There I was, wasting time on Tumblr when I came across this inexplicable image. It took a while, but I finally figured out I was looking at the cover of Sir Clacky Wack and Miss Sunbeam in “The Zany Scientist”, a 1957 one shot from Magazine Enterprises. Being a decent American I knew of Little Miss Sunbeam, the mascot of Sunbeam bread and was even vaguely aware she had her own comic book series. And with a minimum amount of research (my favorite kind) I discovered the character was created by illustrator Ellen Segner for the Quality Bakers of America in 1941. But ”Sir Clacky Wack”? Apparently in public appearances Miss Sunshine had a “sidekick and chaperone” in the form of a clown played by actor Ed Alberian who also stood in for the clowns Clarabell and Bozo. I have no idea why he got top billing in this comic.
Or why he’s entirely absent from the later Little Miss Sunshine comics. Sadly Sir Clacky Wack and Miss Sunbeam in “The Zany Scientist” is currently unavailable online. But all four issues of the later series are and in these Miss Sunshine is just regular little kid with a mom and dad and some standard kid tropes friends. As well as humorous backups featuring such bread related characters as Toothy Snyder the Delivery Boy and Gus the Grocer. She had pretty standard little kid adventures and although it seemed with every issue there was more adventure oriented material. And in her final one she fought, sort of, both Wild West bad men and pirates. As far as the Grand Comic Book Database knows these stories were written and drawn by ? but as far as I’m concerned they did a bang-up job on a particularly inspiring property.
You don’t have to claw my eyes out or hit me over the head with a bat (bat, get it?) to tell me that Gotham takes TV violence to a new level. All that brutality has overshadowed the exciting return of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a thoroughly action-packed show that seems tame in comparison. Although there’s plenty of fighting in S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s done in a comic-booky way, where no blood is spurted and no one gets permanently killed (I’m talking to you, Lucy Lawless).
The season starts off with Agent Coulson as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury is off somewhere relaxing. I’m glad to see Coulson get a promotion, but it’s sad to see Nick go. Nick Fury was a sergeant in World War Eye-Eye (in the comics, anyway) and he really earned the job as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Once you’ve run a group like the Howling Commandos, you deserve to head up a spy agency. I’ve never heard Agent Coulson howl, not even once. You’d think Phil would give us a “Wah-hooo!” once in a while. Oh well. Nick is out and Phil is in, and that’s the way it is (for now). Still, I miss good ol’ Sgt. Fury. I hope he’s on an island somewhere under an umbrella sipping a drink with an umbrella in it. If you see him, give him my regards.
Which is my sneaky segue to this song called “Sergeant Fury.” See what I did there?
Original art by Jack Kirby, himself a World War II vet.
Click the link below and relive your memories of World War Two!
I don’t have time for a proper installment of this thing so instead of making an effort and being entirely absent I’ll just amuse myself by posting a prose story featuring my favorite robot adventurer/educator The Iron Teacher.
When I wrote about Gotham last week (just look in the archives if you missed it) I hadn’t actually seen it yet. I knew it was going to be dark. But I didn’t know just how dark. Holy brutality, Batman! This is damn dark.
In the first episode we see The Penguin without his trademark monocle and minus his gimmicked umbrella. Instead he manically beats a guy nearly to death with a baseball bat. Blood spurts, hilarity ensues. The usual ultraviolence, me droogs.
On the second episode (SPOILER ALERT) we’re treated to even more spurting blood and a close-up of a recent eye-gouging victim. This ain’t your father’s Batmobile!
It seems as if the producers of Gotham are trying to distance themselves as far as possible from the squeaky-clean 1966 Batman TV series, where the most graphic thing you saw was a POW!, BAM! or occasional WHAM! on the screen. A sock on the jaw, maybe, but no one was ever decapitated.
It shows how violent our culture is and inured to it we’ve become. It doesn’t strike me as an improvement, even if it’s more realistic. Somehow realism isn’t what I liked about Batman. Exactly the opposite, actually.
In the coming weeks we’ll see even more brutal acts of violence. SPOILER ALERT! Next episode, the young and future Catwoman claws a guy’s brains out. The next week The Penguin eats someone’s liver with a nice Chianti and some fava beans. And make sure you stay tuned to see The Riddler riddle a body with bullets. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.
For now, we’ll turn back the clock to a simpler more innocent time to hear some of Sun Ra’s (Al Ghul) best work in this sweet song about The Penguin.
Click the link below and remember Gotham before dark.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave (a very real possibility for some of our loyal readers) you know that Gotham made its debut last night on the so-called Fox Network. It’s so exciting to see all the elements that made Batman who he is, slowly but surely falling into place. Holy set-up, Batman!
Basically, Gotham sets the stage for the next batch of Batman movies. I get the feeling that the show was inspired at least in part by the success of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, which likewise ties in with the Marvel film franchise. Holy synergy!
I don’t know about you, but I like my Batman the way I like my coffee… dark and gritty. On this front, Gotham delivers in spades. It’s so dark, you can hardly see what’s going on! Anybody have a flashlight?
Now usually when we shine the I.T.C.H. spotlight on Batman, we focus on the brightly lit and extra colorful 1966 TV show. But this time we’re going dark – very dark – to bring you this haunting, eerie song about Oswald Cobblepot. You may know him better by his villain name: The Penguin!
This is the Penguin when he was young, before he got so fat.
Click the link below and enter the dark world of Gotham!
Having always been a fat kid I probably shouldn’t have any tolerance for wholesome super student athletes along the lines of dime novel hero Frank Merriwell. But that having been said I must confess I have a grudging tolerance for Dick Cole. Perhaps because he started life as a “Wonder Boy”, one of those “raised by a scientist to achieve the peak of human development” types. But he then upended all expectations by instead of fighting crime in a homemade costume he became a military cadet. He started out battling mad scientists and punching dinosaurs but was quickly shorn of his super strength and dealt with the usual assortment of jealous rivals, crooked gamblers and spy rings. He had a fairly long run in Target Comics and appeared in three issues of his own title.
One of the interesting to the verge of oddball thing about Novelty Press were the little “messages” they frequently placed at the bottom of their pages. They didn’t seem to be directed so much as the kid reader as the adult buying the comic. As I’ve said before, Novelty Press titles seemed to be carefully designed to not offend Grandparents and Great Aunts.
First up is a Dick Cole adventure drawn by Jim Wilcox in the awkward, blocky style the series was known for.
I’m on the record for liking the adventures of street level supernatural crimefighter Sergeant Spook but honestly, the art was usually only so-so at best. But not here. Al McWilliams delivers some really handsome, well laid out pages, though I do have to wonder how exactly orphan boy Jerry (no last name) got invited to go on an Egyptian archeological dig. For the record in the series the afterworld was known as “Ghost Town” and in his early adventures the Sarge would regularly visit to get help from the various spirits. He did it less frequently after his psychic sidekick Jerry was introduced, but the concept is referenced in this outing.
Edison Bell was originally a classic comic book boy inventor. Meaning he created robots, fantastic vehicles and the like, but that clearly was too much for the Grandmas so he became a “real world” boy inventor. Meaning he did little science projects and/or experiments to get out of scrapes and the stories would end with tutorials for the kids on how they could do the same at home. But in this “adventure” he doesn’t even do that; here he heroically puts on a Halloween costume.
Now that we’re just days away from the season premier of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the excitement is building fast, let’s take a look at (and a listen to) a little Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. Not only was Nick Fury an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. but he is (was?) the commander of the whole secret organization! But this didn’t happen over night. Nick worked his way up through the ranks, starting as a mere howling commando back in World War Two. (Hey, you’d be howling too if you were still on active duty 69 years after the war ended.) In fact, Colonel Fury looks younger now than he did back then! (Shh… maybe he’s an LMD.) But time paradoxes aside, it’s good to see Nick’s spy agency on weekly TV.
Now if you were paying attention during Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and didn’t bolt for the exits as soon as the credits started to roll, you got a glimpse of that man you love to hate, Baron Strucker! Yep, that Nazi turned Hydra bad guy managed to sneak into the movie at the last moment. He’s up to no good, I’ll wager.
The Baron, aka Wolfgang von Strucker, dates way back to SFAHHC #5, and continued to make Fury’s life miserable for several decades/issues. Not to mention being a thorn in the side of Captain Savage. Before long, he’ll turn up on the big screen or the small screen (spoiler!) I have no doubt.
So while you enjoy this cover gallery of the Baron you can hum along with the haunting strains of the Howling Commandos theme music.
OK, here’s an odd one, Okay Adventure Annuala British hardcover featuring a hodgepodge of boys own adventure prose stories and a very odd grouping of Golden Age American comic book reprints in color and black and white. By which I mean there are stories which are, for no apparent reason, in black and white and color. They clearly didn’t stint when it came to the cover.
And the end papers sure were pretty as well.
First up is an Invisible Justice story from Quality’s Smash Comics.
There was a couple of Golden Age heroes named The Voice, but the one who appeared in Quality Comics Feature Comics is undoubtedly the strangest. Secretly a 150 year old man calling himself Mr. Elixir who survived a 150 years of being shipwrecked on a desert island thanks to a steady diet of herbs which gave him long life, vitality and super strength. It seems to me that all of that would make him a unique character but maybe all those years on the island made him a little weird because he decides he also needs to use ventriloquism to fight crime.
And a page of Mickey Finn just because I like the strip so much.
So, as you can see, most of the American reprints which from Quality Comics, but that doesn’t explain this Dennis the Menace comic book story being here. It’s especially odd since the UK has its own Dennis the Menace who first appeared in the pages of The Beano in 1951.
And finally here’s a reprint of “The King of Blackhawk Island” from Quality’s Blackhawk#76.
Back in the day (I’m old enough now that I use that expression daily) comic books were considered cheap, low-brow entertainment for morons and young children. When you see big-budget blockbusters like The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy it’s easy to forget that comics weren’t always fodder for hit movies. At best, comics were fodder for rip-off record albums designed to separate well-intentioned parents from their hard-earned cash. (“I’ll get this cheap record for Timmy. He’s just a dumb kid, he won’t know the difference.”) Especially after the Batman craze hit in 1966, there were more ways to cheat children than you can shake a Batarang at. Enter The Capes & Masks, a group so phony they make Milli Vanilli seem sincere. Holy hoax, Batman! The Capes & Masks didn’t actually exist, nor did 11 songs about comic book heroes. But did that stop them? No! This was the Sixties and comics were the latest fad to be cashed in upon (or the latest bandwagon to be boarded, if you prefer that metaphor). Some savvy record producer found a bunch of tapes lying on the floor, changed the titles of the tracks to sound vaguely comic-booky, and released an entire LP of disingenuous and fraudulent comics music on an unsuspecting public. And they sold like hotcakes. (They probably would have been better with butter and maple syrup.)
If all of this sounds familiar it’s because I’ve told this same story several times including here, here, here, here, here and here. Hey, there are 11 tracks on the album, so I’ll tell it a few more times before I’m through. As promised, here’s another song from Comic Book heroes.
Click the link below and feel ripped off once again!
This week I’ll be revisiting Popular Comics, a particularly strong looking anthology title that had always featured wonderfully designed covers. For most of it’s run its breads and various butters were comic strip reprints but for a time it had it’s own stable of original characters. Most of these were surprisingly well written and drawn and even gave original takes on tropes that were pretty well trod even by the early 1940′s.
Take, for example, the awkwardly titled Professor Supermind and Son. Handsomely drawn by Maurice Kashuba the feature concerned Professor Harmon (“America’s Supermind” was apparently his nickname; apparently all the good ones were already taken) and his son. One of his inventions temporarily turned junior into a kind of a minimalist, generic superhero (no pseudonym, no chest insignia, etc.) but instead of fighting crime they meddled into the affairs of sovereign nations. Captain America and Johnny Canuck may have punched Hitler in the jaw, but Dan Harmon did some real damage by shaming him with a misogynistic slur. Either that or he was outing Hitler as a female crossdresser; I’m not sure which.
I’ve covered The Hurricane Kids, Alan and Dave Burnham, are a couple of All-American kids who generally had pretty prosaic South Sea style adventures, in a previous installment. But thankfully they did veer over into the fantastic elements lane as we see where they go from battling Zulus to blowing up a dinosaur real good.
But there were still comic strip reprints like Herky. Man, I love me that Herky.
Heere’s an episode of Martan the Marvel Man who sadly isn’t from Mars to make the alliteration complete. Not that you could tell from his his outing which is heavy on the spy vs spy stuff but along with a hot wife he possessed super powers and a alien/super suit. It was a sweet like number that was vaguely faux Roman with kickass shoulder pads (lots of 40′s superheroes fought crime with bare legs but Martan was the only one I know of who did it in a skirt; a skirt shorter than his wives).
Wally Williams was one of those college boy heroes whose minor key “adventures” fill the middle of many a 40′s anthology comic. Most of them were super student athletes battling jealous rivals, shady gamblers and Nazi spy rings that they conveniently found operating in the closest conveniently located haunted house; essentially endless pressings from the Frank Merriwell template. It’s the sort of thing I usually leaf through to get to something more substantial but creators Victor Boni and Tom Hickey happily foreswore such trite antics and created something nicely homey and ordinary.
On the other hand The Masked Pilot was just another aviator with a domino mask. Pass.
And finally there’s The Voice who was more Invisible Man as a low rent superhero than a factory second Shadow. But he was also kind of that as well.