Monday, September 29, 2014

Number 1637: Bob Powell’s interesting failure

“Atoma” is a one-shot filler, published in Harvey’s Joe Palooka #15 (1947), drawn by the prolific Bob Powell studio. It is an experiment, and the editors ask if the readers would rather see it or the regular feature by Powell (referred to as “our artist”), “Chickie Ricks, Better Known As The Flyin’ Fool”...Atoma never appeared again.

The problem as I see it is the strip is too gimmicky. Like a radio play Atoma describes things we readers can’t see. The only panel with a background is on page one. Comics are a visual medium so the reader is cheated. I don’t know what would have happened if the strip had continued; would it have continued without backgrounds, and that clever way of numbering the pages? I like the comely Atoma and the giant robot, but as a comic book story I’d call it an interesting idea that just does not quite work.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Number 1635: Boys in Blue: Blackhawks

This is the second entry of our theme week, Boys in Blue, featuring heroes with either blue in their name or wearing a blue costume. Blackhawk doesn’t fit as far as the name goes, but he and his gang dressed in blue with matching caps. (In Military Comics #1, which introduced the character, Blackhawk wore a solid black uniform. In my opinion it made him look even more like a Nazi than the later one. C'est la guerre.)

This story features the Blackhawks of the dark days of World War II, when pulling out a machine gun and mowing down the enemy was just part of the job. You can tell these guys are tough when Hendrickson pipes up with “Ve spit upon you!” to the firing squad about to execute them. much worse could the situation get at that point, anyway? Needless to say they survived.

The story, from Military Comics #21 (1943) also features some interesting caricatures of Hitler and Herman Göring. The nice artwork is credited by Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr to Al Bryant and P. Palais, by the Grand Comics Database to Reed Crandall.

Our friend Darci has forwarded some information based on the confusion over the credits for the artwork on this story. Roger Hill, who has recently completed a book  on Reed Crandall (upcoming from IDW) says, “I . . . own a page of original art from this story. I consider it to be pure Crandall. The pencils are definitely all Crandall, and maybe, just maybe, someone else helped on the inking. But I doubt it.”

Thanks, Darci, and thanks, Roger.

This story also features the hideously caricatured Chop Chop. Recently I watched some classic Warner Bros cartoons on DVD, and was struck by their disclaimer on racial and ethnic portrayals that at one time were acceptable and now are not. Here is a capture of that disclaimer, which says so well what I want to say about characters like Chop Chop. I agree with the last line, “...presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as saying these prejudices never existed.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

Number 1634: Boys in blue: Blue Beetle

We have yet another theme week; three stories this week featuring blue-clad heroes. (Well, one of them actually has “black” in his name, but his uniform is blue. You’ll see why on Wednesday.)

First up, Blue Beetle, who has a long history in comics for a character who bounced around in different titles over different eras, eventually appearing in the sixties in the more-than-capable hands of Steve Ditko (the high-water mark of Blue Beetle for me). But here Blue Beetle is featured in an anthology comic from Fox, co-starring with Phantom Lady, Rulah the Jungle Goddess and Jo-Jo the Congo King. Blue Beetle doesn’t even merit a mention on the cover. But what interested me about this installment is the art. It's by Jack Kamen, who turned out reams of work for the Iger Shop before landing a position at EC Comics. Personally, I enjoy these early stories by Kamen. This one has action and some cheesecake, something Fox was marketing despite objection from the folks who were upset about comics featuring such material.

From All Top Comics #13 (1948):

Friday, September 19, 2014

Number 1633: Don Rico’s Dr. Horror

On Monday I showed a Lorna the Jungle Girl story written by Don Rico. Rico, who was also an artist and whose history in comics goes back to the very early years, did both the story and artwork for “Dr. Horror,” the back-up feature in Lev Gleason’s Captain Battle #2 (1941). to explain this story? It uses Shakespeare’s weird sisters (“Double, double, toil and trouble”) from Macbeth as creators of Dr. Horror, a being of pure evil. Beyond that it is an allegory about how nature provides balance and takes care of evil. That’s simplistic, but then so is the story. An eye-catching splash page and several panels of demonic creatures add to its lurid charm.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Number 1632: Albert the Alligator and people

It seems jarring to see Walt Kelly’s universe of talking animals populated with people, interacting with Albert the Alligator, or Pogo, or any of the other Okeefenokee animal characters.

In this early story, published in Animal Comics #5 (1943), there are several humans who are overwhelmed by the sight of Albert the Alligator, who is ready to take a train to the big city. They are mostly clownish African-American caricatures,* but if it counts, there are a couple of drunk white hillbillies to add to the bizarre nature of the story. In the early Albert strips a young African-American boy, Bumbazine, was the primary focus, interacting with the animal characters. Humans were quickly dropped from the strip by Kelly.

*I apologize if this offends anyone, but this story is 71-years-old and I can’t censor the past.