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Posts tagged ‘Irv Novick’

Steel Sterling


Steel Sterling is the name adopted by John Sterling after he covers himself with a chemical concoction and dives into a vat of molten steel.  It does not change his appearance in any way, but gives him the “resistance, magnetism and strength of steel.”  He did this to avenge his father’s murder by gangsters, though he never actually gets around to doing that.

His powers endow him with great speed, though exactly how is never explained.  They also allow him to fly.  He does this by rubbing his hair, which causes a magnetic attraction to phone wires.  And that lets him fly.  Yup.  His most entertaining power is to send and receive short wave messages by rubbing his tongue on his teeth.  The panels depicting this usually show him with his tongue sticking out and bolts of electricity shooting out of his mouth.

I have made the visuals sound awful, which is unfair.  Irv Novick provides the art on the series, and though it is not that impressive at the start, over its run it becomes very bold and dynamic.  It never looks like Novick’s later work, but it is certainly above par.

Steel spends his first five stories fighting the Black Knight, who always appears to die at the end.  Guess the fifth death was real.  By this point, he had gained a supporting cast: Dora Cummings, the daughter of a scientist and his romantic interest, Officer Clancy, an overweight cop, and Looney (Alec Ben Lunar) who is basically comic relief.

Zip Comics 9 – 13 are the best issues of the run.  They deal with two criminals from a circus, Twisto, a rubber man, and Inferno, a fire eater who can breathe fire.  Twisto is the dominant, and more malevolent of the two, while Inferno winds up changing sides, and even willingly goes to prison to pay his debt to society in issue 12, after helping Steel take down the Rattler, a murderous mob boss.  Steel winds up in prison himself in issue 13, to uncover who is behind a series of escapes, and Inferno helps him find the corrupt guards allowing it to happen.

Amid this, Steel sheds his “secret identity.”  He has been pretending that Steel Sterling is the brother (presumably identical twin) of John Sterling, and Dora never figures out this is a lie.  As part of his plans against Twisto, he allows him to think he has succeeded in killing John.  He reveals the truth to Dora, but leaves his John  identity dead.

Steel and pals head to Hawaii for a story that would have been released shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, in issue 22.  Of course it does not reflect these events, but does lead Steel to China in the next issue, facing off against the Japanese.  After a trip to Alaska in issue 24, in which he does an impressive job repairing a cable car line by himself, and a journey to ancient Greece caused by touching a victory cup in issue 25, Zip Comics 26 features a story about the bombing of Pearl Harbour, putting Steel right in the middle of the action.

The series then becomes very World War 2 oriented.  Looney becomes a lieutenant in the army, and Dora gets relegated to the sidelines.  She makes only one final appearance, in Zip 29, complaining about how Steel is always busy fighting the Axis instead of taking her out on dates.  Boo-hoo.

Steel fights Baron Gestapo, Der Hyena, the Werewolf of France the Creeper, and a host of other Nazi villains, while travelling to Czechoslovakia, France, Lisbon, North Africa and of course Germany.

The series shifts back to homegrown crimes with issue 39, and the last few issues see Steel pitted against Amazons, elves, living shadows and zombies.

Steel Sterling returns at some point, probably the Mighty Crusaders series in the 60s.

 

 

Steel Sterling:  Zip Comics 1 – 47  (Feb 40 – Summer 44)

Jackpot Comics:  1 – 9  (Spring 41 – Spring 43)

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)

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