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Posts tagged ‘World’s Best Comics’

The King


The King is a disguise artist who captures thieves, though is fairly close to being one himself.  His real name is, apparently, King Standish (and his series goes by this name for its first 12 installments), but all we ever learn about him is that he is wealthy, blond, lives on his own in a New York City apartment, and is a member of the Bachelor Club.  He uses wax and dye to alter his appearance, and “voice control” to change how he sounds (and how would we ever have figured that out without an explanation?).  He takes pride that no one knows what he really looks like, and often takes on two or three different disguises during the course of a single story.

When not in an actual disguise, but not just himself, the King wears a tuxedo, complete with top hat and cape, and a domino mask.  In Flash Comics 28 and 29 he wears a green suit and orange fedora with his mask, but then reverts to evening dress for the rest of his run.

In his debut story he goes up against drug runner Boss Barton, who has sent Myrna Mallon to find out who he really is.  The King believes Myrna is an innocent dupe of the Boss, so in his second story she acts as his assistant, but we never see her again after that.  Or do we?

From Flash Comics 5 until the end of his run, virtually every story pits The King against The Witch, a female thief, who also likes wearing evening dress while committing crimes.  The King fouls her plans time after time, but has no interest in seeing her behind bars.  He usually just lets her escape, but in issue 7 actually drives her to her home at the end of the story.  There is openly a bit of romance between them.

Now, the Witch is mostly just concerned with stealing jewels, and will even turn on her own hired goons if they want to get violent with the intended victims, but in a couple of her appearances she displays a talent for disguise as well.  From her first appearance, it is implied that she and the King have met before, and I suspect that Myrna Mallon was simply an identity she had adopted while working for Boss Barton, which fits her general M.O., as well as explaining how she and the King met, and why there is already a spark between them in their supposed first encounter.

Because all but a handful of stories feature the Witch, the series is excessively repetitive.  The King seems to have little interest in crimes, other than the ones she is involved with, and admits to following her around, essentially stalking her until he sees she is up to something, and then taking on disguises to protect the victim, recover the jewels and capture the thieves.

The King and the Witch even work together a few times.  This begins with Flash Comics 9, which deals with a horde of jade pursued by the Witch and some chinese pirates.  After defeating the pirates, the King suggests they simply split the jade horde between them.  She joins the King in World’s Finest 3 in stopping a fake food coupon scam.  I don’t fully understand what these food coupons are, it’s not the ration system, as the US is not at war yet, but I guess it’s the forerunner of food stamps?  Anyway, she also helps out the King in other stories against Nazi agents, putting her patriotism over her criminal impulses.

Although we never learn anything about King Standish’s background, we do learn a bit about the Witch, in World’s Finest 2.  She returns to her father in New Orleans, a successful painter, and discover that they are descendants of the pirate Jean Lafitte, which is given as the explanation for her tendency towards crime.

The most enjoyable story of the entire run is in World’s Finest 5, which deals with gypsies and stolen rubies.  The King takes on the identity of suspected thief Johnee, while the Witch disguises herself as the fortune teller Elena.  While both are in disguise, Johnee and Elena confess their love for each other.  After solving the crime, and seeing the real Johnee and Elena become a couple, the Witch comments on the fact that it was really the two of them confessing their love that spurred the gypsy couple to revealing theirs.

The King does not appear again until the 80s, and even then only in cameos set during this era.  King Chimera would appear as his son in 2009, claiming that his father travelled to Asia at some point after the war, but that’s all we ever learn about him.

 

The King:  Flash Comics  3 – 37  (Mar 40 – Jan 43),  39 – 41 (Mar – May 43)

World’s Best Comics 1  (Spring 41)

World’s Finest Comics 2 – 5  (Summer 41 – Spring 42),  8  (Winter 42)

Comic Cavalcade  3 – 4  (Summer – Fall 43)

All-Flash  13  (Winter 43)

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)

Batman (Early Golden Age)


Batman would acquire most of the trappings we now take for granted during this period.  Not the least is the first use of Gotham City, in Detective 53. The Batcave, Bat-Signal, even the word Batmobile all have their debuts in this era, along with many of the familiar Bat-villains, and, of course “the sensational character find of 1940” – Robin.

Batman would graduate into his own book, the second comic book character to do so, in early 1940, and then gain a spot in World’s Finest Comics in 1941.  Bringing more artists onto the series was a necessity, and two would arguably add as much to the feel of the series as Bob Kane did.  Jerry Robinson gave a more realistic feel to the characters, though perversely was also the one to create the Joker.  Dick Sprang went in the opposite direction, in a way, stylizing things even further, introducing the giant props that would become in a hallmark of the strip in later periods.

Batman’s origin is re-told, virtually just reprinted, in Batman 1, but aside from this never mentioned or referred to again.  His arsenal expands, mostly things that he can carry in his utility belt- an acetylene torch, gas pellets, smoke pellets and such, though he would also use a “Bat-poon” in Batman 23, a rope with two spiked metal spheres on the end.  His car is first called the Batmobile in Detective 48, and takes on its classic appearance a couple of months later in Batman 5, a big dark 1940s roadster with a large wing on the roof and rear, and a bat-mask on the front.  In some stories it would also have two red racing stripes along its sides.  The Bat-Signal debuts in Detective 60, and quickly becomes a standard feature.

The first of  Batman`s special uniforms appears in World`s Finest 7, `The North Pole Crimes,`completely white suits that he and Robin use to blend into the background.

The Batcave was slow to develop.  In Detective 47 we get to see a tunnel that leads from Bruce Wayne`s home to an abandoned barn, which he uses to store his car and plane.  The trophy room is first seen in `Brothers in Crime,`in Batman 12, but in this story it is located in the house itself.  The trophy room has souveniers of cases, but lacks the giant penny and robotic dinosaur that would become so iconic – even though the story the robot dinosaur comes from, `The Isle that Time Forgot`, took place in Batman 10.  In Batman 16 his lab is located in a brick-walled room under the house, and the tunnel to the barn comes from this room.  Only with Detective 83, in 1944, would the phrase Batcave debut, and now it was indeed a cave under the house, which has sections for the lab, gym, trophy room and storage of the Batmobile and Batplane.

Commissioner Gordon appeared infrequently at first, he is barely in any of the stories in 1940, but this was the period when the police were still chasing Batman.  That changed in Batman 7, `The People Vs. Batman,`which sees Gordon give a long speech defending him and explaining why Batman is needed, culminating in appointing him an honourary member of the Gotham police department.  Gordon appears more often after this, though we learn nothing about him, except, apparently, that he is somewhat vain.  In `The Loneliest Man in the World,`in Batman 15, we see that the Commissioner has a giant painting of himself behind his desk.

Bruce`s finacee Julie Madison makes only three more appearances, two in stories that feature the villain Clayface.  Her acting career takes off after filming Death Castle in Detective 40, and in Detective 49 the studio changes her name to Portia Storme, and she heads off to Hollywood, calling off the engagement.  Julie Madison would not return until the Bronze Age.

Robin is introduced in Detective Comics 38, a young boy who performs with his parents John and Mary Grayson as trapeze artists with Halys Circus.  The parents are murdered while doing their act, as the circus owner refused to pay protection money to Boss Zucco.  Bruce takes the boy in, trains him and has him vow to fight crime, and then outfits him with a bright red, green and gold costume and gives him the name Robin, after Robin Hood.  Dick takes to the life eagerly, after taking a photo of Zucco killing one of his own men, sending the mob boss to prison.  Robin`s main weapon in this era is a slingshot, and often he is pitted against much larger foes, lending a David vs Goliath element to his fights.

Robin would get his own series in the Late Golden Age, but even in this period he had a number of stories where he got the lead role.  The first of these is in Detective 41, only three months after he first appears, as he is sent undercover to a boys school that has a counterfeiting ring operating out of it.  He does much the same thing in Batman 5`s `Crime School for Boys.` A mixed-up report card gets him grounded in Batman 18`s `Robin Studies His Lessons,`, and Dick takes on a job to earn money for a birthday present for Bruce in `Dick Grayson, Telegraph Boy,`in Batman 22, but his most important story is Batman 20`s `Bruce Wayne Loses the Guardianship of Dick Grayson.` Dick`s Uncle George, and his wife Aunt Clara, arrive and take Bruce to court for custody of the boy.  They win, but turn out to have no interest in him, and offer to sell him back to Bruce.  Infuriated, Bruce dons his Batman gear to expose the charlatans, and regains custody of Dick at story`s end.

Batman 5 introduces socialite Linda Page, an old friend of Bruce`s who has become a nurse.  They strike up a relationship, even though Linda is more smitten with Batman than with Bruce.  We learn that her family is from Texas, where they own a number of oil wells, in Batman 6`s `The Iron Jungle.`  Linda appears in ten stories between 1941 and 43, but never manages to make much of an impression.  Her final appearance is in a Catwoman story, `Your Face is Your Fortune,`in which she suspects Bruce is more interested in the former criminal than in her.  Bruce is actually playing both women, and gets caught at it.  It seems clear that Linda does not forgive Bruce for his games, as we never see or hear from her again.

You can guess who debuts in Batman 16`s `Here Comes Alfred.` A former actor and wanna-be detective, Alfred Beagle is short, fat and balding, with no real desire to be a butler, but his father served Bruce`s father, and Alfred comes over from England to fulfill his dying father`s last wish of having his son work as a servant.  An odd last request, I tend to think it had more to do with getting Alfred out of blitzkrieg’ed England than of wanting him to be a butler.  Neither Bruce nor Dick is keen to have him around, but Alfred proves his worth, rescuing both of them in his first story, as well as literally stumbling on the entrance to the Batcave.  Alfred never lets them know he discovered their identities by accident, preferring to make them think his detective skills allowed him to deduce it.  Alfred is largely played for comic relief at first, though he does get to track down the bad guys in World’s Finest 12’s “Alfred Gets His Man.”  Detective 83’s “Accidentally on Purpose” sees Alfred head off to a spa, and by the end of the story he has lost all his excess weight, gained about a foot in height, and his balding pattern has changed as well.  The tall, skinny Alfred who saves the day at the end of this story is the one we recognize today.  His importance increases dramatically after this story.  In Detective 86’s “Danger Strikes Three”, he, Batman and Robin each operate solo for part of the story.  All get captured, and work together to escape and capture the criminals, and Alfred is put on equal par with the other two heroes.  He impersonates Batman in “The Duped Domesitcs,” in Batman 22, in an attempt to impress the maid Belinda, not realizing she is really Catwoman.  Bruce is in the story, but allows Alfred to stay in Batman costume, and its Alfred who captures Catwoman and turns her over to the police, after apparently spanking her.

Hugo Strange appears in three more stories in this era.  He has a fog machine and concentrated lightning weapon in Detective 36, creates giant monster men in Batman 1, and develops a fear gas in Detective 46.  The story in Batman 1 is notable for Batman machine-gunning a truckload of monster men from his Batplane, then snagging another around the neck with a noose, strangling him to death as he hangs from the plane.  Hugo Strange appears to die in this last tale, but would return in the Bronze Age

The Joker makes two appearances in Batman 1, murdering people and leaving a huge smile on their faces as he robs their jewelry.  In the second of the stories he gets stabbed, and was meant to die, but the final panel was altered to have him survive.  The editors knew they were onto a good thing.

But perhaps they milked it too much.  In the four years between Batman 1 and the end of this period the Joker appears in 20 different stories.  This means there was a Joker story about every two months.  It is hardly surprising that the quality of these tales would suffer.  In Batman 8’s “The Cross Country Crimes,” the Joker’s murder spree takes him to New Jersey, Ohio, Kansas and Delaware, and he leaves behind his Joker playing card at the site of each crime, with the states name on it.  The New is scratched off of the New Jersaey card, and the D from the Delaware card, and Batman realizes the Joker is spelling his name, and that the next crime will occur in Rhode Island.  A number of later Joker tales would use this name spelling gimmick, but Batman never twigs on before the fourth letter.  In “The Joker Walks the Last Mile,” in Detective 64, he is executed, but revived by his men.  From this point the Joker is far less likely to commit murders, his crimes taking on more of a joke element, as he uses classic pranks, puns, or upside down clues, and such as the motifs for his crimes.  He does, however, get his classic looking hideout with Batman 11, with playing card symbols scattered around the room, a Joker carpet and large smiley mask over his throne.  The only other notable Joker story in this era is ‘The Joker’s Double” in Detective 86, in which a different person dresses as the Joker to commit murders and decoy the police from his actual motive.  Batman suspects that the Joker is not the actual killer, but when confronted by both Jokers cannot tell which is the real one.  The Joker’s protestations of innocence in this case, while true, are of no help to him, and both men are taken to jail.

Catwoman also debuted in Batman 1, though she was known just as the Cat for her first two stories.  In Batman 1 she is in disguise as an elderly woman until the last page, only then do we discover the mysterious jewel thief is a beautiful young woman.  Batman allows her to escape, and even stops Robin from following her.  She returns in Batman 2, competing with the Joker to rob a precious case of jewels.  She and the Joker only share one page in the story, but she offers the jewel case to him if he will spare Robin’s life.  Batman bursts in before the Joker can decide, and once again the Cat escapes.

In Batman 3 she is called Catwoman, and wears his first costume, a brown cat-head mask and a tawny dress.  She would switch to a black cat-head mask and matching dress for her next appearance, “The Princess of Plunder,” in Batman 10.  In this story she is socialite Marguerite Tone, who hosts scavenger hunt parties as a cover for her men to commit robberies.  I had mentioned Batman 15’s “You Face is Your Fortune,” when discussing Linda Page.  Here, Catwoman is working in a salon under the name Elva Barr, while making masks of women while giving them facials, then using the masks to impersonate them and commit crimes.  She meets and falls for Bruce Wayne in the story, and they begin seeing each other.  Catwoman disguises herself as Linda to see if Bruce is seriously interested in her, but Bruce’s lies to cover his Batman identity backfire on him, and she returns to her life of crime.  Her last story in this era was also already mentioned, Batman 22’s “The Duped Domestics,” in which she adopts the name Belinda and works as a maid to gain access to wealthy peoples homes and rob them.

The original Clayface, actor Basil Karlo, makes a great first appearance in Detective 40, a film-set based whodunnit as the actors in the movie Death Castle are killed off according to their deaths in the movie.  He returns for revenge in Detective 49, in a more prosaic tale.  Basil Karlo would not appear again until 1980, by which point there were already two other Clayfaces that had appeared.

The Three Devils appear in Detective 50, former circus acrobats who turned to crime.  I mention them only because Azrael would deal with an updated version of the Three Devils in his series, far in the future, but I will reach it one day!

The Scarecrow debuts in World’s Finest 3, a great story that sees poor, reclusive bookish Professor Johnathan Crane turn to crime so he can afford to collect rare books.  The scene where he pulls out a gun in class and fires it near the students so they will experience fear is such a great moment. It’s a shame that his second story, “The Scarecrow Returns,” in Detective 73, is all about rhyming words and run of the mill thefts.  The Scarecrow would not appear again until the late 1960s.

The Penguin gets his nickname from Robin in Detective 58, as he and Bruce visit an art gallery and see a short, overweight man with an elongated nose, wearing a tuxedo and carrying an umbrella.  The thief overhears the comment, and adopts the name himself.  The umbrellas are his main gimmick in this era, and they can contain blades, guns, sleeping gas or spikes that shoot out.  He uses them to conceal stolen art, a radio, or a mirror.  He glides to freedom using them, and even has a helicopter one, though Batman prevents him from escaping using that one.  The Penguin’s best stories have him playing con jobs, and my favourite is his second appearance, “King of the Jungle,” in Detective 59, as he turns in wanted men to collect the rewards, then frees them from prison and splits the money with them.  He sets up his first nightclub/casino in Florida, in Batman 11’s “Four Birds of a Feather,” and runs a bird store in Detective 67’s “Crime’s Early Bird.” Altogether the Penguin appeared in seven stories in this era, a distant second to the Joker, but enough that the umbrella gimmicks would get a bit stale.

Two-Face appears in three stories that form a nice, completed saga in this period, in Detectives 66, 68 and 80.  He is District Attorney Harvey Kent (the last name later changed to avoid confusion with Superman, apparently, though anyone dumb enough to confuse Superman and Two-Face likely shouldn’t be reading comics), prosecuting mobster “Boss” Maroni, who throws acid into his face while on the witness stand (not the best possible defense). With half his face horribly scarred, Harvey steals Maroni’s two-headed coin and scars one side of it, and takes to wearing a suit split down the centre into two patterns. Based on the flip of the coin, Two-Face either commits crimes, or acts philanthropically.  His robberies are based on the number two, robbing a double feature, a baseball doubel-header, a symphony’s double concerto, or kidnapping a rich man’s double.  His wife Gilda hopes for Harvey to turn himself and in follows him around, getting shot for her efforts in the third story.  This shocks Harvey enough that he allows Batman to take him in, and he undergoes plastic surgery, which returns his face to normal.  A surprisingly upbeat ending for the character, but he was too popular to get a happy ending, and Two-Face would return in the 1950s.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum were cousins who looked so much alike people thought they were twins.  Short, fat and bald, Deever and Dumfree Tweed do dress as their Alice in Wonderland namesakes in their first story, in Detective 74, to rob a costume ball, but their second tale, “The Secret of Hunter’s Inn,” in Batman 18 is much better, as they build a duplicate of a resort, and control the road access to lure wealthy guests and rob them.  When the victims try to bring the police to the resort, they wind up at the real one, which has no record of the guests ever arriving.

The Crime Doctor appears in Detective 78, and the following month in Batman 18.  Matthew Thorne is a respected surgeon lured by the excitement of a criminal life.  He wears surgical garb and travels in an ambulance, helping out other thieves with “house calls,” then charging them for his help.  He attempts to maintain a code of ethics, stopping to operate on Robin when he gets shot, but gets killed by his own men for failing to back them up.  An interesting character, an “Earth-One” version would appear in the Bronze Age.

The Cavalier was the last notable villain to debut in this era, and a serious effort was put in to make him a worthy opponent for Batman.  In Detective 81 he leads his gang in a series of seemingly pointless robberies, intending to ultimately acquire a collection of sports miniatures.  His primary weapon is his electrified sword, though he also uses a lace handkerchief with a lead ball attached, and has a metal spiked plume in his hat feather.  In Batman 22 we learn that he is Mortimer Drake, a wealthy Gothamite, member of the same social club as Bruce Wayne, which allows for delightful scenes with the two of them, neither aware of the others identity.  Drake has no need of money, his thefts are of miniature collectibles.  In his third outing, “Laboratory Loot,” in Detective 89, his ego has prompted him to write an entry on the Cavalier for the club’s Who’s Who, and knowing that the Cavalier must be a club member, Batman quickly spots some acid stains on Drake’s hands, which match injuries the Cavalier sustained in attempting to rob a scientist, and exposes him.  The Cavalier escapes yet again, but now he cannot return to his home or former life.

When not facing his ever-increasing gallery of villains, Batman usually is dealing with mobsters or solving whodunnits.  World War 2 is ignored almost completely.  There are only three stories that touch on it, and the memorable cover of Batman 15 that has a smiling Robin feeding bullets into a machine gun that Batman is firing.  The first of these, “Swastika Over the White House,” is the best, as a German spy gets a job as a newsreel cameraman.  In his secret nazi meeting room they have a big swastika chandelier, and you cannot help but notice how non-threatening a swastika is when you cover it with little light bulbs and suspend it from the ceiling.  Batman 15’s “The Two Futures” shows a nazi occupied USA, and contrasts it with an allied victory.  Batman 19’s “Atlantis Goes to War,” has the Germans using Atlantis a secret base for the submarines until Batman and Robin convince the Atlanteans to aid the allies instead.

Three stories are billed as “Police Division” stories, and have Batman and Robin aiding different, umm, police divisions (ok, you craft that sentence better).  “The Good Samaritan Cops” in Batman 18 deals with an emergency squad that drive green trucks.  I have no doubt this squad existed in the 40s, but it does not seem anything special now – and why did they drive green trucks?  “The Lawmen on the Sea,” in Batman 20 is a decent story about the harbour patrol, but the genuine information on the division is overwhelmed by the very science-fictiony “sub-sea water lock” the villains use to conceal their underwater hideout.  I was very impressed with Batman 23’s “The Pelt Plunderers,” which deals with the RCMP.  As well as being accurate with geography and the use of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the story features a seaplane refitted to land on ice, and an old “aerocar,” a kind of hovercraft on skis.  I have seen one of these old vehicles, and the illustration of it is completely accurate.

Another type of story common to this era is what I call the “Grand Hotel” story.  These will have a number of different characters, all with their own plots and concerns, usually only one of them a criminal one.  Batman is the central character in these tales, but the reader gets far more involved in the smaller stories being tied together.  The first of these is `Destination Unknown,`a train-based tale in Batman 13.  `Prescription for Happiness,`in Batman 13 centres it on a drugstore, but the best of this type is “Destiny`s Auction,” in Detective 79.  A young aspiring starlet, an aging actor and thief each consult a fortune teller at the start of the story, and get readings that seem to be positive, but in fact turn out badly.  Each has a an identical trunk, which gets taken by the police for one reason or another.  The story then jumps forward a couple of years.  The trunks are being auctioned off, and though each buys one, none get their own trunk.  After all is said and done the performers make a hit on Broadway, and the bad guys go to jail, once again fulfilling the fortunes told at the start of the story, but in yet a third way.

A couple of the stories from this period would be re-written and re-used over the years, both as Batman stories, and with other heroes.  Detective 61’s “The Three Racketeers,” has three criminals sitting around playing cards as they discuss their recent crimes, all of which were foiled by Batman.  At the end of the story we see that all three are sharing a prison cell.  “The Case Batman Failed to Solve,” in Batman 14, has Batman and a number of other “famous” detectives invited to a dinner where their host is murdered.  It is easy to see that one of the detectives is based on Charlie Chan, and another on Sherlock Holmes, but if the other two are meant to be detectives from this era they are not ones I am familiar with.  Batman discovers that the killer was the victim himself, who was dying anyway and wanted his death to be a great unsolved mystery.  Batman pretends to have not been able to solve the case, to give the man his wish.

Batman continues in the Late Golden Age

Batman:  Detective Comics 35 – 89 (Jan 40 – July 44)

Batman 1 – 23  (Spring 40 – June/July 44)

New York World’s Fair 1940

World’s Best Comics 1  (Spring 1941)

World’s Finest Comics 2 – 14 (Summer 41 – Summer 44)

Red, White and Blue (Early Golden Age)


Red, White and Blue proved to be a very  popular series during these years, appearing not only in All-American throughout this period, but also in the 1940 New York World’s Fair, the first two issues of All-Star Comics and the first six issues of World’s Finest, before settling into Comic Cavalcade.  Doris is never specifically demoted from being their boss, but we never see her function in that capacity, and she appears to be equals with them, until close to the end of the period.

The stories themselves tend heavily toward repetition.  Over and over scientists discover some new weapon, or a prototype plane/tank/sub has been constructed, and Red, Whitey, Blooey and Doris are assigned to protect them/retrieve them/save the kidnapped scientist.  The only major variation to this is when they need to find out who is sabotaging munitions factories, and they do that an awful lot as well.

As the series progresses, Red ceases to be the hero in each and every tale, and Blooey gets a few stories as the lead.  Whitey is made the muscle of the group, and gets to be the hero a few times.  Doris is generally the one to figure out the bad guys plans, although in All-American 33 she is the only one to elude the nazi spies who have been sent out to capture the four.  She defeats her enemy, disguises herself as the woman and takes down the spy ring, freeing the boys.

There is a rivalry between Doris and Red, both trying to show the other that they are the better spy, but there is clearly also some romance between them.  That being said, Doris does kiss Blooey in more stories than she kisses Red.

There are a few stories without Doris, but in most of them she shows up before the end, usually having been in disguise, appearing in the tale as some other woman.

By 1942 the stories are picking up some of the paranoia that pervades other series, with anyone and everyone possibly being a nazi spy.  Our heroes encounter them at a roller skating rink, a Hollywood film set, a Texas oil facility, a scrap yard, a coconut warehouse, even a laundry.  Still, this does get balanced somewhat by the tale in All-American 52, in which neighbours who become suspicious about a man living on their street cause more problems through their gossip that is necessary, and the end of the story reminds them to leave the spying to the professionals.

As 1944 begins, the series takes a definite turn.  Doris has stopped going on cases with them, now simply baking pies and acting like a jealous girlfriend.  She does not even believe Red when he explains his flirtations with a German spy as part of his job, as if she had never done the same thing herself!

And then the group gets split up.  Red is sent with the army to fight the Japanese in the Pacific, Whitey joins the forces in Europe, and Blooey goes off with the navy.  Each story deals with only one of the characters, who relates his adventures in a letter to the other two.  Their stories alternate in issues of All-American, but Whitey is the star of both the Comic Cavalcade adventures that end this era.

Red, White and Blue continue in the Late Golden Age

Red, White and Blue:  All-American  10 – 59  (Jan 40 – July 44)

New York World’s Fair  1940

All-Star Comics 1 – 2  (Summer – Fall 1940)

World’s Best Comics  1  (Spring 1941)

World’s Finest Comics  2- 6 (Summer 41 – Summer 42)

Comic Cavalcade  1 – 2  (Winter 42 – Spring 43),  5 – 7  (Winter 43 – Summer 44)

Crimson Avenger (Early Golden Age)


When the Crimson Avenger‘s series returns after a few months hiatus, there is little indication of the changes the series would undergo. He still wore his Shadow-like red cape and hat, and used his gas gun to take down the bad guys.  In fact, in story after story all the Crimson Avenger really needs to do is get near the villains.  One shot of his gas gun, and they are down for the count, wrapped up and shipped off to the police.

Wing was still functioning as valet and chauffer for Lee Travis, though now his skill at English had decreased, and he spoke the way asians were “supposed” to speak in the comics.  That’s when he was allowed to speak.  For some reason, in many of the early 1940 tales Wing is virtually mute.  In issue 41, Lee asks Wing to check out the rumours in Chinatown about human smuggling, and in the next panel tells Wing the information he gave him will be helpful – but we never see Wing ask anyone, or even give his report to Lee!

In October 1940, Detective Comics 44 Lee adopts a new costume, wearing a red body sticking that covers his head and goes all the way to his feet.  It has a yellow fin on the top, and he wears a domino mask over his eyes.  He continued to wear his old red cape. Large yellow gloves, matching boots and yellow shorts complete this ensemble, which has a very unusual crest in the centre of his chest, a black circle surrounded by a larger yellow one, with scalloped edges.  No explanation of this symbol was given (heck, no explanation for why he changed to such a garish costume was given, either), and it was left the later writers to interpret it.

Over the next year the costume would be tinkered with, elements coming and going.  The gloves and cape would be jettisoned.  He continued to use his gas gun, though not nearly as often, preferring to rely on acrobatic fighting.

The costume changes are not always well-handled.  In a number of the stories we see that he wears his costume under his normal clothing, but in issue 48 Lee is captured by hoods, tied up and thrown into the river.  He emerges from the river in full costume (which still included the cape at this point), miraculously having changed underwater.

Issue 51 is intended as a light-hearted tale, with Lee accompanying a wealthy boy on his birthday, and helping him fend off kidnappers, but the ending shows his darkest side.  After the bad guys have been caught and tied up, and are merely waiting to be shipped off to jail, Lee dons his costume and beats them up.  Not a very heroic act, but it does perhaps explain why Lee adopted a costume that better concealed his identity.

In issue 59 Wing suddenly gets a costume as well, of not a codename.  His outfit matches the Crimson Avenger’s though with the colour scheme reversed, much like the way Kid Flash’s reversed the Flash’s colour scheme.  As his crest he has something stylized, which might be a “7”, or perhaps a question mark.  The only reason it could possibly be a seven is that this is the same month that the Crimson Avenger and Wing started appearing in Leading Comics as part of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.  His team would never get mentioned in the pages of his own series.  Odd, considering that Batman was mentioned, along with the Joker and the Penguin.

Even with Wing as his sidekick the Crimson Avenger never faced any really good villains.  There was a mad scientist in Detective 49 who created a destructive robot, Echo, and another in World’s Finest 4 who claimed to be Methuselah after developing a youth serum, blackmailing its users into committing crimes for him.  He fought the Adder in issue 79, and the Lone Wolf in issue 85, but there was nothing notable about these killers aside from their names.

As the series progresses, we see more and more of the staff at the Globe-Leader.  At first, there is just one reporter, Mac, who Lee deals with regularly, but soon many of the stories would focus on individual staff – reporters, the weather forecaster, the society columnist, the printing staff, the obituaries writer.  The best of these has Lee give a young journalist from a small-town a shot at working for the paper if he can bring in interviews with three notable recluses, and then as Crimson Avenger helps him do so.  There appear to be all manner of dreadful crimes occurring in this tale in Detective 69, “Three Behind the Throne,” when in fact there are innocent explanations all around.  But none of these staff members ever appear a second time.

Lee also starts using a capsule that releases a crimson smoke cloud, which he uses for dramatic entrances and exits, and also for messing up the bad guys during a fight.  In issue 73, “The Old-Fashioned Crimes,” he uses the cloud to get away from his city desk editor, who he is standing right next to, and change into the Crimson Avenger without being noticed.

His series ends with issue 89, but the Crimson Avenger and Wing continue to appear as part of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

The Crimson Avenger’s next solo tale is in the Early Bronze Age, part of a serialized Seven Soldiers story.

 

Crimson Avenger:  Detective Comics  37 – 89  (Mar 40 – July 44)

World’s Best Comics 1  (Spring 41)

World’s Finest Comics  2- 5 (Summer 41 – Spring 42)

Zatara, Master Magician (Early Golden Age)


Zatara continues to fight crime in sartorial splendour throughout this period.  For a while, his stories carry the Guardineer art credit, though this is blatantly untrue.  At least three different artists work on Zatara in this era, none as skilled as Guardineer.  This really is a shame, because the stories are often quite good, but seem less so due to the poor art.

Zatara’s powers are largely confined to his backwards speaking spell-casting, though he is able to read minds in one story.  He uses his magic to render himself invisible frequently, but also sometimes takes on a “shadowy form,” and in a number of stories sends out his astral form while his body stays behind.  Oddly, the invisibility, shadowy form and astral form are all drawn exactly the same way, as a silhouette.

Zatara frequently brings inanimate objects to life.  Many times they will give him information about the criminal, but he will also have them attack the bad guys, and twice has them manifest in human-style bodies, once with a brick wall, and another time he creates a coat-hangar man.

Zatara will also use a kind of short form for complex spells, stating what all he wants to happen, and then proclaiming “Eb Os Ti!”, which certainly saves the reader the time of working out a long backwards spell.

Tong’s appearances become sporadic, with World’s Finest 5 being his final appearance. The Tigress returns in a handful of stories, often working with other thieves.  Zatara admits that he is reluctant to see her behind bars, but still sends her to prison on occasion.

In these stories, he is often shown performing, and participates in many USO tours and bond drives.

His appearance in the 1940 New York World’s Fair is one of his best tales.  Because many pickpockets are working the Fair, Zatara creates his own exhibit, the Magic Mansion.  His audience is treated to a magic show, a battle with the pickpockets, a journey to the apex of the Trylon, a hunt for stolen jewels, even a trip to Mars as part of the show.

In most of his stories Zatara is pitted against thieves, murderers, gamblers, and con men, but he does get a bit more of a challenge in some cases.  He faces a scientist with a tornado making machine in World’s Finest 2, some renegade Atlanteans in Action 47, a musician who puts people under his control in Action 49, a human magnet in World’s Finest 7, and faces off against a hood who duplicates Zatara’s backward spell-casting in Action 61.

In Action Comics 46 some children encourage Zatara to help out in Europe, and he crosses the ocean and takes on the Nazi army, even making it to Berlin and forcing Hitler to surrender.  One can only assume Hitler went back on his word immediately after Zatara left.

Action 69, “East Meets West” has a curious element of racism, as Zatara and other magicians deal with the practitioners of Eastern magic, which they consider black magic.  The story shows the western magicians as noble and heroic and the eastern ones as liars, thieves and murderers, and dismisses their skills as “black magic.”

Action Comics 65, “The Riddle of the Tired Thespians,” may be the first appearance of the Medusa Masks, employed later by the Psycho-Pirate.  A university professor is using the masks to drain his students of emotions.  The masks are not used the way Psycho-Pirate would use them, but the long row of emotion masks certainly appears identical.

Zatara continues in the Late Golden Age

Zatara:  Action Comics 20 – 74 (Jan 40 – July 44)

New York World’s Fair 1940

World’s Best Comics 1  (Spring 41)

World’s Finest Comics  2 – 14  (Summer 41 – Summer 44)

Superman (Early Golden Age)


Superman continued to be the most successful character in comics through this period.  His solo book quickly went from being a quarterly to a bi-monthly, and he would also get the lead slot in World’s Finest Comics, a follow-up to the New York World’s Fair specials, that would feature both Superman and Batman.

Every story is credited to Siegel and Shuster, but this is blatantly untrue.  Shuster stayed with the strip longer than he did on any of his other creations, but the sheer volume of Superman stories necessitated bringing on other artists.  Some were definitely of lesser ability, but by far these men did a much better job of keeping the look and feel of the series.  Wayne Boring would have the greatest influence, under his pen Superman’s crest would take on its “normal” shape, but Jack Burnley executed some beautiful stories as well.

Aside from occasional mentions of Krypton in the opening blurbs, nothing more is shown or mentioned about Superman’s background.  We learn in one story that he has no living relatives, but we have yet to learn anything about the Kents.  We do get to see Clark’s apartment in Metropolis a few times, though it has little distinguishing character.  The most notable thing we learn about Clark is that he has a massive clock collection.  This proves to be of significance in Action 73,” The Hobby Robbers,” but is never mentioned again.  The curious justification for his collection is that he is fascinated by clocks because time seems to stand still when he moves at super-speed.

Superman’s vision powers get a lot of play in this era, and expand from merely x-ray and telescopic vision to include microscopic as well.  In Action 69 we learn that his x-ray vision cannot see through lead.  He uses super-breath for the first time, and super-hypnosis gets almost over-used as a way to prevent Lois from discovering his identity. He is credited with having a photographic memory. Yet at the same time his invulnerability seems to decrease a bit, as he is frequently knocked out by electric guns and paralysis rays.  The reason for this is obvious, it builds suspense in the stories, and enables Superman to show his fortitude in overcoming the effects of the weapons and breaking free.

By the end of this period Superman is clearly flying, but there is no one issue that can be referenced as the moment that changed.  While the narrative will still talk about him leaping and jumping, we see him execute impressive aerial turns, and battle planes.  In 1941 the text simply stops describing his movements this way, though he will still hang on to the exteriors of buildings rather than hover.  In Superman 15 one of the villains exclaims “you can fly!” and from then on he clearly can.

Superman continues to deal with the bad guys harshly.  He throws one man into the path of a bullet intended for Lois, and tricks two saboteurs into drinking “deadly narcotics” that they plan to poison the reservoir with.  In numerous stories the villains are abandoned to die in plane crashes or burning buildings.

The resiliance of Superman’s costume gets addressed in Superman 5, as we learn it is made from a special cloth he invented himself.  In Superman 17 he constructs his “Citadel” in a remote mountain chain.  It has a massive and impressive doorway, an art deco gem with a large “S” crest prominently displayed, so there is no doubt about whose place this is.  But the Citadel rarely appears, and all we see of the interior is a small trophy room and an extensive work out space.

As the era begins, Clark is working for George Taylor at the Daily Star, but by 1941 he is at the Daily Planet under Perry White.  These changes were done to correspond to the popular Superman radio show, but are poorly executed in the comics.  In Action 22 the Daily Star sends Lois and Clark to the European country of Galonia after it is invaded by Toran, but in issue 23 they file their story on the invasion with the Daily Planet.  George Taylor’s appearance alters, as he becomes older, heavier and starts smoking a cigar.  In Superman 7, he abruptly changes names to Perry White, though visually this is clearly the same man.

Superman 5 introduces the publisher of the Planet, Burt Mason, and more staffers debut in the story “Freedom of the Press” in World’s Finest 13, as the Planet celebrates its 100th birthday (meaning it was founded in the spring of 1844.)  We meet Old Sanford, the news editor and Happy, the photographer.  We also learn that Perry White began as a newsboy for the Planet, and worked his way up.

Lois Lane remains the most important staffer, aside from Clark, and is even gets to take Perry’s place as editor in Superman 18.  She is still stuck writing her advice to the lovelorn column (though she foists that job on Clark during his stint in charge), while taking rash actions to pursue more serious stories.  Her curiosity lands her in jail more than once, and of course puts her in danger almost constantly.

In Superman 11 Lois first notices that Clark is never around when Superman is, and she wonders “is it possible that…?”  This goes on for about a year, until a story in Superman 17 in which Lois tries to prove Clark is really Superman.  She fails, of course, but will go on trying for decades.

She actually almost succeeds, though doesn’t realize it, in Action 61’s “The Man They Wouldn’t Believe,” as Lois pretends to fall for Craig Shaw in hopes of getting evidence that he is a criminal, even accepting an offer of marriage.  Clark fears losing her, and reveals that he is Superman, though Lois does not believe him.  All his attempts to prove it backfire – he gets shot, but the gun has blanks, he lifts a weight that turns out to be a prop. When Lois’ scheme gets revealed, he breathes a sigh of relief.  Strange relationship these two have.

Lois has an aunt, Berenice, who is a Hollywood screenwriter and marries prominent actor Lionel Brainerd in Superman 24, and she also has an unnamed sister, married to an unnamed husband.  They have a daughter, who has a name, Susie.  Susie debuts in Action 59, but gets developed in Action 68 as a teller of fibs, which Superman makes come true.

Jimmy Olsen is slowly and sporadically worked into the comic.  Again, this was a character from the radio series, retroactively combined with the unnamed office boy that appears in occasional issues.  In Superman 5 the boy has brown hair, but no name.  In issue 13 he is finally called Jimmy, and gets the surname Olsen in Superman 15.  He still does not look quite like he would, though a red haired, bow-tied elevator operator looking much like how he would eventually appear had a cameo in Action 38.  Jimmy gets the red hair and bowtie in Action 49, and a few months later, in World’s Finest 6, he and Clark become friends.

Jimmy’s appearances are largely confined to small, supporting roles, until Action 71’s “Valentine Villainy.”  This story is more comedic than anything else, as Jimmy’s valentine’s day present for a girl he has a crush on gets mixed up with Clark’s joke present for Lois, and a stolen diamond necklace.

The Daily Planet’s iconic globe debuts in this era, though for some reason it failed to capture the interest of the various artists, and is not ever shown clearly on in detail.  When we first see it, in Superman 11, it is from a distance, and it resembles Saturn, with its rings.  This is how it would also appear on the masthead of the paper itself.  But for the rest of this era, on the rare occasions we see the globe, it appears to be a simple sphere perched atop the building.  In Superman 25 we do see the Daily Planet lettering, though it does not seem to circle the globe, but appears attached to the roof of the building independently.

The rival newspaper The Morning Herald has a number of appearances.  It gets taken over by criminals at one point, and in a later issue its star reporter, Scoop Carter, is revealed to be the leader of a criminal gang.  Nonetheless, the paper itself is a legitimate contender with the Planet, as two work together, and with another journal, The Evening Standard, in Action 37 to combat a crime wave.

Metropolis Police Sergeant Casey is introduced in Superman 6, and would make frequent appearances until Superman 23.  He is a no-nonsense cop, who does not trust Superman for quite a while,  not until Superman has saved his life twice.  Casey gives Lois access to crime scenes in exchange for being mentioned in her articles, but he also gets exasperated with both Lois and Clark for constantly butting into investigations, and arrests both of them at different times.  In Superman 9, Casey is pursuing a car with hoods who have kidnapped Clark, when Lois drives right into the middle of the shoot out.  Clark is thrown from the car, Lois slams her vehicle into Casey’s car to stop him from running over Clark, and all three blame each other for letting the criminals escape.

The Ultra-Humanite returns for two more appearances at the start of this period.  He has actress Dolores Winters kidnapped, and has his brain exchanged with hers before starting another crime spree.  He/she also has nuclear scientist Terry Curtis captured, and forces him to develop a disintegration ray.  Superman frees Curtis and destroys the Ultra-Humanite’s base in an extinct volcano, believing him dead.  Though this was the last appearance of the Ultra-Humanite until the 1980s, his survival was revealed in the pages of All-Star Squadron, as well as the fate of Terry Curtis, who would be transformed into the villain Cyclotron.

Luthor debuts in Action Comics 23, with no first name but a healthy crop of red hair.  He would go through the entire period without getting a first name, but his hair would not last more than a year.  He is first seen as the manipulator behind Toran’s invasion of Galonia, hoping to set the world at war so that he can march in and take over after everyone has been weakened.  He operates out of a base on a platform high in the stratosphere, suspended from a dirigible.

He makes two more appearances the following month, both in the pages of Superman 4, threatening Metropolis with an earthquake machine, and then attempting to raise the sunken city of Pacifiq, stealing the oil from Oklahoma to power the machines to raise it, and flooding the California coast as the city rises.

In his fourth appearance, in Superman 10, Luthor is suddenly bald, with no explanation, having developed an invisibility ray that he uses to enable his gang to rob banks. Perhaps he tried out a prototype of the serum on his hair and it went invisible and never came back.

In Superman 12 he creates giant animals on Baracoda Island, intending to use them as weapons.  Luthor attempts to disguise himself in his next two stories, pretending to be an alien conqueror, Zytal, in Action 42, and going by The Light in Superman 13, as he kidnaps a senator.

This makes he suspect that he is really meant to be the villain in Superman 14.  A man wearing green robes and a hood, calling himself Lightning Master, appears in that story, blackmailing Metropolis with a destructive lightning weapon.  Lois unmasks him dramatically in one panel, and it is a bald man who looks like Luthor, but the text tells us she does not recognize him, and he dies at the end of the story.  It’s hard to believe that the big unmasking scene would have been there if we really weren’t to recognize the man under the mask.

As well, in his next appearance, the first part of the Powerstone story in Action 47, Luthor is wearing the same green robes that Lightning Master wore, though without the hood.  This is the best Luthor story of the era.  He creates a machine that uses electricity to give himself super-strength, and the ability to electrify things and electrocute people.  He tricks the wealthiest men in Metropolis, taking them hostage at a dinner party, and forces Superman to penetrate a trap-layered ancient underground city to retrieve the Powerstone for him.  Superman gets the stone, but turns a fake over to Luthor.  His electric powers having faded by this point, Superman captures Luthor.  But the story itself continues in Superman 17. Luthor is sentences to the electric chair, but that simply recharges him, and he escapes and manages to trick Superman out of the Powerstone.  This enables Luthor to grow to giant size, and also allows him to strip Superman of his powers.  Superman wins only by tricking Luthor in return, goading him into running across a ceiling, allowing Superman to grab the necklace with the Powerstone as it dangles down.

The Powerstone would also return in the pages of All-Star Squadron.

Luthor makes only one more appearance in this era, in Superman 18’s “The Heat Horror,” using a meteor as a base from which to torment Metropolis with a heat ray.

The Archer faces off with Superman in issue 13 of his comic.  This guy just had an ordinary bow and arrow, and was no match for Superman.  The only reason he merits a mention here is that he was used as a Batman villain in the 60s tv show, played by Art Carney.

The Puzzler has two encounters with Superman, his debut in Action 49, and a return in Superman 20.  A professorial looking man, with glasses and a van dyke beard, the Puzzler considers himself a master of games, and embarks on a criminal career using gaming strategy, leaving behind half a bent nail puzzle as his trademark.  His second story is the better of the two, as he seeks vengeance against card players that have bested him, killing them in appropriate ways (like budgeoning the poker player with a fireplace poker.)

World’s Finest 6 is the only appearance of Metalo, the golden age predecessor to the later major villain.  This Metalo is simply a man in a powerful metal suit, though for much of the tale people believe him to be an alien robot.

Action Comics 51 is the debut of the Prankster, a masterful con artist who resembles a vaudeville comedian, with his oversized collar and ugly green plaid jacket.  The Prankster pretends to rob banks, but in fact leaves money for them each time.  This is all a plan to have one banker open his vault, with millions in jewels and stocks inside.

His return in Action 57 sees him hoodwink other criminals, getting them to front him thousands of dollars that he uses to get himself pardoned, and by starting an “appreciation” business, gets him well-loved.  It’s all another scheme to allow him access to the wealthy, but after paying back his criminal investors, he robs them as well.

After a failed attempt to copyright the English language in Superman 22, and an elaborate blackmail scheme using rewards for lost pins in Action 69, the Prankster returns to his usual style of con job in Superman 29’s The Wizard of Wishes, making people’s dreams come true as a set-up for robbing them.

The Toyman makes his first two appearances in this era, debuting in Action 64, an aging toy maker with a mop of long curly blond hair, who has decided to use the toys he builds for crime.  In this first tale the toys prove to be bombs.  He uses a toy Superman to escape from prison in Superman 27, and opens a high-end arcade, using it to entertain the crowds while he robs them.  His hair changes to brown in this story, which it will remain.

The Puzzler, the Prankster and the Toyman are not given any other names in these stories, and even the last villain introduced in this era would not get his “full” name revealed yet.  Called only Wolfingham in his debut, and Wilbur Wolfingham in his return appearance, the self-proclaimed King of the Confidence Men had stories that were much more comedic than the other villains.  In his first tale he takes advantage of aging actors, getting their money for a phony film company, and in the second he plays an elaborate scam on a town devastated by a tornado, buying up their land cheaply, then fleecing them further by getting them to invest in a phony oil well.  Superman gets the townsfolk their land and money back, and makes the oil well really work.  The most curious thing is that despite attempting to murder Lois during the course of the story, Wolfingham is allowed to walk away with no repercussions.  Even Lois feels badly for him at the end.

The basis for what would become the “Imaginary Stories” is paid in this era, though by and large, not well.  Superman 19 has a tale in which Superman reveals his identity to Lois following a car crash, but this turns out to just be a dream.  Action 59 has Clark fall asleep while telling Susie the story of Cinderella, and dreaming himself into the story.  In issue 60, Lois gets hit by a car, and while undergoing surgery dreams that she gets a blood transfusion from Superman and gains powers, becoming Superwoman.  The last of these, in Superman 24’s “The Perils of Poor Lois,” is likely the best, if only because it doesn’t use the dream cop-out.  After watching a revival of an old melodrama, and getting their heads stuck in posters, Lois and Clark imagine being in a period melodrama.

There are a few stories that play with the medium of comic books.  The Funny Paper Crimes, in Superman 19, pits him against newspaper comic strips that have come to life.  This story would be re-told in a Superman-less post-Crisis reality in the pages of Al-Star Squadron in the 1980s.

Action Comics 55 has a wonderful story that deals with the comic strip L’il Abner (though he is called Tiny Rufe.)  Daily Planet cartoonist Al Hatt (Al Capp) heads out into the remote backwoods for inspiration, and comes across a hillbilly town, Tiny Rufe and his girlfriend Maisy Dae, and creates a comic strip based on their lives.  When Rufe and Maisy decide to get married, Hatt gets terrified that the comic will lose readership.  In reality, L’il Abner and Daisy Mae did not get married in the strip until 1952, but one can easily see the correlation here with the Superman-Lois Lane romance.

Superman 25 features one of the most “meta” of the stories.  A popular comic strip features the super-powered character Geezer.  Lois and Clark are assigned to do a story on the comic’s creator, and find a nerdy, overworked artist and writer, with a factory churning out Geezer stories.  Clark uses his powers to impersonate Geezer to get the artist to care again about his creation.

My favouite story from this period is by far the most “meta”, Superman 19’s “Superman, Matinee Idol.”  The story was published in conjunction with the release of the first Superman movie serial, a beautifully animated work that is still admired.  Lois and Clark attend the premiere, and Clark resorts to all manner of tricks to prevent Lois from seeing the parts of the movie that reveal his identity.  Even the art takes on a meta element, as the side of all the panels are black with little white rectangles running along the sides – resembling film stock.  The best moment has a mystified Clark wondering who Siegel and Shuster are, deciding that they must be clairvoyant to know so much about his life.

Superman continues in the Late Golden Age

Superman:  Action Comics 20 – 74  (Jan 40 – July 44)

Superman:  4 – 29  (Spring 40 – July-Aug 44)

New York World’s Fair 40

World’s Best Comics  1  (Spring 41)

World’s Finest Comics  2 – 14  (Summer 41 – Summer 44)

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