Call Him The Streak

000

The Silver Streak, a super-speedster who was beaten to the newsstands by All-American Publications’ The Flash by a mere two months, had one of the stranger debuts in Golden Age history, which is really saying something when you consider the era included such oddities as Speed Centaur.

The story begins with the long forgotten Rhoda Publications, which decided to jump into the comic book game by offering a title named after the owner’s beloved Pontiac Silver Streak. Although the book prominently featured one notable creation, Jack Cole’s monstrous Claw, none of the characters in the comic were particularly silver or streaky.

55444

After two issues, the title was taken over by Lev Gleason Publications, which decided to introduce a Silver Streak character to headline the book.

That “character,” however, turned out to be a souped-up race car rather than a man or woman possessing super-speed. As detailed in Silver Streak Comics #3 (Lev Gleason, March 1940),  the Silver Streak was owned by a mysterious swami whose efforts to win races were continually thwarted by a mad scientist who sent monstrous insects to destroy the car.

Streak 1

The Golden Age, right?

Undeterred, the swami mesmerizes an unnamed cab driver to guide the Silver Streak to victory. When the car is destroyed yet again by a giant bug – an attack that also kills the hapless cab driver by the way – the swami stops kidding around and unleashes powers that makes one wonder why he messed around with racing cars anyway.

He raises the cab driver from the dead and gives him a rebuilt Silver Streak to gain vengeance. The story ends with the reanimated driver, who now possesses super-strength, foiling part of the mad scientist’s confusing master plan with the promise of further battles to come.

That “origin” story was drawn by Jack Binder, but when the Silver Streak returned in the fourth issue the feature boasted a new creator – Jack Cole – and an entirely new concept. The race car and swami were gone forever, and the cab driver suddenly became a fleet-footed super-hero bound and determined to bring am end to the mad “Doc” and his giant insects.

Streak 2

Little changed for The Silver Streak from that point forward, other than the addition of the requisite teen sidekick and a super fast pet falcon. The character’s adventures lasted until 1945, about the time the majority of Golden Age super-heroes sped off into the sunset.

The following story originally appeared in Silver Streak Comics #5 (Lev Gleason, June 1940). The story was written and drawn by Cole, who adds a nice essay about the nature of heroism on the opening splash page.

001

002

003

004

005

006

007

008

009

0010

0011

0012

Advertisements

Detective Comics

Although Plastic Man arguably ranks as Jack Cole’s greatest creation, he was equally adept at true crime and horror genres.

The few Cole stories scattered over the first 12 issues of Quality Comics’ Web Of Evil easily represent the height of that publisher’s somewhat tentative entry in the burgeoning horror comics market.

Today’s entry in the Time Bullet’s Four-Star Fright Fest isn’t long on gore, but benefits from Cole’s typically breakneck pacing and broad, near big-foot style art, both of which lend the story a nice sense of foreboding that amplifies the tale’s psychological twists and turns.

From Web Of Evil #8 (Quality Comics, November 1953), here’s “Death Prowls The Streets” by Jack Cole.

scan0018

scan0019

scan0020

scan0021

scan0022

scan0023

scan0024

Call Of The Wild

Charles Biro and Bob Wood rightfully deserve credit for creating – and perfecting – the crime comics format that swept through the latter half of comics’ Golden Age. Jack Cole, however, kicked the genre into another gear altogether with his contributions to Magazine Village’s True Crime Comics title.

Of all of Cole’s crime comics, “Murder, Morphine And Me” from True Crime Comics #2 is easily the best remembered thanks to Dr. Fredric Wertham (there’s that name again) and the infamous “injured eye motif” panel. That selfsame issue, though, contained other tales that were just as outrageously brilliant.

As an example, here’s Cole’s take on the legend of Sawney Bean, a mass murderer and cannibal who led a 48-member clan that reportedly terrorized Scotland in the 1500s. Cole admittedly plays fast and loose with the “facts,” but his characteristically breakneck storytelling skills and genre-bending art that somehow balances out humor and horror creates an unforgettable story that would stand out in any era of comics.

From True Crime Comics #2 (Magazine Village, May 1947), here’s Jack Cole’s “Demons Dance On Galloway Moor.”

True Crime

True Crime 02-26

True Crime 02-27

True Crime 02-28

True Crime 02-29

Presto Chango

smash29_31

Midnight, Jack Cole’s answer to The Spirit, typically found himself in situations that were a tad more surreal than the challenges faced by Will Eisner’s masked gumshoe. Guess that goes with the territory when you hang around with a talking chimpanzee…

From Smash Comics #29 (Quality Comics, December 1941), here’s “The Return Of Chango.” It’s a frenetic, topsy-turvy adventure written and drawn by the only mind that could conceive of such hilarious insanity – Jack Cole.

smash29_32

smash29_33

smash29_34

smash29_35

smash29_36

smash29_37

You know, DC or somebody should really get around to reprinting this stuff properly ….

Death Be Not Plastic

Jack Cole’s Plastic Man is justly remembered for its balls-to-the-wall absurdist humor, but the great cartoonist wasn’t averse to exploring darker themes as well. In fact, his horror and true crime stories are legendary for pushing the thematic and visual boundaries of those genres to their limits.

Even Plas himself wasn’t immune to Cole’s darker impulses. The following story, which originally appeared in Police Comics #94 (Quality Comics, September 1949), opens with a scene of Plastic Man choking in a gas chamber – a horrific sight made even more unpleasant by the hero’s pliable body writhing in its death throes.

Yucks aplenty, right?

Everything turns out alright in the end, of course, but Cole ensures that both Plas and the reader sweat it out for a few pages before resetting the status quo. Here’s “Plastic Man Turns Killer.”

The story and art are by Jack Cole.

The Man Called Woozy

Plastic Man may have grabbed the headlines, but his able-bodied (well … maybe not so able) sidekick Woozy Winks proved to be a fearsome (wellmaybe not so fearsome) foe (well … oh, you get the idea) of crime as well.

You scoff? Read “Salteen’s Art Gallery” from Plastic Man # 17 (Quality Comics, 1949) and you may think differently.

(Wellmaybe not. It’s a great comic-book story anyway.)

Jack Cole provided the story and art.

Murder, Morphine And Me

Jack Cole’s “Murder, Morphine And Me” could well be the most notorious comic-book tale in the history of the medium.

Fans these days get all hot and bothered when a super-hero hires the personification of evil as a divorce attorney, but Cole’s feverish morality play was so outrageous for its day that it became the central attraction of Dr. Fredric Wertham’s infamous campaign against comic-book “depravity.”

The scene shown at the top of this post is so powerful and disturbing that it has achieved iconicity. Such notable comics creators and scholars as Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd have expounded at length on the story’s artistry, which retains it’s visual and narrative power to this day.

The story originally appeared in True Crime Comics #2 (Magazine Village, 1947), but the following pages were taken from Eclipse Comics’ 1986 reprint, Mr. Monster’s True Crime #1. The Mr. Monster collection was compiled by cartoonist Michael T. Gilbert, who hired Ray Fehrenbach to recolor the contents.

Now that’s a pre-Code comic!

Masked Mayhem

Smash Comics 74-00

Although Jack Cole’s classic Plastic Man comics are deservedly chronicled in a series of beautiful archive editions from DC, another of the great cartoonist’s Golden Age headliners inexplicably remains buried in obscurity.

I’m referring, of course, to the masked crime-fighter known as Midnight.

The character was popular enough to be featured on the cover of 57 consecutive issues of Smash Comics, yet is something of an afterthought today whenever Golden Age buffs discuss Cole’s work.

(It could be due to DC’s apparent disinterest in doing anything at all with the character. Guess the publisher saw no profit in issuing a Midnight archive collection, although it probably would have done at least as well as Seven Soldiers Of Victory reprints …)

Cole himself may not have had great expectations for Midnight. He created the character after Quality publisher Everett M. “Busy” Arnold requested a masked adventurer to replace The Spirit should cartoonist Will Eisner be drafted and killed fighting overseas.

(A world war was raging, remember, and while most of the characters the Eisner & Iger studio created for Quality were owned outright by Arnold, the fabled cartoonist retained the rights to Denny Colt.)

Cole responded with Midnight, and despite the obvious similarities between the two characters the newly minted crime-fighter wasn’t a complete rip-off of The Spirit.

For one thing, Midnight possessed a secret identity: radio announcer Dave Clark. The strip also benefited from Cole’s typically manic style, which operated at a much faster and more humorous pace than the typical Eisner Spirit comic.

Cole also created an unlikely, but wonderfully vivid, supporting cast that included a mad scientist and a talking chimpanzee.

(Some have called the second character an unfortunate substitute for Ebony White, but decades after the fact Gabby the chimp has aged a lot better than The Spirit’s sidekick.)

Cole remained on Midnight for 20 issues before passing the reins to Paul Gustavson, a talented cartoonist who couldn’t quite match his predecessor’s genius but ensured the strip remained entertaining.

Gustavson drew Midnight for four years until Cole returned to the character in 1946. Cole’s later stories demonstrated how far his skills had progressed during his absence, as the artist’s innovative touch extended to oddly shaped panels, word balloons and sound effects that somehow enhanced – rather than distracted from – the breezy whodunits.

The following story, entitled “Masked Mayhem,” originally appeared in Smash Comics #74. It was written and drawn, of course, by the great Jack Cole.

Smash Comics 74-01Smash Comics 74-002

Smash Comics 74-003Smash Comics 74-004

Smash Comics 74-005Smash Comics 74-006

Smash Comics 74-007Smash Comics 74-008

Smash Comics 74-009Smash Comics 74-010

Smash Comics 74-011