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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)

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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 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)

Flash Picture Novelette


This series begins with a promising first chapter of a story called The Demon Dummy.  There is too much text, but the tale of a ventriloquist framed and imprisoned by a shady cop, so he can steal the other man’s girlfriend, sets up an interesting revenge premise, and the abrasive dummy is always good for creepiness.  But a bit too much happens before the chapter concludes.  The cop gets caught and imprisoned, and the woman dies giving birth to the cop’s child.  There is no one left for revenge to be taken against.

And so the second issue largely consists of the dummy urging the ventriloquist to act against the baby, which is just awful.  The ventriloquist throws away the dummy, adopts the baby, and even winds up marrying a nurse.  Not the ending one was expecting, but a decent enough one.

Sadly, that was as good as the Flash Picture Novelettes would get.  The rest are all one-parters, and though there is a recurring character, Inspector Pierce, the stories themselves are convoluted and tedious.

It really seems that the intention with this series was to have more text than illustration in the stories.  Each novelette has at least four or five panels that are nothing but text, and much of the time we just look at characters talking.  Often they are sitting, frequently they are literally just talking heads.  Nothing to grab the reader.

The bulk of the stories are mysteries, Inspector Pierce appearing in five of them, debuting in issue 4’s Where There’s a Will, and returning in The Money Vanishes (8), Two A.M. (10), The Hooded Horror (15) and the final story, Voice from the Dead, in issue 17.  Issue 8 includes a box proclaiming it “Another Inspector Pierce Mystery”.

Issue 6 has a science-fiction story, Don Fuel and the Mystery Planet.  Ranger Danger, in issue 11 is a western, and though there is a blackmailer in issue 13’s Shadows of the Past, it’s really a romance tale.

The series was replaced by Minute Movies, by the same creator.  I do not have high expectations for it.

 

Flash Picture Novelette: Flash Comics 1 – 11  (Jan – Nov 40),  13, (Jan 41),  15  (Mar 41),  17  (May 41)

Johnny Thunder


Despite being arguably the most powerful character in the DC Universe, Johnny Thunder’s strip was much more of a comedy series than a super-hero one. His origin story is elaborate to the point of absurdity, as he is kidnapped as an infant and brought to the Pacific island of Badhnesia, where he is given a magic belt to wear for seven years, after an arcane ceremony in a native temple.  Still a child, he sails away from the island and is picked up by a passing freighter, whose captain just happens to bring him onto a streetcar being operated by Johnny’s father, who recognizes his long-missing son.  The end result of all of this is that when Johnny says the magic words “cei-u” (which sounds like “say you” in English), a magic Thunderbolt appears, and makes any wish Johnny has come true.

The series tends towards slapstick, and there are as many tales with no villains as with them.  Often, Johnny misadventures simply play out without having to solve a crime.  Johnny’s honesty and earnestness keep the reader on his side, while his gullibility, and lack of sense, make his use of the Thunderbolt far less omnipowerful than it could be.  I should also mention that for much of the first year the series itself is called Johnny Thunderbolt, though the character is never called this.

The earliest stories are the most fun, as Johnny has no idea that he even has this power.  Throughout his run he is constantly in search of work, hoping to impress Daisy Darling, and one day marry her.  Johnny lives at home on Long Island with his parents.

At first the Thunderbolt is not even seen.  Johnny makes wishes, often unwise, and they just come true, like saying “well, blow me down” and having the person then do that.

While unaware of his powers, Johnny gets and loses a job in a department store, becomes a professional boxer, and then a G-Man.  It only only after he gets fired from that in Flash Comics 7, after helping a foreign spy escape, that we begin to really see and hear the Thunderbolt.  Even still, its progression from a bolt of pink lightning to an anthropomorphic being with a distinct face, three little bolts as “hair”, a human looking upper body and lightning tail takes a very long time.  Each issue the Thunderbolt gets a little more human-ish looking, reaching its final form in Flash Comics 21.

By All-Star 2 Johnny realizes that the things he says come true, but still has no idea that he has to utter “cei-u” first.  He attempts to protect Daisy’s father from mobsters out to destroy the building he is constructing, succeeding only by fluke.  He realizes he can order the Thunderbolt to do specific things, rather than have it act on whims, in Flash Comics 11, and then spends a few issues as a fireman before getting fired from that job for the chaos he (actually the Thunderbolt) causes.

In World’s Finest 2, which pre-dates the attack on Pearl Harbour, Johnny joins the army, but again the Thunderbolt creates such mayhem that he gets kicked out.

Flash Comics 21 introduces Peachy Pet, a hideous looking obnoxious orphan child that Johnny adopts.  Peachy really takes the series into slapstick territory, pretty much taking the lead in the next few stories.  In issue after issue she causes massive damage, which Johnny consistently gets blamed for. On the plus side, she is a wonderful skewed version of the orphan sidekick boys that had become a must for super-heroes, but even still, she overpowers the stories.  Considering that the all-powerful Thunderbolt didn’t even do that, it’s really saying something.  This is also the issue in which Johnny knows that his magic words are “cei-u.”  There was no moment shown when he figured it out, but really, it had been almost two years, even a boy as dense as Johnny would clue in by now.

In these stories Johnny often forgets that he has the Thunderbolt, until Peachy reminds him towards the end of the tale.  Issues 23- 26 see him get into massive debt to Mrs. Ethelmere Van Der Vander, who has the ability to approve or decline his adoption of Peachy, but this entire plotline simply gets dropped with no resolution.

Johnny and Peachy head to Brazil for issues 26 and 27, and Peachy now has a dog, Snuffles, whose thoughts can be read.  This really seemed unnecessary, Johnny was getting lost amid all the comedic additions to his series, but the dog was apparently left behind in Brazil, as we don’t see it again.

In issue 32, following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Johnny joins the navy.  I had hoped that would reduce Peachy’s role in the series, but she stows away on his ship, and after being discovered becomes the crew’s mascot.  There is definitely more action and less slapstick in the navy stories, which last until Johnny gets an honourable discharge in issue 53.  Peachy usually gets the credit, though Thunderbolt does the work, as they capture Nazi subs and spies.  Johnny is simply treated like dirt by the rest of the crew, and by Peachy, and even by the Thunderbolt.

In issue 42 the Thunderbolt returns to Badhnesia, finding it under Japanese occupation, and brings Johnny along to help oust them.  The Thunderbolt will occasionally obey Peachy as well, particularly if Johnny is not around, or unconscious.

The final two stories of the period are billed “Johnny Thunder and Peachy Pet,” but this is inaccurate, as Peachy gets to go solo in the adventures.  Needless to say, these take the series back to its slapstick days.

 

Johnny Thunder continues in the Late Golden Age

 

Johnny Thunder:  Flash Comics 1 – 55

New York World’s Fair 1940

All-Star 2  (Fall 40)

World’s Best 1  (Spring 41)

World’s Finest 2 – 3  (Summer – Fall 41)

Hawkman


The Hawkman series begins with a long flashback prompted when Carter Hall examines a crystal knife amid his ancient weapons collection.  Carter sees himself as a young Egyptian prince, Khufu, who has fallen prey to the machinations of Hath-Set, a priest of Anubis.  Hath-Set uses the knife to kill Khufu and his lover, Shiera.

Carter wakes from his reverie, and crafts himself a costume with a hawk mask and large wings, which are held on by straps across his bare chest.  The wings are made of “ninth metal,” which he also learned about in a dream, another secret of the ancient Egyptians, which allows him to fly.  The subway system is mysteriously burning, and in investigating it Carter finds not only Shiera Sanders, the reincarnation of his former lover, but also the evil Dr. Hastor, a reincarnation of Hath-Set.  Dr. Hastor appears to die at the end of the story, but he returns in the 80s.

Hawkman encounters the god Poseidon in an underwater adventure in Flash Comics 9, and Poseidon gives him the ability to breathe underwater, but it appears this was a temporary power, as Hawkman clearly does not have this ability in later issue.  On the other hand, after getting severely wounded in issue 23, he is saved and tended to by hawks in the hidden valley, and taught the language of birds.  He uses this to his great advantage, both for information, and also to train a bird army that he calls upon when needed.

Big Red is the hawk that becomes somewhat of a sidekick, but that role is largely filled by Shiera.

Shiera’s appearances are sporadic at first, and often she gets kidnapped and has to be rescued.  We learn that she is an archeologist in Flash Comics 16, as she heads to a dig on Mongolia and gets captured by a horde of Mongol warriors.  Her aunt and uncle appear in issue 25, searching for a rejuvenation formula.  Despite being captured so often, Shiera is no wimp.  In issue 20 she attempts to prove her equality to Hawkman by going after a mad bomber on her own, using a rope to swing from rooftop to rooftop.

In Flash Comics 24, December 41, Carter makes Shiera a matching costume, though with a red bra, for a costume ball.  Shiera jumps on the chance to try it out, and offers to help a young couple that have fallen prey to a phony accident scam.  She doesn’t fare very well, getting caught again, and Hawkman does the heavy work himself.  In her next outing she gets shot by hoods who mistake her for Hawkman, but she never gives up, and becomes more or less equal partners with Hawkman by the end of the era.  Interestingly, for a very long time she refers to her costume as her “Hawkman” costume, and its not until issue 30 that she is called Hawkgirl.  Her costumed debut also precedes the first appearance of Wonder Woman by two weeks,  making her DC’s first superwoman.

At first she cannot speak to the birds, but somewhere along the way she does learn their language, and even gets her own bird sidekick, Kitty Hawk, though this bird only appears in Flash Comics 37.

Sheldon Moldoff does the art on much of the run, coming on with issue 4, and sticking around until late 42.  The stories after this are signed by him, but clearly are not his art.  That being said, many of the later 1942 stories look partly like his work, but also partly not.  Perhaps he was getting sloppy, even by 1941 we stop seeing the fabulously rendered mythical cities high in the hills and tribesmen of different nationalities in full dress.

There are no villains who make more than one appearance during this era, but a few of them return in much later times.  Alexander the Great debuts in Flash Comics 2, a wanna-be world conqueror with a giant bulbous bald head, he invites Hawkman to a sumptuous dinner and explains all his plans before the two fight it out. Nyola is an Aztec priestess of the god Yumm-Chac, who seeks out perfect young women to sacrifice to her god in All-Star Comics 2.  Like Dr. Hastor, Alexander the Great and Nyola would have to wait until the 80s to be seen again, all of them returning in the pages of All-Star Squadron.

Satana the Tiger Girl puts human brains into the bodies of animals, who act as her slaves, in Flash Comics 13.  She next appears in 2009.

There are many fascinating one-shot villains, who easily could have returned, as Hawkman tends to fight talking alligators, fake mummies, or talking killer plants more often than simple robbers or murderers.  Father Time appears in issue 33, a mad scientist with a mountain castle as his base, he develops untraceable poisons and melting metals, but dresses as the character he names himself for, with a large scythe that he uses in his battle with Hawkman.  The Human Dynamo is scientist Danford March, who gains the ability to shoot electricity from his body after an experiment goes wrong (because his cleaning lady spilled water on the machine).  His powers drive him mad, but his sanity is restored at the end of the story as his powers get drained.

The Hummingbird is noted ornithologist Hester Morgan.  Greed prompts her to develop a pair of wings that allow her to fly and a magnesium flare gun to blind those she is robbing.  Carter uncovers her identity in Flash 52, and tries to reform her.  Shiera gets jealous of the attention she is receiving from Carter, and as Hawkgirl threatens her, insisting that she is still a criminal.  This stresses Hester out so much that she does return to crime, but even after catching her a second time, Hawkman lets her go free again.

Hawkman’s use of ancient weapons in battle is tied to Carter’s collection, but in no story in this period is Carter called an archeologist.  He is independently wealthy, and in one story is credited as the inventor of a new gun.  He is shown to live in Hall Manor, a large estate, but in other stories clearly is inhabiting a high-rise.  Flash Comics 9 has him operating in New York City, issue 37 says Gotham City, and its Keystone City in issue 49.

I prefer to see these not as continuity errors, but reflecting his ultra-rich status.  Carter has his family estate, but also apartments in a number of different cities, which he and Shiera travel to.  I mean, really, if your power is to fly, why wouldn’t you travel a lot?

Hawkman continues in the Late Golden Age

 

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

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

Cliff Cornwall, Special Agent


Cliff Cornwall is an FBI agent, whom the US army “borrow” to hunt down spies and saboteurs.  In Flash Comics 16 we learn that Cliff is a reserve army air corps officer, which may explain why they chose him.  He is a skilled pilot, and also shows familiarity with deep-sea diving.

Sheldon Moldoff lends his beautiful art to a few of the early stories, but his work is really just wasted here.  The series is not bad, but hardly memorable.

His first case takes him to Alaska to discover why a number of pilots, and their planes, have gone missing, and he meets Lys Valliere on this case, bringing her back to Washington DC with him at the end.  She never formally enters the FBI or military or anything, but accompanies Cliff on a number of his cases, and proves herself a useful partner – something he is always keen to point out.  You can tell he has the hots for her.

Lys is in the first three stories, getting very jealous in the last one as Cliff appears to fall for a foreign spy, but it turns out he is just playing with her, setting her up to deliver false information back to her superiors.

Lys does not appear again until issue 11, long enough that I thought we would never see her again, but she gets one more appearance after that, in issue 15.  Cliff has no other supporting cast, just a long series of foreign spies, about half of whom are female seductresses.

The stories in issues 10 and 11 are set in the Philippines, and Cliff has to find foreign spymaster Goldie, who has had the natives stirred up against the Americans, hoping to make them pull out their bases.  Goldie gets captured by Cliff after he saves her life, which makes a big enough impression on her that after her men grab Cliff and free her, she winds up changing sides and helping to bring down her comrades.  She gets pardoned and released into Cliff’s custody, but gets shot and killed at the end of the story.

Not a lot else to say about this series.  In issue 13 Snowland gets invaded.  From the map they display, this is clearly Greenland, which makes it very odd that Cliff cites the Monroe Doctrine as a reason to invade the country.

Cliff’s series ends mid-1941, and I expect he fell foul of some foreign spy.  Probably a guy, he always was suspicious of the women.

 

Cliff Cornwall:  Flash Comics 1 – 17  (Jan 40 – May 41)

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