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Big Shot Comics was a pretty standard Golden Age comic book anthology from one of the smaller publishers of the era, the Columbia Comics Corporation. Formed in 1940 by Vin Sullivan (the DC Comics editor who bought Superman from Siegel and Shuster) and the McNaught Newspaper Syndicate, they published comics which were a mix of reprints of McNaught comic strips (like Dixie Dugan, Joe Palooka and Joe Palooka) and original material (Skyman, The Face and Marvelo, The Monarch of Magicians). Besides Big Shot Comics Columbia published Skyman, The Face (which became Tony Trent with #3 when the character’s alter ego lost interest in playing with his signature fright mask) and Sparky Watts.
A lot of comic books in the Golden Age pretty had an identical format but what Big Shot Comics had going for it (beyond it’s catchy name and striking logo) was consistently strong artwork and interesting characters.
Skyman was the creation of Ogden Whitney and Gardner Fox. In reality Allen Turner, he was one of those lower case supermen that reached the apex of human mental and physical development via rigorous training. He was also a genius inventor and millionaire who created his super red, white and blue flying wing type plane called (naturally) The Wing and used it and his trusty sidearm the Atom-atic to fight crime for no discernible reason.
“The” (shoving the definitive article into the name of a hero can often make said hero seem cooler, but in this case especially it seems to have been inserted in a wholly arbitrarily and unnecessarily fashion) Skyman, as he liked to be called in early issues, is generally well regarded by Golden Age fans in spite of the fact he was clearly just a Dime Store version of Captain Midnight. This seems to be due mostly due to his memorable costume and the generally strong art of Ogden Whitney.
The Gardner Fox story here presented here has a fairly routine masked mystery man vs. gangsters after a scientist’s new invention plot that comes complete with the scientist’s standard issue beautiful daughter who goes all squishy at the sight of Skyman. But it is noteworthy that the invention in question is a machine that cures cancer, which is unusual as there was a taboo about directly mentioning the disease by name in popular culture of the 1940′s.
Previously I praised the artwork of Ogden Whitney but clearly in this issue he was struggling with just how to depict superheroic anatomy. I mean, this is how he draws his alter ego Allen Turner…
…and this is how he draws Skyman.
His upper body looks particularly inflated once placed alongside a relatively normal (if full-figured) human figure. Also notice Fawn Carroll, the beautiful scientist’s daughter, is totally copping a feel of Skyman’s dreamy muscles; throughout the story she uses every pretext possible to feel the poor guy up. I mean, the attention must be nice and everything but, damn it, the poor guy is trying to work.
And in this panel Whitney seems to have lost complete control of his anatomy and Skyman is drawn out of proportion and starts looking a bit like Whitney’s other great creation, Herbie Popnecker, The Fat Fury.
You know, most guys pretty much assume this if you’re doing it with them at all, still, it never hurts to actually tell them every once in a while.
Marvelo, Monarch of Magicians was another one of Fred Guardineer’s dapper Mandrake the Magician imitator’s (Zatara, Master Magician, Yarko the Great, Tor the Magic Master, etc.) But no mere hypnotist was Marvelo; along with sporting a very stylish look (not everyone can pull off an ice cream suit with tails, turban and a slash) he used his magic magic word “Kalora” to conjure up some really wild and surreal stuff. Like, inanimate objects which suddenly sprouted human limbs or this appearance by “The Recording Angel”, who apparently in some cosmology unknown to me is God’s secretary.
And this really weird sequence where he turns a gangster into what the script assures us is a “midget” but which, clearly, is a doll with an over sized head.
And here’s an early appearance of The Face, created by artist Mart Bailey. As previously established he’s one of my favorite Golden Age characters, but this rather dull ‘mystery’ (which, sadly, might have been written by Gardner Fox) highlights a couple of problems with the character. For instance, I love his baby blue tuxedo; it’s a bold, distinctive look for a crime fighter. But nobody ever seems to put 2+2 together when announcer Tony Trent is seen dressed that way and a couple seconds later The Face appears in the exact same tuxedo. Plus there’s the little matter of what, exactly, did people think The Face was? A Werewolf waiter? A Jekyll crossed with a Esquire magazine male model? I haven’t read all his adventures but as far as I know nobody upon seeing him ever cried out, “Ah, there’s a guy in a really scary mask!” That would kind of defeat the whole purpose of the premise. In spite of the fact that he’s still considered monstrous enough looking to make a woman faint (which is pretty much SOP in this stage of his career) a little later someone assumes he’s a detective. Not a detective with a penchant for dressing up, nor a masked mystery man, just a detective. Which raises the question; just how many detectives with a monster’s face does this guy know?
And along with these features, and the comic strip reprints, were a trio of handsome (if slightly dull features), like Tom Kerry by Fred Guardineer…
…Spy-Chief by Mart Bailey…
…and Rocky Ryan by Ogden Whitney.
— Steve Bennett