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Friday, September 23, 2011

COMIC BOOK COMPULSIVE — Wonder Comics #1

With it’s first issue released in 1944 Wonder Comics from Nedor/Standard/Better Publications entered the great Golden Age superhero comic derby pretty late in the game.  And even though it featured a strong title and as per usual great covers by the legendary Alex Schomburg the rest of the contents weren’t all that wonderful, even by the frequently wanting standards of Nedor/Standard/Better.  Clearly the publisher had a lot of faith in their headliner The Grim Reaper, who was sort of a powerless factory second version of The Black Terror whose major distinguishing feature was he initially operated behind enemy lines.  He carried both a gun and knife and wasn’t afraid to use either, that and his grim visage might have actually have been able to strike genuine fear into the hearts of the Axis. That is if he hadn’t been stuck wearing a white long john shirt that looked like it was a Fighting Yank cast off.  It wasn’t a good look for him, and it didn’t wear any better on The Grim Reaper.

The rest of Wonder Comics contents were exactly the sort of hodgepodge of genres  you’d expect to find in a comic book from that late in the 1940’s when superheroes were on the wane and publishers weren’t exactly sure what was next.  The other crime fighters presented came mostly in plainclothes, like a pair of privates who for no discernable reason, other than marketing I suppose, were dubbed The Supersleuths (one word) and Jill Trent, Science Sleuth. There was Spectro the Mind Reader, a telepath who in spite of not being a stage magician insisted on fighting crime in a three piece blue suit with tails and a literally star spangled cape.

There were also quite a few humor features, like the just odd enough to be interesting Paw Tucket signed by Gil Turner, a funny animal called Filbert Fox by Carl Wessler, a humor in uniform outing called GI Andy and even one page featuring Zippie, Nedor’s Archie in residence (signed by Christian comic pioneer Al Hartley who went onto to draw the actual article).

And like so many other publishers before them Nedor decided what their comic absolutely needed was a superhero who shared a name with the comic he starred in and so in #7 they introduced Brad Spencer, Wonderman. Not only was he one of the rare superheroes that in spite of the mask (which he almost exclusively wore just on the covers for some reason) also went by his given name. Though in his case the use of a qualifier might have been an attempt to avoid the legal woes that stuck the other Wonderman who appeared in another Wonder Comics.

Regardless, Brad was a strange bird, a costumed hero operating on present day earth who battled extraterrestrial incursions on a more or less serial fashion. The alien menace might have been thwarted and even presumed death at the end of an entry, but they’d be right back next month starting up where they had left off. Plus the art was, well, weird, I mean primitive Grandma Moses, ‘outsider’ artist Fletcher Hanks weird.

See, what I mean? Weird. But that’s a subject for another time.

As most of you must know by now I love robots but then it’s understandable, I was a kid and kids love robots.  Which is, I suppose, why there were a surprising number of robot strips in Golden Age comics. Just off the top of my head there was Robotman, Electro, Marvex , Bozo and perhaps my favorite, Flexo the Ruber Man. Who in spite of his name wasn’t a stretching superhero, but rather a robot made out of rubber. He’s much maligned and mocked by guys such as myself, but having grown up in Akron, Ohio, formerly the rubber capital of the rubber, I’ve always felt a certain kinship with him. 

Plus, seriously, a robot, made out of rubber; how cool is that?

Maybe they were all just a little too ahead of their times but none of them was exactly a hit with the kids, especially poor Mekano, who appeared exactly once in following 15 page story. Which is a damn shame because, an All-American Boy and his giant robot smashing the Nazi’s and Japanese, that’s a comic I’d buy now.


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