Golden Age comic titles seemed to come and go like the wind. Then, as now, a comic title could disappear for a host of reasons. Obviously one factor could be poor sales; dimes were hard to come by during the Great Depression and in wartime, and the competition between publishers was fierce – literally scores of different titles appeared on newsstands each month. Some comic publishers were actually financed by organized crime as money laundering operations, so these companies tended to get good distribution deals and didn’t suffer from paper shortages during wartime (paper was smuggled into the U.S. across the Canadian border); poor distribution and an inability to procure paper spelled doom for many a small publisher. Sometimes the talent would jump ship; writers and artists working for a small company (or even a larger one if that publisher paid poorly) might head for greener pastures if another comic publisher made them a better offer. At our distance of seven decades it’s often impossible to know why a particular comic title lasted just a handful of issues, especially for comic titles which arguably didn’t deserve to die off at all.

One such title was Hyper Mystery Comics which lasted just two issues in early 1940. It’s difficult to say why the book disappeared. Perhaps it was due to a lack of sales, for which we might blame the quirky mix of backup features which appeared in the title. Maybe it was poor distribution which did the book in. Whatever the reason, it certainly had nothing to do with the book’s flagship character. Hyper the Phenomenal’s sole thirty-two page adventure, which was presented in two parts across the title’s pair of issues, was a wonderfully illustrated and really well crafted adventure tale.

In the previous post to this blog, Hyper’s connection to Sunday comics such as Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant was briefly explored. The artist on “Hyper the Phenomenal” was Reg Greenwood. I’ve not been able to learn much about him, but I’ve discovered that his original page art from the Golden Age is highly sought after by collectors. That’s no mystery; Greenwood was one heck of an artist. The colorist was no slouch either. As you read the second part of the story, pay particular attention to the night scenes’ blue tinting – that’s the way night ought to appear in comic books!

The writer’s identity remains unknown, but I’d dearly love to know who it was. The story’s pretty amazing, and we’ll talk more about it after we have a look at Part Two – the previous part ended with a cliffhanger and I don’t want to ruin the conclusion for you by mentioning spoilers. Look for one special aspect as you read it, though: notice how all of the apparently dangling plot threads come together to be neatly tied off at the story’s end.

Here’s the conclusion of the sole appearance of Hyper the Phenomenal, from Hyper Mystery Comics #2, cover dated June 1940:

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

Hyper Mystery Comics #2, June 1940

That’s a first-rate Golden Age story. It took me two readings to realize that Don-Vin (a.k.a. Hyper) is immobilized for fully sixteen of the story’s thirty-two pages – half of the tale – yet the story never bogs down; the writer uses the large cast of characters to keep the plot moving at a furious clip even though the hero is for all intents and purposes inactive (aside from keeping the deathtrap from killing Winifred). That kind of writing is the sign of somebody who really knows what he’s doing. It’s also worth noting (as mentioned before the story) that all of the plot elements come together by the story’s end; even Portreeve (who’d pretty much slipped our minds) swoops in at the end and administers the coup de grace. From all indications the writer spent a lot of time thinking about the story and crafted a great tale, unlike far too many other Golden Age stories which read as though somebody was just stringing bits together as he went along.

The writer was apparently influenced by either Edgar Rice Burroughs’ writing or the movie serials of the day (possibly both), indicated by the deus ex machina resolution to the “deathtrap” scenario. Although such a solution comes off as a bit disappointing to the modern reader, comic book and movie serial fans of the time were pretty used to the technique; “How do you think he’ll get out of that one?” was the oft-repeated Sunday through Friday mantra of the typical twelve year old Saturday matinee moviegoer of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Deus ex machina was a common fiction device of the time; heroes were often saved by a lucky shot, a hidden trapdoor spotted at the last second, the timely arrival of an unexpected ally, or some similar chance occurrence. These weren’t “groaners” back then – in fact, trying to predict/guess the nature of the “one in a million” chance which saves the hero was all part of the fun. It wasn’t until Silver Age comics like Superman and Batman beat the technique to death in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that the tradition devolved into camp: Lois is on the verge of discovering that Clark Kent is really Superman when suddenly… And you can fill it in with anything from an earthquake to the arrival of “future Superman” from the year 1987 who was watching though his Chronopticon and decided to step in and rescue his past self from the dilemma. Yeah. Whatever.

It’s a shame that Hyper Mystery Comics folded after its second issue. We never learn much about Don-Vin’s origin; although he’s referred to as a “scientist”, his name and costume hint that he may be an extraterrestrial. I would have liked to know what was in store for Princess Marianne and her nation of Arunta; was there more yet to come in her battle to regain her country’s throne? And what of the evil, yet alluring, Dolores? Would she return to plague Don-Vin, the only man to rebuff her advances? It would have been great fun to find out, especially had the artist and writer remained the same. As it stands, “Hyper the Phenomenal” is a great “forgotten treasure” of the Golden Age.

The page scans were once again provided courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum.

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2013, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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