Last summer this blog explored the Golden Age comic theme of spectral avengers: murdered men who return from the afterlife as spirits of vengeance. The series of three posts discussed DC’s Spectre, MLJ’s Mr. Justice, and Gerona’s Duke of Darkness, three characters whose appearances were more than a bit similar. A few months ago I discovered a fourth spectral avenger (coincidentally from the same publisher as the aforementioned Duke of Darkness) which we’ll examine in today’s post. More
July 16, 2016
December 11, 2015
Earlier this week the United States observed the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval and air base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And, as happens each December 7th, people take to social media and Internet blogs to post pictures of the cover of December 1941’s National Comics #18, mentioning that the book depicts a German attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s one of those great “Believe It or Not” style factoids that frequently get passed around on the Internet, but there’s a problem with this one: the comic does not depict a German attack on Pearl Harbor. I don’t know whether it’s a case of people repeating as gospel something they’ve heard elsewhere or a case of modern-day readers who struggle with the highly compressed (by today’s standards) style of writing employed by 1940’s comics, but even the Golden Age website Comic Book Plus mentions the “German attack” on Pearl.
Either way, the assertion is dead wrong. But the real story is actually far better and even more ironic… More
November 28, 2015
Comics featuring aviators were hugely popular during the Golden Age, and of these four color airmen Blackhawk ruled the proverbial roost; his appearances in Military Comics and, later, in Modern Comics were among the best selling comics of the era. In late 1944 Blackhawk was given his own title by Quality Comics (replacing Uncle Sam Quarterly) and his adventures appeared in both Modern Comics and his own book until late 1950 when Modern ceased publication. More
November 11, 2015
Today is Veteran’s Day, a holiday which evolved from Armistice Day. Originally intended to recognize veterans of World War I, the holiday’s purpose was changed after World War Two to honor veterans of all United States wars. This is not the same thing as Memorial Day, which is intended to remember those who have died in American wars. Over the years the two have become not only conflated but nearly reversed in the minds of many citizens. Memorial Day was intended as a day of sombre remembrance. With the rise in the 1950’s of “consumer culture”, Memorial Day devolved into a happy, albeit unofficial (as well as astronomically incorrect), “first day of summer” rather than a day to remember the fallen. Veterans Day (somewhat unconsciously) in the minds of many became a conflated military holiday for recognizing the living and memorializing the dead. More
November 1, 2015
The “Mother Hubbard” series underwent a rapid transformation over its short three issue run from late 1941 to early 1942. While the character was herself always portrayed as a traditional witch (from her peaked hat down to her buckled shoes), the setting of the stories changed immediately after her first appearance. Mother Hubbard battled enemy agents in her first outing, but in her second story her antagonists were traditional “fairy tale” villains. Judging from her third (and final) appearance in Scoop Comics #3, that would likely have been the trend for future stories. And it’s that facet of the series which brings this series of posts full circle to the point at which I first encountered the character. More
October 17, 2015
Comics were disparaged as “lowbrow” reading for decades by librarians and educators, in large part because words and pictures work in tandem (ideally) to tell a story. In traditional prose or poetry the writer is required to “paint the picture” with words, which educations viewed as in some way more “noble” than the prose presented in the pages of comic books. (In the educators’ defense a great deal of comic book writing was [and remains] hackery, but I doubt that a significant number of writers set out to make it deliberately so; it’s just the way the world works. To quote Theodore Sturgeon, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”) But comic book writing was tougher than one might suspect; the writer had to help move the plot by supplying written narrative which explained the story but didn’t overwhelm the panel and hide the art. Up until the turn of the 21st century (when the primary emphasis in comic books shifted to art at the expense of writing), the comic book writer walked the proverbial tightrope between providing too little text (thus losing the reader) and too much text (which covered up the artist’s hard work). More
October 10, 2015
Comics from the Golden Age (roughly 1938 through the early 1950’s) often didn’t follow established conventions for the simple reason that there weren’t any as yet; aside from the “panel, picture, word balloon” format which had been inherited from the popular “funny pages” in newspapers (in fact the earliest newsstand comic books were just repackaging of newspaper strips), comic books writers and artists were inventing the form by trial and error as they went along. These creators often worked for “studios” (contrary to what the word “studio” implies, these were often dingy and crowded affairs) which produced features for large publishing houses that didn’t want to hire their own writers and artists. More
September 25, 2015
The third of our 1940’s spectral avengers comes to us (indirectly) from Charlton Comics, which was a major player in the 1950’s and 1960’s comic industry, an era which saw many rivals to the supremacy of the “big two” (namely DC and Marvel); publishers like Charlton, Gold Key, Harvey, and Archie Comics were major comic book publishers as late as the 1980’s. More
September 10, 2015
June 21, 2015
The Golden Age of Comics was a very creative time; the new comic book medium had few “rules” and the writers and artists were making up the conventions as they went. The result was an odd and colorful assortment of characters, quite a few of which are still with us in comics published today. Of course, not everyone who picks up a pencil is a creative genius, and a fair bit of idea swiping occurred in the 1940’s. Occasionally while reading a period comic you’ll come across a character who seems familiar – and I’m being generous here; what I’m saying is that some character ideas were simply stolen from a competitor’s comic.
The “spirit of vengeance” was once such character idea which made the rounds through the 1940’s. More
June 16, 2015
It’s been frequently mentioned in this blog’s virtual pages, but it’s a fact which bears repeating: despite being the first comic book superhero, Superman was not the most popular, the best known, nor the best selling superhero character during the Golden Age of Comics. That distinction belongs to Fawcett Publications’ Captain Marvel (often referred to today as Shazam), who sold more comics than any other comic character at that time or in the decades since; at the height of his popularity in the 1940’s, Captain Marvel was selling more than a million comics a month. More
June 13, 2015
Comic books superhero origins have always been a bit of a dicey subject. It’s very tough these days to come up with a truly original (no pun intended) concept for how a costumed hero or heroine obtained his or her powers. Most of the combinations of origins have already been used, so unless your new, exciting comic book character got his powers because he was a billionaire mutant who’d been bathed in gamma radiation after being struck by lightning at the exact moment as he was bitten by a radioactive wombat which had been exposed to cosmic rays and, as our hero recoiled from the bite, fell into a vat of chemicals but was saved from drowning by Cuchulain, who is secretly his father and anoints our hero heir to his legendary powers, his origin has probably already been done before. More
June 9, 2015
We mention “rackets” and “racketeers” frequently here in The Big Blog o’Fun for the simple reason that racketeers were frequent antagonists in 1940’s superhero and adventure comics. But just what is a “racket”, really? More
June 2, 2015
The month of June 1940 marked the second anniversary of the first superhero comic: Action Comics #1 which, of course, contained within its pages the debut of Superman. Comics featuring colorfully garbed “mystery men” were in their infancy, and publishers were still figuring out the techniques and tropes which would become staples of the comics genre for decades to come. It was an exciting time for the nascent industry; writers and artists were simply making it all up as they went, seeing what worked and what didn’t. More
May 21, 2015
About a month ago on a day off from work, I spent part of the afternoon watching the 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. As a historian and film fan the movie is practically required viewing; Leni Riefenstahl’s cinematography (in the use of moving cameras, multiple views, and aerial shots) was groundbreaking and, in the case of the opening “flying through the clouds” sequence, breathtaking.
But for all of its visual beauty and pioneering technique, one can’t forget that Triumph of the Will was a propaganda film commissioned (and directly influenced) by Joseph Goebbels as a visual record of the events surrounding the 1934 Nuremburg rally, which was officially titled the Nazi Party Congress. And since the film was a Nazi propaganda movie, I don’t suppose I need to tell you who the star of the show was. In fact, the majority of the “Hitler giving a speech” footage you’ve seen in numerous documentaries down through the years is taken directly from Triumph of the Will; this is unsurprising when one considers that the film is in public domain (so no royalties have to be paid for the use of the material). What surprises the modern viewer when one watches the complete and unedited film is that Hitler manages to speak an awful lot, yet say absolutely nothing of any real substance. More
May 10, 2015
Here’s an interesting little exercise for you: think back to your childhood and try to remember the age at which you first realized with absolute certainty that there were things in this world from which your parents couldn’t keep you safe.
For many people of my generation (the baby boomers) it was the moment when you first understood the potential for dying in a nuclear blast. More
April 13, 2015
No popular entertainment medium exists in a perfect vacuum; like water dripping from a stalactite in a cavern, outside influences often leach in to color and inform it. A medium can be influenced by the sudden popularity of another medium or genre (nothing speaks as loudly as money, and success breeds countless imitators). Current socio-political events also hold great sway over pop culture, be it overtly (such as the popularity of military-themed movies in wartime), or subtly (exemplified by “one man against a system” movies and TV shows in the post-Vietnam 1970’s). More
April 5, 2015
February 18, 2015
Any (and every) work by a writer or artist is open to interpretation. Novels, paintings, movies, short stories, even comic books, are subjected to scrutiny and (if the work is of merit or is at least sufficiently oblique) debate as to what the creator meant by producing it. Countless legions of educators and critics have made a living doing little more than asking the question “Why?” (Because, as we all know, those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, critique.) More
December 2, 2014
America seems always to have had this weird, convoluted, conflicted, love-hate relationship with drugs, which seems to be odder now than ever before; we tell our youth that drugs are “bad”, yet allow multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies to run advertising campaigns around the clock on television for drugs with happy-sounding made up names (which all seem to end with the letter “a”). It’s small wonder that people can become so confused when drugs are concerned. The whole situation seems like a batch of Effluvia™ to me. More
November 11, 2014
To all those who’ve served America with distinction, Happy Veterans Day!
The cover (attributed to Bob Powell) is from Speed Comics #38, dated July 1945. (Courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum)
Have fun! — Steve
Copyright 2014, Steven A. Lopez. All rights resverved.
October 11, 2014
Saying that patriotic-themed characters were a staple of the Golden Age is more than a slight understatement; there was a veritable army of such characters appearing in comic books from the late 1930’s through the war years. Some of them still make appearances in today’s comics; Captain America, The Shield, and Uncle Sam are among these lasting characters. A few (like Pat Patriot) deserve to be far better remembered than they are today. Quite a few of them, however, lapsed into well-deserved obscurity. Today’s comic book feature falls squarely into the latter category. More
September 1, 2014
Hundreds of comic books writers and artists of the Golden Age toiled in obscurity (sometimes well-deserved), as it was not the common practice of the time to credit what today we call “the creative team”. But we’re occasionally fortunate enough to know exactly who produced a particular story or series even if he or she worked under a nom de plume. One of the best-remembered comic book talents of the 1940’s was the great Dick Briefer (who we’ve met before in this blog) who was himself responsible for the creation (or, perhaps, “adaptation” would be more appropriate) of a character based on a literary classic, and in the process was responsible for one of the most fondly remembered comic book characters of the period. But before we take a closer look at that character’s debut in a 1940 issue of Prize Comics, a little bit of backstory would seem to be in order. More
July 20, 2014
Not all of the adventures of “patriotic” comic book characters during the Golden Age were as heavy-handed as those of The Flag and Usa (previously considered in The Big Blog o’Fun); in fact, several showcased the virtues of the democratic ideal and tried by their example to encourage young readers to follow suit. One such feature was “Rusty Ryan and the Boyville Brigadiers” which, ironically, appeared in the same title as Usa; the first official “Boyville Brigadiers” story ran in the same Feature Comics issue (#46) as the fifth of Usa’s seven appearances.
July 4, 2014
Happy Independence Day, fellow Yanks! In keeping with the spirit of the day, The Big Blog o’Fun is presenting an overview of another Golden Age heroine with a patriotic theme: Usa, the Spirit of Old Glory. Don’t feel badly if you’ve never heard of her. Usa was obscure even while her adventures were still being published; these days she’s totally forgotten. More