Unless I were to go for Action Comics or Detective Comics, which I’m not inclined to do for reasons that have as much to do with general disinterest in Superman and Batman of that era as it is with neither title having a finite end, there’s precious little left of the Golden Age that I want to know more about. Comic Cavalcade is pretty much the last series of substance to read.
Comic Cavalcade debuted in 1942. It differed from the titles of the day in being an anthology of existing characters, a kind of Greatest Hits without the big two, and in being one of a very few titles to run at 96 pages for 15c, instead of the standard package.
The series’ intent was made plain on the first cover. It’s actually a wrap-around cover, showing all the characters from within in a race in an athletic stadium, with the front cover being a crammed close-up of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Flash.
Wonder Woman opened with a long story about fighting Nazi saboteurs and tying women up with ropes. Next were that service trio of Red, White and Blue, with some pretty openly expressed misogyny about women – i.e., intelligence Agent Doris West – thinking they can do the same things a man can. Since we were talking about walking down a flight of stairs in a fire-stricken building, and Doris does indeed come a cropper, we’re not exactly playing fair here. This was succeeded by the Ghost Patrol, who I never liked. I’d call this piece of tosh nonsensical if it made that amount of sense. Hop Harrigan appeared in prose once more. There was more of the flat and stagy Ed Wheelan stuff, corny gags from Fat and Slat and a Minute Movie with his repertory cast, The Black Pirate and a Green Lantern story clogged up with Doiby Dickles again but featuring another different version of Alan Scott’s oath. Wildcat pounded on a guy fixing to fix Ted Grant’s next fight, Scribbly returned to the old neighbourhood to find his old girlfriend overly impressed by a snotty marine. And the Flash brought up the rear with the best story of the bunch, though it wasn’t up to the best of his Flash Comics base: at least it didn’t feature Winky, Blinky or Noddy.
So that was the first issue. With a line-up like that, who all enjoyed a consistent level of popularity, it’s easy to suggest Comic Cavalcade was an attempt to replicate All-American Publications’ All-Star Comics, without the promotional aspect, things like new series soon to be forbidden as paper rationing was introduced. Given the standard of the stories, it’s also easy to suggest this was a case of Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width.
The second issue was more of the same, only in a different order. It did add some Mutt and Jeff pages, more than enough to squeeze out Hop Harrigan, and whilst its humour is of the day and hasn’t outlasted its era in the way that, say, Pogo has, I’m always happy to see more of a classic newspaper strip. Once again, The Flash was the best thing in the issue, with a genuinely sweet story that, in its way, was all about match-making.
Covers still plugged the ‘big 3’, and always in the same left-to-right order, but issue 3 heralded a comprehensive change in the back-ups, with everybody out, Hop Harrigan back, and a host of ‘new’ features. The King, that master of disguise in a top hat, who kept turning his villainous foe The Witch loose (those two just had to be making out behind the panels) was billed as exclusive to Comic Cavalcade. Hop Harrigan was back, this time in comics form, preceded by a true story of an American airman, killed in action saving his crew. Another patriotic feature, written by M.C. Gaines himself, took the spirit of the Minutemen of the War of Independence and stretched it through of America.’s military adventures, stealing countries from other people… sorry, I mean extending the light of the torch of freedom… up to the then-current War. Green Lantern managed a decent story then there was a third true-life story, this time about Spanish conqueror, Vasco de Balboa, which I found far too long and uninteresting. Finally the Flash, as usual the best bit even with a silly story about a country town with ridiculous laws.
The first three issues were scanned from microfiches and were consequently a little blurry, but issue 4 was a scan of an actual copy. Immediately, the clarity made for a better issue. Even Harry Peter’s art looked clean and well-defined and the story was not confused in any way. Or was that me?
The Gay Ghost was added to the roster in this issue. The Green Lantern story was particularly silly. The problem with Alan Scott’s stories is that they’re not actually about Green Lantern. They’re about Doiby Dickles, with the Lantern as a back up character dragged down to the comic relief’s level.. The writers don’t seem to have any idea as to how to write a story without the tough little cabbie than to fill it out with his pugnacious scrapping, his persistent mangling of the English language and his need to have his fat pulled out of the fire whilst the crooks escape to make the story last longer than it ought to. One true delight was Scribbly and the Red Tornado, Sheldon Mayer at his finest, and one black spot was an O’Malley story, Long John O’Malley, the five foot tall cop. Unless he turns up in the next issue I’m going to write this one off as an unused five pager when his original series in Flash Comics fell on its face.
As for The Flash, he’d gone three issues straight but it couldn’t last. Winky, Blinky and Noddy turned up and quality turned down.
Comic Cavalcade started as a 96 page comic but it also started in 1942, with America in the Second World War. Increasing paper restrictions reshaped the comic book industry irreversibly: by issue 5 the series was down to a 72 page format.
O’Malley was indeed there again in issue 5, but the exclusive King was replaced by Red, White and Blue. The Flash is still being credited to Fox and Hibbard but there’s more than a touch of Martin Nadle to the art, not to mention the figure work. If I was certain such things were done in 1943, I would say Nadle was doing layouts and Hibbard finishes, because the work is still much too good to be Nadle alone, and it’s not his cartoony rendition of the Three Dimwits, that’s still very much Hibbard.
In issue 6, Jon Blummer contributed another tribute to a heroic American airman who died in his country’s service. Green Lantern came up with an amusing story thanks to a metafiction conducted by ‘The Author’ (Alfie Bester?) reacting to his wife’s claim that GL and Doiby win by luck not brains: the outcome is his firing by Editor Mayer and being replaced by… his wife! Red, White and Blue offered one of their latterday solo stories, this one featuring Army Private Whitey Smith. And The Flash operated without comic relief on an unrealistic story about a town that had all their secret impulses liberated, and not a single pretty girl got kissed!
The changes continued to be rung, Scribbly and the Black Pirate back in issue 7, not in the same story, obviously, and there was a seismic shift on no. 8’s cover as The Flash appeared on the left, with GL and Wonder Woman next across the page. Behind that, the Wonder Woman story was screwy beyond belief and, even when it was all explained, displayed a twisted sexuality opposite to that which usually underlaid Marston’s Amazon stories. He’s usually all about feminine dominance and loving bondage, but here we have Steve Trevor pushing Diana Prince around, demanding she go out eating, drinking and dancing with him. And she’s loving being dominated by him in total chauvinistic manner, and that’s before she drinks the drugged coffee meant for him, has a long dream of losing her powers, succumbing to his demands she marry him, Trevor acting like the superhero and the Holliday girls trussing her up to deliver her as a bride. Even after she straightens it all out and goes back to refusing to marry him because the Amazon code means they can’t submit themselves to male domination (and there’s no other way of being married, is there?) she still hankers for big ol’ Steve to push her around and take absolutely no account of her wishes, wants or needs. Christ, this was rancid!
Much better was the rather odd tale of an American pilot shot down behind Japanese lines in China and rescued by a farmer’s family with whom he had no language in common. East and West was a strangely sweet story of cultures clashing yet complementing each other, which ended in a direct repudiation of Kipling’s Never the Twain shall Meet that was actually rather moving. There was a paean to the American seaman, the history of his Union and the dogged determination to see the War through, and a silent Hop Harrigan story of being shot down and escaping whose only words were the 23rd Psalm.
Add in a Picture Story from American History and the whole issue was an unusual line-up reliant on its three stalwarts.
This continued next quarter with, of all things, a history of the Co-Operative Movement, stretching back to the Rochdale Pioneers, painting it in glowing colours and promoting its continuation, and expansion throughout America, despite the whole thing being, in American terms, rank socialism.
And there was an astonishingly strong Green Lantern story, with Alan Scott out to save the life of Doiby Dickles, mortally wounded and dependant for his life on a surgeon forbidden to practice in a hospital because he is Jewish. The whole story is an angry, indeed raging attack on race hatred, hatred of other religions. It makes the American ideal, of all being free and equal into a creed and brooks no exception. I wish that spirit prevailed now, or that at least there were crusaders to battle the White Nationalists with the same fervour as the writer of this story.
And contemporary fans complain about ‘Social Justice Warriors’ introducing politics into comics. They should read this and then spit their venom.
Another East Meets West story drew a true distinction between Japanese and Filipinos and the Hop Harrigan story was another direct attack on German Aryan superiority over ‘inferior’ races. The whole thing was wonderful to see. In the end, the Flash’s story was a grave disappointment, even before you added the Three Dimwits.
Issue 10 added a contents list on the inside front cover emphasising the reduction in the regular list to the three stalwarts of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash, and no other superheroic figures at all. The issue contained an adaptation of the Frederic March-starring play and film, ‘Tomorrow – the World !’, a frightening yet thought-provoking piece about a young German boy, son of a heroic philosopher who has died in a concentration camp, and who has been taught to be a Nazi. He comes to live with his Uncle’s family in America, bringing his attitudes with him. Responding to what he says and does, the family have to decide what to do with him, and if he can reform. It was a very strong piece, all the more so for the ending being left open, unlike the film. After that, the Green Lantern nonsense was even more of a disappointment.
The latest story prepared in co-operation with the East and West Association was narrated by Johnny Everyman, who was to be the regular star. Comic Cavalcade was now producing so many stories and features about freedom, democracy, equality and sheer basic decency that it was putting the superhero stuff to shame. It was stirring, heart-warming stuff, a statement of ideals in action. How much of a resemblance to reality it was doesn’t matter. Yet the generation that could have grown up on this was the generation that has led America this past twenty years: so much for good intentions.
Hop Harrigan, decently, and Red, White and Blue, boringly, filled the space given to the play next issue. The Flash escaped to have a story without Winky, Blinky and Noddy but unfortunately it was drawn by Martin Nadle.
Issue 12 had the same line-up but only the Johnny Everyman story interested me.
Sometimes, you have to pause to draw conclusions. Over the past couple of years, I’ve read a colossal amount of Golden Age comics, the adventures of the Justice Society of America in their solo series. I’ve been spurred on by a combination of the fascination for these character born in me by my first, magical exposure to them at the age of ten, and by the insatiable urge to know everything there is to know. I’ve read tons of Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, and I’ve reached conclusions about their Golden Age careers that, frankly, aren’t that favourable. I think I’ve just read enough Golden Age comics now to be unimpressed with their flaws, their silliness, their awkwardness and the overwhelming reliance on comic sidekicks. Doiby Dickles ruins Green Lantern, plain and simple. The Three Dimwits are a depressing clog on The Flash, who’s being doubly crippled by Martin Nadle art. Wonder Woman is just plain cuckoo. Especially in comparison with the plethora of stories fiercely promoting tolerance, decency and brotherhood, the three stars aren’t even adequate.
Nevertheless, in the grand old words of Magnus Magnusson, I’ve started so I’ll finish.
For once, the Green Lantern story in issue 13 was worth reading, being the second appearance of Solomon Grundy in the Lantern’s series. It ended with his imprisonment in a green globe, but not the one that he escapes to confront the Justice Society in All Star 33. In between, GL’s origin was twisted with the claim that his former railroad lamp was actually given to him by Tibetan lamas.
But Comic Cavalcade was going down better with its contemporary audience than with me in 2021 and, with issue 14, and the War over, the series was promoted to bi-monthly status. The running order was shuffled to promote The Flash to midway. Hop Harrigan and Tank Tinker left the War behind to find modern slavery in a small American midwestern town and the horror of ordinary folks talking lynching with approval.
A new feature began in issue 15, ‘Just a Story’, written and drawn by Howard Purcell. Though the series would rapidly develop in a different direction, this first episode was tremendously effective. A man, a scientist, Louis Manton, has been discovered, raving, with a scar across his forehead. He is dying, pleading for someone named Joan. The Doctors hope that if they can identify this Joan and fetch her, it will save Manton’s life. But Manton’s Joan comes from the past, in France, a strange, young, forest main who aided Manton when he travelled in time, whom he loves. But this Joan, or Jeanne, hears voices in her head. They lead her to the Dauphin, to military command, for she is Jeanne d’Arc, Joan of Arc, and the story is her story and it does not end well for anyone, least of all Manton. Crude though the art is, and the telling, the story had a strange, compelling charm to it.
The Flash featured Winky, Blinky and Noddy and that rarest of all things, a joke that made me laugh. Hop Harrigan’s bit was more about Miss Snap, Gerry and the idiot kid, so it may have been deliberately confusing nonsense.
Sadly, Johnny Everyman’s attempts to convince American kids that people the whole world over were humans under the skin, with hearts and minds of their own, was now gone, but I think I’m already on safe ground in saying these were the best thing about Comic Cavalcade. After a strong start, the second Just a Story was just a silly story.
Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, was a very well read character but that didn’t stop him coming an absolute cropper in issue 17. Diana Prince and Steve Trevor are in occupied Germany, about a new Nazi Underground when they get involved with Valkyries carrying off handsome fighting men (hellooo, Steve!). The story is based on the notion that the psychic energies of the German nation during the War years has created Odin and the Valkyries for real and evil. The idea is actually both clever and interesting, but where Marston makes a colossal bollocks of it is that Odin and his cohorts are Norse, as in Norway, and integral to their national myth-cycle. The Germanic myths involve Wotan and his Rhinemaidens, and they don’t have a Valhalla under that word.
I’d seen the Just a Story in issue 18 before in some reprint, and it was equally as good now, a slice of life in a city night that deftly interwove an escaped murderer, a lost dog and a kid wavering on the edge of going bad and brought all three home with a naturalistic tone that was Just a Story but one very worthwhile one. The same went for the feature next issue, a sweet, sentimental tale introducing a character as yet known as Mr Nobody, who interrupts his attempts to clear his name from a false accusation of murder to look after a maltreated young girl. The same issue also included a dull Cotton-top Katie story featuring Myrtle the Kangaroo.
She was bounced in issue 20 in favour of an O’Malley story, whilst Just a Story this time overdid the sentimentality with the story of a little blind girl gaining a dog whose owner was demanding it back, until he saw her.
But after making such a strong start, Just a Story was going downhill rapidly, with something really silly in issue 21. Mart Nadel turned in another of his ridiculous art jobs on The Flash, O’Malley persisted to blight the page.
Mr Nobody returned to Just a Story in issue 22. He was named Johnny Peril and he became the star of the series, related a war story with a bittersweet twist ending. He wasn’t officially linked with Mr Nobody, but we all knew who he was. Now The Atom barged in, full of more misunderstandings with Mary James (why did he put up with her?) And the Thinker turned up in The Flash’s story, under a notation that had the tale originally prepared for Flash Comics 93. Sadly, the last two pages were missing so I missed how the story ended.
Johnny Peril told Just a Story next issue but this one was a lot of rancid SF tosh: the feature was unpredictable to say the least. The Flash had gotten past Mart Nadel so his stories were looking up, Cotton-Top Katie replaced The Atom and Green Lantern battled Solomon Grundy in a story that was complete nonsense. There’s a reason why I’m not commenting on the Wonder Woman stories: can you guess what it is?
Black Canary paid a visit to issue 25 to appear in the most un-Black Canary story of her short career: did any other story have her mutter a magic rhyme that summons hundreds of avian black canaries to save her falling out of the sky? A thumping great minus twenty-five points for that effort.
At long last, in issue 26, Green Lantern managed to get through a story without Doiby Dickles. What’s more, it was drawn by Alex Toth, though not one of his best jobs. It’s notation was AA101: very near to All-American Comics‘ end. On the other hand, Just a Story had disappeared. It’s track record was not good, with maybe one story in every three worth the effort.
But that was just for an issue. Johnny Peril was back in issue 27 with another schtumer, whilst Green Lantern’s least reputable foe, The Fool, was his next target. Next issue, Peril’s feature became his Surprise Story but it didn’t make it any better. Molly Mayne and Streak the Wonder Dog turned up in Green Lantern but in the case of one of them, not for long enough. The Atom popped in again, now showing his completely unexplained super-strength whilst The Flash put a lie to my saying The Fiddler had only appeared once in the Golden Age, the last issue of All-Flash by tangling with the violin virtuoso.
Other existing series kept thrusting themselves into Comic Cavalcade. In the case of the Atom, I wondered if the series was just being used to sop up a surplus of stories that, with the Golden Age titles slowly closing down, would otherwise have gone to waste, but that surely didn’t apply to Leave it to Binky in issue 29. Green Lantern let Doiby in again whilst The Flash offered another second show to an otherwise one-timer with the return of Star Sapphire.
But the Golden Age was slipping away. The superhero titles were all undergoing cancellation or repurposing, and Comic Cavalcade was no exception. Issue 29 was the last outing for the three stars, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash, and that shifting array of extras. From issue 30, the series became a funny animal comic. The Fox and the Crow. Blabber Mouse. The Tortoise and the Hare. The Raccoon Kids. The Dodo and the Frog. Goofy Goose. Giggle-Toons. Willy Wolf. Nutsy Squirrel. It all sounds too grisly for words but two of those series are supposed to be humour classics.
However, my brief is with the superheroic and so my review ends here. What have I gained from this? By now I must have read all the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern’s adventures, or if I haven’t then there can be no more than a handful outstanding. I had already read as many of Wonder Woman’s story as any sane man would wish to, and the extra ones here did nothing to change my mind about the necessity of reading the rest.
But that brief War-time run of stories about Equality and Decency, and the fervour with which they delivered, made the run worthwhile. It reminded me that there was a time when people stood up for things other than their own advantage and interest, and I wish we still had that now, because it’s needed again, in spades.
2 thoughts on “Take Three Heroes: Comic Cavalcade”
Pogo (along with The Spirit) are my favorite US comic strips. But your suggestion that Pogo’s humor may be passed its sell-by date is probably not wrong. The strip and I emerged into the world exactly 12 days apart (the strip was older), so I AM of that era, and consequently blind to how well or not it has aged. I bumbled into a complete set of Pogo books that collected all of the strips at a local garage sale where they were only asking 25 cents each for them, and I bought the lot. That enabled me, still very young, to catch up on the few years before I was actually reading the strip.
I’ve obviously not expressed myself clearly enough here: what I was trying to say was that Mutt and Jeff was outdated in a way that Pogo is not. Mind you, it tookl me a long time to properly get Pogo. I tried several times before finally getting into it with the first of the current Fantagraphics series. I’m envious of your coup over your Pogo books: the Fantagraphics series is not cheap.