Golden Age Geek

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The horror comics Joe Simon and Jack Kirby produced for Prize Comics tended to emphasize mystery over gore, a choice that cast the supernatural as more of an inscrutable force of nature than outright malevolence.

Today’s tale, in fact, plays much like an episode from Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone – a program the comic predates by at least seven years. If he were aware of the story, I’m sure Serling would have been intrigued by the premise of  an old man’s loneliness creating an unexpected companion.

The real point of interest, however, is the aforementioned “companion.” A creature composed of rags and trash, it bears a striking resemblance to a character created by Joe Simon years later: Brother Power The Geek.

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Simon isn’t credited as the writer of the Black Magic story, but the coincidence is too great to think he didn’t have a hand in creating both characters. Although some consider Brother Power the worst super-hero title of the 1960s – if not ever – I’ve always liked Simon’s weird take on the Hippie Counter-Culture and The Silver Surfer.

(But what do I know? I also liked Prez… )

The 13 Days Of Halloween continue with “A Rag – A Bone And A Hank Of Hair!” The story originally appeared in Black Magic # 13 (Prize, June 1952) and was drawn by the great Mort Meskin.

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Coming tomorrow: Earth is haunted by dead, floating fetuses from Mars!!! (That should garner a few Google hits … )

Fear The Reefer

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Despite their attraction to lurid sensationalism, publishers of Golden Age True Crime comics often claimed their magazines performed valuable public services. After all the criminals always got their just desserts, right?

(Never mind the fact that true crime tales focused on the vicarious thrill of watching lawbreakers violently climb the ladder of the underworld before receiving said just desserts.)

Crime comics occasionally preached against drugs and drink as well, with the demon weed Marijuana an especially juicy target for publishers’ ire. Today’s post presents one of the better examples of comic-book reefer madness, thanks to the typically distinctive art of Mort Meskin.

From Wanted Comics #45 (Orbit, February 1952), here’s “The No. 1 Enemy.”

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Heart Of Gold

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In 1944, Ken Crossen (creator of the Golden Age pulp hero, The Green Lama) launched a comic-book company to publish the adventures of his then-famous character as well as a small stable of other heroes.

Called “Spark Publications,” the three titles published by the company prominently featured the work of Mort Meskin, Jerry Robinson and Mac Raboy, who were among the most distinctive and skilled creators of the era.

(Unfortunately, such quality didn’t translate into sales and Spark Publications folded in 1946.)

Aside from the Green Lama, the most notable characters of the Spark line were Atoman and Golden Lad.

Created by Meskin, Golden Lad was a young boy who discovered he could access the strength of a “thousand martyred warriors” by grasping an ancient Aztec artifact and intoning the magic words, “Heart Of Gold.”

The Freddy Freeman-esque hero only lasted five issues, which was at least enough time to introduce a “Golden Girl” spin-off. Meskin’s typically excellent storytelling skills – which included his trademark “Johnny Quick” super-speed effect – made the series memorable enough to win the hearts of most Golden Age comics devotees.

From Golden Lad #5 (Spark Publications, June 1946), here’s “The Chinese Vase” by Mort Meskin.

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The Mirror Crack’d

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Now let’s get to some actual business …

It’s time to usher in the new year with one of our favorite tropes – the deadly doppelgänger – in a beautifully illustrated tale by the legendary Mort Meskin.

“The Woman In The Mirror” originally appeared in Black Magic #1 (Prize Comics, October-November 1950).

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Golden Age husbands were such clueless tools…

Spirit Of America

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Here’s a Fighting Yank story illustrated by the all-star team of Jerry Robinson (pencils) and Mort Meskin (inks). If you study the figures closely, it’s apparent just how great an influence Meskin exerted on a young Steve Ditko.

“The Return Of Fingers” originally appeared in The Fighting Yank #27 (Better/Nedor/Standard, January 1949).

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As a special bonus for you faithful Time Bulleteers, here’s the original cover of The Fighting Yank #27, illustrated by the one and only Alex Schomburg!

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The Artist’s Artist

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Mort Meskin ‘s admirers include the likes of Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, Carmine Infantino, Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko. Yet the artist’s name is rarely brought up by fans discussing the all-time greats of comics’ golden and silver ages.

It’s truly a shame. To quote Mr. Ditko …

Meskin was fabulous, I couldn’t believe the ease with which he drew: strong compositions, loose pencils, yet complete; detail without clutter. I loved his stuff

Meskin, like many of his contemporaries, earned his stripes working for the ubiquitous Eisner & Iger shop. However, he soon found himself with Harry A. Chesler illustrating features for MLJ Comics, the future home of Archie Andrews.

He also enjoyed memorable stints on such DC stalwarts as Wildcat, The Vigilante and (especially) Johnny Quick. In 1949 he joined the Simon & Kirby studio and produced classic strips in the horror, crime and romance genres.

After Simon & Kirby went their separate ways, Meskin returned to DC and created the character “Mark Merlin.” The remainder of his time was spent on the company’s war, science-fiction and horror titles.

In 1965, Meskin left the comics field and began a successful career in advertising until his retirement in 1982. He passed away in 1995.

Among Meskin reached many high points during his comics career, many of my personal favorites were created in tandem with the great Jerry Robinson.

The pair turned in especially notable work at Nedor, where they took workmanlike characters like the Black Terror (who had a great costume, but suffered from lackluster art) and Fighting Yank (ditto) and made them every bit the equals of such illustrious counterparts as Batman and Captain America.

Sound far-fectched? The following story, featuring a great Golden Age femme fatale, provides a strong argument for such assertions.

From Black Terror #24, here’s “Lady Serpent Returns” by Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson.

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Fantagraphics recently released a beautiful biography of the artist entitled “From Shadow to Light: The Life & Art of Mort Meskin.” It’s a long overdue appreciation of a top-flight creator whose name truly deserves to be mentioned alongside the field’s giants.