Sunday, August 06, 2006

Number 6

Jack Cole and Silver Streak, Part I

It's fun to go back and look at the early work of the really great cartoonists and comic book artists. By the mid-to-late 1940s Jack Cole had risen to a level of comic sophistication with Plastic Man that still holds up 60 years later. But his earlier work, while showing flashes of the brilliance to come, is really more routine, what was expected in comic books of the time. He even signed it with a pseudonym.

Silver Streak--a Flash-like superhero--was a character Cole worked on early in his comic book career. The book I scanned this story from is a 1946 reprint of some work from about 1940, which accounts for its look, passé by the time it was republished. Comics came a long way in a very short period of time as artists experimented and the public voted on what they liked with their dimes.

Still, this issue of Silver Streak, a one-shot with no number, is a good one. I ran across my copy over 25 years ago. It's in rough shape, with a cover and first few leaves detached, but it's scarce in any condition. I'm including the cover, which wasn't drawn by Jack Cole, but by another of my favorite Golden Age artists, Dick Briefer (creator of the funny Frankenstein). This is bondage, boys and girls. Get a good look at the lady tied up, being tortured by a machine that promises "worry" (the very fact of being on this device would cause at least that), "mild pain," "shooting pains," "severe headache," or even "unbearable agony." But wait, there's even worse than unbearable agony, which is "near death," and "death." Luckily Silver Streak is coming into the scene, feet-first, to rescue her. What I can't figure out is, why is the monster with the axe smiling at Silver Streak?

The Silver Streak episode here is the first in the reprint comic, but the fourth Silver Streak story overall. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide says it's the first story with Silver Streak in a new costume, and that may have had something to do with its choice as a reprint.

I'm assuming Cole wrote the stories in the book, but there's really no way to tell. You can tell Cole writing by his use of gag situations, but the use of a gag where the matronly woman calls him anything but "Silver Streak," wears thin as fast as Silver Streak can run. The villain is disappointing looking, with a lame name of "Doc." Like other early comic book stories the action is propelled instantly. No subtleties here. Superman by Siegel and Shuster was an early template for this story, where Silver Streak fights giant spiders, saves a tied-up girl (oboy! More bondage!) from a fiery doom, and even rescues a farm boy from crushing death by speeding car, all in 11 pages.

It's all pretty breathless and energetic stuff. As time goes on I'll be scanning and presenting the other three stories in the book.

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