Buster Crabbe was the Brad Pitt or George Clooney of the ‘30s and ‘40s movie serials: the go-to actor whenever a studio wanted a suitably square-jawed heroic type to portray a space ranger or jungle lord.
(In fact, Crabbe was the only actor to ever play Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon…)
Crabbe – an accomplished athlete who won a Bronze Medal at the 1928 Olympics for swimming the 1500-metre freestyle and a Gold medal at the 1932 Olympics for swimming the 400-metre freestyle – leveraged his fame on the silver screen to appear on television, launch successful businesses and even headline two comic-book series.
Publishers Eastern Color and Lev Gleason printed a total of 16 Buster Crabbe comics between 1951 and 1954. Although many of the issues were filled with standard western, crime or space opera tales, both series benefitted from the work of such future legends as Alex Toth, Frank Frazetta and – in today’s tale – Al Williamson, who would later leave his own mark on the character that is arguably Crabbe’s most famous role – Flash Gordon.
From Buster Crabbe #5 (Eastern Color, July 1952), here’s “Buster Crabbe And The Maid Of Mars.” The story was drawn by Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel.
As a special bonus, here’s the cover of Buster Crabbe #5 drawn by the one and only Frank Frazetta!
Although Camilla Jungle Queen never achieved the fame of such Fiction House compatriots as Sheena or even Tiger Girl, she could definitely dispense Golden Age justice with the best of them.
Here’s a particularly graphic example from Jungle Comics #103 (Fiction House, July 1948). The art is provided by the king of Jungle Girl comics, Matt Baker.
Midnight, Jack Cole’s answer to The Spirit, typically found himself in situations that were a tad more surreal than the challenges faced by Will Eisner’s masked gumshoe. Guess that goes with the territory when you hang around with a talking chimpanzee…
From Smash Comics #29 (Quality Comics, December 1941), here’s “The Return Of Chango.” It’s a frenetic, topsy-turvy adventure written and drawn by the only mind that could conceive of such hilarious insanity – Jack Cole.
You know, DC or somebody should really get around to reprinting this stuff properly ….
Given my lack of knowledge regarding Southern folklore, I can’t really provide much information about the origins of the “Fool Killer.”
However, the concept of a terrifying apparition that brutally murdered those deemed foolish was potent enough to inspire an O. Henry tale, a Helen Eustis novel that was adapted for a 1965 film starring Anthony Hopkins, and – of course - Steve Gerber’s memorable Marvel Comics villain.
A variation of the Fool Killer myth also bedeviled Quality Comics’ Doll Man in a story that also promotes a “spare the rod, spoil the child” approach to the treatment of mental illness.
Guess there was nothing a severe beating couldn’t cure back in the old days …
From Doll Man Quarterly #23 (Quality Comics, July 1949) , here’s “The Fool Killer Is At Work.” The story is uncredited, but the Grand Comics Database guesses the art is by Iger Studio stalwart Dan Zolnerowich.
Although Golden Age comics are frequently marred by racial stereotypes deemed acceptable at the time – heck, some are considered acceptable in the supposedly enlightened 21st century – I’m constantly struck by how super-heroines of the ‘40s are much more competent than many of their Silver- and Bronze-Age counterparts.
(Especially the ones written by Stan Lee … )
Although Sue eventually toughened up after a couple decades of boosting Reed, Ben and Johnny’s morale, your average World War II-era heroine set boots to a$$es straight from the get go. Case in point: Miss Victory, who needed little more than a mop to clean up a nest of dirty Nazi spies.
But what else could you expect from a stenographer named Joan Wayne?
The following tale was originally printed in Captain Aero Comics #7 (Holyoke, July 1942). The art is by Charles Quinlan.
It’s always a pleasure to post a story drawn by Lou Cameron, and this particular comic is a personal favorite.
As an impressionable young’un, I was blown away in the early 197os by Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo’s interpretation of The Spectre. Grim and gritty super-heroes weren’t the flavor of the week back then, so it was exceedingly rare to see a supposed good guy turn an evildoer into a piece of wood and run him through a buzz-saw.
So I was surprised a year or two ago when I first discovered “The Man Who Would Be Fate” in The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics. Here was the Fleisher and Aparo Spectre, albeit in another form, dispensing supernatural justice without shedding a tear. It was a great story that also introduced me to the fine work of Cameron, a horror and crime artist every bit as accomplished as the more famous EC crew.
From The Hand Of Fate #24 (Ace Periodicals, August 1954), here’s “The Man Who Would Be Fate.”
The Heap faces off against a criminal mastermind who – judging by the way our muck-encrusted anti-hero outmaneuvers her at the story’s conclusion – isn’t half as smart as she thinks.
While the villainess doesn’t exactly earn herself a spot in the Golden Age Bad Girl Hall Of Fame, the story does boast an outstanding pair of artists: Carmine Infantino on pencils and Leonard Starr on inks.
Infantino would go on, of course, to play a major role in Silver Age revival of super-heroes and rise to the rank of publisher at DC. Starr, for his part, would achieve great success as a syndicated cartoonist who contributed to such legendary strips as Flash Gordon and Little Orphan Annie as well as his own creation: Mary Perkins.
Starr also deserves a special place in every geek’s heart for developing the legendary Thundercats cartoon of the ‘80s!
Not too shabby, as Adam Sandler would say.
(Ummm … tell me I didn’t just quote Adam Sandler. I know I was getting a bit desperate about writing a proper transition to the comic’s original publication credits, but really.)
Oh well. Guess they all can’t be winners.
“The Ruthless Red Darrow” originally appeared in Airboy Comics vol. 4, #7 (August, 1948).
Now let’s get to some actual business …
It’s time to usher in the new year with one of our favorite tropes – the deadly doppelgänger – in a beautifully illustrated tale by the legendary Mort Meskin.
“The Woman In The Mirror” originally appeared in Black Magic #1 (Prize Comics, October-November 1950).
Golden Age husbands were such clueless tools…