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.)

I’m not suggesting that this is a pointless pursuit, of course. Much of the enjoyment of a really great work of literature comes from asking, “Why did the author write this? What is he/she saying?” Although I was a voracious reader from early childhood onward, I never really considered those questions until I first encountered Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in high school, a book which forces the reader to ask those questions. And though I don’t ask those questions in regard to everything I read, I’m indebted to Conrad for introducing me to critical reading.

Those questions (or the first of the pair, at least) can even be applied to lesser works, such as old comic book stories. No one is going to mistake the majority of Golden Age comics for great literature, but every now and then one will come across a story which makes one ask “Why was this published?” and, more crucially, “Why wasn’t more of this published?”, not necessarily due to the merit of the work but more usually because of some small little mystery surrounding it.

That’s the case with today’s tale, “Stormy Daye, The Inter-planetary Adventuress”, published by Holyoke Publishing in 1944. The title character appeared in a single comic book that year and immediately vanished. That’s not terribly unusual, but there are aspects to the story which make me wonder why that was the case.

Stormy Daye is without question an unabashed copy of the staggeringly popular Flash Gordon newspaper comic (Alex Raymond’s art influenced generations of comic book illustrators). It would be a stretch to call it “plagiarism”, but it should be very apparent to even the most casual fan of Golden Age comics that the creator(s) of Stormy Daye drew their inspiration from Alex Raymond. Stormy bears a strong resemblance to Dale Arden, the heroine of the Flash Gordon series:

Dale Arden from the Flash Gordon newspaper strip

Dale Arden from the Flash Gordon newspaper strip

The villain of the piece, Black Drew, is nearly a dead ringer for Ming the Merciless:

Ming the Merciless from the Flash Gordon newspaper strip

Ming the Merciless from the Flash Gordon newspaper strip

And the spaceships are drawn in the classic Raymond “bullet” style:

A representative Alex Raymond rocket

A representative Alex Raymond rocket

Stormy’s boyfriend, Jack North, even bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Flash Gordon.

These similarities were the catalysts for the questions which began to pile up in my mind…

Was the choice of a female protagonist a deliberate move to create a character who’d be appealing to the comics’ young female readership? Or was the choice of a female heroine just a “smokescreen” to try to obscure the similarities to the Flash Gordon newspaper strip?

Did King Features, the syndicator of Flash Gordon, even know of this story’s existence? Was that the reason why Stormy Daye made just one comic book appearance: because of a “cease and desist” letter from King Features to Holyoke? Or perhaps reader response to the feature was tepid; while not an all-time classic of the space opera genre, the feature showed some promise for the presence of a female protagonist, if for no other reason. If neither was the case, then why weren’t more of these stories published?

Could it be that Stormy Daye was always intended as a simple “one shot”? Sparkling Stars, the Holyoke title in which Stormy’s single appearance was run in late 1944, was an anthology title; while built around four to six recurring features, the book typically offered several “one shot” features as well. Perhaps the story was just a commissioned “filler”, purchased from Eisner or one of the other “work for hire” studios; perhaps a studio, pressed for ideas, simply cribbed heavily from Raymond’s popular newspaper feature.

The questions are intriguing, but there are no answers. Now that nearly three-quarters of a century have passed since the publication of Sparking Stars #6, it’s unlikely that we’ll even know the publishers’ intent in running the story, a curious, entertaining little one-shot space opera from the back pages of a little-known comic from the Golden Age.

As always, right-click a page scan and open it in a new browser tab for a larger view. Thanks to our friends at The Digital Comic Museum for the pages!

Sparkling Stars #6, November 1944

Sparkling Stars #6, November 1944

Sparkling Stars #6, November 1944

Sparkling Stars #6, November 1944

Sparkling Stars #6, November 1944

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2015, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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