Sunday, January 31, 2010

Number 676

Hangman hung up

"Gallows Ghoul," expertly illustrated by Bob ("Fuje") Fujitani for the Fall 1943 issue of Hangman Comics #8, is a morbid murder tale partially rewritten, probably because it was too morbid. The clumsy re-lettering in certain captions and speech balloons looks like a last minute attempt to mitigate the horrors of a man killing his wife and then throwing his young son out the window of a tall building. I'm reading between the lines, but changing the murdered woman to a "half-sister" of killer Ed Jennings, and the boy into the half-sister's son doesn't make sense. Just do what I did and substitute the word "wife" for "half-sister." I don't think killing one's half-sister is any more acceptable than one's wife, but it appears that somebody had second thoughts about this story and made the changes before this issue went to press.

The stereotype of mental illness is pretty sickening, also, but it isn't untypical of the era in which it was published.

Hard to believe that MLJ Comics, which published some of the more lurid and sensational comic books of its era, did an about-face and went with the much less objectionable Archie characters. I'm sure a character like Hangman, and stories like "Gallows Ghoul," put the company under scrutiny by censorious types. MLJ made the right choice, since Archie has sustained them to this day.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Number 675

Jack's back

I read an article about Jack Kirby a few years ago. There was a part that especially impressed me: in the mid-'50s when comics were in the doldrums, and Jack was picking up jobs where he could, his wife, Roz, would sometimes help him with inking. According to the article Roz outlined the figures in pen, and Jack would go back and spot the blacks and do textures. There are places in these stories from 1957 and '58 that fit the description from that article.

The first story, "Master of the Unknown," from House of Secrets #4, 1957 was about a cultural phenomenon of the time. In those days we gathered around the TV and watched nighttime quiz shows, just like people today follow reality shows like Survivor. The quiz shows turned out to be fixed and the scandal damaged that industry for years, but I remember them well when they were popular.

The next three stories, from Tales Of the Unexpected #13, 18, and 23, from 1957 and '58, are more routine, if any Jack Kirby story could ever be said to be routine. Kirby could take any story, any genre, any subject, and make up for story deficiencies with his dynamic artwork. At the time I was a real fan of Kirby's Challengers Of the Unknown, and instantly recognized his style, buying any comics with his artwork.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Number 674

Pogo's Number One!

I was going to make mention of this in my last Walt Kelly posting in Pappy's #650 but forgot. It's been just over 36 years since Walt Kelly died in October 1973, way too young at age 60. (Even if 60 seems old to you youngsters it doesn't seem so old to those of us who have passed that mark.) Kelly was one of the true comic geniuses of the Twentieth Century.

Pogo was not Kelly's first contribution to comic art, but certainly his greatest and most successful. This story, with all of the silliness and fun intact, is from Dell Comics' Pogo Possum* #1, 1949.

*Actually titled Pogo The Possum in the indicia.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Number 673

Whiz Wilson and his Futuroscope

Lightning Comics, a continuation of Ace's Sure-Fire Comics, was a typical anthology comic of the year 1940. It had a superhero, a cowboy, a magician, and Whiz Wilson, a science fiction hero in the Flash Gordon mold. Whiz had what he called a Futuroscope, a really handy device that could move him around in time and space. I'd like one of those, myself. I wonder if anyone has one for sale on eBay...

Anyway, the Grand Comics Database doesn't have any information on Whiz Wilson, but the art in this episode from Lightning Comics #4, is derivative of Alex Raymond, just like a couple of dozen other comic book features. I really don't know how the earliest comics could have existed without Raymond and Hal Foster's Prince Valiant to swipe from.

Just how tied to Flash Gordon was Whiz Wilson? This is the lead sentence from another episode, as quoted by the GCD: "One day Whiz Wilson sets the dials of his Futuroscope to take him to the planet Mongo, in the year 2300..." Mongo. That's where Flash, Flash's girl Dale Arden, Doc Zarkoff and Ming the Merciless hung out.

This particular adventure has Whiz mixing it up with some post-apocalyptic stone age types in South America.