We Who Would Valiant Read: Part 2


It’s 1964. Valiant and Knockout, to give it it’s official title, starts a new year. Let’s remind ourselves of what that means.
The comic is 6d for 28 pages, a reduction of four on its original count. It divvies these up between a front cover of Famous Fighters, Captain Hurricane (3½ pp), The Nutts (1p), Spotlight on… (1p), Kid Gloves (2pp), Kelly’s Eye (2pp), Billy Bunter (2pp), The Steel Claw (2pp), letters (2pp), Kraken and the Time Machine (2pp), Cars from A to Z (1p), Sporty (2/3p), The Duke of Dry Gulch (2pp), Soccer Roundabout (1p), The Crows (½p), Jack O’Justice (2pp) and Little Fred and Big Ed (who, we all remember are Asterix and Obelix), in full colour on the back page.
But a new comic, with which we’re already familiar, was in the works and in issue 73 (22 February), Knockout was credited for the last time, it’s place on the masthead the following week (a 29 February issue) being taken by the tag-line ‘A companion paper to Hurricane‘.
Internally, all ran smoothly, with no changes until issue 76 (14 March), when the Professors Kraken and Needler series, now amplified in cast to include young electrician Chris Blower, gave up the Time Machine. Re-named Kraken and the Giant Menace, the new story involved harvest mice of unusual size. But not just harvest mice: caterpillars and pigeons were also growing to giant-size, horrendously so in the case of the caterpillar: a disaster was brewing!

Tim Kelly

Change, once commenced, has a momentum of its own. Cars from A to Z reached W the following week, and with no cars beginning with X, Y or, sadly, Z, that was it. Jack O’Justice began a new story that was not a Dick Turpin, but rather an original, with a new artist and a Sixties style, though Moll wasn’t drawn quite as pretty as before. In addition, The Duke of Dry Gulch came to its end at the same time, to be replaced by a new ‘picture serial’ (as the editor described it: picture serial? It’s a comic, man, just say so), The Wild Wonders.
The new series was timed to run up to the Tokyo Olympics of that year, and involved the GB Athletics team – women as well as men, ooh mother – being stranded (deliberately) on a remote Hebridean island that’s supposed to have some sort of monster prowling it (would the GB Olympic Committee have chosen any other kind? Are there any other kind?). Needless to say, the rumours are true, but not as you might imagine, unless you were reading boy’s adventure comics.
The island would prove to be home to two wild boys, primitive humans, brothers, who only happened to be super-athletes. This is how you win big at the Olympics.
Though I would end up being very wrong in that respect.

Rick and Charlie, the Wild Wonders

The Wild Wonders was essentially a comedy series, about the two primitive brothers, Rick and Charlie, who were super all-round sportsmen, permanently in demand to help failing organisations, perpetually wanted to tackle impossible challenges, make unscrupulous people rich, overcome nefarious plans to make them fail, and ultimately, thanks to one of these adventures, miss the Olympics completely!
Tim Kelly’s latest adventure, which had begun by his becoming Britain’s first astronaut and which had developed into a world-threatening battle against sentient plants, started winding down when Kelly accidentally discovered the one thing that completely destroyed the plants. Rather bathetically, it turned out to be ordinary weed-killer.
Asterix… I’m sorry, Little Fred and Big Ed (they really worked on those names, didn’t they?) completed his first adventure in issue 79 (4 April) and was replaced by It’s A Dog’s Life. The little Gaul would return to Britain, in Ranger in 1966, still purportedly one of us, under the name of Beric in a cheerfully titled ‘In the Days of Good Queen Cleo’ (we know which adventure that one was, don’t we?) The new series was another French or Belgium import, in la ligne clair style, Larry the Dog in a family strip, vigorous and boisterous.
The addition of a page of the original on the file for issue 86 (23 May) confirmed that certain things, like Policemen’s helmets, were being redrawn for the Valiant version. I did some research and discovered that the strip was Belgian and had been running since 1959 as Boule et Bill, the work of Jean Roba, who continued the strip until his death in 2006. Four albums were translated into English between 2009 and 2012, as Billy and Buddy (and they’re delightful).
Louis Crandell, or Shadow Five as we learned his code name, also started a new adventure the same week. This issue, no. 81 (18 April) had a one-off change of artist on Captain Hurricane, Typhoon Tracey’s artist on Hurricane doubling up.
And the changes kept spinning out. After 81 cover pages, the Greatest Fighters feature was replaced by The Greatest…, a series on World Records of all kinds. Six weeks later, Cars from A to Z was finally replaced by Crime-Busters, true accounts of famous Police exploits.

I’ve not had much to say about Reg Wootton’s Sporty. It’s repetitive and unfunny, and drawn in an horrible old-fashioned style that made Bully Bunter look up to date, but I can’t contain myself when it comes to the issue 88 (6 June episode), which featured some disgusting cartoon blacking up. Other times, other standards, I know, I know, but this was disgraceful and I cannot believe it was ever thought acceptable.
There was an unusual treat two weeks later when, as a one-off, the comic expanded to 32 pages to present a four page complete story set in Victorian London, featuring the face-changing master crook Charlie Peace. This was a plug for Mr Peace’s ongoing series, starting in the following week’s Buster, but would have made a fitting addition to Valiant, especially if it replaced Professor Kraken’s rather ponderous adventures.
Speaking of which, Kraken’s latest adventure, with The Curse from the Past, commencing in issue 97 (8 August) had a distinctly Tom Kerr look around the artwork: that man got around. And I’m pretty sure he took over Kelly’s Eye for a fortnight, the following week, instead of Solano.
By 29 August, Valiant had brought up its 100th issue, which I’m going to make an excuse for saying just how much I’m enjoying It’s a Dog Life: precise, simple but distinctive cartooning and vivid situations that never fail to come up with a final panel gag that leaves me laughing, there’s a beautiful innocence to it combined with absolute mastery. It’s been massive in Europe for decades: we can be so dumb sometimes over here.
Kraken’s latest adventure turned out to be his shortest, at a mere six weeks, for with issue 104 (26 September), two new series started. The first of these was another of Valiant‘s major features, Mytek the Mighty, whilst the second was a football strip, Legge’s Eleven. It wasn’t quite two-for-one as the horribly outmoded Sporty was also defenestrated, though it kept coming back on a sporadic basis, whenever there was space to spare (probably when the ad count was down).
Mytek was introduced as a hundred-foot tall mechanical gorilla created by Dr Arnold Boyce. The legend of Mytek was that he was the ape-god of the Akari tribe, whose war-like ways struck at Boyce’s laboratory, so he built an actual Mytek to get them to turn peaceful. Except that Boyce’s dwarfish assistant, Gogra, decided that he wanted that power for himself. Unlike the Steel Claw, however, Mytek would remain a villain under Gogra’s control at least to the end of the first DVD.

Legge’s Eleven was a different kettle of fish, a sort of Carson’s Cubs but without the (same kind of) crap art. Ted Legge, a very lanky and unorthodox inside left (what’s one of those, granpa?) was kicked out by a First Division Club on a free transfer and promptly snapped up by Fourth Division Rockley Rangers, whose chairman, Dusty Binns, made him player/manager and gave him ten weeks to form a new team, or else the club would fold. This was already obvious from the strip’s logo, with Legge’s face in the centre and ten question-marked silhouettes of faces flanking it. New face would be added with every new character.
The comic also chose to shift some of its series around, with both the Nutts and Billy Bunter bounced into the back half, though Captain Hurricane remained up-front and Jack O’Justice at the rear.
Tim Kelly’s new idea saw the introduction of something that would have to return, despite being destroyed at the end of the adventure. After years of using the Eye of Zoltec, Kelly learned for the first time that it was but one of two, the right eye, the good eye. The left eye was its opposite, a source of evil power. Tim immediately went in search of it, but found it already in the possession of the evil Diablo.
Meanwhile, Jack O’Justice reverted to Fifties style art again for a couple of stories before rebounding up to date, in January 1965, with another Tom Kerr job, though Mr Kerr proved to be surprisingly poor at depicting the gallant Moll Moonlight, who certainly was not behind the door at having Jack’s back. You’d hardly think this was a boy’s comic at all.
There was a new cover feature in issue 126, 27 February, in It Happened This Week, whose title was self-explanatory. Though there always seemed to be an incident from the recent War, the feature roamed far and wide in time. Tim Kelly finally mopped up the Evil left eye of Zoltec, four weeks later, shattering into fragments that led to Diablo’s death, then dropping the pasted-together eye into the deepest ocean. From where, of course, it would never return. And if you believe that…
And a week later, the giant robot ape Mytek walked into the ocean with the evil dwarf Gogra in his control room in the head. Mytek’s creator, Professor Boyce and sharp-shooting game warden Dirk Mason had saved the day. But there was no new feature starting up…

Jack O’Justice

We all know that Hurricane didn’t last more than fifteen months, but even before the plug was pulled on it, it ceased to be billed as Valiant‘s companion paper, last seen on the masthead in issue 128 (13 March). It’s formal merger with Tiger was not announced until issue 136 (8 May), the same issue that carried big news about Valiant itself, coming up one issue later. This was about an increase in price by one penny, to 7d, but also a massive expansion from 28 to 40 pages. Business was clearly booming.
The additional pages brought new features, starting with Master-Mind, a one page comedy strip about a supposed criminal brain, The Astounding Jason Hyde, Valiant‘s first prose series, about a man with x-ray eyes, Fort Navajo, a western strip that rung instantly to me as being a translation of Jean (Moebius) Giraud’s Mike Blueberry, What do you Know? a half-page snippets feature, Twelve Guilty Men, a crime story starring former Police Detective Rod Marsden, framed for corruption by Crime Incorporated and determined to identify their twelve chiefs (do convicted prisoners really get to wear suits and ties?) and ‘Gabby’ McGlew, about a story-telling blowhard. My deeply cherished It’s a Dog’s Life still occupied the back page but probably as a cost-cutting measure, was reduced to black and white.
Week two of the new paper confirmed my instinct about Fort Navajo when the irregular stranger actually named himself Mike Blueberry…
Six weeks worth of story were enough to confirm that Fort Najavo was the best new addition by a country mile, Giraud’s cynical Army Lieutenant putting a hard edge on the Western setting. Neither of the comedies were worth the paper they were printed on and Jason Hyde, like every other prose serial going, was cliche-rotten. Twelve Guilty Men had potential but was wasting it on indifferent art and perfunctory stories, as Marsden, with only one assistant, was taking out the twelve heads, each very rich and powerful men protected not only be the Police but their own criminal organisation, with an ease and swiftness that was ridiculous.
The strip did arouse some vague memories, but these could have come from any similar series, for this was not a unique premise – it wasn’t a million miles from the concept of the first Legge’s Eleven story, nor the later Carson’s Cubs in Lion. But as the series reached its climax – eleven heads captured, the twelfth a mystery man – there was a very direct recollection, as the twelfth man turned out to be the Chief Constable to whom Marsden took the signed confession to his framing.
Despite the last man getting the drop on him, it only took Marsden one more episode to win and get his CID job back, 21 weeks all told. The series was replaced in issue 158 (9 October) by Son of the Stars. The half-page ad for it looked well-drawn but archaic, and the concept filled me with dread.
My premonitions were fulfilled in the first episode. The art-style marked this as a product of the Fifties, and most likely the early Fifties at that. There was a strong Wally Wood influence to the art, and I suspect it to be an American reprint. The art, make no mistake, was excellent, and reproduced very cleanly, but it was so dated that, in late 1965, it stuck out like a sore tentacle but, unbelievably, it lasted only three weeks: I’m putting my money on it having been a one-off story from EC’s Weird Science.
There was a rather more unwelcome termination in issue 160 (23 October) when Fort Navajo came to an abrupt and rather unsatisfying ending that smelled distinctly of an editorial decision to wrap it up, though any such instruction could not have come from Valiant’s editor. Blueberry went on in France and other parts of the world, but that was the end for us, and he was replaced a week later by Jackaroo Joe, who sounded Australian, and was.
This was the first of two new series, and its formula was obvious. Australian stockman with kangaroo sidekick inherits Scottish lairdship and sets off for Britain whilst an alternate heir tries to drive him off. When he gets there, it’s bound to be fish-out-of-water time because he’ll insist on being Australian through and through (hey, you don’t suppose Paul Hogan read this before he wrote Crocodile Dundee, do you?).
The other was The Space Explorers, and half a panel was enough to show that this was from the same stable as Son of the Stars, with all the same failings.
Issue 162 (6 November 1965) isn’t a round number. Nor is it an anniversary, or the eve of a revamp, though as it happened, Jack O’Justice came to the rather brief end of his and Moll’s latest adventure. But it is the last issue on the first DVD, which makes it the end point for this second instalment.

Boule et Bill, aka Pete and Larry

After the end of Part 1, I pronounced Valiant a good, but not yet inspired comic. We’ve covered nearly two years in this essay, and even with the addition of a dozen extra pages in 1965, the comic is still dominated by most of the same long-lasting strips I talked about at the end of 1963. Kid Gloves and Professor Kraken have gone, and Mytek the Mighty has arrived, along with The Wild Wonders and Legge’s Eleven, but Valiant is still made up of Captain Hurricane, Tim Kelly, Louis Crandell and, though I shudder to admit it, Billy Bunter, The Nutts and The Crows.
There’s a good, solid core to the comic, based around its long-running strips. Captain Hurricane remains a formulaic cartoon with dodgy racial overtones whenever the mighty Marine faces the Japanese, whilst Kelly’s Eye tests the bounds of the fantastic over and over, but it’s quasi-primitive art and writing is vigorous and dynamic, enough to forgive the the repetitious ways in which Tim either doubts the Eye of Zoltec can save him this time or loses it temporarily.
The Steel Claw is running smoothly with Crandell as a (super)hero, and it frequently is filled with gorgeously detailed chiaroscuro art of sometimes delicate brilliance that cries out for reproduction on a higher grade of paper than Fleetway’s traditional newsprint, whilst Mytek is another of the primitive energy strips, full of shriekingly-large gestures. And Jack O’Justice is enjoying a high level of art under Tom Kerr, though the stories are getting a bit too brief for complete satisfaction: still, Moll is still being treated as an equal partner and not just the damsel in distress, which I find remarkable for 1965.
The Wild Wonders is another strip that rides the edge of goofy humour and succeeds thanks to an artist whose rounded style maintains a good balance between cartoon realism and cartoon exaggeration. There’s a fluidity to the approach that builds conviction, whereas Legge’s Eleven goes too far in the opposite direction. There’s no effort at all to make the footballers or the football even remotely realistic, and indeed some of the poses make me wonder if the artist has ever seen a human body in motion, let alone one stripped to shirt, shorts, socks and football boots. By its second story, the series had become boring and the third looks like going down a well-worn path that Carson’s Cubs will be taking: I know they’re not due for half a decade yet, but I read them first.
The comedy stuff still goes down like a cup of cold sick with me, especially Sporty. These are pages I just skim through, like the Jason Hyde serials, to get back to the good stuff. The glorious exception is still It’s a Dog’s Life. The jokes are still pretty basic and frequently predictable, but the strip’s lightness, and the panel by panel staging never fails to draw me into laughing. I wish it was still in colour, but I love it all the same, for its deft depictions of its small but brilliantly incarnated cast, and a tip of the hat to the translator, who’s handling the dialogue superbly.
Have I left anything out? Valiant at this point is rock solid and stable. If it lacks anything, it is just the tiniest of sparks of imagination. I’m hoping to see that in the next part, as we head into and through 1966.

Advertisements

Cheap Rip-off


Does anyone mind if I go on a mini-rant?

Last year, DC’s Action Comics, home to and originator of Superman, published its 1,000th issue. It was a oversized issue and was accompanied by a Deluxe Edition hardback including stories from every decade of the comic’s history, plus essays. They sold like crazy.

Earlier this year, DC’s Detective Comics, home to and originator of Batman, published its 1,000th issue. It was a oversized issue and was accompanied by a Deluxe Edition hardback including stories from every decade of the comic’s history, plus essays. They sold like crazy. And yes, Detective Comics pre-dated Action Comics, but the latter spent a year as a weekly, leap-frogging the numbers in the process.

Later this year, Marvel Comics celebrate their 80th Anniversary. They reach this figure by adding in the periods the group of comics that became known as Marvel in 1961 (some issues after Fantastic Four 1 appeared) as Atlas Comics in the Fifties and Timely Comics in the Forties. Fair enough, we’ll give them that. After all, Timely’s first isssue was Marvel Comics 1.

Marvel have announced plans to celebrate their occasion with a special edition, an 80 page comic consisting of eighty one-page stories by eighty different creative teams. Again, all well and good. It is what they’re calling this special that irks me. They’re calling it Marvel Comics 1,000. And it’s not.

This title is a cheap rip-off, a fake, a fraud, a lie. It’s a con on a market that will assume it stands foursquare with Action Comics 1,000 and Detective Comics 1,000, but it’s not. DC’s two titles are actual achievements, the first two (American) comic books to have published 1,000 issues, continuously. Crucially, these issues came out after issues 999 and were followed by issues 1,001. There was no Marvel Comics 999. There will be no issue 1,001. Had Marvel Comics continued in publication on a monthly basis since issue 1, it could not have reached issue 1,000. No possible numbering, however contrived or artificial, can come up with 1,000 issues.

What it is is an attempt to carve out some of DC’s audience for their 1,000th issues by misleading that audience into thinking that Marvel’s effort is on a par. It shouldn’t bother me: after all, it’s nearly thirty years since I last bought any Marvel Comics, and it’s not like I read all that much DC. But cheating rubs me up the wrong way, and pathetic cheating fills me with comtempt.

I just wanted to say that.

 

 

We who would Valiant read – Part 1


Captain Hurricane

The latest in my DVD collection of British Boys comics of the 1960s is one that’s a step into the unknown for me. Valiant, to which the short-lived Hurricane was a companion paper (i.e., you like that one, you’ll like this, except that not enough of them did) doesn’t exist in my memory like Eagle, Boy’s World or Lion. It was never one of the comics my parents would buy me, for reasons that seem inexplicable now. Certainly, in classic old features such as ‘Kelly’s Eye’ and ‘The Steel Claw’, it was as good as anything I read in those distant times, and in ‘Captain Hurricane’ it had a lead feature every bit as iconic, in a completely different way, as the legendary ‘Roy of the Rovers’.
No, I only saw Valiant sporadically, when I would read it at my mate Alan’s, whose parents approved of it for him. But in these days of being able to acquire great swathes of old stuff, in tiny packages for cheap prices, why not apply myself to things for which the nostalgia level is at its most minimal?
Valiant made its debut on Monday 6 October 1962, published by the soon-to-be-reorganised Fleetway Publications, costing 6d for 32 pages, with full colour only on the front and back covers. The front cover featured a big thumbs-up from Captain Hurricane, the character most indelibly associated with the comic, and the good captain’s origin was told in the opening feature, 3½ pages, along with his batman and reluctant sidekick, the skinny Maggot Malone.
The rest of the line up consisted of The Nutts (1 page) a comedy about a skiving family, It Really Happened (1 page), illustrated stories of weird and wonderful happenings, Hawk Hunter and the Iron Horse (2 pages) a western about a 17 year old white boy brought up as an Indian becoming a trouble-shooter for the advancing railways, Paladin the Fearless (2 pages), a medieval strip about an old woodsman who rescues a baby from the invading Vikings and brings him up as his own, The Steel Claw (2 pages), anti-hero lab assistant Louis Crandell who becomes invisible except for his metal right hand on touching electricity, Percy the Problem Child (1 page), a quiz page in cartoon style, To Glory We Steer (3 pages), the life story of Admiral Nelson, Hey Presto and Shorty the Sheriff, two half-page cartoons, Blade of the Frontier (4 pages), Captain Brett Blade on the North Western Frontier in India, Sixer and The Crows, two more cartoon strips sharing a page, Kid Gloves (2 pages), about a mild-hearted boxer, Jack O’Justice (2 pages), a Highwayman style hero, and on the back page, Famous Fighters, this week the Red Indian.
Phew! That’s an impressively varied line-up for a brand new comic.
Of those debut features, Captain Hurricame and The Steel Claw were obviously familiar, and I’d heard of Jack O’Justice though I didn’t remember anything of it. But none of the other series meant anything to me. The cartoon style of Paladin the Fearless was rather European, so I’m immediately guessing it was adopted from something like Pilote or Spirou, though it used a much darker ink-line that most of the French strips I’ve seen.
And in a manner with which I should be familiar, there were new cartoon strips in each of the next two issues, first Tommy Hawk and Mo Cassin in issue 2, then Mark Tyme, the scruffiest soldier in issue 3.

The same issue saw the Famous Fighters transfer to the cover, giving up their back page slot to Soccer Roundabout, a kind of It Really Happened for football stories.
I decided I’d give Valiant thirteen weeks, to the end of 1962, before I commented on its contents, although with some of the series this was an unnecessarily generous allowance in coming to a conclusive opinion.
I didn’t find any of the comedy strips funny, and there were many more than the usual average of them for an adventure paper weekly. The Soppy Happorths was much the worst of them, two schoolkids, a weak and old joke and a final panel in which the joke-teller gets a punchline appropriate comeuppance, but nothing stood out in any way, at least not to the adult me: I might have been more amused if I were still under ten.
Pretty much the same thing went for Captain Hurricane at first. The giant captain, first name Hercules, starts off as a rather callous tramp steamer captain whose craft is torpedoed by a German U-Boat, with all hands going down except the scrawny Maggot Malone, towards whom Hurricane has nothing but contempt. When the U-Boat captain leaves them stranded, Hurricane’s great strength rescues the pair, and they promptly join the Royal Marines. Two years later, Hurricane is a captain, Maggot his batman and the chance of revenge arises.
After that, the stories settled down to a seemingly unbreakable formula. The Marines are sent on a secret mission. At some point, something gets on Hurricane’s wick, and he gets a raging fury on, during which he basically smashes everything in sight. That was all, really. The raging furies all came about in the same way. Week in, week out. But with ten issues under its belt, the series started to play a bit more subtly with the giant Marine.
After Captain Hurricane, the strip I was most familiar with was The Steel Claw, but this phase is very different from the strip I read occasionally. At the beginning, Louis Crandell was a surly, selfish lab-assistant with a metal hand who discovered, thanks to a lab accident, that if charged up with electricity, he became invisible, except for his Steel Claw.
This version of Crandell immediately thought of the power he might accumulate from being invisible, and sets out to take over the world. Not only was he not very efficient at it, but along the way he demonstrated that he had the personality of wallpaper paste. The art, by Jesus Blasco, was good and would get sensationally better, but the story, by Ken Bulmer was a howler. Then the Professor dropped in a significant line about believing Crandell to have been mentally affected by the accident, no doubt some foreshadowing. Thank heaven I knew it was going to get better.
I had a very different response to Blade of the Frontier. This is Captain Brett Blade of the British Army, on the Northwestern Frontier in India, facing off against the hostile tribes intent on sweeping the Raj out of India. But this isn’t an India story, it’s a Western. It’s dynamics and its situations are those of a Western. And it’s not just a Western, it’s a very specific one: it’s Buffalo Bill from Comet, the one that was reprinted in Lion as Tiger Jack. I’d recognised the dynamics before I recognised the first of several stories that I remembered from Lion.
Whoever the writer was, he was recycling Buffalo Bill stories with minimal amendment. It made the series very weird to read, because Captain Blade is tissue-thin and the Western story is unignorable and the stories are a direct rip-off. It doesn’t have any independent life.

Jack and Moll by Tom Kerr

The other major series, Jack O’Justice, managed to run through its first story in only nine weeks. Jack’s a highwayman, described originally as a sword-wielding fighter for justice and later as King of Highwayman, and his constant companion (though they slept in different rooms) was Moll Moonlight, a very progressive step for 1962, especially in someone who was treated as all but equal to the star.
Unfortunately, the first story, featuring a Siberian Giant and the Eighteenth Century equivalent of a Mad Scientist, was a bit too much of a dip into the fantastic for the setting. I was hoping for something more grounded next. Instead, I got ghosts and phantoms, no Moll and a new supporting character described week in, week out as a Negro, and cursed with some of the most condescending ‘Lawdy Massa’ dialogue imaginable. Keep repeating: it’s 1962, it’s 1962…
As for the story itself, how good can it possibly be when seven consecutive episode end with the same ‘menace’?
Of the rest, Hawk Hunter was decent without being special, the Nelson life story well-portrayed, but subject to varying standards of art, and Kid Gloves – whoever seriously calls their son Kid, especially with a surname like that? – is a relatively unimaginative sports strip that at least reflects the era when sportsmen used to live amongst, and like, the rest of us.
As for Paladin the Fearless, which falls between the two stools, the more I see of this, the more I am convinced it is French. Indeed, there is a great deal of Albert Uderzo in the young blond giant strongman, Paladin, and almost an inversion of Asterix in his relationship with his adopted grandad, Cedric.
The first, purist incarnation of Valiant only lasted twenty weeks, and then on 23 February 1963, the fledgling paper proved its infant strength by taking over Knockout.
The survivors were Captain Hurricane, The Nutts, Kid Gloves, The Steel Claw (now transformed into a hero), The Crows (why that of all the awful options?), Hawk Hunter, Paladin and Jack O’Justice (reunited with pretty Moll): in short, practically all the comics and features, Blade of the Frontier and Nelson’s story, which completed in issue 20, were out.
From Knockout, which had been running since 1939, the merger imported ‘Battler’ Britton, RAF Pilot, to co-star with Captain Hurricane, Billy Bunter (which had been running since the days of the Magnet and still looked like it, From the Vaults of Time, a series about Professor Kraken raising prehistoric monsters that menaced the present day, one page cartoon strip Sporty (easily down to the level of those not missed), and the legendary Kelly’s Eye, featuring Tim Kelly, who was invulnerable as long as he held the Eye of Zoltec. Tim’s adventures, drawn by Francisco Solano Lopez, had first appeared the previous year.

Tim Kelly

Rounding off the line-up were the new features, Spotters’ Special and Cars A to Z, and the only all-new series, The Man Named 39 (Secret Agent Nick Shadow whose cover is as Convict 39, serving life at Fenmoor Prison. The art looked like Tom Kerr again to me, employing a more serious approach than his ‘Oddball Oates’ style of the other end of the decade.
And having recorded all that, it was frustrating to find Percy the Problem Child back the very next week!
Battler Britton’s role as second fiddle to the Marine Captain only lasted three weeks before it was back to business as usual, having demonstrated that a regular partnership was simply too awkward to sustain. But his appearance was popular enough to warrant handing him his own series again, replacing Hawk Hunter in issue 31. And The Crows’ unwarranted reprieve lasted only that same three weeks. However, their absence was anything but permanent.
Issue 35 (1 June) saw new stories for Battler and the rival Professors, Kraken and Needler, whose series was re-named Kraken and the Time Machine. This really was an oddball strip, with Professor Needler, the ‘good’ scientist being heavily overweight and possessed of a low-hanging double chin: what a model for a Valiant kid! Meanwhile, Jack O’Justice ended his third adventure, and prepared for another with a supernatural theme. And Battler was back in new action again in issue 39 (29 June), his stories being very much of the brief kind.
The Man Named 39 clearly didn’t go down well with the readers for Nick Shadow was retired after only one adventure. Paladin the Fearless followed him quickly afterwards. Their replacement, in issue 44 (3 August), was The Big Shot, a series about gangster and Public Enemy No. 1, Nero Cortez. The next week, a curious change of art-style, and a more cramped and crowded use of panels convinced me that the comic had gone to Knockout‘s vaults and was saving money by reprints.
So far, there’s been nothing to remind me of reading Valiant when I was a boy, but in issue 46 (17 August) came an exchange in Captain Hurricane that I did recall, with the big marine fulminating at bing sent on an admin course to learn about ‘Marine’s flamin’ bootlaces and Officers’ perishin’ pips’ only to be corrected by a jovial Aussie in admin-speak as ‘Laces, boots, flamin’, Marines and Pips, perishin’, officers for the use of’. Isn’t it funny what can stick in your mind for so many years?
Valiant‘s first year concluded with issue 52 (28 September) and new series for Tim Kelly, Jack O’Justice and Professor Kraken. The Big Shot having come to a sticky end the week before, there was a new series, the first Western since Hawk Hunter was dropped. This was The Duke of Dry Gulch, another of the English Fish Out of Water brand of Westerns, starring Captain Basil de Montcalf, former Bengal Lancer and new owner of Dry Gulch. Ol’ Basil had the statutory monocle, foppish appearance, lazy drawl and punch like a mule-kick of the formula, but he also had a gigantic Indian servant, and not Red.

Professor Kraken looking modest as usual

And there was a minor surprise in store as Battler Britton was once again dropped, and with him his four pages, with Valiant reducing to 28 pages weekly from this point.
There was a stunning surprise for me in issue 59 (16 November) with a new series, Little Fred and Big Ed, in colour on the back page. These were two ancient Britons defending an isolated village from the Romans. Little Fred was a half-pint with a big yellow moustache, Big Ed a rotund bloke with a red moustache and striped pants… Yes, you’ve guessed it, this was Asterix and Obelix, with a British debut preceding their appearance in Ranger, again as Britons instead of Gauls, under the names of Beric and Son of Boadecia. This was a reprint of the first Asterix adventure.
After fifteen months and sixty-five issues, with 1964 about to arrive, it’s time to take stock of Valiant, and try to give some reasoned responses to the comic and it’s major series. By this I mean the ones that have lasted which, from Valiant‘s debut consist of Captain Hurricane, The Steel Claw, Jack O’Justice and, though I don’t really class it as major, Kid Gloves, and from the Knockout merger, Kelly’s Eye. Nothing else from the first twenty issues lasted until the end of 1963 (I am purposefully excluding The Nutts and the irregularly appearing The Crows from this), and nothing really deserved to. The only other long-standing series were Battler Britton and the one featuring Professors Kraken and Needler.
Captain Hurricane’s original formularity did give way to a wider story approach, though every episode does include Ragin’ Furies, impatience with standard approaches, the alternate maligning and defending of Maggot Malone and increasingly improbable scenes off Hurricane beating up multiple enemies and equipment without even being scratched by their heavy armament: what the hell, this is more a cartoon than a realistic war strip, right?
What it also includes, as a standard feature, are racial epithets that in 2019 have me pursing my lips in disapproval. Hurricane’s exploits take place at random on various theatres of War, facing the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese, and wherever he is, Captain Hurricane is full of racist vitriol. It’s particularly noticeable in stories featuring the Japanese, since every insult is based in a supposed physical characteristic of the Japanese as a race. The Italians are addressed in stereotypes that are almost as blatant.
Oddly, though, I don’t feel anything like the same revulsion at the German insults. They just don’t register on the same scale, and I’m left wondering if I have just been too exposed to such things, from childhood onwards, so that I accept them as normal. And to be fair, whether they offend modern ears or not, all these insults are at least realistic for the War period, when nobody was concerned about the delicate sensibilities of the enemy.

The hard-hitting boxer with the soft heart

The Steel Claw was one of the series I was really looking forward to reading, and I’ve already made it clear how disappointed I was with it at the outset. The artwork is consistently good, dynamic and detailed, but I found the idea of Crandell as an unthinking megalomaniac to be trite and cliched, and his competence a long way below what might be necessary to pull off his goals.
But we didn’t have to go too far into the first story before Professor Barringer, he to whom Crandell was lab assistant when the accident happened, was nervously opining that it wasn’t Crandell’s fault, that he was a good man really and that the accident had turned his mind. This would prove to be the case, though it didn’t do Crandell much good in his second story, when Doctor Deutz, who was supposed to be helping him, succumbed to a similar accident with electricity that turned him into a brutish apeman on incredible strength. Crandell naturally got the blame, which the not-so-good Doctor played upon by dipping his paw in aluminium paint to make it look like a steel claw.
Each story moves Crandell nearer to being a hero, though all he wants is the quiet life and not to be recognised. To defend a scientist friend whose invention is stolen by pirates, Crandell has to break his oath not to turn invisible again, this time on the side of the angels, but all that does is persuade him that he wants to just disappear. Tom Tully took over the writing at this point, bringing Crandell the final steps of the way into being a hero, as an Agent of British Intelligence’s Shadow Squad.
Jack O’Justice was something I knew only by name. I had no recollection of ever reading it, though clearly I must have. The title character is something of an anomaly: he’s a gentleman of the road, often described as the Prince of Highwaymen, but he and his companion Moll Moonlight are effectively crime-fighters, and when it comes to dealing with their arch-enemy The Spectre, they are treated as being as respectable as constables, not just by Prime Minister Pitt the Younger but also by His Majesty, King George III.
I give plus points to the series for having a female character who’s treated as more or less an equal to the star, though not enough to outweigh the awful black character in the second story. But the series suffers from its art, which is weak and lacking in detail or weight, because it’s actually re-lettered reprints of the Dick Turpin strip from the Sun comic in the late Fifties.
And the other major series is Kelly’s Eye, which has a lot going for it. It’s a good, vigorous adventure series that’s somehow reminiscent of Robot Archie when it’s not being stupid or colonial. Solano’s art is strong and active, and the story is pacey. Tim Kelly’s gimmick is the Eye of Zoltec: whilst this is on him, he’s invulnerable as well as being a bit superhuman, so the story’s only flaw is the necessary one of just how often the Eye comes loose, reducing him to the extremely vulnerable.
As for the rest, Kid Gloves is an amiable semi-comedy with nothing to distinguish it except for Kid (which is apparently his real name) having a girl-friend, albeit one with whom he doesn’t even hold hands, and her having the name Velvet Mittens (think about it).
The one about Professor Kraken and his rival Professor Needler is basically a dinosaur strip, mingled in with time travel to various dinosaur eras of the past, competently drawn but curiously unappealing, whilst Battler Britton, even before it went down the reprint route was neither better nor worse nor really different in any way from Lion‘s Paddy Payne (nor Victor‘s Braddock, or any RAF strip of the Fifties or Sixties come to that).
I’ve purposely made no comment on the Billy Bunter strip, which looks like a refuge from the Thirties and, for all I know, may very well be. It’s drawn in archaic fashion, it’s humour is dated and I just don’t find Billy Bunter interesting any more. Indeed, I don’t even read it as I scroll through Valiant‘s pages, any more than I do The Nutts.
Probably because I have no pre-existing emotional resonances to this material, I’m not yet over-impressed. But this is still the early Valiant: I’m expecting a mid-Sixties ‘golden age’ coming up that will knock my socks off. Here’s hoping.

Heroes in Crisis 8


This, as the Stone Roses once memorably put it, is the One. The Revelation. The scene in the Library without the Library and without the villain being amongst the listeners because, to reference Agatha Christie for a moment longer, this is the Roger Ackroyd moment. The narrator dunnit. And, as has been forecast with increasing confidence over the past few months, the Sanctuary Killer is Wally West.

I don’t like it. That has nothing to do with critical responses and everything to do with Wally being my Flash, the one I used to buy, month-in, month-out, during Mark Waid’s tenure, with and without Brian Augustyn. I can’t like Wally West as the madman killer, nor the cold, calculating plotter, nor the suicide he already is in a time paradox that undermines the credibility of the time paradox.

I’ve never liked Heroes in Crisis. To me, it hasn’t for one moment or one panel lived up to the potential I imagined for it when first I learned of the series. Wally’s soliloquy here, taking up the entire issue, explaining every twist and turn, detail and deliberation, also undermines the entire concept of Sanctuary in the first place. It failed on Wally, and by extension, when you remember all those hero’s concerns, expressed in dozens of Watchmen pages, it failed all of them. All we ever saw were deep-rooted traumas, traumas specific to the conditions of a superhero universe, but we never saw any cures. We saw problems but not solutions. These were problems that had no solutions, but we didn’t even see healings, neither permanent nor sticking plaster.

The story is that wally has been committed to Sanctuary because he’s failing to cope with the simultaneous issue of having lost the woman who meant everything to him and the children they had together, in short everything that made his life what he wanted it to be, and being seen as the symbol of Hope, since it was his re-emergence three years ago, in DC Universe Rebirth that kick-started DC’s current phase (the one that will never end because it will all be explained in Doomsday Clock and that will never finish).

Wally comes to the delusion that Sanctuary has been set up for him alone, that nobody else is undergoing pain equivalent to him but that they’re saying so to humour him. So if all the data is being destroyed by being broken down into billions of scattered bytes, the Fastest Man Alive can re-assemble them in seconds. And seeing everybody else’s traumas broke Wally mentally, set off alarms and caused him to lose control of the Speed Force momentarily, killing everyone at Sanctuary, except Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, because they were a bit slow coming outside (seriously?)

So far, so disappointing. A man suffering from PTSD goes crazy and becomes a mass-murderer? Lovely message, so positive and life-affirming, people suffering from any kind of mental health issue will empathise immediately. I know I do (no, I’m lying). But it’s the aftermath that drops a leaden weight onto the scales and sends the pan for Absolute Fucking Disaster crashing to the ground, because Wally West, the bright spark, the kid who did it all, the sidekick who grew up to become the man himself, who’s just caused deaths in a second of lost control… starts plotting a superspeed cover-up that puts the frame on two completely innocent people, not to mention re-programmes the entire place, re-sites ALL the bodies and creates all manner of clues, red herrings and mindfucks just to fool his CSI Uncle and The Batman. No. Not in a million years can this be accepted. Not just because it’s Wally West and I have a soft spot for him. Not just because there isn’t a hair of continuity between any version of Wally West that ever existed before and who the hell this person is, and not even because it’s a kick in the face for all the readers who bought into Wally’s return at the beginning of Rebirth. Because it’s bullshit. Because it’s crude. Because it’s lame.

And it falls apart. You see, Wally, this Wally who’s been relating this confession, has also gone into the future, by five days, and found his five days in the future self, all to buy himself the time to do something good to make up for this doing bad. Wally-Now catches up with Wally +5, in the company of some green-skinned woman I can’t recognise, and after Wally +5 gives him the last piece, the rose in the river, Wally-Now kills him, by strangling him. Kills himself. Suicide. So Wally’s now dead for real.

Or is he? I’ve already read one theory that everything, the whole story, is actually a fantastically sophisticated VR construct by Sanctuary, curing Wally. It’s elegant, I grant you, and there is still one issue to go, and go it shall, but from this point, any attempt to undercut this, to explain it away as a Hoax, a Dream or an Imaginary Story, will be twice as hollow as this episode.

But there were rumours in 2018, before Heroes in Crisis first appeared, that Brian Azzarello would be launching a new Suicide Squad series, with Wally West as a lead character, not that anything has been confirmed. Other rumours current at the same time have come to fruition, not that that proves anything.

It doesn’t really matter. To be honest, no matter how Emerald Twilight this gets, I have never been able to believe in the story, and once the final issue is out and I’ve said about that what demands to be said about it, not only will I be selling theseries on eBay, as I’ve threatened, but I will be deleting it from my personal version of DC Universe Continuity. Should Never Have Happened will become simply Never Happened, as far as I’m concerned.

 

Boy’s World Revisited


I’ve already written about Boy’s World once, but that was based on two-thirds complete poor condition paper copies that excluded the first twenty-three issues of the comic that was supposed to replace the Eagle.
Why you should want to replace one of the most successful boys’ weekly comics that ever existed is a matter for speculation, but that was what Leonard Matthews, of Longacre Press, wanted to do from the first moment Eagle fell under his purview. But then again, Eagle was, even after three years in the hands of professionals like Odhams Press, the comic created by the amateurs, the C of E Vicar and the Southport Art Student, and a lot of people were put out by their success and thought it no more than one massive fluke.
So Boy’s World was going to be the professionals showing the amateurs how to do it. It would outshine Eagle, eclipse it and allow Longacre to close it.
We all know what happened. Boy’s World, which lost an editor before one copy was even printed, which had to be substantially revamped in less than six months, failed to last as many as two years, and suffered the ignominy of death-by-merger into Eagle, surviving only as a second name on the masthead of the comic it was meant to replace.
I find that heart-warming, don’t you?
This was my first chance to read the first twenty-three issues, which were missing from my original paper haul. Internally, there are no great differences between the original Boy’s World and the more conventional comic following the issue 24 revamp, but the provision of a full-bleed cover gives the paper a completely different feel. This first six issues featured boys in various, bright, shiny, ordinary circumstances that were more than a bit bland, then the ‘What would you do?’ series took over until the end of the run, dangerous real-life situations in which the participants only had a limited time in which to find a way out, a challenge the reader had to confront before turning page 2 and reading the solution.
The effect of the full-bleed is to make Boy’s World look more like a magazine than a comic, something simultaneously more serious and more parent-friendly, like it’s almost exact contemporary, Look and Learn (another brainchild of Leonard Matthews, its first issue came out six days before Boy’s World‘s).
For a comic, and one intended to usurp Eagle, with its long tradition of great and varied comics series, Boy’s World didn’t half carry a lot of print. An editorial page stretching over two pages, a short story series written by Donne Avenell, from the point of view of various animals, birds and fish, a prose serial, a complete short story AND the Ticket to Adventure series.
This left space for only four comics series, three at two pages, only one of which in colour, the last at one page. Taken in order, these were: Pike Mason, a sea-going adventurer with his Filipino assistant, Quarro, drawn in a dark and moody greywash style by Luis Bermejo: John Brody, science correspondent of the Daily Correspondent, a Dr Thirteen who didn’t debunk the impossible: Wrath of the Gods, a superb colour centrespread featuring all manner of adventures in Greek mythology, written by Jeff Hawke’s Willie Patterson and drawn by Ron Embleton; and The Boys of Castleford School, a conventional boarding school story with a suspicious new boy.

The Star Feature

Let’s be at bit more specific about these stories. Whilst the Brody, Wrath of the Gods and Castleford School stories were brought to a simultaneous conclusion in issue 23 (Castleford School in the form of a short second serial), Pike Mason’s adventure, ‘The Sea Ape’, couldn’t quite squeeze into that strait-jacket and needed a final episode in the revamp issue. It was well-drawn although its pages consistently looked dark and murky, but the story relied too heavily on superstitious primitive natives whose Gods could only be appeased by sacrificing white men (and Filipinos) for my liking.
Brody’s ‘What is Exhibit X?’ was about an invading intelligence trying to hypnotise and takeover the country, that could only be opposed by people who could hear ultra-sonics, whilst the Castleford School story featured the suspicions of Tom Bannister and Beefy Paget about their new study-mate, Benbow, about whom there was a mystery. Was Benbow a villain, working with crooks? No, he was the nephew of a British intelligence Agent, aiding Uncle to expose Diamond-Smugglers. The second, six week story, was about proving the local legend of the Phantom Rider true, though he was actually a guise to stop racehorse nobblers.
Both Castleford stories were straight schoolboy serials, neither better nor worse than any of their contemporaries, such as Sandy Dean in Lion, but their big problem was that this was 1964, and the boy’s boarding school story was all but played out. Castleford School would not survive the revamp, at least, not in this form.
Boy’s World‘s jewel was ‘Wrath of the Gods’. It starred Arion, a Greek warrior who, on finding his family and friends slaughtered in his absence at the wars, cursed Zeus and the whole rotten lot and found himself appointed a kind of mortal trouble-shooter drafted in by the Gods to carry out fantastic missions. But though Arion’s adventures were gorgeous to look at, the story seemed paper-thin. It had no structure beyond that of the daisy-chain: each week or so a new instruction o seek something else leads Arion into another encounter, with the Furies, the Minotaur, Atlas and so on. Willie Patterson is legendary for writing Jeff Hawke but I’ve always found everything else he wrote to be passionless and static.

Pike Mason

The revamp made no difference to the cover except to make Boy’s World look like a comic by introducing a half-inch band of white paper around everything. Inside, however, the number of comics series went up, although as the paper gained an extra four pages, this didn’t diminish the prose features.
Pike Mason, John Brody and Wrath of the Gods remained, although the latter was for some reason ripped out of the centrespread and dropped onto the back pages, with a young and initial somewhat rough and ready John Burns taking over art duties, albeit still in colour, as Arion found himself charged with finding the Nameless God in order to have the plague-carrying Chalice of Apollo destroyed.
For Mason, it was the same again, hired to find a lost civilisation’s treasure protected by the Curse of Zentaca, whilst Brody dealt with the House on Scar island, going ghost-chasing.
Castleford School wasn’t so lucky. In theory, it continued, but it underwent a comprehensive change of style, tone and art by turning into ‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’, a comedy strip about a useless, fumble-fingered swot who came into possession of a spare pair of glasses that filled him with confidence and overwhelming athletic prowess at every sport he tried. Benbow and Tom Bannister made a few token appearances in the early weeks but were rapidly forgotten as Binns became the target of the jealous school bully, Middleton, and his cronies.
It was undistinguished fare that never developed from one week to another, nor did the supposedly highly-intelligent swot, or anyone else at the school, ever make the slightest connection between his radically differing states of confidence and athleticism depending on whether he wore glasses A or glasses B. It was neatly drawn – far better than the unspeakable ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’ – whilst the stories were generally unexceptionable but I can’t for the life of me understand how it’s supposed to be an utterly hilarious, laugh-a-panel comedy, which was how the comic kept billing it.

John Brody

‘Brett Millions’ pushed ‘Wrath of the Gods’ out of the centrespread, though only until the stories began in issue 24 finished in the same week, whereupon they swapped back. This was written by SF writer, Harry Harrison, the first tale, ‘The Angry Planet’, adapted from one of Harrison’s own novels. It’s dull fare, drawn competently but to no better standard, and Millions has the personality of a pancake. He’s supposed to be a gambler, but turns into an interplanetary troubleshooter without any real qualifications.
What turned out to be Boy’s World‘s most successful series in terms of longevity was ‘The Iron Man’, who would survive for years once transferred to Eagle. The Iron Man, as I’m sure you recall, was an international crime-busting robot whose mechanical nature was concealed by an amazing suit of plastic skin. He was initially drawn by Ron Embleton’s younger brother Gerry, who gave the robot a naturalistic look that could be mistaken for human. For Robert’s second story, Embleton Jr was replaced by Martin Salvador – Spanish artists were so much cheaper – and the robot’s features slowly became much more, well, robotic.
Harry Harrison had a second string to his bow in the form of ‘Merlo the Magician’. Merlo was both a highly-skilled, internationally famous stage magician and a highly-secret Interpol agent, tackling high power, fantastic crimes and criminals, usually backed by secret organisations. He’d debuted in issue 13 as the second prose serial, but was popular enough with the readers to be retained as a page and a half strip, cleanly drawn, all black lines and white space and no shading, good but not outstanding.
One final new feature was the mild comedy from ‘Private Proon – the Barrack ‘Square”, about which nothing need be said. It was better than Eagle’s ‘Fidosaurus’ or ‘XYZ Cars’ but not as good as Lion’s ‘Mowser’, though equally as repetitive.
A couple of Boy’s World‘s minor features should be mentioned before we go any further, the first being the extremely short prose ‘Mini-Mystery’ starring Detective Inspector Nixon. These were micro Spot the Clues that were Howdunnits rather than Whodunnit, since the villain was almost always the only other person in the story. ‘What’s in a Name?’ was an etymological series in words and pictures about people’s surnames, though the honourable name of Crookall was never featured.
The Hand of Fate was a one (sometimes half-)page real lifestory whose theme was the intervention of Fate in unusual circumstances, usually but not exclusively to save the life of someone who would normally have been expected to die. And towards the end of Volume 1, the great Frank Humphris began a b&w half-page feature on real-life Western tales, ‘The Flaming Frontier’, which once again brought Humphris’ knowledge and enthusiasm into play.

Brett Millions

Last and best of these other features was a weekly prose account called ‘Ticket to Adventure’, an historical feature homing in on famous events, written in such away as to place the reader in the middle of the action, all because he’d received his Ticket to Adventure. Week-in, week-out, this was consistently Boy’s World‘s best feature.
There was another general change round in issues 45 to 47, new stories for Pike Mason, John Brody, Wrath of the Gods and Brett Millions, the latter two series exchanging places again to wind up where they first began. Merlo had only just edged into the Army of Crime. Ron Embleton returned to draw Arion’s latest adventure, whilst none other than Frank Bellamy was selected for Million’s ‘The Ghost World’.
It’s probably the least known of all his Fifties and Sixties work. Aside from a couple of his ‘Great Adventurers’ stories from Eagle, it’s the only strip that hasn’t been reprinted, and it’s rarely mentioned in bibliographies of his work, which is not surprising because Bellamy still has no more instinct for SF than he had on ‘Dan Dare’.
Boy’s World‘s first volume consisted of 49 issues, it’s second and last of 40, starting from the first week of January 1964. That the title was struggling could be seen when another free gift was given away in issue 18, and there was a mini revamp, with a temporary change of logo box, and new stories starting for Merlo and John Brody. The latter shifted to the back page and into colour, with art by Luis Bermejo, whilst Brett Million was replaced by Raff Regan, a WW2 RAF strip, which didn’t amount to much, certainly not in comparison to Lion‘s Paddy Payne.
A new prose feature debuted, featuring schoolboy dodger Tricky Jones: the name should be enough to clue you in to how awful this was going to be and it was not misleading, though I suppose the kid I was then enjoyed it.
Bermejo wasn’t called upon to draw two series for long, because Pike Mason went back to sea for good after issue 21, being replaced by a weird little series, ‘What is my Name?’, in which RAF Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Pierce is saved by a Scottish shepherd known only as the Nameless One, and in repayment has to find out the Nameless One’s name. The story soon started to get involved with supernatural stuff, drawings forecasting doom appearing in a blank book, and ultimately an ancient curse, little of which made any great sense, but which lasted until the somewhat abrupt decision to merge Boy’s World into Eagle.
Another, and final new series started alongside ‘What’s in a Name?’, Dr What and his Time Clock, which was a parody of Dr Who, In fact, the first ever parody of the classic BBC series. Sadly, nothing else distinguished it.
Other than some minor art changes – Frank Langford soon replaced Bermejo on John Brody, Eric Kincaid filled in on some Flaming Frontiers, Humphris drew one in colour – there was little else to the story.
Boy’s World ended on 2 October 1964, after only 89 issues: the comic that was to replace Eagle was swallowed up by it. This was an unpopular decision in one boy’s household because I was getting both, and I was not best pleased that two of my weekly comics were merging to one, especially as I didn’t get a new title to replace it. Gone for good were Merlo and Inspector Nixon, John Brody, Tricky Jones, Private Proon and Dr What. Billy Binns, Wrath of the Gods, Raff Regan and Th Iron Man carried over, although only The Iron Man lasted. Boy’s World continued in Annual form, running parallel with the Eagle Annual, for far more years than the comic lasted, ending only in 1972.
I had a few of those Boy’s World Annuals too, and kept one longer than I would normally have done for some Frank Bellamy art, illustrating a short story about an ageing Matador. Browsing it, I happened to notice that writers of these short stories were credited, and one of them happened to be credited to Michael Moorcock! When I met him for the only time, going to a signing session for his novel, Mother London, I took the Annual along, asked if he minded signing the story. I didn’t actually write that, he told me: he’d been commissioned but hadn’t the time, so he’d passed it to Barrington J. Bailey, who needed the money. He still signed it, mind you, but with a proviso that Barry Bailey had written it!
Moorcock is reputed to have written a lot of small features for Boy’s World, including the ‘What’s in a Name?’ snippets, etymologising surnames: here was one instance when his name was taken in vain. Not that the editor knew…
In the end, a comic stands or falls upon one thing: the strength or otherwise of its comics series. It’s what we buy them for. What failed Boy’s World more than anything else was that its stories just weren’t good enough. They had strong artists, but none of the characters were memorable in themselves and, with the exception of the entirely too prosaic Merlo, everything went too far overboard into fantasy. Even John Brody, supposedly a Science Correspondent, dealt only with the irrational and unreal.
And where it should have all have fit the best, in Wrath of the Gods, the stories were thin and lacking in any structure.
On top of this, Boy’s World was the wrong type of comic for an increasingly anarchic time, a time exemplified by the much ballyhooed Wham! (with which it shared Billy Binns) launching in the last three months of Boy’s World‘s life. It launched in a declining market, with a stodgy, stilted name, and it just wasn’t good enough. It lacked a strong editorial figure who could, perhaps, have imposed a greater vision on something that was largely conceived as a copycat. In short, it was the only one not to benefit from the editing of the Reverend John Marcus Morris.
I’ll just leave that one there.

How I’m *Really* Falling Out With Superhero TV


I’ve just finished watching a series of superhero TV – DC, naturally – and the course of it has reignite my increasing doubts about the modern predeliction for superhero TV series that I’ve been watching, with decreasing avidity, throughout this decade.

Although I did watch Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD for a number of seasons, until I abruptly lost all interest in it at the very start of season 5, my long heritage as a DC Comics fans attuned me to their TV shows from the beginning of Arrow.

But it’s a long time since I’ve watched Arrow itself (except for its contributions to the annual crossover), and that’s now been put under notice of cancellation. And The Flash was wonderful fun when it first appeared, full of excitement and the sense of joy attendant upon the power of speed, though it’s been losing itself in angst for ages now.

Supergirl looked well worth it just on the strength of Melissa Benoist in a micro-skirt and thigh-length boots, but I struggled to survive to the end of season 2 because, well, you know, the stories were crap and when you start claiming that Supergirl is stronger than Superman, my suspension of disbelief vanishes in a puff of smoke.

On the other hand, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was great fun, with an appealing sense of its own clunkiness, a refreshing willingness to not take itself seriously, and the freedom with which it would continually throw a constant variety of minor characters I would never ever have expected to have seen in live action. But season 4 has been an utter disaster.

Black Lightning? Never watched it. It was just one too many, literally: making time to write is far more important.

A couple of months ago, I watched the first couple of episodes of Doom Patrol, DC’s second Netflix original series. I was very impressed: being off mainstrean TV allowed (a) full(er) reign to be given to the inherent weirdness in all versions of that team (well, maybe not John Byrne’s version. Or Paul Kupperberg’s before him). I mentioned it to a mate at work who watches the same kind of series I do. Hearing that I’d never watched the first DC Netflix series, Titans, he loaded it all up for on an external hard drive.

Robin

This is the series I’ve finished this morning. It’s been a struggle.

The TV Titans is based heavily in the early issues of the New Teen Titans series from Marv Wolfman and George Perez that started in 1980 and which became a landmark series. Over course of its eleven episodes, five of the original Teen Titans have appeared, all except Kid Flash, plus Hawk and Dove, the Jason Rodd Tobin and the afore-mentioned Doom Patrol. It’s dark, on all levels, from the language upwards, which gave me my first problem: the Teen Titans series I was most familiar with, that the season-long storyline has echoed at every step, was the opposite of dark. It was light, upbeat, fresh, fast-paced, drawn with delight and openness. It was dynamic, and it was a light in the post-Implosion darkness at DC that changed the company’s future.

Titans is nothing of the sort. In fact, it’s completely cymanid, which is largely why it’s taken me so long to complete it, because, especially since episode 7, I’ve had to force myself to watch it.

Raven

What was so bad about episode 7? Up to that point, the episodes had been slow. Not merely deliberate of pace, or in a manner that ratcheted up tension. Just slow, funereally so, as if adopting a pace oppoite to the speed and directness of a Marvel Film conferred seriousness on the show by that fact alone. Dicke Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) was moody and brooding and violenr, Kori’ander (Anna Diop) was flambuoyant in dress and appearance but wholly plastic, Rachel – Raven – Roth (Teagan Croft) was a boring little Goth girl and lord knows they’re only of interest to other Goths, and Garfield Logan (Ryan Potter) was supposed to be light-hearted and a counterbalance but didn’t stand an earthly against the prevailing angst even before they started dumping on him too.

But episode 7 managed to combine not merely a deathly slow pace, dragging twenty minutes of decent story out over forty-five minutes, but also cliched stupidity and dumb plotting. Essentially, Rachel has just discovered that her birth mother Angela (Rachel Nichols, still looking surprisingly attractive) is alive and held in a psychiatric hospital. She’s desperate to see her. Hold on, says Dick, we need to check this out first, make sure it’s not a trap (I mean, there’s only been sinister forces after Rachel since minute one, ok?).

So Rachel sneaks out, with Gar, and guess what? It’s a trap! OF COURSE IT WAS A FUCKING TRAP, IT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A TRAP, YOU STUPID **** and the two youngsters are captured, not that you could see the cliche coming from the other side of the Crab Nebula. So Dick and Kory survey the place and find it’s chocker-full of armed guards and electronic surveillance by the mile, only they can get in unnoticed, and they can free Rach and Gar, and they can stand around talking, and walk kilometres down dank, dark, ill-lit corridors, without the slightest sign of any of these horades of guards or anyone spotting them on the CCTV, and I am bored out of my crust because the episode has all the tension of cold rice pudding and it’s expecting me to swallow the likelihood of this as if I were stupid.

Beast Boy

That left four episodes before the end of the season. Two of these introduced and included Conor Leslie as Donna (Wonder Girl) Troy, who I’d never heard of before but who immediately became almost worth the interminable dullness by being both seriously gorgeous but also almost exactly like the Wonder Girl of the New Teen Titans. The other two were, to put it politely, diversions. One devoted itself to the back-story of Hawk (Alan Ritchison) and Dove (Minka Kelly), told in flashback from Dove’s hospital room, she having been in a coma since episode 3, which was reasonably interesting.

The other was a flashforward/fantasia of Dick, living in California, married to Dawn (Dove) Grainger with a young son and a second bun just short of coming out of the oven, being called back to a deteriorating Gotham to try to save Batman: The Joker has killed Commissioner Gordon, Batman’s sworn to kill the Joker (and does) so Dick betrays Bruce Wayne to the cops, leads a raid on the Manor that sees Batman beat and kill everybody, including Agent Kory Anders, so Dick kills him, giving way to the darkness inside him (oh, snooooore).

Starfire

Which might have been interesting but for one thing: this was all but the last ninety seconds of the last episode. I get that it’s intended to be a cliffhanger ending, but it was the most inept handling of such a thing I’ve ever seen. It contributed nothing, literally, to the developing story, coming over as a complete abnegation of the obligation to deal with your commitment to the audience to advance the story and set up your conclusion.

Add to that some ridiculously shallow and cliched lines over the last two episodes that sounded as if they’d be written in the writer’s sleep and I’ve no hsitation in calling this a piece of ripe and mouldering shit. I shall politely refuse a loan of season 2.

Hawk & Dove

But this isn’t just about venting my feelings on Titans. It ties into the wider picture of the other superhero series I still watch.

The Flash has fallen to pieces. Grant Gustin was excellent as Barry Allen to begin with, alive to possibility and the blast of his powers. But as early as season 2, the creators started to Oliver Queen him. Ollie’s always been the grim, gloomy, driven one, the responsibility-magnet, assuming everything bad that happens is because of him only. Barry’s gone a long way down that path until the pair are barely distinguishable. The show drags.

It’s also, paradoxically, got too much comic relief. Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibny is an endearing idea but the reality is that of a clownish sleazeball, where the original is supposed to be a detectivesecond only to Batman. The idea of having Ton Cavanagh as a different Harrison Wells each season was amusing but, even before this year’s ‘Sherloque’ Wells, was struggling to survive the stupid personalities.

And adding Jessica Parker Kennedy this year as Barry and Iris’s daughter Nora from the future was good in conception but lousy in execution: Kennedy just isn’t a good enough actress, and ever since it was revealed that her character is working with the Reverse-Flash, it’s been a case of wondering just how dumb everyone else is that they can’t see she’s clumsily hiding something. Five more episodes to get to the end of the series and I’m out, no matter how stupendous the teaser for season 6.

Wonder Girl

Which leaves me with Legends of Tomorrow. Up until the end of season 3, I wasthoroughly enjoying myself, and the idea that things should take a turn for the magical this season was intriguing. Instead, it’s been a bust. Gone are the funny and awesome cameos. Instead, the series has decided to turn up the comedy knob, to painful effect.

It’s like the Helfer/Giffen/deMatteis Justice League International comic, which was superhero as sitcom, going goofy. The problem then, and the problem now is that there’s only so far you can go down goofy before the requirement to top yourself, to get even goofier becomes insurmountable, and from there it’s a short step – or fall – into inanity.

The first half of the series, until Xmas, was bad enough in that respect, but the show then took a break until April and it’s return has landed with a completely dull thud. Ray (The Atom) Palmer and Mick (Heatwave) Rory have ossified into caricatures whose performances can be, andare being phoned through: lord knows, there’s nothing for either actor to actually do. Gary of the Time Bureau is an inept idiot that not even MacDonalds would employ, let alone a serious intellignce agency. And Mona (Ramona Young) has been played as Little Miss Bubblewit.

I’m sorry but, no matter what he does, I look at Mat Ryan as John Contantine and think, you’re having a laugh, mate, and for ******’s sake lose the fucking tie if you have to have the ‘knot’ a permanent seven point six five inches from your shirt collar. And much as I like the sight of Tala Ashe, the ‘character’ is nothing but a monotonous sarcasm and that’s not good enough.

At this moment, I’ve downloaded the newest episode but I’m not full of enthusiasm about actually watching it, since I already know so much, sight unseen, of what will be in it.

The problem would seem to be simple. Too many shows, too few ideas. Since the CGI budget is limited, and the characters on Legends appear to be completely averse to wearing their costumes, the stories are having to be wound around minimising any kind of superhuman activity, which misses the point. And once you take the superhero stuff out, what’s left is limited.

There’s an irony to the fact that I have managed to read superhero comics for nigh on sixty years and remain interested, but I can’t even go near ten years with the stuff on TV. That said, the forthcoming Batwoman series starring Ruby Rose looks interesting, or at least likely to satisfy the more shallow side of me. It might be the only thing left then.

 

Flash Comics – A sprint through the Golden Age


This fortnightly Friday afternoon slot is traditionally where I indulge my nostalgic fascination for the British weekly boys comics of my youth, but as a change of pace, my most recent exploration of comics on DVD has taken a different route, all the way into the Golden Age of (American) Comics. To be specific, I have been working my way through a DVD containing the entire 104 issue run of Flash Comics, the anthology title published at first by All-American Publications, and then by National Comics, forerunner of National Periodical Publications, the company that became the present-day DC, between 1940 and 1949.

Flash Comics was one of the very first titles published by All-American, a company run by M.C. (Charley) Gaines, and owned in equal measure by himself and Harry Donenfeld, owner of Detective Comics, publishers of Superman and Batman. Gaines, who had most recently been Donenfeld’s chief salesman, wanted to set up his own company, whilst Donenfeld wanted to publish more comics to take advantage of the boom, but was restricted by his Accountant and Business Manager, Jack Liebowitz. Gaines was Donenfeld’s solution, but he insisted on Gaines accepting Liebowitz as his Business Manager as well.
This ultimately proved divisive, as Gaines and Liebowitz absolutely loathed each other, but it lasted until 1944, when Donenfeld gifted Liebowitz a share in his ownership of All-American. This was too much for Gaines, who withdrew co-operation with his partners, until agreeing to be bought out for $500,000.00, which he used to set up a new comics company. With effect from issue 68, Flash Comics became a National comic, created by the merger of Detective and All-American, for the remainder of its run.
Flash Comics was the company’s fourth title but its first superhero title (flagship title All American Comics didn’t feature any masked men until nine months after Flash Comics 1). It starred, unsurprisingly, the Golden Age Flash, along with the Golden Age Hawkman. These two characters appeared in every issue and alternated nearly every cover (Black Canary in issue 92 was the only other character to appear on the cover, bursting through a hoop held by the two mainstays), with the other one appearing above the masthead.
The initial line-up also included, in no particular order, Johnny Thunderbolt (later re-named Johnny Thunder), The Whip, Cliff Cornwell and Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies. King Standish (later re-named The King) was added in issue 3. Of these, Johnny Thunder lasted the longest, until issue 91, before being displaced by the Black Canary, who’d debuted in his strip, the ungrateful minx, whilst Cliff Cornwall, an American intelligence agent, only lasted until issue 19, followed out of the title by The King (last seen in issue 41), The Whip (issue 55) and the Minute Movies (issue 58).
Another early, but thankfully short-lived feature was Rod Rian of the Space Police, a junior league Flash Gordon with superficially Raymond-esque art but nothing to distinguish it.
This gave way to ‘Les Watts, Radio Amateur’ in issue 12 (renamed ‘Les Sparks’ in issue 16). It was all about crimes being solved or stopped by radio hams. Like Cliff Cornwell, it was neither bad nor good, though Don Cameron’s art was pleasantly attractive but it was repetitive, and it wasn’t missed.
The Minute Movies were replaced by a brief run of much shorter Picture Stories from American History, until issue 68, which, whilst still static in approach, at least looked like a comic book story, not a newspaper strip.
There was another brief regular feature in the form of Rockhead McWizzard, a rather formulaic comic series about a caveman inventor who, every month, would get a bang on the head that inspired him to invent some device a thousand years ahead of its time, using current ‘technology’ that didn’t work and saw him getting punished by the local bigwig, Mr Gotrocks, who was always trying to exploit Rockhead’s newest invention. This ran from issue 71 to 79, before being bounced to facilitate The Atom’s transfer from All American Comics.

Early Kubert

The DVD contains every issue from 1 to 104, but that’s not to say that I’ve now had the unanticipated chance to read every issue. Wherever possible, the compiler has used actual issues, which are complete, subject to minor wear and tear, clear and bright and easy to read. But over half the issues are available only as fiche (i.e., microfiche) copies, and these are a different prospect. Universally, the fiche pages are washed out, the colour blurring sometimes into mere shades. These are hard on the eye where they are decently readable, but the effect on the lettering is stressful, and a number of these have been so badly photographed that it is impossible or next-to-impossible to make out captions or dialogue, essentially rendering the stories unreadable.
And what of these stories? What of the Golden Age classics, of Jay Garrick’s career as the Flash before he became a mere adjunct to Barry Allen. That’s very interesting.
Jay Garrick was created by Gardner Fox, who wrote the first eighty stories. Harry Lampert drew the first five issues before handing over to E.E. Hibbard (Lampert went on to draw The King), who is credited with drawing the series until he was in turn replaced by a young Carmine Infantino in issue 87. I say credited, because there are quite a few issues in 1945 and 1946 that have Hibbard’s name but which are clearly being drawn by Martin Naydel, who was drawing The Flash in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics.
Garrick’s origin is the justly infamous fumes of hard water, breathed in overnight after a lab accident, but it’s interesting to see how this comes with a seemingly scientific explanation that’s repeated several times during the series’ first year. Hard water, it is claimed, contains certain natural gases that act upon the human body’s reflexes, speeding these up to the point where Garrick is capable of thinking and moving far faster than ordinary humans.
And whilst his secret identity is supposed to be known only to his girlfriend, Joan Williams, it’s very noticeable that Garrick makes to attempt to keep his superspeed secret, especially when it comes to the Midwestern university football team, and he’s none too precious about it when he’s adopted his uniform and is beating crime as The Flash. Even when he starts to pay attention to keeping his mouth shut, it’s known to all and sundry that you can get in touch with The Flash by giving a message to Joan Williams, who is also known as Jay Garrick’s girlfriend, not to mention the number of times Jay goes missing just before The Flash turns up…
Actually, I must say a word about Joan’s incredible patience, given the number of times she has to go home from broken dates because Jay’s run off. And whereas Barry Allen has his compressed uniform in a ring on his finger, and Jay just tosses aside his street clothes, that wasn’t the case at first: as soon as he spotted something suspicious, Jay would have to run home first to grab his uniform. Thank God his power was super-speed, eh?
Yet there’s a decent brightness about the stories in the early days. Most of the time, The Flash is up against gangsters and mobs, with the odd mad scientist thrown in, but the Forties was a scant period for supervillains, unless you were reading Batman or Superman. The Flash tends to run too fast to be seen, run carrying crooks who find themselves unable to breathe, and usually ends up procuring confessions and promises to reform that would surely be illegal as coerced, but there’s an energy to the tales, a freewheeling looseness, a freedom from rules or tropes because nobody knew what didn’t work.
It’s not all good fun, however. Joan goes through a run of trying to compete with The Flash, paralleling the same attempts of Sheira Sanders in the Hawkman series (also written by Gardner Fox…), which constantly gets her into trouble. Thankfully, that doesn’t last too long, but what does is Winky, Blinky and Noddy, aka the Three Dimwits (any resemblance to the Three Stooges is sufficiently distant to stay out of litigation).
I have long been aware that The Flash, like so many other superheroes in the later Forties, was afflicted by Comic Relief, but I never realised that it started so soon. The Dimwits made their debut as early as All-Flash Quarterly issue 5 (The Flash’s solo title) in 1942, and were introduced into Flash Comics in issue 46, October 1943, popping up far too frequently until being dropped after issue 79. And a few times in Three Dimwit stories, Fox goes prematurely metafictional, having The Flash complain about what he has to do in the story.
Freewheeling isn’t all beneficial, you know.
Once the Dimwits (and Fox) moved on, The Flash’s stories restored something of a more serious tone, to the strip’s benefit.

Later Kubert

Flash Comics‘ other star was Hawkman, whose early career paralleled the Flash in an unexpected manner. Like Jay Garrick, archaeologist Carter Hall, a reincarnated Egyptian Prince Khufu whose memories were restored by sight of the glass dagger by which he was originally sacrificed, was created by Gardner Fox, this time with artist Dennis Neville, and once again the original artist only lasted a handful of issues before being replaced by a longer-running penciller, Sheldon Moldoff in issue 4.
Moldoff’s an interesting case. He left Hawkman after being drafted into the Army in 1944, his last work appearing in issue 61, after which Hawkman was handed over the teenage prodigy Joe Kubert. Moldoff boasted of seeing that Hawkman required an Alex (Flash Gordon) Raymond approach, which endeared him to Charlie Gaines. Most people describe it as an Alex Raymond swipe, and can run down the original panels they accuse Moldoff of tracing. Certainly, Moldoff doesn’t go big on panel to panel continuity, not even the primitive kind. And there are plenty on instances where he is clearly tracing photographs.
Nevertheless, Moldoff was the first to put Hall’s girlfriend and fellow reincarnatee Shiera Saunders into costume as Hawkgirl, in issue 24, though that aspect of the series was an awkward one. Shiera was brought in as Hawkgirl for a one-off, or so Hawkman intended, but once she’d dressed up once, she kept wanting to fly again every issue. Like Joan Williams, she was initially portrayed as trying to beat Hawkman at his own game, and being pretty much inadequate, and even when he accepted her as a regular partner, she was constantly getting beaten, captured, unmasked because, well, she was a woman.
Then suddenly this silly stuff evaporated, and Hawkgirl got good overnight, though she always got less exposure than Hawkman. Still, this was now a real partnership.
The arrival of Kubert brought a sparkling originality and angularity to the series, not to mention a vivid ugliness to the crooks, with their narrowed, mean eyes, cramped postures and pencil-moustaches above prominent chins. Kubert picked up Hawkman in issue 62, left the character for issues 77-84, when Hawkman was drawn by Chet Kozlack, and returned to draw all but a couple of the remaining stories, by which time his art had shed its early angularity.
Hawkman’s stories mostly pitted him against ordinary crooks and mad scientists and, like the Flash, he was unfeasibly prone to getting clonked from behind on the helmet. A couple of adventures foreshadowed his Silver Age counterpart’s career by getting him involved with aliens, and there were a couple of stories involving the water-breathing scientist, Neptune Perkins, whom Roy Thomas would revive in the Eighties, but Hawkman didn’t get a recurring villain until late on, in the form of the Gentleman Ghost (was he or was he not a real ghost?)

Johnny Thunder and Black Canary

Flash and Hawkman were Flash Comics’ representatives in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics 3, with the former being replaced by Johnny Thunder, who was the title’s number 3 character. Johnny was the creation of writer John W Wentworth and artist Stan Aschmeier, who signed his art as Stan Josephs. Wentworth (whose W distinguished him from John B Wentworth, writer of The Whip) wrote the series until 1947, when it was taken over by Robert Kanigher.
What can you say about Johnny Thunder? The series debuted as Johnny Thunderbolt, though the boy was Thunder, son of Bank Clerk Simon Thunder, from the beginning. Being born at the seventh hour on the seventh day of the seventh month of a year ending in seven (1917) made seven year old Johnny a target for kidnapping by the Bahdnesians, who gave him control of a magic thunderbolt that, if summoned by the words Cei-u, would make people do what Johnny told them to for an hour at a time.
Johnny escaped back to America and his family by accident. At first, he had no idea he had a thunderbolt. Then, when he cottoned onto it, he didn’t know how to summon him (fortunately, the words Cei-u sound exactly like Say You, and you’ve no idea just how many different ways that can be accidentally contrived into a sentence. Even when Johnny sussed out the right words, it didn’t improve things any because, basically, Johnny was a dope. An idiot. A clown, who never worked out a) how to give sensible and coherent instructions to his thunderbolt and b) that the Bolt carried out his instructions literally.
Hoo boy.
Comic relief characters are one thing, but when they’re the star of the feature, that’s another thing entirely. Johnny and the Bolt were one thing, but at a dismally early stage, Johnny adopts the bratty eight-year old menace Peachy Pet, comic relief to a comic relief character. Later in the series, Wentworth (W) introduced the Bolt’s family, his wife and brattish son, Shocko, who kept popping up on Earth (the Bolt was initially given the name of Archibald, though this was rapidly forgotten and he was Oswald on the family’s second appearance and ever after).
If this were not such an horrendous and unfunny mess of a series by this point, I might be tempted to applaud some aspects of Wentworth (W)’s approach. In a forerunner of both The Goon Show and, long after, metafiction, Wentworth started to write his comic book story as a comic book story with the characters conscious that they are being written. Unfortunately, Wentworth also uses this trick to play some lazy games with stories by having them run out of pages before an ending can be contrived.
Robert Kanigher took over Johnny Thunder with issue 86, introducing a beautiful female jewel thief, the Black Canary, in Carmine Infantino’s first work for National. But I’ll come back to her a little further on.

These were the big three of Flash Comics. Compared to them, compared to themselves, the other series were minor league. When The Flash won the right to his own title, Johnny Thunder replaced him in All Star Comics. But for the Second World War and the introduction of paper-rationing, there’s a good chance Hawkman would have followed him. Who then would have been the new JSAer? The King? The Whip? No sir, not either one of these.
The King started out as King Standish, his real name. Standish was a rich young man who fought crime armed with a phenomenal skill at disguise. Within seconds, he could transform himself into anyone at all, substitute for them, several times an episode. Supposedly, the reader never ever saw the King’s real face, but if that’s so, he had a remarkably regular ‘stock’ false face. The same went for his one and only recurring – and boy, did she recur! – enemy, The Witch, a female crook and mistress of disguises. The same theory went for Witchie, as the King affectionately called her, the only way she ever knew she was facing him, but she too had this ‘stock’ false face that the King was forever recognising.
Despite the fact that he got her bang to rights in nearly every adventure, the King always allowed the Witch to escape and plot again. He always claimed that this was because life was more interesting with her around, though personally I think he was just trying to get into her knickers, if you’ll forgive the crudity.
The King was a pretty poor series, to be truthful, but it exerted a strange fascination on me, although not quite as much when the King took to wandering around in a costume consisting of a top hat, a domino mask, an opera cape and immaculate gloves. I was sorry to see it disappear, without trace.

The Whip

It was outlived, though not by much, by the rather more vigorous The Whip, the creation of John B Wentworth, with artist George Storm, although Homer Fleming drew the strip on a longer term basis, and Dr Mid-Nite’s creator Charles Reizenstein subsequently took over the scripting. The Whip, whose series ran until issue 55, was a junior league Zorro, the Mexican hero El Castigo, who defended the peons and peasants against the grasping landowners in the 19th century. His modern day equivalent was effete playboy Rodney Gaynor, a distant descendent of El Castigo, who inherited a Hacienda in a Mexican town owned by grasping landowners. After meeting crusading reporter, Marisa Dillon, Gaynor revived The Whip to firstly take up where his ancestor left off, then generally to fight crime.
The Whip was decently active but was marred by the cliché of having Marisa despise Rod as a bored, spineless playboy and revere the Whip for his determined fight, just like Lois Lane with Clark Kent. Worse though, as the Whip, Rod spoke in a shamelessly racist Mexican accent, full of the worst kind of cheap and nasty dialogue that no-one thought anything of then, but which now assaults the eye and mind. Him in the Justice Society? Ye Gods.
Of the other two series, Cliff Cornwell (drawn by Sheldon Moldoff) was a modestly decent adventure thriller about an American Agent, foiling saboteurs and the like, neither especially bad nor especially good in any respect. Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies (initially credited as Flash “Picture” Novelettes) was something else entirely. It had originally run in Movie Comics, a six-issue All-American series, and before that as a newspaper strip, and it retained the latter format, of narrow, rectangular panels with no attempt to exploit even the least of comics’ possibilities.
The series told movie-type stories, using a repertory company of recognisable ‘actors’, such as Dickie Dare and Hazel Dearie, who were romantic leads, or Fuller Phun, who was comic relief. I read the first few offerings in amusement, but the repetitive nature of the series and the lack of any visual variety, not to mention the archaic art style – very Twenties – meant that it rapidly became tedious. Still, it lasted until issue 58.
The longest and most popular of the later series was The Ghost Patrol, which started in issue 29, replacing Les Sparks, and, with a couple of gaps, ran until the final issue, no 104. The Ghost Patrol were three American aviators, Fred, Slim (who wasn’t) and Pedro (who spoke like thees) who died but had to hang around on Earth because they weren’t yet due in Heaven. Though they were ghosts, they could switch back and forth between completely solid and human and being ghosts. Frankly, I found it unreadable – this is a comic featuring Johnny Thunder and Peachy Pet!

The Atom in Flash Comics

The Atom’s advent in issue 80 was something of a surprise. He’d been a regular in All American Comics since issue 19, but his series in that title was cancelled with issue 61 and he was about to be dropped from the Justice Society in favour of Wildcat. But some unexpected scheduling issues saw Wildcat’s debut appear with three stories featuring The Atom awaiting print. No-one wanted to chop and change, and it’s been theorised that there were a handful of Atom five pagers left unused, so he was dropped into Flash Comics until the end of the run so as to justify keeping him in the JSA.
By this time, creators Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor were long gone, but Atom stories were rarely better than perfunctory and the art was better only because Flinton’s work was atrocious. Even so, that meant that no less than four JSAers had their base in Flash Comics.
Following the DVD through to the end has thrown up some interesting wrinkles. The standard impression I’ve always had of the Golden Age is that superheroes began falling out of fashion after the War, and that many series were effectively abandoned to their comic relief characters, with the hero only a straight man.
But Winkly, Blinky and Noddy disappear without fanfare after issue 79, from which point onwards, The Flash becomes an almost entirely serious strip, and enjoys the best art of the decade from Carmine Infantino. Joe Kubert returned to Hawkman in issue 85, stripped of his early angularity and grotesquerie, with a sleek, almost balletic style. Hawkgirl (and Shiera Saunders) never looked better. Indeed, after a long-term set-up that had The Flash as the first story and Hawkman as the last, several issues see the heroes swap places.
Johnny Thunder remains ridiculous until issue 85, but in the next issue, Robert Kanigher takes over the writing, Carmine Infantino the art (his DC debut) and the Black Canary begins the quick process of taking over the series. She’s introduced as a glamorous jewel thief who steals from crooks, but was so immediately popular she was brought back as a crimefighter, with whom Johnny was, understandably, besotted.
The Canary appeared in all but one of Johnny’s stories from 86 – 91, is credited as co-star and then bounces him out in issue 92, which introduces Dinah Drake, her flower shop, and her boyfriend, private eye Larry Lance.
There’s a certain repetitive element to the Canary’s series, since somewhere about halfway through the story both she and Larry get a crack on the back of the head with a pistol butt, until you start to fear for her skull, but they always do escape, and the story ends with Larry boasting to Dinah Drake about he was invaluable in solving the Black Canary’s case.
With Infantino drawing both Black Canary and The Flash, and Kubert drawing Hawkman, Flash Comics’ final phase saw it at its most splendid and gorgeous. Even The Atom got some decent art, from Paul Reinman, to see him to the end of his career.
Just as Hawkman and The Atom’s costumes changed with effect from All Star Comics 42, the same change was performed for both characters from Flash Comics 98, and I noted that Hawkgirl also gave up her hawk-helm for a cloth mask, covering only her forehead and eyes, and allowing her lustrous brown locks to flow free (and with Kubert they were definitely lustrous, to the point where you wondered how nobody ever recognised Shiera Sanders).

I suppose I have to include them

One thing I found interesting was that the opening pages of the Flash, Hawkman and Black Canary episodes carried a marking in the corner of a panel, FL and a series of three numbers. This numbering suggested that they were the issue numbers of Flash Comics that the stories were intended to be published in, but each of these numbers were in advance of the issue in which the story appeared, and as the issues advanced, these were issue numbers that would never appear.
In contrast, the equivalent marking on Atom stories used OH as its key, which doesn’t appear to correlate to any contemporaneous National Comics title.
Given that some Flash stories carry similar tags using AF (for the recent cancelled Flash solo title, All-Flash), there’s no other reasonable explanation. Which suggests a number of stories that hadn’t yet been used, or that were not intended to be used. In 1968, DC did write off an enormous amount of unused art, for tax purposes, making it plausible for there to have been several stories skipped over for whatever reason.
Flash Comics was cancelled from issue 104. Unlike All American Comics or All Star Comics, it did not continue as a Western. The end obviously came quickly: all the features except The Flash ended with the usual tag that the star’s adventures could be followed every month in Flash Comics. Issue 105 would not be published until ten years later, and would star a different Flash entirely.
This isn’t the only Golden Age comic of which I’ve read a full run: I have the complete All Star Comics in DC’s hardback Archive editions. But that was a complete run of a flagship series and this has been an anthology title with decidedly varying series. It’s fun to see what the comics of that era really were like, and I’m more likely than not to do the same thing with All American Comics, which was Green Lantern’s home title. And in a silly way, I’m grateful to see the original and only Forties appearance of Jay Garrick’s foe, The Shade, who was nothing remotely like the one that appeared in Jay’s return in the classic The Flash 123, and upon which all subsequent versions have been based. I shudder…
But despite the limitations of the material, I wouldn’t want to have this stuff in any other format than the DVD. Had I the space, I still wouldn’t want to give it that space..