World Wide Web

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MLJ Comics’ spider-themed vigilante, The Web,  bears a certain resemblance to The Tarantula, DC’s own Golden Age entry in the arachnid avenger sweepstakes.

Both come from primarily scholarly interests in crime-busting, one a criminologist and the other a successful crime writer. Both, obviously, also happen upon the spider as an effective totem to intimidate lawbreakers.

The difference – other than the fact that The Tarantula debuted months before The Web, is due to the house styles of the two publishers. DC’s Tarantula, co-created by Mort Weisinger and Harold Sharp, relied upon gimmicks like web guns and suction cups to corral his enemies while the more sensational MLJ tended toward action-packed, blood-soaked melodrama.

(And to think the same ruffians behind such mayhem later published Archie … )

Surprisingly, The Web also may be better remembered than his DC counterpart as MLJ/Archie has revived the character from time to time while The Tarantula mostly appeared in the odd Roy Thomas Earth-2 story. Such is the curse of a second-tier super-hero who existed in the same publishing universe as Green Lantern and The Flash.

Without further ado, here’s today’s entry in our Spider-Verse Week. Illustrated by Irv Novick, here’s “The Web And The Book” from Zip Comics #35 (MLJ, March 1943).

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Coming tomorrow: Spider-Verse Week concludes with The Spider! Not the pulp guy, but a Quality Comics archer that was turned into a super-villain by the geniuses who run present day DC!!!

The REAL Man Of Steel

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Steel Sterling may well have the craziest origin of any Superman-wannabe in the history of funny books: He doused himself with an experimental chemical and then dove naked into a vat of molten steel!

Instead of suffering a painful, fiery death, Sterling found himself imbued with the strength and invulnerability of steel! (Don’t try this at home, Time Bulleteers!!)

The sight of Sterling diving to his apparent doom was so memorable that the above image – penciled and inked by the legendary Charles Biro, no less – became part of the character’s logo in subsequent appearances!

Despite such colorful beginnings, however, Steel Sterling may have disappeared into the mists of time like other long-dormant Golden Age characters if not for one or two salient facts.

For one thing, Sterling was dubbed “The Man Of Steel” years before a certain Kryptonian adopted the name. Secondly, Sterling eventually established a secret identity of sorts by pretending to be his own twin brother, a gimmick Stan Lee later lifted for the Silver Age Daredevil.

Finally, Steel’s publisher  – MLJ Comics – never really went put of business. The company simply morphed into Archie Comics and focused its efforts on the adventures of a certain red-haired teenager.

Even though MLJ eventually veered far from its more lurid four-color origins, the company still resurrects its crime-fighters from time to time because you never know when readers might take a shine to a brand, spanking “new” super-hero universe. Therefore, it’s very likely that Steel Sterling will rise again from his molten vat, ready to beat down evildoers with his steel-hard fists.

Here’s Steel Sterling’s origin by the character’s creators, writer Abner Sundell and artist Charles Biro. “The Man Of Steel” originally appeared in Zip Comics #1 (MLJ/Archie Comics, February 1940.)

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Crime And Punishment

The Hangman’s rogues gallery included some of the most brutal criminals found in the Golden Age of Comics. Few had super-powers or flashy costumes, but each were able to cause murder and mayhem on par with just about any four-color psychopath one could name.

A fine (?) example of such treachery is found in the following story, “Crime Does Not Play.” It originally appeared in Hangman Comics #6 (MLJ Comics, Spring 1943) and was drawn by the severely underrated Bob Fujitani.

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Lucifer Be A Lady Tonight

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It’s difficult these days to believe that a character as dark and unusual as Madam Satan debuted in the same title that introduced the world to Archie, but such seeming discrepancies are typical of that Wild, Wild West era better known as the Golden Age Of Comics.

Although she vied with Timely’s Black Widow for the title of Satan’s sexiest subordinate, the woman only known as “Tyra” didn’t enjoy that long a run in Pep Comics, six mere issues to be exact.

Those six stories presented a great opportunity for artist Harry Lucey to stretch his creative muscles, though. Each story, including the first presented below, featured a striking splash page that featured the Lord of Lies looking down upon the wretched Earth.

Pretty potent stuff, and this was years before Crime Does Not Pay or Tales From The Crypt.

As we all know, MLJ eventually chose to pursue a different direction with its publications. When the company – now known as Archie Comics, of course – chooses to revive its Golden Age characters Madam Satan is usually left behind.

But what better time to revive Tyra than the night before Halloween? From Pep Comics #16 (MLJ Comics, June 1941), here’s “The Origin Of Madam Satan.”

The story was written by Abner Sundell and drawn by Lucey, who later found greater acclaim with his Sam Hill crime feature and  – of course – a long run on Archie that influenced the likes of Jaime Hernandez.

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The Hangman & The Papist

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If the Comics Code had existed from the very beginning of the funny-book industry, we probably never would have seen the likes of MLJ’s Hangman.

The brother of a deceased super-hero – Jack Cole’s Comet, to be exact – The Hangman struck fear into the hearts of evildoers by projecting the menacing image of a noose on a nearby wall before pounding the $h!t out of the unfortunate soul who crossed the vigilante’s path.

The Hangman also was a strong proponent of the death penalty, to the point of carrying out such sentences himself when he deemed fit. As a result, the hero’s rogues gallery – which did include its share of colorfully murderous misfits – was rather sparse. Few villains made return engagements.

But if The Hangman was far from your garden-variety wholesome super-guy, the antagonist in the following story was far worse than any generic gangster. Can you imagine any story under the Comics Code that featured an unscrupulous minister as a villain? Kind of goes against the whole “no disrespect for authority” bit.

Ironically MLJ Comics eventually morphed into Archie Comics, one of the strongest supporters of the Comics Code. The publisher would adhere to the provisions until 2011, long after most comic book companies had either ignored or outright abandoned the Comics Code Authority.

From Pep Comics # 26 (MLJ Comics, April 1942), here’s “”The Menacing Missionary.” The Grand Comics Database guesses the story was written by Bill Woolfolk and drawn by Paul Reinman.

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