Friday, November 17, 2017

Number 2129: Ghost of the Gorgon

John (or Johnny) Bell (né Belcastro) was a comic book artist with a short list of published work in the early 1950s. He worked mostly for Fiction House, and is probably best known for his moody artwork, like this example, “The Ghost of the Gorgon,” which appeared in issue #10 (1954) of Ghost Comics.

According to what short biographical information I am able to find on Bell/Belcastro from the Internet, he was born in 1924, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, got his art training the way many of the best comic book artists of the post-War era got theirs, in classes conducted by Burne Hogarth. When Fiction House shut down Belcastro worked on a couple of newspaper comics, then went into commercial art in his hometown of Albany, New York. Belcastro died in his mid-eighties, in 2010. Like some other artists of the era in which he did comic books, he borrowed some techniques from the EC Comics artists.

In the story itself the Gorgon appears to be nude on top (page 6). That’s something we usually didn’t see in comic books. The hapless guy who looks upon the Gorgon is turned to stone, but it’s the eyes of the monster that do it. I am sure that before transforming into a solid object, he took a peek at other parts of her.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Number 2128: Firebrand zaps right out of the comics

There were two Golden Age characters named Firebrand: one from Quality Comics (see the link below) and one from Harry “A” Chesler. The Quality Firebrand lasted 13 issues in Police Comics, and the Chesler Firebrand made it for one issue of Yankee Comics. (There were reportedly more stories of the character in Harvey Comics later, but I have never seen them. According to the Public Domain Superheroes website, there is a question as to whether it is the same Firebrand as the one from Yankee.)

This Firebrand, from the aforementioned Yankee Comics #1 (1941). drawn by Charles Sultan, was a lineman who got zapped while working on a power line. He was taken into care by a professor who experimented and juiced him up good with electrics. All he had to do was clench and unclench his fists. And he could leave the ground by just jumping and the electricity made him airborne. Wow. He took care of the bad guys, and yet apparently no readers felt a tingle of electricity from the pages when they read about him. Or, perhaps since he appeared after the Quality Firebrand, Busy Arnold, Quality’s publisher, may have called Harry “A” and threatened to bring down some legal lightning bolts. At this late date nobody really knows, and this Firebrand is one of those one-and-done superheroes from early comic books.

Here is a tale of the Quality Firebrand from Police Comics #5, which I posted in 2013. It is included with a tale of a strange Batman, and a link to a Bad Batman. You have been warned!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Number 2127: The mad killer

Walter Graves (an appropriate surname) is a psychiatric casualty of World War II. Shortly after the war he has trouble holding a job because of anger and violence issues. Walter has headaches. His doctor says there is no organic cause he can find, but Walter should get mental health treatment. Walter refuses, and as he leaves the doctor thinks, “He is a latent paranoid — a potential killer!” Is there such a thing as a latent paranoid? I was raised by a paranoid. Despite there being levels of paranoia I observed over the years (sometimes not so paranoid, sometimes very paranoid), the condition was always there. And being paranoid doesn’t necessarily make one a potential killer. So, folks, I am cautioning you, do not get your information on mental illness from comic books.

Since this is just a five-page story, in short order Walter takes care of his career as “the Destroyer,” murdering four people he blames for his problems. At the end of the story Walter’s doctor says, “This could have been prevented if there were laws covering potential killers . . . to keep them from walking the streets . . . we never know when some madman like Graves will strike! We never know — who’s next?” Unfortunately, not so easy, as we in the real world are often reminded. So-called “madness” is not always a reason for multiple murders.

Who is Next? #5 (1952) is the name of the one-issue only crime comic book from Standard. The writer of the story is unknown, but the art is by Eisner Award winner Nick Cardy, a longtime comic book pro who did some brilliant work for DC Comics later in his career.

I showed another story of a killer from Who is Next? in 2013. Just click on the cover (which also features the Jeepers Girl, a particular obsession of this blog and Pappy.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Number 2126: “Good American muscle”

Things look slow at pharmacist Bob Benton’s shop. Slow enough he can shut down the store and take off for Wyoming to visit his uncle Richard’s ranch. Bob takes along his young assistant, Tim, and his girlfriend, Jean. Tim isn’t too happy about Jean coming along. A couple of days ago I spoke of underage pals of grown men in the superhero business, and here we are again. Tim probably needn’t have worried about Jean intruding, since Bob sends Jean into the next room of the ranch while pointing out that he and Tim will be staying together.

The story itself is some hokum about a villain called Dr Ghoul who kidnaps people to turn them into his gang members. I am vague on the motives of Dr Ghoul’s gang. All I took from the story is Dr Ghoul aims to steal Uncle Richard’s ranch payroll. I wouldn’t think it would require such an elaborate setup to make a gang by placing kidnap victims in what looks like an iron lung and dosing them with electricity.

As the Terror Twins are about to be put into the machine Black Terror warns Dr Ghoul not to waste his time, because he and Tim are made of “good American muscle!” He failed to mention the reason for his own powers (super-strong, bullets bounce off) is he ingested some drug with “formic ethers.”

The Grand Comics Database lists Ed Moritz and Ed Hamilton as artists. Ed Hamilton is not Edmond Hamilton, science fiction writer and also scripter for Batman and Superman. The GCD doesn’t guess at a writer. From Black Terror #12 (1945):

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Number 2125: Three men, a dead uncle, and a mysterious artist

Uncle Theodore was not only a maker of ingenious (and huge) toys, he was diabolical as well. From beyond the grave he directed his three nephews through various death traps to find their inheritance. Even though dead, Theodore wasn’t going to make it easy for the guys to inherit his wealth. The unanswered question was did he want them to succeed or fail? One of the characters asks that in the last panel. Readers are left with an unanswered question.

“The Riddle of Hazard Isle” is a mystery story from House of Secrets #27 (1959). Stories in the mystery anthologies from DC could be screwy, but illustrated in such a style that even the silliest story had the full illustrative treatment. Bill Ely drew the story; the writer is unknown.

Ely is something of an elusive person; there is a shortage of online information. We know that Ely drew comics from the 1930s through the 1960s. His birth year is given as 1913 and his year of death is 1993. I like Ely’s solid style. Ely took enough pride in his work that he usually signed it, even in the days when being a comic book creator meant artists and writers were anonymous unless they chose to include a signature.

If any of Ely’s relatives, children, nephews and nieces, et al., are reading this, I would appreciate them contacting me to tell me what they know about Bill Ely.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Number 2124: TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite give us a charge!

Tex N. Thomas, a teacher, and Dan Dunlop, a student, are a team of superheroes whose powers are brought out by touching their rings together. The feature, which appeared in Star-Spangled Comics from DC, didn’t have a long lifespan, just 17 episodes during the early days of World War II. It's filler. What is interesting to me is the cliché of having a grown man running around with a young (very young) boy. Tex is a teacher, for cryin' out loud. Maybe that sort of relationship didn’t set off alarm bells nearly 80 years ago as it does today. I am not sure if Robin was the first kid sidekick, but I understood the reason for attaching him to Batman (as a “ward” no less) was so kids could identify. Jules Feiffer, in The Great Comic Book Heroes, made a point of saying as a kid how much he hated Robin. Robin was what he, Jules, should be like. The better fantasy for Feiffer was allowing himself to grow to adulthood and become Batman, rather than have to immediately become the young, athletic Robin. And Dr Wertham had something to say about Batman and Robin, also, that he saw the relationship as being kinky.

There is also the element of danger kid sidekicks were subjected to in superhero comics. The idea was common in comic books. I was interested to read what the late Don Markstein had to say of TNT and Dan in his Toonopedia listing for the pair. He mentions that Star-Spangled Comics #23 was the last appearance, and: “TNT and Dan weren't seen again for decades, and even then, underwent only a slight revival. The fact that they got included in the '80s All-Star Squadron scarcely counts, since practically every DC-owned 1940s costumed character did that. Of slightly more significance is that Dan subsequently allied himself with Merry, the Girl of 1,000 Gimmicks, and several other former young superheroes, to form Old Justice — an activist group, devoted to keeping children from being endangered by superhero work, as Dan had allowed himself to be endangered during his own youth.”

This is a tale of Tex and Dan, exposed to danger, in the world of sandhogs, from Star-Spangled Comics #13 (1942), artwork credited to Louis Cazeneuve.