Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Number 2363: “Now to plow that lowbrow off this scow!”

Reading Basil Wolverton brings me such happiness: this Powerhouse Pepper story is full of Basil’s clever and funny alliteration and internal rhymes. The story has Powerhouse, in his own innocent way, and on the water, going up against a couple of thugs who have tied in with the Nazis. Wolverton’s villains are always more funny looking than dangerous, and they always underestimate the undersized Powerhouse Pepper.

From Powerhouse Pepper 1 (1943):

Monday, July 15, 2019

Number 2362: The Shazambot

This story seems prescient. A robot (invented by the Marvels, along with the faker, Uncle Marvel, as “Shazam Inc”) drives a truck. Recently I have seen more than one news report of driverless trucks being tested on the roads, piloted by artificial intelligence. What was once science fiction, even as whimsical as “The Marvel Family and the Shazam Robot,” is coming true. I don’t know yet how I feel about a robot driving a giant rig behind me on the freeway. I’ll have to wait until it happens for real, and not just in the pages of an old comic book.

Written by Otto Binder (creator of the popular Adam Link robot stories), but with no credits for the artwork. Published in The Marvel Family #5 (1946).

Friday, July 12, 2019

Number 2361: Seems like old times...

One million years ago sounds like a long time, and it is. But there were no dinosaurs one million years ago, despite the premise of Tor, created, written, drawn and colored by artist Joe Kubert. Tor looks more like Tarzan, a tall, muscular white European, wandering from place to place in that world of a million years ago, encountering primitive tribes. Tor is a type of prehistoric social worker, solving problems for people who are presumably what we think of as “cavemen.” I believe the idea for Tor came from the 1940 movie, One Million B.C., which Kubert may have seen; it was very popular.

I have met people with a peculiar religious viewpoint, who believe that humans and dinosaurs literally existed together, so perhaps they would not see Tor as fantasy, but as a slice of life from the past. I like the page by Kubert, featuring himself and his co-editor Norman Maurer, where they opine on the modern world with its nuclear weapons, compared to the world of a million years ago. It is earnestly said, “If it weren’t for man’s inherent desire to conquer evil and injustice, he would have destroyed himself long ago...”

Tor is well drawn, and unlike most comic book creations Tor belonged to Kubert, so in later years he could cash in on the character. That was almost unheard of in those days, so Joe Kubert had a rare kind of relationship with his publisher, Archer St. John.

From Tor #4 (1954):

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Number 2360: “How I made a killing in the murder-for-hire business.”

Something I read about DC Comics’ foray into crime comics in the late forties during a period of DC’s slumping sales (and the popularity of crime comics), is that they got the license for a comic book version of the popular radio program, Gang Busters. While the contents of early issues of Gang Busters probably weren’t much different than the more rowdy and disreputable crime titles, the hope was that the attachment to a popular radio entertainment would mitigate the usual criticism of crime comics. I have no idea whether it did or not. As it was, DC published Gang Busters for 67 issues until 1959. Having seen some of the later issues, all Code-approved, the stories were far tamer than the wilder days of the 1940s.

George Roussos drew “Murder Was My Business” for Gang Busters #1 (1948). If Fredric Wertham, M.D., critic of comic books in general and crime comics in particular, had seen the story I am sure he would have noticed that the joyful killer gets away with his lucrative career bumping off people, right up until he is led to the electric chair and turns into a coward. That is a way the publisher could point at a story and say the killer was not glorified during the story...after all, despite bragging about his career in killing (to a priest, of all people), inside he was just a gutless braggart.

Roussos was a journeyman who had done assisting on Batman, then worked for various companies over the years, including Marvel in the sixties where he was identified as George Bell. Roussos died at age 84 in 2000.