Invisible Woman

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Invisible Scarlet O’Neil was the first super-powered heroine to headline her own comic strip. She wasn’t exactly a super-heroine – Scarlet didn’t sport gaudy spandex outfits or go by a colorful code name – but the character did possess the power of invisibility and that was enough to distinguish herself from the horde of adventurers and crime-fighters that populated newspapers and comic strips in the 1940s

Created by Russell Stamm, a cartoonist who had previously assisted Chester Gould on Dick Tracy, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil debuted June, 1940 in the Chicago Daily News. Despite Stamm’s history with Gould, his approach to Scarlett’s adventures was considerably more gentle than the blood and guts action that defined Dick Tracy.

Scarlet proved popular enough to cross over into comic books and related merchandise. Her strip ran until 1956 and gradually shifted from gentle super-heroics to soap-opera melodrama until the character was dropped from the feature altogether.

Today’s story, taken from Harvey Comics’ short-lived Scarlet O’Neil title, is one of the character’s spicier adventures and demonstrated Stamm’s talent for “Good Girl” art. “Fight For Survival” originally appeared in Invisible Scarlet O’Neil #2 (Harvey, February 1951).

The Grand Comics Database indicates the story and art are by Stamm and reprinted from newspaper strips.

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Love And Death

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Bob Powell’s Mr. Mystic faces off against his greatest foe, The Shadowman, in a surprisingly dark story printed days before Christmas of 1940.

The Shadowman was a precursor to Powell’s Man In Black, the human personification of death. Given the nature of such a foe, it’s not surprising that Mr. Mystic would have much to lose if defeated.

What is surprising, however, is that … well, let’s just say Spider-Man wasn’t the first super-hero to fail in a key, life and death situation.

The following story originally appeared in the Dec. 22, 1940 edition of The Spirit Section.

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Luck Be A Lady

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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.

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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.

Schoolboys In Disgrace

Before Walt Kelly’s Pogo began its legendary run as a syndicated newspaper strip, the denizens of Okefenokee Swamp – specifically Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum himself – debuted as supporting characters in Dell’s Animal Comics series. Originally cast as foils to a young boy, Kelly soon discovered the feature worked better without the presence of humans and elevated Pogo and Albert to starring roles.

The following story appeared about a year before the Pogo syndicated strip began, but Kelly’s distinctive art and humor are already in full bloom. The remarkable part is that Kelly command of his craft and characters would only get better over time.

Howland Owl learns just how difficult it is to properly educate “nature’s screechers” in an untitled story from Animal Comics #25 (Dell, February-March 1947). The story and art are by Kelly.

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Magic Man

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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.

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