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In the most recent issue of Multiversity, Grant Morrison once again brought his unique sensibilities to a well-worn comic-book theme – in this case, super-heroes versus Nazis – and uncovered new and interesting twists.

The most obvious hook, of course, was casting Superman and the Justice Leaguers as defenders of Truth, Justice and the Aryan Way. While it was intriguing to see how easily Batman fits into the fascist mold, the conceit wasn’t necessarily original. Heck, Saturday Night Live aired a Nazi Superman sketch way back in 1979.

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The more interesting aspects of the story – in my mind, at least – include Morrison’s depiction of Hitler, which ranges from Golden Age buffoonery to the true horrors of his sick ideology; the re-imagining of Uncle Sam as the charismatic leader of a super-powered terrorist cell comprised of Quality Comics characters; and, of course, a slant on “weeping Superman” that actually makes sense for once, as the Last Son Of Krypton finds himself unable to look past his adopted land’s bloody past.

Morrison also fulfills his “meta” quota, as there are several scenes depicting Nazis – including Der Fuehrer himself – reading and commenting on real and imagined Golden Age comics starring Superman  and a Captain America Expy called “American Crusader.”

American Crusader

Coincidentally enough, there was an American Crusader who battled Nazis in the pages of Nedor’s Thrilling Comics. The character, who owed as much to Superman as Captain America, also held the distinction of being one of the earliest atomic-powered super-heroes and even enjoyed a brief revival in Alan Moore’s “America’s Best Comics” line.

The Crusader was mousy astronomer Archibald Masters, who found himself blasted by atomic radiation in one of those comic-book science experiments that inevitably go awry. Instead of dying on the spot, Masters found he possessed super-human strength, speed, agility and resistance to injury as well as the power of flight.

Masters predictably donned a costume and decided to fight crime and tyranny as the patriotic American Crusader. His success at that endeavor can best be judged by the following tale …

“The American Crusader versus The Black Vulture” originally appeared in Thrilling Comics #26 (Better/Standard/Nedor, March 1942). The art is credited to Max Plaisted, whose work may be primitive but is still preferable in my eyes to Multiversity’s Jim Lee.

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In case you’re wondering about the Crusader’s battle against the wonderfully named “Mr. Eyes,” it can be summed up pretty easily.

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For a mild-mannered sop, Archie is pretty adept at clocking radios.

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Fishy Business

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Everyone loves Disney’s adaptation of “The Little Mermaid,” but when you put some thought into the concept half-human/half-fish she-creatures aren’t quite as cute and spunky as Ariel appeared on the big screen back in ’89.

Today’s Pre-Code chiller illustrates that point beautifully  horrifically with a love tale turned bitter between a more malevolent – if somewhat gullible – mermaid and a seafaring adventurer who may well be an ancestor of Star Trek’s James T. Kirk based upon his rather manipulative approach to love and romance.

The 13 Days Of Halloween continue with “Monsters Of The Deep” from The Unseen # 14 (Standard, April 1954). The art is by Ralph Mayo.

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Coming tomorrow: We’ve saved the strangest for last! Introducing Mother Hubbard!! But will she save the world or destroy it!?!

Lost Planet Airmen

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Alex Toth. Jet planes. Does anything else need to be said?

Welllll ….. sure. Jim Steranko’s recent Twittertorial on Alex Toth described how the legendary artist defined comics’ depiction of aeronautics in EC’s Frontline Combat. Sadly, I don’t have access to Harvey Kurtzman’s brilliant EC war titles. However, Toth did do equally striking work for Standard’s air combat titles  roughly around the same time.

Given the popularity of Sci-Fi in the early 50s, today’s story also works in a flying saucer angle without damaging what is otherwise a fairly realistic setting for a late Golden Age war comic.

From Jet Fighters #7 (Standard, March 1953), here’s “Seeley’s Saucer” with art by Toth and Mike Peppe.

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Have Mask, Will Travel

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The first, big-budget Lone Ranger film in decades was released less than 24 hours ago and already looks to be as big a flop as the previous attempt.

Even if the American public doesn’t accept Johnny Depp as a Native American warrior, however, it’s safe to say the Ranger’s status as a cultural icon will remain unchanged. Like Popeye, Ichabod Crane and Superman, certain figures are permanently ingrained in the popular consciousness despite the relative success or failure of their respective Hollywood adaptations.

In honor of the Ranger’s ongoing legacy, here’s an adventure starring one of the character’s many imitators: The Mystery Rider. Created by artist Charles Quinlan – who previously illustrated such Golden Age favorites as Cat-Man and Miss Victory – the Rider was Rick Howard, a bronco buster who feigned cowardice whenever evil threatened the Bar B-X Ranch so his boss – and buxom love interest  – Lila wouldn’t uncover his secret.

I’m not sure why all the subterfuge was necessary, but Quinlan had to find a reason for Howard to don a Lone Ranger mask so …

The following story originally appeared in Exciting Comics #61 (Standard, May 1948). The art is by Quinlan.

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Bros Before Bots

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The fact that DC sued Victor Fox’s Wonder Man out of existence didn’t stop another enterprising publisher from claiming a variation of the name a few years later.

The publisher in question, our good friends at Better/Nedor/Standard, unveiled “Brad Spencer, Wonderman” in the 1944 one-shot, The Complete Book Of Comics And Funnies. Spencer’s origin, drawn by the great Bob Oksner, involved a liberal use of a “secret current” that granted the hero super-strength and invulnerability.

Aided by his girlfriend and armed with a flame pistol, Spencer fought such villains as Dr. Voodoo (I think every Golden Age publisher had a villain named Dr. Voodoo) and the Immortal Emperor from the planet Lilith.

The nefarious Emperor wasn’t Spencer’s only nemesis from space. Many of Wonderman’s adventures – which ran for about three years – bore a greater resemblance to Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers than any brightly-colored man of steel.

Today’s story marks Wonderman’s final adventure on the printed page, as the publisher moved on to genres that were more appealing to post-war audience. It notably features a robot sidekick named “Roboroy” that is apparently nearer and dearer to Brad’s heart than Wonderman’s long-suffering girlfriend.

Super-hero comics are such a boy’s club, amirite?

From Wonder Comics #20 (Standard, October 1948), here’s “The Robots Of The Demon Star.” The scripter and penciller are not credited, but the Grand Comics Database states that the good-girl influenced art was inked by a name that should be familiar to Silver Age Marvel fans: George Roussos.

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Not Another Teen Comic

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After a month of horror comics lightened only by the darkest of humor, I thought it was high time to change it up a bit and present the entirely gore-free adventures of Standard Comics’ “Kathy,” an adorably average teenager who made Patsy Walker look like a high school Hellcat.

Of course, Kathy did possess a certain attribute Archie, Betty and their Golden Age imitators could not match – the artistic talents of a young buck by the name of Frank Frazetta!

Like his contemporaries, Frazetta did a little bit of everything as he rose up the ranks: funny animals, romance, space opera, hillbilly humor and … yes … Archie rip-offs. As always, his talent elevates the work in question.

(Although the script, by a sadly uncredited writer, is agreeably wacky.)

From Thrilling Comics #69 (Standard, December 1948), here’s “Cake Fake” as pencilled and inked by Frazetta.

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True Blood

A Pre-Code horror story truly worth its salt needs a healthy dose of barely concealed sexual tension. A five-page “quicky” that involves multiple blood transfusions between a dashing, lovestruck protagonist and a beautiful damsel in distress certainly fulfills the requirement.

The fact it is beautifully drawn by Nick Cardy only adds to the fun.

The Time Bullet’s Four-Star Fright Fest continues with “Nothing Can Save Her” from Adventures Into Darkness #9 (Standard, April 1953).

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The Invincibles

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The good folks over at Better/Nedor/Standard/Whatchamacallit knew that striking covers sold comics back in the halcyon days of newsstands and magazine racks.

That is why the majority of their publications featured eye-catching illustrations from one of the greatest cover artists of the day, Alex Schomburg.

Once hooked, however, readers usually found the contents a bit more slapdash than Schomburg’s covers promised. Although Standard Comics featured the early work of such talents as Richard E. Hughes and George Tuska, the stories themselves appeared to have been put together quickly and rarely rise above assembly-line quality.

(At least until the publisher started employing the likes of Alex Toth, Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson later in its existence…)

There are always exceptions to the rule, however, and I often find myself surprised by the gems that can be found in early Better/Nedor/Standard comics. The following story – taken from the same issue as the Schomburg  cover reproduced at the top of this post – definitely delivers the goods, even if The Black Terror and Tim never mount a single flying torpedo to combat the Nazi menace.

From The Black Terror #6 (Standard, May 1944), here’s The Terror Twins’ titanic struggle against “The Invincibles.” The writer and artist are not credited.

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