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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The Green Widow

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On paper, the Spider Widow differed little from other super-heroines of the Golden Age era. Wealthy socialite – and sportswoman – Dianne Grayton is unfulfilled by her silver-spoon existence and decides to use her considerable physical and mental skills to fight crime.

Unlike such fellow members of the not-so-idle rich as  Lady Luck or the Phantom Lady, Grayton took her crusade in a decidedly different direction when she adopted the guise of a green-skinned witch and demonstrated an uncanny ability to control poisonous spiders.

Although the character sounds ideal for rather dark adventures, Quality characters weren’t quite as bloodthirsty as some of their competitors (I’m looking at you, Ace and MLJ … ) and the Spider Widow soon developed a will-they or won’t-they relationship with a fellow crime-fighter known as The Raven.

She even developed a rivalry/alliance with the Quality Comics Phantom lady that crossed over two different titles, a rarity at that time.

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Spider-Widow and Raven also took down a villain known as Spider Man, who was basically a lunatic who rode a giant robot spider.

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For the purposes of Spider-Verse Week, however, we’ll turn to the bizarre heroine’s first – and creepiest – appearance in Feature Comics #57 (Quality, June 1942). The story was written and drawn by the Spider Widow’s creator, Frank Borth, who also penned the Phantom Lady’s adventures in Police Comics and undoubtedly cooked up the inter-title crossover.

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Coming tomorrow: MLJ’s The Web! He’s a pretty intense guy!!!

Plastic Fang

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By the early 1950s, Jack Cole was no longer heavily involved in the creation of new Plastic Man tales and the difference was apparent. While many talented creators were drafted by Quality to write and draw Plas’ adventures, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to equal the output of the brilliantly creative Cole.

(A more detailed account of Cole’s ghosts, as well as the writer-artist’s response to seeing others work on his prized creation, can be read at the excellent Cole’s Comics blog.)

That said, Plastic Man’s adventures toward the end of the Golden Age are still entertaining and definitely stand head and shoulders above subsequent attempts to reinvent the character for modern audiences.

By 1953, the popularity of horror comics compelled publishers of the few super-heroes left standing to incorporate supernatural elements into their characters’ four-color adventures. Plastic Man was no different, as the pliable super-sleuth found himself battling monsters as well as criminals.

As today’s tale demonstrates, however, Cole’s ghosts were wise enough to keep things from getting too heavy. The 13 Days Of Halloween continue with “The Evil Terror” from Plastic Man #43 (Quality, November 1953).

The writer and artist are not credited, although GCD guesses the story was drawn by Al Luster.

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Coming tomorrow: The House Of Wax as interpreted by Charlton Comics’ House Of Recycled Ideas!

Justice, Blackhawk Style

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Skell The Ruthless was one of the more notable villains to encounter Blackhawk.

Not only was “ruthless” part of his name, but the character was cunning enough to conceal his history as a Nazi war criminal and adopt the guise of a civic-minded German national eager to atone for his country’s sins.

If a few innocent peasants happened to be murdered along the way, well … even an evil geniuses can’t make an omelet without slaughtering an egg or two.

Too bad Skell ran afoul of a certain leather-clad aviator. While a modern “Big Two” super-hero – even the so-called edgy ones – would probably decide the character wasn’t worth killing and hand the Nazi over to the authorities, Blackhawk was never afraid of taking the law into his own hands.

In fact, the hero was so eager to take down this particular villain du jour that … well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

“Skell The Ruthless” originally appeared in Military Comics #26 (Quality, February 1944). The art is by John Cassone and Alex Kotzky.

Unfortunately, just about every Golden Age Blackhawk story is marred by the undeniably offensive characterization of Chop-Chop. However, I strongly believe it’s better to confront these instances of institutionalized racism openly rather than cover-up the more shameful aspects of our past.

I do apologize if anyone is angered by certain images in the following story.

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Triumph Of The Spirit

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Captain Triumph debuted in 1943, a bit late to capitalize on the initial super-hero boom. Unlike such early birds as the The Arrow and The Clock, the good Captain outlasted the faddish interests of the ’40s audience and hung on until the end of the decade, headlining several issues of Quality’s Crack Comics in the process.

Created by Alfred Andriola, Captain Triumph’s origin was more unique than most of the era. Lance Gallant vowed to fight the forces of tyranny after his twin brother, Michael, was murdered by Nazis. Unknown to the surviving Gallant, however, The Fates decided to aid the grieving brother’s quest.

Lance soon discovered that Michael’s ghost still walked the Earth, and that the two could combine into the super-powered Captain Triumph whenever the surviving brother touched his birthmark.

Despite his mystic background, Captain Triumph mostly fought down-to-earth criminals in well-crafted tales that employed a bit more characterization than most Golden Age slug-fests.  His rather simple costume also probably aided the Captain’s longevity, as he didn’t quite look like your garden variety super-hero.

The following story introduces a femme fatale who claims to be Michael’s widow, a claim that is obviously false but nevertheless leaves the Gallant brothers in an interesting quandary. Reed Crandall’s typically slick art completes the package.

“The Man Who Robbed The Dead” originally appeared in Crack Comics #53 (Quality, March 1948).

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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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America’s Uncle

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After the success of MLJ’s The Shield, Will Eisner was assigned the duty of creating a red, white and blue super-patriot for Quality Comics.

His answer: Uncle Sam, the famed – and non-trademarked – personification of the United States. Using the character design created by James Montgomery Flagg for a 1917 recruitment poster, Eisner added the de rigueur youthful sidekick and pushed the strip into the direction of fables or tall tales instead of the paint-by-numbers adventure approach taken by other publishers’ super-patriots.

(Excluding Joe Simon & Jack Kirby’s Captain America, of course.)

Here’s the first appearance of one of Quality’s more popular – and enduring – characters from National Comics #1 (July, 1940). The script and art are by Eisner and Dave Berg (of Mad Magazine’s “The Lighter Side” fame).

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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.

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Eternal Relief

It wouldn’t be the Halloween season without a mad scientist seeking to create a hulking monstrosity out of used body parts. Enter Doctor Pain, a would-be Victor Von Frankenstein who is too impatient to even wait for his patients to die before harvesting their organs.

Kid Eternity answers the bell for the fourth day of Super-Heroes Vs. Super-Horrors Week to face his most macabre foe yet in “A Tale of A Door… A Doctor … and A Dreaded Cat.”

The story originally appeared in Hit Comics # 26 (Quality, February 1943). The art is by Ruben Moreira.

Keep an eye out for a surprise appearance by one of the Time Bullet’s favorite Golden Age characters …

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Remember Time Bulleteers …. if you need someone skilled in the art of Golden Age justice, Blackhawk is your man! Coming tomorrow: The original Mr. Monster!!

Skull And Crossbones

I’m a bit too staid when it comes to spending an entire day talking like a pirate, but I’ll take any excuse for posting a wild and wooly tale of piracy on the seven seas illustrated by the one and only Reed Crandall.

So here’s the swashbuckling Captain Daring vs. “The Alliance Of Evil” by Crandall and inker Les Zakarin. The story originally appeared in Buccaneers #27 (Quality Comics, May 1951).

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