The Buzzard swoops! – Wham Comics #2, 1940


There is a commonly held belief amongst today’s comic book fans that the “Big Two” (DC and Marvel) outlasted their myriad 1940’s competitors (and became the two major comic companies) by providing a superior product: better characters, better stories, better art, better ideas, better business management. That belief is in no small measure fueled by the P.R. machines of the two companies in question. But the truth is that these two companies became the top dogs simply because they never stopped publishing comics. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman became the iconic “trinity” simply by virtue of the fact that they were the only superhero characters whose adventures were published continuously throughout the 1950’s. DC dropped their other superhero books completely in 1951 and, although the first of their revamped characters (Barry Allen replacing Jay Garrick as The Flash) appeared just five years later, that half-decade saw only the three aforementioned superheroes hitting the stands under the DC imprint. Marvel (then Timely) had for the most part stopped publishing superheroes by 1950 (although Marvel Boy lasted into 1951). The company attempted a superhero resurgence in the mid-1950’s by reintroducing their own “Big Three” (Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and Human Torch), but the effort lasted only two years. The company published westerns, romances, and monster comics through the Fifties before starting a new line of (successful) superhero titles in the early Sixties. But the relative quality of DC and Marvel’s comics had little to do with the publishers’ longevity; they’re still around simply because they just didn’t quit. More


Free Comic Book Day, Forties style – C-M-O Comics #1, 1942


Today is Free Comic Book Day, which is traditionally held on the first Saturday in May. A relatively recent creation (it’s a 21st century invention), the day was created by comic book distributors to help drive business into local brick and mortar stores. Comic publishers print special FCBD titles which local stores can purchase to give away to their customers; the middlemen distributors provide the advertising materials and drive the online presence. Opinions vary as to the promotion’s success; it’s been a mixed bag over the life of the project. In my small town, in which we have three (!) comic shops (one of which, to be fair, is a 2nd & Charles store, part of a chain which seems hell-bent on being “Hot Topic for the geek crowd”), FCBD used to be a far bigger deal ten years ago. Back then, the free comic offerings from the “Big Two” and the indies were better: “How to Draw” books, preview “Issue 0” books for forthcoming titles, “extra” books for existing titles featuring stories not featured later in the main books (Death-Defying Devil from Project Superpowers, I’m looking at you here). Online photos from big-city comic shops (like Collectors Corner just outside Baltimore) showed lines going around the block the night before the event. In the last few years, however, FCBD has become much more of a “meh” event. The indie publishers have recently started offering “preview” books which are just issue #1 reprints of failed titles cancelled years before, while the Big Two offer titles which feature “concept art” from their next big mega-event (“Alex Ross’ preliminary character sketch designs for the upcoming Ultra-Secret Invasion Heroes Rebirth Flashpoint United event — after which the D’Carvel Universe will never be the same!!!” [until we reboot again just before the next mega-event]). More

A conservationist legacy – Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

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A few years ago I had the great pleasure of being a working historian with the Maryland Park Service. I was hired for my knowledge of the American Civil War (and gave battlefield tours while I worked for the MPS), but was also tasked with increasing my knowledge regarding other areas of U.S. history. On weekdays I ran a museum (and occasionally filled in at a second museum) and spoke with visitors about multiple historical periods and topics: 1820’s political history, Victorian-era literature, the American Civil War (and the political arguments leading to it), and the early conservation movement (being as the Appalachian Trail passed directly through all of the parks to which I was assigned). The job also rekindled my interest in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as one of President Roosevelt’s agencies had a direct connection to my park (said rekindled interest also led directly to the primary subject matter of this blog). More

Are you wearing a mask or did a rodent die on your head? – Man of War Comics #2, January 1942


I hate ferrets. While your cats secretly hate you, ferrets openly hate you and will try to tear your face off to boot. Why anyone would keep these loathsome vicious creatures as pets is completely beyond my ability to comprehend. Ferrets hate everything. Back in the day I had a girlfriend who lived across the way from a couple who kept a pair of ferrets, and you could hear those beasts (the ferrets, not the couple) screaming at each other at all hours of the day and night – ferrets even hate each other.

So when I discovered a Golden Age comics hero named The Ferret a couple of months ago, I was compelled to check the story out immediately. A hero named “The Ferret”? Really??!!?? More