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Black Pirate


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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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)

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)

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