 1 one year later— we have, in addition to Spark Man's 10-page take by Fred Methot and R. Greenwood, and eight pages of Nancy strip reprints, plus Abbie an' Slats (6 pgs); Dynamite Dunn (5 pgs); The Captain and the Kids (10 pgs); Frankie Doodle (4 pgs); Ella Cinders (2 pgs); Brocho Bill (5 pgs); Danny Dingle (5 pgs); and Tarzan (6 pgs).

(Dell Publishing, 68 pages, 10¢)

An all-reprint package of strip reprints, serving primarily throughout its run as a vehicle for Dick Tracy, Super first hit stands in April 1938 and lasted 121 issues, makings its swan song on Jan. 11, 1949.

In addition to Tracy, this issue features many of the heavy hitters of the day, like Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates, Moon Mullins and Smokey Stover, along will a host of who-dat? features unknown today, such as Harold Teen, Jim Ellis, Little Joe, Winnie Winkle, Tiny Tim, Smitty, Magic Morro, Sweeney and Son, and Jack Wander war correspondent.

(MLJ Magazines [Archie Comics], 68 pages, 10¢)

Launched in October 1939 promising "Thrills —Action — Adventure," Top-Notch was a typical pre-Archie hero comic from MLJ. It featured The Wizard before switching over to The Black Hood with No. 9 (on-sale August 15, 1940). The Hood was popular enough that he managed to retain a co-cover spot even after teen humor became the order of the day at MLJ and this title began pushing L'il Abner rip-off Pokey Oakey, changing the masthead to TOP-NOTCH LAUGH COMICS with No. 28 (April 15, 1942).

The Hood soon appeared less frequently on the covers, however, taking his final turn with No. 43 (Nov. 30, 1943). As luck would have it, that was also Oakey's last time on the featured real estate. After that, the title belonged to Susie, who fell into the working girl trope that was briefly popular back in the day. The book evolved into LAUGH COMIX with No. 46 (May 9, 1944), then SUZIE COMICS (note the spelling change) with No. 49 (April 14, 1945). The title lasted through No. 100 (June 14, 1954), by which time Suzie had devolved into a teen-ager in the house Archie style, becoming a near twin to Betty Cooper but for a trademark tuft of blond hair forever wafting over her right eye.

Since that final issue, Suzie has appeared just once more, in 2009. However, Archie Comics has offered digital downloads of her old title since 2013. So, who knows, there may be a place for her yet in the new, more adult-orientated Archie universe.

Anyway, this issue features The Black Hood (14 pgs by Shorten and Al Camy); The Wizard (10 pgs, again by Shorten and Camy); and another flame-based hero, The Firefly (6 pgs by Joe Blair and Warren King); along with the goofily-named hero Bob Phantom (6 pgs by Shorten and King).

There's also genre stories with spy Fran Frazer (4 pgs by unknown creators); war hero Keith Kornell (5 pgs by King); boxer the St. Louis Kid (6 pgs by Shorten and Storm); more war, against actual Nazis this time, with Wings Johnson (6 pgs by Blair and Ed Small); and Kardak the Mystic (5 pgs by Shorten and Reinman).

The prolific Shorten was not only a comic book writer. In addition to co-creating The Shield and The Black Hood, he also created, with artist Al Fagaly the There Oughta Be a Law! comic strip, which lasted from 1948 until 1984. But Shorten is perhaps best known to modern comics fans, if at all, as the founder of Tower Comics, which gave the world Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and all its associated characters during a brief time in the sun, from 1965 to 1969.

Oh, one final note, the character in the striped shirt and short pants on the cover, above, is The Wizard's kid sidekick, Roy the Super-Boy, a code name that's a near trademark suit if there ever was one.

(Dell Publishing, 68 pages, 10¢)

Now up to issue No. 733 (out this week, by the way), making it the third highest-numbered comics book on stands today (after DC's ACTION COMICS and DETECTIVE COMICS), ol' WDC&S was just 11 issues old in July 1941.

The debut of the great Carl Barks is still 20 issues away at this point, (hit arrive with No. 31, on-sale March 16, 1943), and the duck art here, mostly reprinted from newspaper strips, is by Al Taliaferro. The Mickey Mouse strips, meanwhile, are classics by Floyd Gottfredson, with a few by Ferdinand Horvath. Meanwhile, the issue us rounded out with a few Goofy strips, mostly by artists whose identities have not survived the intervening decades.

WALT DISNEY'S THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (a.k.a Four Color, Series I), No. 13
(Dell Publishing, 68 pages, 10¢)

The bulk of this book is a 31-page tale by Irving Tripp, better known for his later work on Little Lulu than on Disney characters. It was an adaptation of the animated film of the same name, released on June 20, 1941, less than a month before this comic came out. So, we can assume Tripp started work from material provided to Dell before the movie hit theaters. But you don't need to search down this issue in order to read Tripp's adaptation. While it briefly held the Disney license, BOOM Studios reprinted this entire issue as DISNEY'S FOUR COLOR ADVENTURES, No. 1. The cover date was July 2011. Sorry, I don't have an exact on-sale date for this one.

Now, "Four Color," as you may or may not know, is the term later applied by fans to a line of one-shot comic books produced by Dell. Although each issue was a stand-alone comic, sequential numbering ran from one issue to the next, presumably for purposes of securing one over-arching postal permit. The words "Four Color Comic" appeared in small print on the covers of comics published circa 1940-1946, hence the name, although in its indica, this issue for example, would have been listed as WALT DISNEY'S THE RELUCTANT DRAGON, No. 13. I like to imagine that in the early days of comics fandom, that might have lured unsuspecting panelologists into believing they had 12 previous issues to track down. Making matters more confusing, while some issues, such as this one, were clearly conceived as one-time special publications, others in the Four Color line were intended to test market interest in a particular character. As such, when such a character graduated to its own ongoing title, Dell would often count all previous "Four Color" issues in the number for that series. Thus, the first issue of Dell's DONALD DUCK series is Number 26, the first 25 having been issues in the "Four Color" line. That's why DONALD DUCK, No. 422 came out before No. 26.

Dell produced 25 such one-shot comics, of which the above issue is one, from July 1939 to February 1942. It then restarted the numbering on Dec. 1, 1941 with LITTLE JOE, No. 1 (remember his name from SUPER COMICS up above? Yup, popular enough in his day to deserve his very his own comic book). The series continued through Issue No. 1,354 (CALVIN AND THE COLONEL), released on Feb. 6, 1962.

However, be aware, some issue numbers in between do not actually exist. What's more, Dell tended to release the books as they were completed, not in exact numerical order. So, three other comics also came out the same day as Calvin's. For the record, they were AGGIE MACK, No. 1,335, ON STAGE, No. 1336, and WALT DISNEY'S COMANCHE, No. 1,350.

On-sale Wednesday, July 16
(Quality Comics, 68 pages, 10¢)

Well, here's a title you couldn't get away with today. In fact, when DC put out a series of one-shots in March 1999 using Golden Age titles from its own line, as well as those of Quality Comics — from whom it acquired a number of titles and characters in the 1956 — it didn't even try using this one. Instead is went with THRILLING COMICS, which, as we'll see below, was a Nedor/Better/Standard title and never associated with any character owned by DC.

Anyway, Crack's main claim to fame these days is that it featured the Black Condor, with some pretty fantastic artwork by Lou Fine, who's acknowledged today as one of the early masters of the comic book form. But the title also featured The Clock, recognized by the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide as the first costumed hero in comic books, albeit at a magazine published by a different company. And, by the way, that honorific carries the definition of costumed hero to an extreme, I think, as The Clock was just a guy in a suit who wore a black teacloth over his face.

Underneath a fairly unimpressive cover by Gill Fox, this issue (which you can read here) gives us 9 pages of Fine's Condor, followed by: The Red Torpedo, a bare-chested hero in a mask and jodhpurs, who rode an actual torpedo billed as "the most powerful weapon in the world" (5 pgs by Henry Kiefer as "Drew Allen"); Tor the Magic Master, who wore the obligatory tuxedo, cape, and mustache (5 pgs by Fred Guardineer); The Space Legion (5 pgs by Vernon Henkel); Alias the Spider, who was actually an archer, not an arachnid (6 pgs by Paul Gustavson); Spitfire, an aviator (6 pgs by Al McWilliams); Madam Fatal, believe it or not, a guy who actually fought crime in drag (5 pgs by Art Pinajian); and, The Clock (7 pgs by George E. Brenner); along with Slap Happy Pappy, a one-page gag strip by Jack Cole, and strip reprints of drama queen Jane Arden and sports star Ned Brant, as well as other short features.

(Fox Features Syndicate, 68 pages, 10¢)

Birthplace of the original Blue Beetle, this issue boasted "NOW! More pages of The Blue Beetle." Yeah, he was a pretty big deal in his prime. But Mystery Men only had five more issues in it after this one, and would not last out the year. Fox itself would fold within a decade, filing for bankruptcy in July 1950.

Here the Beetle does indeed get his advertised expanded adventure, clocking in at 14 pages by Charles Nicholas. Then there's The Green Mask, also around since MMC No. 1, but having never received the same revival love as ol' BB (he gets 10 pgs by an unknown artist using the pen name "Walter Frame").

Also on tap, British expeditionary force soldier Private O'Hara (7 pgs by Carl Hubbell); humor strip Mortimer, which proves product placement is not a modern invention as Morty is show downing a Kooba Cola, the same product advertised on the inside from cover (8 pgs by Jack Camden); Secret Agent D-13 (6 pgs by Bert Whitman); The Lynx, winner of this month's Worst Super-Hero Costume Ever contest (in 6 pgs by an unknown artist); and finally Zanzibar the Magician, in his first appearance (6 pgs signed by George Tuska, although the Grand Comics Database lists Pierce Rice with a "?").

(Fawcett Publishing, 68 pages, 10¢)

Mary Marvel would not come along until issue No. 9 (on-sale Dec. 9, 1942), so, for the nonce, this is still Mr. Scarlet's book. Heck, he doesn't even have kid sidekick Pinky the Whiz Kid in tow here as he gets three solo stories in this issue — of seven, nine, and 10 pages in length, and all penciled by Jack Binder. His adversaries are, in order, The Black Thorn, The Black Clown, and The Laughing Skull.

The remaining tales feature Atom Blake the Boy Wizard (10 pgs possibly by Pierce Rice); Jim Dolan, the "two-fisted editor by Daring Detective Magazine" (5 pgs by Jim Wilcox); soldier of fortune Rick O'Shay, beating his fellow Americans into the Nazi-fighting game (in 8 pgs, possibly by Ken Battefield), and The Hunchback, maybe the weirdest hero of them all, other than Madam Fatal that is (in 12 pages by an unknown artist).

Mr. Scarlet — basically a crimson-hued Batam — would last until Wow No. 35 (on-sale June 30, 1948), at which point the entire cast, Mary included, got the dump as Wow became REAL WESTERN HERO for five monthly issues, and then just WESTERN HERO for the remainder of its run, from No. 76 (Jan. 19, 1949) through No. 112 (Jan. 18, 1952).

Atom Blake only appeared in the first five issues of Wow. Apparently DC owns him now, but has never used him, which may be surprising given his plethora of powers.  Issue No. 5 also was the last outing for Jim Dolan, Rick O'Shay, and The Hunchback, who were replaced in issue No. 6 by Commando Yank, Phantom Eagle, and Spooks.

On-sale Thursday, July 17
(All-American Comics [DC Comics], 68 pages, 10¢)

All-American was, of course, the flagship of the All-American line, and had featured the original Green  Lantern since its 19th issue (on-sale Aug. 20, 1940). So, the original ring slinger was not even a year old at this point! He stars here in eight pages by Bill Finger and Irwin Hasen (who signed co-creator Martin Nodell's name).

Also in this issue, and also less than a year old, are The Atom (6 pgs by Bill O'Connor and Ben Flinton), and Dr. Mid-Nite (6 pgs by Charles Reizenstein and Stan Aschmeier), along with early mainstays Hop Harrigan (6 pgs by Jon L. Blummer) and Sargon the Sorcerer (8 pgs by John B. Wentworth and Howard Purcell). Theres also eight pages of Red, White and Blue — featuring military men Red Dugan, Whitey White and Blooey Blue, by Wentworth and Harry Lampert — as well as boy cartoonist Scribbly and the original Red Tornado in four pages by Sheldon Mayer. The rest of the issue is rounded out by short features and Mutt & Jeff comic strip reprints.

All-American would last until No. 102 (Aug. 20, 1948) and which point it would jump genres, becoming ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN. In that form it would last until No. 126 (April 16, 1952). GL and Doc were in the roll call until the cows came home to roost. The Atom, however, got split with No. 72 (Feb. 13, 1946), while Hop got grounded after No. 99, when he was replaced with the cowboy Johnny Thunder.

(Comics Corporation of America, 68 pages, 10¢)

The first heroic archer in comics, the Arrow made his debut in FUNNY PAGES, Vol. 2, No. 10 (a.ka. No. 21), put out by Centaur Publications on July 28, 1938. By this time, however, Centaur had folded, one of the early casualties of the comic book distribution wars. There was an 11-month gap between Centaur's The Arrow, No. 2 (on-sale Aug. 30, 1940) and this issue, released by Comics Corp., a short-lived successor to Centaur created by the same ownership group. THE ARROW is the only comic published by both companies. Comics Corp's last book was WORLD FAMOUS HEROES MAGAZINE, published Feb. 3, 1942.

In this issue, The Arrow battles Nazis on the cover and inside gets two chances to dip into his quiver (in 10 pgs by Bob Lubbers; and 9 pgs by Paul Gustavson). This would be the character's final appearance until revived out of the public domain, first by Malibu Comics in 1992, then by Dynamite Entertainment in 2008.

Neither company bothered to revive any of the other heroes in this issue, however. All of them, so far as I know, made their one and only appearance in this issue. The Rainbow was perhaps the first comic book super-hero inspired by comic book super-heroes. His seven-page story of two-fisted adventure (he had no actual super-powers) is by Ed Herron and future Superman stalwart Al Plastino. There's also Jungle Prince (8 pgs by Dan Gormley); Dash Dartwell, the Human Meteor, who had super-speed (6 pgs by Harry Francis Campbell as "Harrison Camp"), plus Randall Ross, Master Sleuth (8 pgs by Steve Dahlman); Duke Collins, Fearless Marine (7 pgs by Ralph Fuller); and, adventurer Keith Butler (7 pgs by Stanley Drake).

According to GCD, this Dash Dartwell story was actually a complete re-do of a story that appeared in AMAZING MAN COMICS, No. 21 (Feb. 4, 1941).

On-sale Friday, July 18
(David McKay Publishing, 68 pages, 10¢)

One of the more venerable titles on the stands at this time, having launched five years earlier in1936, King was flagship of the McKay line, featuring reprints of the King Features Syndicate characters, with Popeye & Co. at center stage. The title would outlast McKay, however, transferring to the Standard Comics publishing house for its final four issues, starting with No. 156 (on-sale March 7, 1950).

Among the strips in this issue, some of which you've heard of, other not, there was: The Lone Ranger, Thimble Theater starring Popeye, The Dun-Dums, The Ventures of Black Hawk, Brining Up Father, Private Buck, The Phantom, Sappo, Barney Baxter in the Air, Henry, Family Portraits, Flash Gordon, Brick Bradford, Little Annie Rooney, Mandrake the Magician, Sergeant Pat of Radio Patrol, Sentinel Louie, and The Little King.

(Fiction House, 68 pages, 10¢)

And here's our only No. 1 of the week. Starting out as RANGERS OF FREEDOM for its first seven issues, this title would take on the more familiar RANGERS COMICS logo with No. 8 (on-sale Sept. 3, 1942), before finally dropping the "Comics" for its final four issues to finish its run as simply RANGERS at No. 69 (Dec. 30, 1952).

This issue starred the titular Rangers, three boys who win a contest as "the best specimens of American youth" and are immediately tapped by the F.B.I. to combat the "mysterious mental force" of Super-Brain, because "only young minds can resist its powers." Man, talk about comics as wish fulfillment fiction!

Kids of the day must not have bought it, however, as these best specimens only lasted until issue No. 4. Oddly enough, while they do get the cover to No. 5, they're nowhere to be seen inside and instead it's a team of Marines who fight under the "Rangers of Freedom" title. That team would be re-dubbed the U.S. Rangers with the title change, as the book transformed into more of a "fightin' man" title. But most collectors today remember Rangers as home to Firehair, redheaded spitfire of the American West, who commandeered the cover starting with issue No. 44 (Sept. 13, 1948).

In this debut issue, the boy rangers were drawn for 12 pages by Joe Doolin, while the byline, probably pseudonymous, was given to "Captain Raymond Colt." Other features included The Royal Watch, an English kid gang (9 pgs by Jim Chambers); Defense Patrol, a homefront kid gang (8 pgs by Don Lynch as "Stacy Kent"); Jeep Milarkey of the Military Police (4 pgs by an "Pat O'Hara"); Anzec Hawks, a trio of young aviators (7 pgs by Bob Jenney); Rocky Hall, Jungle Stalker (8 pgs by "Buck Masters"); Sea Squad (8 pgs by "Harry Fisk"); and Don Stuart of the Far East Navy (8 pgs by unknown).

(Quality Comics, 68 pages, 10¢)

It's the Michelin Man! . . . er, I mean, Bozo the Robot!

Sometimes billed as Bozo the Iron Man (I wonder if Stan Lee ever saw the comic?), Bozo was actually a suit of armor worn by a fella named Hugh Hazzard and was able to fly via the use of, I kid you not, a propeller placed atop his head. Bozo debuted in issue No. 1 and would fight on through No. 42 (on-sale Jan. 15, 1943. Hard to understand why, but he was not one of the characters revived after DC Comics took over the Quality line. He has not appeared since, apart from a couple of easter egg cameos in stories written by James Robinson, who was apparently a fan.

Of course, the highlight of this issue is nine pages of The Ray by Lou Fine (under the byline E. Lectron). There's also Jack Cole's ripoff of The Spirit, Midnight, who would eventually become the star attraction of Smash with No. 28, after The Ray was given one more chance to shine. He'd been alternating covers with Bozo since No. 15 (Aug. 16, 1940). Bozo would eventually outlast The Ray by one issue, fading out with No. 40. But, of course, the Ray would get the final laugh as his son would get a couple of series out of DC in the 1990s.

Also in this issue is The Jester (5 pgs by Paul Gustavson); the Invisible Hood, whose feature was called "Invisible Justice" (5 pgs by Art Pinajin); The Purple Trio, a crime-fighting group made up of ex-vauldvile players including a ventriloquist, a strong man, and "a midget" (5 pgs by Alex Blum); espionage agent Black X (6 pgs by Witmer Williams); Wildfire, a female flame throwing hero (5 pgs by Robert Turner and Jim Mooney, the latter better known for his Supergirl work); aviator Wings Wendall (6 pgs by Vernon Henkel); adventurer Jimmy Christian (2 pgs by Robert Hyatt); and policeman Rookie Rankin (6 pgs by Arthur Peddy), as well 1-page features Archie O;Toole, by John Devlin, and the totally-not-racist-at-all Wun Cloo, by Jack Cole.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, page-for-page, this issue of Smash was the best looking comic book out on the stands this week in 1941. As for the title itself, it would change its name to LADY LUCK with No. 86 (Sept. 13, 1949), featuring a character that had appeared as part of Will Eisner's Spirit newspaper supplement — Eisner was an early ownership partner of Quality, by the way — before folding its tent four issues later.

(Hillman Periodicals, 68 pages, 10¢)

This short-lived title (lasting just four issues) from Hillman has yet more Nazis on the cover, presaging America's entry into World War II. One gets the sense from the comics released this week that in the summer of 1941 the idea that the country was about to go to war must have felt almost inevitable. The lead-off 12-page story in this issue, starring The Conqueror, by Gilbert James and Harry Anderson, is one of the few Nazi fights this week to actually feature Hitler.

Other features inside include Bomber Burns and his mystery plane The Firebrand, who take flight against Nazis (8 pgs by Nathaniel Nitkin and Edd Ashe Jr.); submarine commander The Steel Shark, who also battles Nazis (7 pgs by Paul Quinn and Malcolm Kildale); cavalry soldier Homicide Hank of the Horse Marines (3 pgs by Jack Warren); Spade of the Secret Service, who battles spies with German and Italian names (7 pgs by Harry Campbell); Sergeant Flagg of the Marines, who fights asian spies (7 pgs by Joseph Piazza and Emil Gershwin); tank driver Private Parker (7 pgs by Quinn and Ed Winiarski); and The Crusader, who was just a guy in a suit and cape — he didn't even wear a mask! (10 pgs by Kermit Jaediker and George Mandel)

The issue also sports features on "Famous Heroes of the U.S. Armed Forces" and "Mechanized Warfare," the latter all about "America's mighty five" rifles, guns and cannons.

So, yeah, any kid in July 1942 could have told you we were going to war. The only question was what the trigger would be, and I'd be willing to bet most were as surprised as FDR claimed to be when it was Japan, not Germany, who lit the fuse.

On-sale Saturday, July 19
THRILLING COMICS, (Vol. 7, No. 2) No. 20 
(Better Publications [Nedor Comics], 68 pages, 10¢)

Thrilling had a much longer life than we might think today, lasting 80 issues, all the way to Feb. 2, 1951. Many of the characters in this book may be familiar to modern readers, as, in addition to other uses — thanks to having fallen into the public domain — they helped formed the basis of the Terra Obscura titles from Alan Moore's America's Best Comics imprint, published at the now-defunct Wildstorm branch of DC Comics.

What we now know as the Nedor Publishing line is a bit of a tangle, however. That may be because, much like the DC/All-American set-up, it started out as two sister companies, Nedor Publishing and Better Publications, albeit both with the same owner in the form of former pulp magazine guru Ned Pines. Both companies were merged to form Standard Comics in 1949. Standard then evolved into Pines Comics in 1956 before finally expiring three years later.

Thrilling started out under the Better banner, then, following a transition in 1943 when the title shrank from 68 to 52 pages, fell under the Standard logo starting with issue No. 41 (on-sale Feb. 11, 1944). Like all of Pines' comics, the numbering system is wonky as hell, and this issue is technically THRILLING COMICS, Volume 7, No. 2.

After making his debut in the previous issue, and getting a small glance box out front on that outing, The American Crusader, "champion of democracy," graduates to full-blown cover feature here. In doing so, he steals the spotlight from Doc Strange, who'd own the prime real estate since issue No. 1 (Dec. 1, 1939). Doc, by the way, was styled as Dr. Strange for this book's first eight issues.

But the Crusader must have seemed standard issue (get it?) compared to the plethora of other super-heroes of the day, or at least in comparison to Doc Strange. The alosun avenger reclaimed the cover spot with issue No. 25 (Dec. 18, 1941), by which time he'd found a kid sidekick named Mike. Yep, that was his crime fighting name. You'll find that, Robin excepted, kid sidekicks of the Golden Age used to routinely advertise their secret identities.

Anyway, Doc held firm to the cover spot through issue No. 57 (Oct. 4, 1946) after which – but for one more cover dirvish by ol' Doc – Princess Pantha took over. Doc would only last on the inside as far as issue No. 65. The flip to Princess Pantha took advantage of both a declining taste for super-heroes following World War II and a subsequent mini-boomlet in jungle babes, a la Sheena, Rulah, Jann, and Tiger Girl, et. al. The Princess eventually gave way to an even more prevelent trend of the late '40s and early '50s, however, and cowboy Ruck Ranger took over with issue No. 72 (April 5, 1949) to close out the Thrilling run.

In addition to The American Crusader, who was granted Superman-like powers following exposure to an atom smasher (and gets 10 pgs by Richard Hughes and Max Plaisted, plus a two-page text feature concluding his origin story from the previous issue), and Doc Strange, who got his Superman-like powers from his "alosun" serum (and warrants 14 pages by Hughes and Kin Platt), issue No. 20 gives us aviator Lone Eagle (7 pgs by unknown creators); female mystery man The Woman in Red (6 pgs by Hughes and George Mandel); and The Ghost, "chosen heir of yogi wizardry" (8 pgs by Hughes and Ed Wexler); plus Dan Duffy, college athlete (9 pges by anybody's guess); and cowboy hero The Rio Kid (7 pgs by John Daly).

Well, that's it for this newsstand review. Until next time, remember . . .  "Hey, kids! COMICS"

Monday, July 11, 2016

TRUE TALES: Charlton Neo submission

So, following an open solicitation made by Mort Todd on Facebook yesterday, I sent a submission to Charlton Neo. They only pay in "exposure bucks," it's true, but that's kinda what I'm after at this point. The hope is that, the next time DC Comics takes applications for a writers workshop, mine can say, "Yes, in addition to being a newspaper reporter for 13-plus years, I do actually have published comic book credits." 

And from there, it's just a short skip away from writing the Legion of Super-Heroes! Holy grife, you know it, baby! Here's to freedom, friendship, and FRUNT! Am I right??

Anyway, here's the submission, if you'd care to offer any critiques:

“The Immortal Mr. Mook”

Proposal for a 6-page story for Charlton Neo

By Duke Harrington

A stand-alone story hosted by Countess R.H. Von Bludd asks whether archeologists many millennia from now will view our culture with the same certainly with which their modern peers now presume to know the ancient Egyptians.

A young boy obsessed with mummification grows to be a genetic research scientist dedicated to extending human life for real, but as he nears the end of his own life, he resorts to cryogenics, only to be unearthed in a far future where his life of reason is dismissed as religious hokum, and the freezing of bodies a naive attempt to ease high-ranking souls into the afterlife.

He thought he could live forever and speak to the ages . . . he just didn’t know THIS is what he’d say!


Countess Von Bludd introduces us to a grade school class touring a nondescript natural history museum. In the Ancient Egypt room, the tour guide explains how priests would remove the pharaoh’s organs, preserve them in natron salt, and store them in canopic jars, so they could be used in the afterlife. This grosses out most of the children, particularly the girls, but young Myron Mook is fascinated — so fascinated, in fact, that when no one is looking, he snaps the jackal head of Duamatef off one jar and slips it into his pocket.

Myron spends the rest of his adolescent and teen years delving deep into Egyptian lore, learning all he can, always with his beloved jackal head nearby. But in college, a weary professor squashes Myron’s thirst for knowledge, dismissing the eager student’s questions with a wave of the hand, telling him there are no new discoveries to be made, that we know all there is to learn about ancient Egyptian culture.

Discouraged, Myron begins to resent the time and energy he seemingly wasted on his dead-end passion. Growing to view Egyptian mythology as almost childishly naive, he changes his major to biology. Where the Egyptian pharaohs preserved their bodies in hopes of living on in the afterlife, he would do them one better — he would learn to preserve his body and live forever in THIS life.

Myron ends up leaving college early to pursue his goals, never earning a doctorate. But working tirelessly and forsaking all else, he becomes a rich man, owing partly to his research into human longevity, but mostly to his own endless self-promotion. Over time, Mr. Mook’s “Duamatef Diet” pills become de rigueur among the elite in a youth-obsessed culture and young starlets becomes almost cult-like their devotion to him. Still, while his product can indeed boost human physiology, he knows it is useless in actually extending lifespans. The jackel-head, which he has kept all this time, seems to taunt him.

Nearing the end of his life and realizing he’s failed in his quest for immortality, Mr. Mook turns to cryogenics, hoping to come back in a time when science has caught up to his ambition. Because of his advanced age, the cyrogeneticists tell Mr. Mook, they will have to remove his head, as his body and declining organs will undoubtedly fail to survive the freezing and thawing process. But that’s okay, Mr. Mook thinks, as he gazes into the freeze chamber at the young acolytes he’s convinced to undergo the process with him, not having let on one of them will become his new form. But, then, in a moment of doubt, Mr. Mook worries he may not return to life for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. In that time, his head might get separated from his hand-selected neo-bods. For that matter, the careful arrangements he made to preserve and protect his personal possessions could come to naught. As he prepares to go under, Mr. Mook takes the one cherished item he can’t bear to live without, his head of Duamatef from that old canopic jar, and quietly slips it into his mouth.

We start by seeing Mr. Mook’s head in silhouetted profile, as a young girl taps at the glass of the jar it’s in. Moving out, find ourselves in the Ancient Americans room in a museum of the far, far future. The tour guide explains to the girl and her class that the Ancient Americans of the Early Presidentium foolishly believed that by freezing their dead, and preventing the bodies from decaying, they could assure vitality for their souls in the afterlife. And, what’s more, for very high-ranking senators and senatresses, the oldest priest at the inaugural ceremony would have his head removed and stuffed with the idol of the canine god Elvis, messenger of love, so that he might best speak in praise of the deceased before the Congess of Statesmen, assuring acceptance into terms of office that would last for all eternity. As our view rotates around the room of badly misunderstood objects, we come back to Mr. Mook, and see his rotting head full on, floating in a fluid clearly meant to keep him from decomposing any further. His eyes are open wide in a stare that seems to say this is not at all the future he was expecting, and on the outstretched tongue that hangs from a barely attached jaw, we see the jackal head of Duamatef. Countess Von Bludd then returns to ask us how much we really know about Ancient Egypt.