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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)

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King Carter (Early Golden Age)


There is not a lot to say about the remainder of King Carter’s series, which only runs four more stories.  The art is dreadful, and the writing no better.  It seem King and his boytoy, er, sidekick, Red work as newsreel cameramen.  Not that we ever see them take newsreel footage of anything, but they complain a lot about losing their cameras.

In their final story, Red refers to King quitting his job as a newsreel cameraman.  I suspect King lied to the boy, and he got fired for losing all his cameras.  But King can still afford to take Red to Africa on vacation, where King kills a very goofy looking python, and battles pirates who have kidnapped an American girl.  Red is the big hero in this last story, discovering that apes will follow him as their leader.

I was pleased that this last story avoided the racism prevalent in the series.  In More Fun 51 King refers to south sea islanders as “dizzy” for having their own religion.

With no job to go back to, I believe King and Red stay in Africa, where King starts making movies of Red and his ape “brothers”.  What kind of movies?  Disney or triple x?  I leave that up to you.

 

 

King Carter:  More Fun Comics 51-54  (Jan – Apr 1940)

Clip Carson, American Adventurer (Early Golden Age)


The entire mood and tone of the Clip Carson series changes in 1940, as Bob Kane is replaced by Sheldon Moldoff.  Clip looks more like a romantic action hero, less like a cartoon, and the stories become more realistic as well, at least by the standards of the time.  Moldoff holds the reins for much of 1940, and the artists who replace him are of lesser abilities, though George Papp`s art would carry much of the series final year at a reputable level.

The subtitle “Soldier of Fortune” is used periodically in Action Comics, but in More Fun when there is a subtitle, it tends to be “American Adventurer.”

The story picks up with Wolf Lupo disrupting the ivory trade.  Clip is captured by him and the native tribe he is working with, but uses his harmonica to call the tribe he had befriended last issue, and they rescue him.

The next story takes him to Algiers, and this is when Moldoff takes over the art.  The tale itself is mediocre, many of them would be, but at least it is lovely to look at.  After accompanying another trade caravan from Algiers, Clip sails across to South America, dealing with a very confusingly written onboard theft before reaching shore.  Once there, Clip aids the government forces in Verdania against the rebels.  This story runs from Action 23 – 25, and the most interesting element is that the rebels are being funded by an evil American oil man.  The last panel, which sees rebel leader Calero hung for his crimes, is very darkly coloured, almost in silhouette, likely to decrease the intensity of the visual.

Clip heads to New York City in issue 26, and from there to Canada to help Miss Trent find her missing father.  The man had discovered a mine in “Hudson Bay country,” but been captured by evil metis claim jumper Jacques Frontenac.

From here he heads to Hollywood, where Clip begins work as a consultant on a movie called “Adventure Pictures,” which really sounds like a lame title for a movie.  Nonetheless, everyone seems to think it will be a massive success.  There is a rival film crew that sets up in hidden locales to film the same action, hoping to release their version first, and a foreign film company trying to delay the shooting so they can release theirs first.  Amidst this, actors keep getting murdered on set.  Clip solves no less than four different crimes between issues 27 and 31, when he quits his job to head to Mexico and help out an old friend.

Professor Quint disappeared after finding an Incan temple.  This really would be quite a remarkable find in Mexico.  Clip saves the man, and then is called by another old friend being menaced in Colombia, after discovering a vein of “minelite,” so off Clip heads to Colombia.  Moldoff had left the series by this point, and the art is no longer good enough to carry the weak stories.

And the Colombia story is one of the weakest in the run.  It runs for three issues, and there is no surprise that neighbour Grasso is the one behind the threats – the dead body wearing a mask of Grasso’s face really only serves to make him more of a suspect, and Grasso turns out to be Mr. Z, as well as Mr. X, and even Agent X-11, a foreign spy.

The relative continuity of location ends at this point, and Clip’s further adventures jump from the Panama Canal to the Everglades, Alaska, Montana and Honduras before he heads back to South America, for stories in Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  With the exception of the Alaska story, all are one-shots, as Clip battles rebels and asian spies, rampaging seminoles, bank robbers, kidnappers and gamblers, but none of the stories have much spark to them.  The killer plants in More Fun 68 are the most interesting bit, but they are not particularly well-used in the tale, or even well-drawn.

During the Alaska story in More Fun 70 and 71, Clip works with yet another old friend, Bill Weston, who is identified both as a foreign correspondent, and a spy.  I find this of great significance, given the final Clip Carson adventure.

In More Fun 76 Clip is abruptly in China, almost single-handedly fighting off the Japanese invasion of a city.  He is now a foreign correspondent for an American newspaper.  Given that he has never had any experience reporting, that we have seen, I believe it is safe to say that this is another case where foreign correspondent means spy.

Clip is not seen again, and as his series ends in February of 1942, just after the attack on Pearl Harbour, I think his mission in China may have been less of a success than his last story would imply, and we can count Clip Carson among the Americans who died in China fighting the Japanese.

Clip Carson:  Action Comics 20 – 36 (Jan 40 – May 41)

More Fun Comics 68 – 76  (June 41 – Feb 42)

Bulldog Martin (Early Golden Age)


Bulldog Martin gains no more personality or background than he did in his earlier stories, but to my great surprise, he does gains powers, of a sort.  The series did not run very long, there are only five installments in this era, which is likely why he has been neglected by later writers.  Well, that and the embarrassingly racist portrayal of his sidekick, Jonah.

In More Fun Comics 52 Bulldog receives a package from a recently deceased friend, inventor Professor Livix, which contains pills that render one invisible.  Bulldog takes to carrying these around and popping them whenever he comes across a crime, enabling him to recover the stolen Romanof Ruby, bust up a protection scam and prevent an innocent man from being arrested for the murder of his uncle.

But, distressingly, the first thing he does, in issue 52, is bust up a union meeting.  In this tale, all the union bosses are corrupt, and unions exist only to rob both the worker and employer.  The writer must have been a Republican.

Bulldog invisibly walks out of a house at the end of issue 55, his final story, and is never seen again.  Perhaps taking too many of the pills had that effect.

 

Bulldog Martin: More Fun Comics 51 – 55 (Jan – May 40)

Biff Bronson (Early Golden Age)


Biff Bronson‘s series plays out much the way it had begun.  Decent art on passable stories, but virtually no characterization of the lead.  In his final appearance Biff defines himself as a “freelancer,” but if this means he is a private detective it’s the only indication of that.  He is just a guy, quick with his fists, who winds up in the midst of a lot of criminal activity.

Dan Druff fares no better in the sidekick position.  We see in More Fun 57 that they share a home, though whether it’s a house or apartment is not clear.  Dan’s mother appears briefly in issue 55, and Biff’s Uncle  Jim is in 64.  Uncle Jim lives in Connecticut, and that’s about his only distinguishing trait.

Most of the stories only run one issue, but there is a three-part story, running from More Fun 53 – 55 that pits Biff and Dan against The Wizard, a little old mad scientist who has built an army of “thousands” of robots (we don’t actually see that many) with which he intends to conquer the US.  Biff figures out how to disable the robots, knocking their brain batteries out, and guts one to wear its “body” and infiltrate the Wizard’s base to blow up their power supply.  He succeeds, but the Wizard uses a paralysis gun on him, and Biff is paralyzed from the waist down, trapped near the bomb he has rigged.  Dan saves the day, coming to rescue Biff in another hollowed out robot body.

There is also a two-part story, in More Fun 60 and 61, with Dr. Zabkin, who has developed serums that turn ordinary people into sideshow freaks, who he then sells through his associate Kapek.  Biff almost gets turned into one himself before turning the tables on Zabkin, who gets thoroughly trounced by his victims after their normal bodies are restored.

There is not much else to say about the character or the series.  Biff exposes the chief of police as the mastermind behind a protection scam in issue 66, and stops the assassination of a government minister from Bulovia in 67, his final story.  The FBI offer him a place in their organization, but Biff insists he wants to stay freelance.

But then we see no more of him.  Odd, isn’t it?  Did the FBI not take kindly to being rebuffed?  Was their offer not actually a choice?  Will we ever know the ultimate fate of freelance freelancer Biff Bronson?

Since I am going to close it on that note, probably not.

Biff Bronson:  More Fun Comics 51 – 67 (Jan 40 – May 41)

All-Star Comics 1  (Summer 40)

Sergeant O’Malley and the Red Coat Patrol (Early Golden Age)


Sergeant O’Malley continues to pursue criminals, protecting gold miners and lumberjacks, as we discover he is stationed in the Yukon Territory.  The town of Beaver Run appears in a number of the stories, as does the town of Moose Run, though it is only referred to once, in issue 57, and Beaver Run is first mentioned in issue 58, so perhaps these are meant to be the same town.

His native helped Blackhawk is in most of the stories, and O’Malley’s dog Flame makes two more appearances.  His second, and final, in issue 62, has Flame take on a bear, sending it over a cliff where it falls onto a fugitive.  Flame appears to be all right at the end of the tale, but I suspect he died from injuries in the fight.

O’Malley clearly loves his job.  In two stories he is on vacation, but still wearing his dress reds.

The stories that work best are the more straightforward ones, in which O’Malley has to track and capture the bad guys.  As the tales were generally only 6 pages long, the more complex ones tend to have plot holes, or are just messy.  One of the better instalments, issue 63, has O’Malley using a dogsled to pursue a robber.  Blackhawk gets thrown through a hole in the ice by the felon, and O’Malley dives into the freezing water with a rope, rescuing Blackhawk and getting to safety before constructing a crude ice-boat to catch up to the villain.

The only story that stretches credulity is in issue 68, when an elaborate temple is discovered under the waters of a lake.  They plan to drain the lake and disassemble the temple to move it to Ottawa.  The temple appears asian in construction, but there is never any explanation of who built it, or how it wound up under a lake.

O’Malley’s series ends in late 1941, and I suspect he left the force to enlist in the army.  It’s the kind of thing he would have done.

Sgt. O’Malley:  More Fun Comics 51 – 72  (Jan 40 – Oct 41)

Lt. Bob Neal of Sub 662 (Early Golden Age)


Lt. Bob Neal and his friend Tubby Watts begin this period in Honolulu, still aiding Professor MacDonald, as German spies try to capture him and his plans.  We discover that MacDonald has a daughter, named Judy at first, but then Patricia from then on.

With issue 52, sub 662 is sent to the Panama Canal, and through issue 55 Bob and Tubby deal with foreign mines in the ocean around the entrance to the Canal. Bob takes to the air in these stories, in an early jet, but it turns out the Germans also have a base from which they fire a ray (or more likely an electro-magnetic pulse) that stops plane engines from working, bringing the planes down.  Bob manages to escape when this happens to him, but the ship he winds up on gets blown up, and he is briefly hospitalized.

Bob does, however, figure out that the mines are magnetic.  How exactly this helps them get rid of the mines is not clear, but they do prevent a trawler loaded with explosives from destroying the Canal.

Issue 56 has the sub sent to protect a ship bringing oil to the Netherlands.  There is some excellent art on the sea battle with German ships in this story, and by the time it was released, it must have seemed terribly topical, as the German invasion of the Netherlands had either just begun or was about to.

Perhaps because of the war in Europe, the series takes a turn at this point.  In issue 57 Bob and Tubby are sent on leave to New York City.  In fact, they will never return to sub 662, and with issue 58 the series becomes simply “Bob Neal.”  They discover that Pat is also in New York, now a newspaper reporter, and from issues 57 – 59 Bob and Tubby help Pat with her investigations.  Though two of the three stories deal with the military, foreign agents are only the culprits in one of the tales, and the series begins to resemble the more generic detective stories.

The final four issues put Bob and Tubby back in the action, as they are sent as Naval Attaches to the American Embassy in Moravia, a European nation being besieged by Bulgravia.  This must be a major promotion for the two men.  Their boat across the Atlantic is blown up by Bulgravian spies, and their train sabotaged as well.  Bob and Tubby wind up having to steal a Bulgravian bomber and join a bombing run just to reach the capitol.

Once there, they become effectively bodyguards to the young King Peter, rescuing him and his fiancee Princess Maria from Bulgravian assassins and Moravian traitors.  By issue 63 the Bulgravian airforce is bombing the city while their army approaches, and though the series ends with the heroes vowing to keep King Peter safe, there is no question that the Nazi juggernaut made its way in.  I expect Bob and Tubby fought with all they had to protect the King, but all three would have been killed in battle, or executed afterwards.

Lt. Bob Neal:  More Fun Comics  51 – 62  (Jan 40 – Jan 41)

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