October is right around the corner, which means it’s time for yours truly to plan a few Halloween-themed posts to whet fans and followers’ appetites for pre-Code thrills, chills and candied corn.
In the past I’ve left the heavy lifting to Internet all-stars like Karswell – who celebrates Halloween year-round at the excellent Horrors Of It All blog – but this time the Time Bullet will expand its focus a bit and dedicate the entire month to All Hallows Eve.
That means not one … not two … not three …. but four weeks of themed posts over the next several weeks!
My plans could change - let’s be honest, 31 straight posts is a lot to pull off in this Tumblr-centric era - but for now I hope to dedicate one week to super-heroes taking on supernatural threats; one to Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein; one to Steve Ditko’s groundbreaking work on Charlton’s The Thing; one to a collection of personal pre-Code favorites; and a few bonuses in between.
We’ll see how all that works out, but as a token of my good intentions here’s a classic tale of supernatural suspense that could have easily fit into the format of Rob Serling’s Twilight Zone a decade or so later.
From Green Hornet Comics #33 (Harvey, March-April 1947), the Man In Black tells the story of “The Gremlin And The Airplane.” The story and art are courtesy of one of my favorite Golden Age creators, Bob Powell.
Note: Although Powell’s story works just as well in the 21st century as it did back in the late-40s, a filler strip at the bottom of the last page contains a racist stereotype that is not acceptable under any reasonable standards of good taste and decency. I considered editing it out, but decided we’re better served confronting such embarrassments head on rather than censoring what is unfortunately part of our culture’s history. If you disagree with this opinion and find the image too upsetting, it’s probably best to skip the final panel or simply avoid the story altogether.
Today is the 95th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth.
My first experience with the King of Comics was New Gods #1, an experienced that would warp any 11-year-old’s mind. (Throw in Jim Starlin’s Warlock and Steve Englehart’s Dr. Strange and you can probably figure out why I love posting left-of-center comics like The Eye … )
I followed Kirby’s career through the never-completed Fourth World saga, OMAC, Kamandi, The Demon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur and his underrated mid-‘70s run on Captain America.
Heck, I even loved his Pacific Comics output and was thrilled to note the King’s touch on the early-80s classic post-apocalyptic toon, Thundarr The Barbarian.
Cheap reprint comics were plentiful back in the day as well, so I was also able to learn how Kirby revolutionized the comics industry with Stan Lee and Joe Simon.
To this day, Jack Kirby remains my favorite creator. His work simply epitomizes everything I love about the medium of comics.
To celebrate this milestone anniversary, here’s the entirety of Alarming Tales #1 (Harvey, September 1957) minus ads and text pages. Each of the stories were written and drawn by The King, and observant readers will note the introductions of several concepts that would one day fully flower in The Fourth World Saga and Kamandi.
I’ve devoted many a post to the work of writer-artist Bob Powell, a talent equal to any of the Golden Age’s better remembered creators. The following tale makes a strong case for why Powell is worthy of such praise: a one-off science-fiction fantasy that incorporates the story’s page numbers into the layout itself.
Judging by the editor’s note, Powell or whoever pulled the strings at Harvey back then hoped Atoma would graduate to an ongoing series. It was not to be, but at least we have this colorful and imaginative story to look back upon and appreciate.
“Atoma” originally appeared in Joe Palooka Comics #15 (Harvey Comics, December 1947). The art – and in all probability, the story – is by Bob Powell.
The comic-book world lost one of its greatest innovators this week. Joe Simon, the co-creator of Captain America and – heck – entire genres of comics with Jack Kirby passed away Wednesday at the age of 98.
Although many tributes have already mentioned Simon & Kirby’s most prominent creation – a certain star-spangled Avenger – Joe Simon will always hold a unique spot in my geeked-out heart for his whacked out masterpieces of the late ‘6os and early ‘70s: Brother Power The Geek and Prez.
I have to admit that both series warped my young, impressionable mind and helped me realize how comics could communicate more outré concepts than costumed musclemen beating the crap out of one another.
Simon, of course, was responsible for much more than DC oddities. Along with his famous partner, he created such landmark titles as Boy Explorers and Young Romance. Simon also founded and edited one of the more interested Mad knock-offs, Sick Magazine.
While the creation Captain America alone would enough for most writer-artists to consider themselves successful, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s accomplishments are proof positive of just how great an impact two visionaries can have on an art form.
Simon and Kirby, after all, did far more than create characters. They created the back-bone of an entire industry.
From Black Cat #6 (Harvey Comics, June-July 1947) here’s a brilliant, off-beat tale by Joe Simon starring “His Highness, The Duke Of Broadway.” The story is entitled “Fear.”
It just wouldn’t be Halloween if some enterprising comic-book publisher didn’t
rip off pay homage to H.P. Lovecraft. The following tale is greatly enhanced by the efforts of one of the greatest Pre-Code horror artists, Rudy Palais.
“The Creeping Death” originally appeared in Chamber Of Chills #16 (Harvey Comics, March 1953).
With Captain America set to conquer the silver screen and further whet Marvel zombies’ appetites for Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie, I thought it appropriate to highlight Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s work on another star-spangled hero.
Captain Freedom debuted in Speed Comics #13 (Harvey Comics, May 1941) as yet another publisher’s response to the commercial success of such patriotic characters as The Shield, Uncle Sam and – of course – Simon and Kirby’s Captain America.
Credited to “Franklin Flagg” (the writer’s real name is unknown, sadly, but the art to most of Captain Freedom’s adventures is by Arthur Cazeneuve), Harvey’s defender of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was a crusading newspaper publisher who decided he could better aid the American War effort by dressing up like a walking flag.
The good Captain was frequently aided on his adventures by a group of courageous newsboys known as “The Young Defenders.”
Captain Freedom proved popular enough to become Speed Comics’ cover feature and lasted until the magazine was finally canceled in 1947. His adventures were pretty much standard punch-em-ups, but at one point the Captain unexpectedly found himself elevated to the A-List after Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were hired to draw a number of covers featuring Harvey’s star-spangled avenger.
Simon himself depicted the Captain in Speed Comics #17-#21 and #23 while Kirby and Simon teamed up for a striking cover to Speed Comics #22. It probably goes without saying that the covers outshone the Captain’s adventures inside the comic, but that’s a comic-book tradition that persists to this very day.
Here are the Simon & Kirby covers to Speed Comics. Be aware that some of the following images contain racial stereotypes that were considered acceptable in their day but are decidedly offensive now.
Bob Powell’s “The Man In Black” is one of the more interesting – if obscure – ongoing characters from the Golden Age Of Comics.
The personification of death – later toned down to “destiny” – the character usually narrated O. Henry-style tales of individuals caught up in forces beyond their comprehension.
Yet unlike EC’s later horror personalities – i.e. The Crypt Keeper, The Old Witch and The Vault-Keeper – the Man In Black also took an active role in many of his appearances and even interacted with a supporting cast that included the human embodiments of “time,” “mischief,” Christian angels and the Three Blind Fates from Greek mythology.
In that respect, “Mr. Twilight” and company can be viewed as predecessors to Neil Gaiman’s Endless. Was Mr. Gaiman familiar with Powell’s work?
The following story contains such elements and more, as Powell employs many of the cinematic techniques Will Eisner and his studio heaped upon The Spirit. That’s definitely no accident, as Powell himself once worked for Eisner.
From Green Hornet Fights Crime #35, Harvey Comics (May-June, 1947), here’s The Man In Black. The story and art are by Bob Powell.
A common element in many Pre-Code horror stories is the overwhelming sense that everyone and everything a reader holds dearly can be lost in an instant due to a cruel whim of fate or – even worse – the machinations of hidden forces.
Although such menaces were usually depicted as supernatural beings (i.e. vampires, werewolves and witches) transported from traditionally gothic settings to post-war America, it doesn’t take a genius to see how these anxieties mirrored the general sense of unease fostered by the Cold War.
We like to think of the 1950s as the idyllic, simpler era as depicted in Happy Days or Leave It To Beaver. The threat of atomic warfare, however, cast a long shadow over everyday life. There was a very real – if often unacknowledged – understanding that armageddon could occur in an instant. Fearing enemies (or more specifically, Communists) lurked in the shadows, Americans looked at one another with suspicion.
Intentionally or not, horror comics addressed this reality by substituting monsters for more tangible threats. Man’s own folly would come back ten-fold in the form of the walking dead or a particularly ironic curse gone awry.
The following story is a good example of the paranoia that permeated horror comics. A seemingly innocent man is driven to horrible deeds because he bought a bouquet of flowers from the wrong person, a tragic tale made all the more compelling by the art of Rudy Palais.
From Black Cat Mystery #31 (Harvey, 1951), here’s “Bloody Red Rose.”