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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 Comet


The Comet was created  by Jack Cole for MLJ Comics, and has the distinction of being the first superhero to get killed.  I may also add that he was the first superhero with a really garishly ugly costume.

John Dickering is a scientist who discovers a gas 50 times lighter than air, and decides that injecting himself with it is a good idea.  It enables him to jump great heights and distances, effectively flying, and also causes beams to emit from his eyes, making anything he stares at explode.  He wears a visor at all times to prevent destroying anything he looks at.  Curiously, the beams have no effect on plate glass.

He wears an outift that covers his entire body, except for his face.  It’s bright red all the way up to the arrow pointing at his face, but with black sleeves and shoulders, covered and yellow stars and crescent moons.

He is a fairly intense hero, who thinks nothing of using his eye beams to kill bad guys.  This works against him, as he gets captured and hypnotized by Zadar in Pep Comics 3, who sends him out to commit thefts and murders.  The Comet kills Zadar at the end of the story, but is wanted for the murders he committed while under hypnosis.  Through the rest of his series the police are chasing him, and even though he gets credited with catching bad guys and stopping foreign agents, his name never gets cleared.

In Pep Comics 5 he meets reporter Thelma Gordon.  She writes for the Daily Journal, or is it the Daily Star? (Pep 9). No, it’s the Daily Blast (issue 11).  Sorry, the Daily Blare (12).  No, I was right before, the Daily Blast (Pep 15).

Thelma believes his story about the hypnosis, and encourages John to modify his gas injections, so that he can pass as a normal person.  We see him out of costume for the first time in Pep Comics 6, though he has to wear special glasses to negate his eye beams.

The stories themselves are nothing special, and the art seems to get worse with each issue.  It is clear that Jack Cole only did the first story, and there is a wonderful use of the roof of a house as a panel border in the first story.

Although the Comet was the first superhero to die, this does not technically occur in his own series, which ends in Pep Comics 16.  Pep 17  begins the Hangman series, and the Comet’s death occurs in that, so will be discussed in my entry on that character.

The Comet (a different incarnation) returns as part of DC’s Impact line in the early 90s.

 

The Comet:  Pep Comics 1 – 16  (Jan 40 – June 41)

The Shield


MLJ’s hero The Shield was the first supehero to dress in an American flag, predating Captain America by over a year.  He was FBI man Joe Higgins, and his identity was known only to J. Edgar Hoover, who appears in many of the stories, sending him on his missions.  The artist who created the character was Irv Novick, though there is nothing about the art that resembles his later work.  A variety of artists would work on the series, which ran in Pep Comics, as well as Shield-Wizard, which he shared with the other hero, but the only one to shine on it was Jack Kirby, and even then only his earliest issues reflect his talent.

At the beginning, the Shield’s powers are ill-defined, but part of the costume.  This changed in the first issue of Shield-Wizard, in which we learn that Joe’s father was a scientist killed by foreign agents to prevent him from developing his Shield serum.  This boosted the powers of the Sacrum, Heart, Innervation, Eyes, Lungs and Derma.  Joe’s costume resembled the badge-style of American shield, with red and white stripes running vertically down the torso, and a blue band with horizontal stars along the upper chest.  A blue mask and tights complete his outfit.

It would take a while for the Shield to get a supporting cast.  His girlfriend Betty was the first recurring character.  She would eventually become a private investigator, in Shield-Wizard 4, but not much was ever done with her, and of course she never figured out Joe was the Shield.

JuJu Watson became his sidekick in the extended origin story in Shield-Wizard 1, joining the FBI at the same time, and becoming buddies, though again unaware of his identity.  JuJu appeared older than Joe, and definitely not as intelligent.  He would also get a girlfriend, Mamie, in Shield-Wizard 3.

At the beginning, the Shield fought mostly foreign spies of fictional countries.  The Wizard appears in Pep Comics 4, a story that falls between the Shield’s two appearances in his series in Top-Notch.  The Wizard just gives the Shield some information on the Mosconians, setting up the story in which they both battle them.

The Shield gets two recurring villains in these early days, both foreign agents, Dr. Wang and the Vulture.   The Vulture has unexplained green skin and pointy ears.  It may be a mask or make-up, but no one ever questions it.

In Pep Comics 11 the Shield adopts an orphan boy, Dusty, and trains and costumes him as his sidekick, Dusty.  Neither Betty, JuJu nor Mamie ever figure out that Dusty is really Dusty.  Sigh.

With Pep Comics 27, and Shield-Wizard 7, Jack Kirby takes control of the art, and the series just takes off.  OK, well, it doesn’t get amazing, but it ceases to become a chore to read.  Kirby’s art improves with each issue at first, and it is fascinating to see him develop his style.  The Shield and Dusty are pitted against wonderfully grotesque German agents, The Strangler and The Hun.  The Hun even gets an entire story in Shield-Wizard 8 on his origin, which parallels that of the Shield.  Amidst this, the Shield’s powers simply wear off in Pep Comics 29, and he cannot get them back.  He bemoans this for a number of issues, but does not let it stop him.  This makes the stories in which he battles, defeats and kills the Hun more effective, as the Hun is actually more powerful than the Shield.

The Hun story was clearly popular enough that the Son of the Hun (not called that, but I couldn’t resist) appears in Shield-Wizard 10.

By Pep Comics 30 the supporting cast aside from Dusty was basically dropped.  Even J. Edgar Hoover had stopped appearing.  But after the first few power packed Kirby issues, the stories turned back to crime tales, lots of haunted houses that turn out to be hoodlum hideouts.

As the series continues to the end of this era, there are some stories that clearly are not Kirby, but many that look sort of like him, but also not.  I am not sure if this is Novick back on the series and trying to duplicate Kirby, or some of his rushed work before he went off into the army, or if the work itself is part Kirby, part someone else.

The Shield continues in the Late Golden Age.

 

 

 

The Shield:  Pep Comics 1 – 49  (Jan 40 – July 44)

Shield-Wizard  1 – 13  (Summer 40 – Spring 44)

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)

Flash


The Flash debuted as the cover feature in the first issues of Flash Comics,  but he was only one of five new characters in that book.  His popularity lead to him getting his own comic, but as Flash Comics already existed, he wound up with the awkwardly titled All-Flash as his solo book.

Jay Garrick was a college student working on a hard water experiment.  He was not the most diligent student, he took a smoke break and unwittingly knocked some of the chemical apparatus over.  The fumes overpowered him, and he passed out, waking in a hospital bed.  Jay discovered that he had gained a speeded-up nervous system as a result of the accident, and in the first issue saves his girlfriend Joan and her father, a retired army major, from Sieur Satan and the Faultless Four.

Jay wore a red shirt with a lightning bolt on it, blue pants, and winged shoes and a winged helmet, making him look like a modern version of Mercury (or the FTD florist).

The series was written by Gardner Fox, and the stories are fairly serious and straightforward, but the art by E.E. Hibbard was critical to the success of the series, adding an almost slapstick feel to it.  There are so many panels of characters with stunned and disbelieving expressions as Flash runs around chaotically.

Aside from running quickly, the Flash can spin so fast he becomes effectively invisible.  Somehow this does not create a breeze, as he stands right next to people while spinning, and they have no idea he is there.  His speed is never clocked precisely, but in issue 9 he runs 2000 miles in 3 hours.  In issue 24 he gets captured and chained up, but rubs his chains together with such speed that the metal melts.

Joan Williams appears in every story, his girlfriend and confidant, aware of his identity from the beginning.  Neither she nor Jay really get developed much though.  We never see her father again after the first issue, and never learn anything about Jay’s life before the accident.  Jay graduates from university, and gets a job at Chemical Research Incorporated, but we never see him at work, or anyone else from the laboratory.  Joan gets a job as Defense Coordination Secretary in Flash 25, investigating gangland influence in the munitions industry, but only for that one story.

In All-Flash 5 he gets sidekicks, in a way.  Winky, Blinky and Noddy are three somewhat shady wanna-be inventors, who accidentally create things that work: a personality-switching ray in All-Flash 6’s “The Ray That Changed Men’s Souls,” and an invisibility vitamin in All-Flash 12’s “Tumble In to Trouble.”  Blinky hypnotizes himself into gaining super-strength in All-Flash 13’s “The Muscleman, the Djinn, and the Flash.”  Most of their appearances, as you may have guessed, were in the pages of All-Flash.  Unlike the Superman and Batman solo books, All-Flash tended to run full-length stories, rather than having four shorter ones, and Winky, Blinky and Noddy helped expand the stories out to their desired length.

The gambler Deuces Wilde would also become a minor supporting character in the Flash series, again appearing in All-Flash, issues 10 and 14.  Deuces Wilde is the only positive portrayal of a gambler I have come across in 1940s stories so far.

The Justice Society of America make an appearance in the first issue of All-Flash, rewarding him with his own book, as Johnny Thunder excitedly points out that he will be taking the Flash’s spot on the team.  The rule at this time was that Justice Society members had to move to honourary membership when they got their own series, but Green Lantern, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, the Sandman, the Spectre, the Atom and Hourman all rejoice at the Flash’s success.

Four of the Flash’s major villains also debut in this era.

The Monocle appears in All-Flash 1, a criminal with upper-class pretensions, he has his men steal jewels that he uses in his “garden of gems.”  He does have the wit to use a strobe light against the Flash, making it easier for his goons to see the hero, though it doesn’t help much overall.  The Monocle does not return until the 1980s.

The Shade debuts in Flash Comics 33’s “The Man Who Commanded the Night.”  He wears all black, with a top hat and black glasses, though in this story he has long white hair.  He had created a machine that spreads darkness throughout the city, a blackness that absorbs all light, but arms his men with special guns that shoot a reflective dust so they can see.

Rag Doll is a circus contortionist who turns to crime in Flash Comics 36, “The Tale of the Treasure Hunt.”  As with the Shade, there is no hint of the character development that would come later, these are just simple, straightforward bad guys.

The Thinker makes two appearances in the era, and even has his true name, Clifford DeVoe, revealed at the end of his first story, All-Flash 12’s “Tumble in to Trouble.”  In this story he has spent ten years working out crimes in elaborate detail, accounting for all possible scenarios, at least until the Flash shows up and messes up his schemes.

He returns in All-Flash 14’s “The Man Who Unleashed the Past,” which is easily my favourite story from this era.  It opens with Winky, Blinky and Noddy at the offices of DC Comics, discovering that All-Flash 14 has not been finished, and taking over the writing and drawing of the series.  The Thinker cons them into believing they have created a machine that pulls creatures from the past into the present, but that’s inconsequential compared to characters escaping situation by breaking panel boundaries, Winky,Blinky and Noddy asking Gardner Fox and  E.E. Hibbard for help in catching the Thinker, and editor Sheldon Mayer freaking out over where the story is going.  Doiby Dickles almost helps them fight the bad guys until Green Lantern pops in points out that they are in the wrong comic.

Those who know the Barry Allen Flash may see some foreshadowing here of the use of editor Julius Schwartz in stories from the 60s and 70s, and there are a number of elements that would return in much later stories – alternate dimensional versions of the Flash and his friends and foes, as well as time travel, but none of it is dealt with very seriously.  Jay Garrick always has a big smile and a cheerful insouciance when fighting crime.

The Flash continues in the Late Golden Age

 

A few of the Flash’s major foes appeared in this early part of his run.  The Monocle, The Shade, Rag Doll

 

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

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

All-Flash 1 – 15  (Summer 41 – Summer 44)

Comic Cavalcade  1 – 7  (Winter 42 – Summer 44)

The Wizard (Early Golden Age)


The first year of The Wizard’s stories are by far the best.  Not that they are great, the art is mediocre and the stories jingoistic, but after the first year it would just get worse.  How this character spun off into a shared book I have no idea.

The Wizard, Blaine Whitney, is credited at first solely with his brain powers, which we see largely in terms of his inventions, as well as a pill he has devised to give him added strength and stamina.  In Top-Notch 4 he uses hypnosis to control a villain’s mind, but we don’t see that trick again. He also has visions of things that are happening, or about to happen.  For a very long time these are explained as his “photographic” mind reasoning out what is occurring, even though there are instances where this clearly is not the case – for example, in Shield-Wizard 13, when he is reading a book, and gets a vision of Roy in trouble.  It is not until 1943, in Shield-Wizard11, that he is finally credited with clairvoyance.

In his first year he battles an onslaught of foreign agents and troops, usually called in by his brother, Grover, of Naval Intelligence, and leaves behind a piece of paper with the phrase “Our country right or wrong” on it, which seems a little extreme for a hero.  Shouldn’t they be above such mindless acquiesance?

There is a delightful slough of inventions in this period, though, often accompanied by cut-away diagrams.  The Wizard creates a vibra-ray gun, a dynomagno saw ray, a contra-gravity flask, a neutronic vacuum ray, a strato-amphibian plane and an aerochute in a matter of months.  It’s entirely possible these do not work as well as they might.  We never see them used a second time, and the neutronic vacuum ray stops engines exactly the same way the vibra-ray did two issues earlier.

He also meets fellow MLJ star The Shield twice in this year, a brief meet and greet in Top-Notch 5, followed by an actual team up against the forces of Mosconia in issue 7.  Shortly after this they begin sharing a book, Shield-Wizard, but never team up in its pages.

Top-Notch 5 also introduces Blaine’s fiancee, Jane Barlow, who has more interest in the Wizard than in Blaine.  We learn that she is journalist in Top-Notch 11, though the paper is called the Daily Record in this issue, but the Daily Chronicle from issue 19 on, and that Blaine is the owner of the paper, though this is rarely mentioned again.

In issue 6 Blaine changes from his suit into more generic blue tights, with a red cape and shorts, still with his red domino mask.

The first two issues of his Shield-Wizard series are devoted to his ancestry.  The first issue details the earliest Whitney settlers, and trhe one who was burned at the stake in Salem as a witch for the things he invented, and then goes on to show how they helped Washington win the Revolutionary War, with issue 2 covering his ancestors actions during the War of 1812.

In issue 8 it all goes wrong, as he finds a 12 year old shoeshine boy, Roy, and brings him home to train.  He gives Roy a pair of blue shorts,a red and white striped shirt and a little blue kerchief and mask, and starts taking him out to fight crime as Roy the Super-Boy.  Grover had made his final appearance in issue 7, and no longer will the Wizard deal with foreign foes, now he becomes a crime fighter.  Sadly, he will also stop inventing cool weapons, preferring to fight it out alongside Roy.

Even worse is the addition of Oscar the Ostrich, who does little other than provide chaotic “comedy” in issues 22, 24 and Shield-Wizard 5.

In Top-Notch 25 Blaine and Jane head to the altar, but she is kidnapped by a jilted ex-boyfriend.  The Wizard saves her, and they head back to the church at the end of the story, but Jane hears a news bulletin about an explosion at the waterfront and runs off.  It seems they just give up on getting married after this, as Jane sticks around until the end of the series, but they clearly are not married in any of the later stories.

There is one genuinely good story in this run, a very powerful one that was written after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.  In Top-Notch 27, the Wizard’s final appearance in that book, he reminisces about Randolph Blake, a long-time friend who went too much into the party world, got framed for murder and believed himself guilty because he had passed out.  After the Wizard proved his innocence, he could not go back to his former life, and chose to join the army.  He was stationed at Pearl Harbour, and died in the attack.

About the only other thing I can say about this series is that the Wizard does get two stories without Roy before his run ends, in Shield-Wizards 9 and 13.

 

The Wizard returns in some revival of the MLJ heroes, probably the 60s Mighty Crusaders series.  I hope Roy gets left behind.  If Oscar the Ostrich returns I will regret ever having read the MLJs

 

 

The Wizard:  Top-Notch Comics 2 – 27  (Jan 40 – May 42)

Shield-Wizard  1 – 13  (Summer 40 – Winter 43)

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