Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Comics and DC's Golden Age

 Comic Strips: With Comi-Con, it appears a few of the strips over the last couple of weeks wanted to get in on the act. Gotta love "Fox Trot" for embracing the various ages. Where else are you going to run the gamut of Hit Girl to the Jay Garrick Flash? Even DC Comics doesn't want to do that. OK, the "Get Fuzzy" comic has nothing to do with superheroes. Sometimes a pun is its own reward.

Herogoggles: Speaking of Golden-Age DC, over at my golden-age superheroes/supervillains website, I have added pages devoted to DC's heroes and villains of the Golden-Age.. As my brother pointed out, I basically am admitting the project will NEVER be completed because there's no real way for me to read all of DC's comics of the Golden-Age. I don't have the money to buy them and that limits me to the ones they are willing to reprint. And, most of the reprint books like the Archives are devoted to characters, rarely the whole comics. Luckily with the All-Star Archives, they included the Hop Harrigan text stories for example since that wasn't part of the JSA. Marvel's output was a bit smaller with titles and characters having much smaller runs once you look past the big three of Captain America, Human Torch, and Namor. So, it's a bit easier for them to devote a hardback to Mystic Comics for example. It does mean, that certain stories tend to get reprinted a half dozen times. Such as their recent "Marvel Firsts" devoted to the Golden-Age. I was tempted, but I already had half the book in other volumes!

In putting together the lists of characters that I wanted to cover from various sources, I started also looking at the copyrights of a few of the early titles. It was interesting to discover that "New York World's Fair Comics" was not renewed. In addition to having a few Superman, Batman stories in public domain, it's also the first appearance of the Wesley Dodd Sandman! It also occurred to me that some of the public domain comics might actually be availabe. And, a few of them are, over at comics.org! Of course, the quality of the scans vary wildly. Which is sad, since stories with characters like "Wing Brady" and "Barry O'Neil" look like they'd be fun to read. The latter especially has wonderfully dense and detailed artwork, heads above much of what was being published at the time or even years later. You'd have to look at Milton Caniff, Hal Foster, or Alex Raymond for comparable work. However, this makes the strip pretty much a strain on the eyes and unreadable when it comes to low resolution or microfiche reproduction. Barry O'Neil's ongoing war with the Yellow Peril menace Fang Gow continued from the public domain comics over to Detective Comics.

What's enjoyable is to see all of the Siegel and Shuster strips: Radio Patrol, Dr. Occult, Henri Duval, etc. The artwork is open and expressive. Plus, the duo really exploded the limits of the medium, they exploited the visual sides of the medium. The heroes were men of physical action, the menaces larger than life. It's a shame there are a few holes, but how great to see Dr. Occult in action. Henri Duval was a musketeer hero whose storyline just sort of ends to be replaced by an adaptation of The Three Musketeers itself.  The duo must have liked the name as they used it again for a villain to face Dr. Occult.

Sadly, the comics they have seems to run out before getting to Captain Desmo and Nadir. Nadir is a fascinating character. In some ways, he seems to borrow a bit from Chandu, Mandrake, the Shadow... a man brings knowledge gained in the Far East to fight crime. The difference is Nadir reverses the status quo. He's a prince of India! His origin might seem a little familiar, his parents killed when he was a lad he decides to turn his back on his title and devote his life to fighting crime! He masters not only ancient knowledge of the East, he also masters the sciences of the West and now makes his home in New York City!

Then there's the Flying Fox. An aviation hero whose aviator's cap doubles as a fox mask. Sadly, he's not public domain, so the only way to see that character will be buying the original comics or hoping DC makes it available some day. DC would be smart to really gather a lot of this material for posterity and preservation. Even if not making any plans for printing, just making them available digitally for historical purposes. Although a volume of Siegel and Shuster's work would seem to be easily feasible. Most of these were b/w or one color to begin with so reprinting would be cheap enough and you'd imagine there would be some interest in seeing these stories from the creators of their flagship character.

While DC has acknowledged the Crimson Avenger as pre-dating Superman as a masked hero, it's interesting to see Dr. Occult as a brief caped hero with super-powers. Captain Desmo, who like the Flying Fox was an aviation hero whose cowl doubled as a mask, also squeaks by debuting before Superman.  Desmo had some kind of issue, he wore the cowl constantly, even when lounging in his own home. His sidekick asks him about it, but Desmo doesn't get around to sharing that information. The Flying Fox would debut just a few months later.