Golden Age comics could keep a reader very busy for their cost of a dime. In their early years comics typically topped sixty pages and, although the size of comics gradually decreased as the Forties wore on, by the middle of the decade a dime comic still contained more than fifty pages of story. That amount of content takes a fair little bit of time to read; even today it often requires the best part of an hour for me to read a Golden Age comic (unless I’m speed reading/skimming it) and that’s if I skip the obligatory text two-pager.

When I was a kid in the 1960’s, a DC “80 Page Giant” would keep me occupied for a couple of hours. Whenever we would pack up the station wagon and head north to visit relatives (a five hour drive), Dad would buy a couple of eighty pagers I’d select from the spinner rack. This was a huge treat since these longer books cost a quarter, compared to twelve cents for a regular book (and, believe me, Dad groused plenty about the price). After getting my new comics, I’d build my suitcase fort in the back of the station wagon, curl up on a blanket, and read them for most of the journey. (I was introduced to Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, during just such a car trip while reading a reprint of the classic “Flash of Two Worlds”; the original Flash has been a favorite of mine ever since.)

A couple of years ago a pal of mine was griping about how a particular (present day) comic was “too wordy”; he said it took him a whole twenty minutes to read it. I stared at him for a moment like he had a mimosa tree growing out of his ear, and then I started laughing. I had to explain to him that as recently as the 1980’s and 1990’s, we’d feel pretty ripped off if a comic book required less than twenty minutes to read. It was then his turn to stare at me as though I had an odd deformity. Some other friends who are roughly his age (thirty-ish) jumped in to agree with him – if a comic book takes longer than ten minutes to complete, they consider it to be just too much comic.

Wow. Just…wow…. That really blows my mind. Back when I was just out of high school and had a minimum wage job, I could buy a stack of comics for an hour’s pay (comics cost thirty-five cents then) and spend all evening reading them. Today you’re lucky if you can buy two books for an hour’s minimum wage pay (just one book if you’re looking at Dynamite’s $3.99 price tag) and you complain if they take more than twenty minutes combined to read them? Things have changed! Maybe it’s today’s “microwave society” in which you can nuke a meal in a few minutes, watch any movie you want anytime on your cell phone, and send a message around the world in real time. “Right now” isn’t fast enough; “I want it five minutes ago!” (You’ll laugh, but in the last few years I’ve talked with people who are seriously miffed when a company can’t provide same day shipment of products from across the country. “Overnight” isn’t even fast enough for some folks. Although, to be blunt, people making that request/demand typically aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer either.)

Here’s the part that confuses me. One would think that in such an environment the short story would not only make a comeback, but flourish, as an art form. Not so. The novel reigns supreme – and not just single novels but whole series of them. This is especially true for writers of fantasy books; I’ve heard many an author complain that a publisher won’t even consider a book unless it’s the start of a series which the Marketing Department will christen The _______ Saga or The _____ Cycle. “One book???!!!?? Hell, no! Make it a tetralogy! We’ll go that Tolkein mook one better!” I’ll admit, I’m baffled. I have friends who complain that a comic takes twenty minutes to read, will spend months reading all seven volumes of a fantasy series (one which isn’t even particularly original or good), and won’t touch a short story with a ten foot pole.

All of which is a long-winded preamble to today’s story, one which is pretty wordy even by 1940’s comic book standards. It’s definitely worth the time to read, however. First, the protagonist is a kid who doesn’t have superpowers; it’s a not a childhood “power fantasy” like the Captain Marvel tales. The Crash Kid is a bit faster and stronger than the average child, but his abilities are well within the range of a normal adult. Second, the story is a really good one in its own right, and you’ll have to pay close attention to follow the plot; the narrative is a notch above many other Golden Age stories (which also includes tropes such as the “villain reveals the master plot” scene, the “cabbie sidekick”, and the “rising water deathtrap,” the latter cribbed straight from Sax Rohmer). Third, the story never stops being fun; a tale with a plot this “dense” calls for a lighter approach to the art, which Bob Oksner delivers in a classic Forties style. (You may be familiar with Oksner’s later work, such as Ambush Bug, while I remember him from my teen years when he drew the comic version of the hit TV show Welcome Back Kotter.)

Enwil Associates (a.k.a. Rural Home Publishing) published some really interesting, sometimes exceptional, characters (two of whom, The Green Turtle and The Toreador, we’ve met before in this blog) but, inexplicably, none of their titles ever lasted very long. Cannonball Comics, home of The Crash Kid, ran for just two issues in early 1945. That’s a shame; I’d have loved to see many more adventures of this newsboy who led a secret life as a costumed hero.

As always, right-click on a page and open it in a new tab for a better view. Scans courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum.

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Cannonball Comics #1, February 1945

Have fun! — Steve

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

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