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Black Pirate


The Black Pirate was the perfect series for Sheldon Moldoff to illustrate.  The high-masted ships, the exotic locales, the period costumes and architecture would not have looked as good with any other artist, and nothing else Moldoff drew looked as beautiful as this series.  Jon Valor is cut from the same pattern as Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, and even resembles them with his pencil moustache.

His run in Action Comics is done as a serial, with cliffhangers and continuous action as he faces off against the kidnapping Captain Ruff, and then his vengeful brother in issues 23 – 28.  Immediately following this he falls into the hands of Captain Treble, who runs a slave galley (white slaves), and uses the men as workers in his underwater phosphate mine. Jon leads a mutiny, tunneling through to open the mine to the ocean and fleeing as the water rushes in.  He kills Treble in a swordfight in Action 32, and then meets a female pirate, who calls herself the Queen of the Seas.

They challenge each other to see who can get the most loot, but when she fails to show up for the rendezvous, Jon goes hunting for her, finding her a captive of chinese pirate Lu Chan.  Lu Chan sets fire to how own ship, intending to kill them both, but Jon and the woman escape, and he kills Lu Chan in a duel.

They sail back to Spain, arriving in issue 36.  Jon runs into an old friend, Don Avila, who invites Jon to a ball at the palace, to which he brings Bonnie.  It turns out to be a trap to capture him, and though Bonnie is held in an underground keep, Jon manages to escape his captors, free her and duel Don Avila to his death.

Issue 41 gives them a bit of a rest, as they put in to a port in North Africa.  Jon goes exploring, finding the albino Amora, the High Priestess of Ora, and her massive and silent black bodyguard.  Jon quickly escapes from them.  Issue 42 features another one-shot tale, that has old enemies plot to capture Jon’s ship, but he gets the best of them.

Throughout this entire run, Jon does not wear any particular sort of costume.  His clothes are usually black, but often all he is wearing is shorts.

As the series moves over to Sensation Comics, he takes to disguising his identity, something that was not a part of the concept in Action Comics.  He now wears yellow tousers and a white shirt, as well as along purple cloak with a peaked hood when being the Black Pirate.  Bonnie turns out to be Donna Bonita, the ward of King Phillip II, and engaged to his eldest son, referred to in the series as Don Carlos (though this must be the same person as Prince Carlos of Asturia, his violent and crazed eldest child).  Jon and Donna marry, and Phillip accepts the Englishman at his court, though charging him with finding and apprehending the Black Pirate.

From Sensation Comics 2 – 4, Jon deals with the vengeful and suspicious Carlos, who finally goes too far, having his father imprisoned and seizing the throne.  With the help of the court jester, Jon frees Phillip, and kills Carlos in a duel.  In reality, Carlos never tried to overthrow his father, but was imprisoned until his death, possibly by poison.

In Sensation 5, Justin is born to Jon and Donna, and issue 6 sees the boy grow to about 12 years old.  Justin kills one of Phillip’s guards, who had been attacking an old woman, and is imprisoned and set to be executed.  Jon frees his son, and with Donna they flee Spain.  The jester joins them in the following issue, and remains a member of Jon’s crew, making periodic appearances through the rest of his run.

Justin learns his father is the Black Pirate, and makes himself a matching costume, though with a purple shirt and red cloak and hood.  The series will occasionally go under the title “Black Pirate and Son” from this point on, but usually is still just “Black Pirate.”

They team up with Sir Francis Drake in Sensation 8, taking part in the rout of the Spanish Armada, and then head to France for two issues, aiding the King of France, an elderly man named Louis.

Maybe this is the point to chime in about the dating problem with this series.  Moldoff has left the strip by this point, doing only occasional splash pages, so I can be more critical of it.

The very first installment gave the series the date of 1600.  Actually, it really looks like it says 1800, but that is so wildly wrong I am assuming the ink has bled into the page over the years making the 6 look like an 8.  The first issue of Sensation Comics makes it 1558, and then one would add roughly 12 years (Justin’s age) to bring it to 1580 – but the battle with the Spanish Armada did not occur until 1588, and Justin is clearly still a child.

To make matters worse, there was no King Louis at this time.  Sure, it’s a fairly safe guess to call a French king Louis, but the late 1500s were the period of the Valois monarchs, not a Louis in the bunch, these were Francises and Charleses, and most were boy kings with short reigns, not old men.

The dating problem just gets worse as it goes along.  In Comic Cavalcade 1, the Black Pirate is summoned by Queen Elizabeth, to help her fleet fight a sea monster that turns out to be a Spanish creation, but a few months later, in Sensation 18, James I is king of England.  OK, so we must now have just reached 1600, but Justin is still a child.  In issue 21 we are with James I again, as the Black Pirate tries to find a cure for his eldest son, Henry.  In reality, Henry died of a fever, but he gets cured in this story (maybe he died later, Im not going to nitpick on that point), but in Comic Cavalcade 7, right at the end of this era, Queen Elizabeth dies and James is crowned king.  Need I mention, Justin remains young throughout this.

But really, that is the biggest problem I have with the series, and though the dating is a mess, I was impressed that the sons were given the proper names, and their roles are at least analogous to actual history.

In Sensation 14 the Black Pirate rescues an orphan girl, Virginia, and she comes to live with him and his family on Pirate Island in the following story, joining in the defense of the island against some escapees from Dartmouth Prison.  A bit of a romance is built between Justin and Virginia, but she does not often appear.

In issue 20, Jon and Justin are caught in a storm that leads them to Atlantis, where they help Arius regain his throne, and he rewards Jon with Posiedon`s ring, which Jon can use to summon Aruis.  He does this in the following story, to find out where the cure for James` son can be found, but the ring is not used again after this.

As the era comes to a close, the stories become more fantastic, as the Black Pirate battles the Flying Dutchman and lands on a Lilliput-type island of tiny people.

The most interesting story in the post-Moldoff period is in Sensation 17, which opens in the present day (World War II) as the allied forces land on Pirate Island, finding his fortress, paintings of his family, and the Black Pirate`s diary.  We (and they) read a story of him defending the island against Don Muerte and his flying (catapulted) men, and learn the location in which the Black Pirate hid a cannon, to be used when the attackers were too close to retreat, and then the allies put their big guns in the same place to fight off the Germans.

The Black Pirate (and son) continue in the Late Golden Age

 

 

Black Pirate:  Action Comics  23 – 36 (Apr 40 – May 41),  38 – 42  (July – Nov 41)

Sensation Comics  1 – 31  (Jan 42 – July 44)

Comic Cavalcade  1 – 2 (Winter 42 – Spring 43),   7  (Summer 44)

The King


The King is a disguise artist who captures thieves, though is fairly close to being one himself.  His real name is, apparently, King Standish (and his series goes by this name for its first 12 installments), but all we ever learn about him is that he is wealthy, blond, lives on his own in a New York City apartment, and is a member of the Bachelor Club.  He uses wax and dye to alter his appearance, and “voice control” to change how he sounds (and how would we ever have figured that out without an explanation?).  He takes pride that no one knows what he really looks like, and often takes on two or three different disguises during the course of a single story.

When not in an actual disguise, but not just himself, the King wears a tuxedo, complete with top hat and cape, and a domino mask.  In Flash Comics 28 and 29 he wears a green suit and orange fedora with his mask, but then reverts to evening dress for the rest of his run.

In his debut story he goes up against drug runner Boss Barton, who has sent Myrna Mallon to find out who he really is.  The King believes Myrna is an innocent dupe of the Boss, so in his second story she acts as his assistant, but we never see her again after that.  Or do we?

From Flash Comics 5 until the end of his run, virtually every story pits The King against The Witch, a female thief, who also likes wearing evening dress while committing crimes.  The King fouls her plans time after time, but has no interest in seeing her behind bars.  He usually just lets her escape, but in issue 7 actually drives her to her home at the end of the story.  There is openly a bit of romance between them.

Now, the Witch is mostly just concerned with stealing jewels, and will even turn on her own hired goons if they want to get violent with the intended victims, but in a couple of her appearances she displays a talent for disguise as well.  From her first appearance, it is implied that she and the King have met before, and I suspect that Myrna Mallon was simply an identity she had adopted while working for Boss Barton, which fits her general M.O., as well as explaining how she and the King met, and why there is already a spark between them in their supposed first encounter.

Because all but a handful of stories feature the Witch, the series is excessively repetitive.  The King seems to have little interest in crimes, other than the ones she is involved with, and admits to following her around, essentially stalking her until he sees she is up to something, and then taking on disguises to protect the victim, recover the jewels and capture the thieves.

The King and the Witch even work together a few times.  This begins with Flash Comics 9, which deals with a horde of jade pursued by the Witch and some chinese pirates.  After defeating the pirates, the King suggests they simply split the jade horde between them.  She joins the King in World’s Finest 3 in stopping a fake food coupon scam.  I don’t fully understand what these food coupons are, it’s not the ration system, as the US is not at war yet, but I guess it’s the forerunner of food stamps?  Anyway, she also helps out the King in other stories against Nazi agents, putting her patriotism over her criminal impulses.

Although we never learn anything about King Standish’s background, we do learn a bit about the Witch, in World’s Finest 2.  She returns to her father in New Orleans, a successful painter, and discover that they are descendants of the pirate Jean Lafitte, which is given as the explanation for her tendency towards crime.

The most enjoyable story of the entire run is in World’s Finest 5, which deals with gypsies and stolen rubies.  The King takes on the identity of suspected thief Johnee, while the Witch disguises herself as the fortune teller Elena.  While both are in disguise, Johnee and Elena confess their love for each other.  After solving the crime, and seeing the real Johnee and Elena become a couple, the Witch comments on the fact that it was really the two of them confessing their love that spurred the gypsy couple to revealing theirs.

The King does not appear again until the 80s, and even then only in cameos set during this era.  King Chimera would appear as his son in 2009, claiming that his father travelled to Asia at some point after the war, but that’s all we ever learn about him.

 

The King:  Flash Comics  3 – 37  (Mar 40 – Jan 43),  39 – 41 (Mar – May 43)

World’s Best Comics 1  (Spring 41)

World’s Finest Comics 2 – 5  (Summer 41 – Spring 42),  8  (Winter 42)

Comic Cavalcade  3 – 4  (Summer – Fall 43)

All-Flash  13  (Winter 43)

Cliff Crosby


Cliff Crosby’s series languished amid the back pages of Detective Comics for the entirety of its run.  The art managed to reach a passable level, but the stories, often only 5 or 6 pages long, never achieve anything memorable.

The series begins without making it clear what Cliff does for a living.  He helps a reporter friend, Terry Jensen, find a kidnapped judge in his first tale, and then travels with explorer Dr. Broussard in his second outing, encountering an African tribe hidden in the arctic.  In Detective Comics 39 he is on vacation (from what?) in Florida and stops a child kidnapping ring in the Everglades.  He is hired to supervise construction of a new airplane in issue 40, and then works with the police in issues 41 and 42, being called in to help by Inspector Becker in the latter story.

In Detective Comics 43 it is clear that Cliff is a reporter.  An editor sends him to Africa, on a cruise exploring the Congo River, during which he confronts and defeats the Skull, who runs an illegal radio station from his medieval castle.  Don’t ask.

Issues 44  seems to back up his reporter status, as he is on assignment in the Dutch East Indies before crashing onto the Island of Vampires, but in issue 45 he is a polo playing rich guy who solves a murder in his spare time.

Only with Detective Comics 46 does his profession get clearly stated, and stabilized. He is the owner and publisher of the New York Record, and his ace reporter is Kay Nevers.  In the following issue we learn he inherited the newspaper from his father, and in issue 48 we discover that his father was killed by gangsters for exposing them in his paper.  Cliff and Kay manage to find proof of the killer’s identity, and bring him to justice.

For much of the rest of his run, Cliff solves murder mysteries, often with Kay helping out.  He heads to Europe alone in issues 54 and 55, reporting on the German bombing of England, and solving the theft of a valuable painting.  We learn that Kay’s last name is Nevers in issue 52, and their relationship must be fairly close as they stay at a hotel in that issue, and going skiiing together at a resort in Canada in issue 58, but it certainly appears chaste.  In his final story, in Detective 63, Kay is referred to as his reporter-secretary.

In his last tale, Cliff solves the murder of a circus lion tamer, which was done by coating the lion’s mane with nicotine.  Often the crimes were needlessly elaborate that way.

With Cliff’s series ending so soon after the attack on Pearl Harbour, I suspect he joined the army, perhaps as a journalist, but did not survive the war.

 

Cliff Crosby:  Detective Comics  37 – 63  (Mar 40 – May 42)

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)

Rod Rian of the Sky Police


This series lasts only ten instalments, which means Rod Rian just has one, long, serialized adventure.  We get no real information on Rod, or on the Sky Police.

After a cargo ship carrying tellurium from the Moon is hijacked, Rod is sent to investigate, joining with Dilotor Andres of the Moon Squadron.  They promptly get captured and taken to the planet Mephistos, which is ruled by the tyrannical Mephis.  Rod makes allies with Taro, a prince of the blue skinned Unicor people, who fly around on giant birds, and rescues Karin, an Earth woman captured earlier by Mephis.

Rod and Taro are sent to the Island of the Living Dead as punishment.  Karin manages to follow them, and they find Andres there already.  They determine that the skeletal creatures on the island are normal people whose skin has become invisible after drinking the water on the island.

Rod, Taro and Andres fight wild boars and buffalo, a talking gorilla army and flying dragons as they escape from the island, make it to the city of the Unicors, and launch an attack on Mephis.

The final chapter has the best art of the run.  After defeating Mephis, Rod’s plane is shot down, and he winds up in an underwater realm of mermaids, alligator men and giant sea serpents.  He makes it back to the Unicor city and proudly announces Mephis’ defeat, and is rewarded by an embrace from Karin.

Since at no time does Rod seemed concerned about making it back to Earth, and the one time during the serial that we see events on Earth they are looking for a new source of tellurium, presumably having given up on Rod, I suspect he stays on the planet Mephistos, ruling the former kingdom of Mephis with Karin at his side.

 

Rod Rian: Flash Comics  2 – 11  (Feb – Nov 40)

The Spectre


The Spectre was the first dead hero.  When he was alive he was hard-edged cop Jim Corrigan, who shared a room in a boarding house with his partner in the force, Wayne Grant, while romancing wealthy socialite Clarice Winston, to the dismay of her parents.  Jim is trying to bring down mobster “Gat” Benson, and gets a tip from stoolie Louie Snipe that turns out to be a set-up.  Benson’s men capture Jim and Clarice, and put Jim in a barrel of cement, tossing him into the river.

Jim dies, but his soul is called by God (not named or shown, but the clouds and beam of light that accompany the all-powerful being kind of make it obvious).  Jim is to remain on Earth battling crime, and his astral, ghostly form emerges from the barrel and the river.  Jim saves Clarice and takes vengeance on his killers, turning one into a skeleton.

As the Spectre he is virtually omnipotent himself.  He can read minds, fly, turn invisible and intangible, grow to great heights or shrink.  He can travel through space, or to other realms, transform people into things (like ice, and then they melt).  He can inhabit inanimate objects, making the move and speak, and can even take on the form of other people.

But Jim is dead, and this stresses him out.  He moves out of the boarding house, and calls off his engagement to Clarice.  Wayne remains his partner on the force, though he appears less often as the series goes on, making his final appearance in More Fun 64.  Clarice refuses to give up on Jim, and keeps trying to patch things up, though her appearances are sporadic as well.

My favourite moment in his two-part origin story is the panel in which he sews his Spectre costume.  As the Spectre, he wears a white body stocking, covering him from head to toe, and a long dark green cloak with a hood, with matching gloves and boots, and shorts.  Aside from this one panel, it really does not seem like the Spectre wears a white thing under his cape.  He is a ghost after all, and it feels like his white body is simply his ghostly form.  At first, Jim turns into the Spectre, though in later stories the Spectre will emerge from him – sometimes both will happen over the course of the same tale.  But never again do we get to see him put a costume on.

The Spectre was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Bailey, and Bailey would stick with the series until it ended.  Siegel’s name continues popping up in the credits, and no other writer is ever credited, but not all stories are ascribed to him.

The Spectre’s stories take place in Cliffland, for the most part, though issue 61 refers to Centre City, and 82 to Gotham Town.  As Cliffland is mentioned before, between, and after these two stories, I believe those are both names of suburbs, or sections of the city.

The Spectre stories are at their most intense at the outset.  They have the feeling of a horror series, not a hero one, and the Spectre’s appearance is threatening.  He thinks nothing of killing bad guys, in horrific ways, and will fly them into space simply to scare them and make them reveal information.

In his first two years, the Spectre faces his most powerful foes.  Zor is a master magician who rivals the Spectre in power.  He faces the Spectre in issues 55 and 57 of More Fun, and their battles see them changing size, and paralyzing each other, temporarily.  The godly voice informs the Spectre of Zor’s vulnerability to ectobane, and the Spectre manages to imprison Zor in a coffin made of it.  Zor returns in the late 90s.

Xnon wears a costume almost identical to that of the Spectre, though in dark purple, and uses advanced alien science to steal an entire train, and create a giant image of the Spectre so that he will get the blame.  The Spectre cannot best Xnon, and the godly voice gives him the Ring of Life, which enables the Spectre to seal Xnon in a meteor.  I really enjoy Bailey’s art throughout the Spectre series, but the meteor is a very childish five pointed yellow star, and the worst illustration of the run.

The Ring of Life gives the Spectre the edge in what few battles he finds difficult.  The character was already so powerful, and this really would prove to be too much.  He uses it in More Fun 63, which came out a few months after All-Star 2, but I believe the order of the stories should be reversed, as the Spectre loses the Ring in All-Star, as he battles the three-eyed High Priest of Brztal, Kulak, who causes the “whispering death,” that drives people into murderous frenzies.  The Spectre does not sacrifice the Ring, he simply loses it as they chase each other through mystical dimensions and throw comets at each other.  Kulak, and the Ring of Life, return in All-Star Squadron in the 80s.

Bandar makes three appearances fighting the Spectre, though he only gets named in the last one, and it is not clear if that is his real name anyway.  He, like Xnon, wears a purple costume almost identical to the Spectre, and seems to be a force of pure evil, from some other dimension.  He debuts in More Fun 63, returns in 64 as a living shadow, and then in 70, leading the Crimson Circle Mystical Society, killing those who attempt to leave his cult.

Issue 73 is the last of the “classic” Spectre stories, as he deals with a mystical volcano that appears in the centre of Cliffland.  The final panel of that story introduces Percival Popp, the Super-Cop, and the Spectre series begins its decline.

At first, the only really bad thing about Percival Popp is his name.  He is an amateur detective who has become a fan of Jim Corrigan, and hides in the trunk of his car to meet him.  Jim wants nothing to do with the geeky, bespectacled man, but Popp does prove himself a competent detective.

In issue 75, the godly voice allows Jim to return to life, but retain his powers.  Jim being alive is never mentioned again, and makes little sense as far as retaining his powers goes, but the whole purpose is to allow him to reconcile with Clarice, so that she can more easily appear in the stories.

The look of the Spectre changes at this time as well.  Not a huge difference, the costume remains the same, but the cowl now has a bit of a peak to it, making his face clearer, and the cloak is usually over his shoulders and behind his back, instead of being draped around him, making the Spectre appear less ghostly, and more of a hero.  He still likes flying bad guys into space to scare them, but no longer kills them, and tends to simply beat them up.

As the series trudges forward, Percival becomes more and more important in the tales, and more and more incompetent as well.  In More Fun 90 Jim enlists in the army, and leaves the invisible ghostly form of the Spectre behind to hang out with Percival.  The Spectre is basically reduced to Percival Popp’s guardian angel.  These stories are not really bad, and Bailey’s art remains enjoyable, but the series has moved just so far away from the frightening and violent early days.

The Spectre makes his last appearance in More Fun 101.  He does not return until the 60s, in a JLA/JSA crossover.  Percival Popp makes a surprisingly good return in the Ostrander/Mandrake series in the 90, and Clarice returns in that book as well.

 

The Spectre:  More Fun  52 – 101  (Feb 40 – Jan/Feb 45)

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

The Whip


The Whip was an interesting adaptation of Zorro, set in the present day.  In the series, a hundred years ago in the town of Seguro in an unidentified state in the southwestern US, Don Fernando Suarez would don a mask and ride his horse out to defend the poor against exploitation, calling him El Castigo, the Whip.  In the two-part introduction to the series, New York playboy Rodney Gaynor is driving across the US with his servant, Wing Tai.  Hitting a crossroads, he flips a coin, which makes him head to Seguro.

The town is basically ruled by the Ranchers Association, who have the sheriff in their pocket.  Local worker Carlos has been framed for a crime, and is imprisoned, but likely to be lynched, although he was set up by the ranchers.  Marisa Dillon is a crusading reporter for The Seguro Journal, run by her father, and convinced of Carlos’ innocence.  Rod purchases the old Suarez estate, and dresses up as The Whip to bust Carlos out of prison, exposing the sheriff’s corruption.  As The Whip Rod wears a flamboyant latino outfit and mask, and adopts an embarrassing accent (“eef you weel horry over to the police headquarters, Mees Deellon, you weel get a wonderful story.”)

Rod sticks around afterwards, romancing Marisa, who of course is more interested in the Whip.  She suspects Rod briefly, but he does a fairly good job of covering his tracks at first.  This becomes more preposterous as the series continues, as both Rod and The Whip ride the same black horse, King.

Carlos comes to work for Rod, though both he and Wing Tai are only sporadically seen through the course of the series.

For the first year, this strip is fairly remarkable in consistently portraying the latinos as oppressed, manipulated and exploited by the whites.  The Ranchers Association has their stranglehold over the town broken, and Rod also goes after corrupt police, judges and newspapers in the region.  Not every white person is a bad guy, but all the bad guys are white.

This all begins to change after issue 14.  In that story, Marisa decides to travel the state to find interesting stories, and stumbles upon some claim jumpers, who capture her and abandon her out in the desert.  This is not resolved until issue 18.  The stories between these two no longer have a southwestern feel to them, they are simply city based crime stories, with white victims and villains.  There is also the awkward question of Padre Demo.

The Padre debuts in Flash Comics 3, and makes his only return in the story in issue 15.  In this tale, a cleaning lady sees a tax collector stealing from his safe, and tells the padre.  He goes to Rod Gaynor and tells him, so the Whip catches the tax collector.  The implication that the padre knows Rod is the Whip is made explicit at the end, and Padre Demo promises to keep Rod’s secret.

Which makes the opening of issue 16 all the stranger.  Wing Tai and Carlos are re-introduced at the start of this story, neither having appeared in months.  Wing Tai is called Rod’s valet, and Carlos given the curious job description of being Rod’s “other “man””.  That looks weird, but the quotation marks around the word man appear in the comic.  Homosexual inferences aside, after this intro they are referred to as the only two people who know Rod is the Whip.  What about Padre Demo?  More disturbing is the fact that Demo never appears again.  I think Rod did not trust the good padre to keep his mouth shut.

After issue 18 picks up and resolves the Marisa in the desert plot (did I make it clear that between issues 14 and 18 Marisa was not lost in the desert?), the series makes a big change, as Rod and Marisa head to New York City.  A very abrupt move, makes you wonder why it was so sudden.  A dead padre in  a shallow grave perhaps?

From this point on the series becomes more like other non-powered hero strips, with Rod and his friends stumbling across, or being victims of crimes, which the Whip solves.  Marisa never clues in to the two men being the same.  She continues to work as a reporter, but probably is not a very good one.  Aside from never figuring out that Rod is the Whip, she is said to be working at the Daily Star in issue 30, but is writing for the Evening Bulletin in issue 39, and then the Evening Sentinel in issue 46.

The only really great moment from this part of the run is in Flash Comics 25, when Marisa gets captured by stock swindlers and is thrown off the roof of an office building.  The Whip makes his horse jump from rooftop to rooftop, while he lassos and saves Marisa.

The social consciousness that marked the first year of the series is long gone.  In issue 53 Rod and Marisa help two homeless men, who take advantage of this, plotting to rob them and other wealthy people at a society function.

It takes a while for World War 2 to influence the stories.  Issue 32 has a tale about a Japanese-American who refused to work with Nazi spies, getting shot because of this.  Wing Tai, being Chinese, has no sympathy for the wounded man, but Rod does not jump to the conclusion that because he is of Japanese descent he must be a spy, and gets him medical help,  as well as catching his attacker.

Issues 45 – 52 are pretty much all World War 2 stories, with foreign spies everywhere, not just sabotaging ships and munitions plants, but also working out of beauty parlours (issue 46), and, my favourite, a salmon canning factory in issue 52.  Oh, those dastardly nazi salmon canners.

The Whip does head out west again in issue 49, and in the final story of his run in Flash Comics, issue 55, he is back on his estate in Seguro, dealing with the murder of a wagon train driver.  Wing Tai is with him, but there is no sign of Marisa.

Although his series was over, The Whip would make two more appearances in the Late Golden Age.

 

The Whip:  Flash Comics 1 – 55  (Jan 40 – July 44)

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