Eternal Flame

After DC sued Wonder Man – Fox Publication’s faux Man Of Steel – out of existence, the publisher went back to the drawing board and rebooted the disgraced super-hero’s showcase title, Wonder Comics, as WonderWORLD Comics. 

Fox’s second step was to commission a new character that couldn’t be confused with Superman. Turning once again to Eisner-Iger shop, a hero with very un-Kryptonian fire-based powers soon emerged.

(And before you get any ideas, smart guy, said character also debuted a few months before the similarly themed Human Torch.)

The Flame, created by Will Eisner and Lou Fine, was the lost son of a missionary who was raised by Tibetan monks and granted mastery over the element of fire. Armed with his trusty “Flame Gun,” the hero debuted in the third issue of Wonderworld Comics (July 1939) and enjoyed a fairly healthy career as one of Fox’s top characters until 1942, when the publisher abandoned most of its super-heroes.

The Flame’s best stories, however, were the earliest by Eisner and Fine. Boasting a true pulp feel and art that was far and away superior to just about anything else issued by Victor Fox, The Flame was one of his few characters that could truly stand side-by-side in terms of quality with other publishers’ super-heroes.

See for yourself. From Wonderworld Comics #6 (Fox, October 1939), here’s “The Arson Ring Of Mr. Crass” by Eisner and Fine.

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Golden Age justice!

Lou Fine’s Spirit

When Will Eisner went off to war, he left The Spirit in the hands of perhaps the greatest selection of “ghosts” to ever grace a studio.

The Spirit newspaper strips were written by such luminaries as Manly Wade Wellman (great name) and Bill Woolfolk while penciling duties fell to the likes of Jack Cole and Lou Fine. Inking was handled by Alex Kotzky, Joe Kubert and others.

Not bad, eh?

The following story was pencilled by Fine and inked by the Eisner studio. Eisner considered Fine “the epitome of he honest draftsman. No fakery, no razzle-dazzle – very direct, very honest in his approach.” Joe Simon said both he and Jack Kirby rated Fine as their favorite artist.

Others influenced by Fine’s work include Alex Toth, Jim Steranko and Gil Kane.

When you consider how crude much of the art looked in many Golden Age comics, the simplicity and sophistication of Fine’s work is even more astonishing. He truly stood with the greatest the medium had to offer.

“Thirteen O’Clock” originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 1944 edition of The Spirit Section. However, these pages were scanned from a reprint published in The Spirit #11 (Quality Comics, Spring 1948). GCD guesses the story was written by Manly Wade Wellman.

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The Freedom Fighter

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To celebrate the 94th anniversary of Will Eisner’s birthday, here’s one of my favorite Golden Age tales by the legendary creator: “The Steel Helmets” from Uncle Sam Quarterly #1 (Quality Comics, 1941).

The story details the frightening prospect of a fascist dictator taking over America, yet avoids the heavy-handedness other Golden Age comics would employ by taking the form of a tall tale rather than your standard super-hero melodrama.

Given the mythical nature of Uncle Sam himself, both the topic and the story-telling device are more than appropriate in my humble opinion.

“The Steel Helmets” was written by Eisner, who also drew and inked the opening splash page. The rest of the comic was drawn by Dan Zolnerowich (pencils) and the great Lou Fine (inks).

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