The Spider’s Sting

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Spider-Verse Week concludes with The Spider, yet another bored millionaire who decides to battle crime with his super-human athleticism. (Today’s protagonist, playboy Tom Hallaway, is a ridiculously accurate archer.)

Created by Golden Age great Paul Gustavson, The Spider proved popular enough to make 30 appearances in Quality’s Crack Comics. And that would be that, if it weren’t for a little thing called Crisis On Infinite Earths.

In the revised continuity, DC dipped into the Quality library to reinvent the Spider as a criminal who used the guise of heroism to cover nefarious activities. Our old friend Geoff Johns then inserted The Spider into the second-tier Golden-Age super-team, The Seven Soldiers Of Victory, as a replacement for the retconned ’40s versions of the Green Arrow and Speedy. The villainous archer eventually betrayed his teammates before their apocalyptic confrontation with The Nebula Man.

(And yes, that is one convoluted story that encompassed not only Johns’ Stars And S.T.R.I.P.E. series but also an old Justice League tale from my Bronze Age youth. Thanks, Wikipedia…)

The Post-Crisis Spider did receive a more nuanced treatment in Starman, but a more faithful version ultimately appeared in Erik Larsen’s Next Issue Project that remains a better postscript to the Spider’s career.

From Crack Comics #13 (Quality, June 1941), here’s “The Phony Resurrectionist” by Paul Gustavson.

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April’s Fool

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The Jester wasn’t exactly a candidate for longevity when he debuted in 1941, but the colorfully clad crime-fighter made a total of 64 appearances in Smash Comics until the title was canceled eight years later.

Much of the character’s success can be attributed to the solid storytelling endemic to the entire Quality Comics line, with many of The Jester’s adventures illustrated by the hero’s creator – and one of the greatest artists of the Golden Age – Paul Gustavson.

The premise was also original: A police officer learns he is the direct descendant of a medieval court jester and decides to use his comedic talents to further the war against crime.

Perhaps this spark of originality inspired James Robinson and Gene Ha to revive the character decades later in DC’s deservedly lauded Starman series. Unlike many Golden Age characters that are contorted beyond recognition to fulfill the more “realistic” requirements of modern comics, Robinson and Ha treated the hero with the respect and dignity usually reserved  for less obscure properties.

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From Smash Comics #23 (Quality Comics, June 1941), here’s “The Hundred Grand Hobo” by Paul Gustavson.

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Blow Up

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My first encounter with Quality Comics super-heroes was Justice League Of America #107 (DC Comics, September-October 1973), the first chapter of the the teams’ team-up with the Freedom Fighters of Earth X. Like any rational comic-book crazed 11-year-old, I was intrigued by these “new” super-heroes engaged in an endless war against the hordes of an android Hitler.

Thanks to Jim Steranko’s excellent history of Golden Age comics, I later learned the heroes of Earth-X weren’t new at all but the product of a long-defunct publisher: Quality Comics. Sadly, reprints of Golden Age Quality characters were few and far between and my contact with the heroes was confined to the Freedom Fighters’ random appearances in the DC universe.

Fortunately the recent profusion of public domain comic-book Internet sites like the excellent Digital Comics Museum has made it possible to enjoy Quality Comics from the ‘40s, including this following tale featuring one of my favorite Golden Age super-heroes: The Human Bomb!

“Mr. Chameleon” originally appeared in Police Comics #14 (Quality Comics, December 1942). The story was written and drawn by the great Paul Gustavson.

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Too bad the professor “accidentally” bumped into the Bomb’s exposed hand. Oh well, that’s Golden-Age justice for you!