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Hourman


Shy and meek young chemist Rex Tyler creates the Miraclo pill, which gives a person enhanced strength, speed, resilience and stamina, as well as making his personality alter to aggressive and outgoing, and becomes the first drug-addict superhero, Hourman.  It is not acknowledged in his original run that he is a drug addict, but it is difficult not to see this in the series, and the change from the Miraclo pill to Miraclo ray towards the end of the run seems to indicate that DC felt the character needed some cleaning up.

Rex is never given any background, or relatives, or girlfriend.  At first his supporting cast is limited to his boss at Bannerman Laboratories, Mr. Bannerman.  Bannerman criticizes Rex for being so introverted in the early stories, and in the first couple we see that Rex’s personality alters when he takes Miraclo, and that after it wears off he crashes, and reverts to his old persona.  This appears to stop happening after a while, and Rex becomes more Hourman-ish even without Miraclo, which is likely why by Adventure Comics 65 he has become Bannerman’s chief assistant.

The Miraclo pill gives Rex his enhanced abilities for one hour, and the first story includes insets counting down how much longer his powers will last.  This clever device to build suspense is not used again until issue 70, but becomes standard for the last year of the run.

Bernard Bailey gave Rex a memorable, if simple, costume.  Black tights and top, cape and hood, with red highlights.  The hood hangs loosely down over the face, with holes over the eyes.  Even as a child I wondered about the practicality of this; how the hood stayed in position while he ran, rather than flopping back and exposing his face, and how he managed to see if he turned his head and his eyes no longer lined up with the holes.  Again, in the final year this seems to be acknowledged, as Rex’s hood is replaced by a form-fitting cowl.

Around his neck, Rex wears an hourglass on a cord.  This timer fairly obviously is of use for him to determine how much longer the Miraclo will last, although at no point is it ever used that way in the original run.

In his first two stories, Rex places ads in newspapers, offering to help those in need, and answers a wife’s request to stop her husband from being part of a jewel robbery at the Beaux Arts Ball in the debut appearance.  In Adventure 55 we learn that Rex is based in a city called Cosmos, which is a very odd name for a city, but this has never been referred to again.

Rex faces off against a number of mad scientists, as well as kidnappers, gamblers, thieves, and the like, but never gets any recurring villains.  For that matter, he never gets any really good villains either.  Dr. Togg, who creates nasty dog/vulture hybrids called Gombezis in Adventure Comics 57, returns decades down the road, but aside from the unusual name for his unusual creations, there is little noteworthy about him in his only golden age story.

Rex pops his Miraclo pill quite casually in his first few adventures, but then we stop seeing him do this, it is merely referred to, and I think it is not a coincidence that the pill popping panels disappear in the stories that give him a gaggle of kid sidekicks.  The only two times we see him take Miraclo after his first 8 stories are in issues 63 and 67, neither of which feature the Minutemen of America.

Adventure Comics 54 introduces Jimmy Martin, a HAM radio operator and fan of Hourman, who gets other kids who are amateur radio operators to form a gang to assist Hourman.  The very logo of the series changes to reflect this becoming “Hourman and Minute Man Martin of the Minutemen of America.”  Jimmy is the most important of this group at first, although visually the boy with the turtleneck sweater covering most of his face, and a giant cap covering much of what little is left, is the notable one.  In All-Star 2 this boy is finally named, Thorndyke, and he is established as Jimmy’s younger brother.  Many of the stories deal with other Minutemen, who get into trouble, or the family members do, or they witness a crime, which winds up bringing Hourman into the tale, but none of these kids are featured in more than one story.

In issues 72 and 73 Jimmy becomes an actual sidekick for Hourman, wearing an identical costume, though in issue 73 he lacks the cowl, and just wears a domino mask.  In Adventure 74 we learn that Jimmy and his mother have left on a trip, from which they never return, and Thorndyke becomes his sidekick instead, though never wearing a costume like Jimmy’s.  Issue 75 informs us that Thorndyke’s last name is Tomkins, which is very unusual if he is the younger brother of Jimmy Martin, so perhaps there is more going on here, with the mother taking off with one of her sons and leaving the other behind.  Did Jimmy and Thorndyke have different fathers?  As well,  in issue 75 Thorndyke is aware that Rex is Hourman, though in none of the earlier stories did any of the Minutemen know his identity.

From this point to the end of the run the series is called “Hourman and Thorndyke.”  None of the Minutemen appear again, and Rex has replaced the Miraclo Pill with the Miraclo Ray (or Miraclo Machine in issue 82).  Having it be a ray that gives the powers, rather than a pill, was likely done so that Rex and Thorndyke could get powered up together, rather than having the hero give a child a drug.

Hourman’s series ends in Adventure Comics 83, and Rex does not return until a JLA/JSA crossover in the Silver Age.  Thorndyke does not return until the late 90s, in Young Justice.

 

 

Hourman:  Adventure Comics 48 – 83  (Mar 40 – Feb 43)

New York World’s Fair  1940

All-Star Comics 2  (Fall 40)

Socko Strong (Early Golden Age)


Socko Strong finally gets a shot at the heavyweight championship in the first story of 1940, and despite efforts by defending champion Spike Logan to get him out of town during the match, Socko makes it back in time and triumphs.  Though his series runs until December of 1940, he never again enters the ring to defend his title.

We also learn, in that story in Adventure 46, that the newspaper Jerry Indutch works for is the Daily Bulletin, but we never see its offices again.

Hollywood beckons the new champion, and for the next two issues he acts in a boxing movie with Monte Swift, a jealous actor who does not like that the script puts Socko in the more heroic role.  He tries to make Socko look bad, but each failure to do so ups his plans, and eventually Swift is plain out trying to kill him.  Socko outwits him at every step, and enjoys the battle of wits so much that he in content to leave the actor wallowing in a mud pile at the end, not bothering to lay charges for the murder attempts.

Adventure 50 has a story clearly derived from the Clifford Odets play Golden Boy, which was a massive success on Broadway at this time.  A young boy is both a boxer and a violinist, and his father worries boxing will ruin his hands and destroy his music career, calling on Socko to talk the boy out of fighting.  As the boy himself prefers the violin, it’s not that hard.

From issues 52 – 54, Socko deals with a mad scientist, Professor Rosencrantz, who has developed an invisibility serum, and calls himself The Great.  The invisibility does not work with cameras, or with mirrors, which is very odd.  I cannot think of another invisibility story that has used that notion.  The Great plans to blow up a power plant, but Socko and Jerry get jobs as painters, and when The Great tries to plant his bomb, Socko sprays him with paint.  Touching the door painted by Jerry makes the two paints react in such a way as to electrocute The Great.  I guess if invisibility doesn’t work against mirrors, blending paints can cause electrocution.

Adventure 56 sees Sock get hired as a bodyguard for customs inspector Joseph Meek, scared of being attacked by smugglers.  As things pan out, Sock gets captured by the bad guys, and Meek not only saves him, but beats up the smugglers as well.

Socko’s final tale, in Adventure 57, has him chatting with Jerry, relating a tale about how having bad friends can turn a good kid wrong, and the importance of education.

Thinking about what must have happened to Sock after this, I conclude that he next went to defend his title, and lost the match.  That lost him his series.  This is foreshadowed in the story in 56, as Socko is less of a successful fighter than the wimpy customs official.  The final story, and its talk about college, I extrapolate into Socko heading to university after losing his title.

 

Socko Strong:  Adventure Comics 46 – 57 (Jan – Dec 1940)

Sandman (Early Golden Age)


The Sandman series would undergo huge changes in this period, and it’s an oddity of comics history that the fondly remembered costume, and the fondly remembered stories, do not correspond at all.

Wesley Dodds continues to fight crime in his suit, cape and gasmask, most often dealing with kidnappings and jewel robberies as he moves through his high society life.  In Adventure Comics 47 he encounters a female safe cracker, The Lady in Evening Clothes, who winds up helping him take down her gang.  Although she gives her name as Diana Ware, by the end of the story she learns that she is really Dian Belmont, the long-missing daughter of District Attorney Belmont.

With no hesitation, Wesley reveals his identity to her, and they become a couple both in romantic terms and crime fighting ones, though most often Dian is relegated to driving the car and getting information.  Adventure Comics 56 gives her her best story, as Wesley gets kidnapped and she disguises herself as the Sandman to free him.

The gas gun is used less frequently as the series progresses, and Wes invents a new weapon in issue 61, the wire-poon gun, which he uses to scale buildings and get from rooftop to rooftop.

Although he gets no recurring villains, Sandman does fight an impressive array of foes in this period, who easily could have returned.  Borloff has a metal dissolving ray and a flying cylindricraft, one thief uses invisibility paint, another a hypnotic ruby.  Professor Doobie commits crimes using a shrinking serum in issue 67, then shrinks Sandman and Dian when they try to apprehend him.

The big change in the series comes with Adventure Comics 69, as Wes gets a new costume and sidekick, but these changes are not reflected at first in his stories in World’s Finest Comics, meaning Dian has her final appearance in World’s Finest 5.  There is no explanation for her disappearance or the costume change, though Roy Thomas would provide answers for both in All-Star Squadron in the 80s.  He has Dian die in a car accident at this time, but as she is later shown to have become an elderly woman, the car accident must not have been fatal.

Sandy debuts in issue 69, in a costume he claims he patterned after Sandman’s.  This is curious, as his costume does match that of Sandman, but it matches the costume he has just started wearing, a skin-tight gold and purple outfit, with a purple cape.  Sandy is in gold and red, with a red cape.  He is an orphan, staying at a farmhouse where the owner has experimented with creating giant bees, not thinking about the deadly giant stingers that would come with them.  Wes apparently adopts Sandy at the end of the story, as they live together from this point on.  Sandy’s last name is given as McGann in issue 71, but Hawkins in issue 73, and from then on.

Incidentally, Sandy’s full superhero name is Sandy the Golden Boy.  I believe this would win not only gayest superhero name, but also least likely to make a villain scared of you.

They wear the caped version of the costume until issue 71, but when Jack Kirby takes over the art the capes are abandoned.  It takes a few more issues for Sandy to get a red collar, and Sandman to get the purple scallopy thing that goes down to his shoulders.

Simon and Kirby take the reins of this series with Adventure Comics 72, and the series quickly excels virtually everything else coming from DC at this time.  The trademark of leaving sand behind had pretty much fallen by the wayside when Simon and Kirby replace it with the “calling card” that reads

There is no place beyond the law

Where tyrants rule with unshakable power

It’s a dream from which the evil wake

To face their fate…their terrifying hour

The Sandman

But more importantly, they begin playing with the concept of dreams, right from the get-go.  In their first story, a human slaver has a nightmare about being caught by the Sandman.  It turns out he is already in jail, the dream reflects events that have occurred, but it quickly becomes a theme in the series that the bad guys have nightmares about the Sandman before actually encountering him.

And though the costumes are somewhat tired and generic, even for this early era, the overall art is astounding.  Kirby gives an art deco feel to everything, and the action is far more dynamic than in other artists works.

Two of the villains the Sandman faces at this time would be resurrected in the pages of All-Star Squadron.  Nightshade, who has a great mask and a bunch of fake plants and traps in his “magic forest” debuts in World’s Finest 6, while Adventure Comics 75 introduces Fairytales Fenton, “The Villain from Valhalla,” who pretends to be the Norse god Thor.  This is, I believe, the first time Kirby would render a Thor character, but obviously not the last!  This story also has a beautiful full-page panel of Sandman and the police fighting “Thor” and his viking henchmen.

Sandman deals with an insomniac who turns to crime in issue 80’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep,” and a narcoleptic framed for murder in 87’s “I Hate the Sandman.”  The idea of wedding cake dreams foretelling the person you will marry is tidily worked into issue 83’s “The Lady and the Champ.”

I am restraining myself from detailing every single Simon and Kirby issue, though it is tempting to do so.  Even their weaker stories are so above the mass of other tales being released at this time, but I will limit myself to only talking about three more.

Sandy gets a starring role in issue 81’s “A Drama in Dreams.”  He is surprised to discover Wes having a nightmare about the Sandman, and realizes Wes has been kidnapped and impersonated.  Sandy tracks him down and once Wes gets free he takes out his impersonator, and pretends to be him to get to the guy behind it all.

“Santa Fronts for the Mob,” in issue 82, begins with a hilarious nightmare of department store owner P.P. Miller, who imagines that without a good store Santa people will picket and boycott his establishment.  The man he hires has mob ties, but grows to love the job and the kids so much, when the time comes to rob the store he helps the Sandman take down the bad guys.  Somehow this story manages to capture much the same feeling as movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Holiday Affair,” both also 1940s department store-based Christmas tales.

In my eyes, the crowning glory of this run is Adventure Comics 85, “The Unholy Dreams of Gentleman Jack.”  This opens with a prisoner dreaming of being waited on hand and foot by the guards, and Sandman bursting into his cell.  Once he is released from prison, he has his apartment made up to resemble a jail, and his servants dressed as guards.  He lures Sandman to his place, so we get the visual from the dream a second time, but just shows him around and gets him off his guard, so his men can capture him.  Gentleman Jack has Sandman put into a gas chamber to kill him, and goes to bed, unaware that Sandy has been following him.  Sandy frees Sandman as Jack dreams that his servants are now acting like actual prison guards, and just as Sandman appears in his nightmare (the third time for the same visual) he wakes, discovering Sandman in his room, as well as police, playing that same visual for the fourth time in 10 pages!  Each time we see Jack, the Sandman, the cell and the guards it is from a different perspective, and it is shown from another angle on the cover as well.  This story could easily be muddled or repetitive, but instead is a thorough delight.

Simon and Kirby were drafted before the end of the war.  A few stories were kept aside, but other artists and writers were put onto the series with issue 91.  The art is not terrible, but has none of Kirby’s inspiration or skill, and the stories drop Simon’s dream motif entirely.

Sandman continues in the Late Golden Age

Sandman:  Adventure Comics 46 – 92  (Jan 40 – July 44)

New York World’s Fair 1940

All-Star Comics 1 – 2  (Summer – Fall 40)

World’s Finest Comics  3 – 7  (Fall 41 – Fall 42)

Cotton Carver (Early Golden Age)


The serialized adventures of Cotton Carver continue for another year and a half.  There are more cliff-hangars as the series progresses, though many still reach conclusions at the end.  And though I loved the earlier issues of this strip, it loses me partway through.

Adventure 46 sees the trip to Sere mentioned previously, which turns out to be a land rich in radium.  Mona, the Priestess of Sere, commands a tornado and uses it to separate Cotton from the Barlundians, but sends him on his way after the frees her lover from prison.

Cotton returns to Barlundia only to discover Deela has been kidnapped by the First Ones, and after he rescues her they find themselves in a valley that allows them to return to the “upper world.”  They climb up through a volcano, arriving in the arctic, but get separated by an earthquake.  Deela falls into the hands of some trappers, lead by Red Mike, who steals her emerald necklace and demands to know where she found the stones.  Cotton makes his way to them, killing and skinning a polar bear and wearing its hide to scare the trappers, but another earthquake sends Cotton, Deela and Red Mike tumbling into another underground world.

Once there, Red Mike decides to make friends, and they quickly forgive him.  Cotton also proclaims that the world above no longer holds any interest for him.  He is not too keen on the land he is currently in, run by descendants of the missing Roanoke settlement, and they flee.

These issues are the ones that lose me, as we are presented with Flying Men, Atlanteans, Wolf People and Tree People in rapid succession, and none are well-developed or explained.  The series just hurtles from cliffhanger to cliffhanger.  The cliffhangers are not always well-resolved, either.  Most egregious is the one from issues 52-53.  Cotton has rescued Lupo, Priestess of the Wolf People, from the cloud city of the Flying Men by using a balloon.  The Flying Men tear a hole in it, which causes Cotton and Lupo to fall towards the ground.  53 opens with Cotton having managed to grab the edges of the balloon, pulled them together and formed a parachute that they coast down on.  No way.

Cotton meets some lost people from the upper world, Nora Blake, her father, and her boyfriend Jim Bent in issue 54, but he leaves them to find their way back to the surface world in the following story.

In 56 Cotton and Deela leave Red Mike with Lupo and the Wolf People, and begin to head back to Barlundia, with lots of brief adventures along the way.  When they return, in issue 60, they hear that King Marl has died and Xargon has seized the throne.  They find Marl alive in the dungeon and restore him to his throne, and after Cotton prevents him being assassinated by Ortho of Sarthan, Marl makes Cotton the Prince of Sarthan.

Cotton survives a poisoning attempt by Ortho’s sister, and secures the food supply from bandits.

In an earlier issue, Cotton and Deela had discussed marriage, but he insisted he needed time to have adventures before settling down.  As the series concludes, Cotton is now ruler of a princedom, and likely fairly settled, and ready to marry Deela.  And then one day, after Marl dies, ascending to become King of Barlandia.

Cotton Carver:  Adventure Comics  46 – 65  (Jan 40 – Aug 41)

Anchors Aweigh (Early Golden Age)


The adventures of Don Kerry and Red Murphy continue as Anchors Aweigh finishes its run in 1940.  We do finally learn that Red has the rank of lieutenant, which I’m guessing is lower than Don’s lieutenant commander.  Their final seven stories take them from Baja California to Jamaica, the Panama Canal and the Philippines, as they deal with foreign agents and everyday crooks.

The art is largely passable, though the jungle snake pit the heroes have to walk through in issue 49 looks simply ridiculous.

My favourite story in this brief period comes in Adventure Comics 48, as Don impersonates a drug dealer to find out who is running the gang.  Much of the story consists of him acting the tough guy to avoid giving himself away, rebuffing other members of the gang, and even the wife of the man he is impersonating, until Don uncovers the postmaster as the drug czar.

The second last tale is set in the “south seas,” and while pursuing pirates Don and Red get trapped during a hurricaine.  The location of the final story, pitting them against rum runners turned gun runners, is not given.  So I am going to place them both in Hawaii at the end of their run.  It is curious to stop a series about sailors just before the US enters the war, so it seems to me that Don and Red died in the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Anchors Aweigh:  Adventure Comics  46 – 52  (Jan – July 40)

Captain Desmo (Early Golden Age)


Captain Desmo continues to make India the base of his operations for much of the rest of his series, defending British mine owners and archeologists against the natives.  He continues to wear his distinctive headgear at all times, even wearing it when he is undercover in issue 62.

In March of 1940 his series moves from Adventure Comics to More Fun Comics, and his first four stories in this book, while not a serial, do form a continuous story, pitting Desmo against the Society of Assassins, described as “eaters of hasheesh dope.”  Desmo interferes with their murder and kidnapping plans repeatedly, so they capture his sidekick, Gabby, to try to force him to stop.  Instead, Desmo demands payment from them, which enables him to get into their base and plant his playing-card bomb, which destroys their hide-out and kills their leader.  The last panel of this story (issue 57) has Desmo talking to the reader, warning children against duplicating the playing-card bomb.

What is very curious in these stories is that when Gabby is not wearing his hat, his hair colour and body mass change, he becomes a big burly blond, instead of the scrawny brown haired man he is with the hat on.  This happens in more than one issue, but is never addressed at all.  And once again we get a shot of Gabby bathing naked in front of the masked Desmo.

He has a few stories that leave India at this point, going to a tropical island that is a secret munitions factory in 58, and then to Tibet where he aids American cattle ranchers against the natives in 59.  Issue 60 has him in Hong Kong, dealing with a super-powered enemy sub.

Issue 63 is the first time Desmo really takes part in the war, though indirectly, as he works in conjunction with a female British spy bringing down an Axis spy.  And for the next few issues, Desmo would be working hand in hand with the British to protect their Indian occupation against the Nazis.

Issue 67 sees Desmo in South America, stopping German spies from recruiting the natives to overthrow the British, and then finally heads back to the US, getting a new plane in San Francisco in issue 69.  He does not use it much though, for the last few issues the series really changes tack.  He starts going without his headgear, revealing receding black hair, though he wears sunglasses at all times, in all places.

He solves mysteries, aboard a train, at a resort hotel, and at a wealthy party.  I suspect the war forced them to stop doing the fascistic stories that comprise the Desmo series, and they tried to make it work as a detective strip, but it simply ceased to be anything, and ended fairly quickly, his last story in More Fun 72.

As the cover date of that issue is October 41, I am sure Desmo re-enlisted immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and likely rose to high rank in the US airforce pretty quickly, with all his experience.

Captain Desmo:  Adventure Comics 46 – 47 (Jan – Feb 40)

More Fun Comics  53- 72 (Mar 40 – Oct 41)

Rusty and his Pals (Early Golden Age)


The second (and last) serial begins in issue 46 by “re-introducing” Rusty and his Pals.  I put that in quotations because they were poorly introduced when the series began, taking a few issues before we learned their names.  And even so, the intro blurbs tell us little. Rusty is courageous, Specs is bookish and Tubby eats a lot.

The story picks up as the boys wander an Engish moor, get lost in a storm and find a huge old house.  Bob Kane does some of his best art on the run with the house.  There is a long hallway, with a hammer-beamed ceiling, and some other great, moody interiors. I would love to say these were the basis of Wayne Manor, but Kane never drew it to look this good.

There is a paranoid old man in the house, and his rude bodyguard, but the bodyguard gets killed by “natives” and the old man has a heart attack, and they seek out his nephew Angus McHeather (which means his father’s name was Heather, which is weird).  They follow a trail that leads them deep below the house, and learn about the old man’s past in a travelling carnival that went broke in Malay (current Malaysia, though that’s probably obvious).  The man and three others killed a tribe of Malay and stole their bejewelled idol, which the old man in turn stole from the other three.

So now Rusty and his pals join Angus on a journey to Malay, where they face not only angry natives seeking vengeance, but also the other three men, determined to find the treasure.

The serial is pretty good, though Angus is a poor substitute for Steve Carter, though he does save the boys in the end, using ventriloquism to make the natives think their killer gorilla, and later the idol itself, it talking.

After all is resolved, the boys journey home in the last two panels of issue 52.  They arrive back home just in time for a Fourth of July celebration, and the parents are so relieved to have them back that they do not seem stressed about the fact that the boys look years older than they did when they left, or that Rusty’s hair changed colour from blond to the more logical red.

The series ends here, but knowing these boys, I have little doubt that when the US entered World War II they would have lied about their ages and entered the forces.

Rusty and his Pals:  Adventure Comics 46- 52 (Jan – July 40)

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