Luck Be A Lady

00

Will Eisner co-created Lady Luck with artist Chuck Mazoujian in 1940 as a back-up feature for his syndicated Spirit Section. The heroine’s origin was typical of many in the Golden Age: bored socialite Brenda Banks dons a mask to fight crime as a “modern-day Robin Hood.”

With artistic contributions from the likes of Nick Cardy, Lady Luck’s four-page adventures were generally a cut above most of the other bored party girls who fought comic-book Nordling took over the strip.

Already a veteran chronicler of super-heroic exploits when he started writing and drawing Lady Luck in 1942, Nordling’s flair for combining proto-noir atmospherics with quirky humor perfectly complimented the approach Eisner  – and his many ghosts – adopted for The Spirit.

(Nordling himself assisted Eisner on The Spirit from 1948-1951).

Lady Luck proved popular enough for her adventures to be reprinted in Quality’s Smash Comics title from 1943-49, when the character took over the magazine entirely. Nordling provided new stories for the subsequent five issues of Lady Luck until the character – and her most notable creator – withdrew from the public eye.

According to Wikipedia, Lady Luck #90 marked the last known appearance of original comic work from Nordling. He spent the rest of his career ghosting others’ strips and working on promotional comic books.

Nordling passed away in 1986 at the age of 76.

The following story originally appeared in the January 2, 1944 edition of the Spirit Section. It is written and drawn by Nordling.

01

02

03

04

I’ve heard tell that a new version of Lady Luck is due to debut sometime this year in DC Comics’ Nu52. Given the manner the company has treated its intellectual property in recent years, I hope those plans never come to pass.

America’s Uncle

Uncle Sam

After the success of MLJ’s The Shield, Will Eisner was assigned the duty of creating a red, white and blue super-patriot for Quality Comics.

His answer: Uncle Sam, the famed – and non-trademarked – personification of the United States. Using the character design created by James Montgomery Flagg for a 1917 recruitment poster, Eisner added the de rigueur youthful sidekick and pushed the strip into the direction of fables or tall tales instead of the paint-by-numbers adventure approach taken by other publishers’ super-patriots.

(Excluding Joe Simon & Jack Kirby’s Captain America, of course.)

Here’s the first appearance of one of Quality’s more popular – and enduring – characters from National Comics #1 (July, 1940). The script and art are by Eisner and Dave Berg (of Mad Magazine’s “The Lighter Side” fame).

National_Comics_001_001 001

National_Comics_001_002 001

National_Comics_001_003 001

National_Comics_001_004 001

National_Comics_001_005 001

National_Comics_001_006 001

National_Comics_001_007 001

National_Comics_001_008 001

National_Comics_001_009 001

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.

03

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

11

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.

Spirit (Quality) 011-03

Spirit (Quality) 011-04

Spirit (Quality) 011-05

Spirit (Quality) 011-06

Spirit (Quality) 011-07

Spirit (Quality) 011-08

Spirit (Quality) 011-09

Magic Man

Spirit Section 044 12

Will Eisner’s Spirit debuted more than 70 years ago in an innovative format that combined the storytelling format of newsstand comic books with the distribution and frequency of newspaper comic strips.

Called – appropriately enough – “The Spirit Section,” Will Eisner’s masked gumshoe headlined a 16-page, tabloid-sized newsprint comic that appeared in 20 Sunday newspapers from 1940 to 1952. It was a revolutionary move that enabled Eisner – and his many assistants – to perfect the techniques he picked up from the fledgling comic-book field and create material aimed for more mature audiences.

(Another plus: Eisner retained full ownership of the characters he created …)

The early Spirit Sections were rounded out by back-up features Lady Luck (created by Eisner, but artist Klaus Nordling’s version is considered definitive) and Mr. Mystic, a Mandrake-style adventure co-authored by Eisner and Bob Powell.

Mr. Mystic’s origin was typical of the era. An adventurer named “Ken” (no surname required, apparently) gained his powers in Tibet after receiving a tattoo of a powerful, magic symbol on his forehead.

Powell initially drew the stories based upon Eisner’s scripts, but he eventually took over the strip in its entirety until the artist was drafted to fight in World War II. Although Powell’s art on Mr. Mystic was widely hailed by peers, the character itself never achieved much popularity.

Unlike The Spirit and Lady Luck, the crusading magician’s adventures were never reprinted as Quality Comics features.

Mr. Mystic ended its run in 1944, by which time Fred Guardineer had taken over the strip.

The following story is credited to “W. Morgan Thomas” (a pseudonym used before by Eisner for Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle) and Powell. Since the “Shadowman” character bears a striking similarity to one of Powell’s most famous creations,  The Man In Black, I suspect the artist’s involvement in this particular adventure extends beyond pencilling and inking duties.

This story was originally published in the March 30, 1941 edition of The Spirit Section.

Spirit Section 044 13

Spirit Section 044 14

Spirit Section 044 15

Spirit Section 044 16

Blue Beetle Mania

02-BlueBeetle-Origin-00

The Blue Beetle’s history extends as far back as Batman’s, a fact that has been obscured by a convoluted publishing history – accompanied by an ever-changing plethora of reboots and other gimmicks – that in all probability inspired the equally checkered past of Michael Chabon’s metafictional Escapist.

Created by Charles Nicholas, Rookie policeman Dan Garret debuted as The Blue Beetle in a crudely written and drawn four-page story that appeared near the back of Mystery Men Comics #1 (Fox Feature Syndicate, August 1939). The character at that point was a straight rip-off of the Green Hornet … which is a good a explanation as you’ll get for Garret’s alliterative codename.

He adopted a variation of the more familiar chain-mail gear in his second appearance and -after a few more visual tweaks –  soon gained enough popularity to earn his own title, a radio show and a syndicated newspaper strip ghosted by Jack Kirby.

To keep up with the ever increasing number of super-powered heroes clogging up the newstands by 1941, the Blue Beetle gained extraordinary abilities thanks to the miracle drug “Vitamin 2x.” Those powers would wax and wane throughout the Golden Age depending upon the needs of the story.

Everything remained status quo until the 12th issue of the Beetle’s own comic, when the Fox imprint seemingly dissolved and the character’s title continued under the auspices of Holyoke. Two issues later, Garret received a teen sidekick.

After 19 issues, Victor Fox regained the rights to the character and erratically published Blue Beetle comics until the ‘50s. During that time, the opportunistic Fox ensured the title reflected the trends of the day.

When “headlight comics” proved to be sure moneymakers, the Beetle found himself shoved off-stage by a succession of femme fatales. (Sparky had long since disappeared, poor kid.)

He also narrated “true crime” stories once Charles Biro’s Crime Does Not Pay started dominating the field.

And frankly, many stories were just plain bizarre.

After the Fox imprint finally gave up the ghost in the mid-‘50s, Charlton acquired the rights to Blue Beetle and printed a few stories that did little to alter the character … aside from changing his name to Dan Garrett.

When the success of Marvel and DC’s Silver Age titles brought super-heroes back into vogue, Charlton called upon writer Joe Gill and artist Tony Tallarico to revamp the Blue Beetle.

To their credit, Gill and Tallarico tried to provide a rationale for the Beetle motif by reintroducing Garret as an archaeologist who finds a mystic scarab. Otherwise, this all-new origin story was essentially Fawcett’s Captain Marvel with Egyptian trappings.

That particular incarnation wasn’t successful, so Garrett was killed off and replaced by this guy …

Sadly, Steve Ditko’s Blue Beetle was no more successful than the previous attempt and faded into comic-book limbo. Eventually, however, DC picked up the rights to the Beetle and other Charlton characters and incorporated them into their universe following the cataclysmic events of the company’s wildly successful Crisis On Infinite Earths mini-series.

The Ted Kord Blue Beetle evolved from that point into the Bwa-ha-ha hero so many modern fans loved … at least until DC decided to make headlines several years later by blowing the poor sod’s head off.

Leading, of course, to yet another new incarnation of the Blue Beetle.

*Phew.* I suppose the one constant throughout the decades of Blue Beetle’s existence has been change, which means we’ll probably see a few more versions of the character before everything is said and done.

In the meantime, however, let’s go back to a simpler time and enjoy the original, Golden Age hero who briefly found enough success to become a multi-media sensation a la Superman and Batman.

From Blue Beetle #1 (Fox Publications, Winter ’39-’40), here’s the “Origin Of The Blue Beetle” as drawn by Will Eisner (!) and the character’s creator, Charles Nicholas.

03-BlueBeetle-Origin-01

04-BlueBeetle-Origin-02

05-BlueBeetle-Origin-03

06-BlueBeetle-Origin-04

07-BlueBeetle-Origin-05

08-BlueBeetle-Origin-06

09-BlueBeetle-Origin-07

10-BlueBeetle-Origin-08

11-BlueBeetle-Origin-09

12-BlueBeetle-Origin-10

13-BlueBeetle-Origin-11

14-BlueBeetle-Origin-12

15-BlueBeetle-Origin-13

Hmmm … Dan Garret’s working-class background – replete with snobs and bullies – and desire to avenge his father’s death is somewhat similar to Marvel’s Daredevil. I guess there are only so many ideas under the sun.

The Freedom Fighter

UncleSam1 49

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).

UncleSam1 50

UncleSam1 51

UncleSam1 52

UncleSam1 53

UncleSam1 54

UncleSam1 55

UncleSam1 56

UncleSam1 57

UncleSam1 58

UncleSam1 59

UncleSam1 60

UncleSam1 61

UncleSam1 62

UncleSam1 63

UncleSam1 64

UncleSam1 65

Hey There, Jungle Girl

If Wonder Man is arguably Will Eisner’s least inspired creation, his collaboration with Jerry Iger on “Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle” proves that a clever rip-off can be enduring enough to kick-start an entire genre of comics and become an icon of sorts in pop culture.

Although predated in literature by H. Rider Haggard’s She (the inspiration for Sheena’s distinctive moniker) and William H. Hudson’s Rima, the character was conceived as a female version of Tarzan. The orphaned child of a famous explorer – or a pair of missionaries; her origins grew more fluid as time passed – the Jungle Queen first appeared in 1937 in a British tabloid called Wags.

Eisner and Iger brought the Sheena feature to America a year later after their studio was contracted to create a new title for Fiction House.

Sheena proved popular and by 1942 the jungle queen became the first female character to star in her own title. The Eisner/Iger creation was so successful that it gave birth to an entire comics genre: “The Jungle Girl.” Such Sheena imitators as Rulah, Tiger Girl and the unfortunately titled White Princess Of The Jungle flooded the marketplace with varying degrees of success.

While many young boys were doubtlessly drawn to the genre by the cheesecake – jungle girl comics were illustrated by numerous masters of good girl art, including Matt Baker, Jack Kamen and Werner Roth – the characters themselves were generally portrayed as strong, independent women who needed no help from men to defeat whatever insidious threat arose. In fact, Sheena and her kin usually had to rescue their male paramours.

The following story, which originally appeared in Jumbo Comics #115 (Fiction House), is a good example of just how effectively comics’ original jungle queen took care of business. “Svengali Of The Apes” – great title, huh? –  was drawn by Robert Webb, who illustrated just about every Sheena tale from 1941 to 1953.

The Man Of Steal

If the Golden Age Wonder Man is remembered at all these days, it’s for the hail of lawsuits the Superman rip-off drew from DC the moment Wonder Comics #1 hit the stands in early 1939.

According to comic book legend, the entire imbroglio began when Victor Fox – a DC Comics accountant who came across Superman’s early sales figures and, to quote Joe Simon, “liked what he saw” – hired the legendary Will Eisner- Jerry Iger shop to create a character that hewed as close to the Man Of Steel as possible. Will Eisner complied, and 11 months after Superman revolutionized the American comic-book industry Wonder Man leapt into the fray.

DC, as you might expect, was none too pleased and filed an immediate injunction against the use of the character. Victor Fox lost his case after Will Eisner reputedly refused to lie about the character’s creation in court, although some sterling detective work by an enterprising blogger recently shed some new light on Eisner’s role in the whole shebang. At any rate, Fox Publications’ Wonder Man disappeared from sight and DC went on to sue such Superman acolytes as Master Man, Steel Sterling and  – most famously or infamously depending on your viewpoint – the original Captain Marvel.

Even without the legal brouhaha, however, it’s doubtful that Wonder Man would have lasted long against the long underwear competition. Although Eisner was already technically superior to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1939, the Wonder Man story lacks even an iota of the imagination and excitement of those early Action Comics tales. I guess that just illustrates the difference between a work-for-hire hack job and two hungry talents pursuing the dream of a lifetime.

From Wonder Comics #1 (Fox Publications), here’s Will Eisner’s Wonder Man.