Thursday, December 18, 2008

Volume Three, Number Twenty-Two

Well here we are folks, the final E-Dispatches from the Great White North for 2008.

As some of you know I send this column off from the Port Stanley Public Library and each year from December 23, 2008 to January 2, 2009 the library is closed. In some ways that's great for me as it gives me a chance to hide out at my home/office and develop some new projects to work on in 2009 but part of me always misses the daily insanity of hanging out here at the library.

Anyway, with this being the final installment for the year I thought I would take a moment and talk about what my plans are for this column of 2009. I will of course be continuing with the historical overview of the MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications superhero lines and if all goes according to plan I should have it all wrapped up by the end of February at the latest. To be honest I hadn't planned on it running this long but one thing lead to another and, well, here we are.

Once that's all done my next endeavour will be a two to three part historical overview of Blue Moon Comics Group. For those of you who have never heard of Blue Moon Comics Group all I'll tell you right now about it is that it was a small press comics publisher that whose publisher was none other than my best buddy, The Groovy Agent which published comics works by a number of talented people including Dick Ayers, Seppo Makinen, Steve Skeates and Ed Quinby just to name a few. I also did a thing or two for Blue Moon over the years. Some of the series I did that saw print under the Blue Moon slug included Mister Chameleon, Solomon Wyrd and The Aquanauts to name a few. Some series that I developed initially for Blue Moon but ended up being published elsewhere include The Young Immortals, The Hooded Cobra and Captain Sentinel and the Lads of Liberty. Anyway, the full story about Blue Moon Comics Group will be revealed around March of next year so watch for that one.

While your at it be sure to keep your eyes on as beginning in January 2009 I will be doing E-Dispatches that are exclusive to that site. This column will continue to appear of course at , in the electronic version of The People's Comic Book Newsletter and at the Fun_Features yahoo group (where you can also by the way find every installment of the newspaper column I used to write called "Did you know about...?") but from time to time I'll be doing a piece which will appear only at the blog. I haven't as yet come up with a title-and am currently using the E-Dispatches Xtra working title-so if anyone out there has a title suggestion I'd love to hear it.

As for what I'll be writing about in "E-Dispatches Xtra"; so far I am planning to do some spotlight pieces on some of the MLJ/Archie heroes including The Shield, The Comet and the legendary Pow Girl plus some commentaries on comics and the comics industry, past and present. So be sure to keep your eyes open for the new addition to site in 2009 . The first installment will hopefully be appearing in the third week of January.

So those are pretty much the plans for E-Dispatches in 2009. As for what else I am working on over the Holidays I'll fill everyone in come late January or early February once I've finalized a few plans. In the mean time, while you are waiting for me to come back why not take a look at The Groovy Agent's excellent column about comics of the 1970s. It's titled Diversions of The Groovy Kind and can be found at . Tell him Jazzy Jon sent ya.

That's it folks! Have an enjoyable Holiday Season and I'll "see" everyone in 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Volume Three, Number Twenty-One

Sorry for the delay in getting this installment out folks but over the past couple of weeks I've been somewhat busy undergoing medical tests to see how far along my peripheral neuropathy has progressed. For those of you who aren't familiar with my condition and are interested in finding out more you can visit . Now with that out of the way let's get back to...


In 1964 comic book fandom in North America was still pretty much in its infancy. There were no comics clubs to speak of outside of perhaps some kids getting together informally on occasion to talk about their favourite four colour mags. Comics conventions had only just come into existence with the first one taking place in May of that year. Magazines such as Wizard and Comics Buyer's Guide didn't exist and while there were fanzines-the most notable being Jerry Bails' and Roy Thomas' Alter Ego-their circulation most often number in the low hundreds. And as for the Internet, message boards, yahoo groups, blogs and all the other neat stuff we all take for granted these days that kind of thing wasn't even appearing in the most wildest of science fiction tales. So when comics fans-even that term wasn't being used at that point-wanted to find out what was going on with their favourite comics in 1964 the only way they could do that was to hang out at the mom and pop shops, pharmacies, newsstands, etc. every Tuesday and Thursday after school (there weren't any comics shops either, by the way) to see what comics would pop out when the proprietor would cut the wire that was holding the bundle together (and in a lot of cases the kids weren't even allowed to be in premises when this twice-a-week ritual took place).

This was how fans of The Fly realized that with Adventures of The Fly #30 (cover-date October 1964) the adventures of their favourite winged hero and his faithful sidekick Fly Girl were no more. While some fans-mostly those who paid attention to the publication dates in the indica and saw that Adventures of The Fly had gone semi-annual-suspected that that was the direction the comic was headed it was still none the less a shock to the Fly-fans when after hanging out a few months at their favourite haunts no number 31 appeared on the stands. And as there was no way to complain about their favourite comic vanishing from the scene-outside of writing a letter to an anonymous editor which most fans suspected were never read anyway-Fly-fans would just sign and look for something else to replace it on their "must buy" list.

However, those Fly-fans who also read the Archie Adventure Series' remaining title, The Shadow, soon learned The Fly was not in fact gone forever but was to undergo a monumental-some would say absurd-change. In issue number five of The Shadow (cover-dated March 1965), a house ad appeared announcing the return of The Fly with a new name and new powers. To be called Fly Man, as well as possessing his old powers of flight, super-strength, etc. he-and his partner-were now able to shrink and grow in size ala Marvel's Ant-Man/Giant-Man. And if this wasn't enough to excite long suffering Fly fans, appearing in the last panel of the house ad were three shadowy figures which caused Fly Man to gasp in shock as he exclaimed, "Now that I've met you three, I've a hunch things will never be the same!".

Truer words were never spoken as comics fans would find out two months later with the release of Fly Man #31 May, 1965; a title that would result in a line of comics that you had to see to believe. The Mighty Comics Group.

That's it for the historical overview for this year. In early 2009 it will return and begin to explore the wonderful, mind-boggling world of The Mighty Comics Group. That's not it for E-Dispatches from the Great White North though for 2008. There'll be one more installment later this week dealing with some new directions for this column/blog in 2009.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Volume Three, Number Twenty

Historical Overview
of the
MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications
Superhero Lines!

Part Ten

Even though Archie Comic Publications/Radio Comics had launched "The Adventures of Young Dr. Masters" and "The Shadow" in 1964, the Archie Adventure Series line was dying a slow painful death. As mentioned in the previous installment, according to Rick Goldwater, son of one of MLJ Magazines' founders, John Goldwater, the main reason for the poor sales of the line was strictly distribution difficulties; a somewhat doubtful possibility as Archie Adventure Series was distributed by the same company that distributed Archie Comic Publications' Archie Series line which could be found just about everywhere in those days. Most comics fans and historians put the blame on the poor quality of the material, but a few people point the finger at the name of the line itself: ARCHIE Adventure Series.

While the Archie titles were big sellers in the 1960s-and are still quite successful today-they were and still are targeted at a certain type of readership. Also too anything with the name "Archie" on it signified good, wholesome fun. While there's nothing wrong with that, some comics readers were looking for something more challenging, something like, well, what was being given to them by Marvel and to a lesser extent DC/National and Gold Key (with Dr. Solar, Turok and other titles). And while the Archie Adventure Series titles weren't along the same lines as the Archie Series titles the mere mention of the name "Archie" on the cover was a turn-off to the very readers who might well have ordinarily bought "The Shadow" and "Adventures of The Fly" (though chances are they would have only bought one issue of "The Shadow"). Today's fans are a bit more sophisticated, but back in the 1960s Archie meant wholesomeness, and even in 1964 readers wanted their superheroes to have a bit of an edge.

Thus, the line was failing and by 1964 the Archie Adventure Series' flagship title, "Adventures of The Fly" was reduced to being published semi-annually. After issue #30 (October 1964) it vanished completely. But before it was canceled, the title-and the line-made one more attempt at reviving a long forgotten MLJ Magazines character; or in this case more of a revitalization.

In the Fly Girl story that appeared in "Adventures of The Fly" #30, The Fly's partner met up with The Comet. This was not though the same, brutal Comet who had appeared in the early issues of Pep Comics, but rather the ruler of a distant planet called Altron who had come to Earth to convince Fly Girl to be his bride. Even his powers and costume were different with this Comet wearing a rainbow-striped helmet and an extremely gaudy looking outfit. His powers included flight-which he was able to accomplish thanks to his "rainbow helmet"-and the ability to shoot ray beams from his gloves. The story, as with previous stories that had been appearing in "Adventures of The Fly", was fairly pedestrian. But what Fly-fans -and there were some including myself at the time-were totally unaware of was that this Comet was actually a harbinger of things to come in 1965. But that's a story for next month when we talk about Fly Man, Mighty Comics Group and The Mighty Crusaders. See you then.


That's all for this time out. Don't forget to check out The Groovy Agent's excellent blog on 1970s comics at, and feel free to comment on what you've read so far in E-Dispatches From The Great White North at its blogsite .

Friday, November 21, 2008

Volume Three, Number Nineteen

In the early 1960s Archie Comic Publications-sometimes referred to in the indicia of some of its comics as "Radio Comics"-published a line of paperbacks under the name of "Belmont Paperbacks" which, among other things, reprinted under license the pulp prose adventures of The Shadow. As these paperbacks were relatively successful Archie/Radio decided to also publish a comic book featuring the legendary pulp hero. The potential for an exciting hero genre comic reminiscent of the quality material MLJ Magazines published in its early days was clearly evident, but once placed in the hands of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel the result was a comic that ranks high among the worst comics published in the 1960s (sharing top honour with MF Enterprises' Captain Marvel and Dell's Werewolf and Dracula).

Actually the first two issues of Archie's "Shadow" (which debuted November, 1964) weren't all that bad. While the artwork was somewhat pedestrian and the stories for the most part bland both issues stuck pretty close in concept to the pulp Shadow. But beginning with issue number three not only was a new artistic direction taken (with former 1940s Green Lantern artist Paul Reinman at the helm), but a whole new direction for the comic itself was introduced. Gone was the cloaked version of The Shadow and replacing him was a costumed superhero version of The Shadow who in his purple and green outfit battled such threats as "The Radiation Rogue", "Dr. Demon", "Attila The Hunter" and "The Princess of Death"; none of whom would have given even Captain Sprocket a difficult time, but under the direction of Jerry Siegel became deadly foes against the new version of The Shadow.

This is not to say that Jerry Siegel was a terrible writer. He wasn't by any stretch of the imagination. However, as with many writers from the golden age of comics-Joe Simon immediately comes to mind-he lost touch with the times resulting in comics scripts that did not in any way reflect his true talents.

The artwork was not Paul Reinman's best either. In the 1940s he was extremely innovative and had an excellent visual storytelling ability but by the 1960s he was nearing the end of his career and basically was only going through the motions. All in all the potential of this comic was nowhere realized, and after issue number eight it vanished from the newsstands. A couple of decades later in an interview in "Comics Interview" #3 (May, 1983) Dick Goldwater, son of one of the company's founders John Goldwater, stated that the reason for the failure was because the comic was not well distributed. As the same distributor that handled the company's Archie titles-which were found at every outlet-handled "The Shadow", this statement by Mr. Goldwater is extremely dubious at best. The most likely case is that the comic just didn't sell and after eight issues of bad sales Archie Comic Publications simply pulled the plug. That's the most likely scenario but in "Comic Reader" No. 200 (April, 1982) Lou Mougin, in an an article about the 1960s Archie superhero line, put forth a hypothesis that is much more to my liking. According to Lou, what REALLY happened was that the pulp version of The Shadow got so fed up with the abomination that was appearing in the comics that he pulled out his 45s and blew him away. Makes sense to me.
NEXT: Final days of The Fly and an eye toward the future.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Volume Three, Number Eighteen

(Part Eight)


As mentioned last time out "The Double Life of Private Strong" vanished from the newsstands and magazine shelves after only two issues. However, this did not mean that The Fly was the sole super-powered member of the Archie Adventure Series Universe (for lack of a better term). In "Adventures of The Fly" #7 (July 1960) The Black Hood made his silver age debut in a tale where he teamed up with The Fly and in the very next issue (cover-dated September 1960) the silver age Shield (some years later to be revealed as the son of the original Shield) appeared.Both these characters must have gotten favourable fan mail as each made return appearances; The Shield in issue 9 and The Black Hood in issue 10.

In the coming months the Archie Adventure Series Universe continued to grow. In the 14th issue of The Fly Kim Brand, a movie actress who debuted in the previous issue, became Fly-Girl and would be Fly's partner throughout his comics appearances in the 1960s. Also that month-September 1961-Archie would launch a new comics title; "Adventures of The Jaguar" featuring a superhero who could summon up all the powers of the animal kingdom (but for some unexplained reason needed a jet-belt to fly).

Around the same time The Fly, Flygirl and The Jaguar began appearing in five-page adventures in the back of "Pep" and "Laugh". While some comics historians have speculated that this was done to get superhero fans to read other Archie titles this is unlikely as their appearances in these two Archie Universe titles were never promoted and the characters never appeared on the covers of either "Pep" or "Laugh" when they appeared. What is more likely the case is the reverse; that the folks at Archie Comic Publications wanted to get the readers of "Pep" and "Laugh" interested in the Archie Adventure Series line.

"Adventures of The Jaguar" ran for fifteen issues with number 15 being cover-dated November 1963. While a competent series With the exception of issues 13 and 14-both of which featured The Black Hood-none were very memorable or contributed much to the history of the Archie Adventure Series Universe.

With the cancellation of "Adventures of The Jaguar" The Fly's comic was alone on the stands again until (cover-date) August 1964. two new titles were launched that year under the Archie Adventure Series imprint. One was a quarterly title called "Adventures of Young Dr. Masters" which lasted only two issues and the other (cover dated November 1964) is a definite candidate for, outside of M.F. Enterprises' "Captain Marvel", the title of the worst comic book of the 1960s. It's name? THE SHADOW.



Thursday, November 13, 2008

Volume Three, Number Seventeen

Let's return our overview look at the history of MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications superhero lines.

Noticing that National Comics Publications (today known as DC Comics) was having some success with its revival of the superhero genre in early 1959, Archie Comic Publications decided to revive some of its superhero characters from the 1940s. Around that same time comics legend Joe Simon was planning to approach the company in search of some writing assignments. Upon his arrival at the Archie offices, he was given the job of reviving "The Shield" and developing new material for the company. While opinions vary as to who did what to the two concepts, in the end Joe Simon returned with a new version of "The Shield" titled "The Double Life of Private Strong" and a brand new series titled "Adventures of The Fly". Much to the surprise of folks at Archie Comic Publications, when they looked at the first pages of what Joe Simon brought in, they found that they had been done in the unmistakable style of his long-time partner Jack Kirby who, it turned out, Simon had asked to assist on the project.

"The Double Life of Private Strong" was launched first, with a cover-date of June, 1959. Featuring a superhero named "The Shield", the title alluded to the secret identity of the lead character who through manipulation by his scientist father when the hero was a child was able to use the normally untapped 90% of his brain. The comics' appearance on the newsstand immediately resulted in National/DC taking legal action against Archie Comic Publications, claiming that "The Double Life of Private Strong" infringed on their "Superman" trademarks and copyrights. Only one more issue of the comic was published before it-and the legal action-was dropped.

"Adventures of The Fly"-which was about a young orphan boy named Tommy Troy who was given a magic ring that could change him into a super-powered adult known as The Fly-was released under the "Archie Adventure Series" imprint (as was "The Double Life of Private Strong") with a cover-date of August, 1959, the same month that the second and final issue of the comic featuring the new version of the Shield appeared. "Adventures of The Fly" #s 1 & 2 along with both issues of "The Double Life of Private Strong" both featured the work of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Then with the cancellation of "The Double Life of Private Strong", Kirby left and went to work for the company which is today known as Marvel to work on its various monster, western and fantasy titles with Stan Lee. Joe Simon remained on "Adventures of The Fly" for two more issues and then himself moved on. With the comics' fifth issue for no apparent reason or explanation Tommy Troy went from being an orphan boy to an adult lawyer, continuing to have adventures as "The Fly" and ignoring his days as an orphan. Also beginning with this issue the art and writing took on a more National/DC feel to it eliminating all the flare and excitement that made comics by the "Simon & Kirby" team such big sellers in the past. Whether this was a decision of the upper management at Archie Comic Publications-who may have hoped to attract National/DC readers by adopting more of a National/DC look-or by accident we may never know for sure. One thing is certain though, while "Adventures of The Fly" continued to be an enjoyable and readable comic for its time, it didn't have anywhere near the excitement and sales potential that it would have had if Simon and Kirby had remained. For all intents and purposes, "Adventures of The Fly" had gone from being a great comic to just being pretty unremarkable.


NEXT: "Adventures of The Fly" gets a companion title on the stands.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Volume Three, Number Sixteen

WALL OF ANGELS: THE FRANCHISE (Part five of six) #5: Published by Twentytosix Books. Price: $2.50. Full colour cover with 24 black and white pages. Written and lettered by Anthony Garcia with art by Reno Maniquis and cover colour by Brian Miller (Hi-Fi Design).
With the story of this comic being part five of six I thought that it might be a bit difficult to follow what was going on. But upon reading the "Previously in Wall of Angels" synopsis on the inside front cover I knew that wasn't going to be the case.

The synopsis begins, "Wall of Angels is a series of inter-related story arcs that explores the boundaries between technology and mythology, science and superstition.." and then goes on to explain the events of the previous four issues where the struggle for control over what is called "E-Suit technology" took place between its creator and the head of the United States' national security. Actually, the synopsis goes into much more detail that I have here but for me to explain any further might deprive you of the same initial enjoyment of this well crafted comic that I got. Anthony Garcia's writing is superb with great story-telling and excellent dialogue that kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. The story is equally matched by Reno Maniguis' stunning artwork that not only is a delight to look at but also is top notch in its visual presentation of the story.

This is a good, nope, scratch that, great read, folks. It's fun, fast paced, tightly written and everything else you could hope for in a comic. My only complaint about "Wall of Angels" #5 is the lettering. Anthony Garcia, on a few occasions, divides the words up from line to line within the word balloons. My guess is that this happened because Anthony put the balloons on the page and then lettered them afterward (instead of the other way around which is the conventional practice). While that's a very minor quibble from this comics writer/editor's perspective it takes away from the otherwise professional quality of this comic as well as the otherwise smooth reading of the story. It is a tad distracting, shall we say.

Still, don't let that dissuade you from picking up this comic. If there is only one comic that you are going to buy between now and the end of the year let it be "Wall of Angels" #5. It's that good, folks. And if after you've read it and you want to read the previous four issues you can find out how to order them online by visiting or you can get your local retailer to order a few copies at a discount by visiting with no minimum orders and no shipping charges. Buy this comic, people. You'll be glad you did.
That's it for this installment of E-Dispatches. There will be no column the first week in November as I have some personal matters to take care of but I'll be back the second week with two installments. While you are waiting for my return why not pay a visit to and see what neat stuff my buddy The Groovy Agent has to say about comics of the 1970s. See you all in a couple of weeks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Volume Three, Number Fifteen

A few weeks back I received a package in the mail from my buddy Dave Owens who lives in London Ontario, Canada. For those of you who aren't familiar with Dave here's a primer.

Dave and I first met in the fall of 1994 when I was living in London. He had read an article in the London Free Press newspaper about one of my comics endeavours at that time and decided to contact me. The moment Dave and I met we became instant friends. Not only did-and continues to-he have a love of comics, the comics industry and comics history as I did and do but he was and is also an extremely talented artist. Over the years since our first meeting Dave and I have worked on a number of projects together including "Solomon Wyrd" and "Mister Chameleon" (for Blue Moon Comics) and "Young Immortals" (for Silver Griffin Comics) on which he provided some much-needed plot assists.

When not using his talents in the comics industry Dave also does personalized pet portraits for people, designs cards and has published, under his Nebula Studio imprint, an excellent science fiction fanzine titled "Science Fiction Darkside" (for which I wrote an article or two). To say that he is an extremely talented person is a definite understatement. Add to that that he has absolutely no ego, a great sense of humour and a heart of gold all in all he's one heck of a great guy.

That's Dave. Anyway, the arrival of the package a few weeks ago was not totally unexpected as Dave had previously mentioned that he was working on something and would send me a copy of it once he had completed and published it. So I figured this must be that project. And it was as when I got the package home I immediately opened it to find a spankin' new copy of a small press, magazine-sized publication titled "Rogue Tomato: The Hunt Begins" that was published under Dave's imprint, written by someone named Rose Brandon and illustrated and lettered by Dave Owens.

So I immediately read the comic and, well, let me say all the good stuff I have to say about it first and that good stuff is about Dave's work. This is one of the best pieces of comics draftsmanship that I have seen from Dave up to this point in his career. His panel design, visual work and lettering is top-notch.

As for the writing, ahem, hmmm, that's another story all together. I have no idea as to who this Rose Brandon is for starters and I even have less of an idea as to what she's attempting to do with regards to this story. All I do know about it is that she is in definite need of some instruction on the art of comic book writing as this tale is bad, bad, bad. But you don't have to take my word for it. Let me give you the plot and you can decide for yourself.

I think this is supposed to be a humour comic-or is it a slice of life-but I'm not entirely sure. The story opens with someone named Beanpod Berry sitting in his apartment playing a video game when the phone suddenly rings. He answers it and on the other end is his girlfriend, Rose Bumble. Rose tells him she is going to bake some tomato muffins and bring them over to his place. While Beanpod is-for obvious reasons-a tad squeamish about trying the concoction he keeps that to himself and says he'll see her later.

Hours pass and Rose doesn't show up so he decides to go over to her place to see if she's okay. He knocks on the door and after a minute Rose answers looking all frazzled and stressed. Apparently can't find her tomato to make the muffins with. Beanpod suggests that maybe she should forget about baking and maybe they could have some popcorn and watch a movie or maybe go over to his place to play video games. After his suggestion is rebuffed with a glare Beanpod decides to help her find the tomato. They enter Rose' apartment-which is dark for some reason-and search a variety of places for the missing tomato. Then, when Beanpod opens up a kitchen cupboard door a sinister looking tomato with an extremely evil smile leaps out at them, bounces on the floor and laughs. Then Beanpod steps on the tomato, squashing it. The End.

That's it. That's the story. I could go on and on about what I find wrong with this piece of writing but why bother. The dialogue wasn't any good either by the way and to be honest with you if not for Dave's superb artwork I wouldn't even be talking about "Rogue Tomato: The Hunt Begins".

As I said, Rosemary Brandon needs some lessons in the art of comic book writing. This is terrible and if you ever see it anywhere do not buy it. Unless of course you want to see Dave's great work. But unfortunately even that couldn't save this mess. It's a total waste of time.

That's all for this installment of E-Dispatches. Next week I'll be reviewing "Wall of Angels" by Twentytosix Books. Meanwhile, if you'd like me to review something of yours feel free to snailmail it to me at...Jonathan A. Gilbert/2-225 Colborne St./Box 10/Port Stanley, Ontario/N5L 1C2/Canada . And if you are mailing it from outside of Canada be sure to attach a customs declaration slip and mark it as a gift. See everyone next week.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Volume Three, Number Fourteen

Part Six


THE SUPERHERO BOOM CONTINUES: While the introduction of Archie in Pep number 22 didn't receive much fanfare (or even a mention on that issue's cover) when The Hangman was given his own title the situation was entirely different. Before that took place though MLJ Magazines gave him a one-shot (which also introduced "The Boy Buddies" in a tale that guest-starred The Shield and The Wizard) titled "Special Comics" (No. 1 Winter, 1941-42) where the death of his brother "The Comet" was retold along with the Hangman's origin. Then in the spring of 1942 "The Hangman" was given his own title which began with #2 (Spring, 1942) picking up the numbering from the previously released "Special Comics". Due though to the fact that the United States was in a full bloom paper shortage, for "Hangman Comics" to be released, something else on the MLJ Magazines schedule had to go. So "Blue Ribbon Comics" was canceled.

Besides Hangman's series, "Hangman Comics" also featured "The Boy Buddies" for its entire run. With its final issue though (No. 8 Fall, 1943) another series made an appearance, "Super Duck".

"Super Duck" made its debut in "Jolly Jingles Comics" No. 10 and while not as popular as Archie and his friends the funny-animal superhero parody appeared in a number of comics until 1960 including 94 issues of his own title. Then after 1960 the character vanished into comic book limbo, not appearing again until 1990 when a "Super Duck" story ran in "Laugh Comics" Vol.. 2 No. 24. Since then the character has made occasional though infrequent appearances in other Archie Comic Publications titles.

The cancellation of "Hangman Comics" was not so much due to a lack of reader interest in the character (who continued to appear in "Pep Comics" until no. 47, Spring, 1944) but rather due to MLJ Magazines wanting to give "Black Hood" more exposure. Debuting in "Top-Notch Comics" no. 9 (October, 1940), the "Man of Mystery" as he was nick-named was an instant success and appeared not only in a variety of MLJ titles but also had his own radio show and even appeared in the "Hooded Detective" pulp magazine. It was inevitable that the character would receive his own title so in the winter of 1943 "Black Hood Comics" took over the numbering of "Hangman Comics" beginning with number nine. Despite the title change though "The Hangman" continued to have his own series in the magazine along with "The Boy Buddies" plus "Dusty, The Boy Detective" (one of the two Boy Buddies who was as mentioned previously the junior partner of The Shield) even managed a couple of solo tales in "Black Hood Comics". The title ran until issue number nineteen (Summer, 1946) and with the next issue the title was changed to "Laugh Comics" with its superhero lineup replaced by Archie, "Katy Keene" and other humor series.

"Black Hood Comics" would be the last superhero title that MLJ Magazines would launch in the 1940s but it would not be the last title to feature MLJ superheroes during that decade. Between 1945 and 1946 Green Publishing Company-which most comics historians believe was a subsidy of MLJ Magazines-launched three titles ("Roly Poly Comics", "Black Swan Comics" and "Miss Liberty/Liberty Comics") that featured reprints of previously published MLJ superhero adventures.

THE END OF AN ERA: But by the mid-1940s the writing was on the wall and the MLJ heroes were slowly being replaced by Archie and other humor comics materials in the line's titles. The ball started rolling with "Suzie" and "Pokey Oakey" replacing "Bob Phantom" and "Firefly" in "top-Notch Laugh". Then "Suzie" also replaced "Black Hood" in "Pep Comics" who then turned around and replaced "Captain Commando" in that title and then would again be replaced in Pep, this time by "Katy Keene". As the months progressed "The Web", "Zambini" and "The Hangman" would all vanish from site and be replaced by whatever new humor characters the MLJ bullpen could come up with. But more often than not the character that would take a superhero's place would either be Archie or one of Archie's friends.

Then in the spring of 1946 even the MLJ Magazines logo would vanish and would be replaced by an Archie logo. This signified the company's focus and faith in Archie and his pals. But the strongest of the MLJ heroes continued for a while longer with "Black Hood" remaining until "Pep Comics" no. 60 (September, 1947) and "The Shield" hanging on for a few months later, taking his final bow in "Pep Comics" no. 66 (February, 1948). From that point on Archie Series was entirely a humor comics line and as the years progressed Archie and his friends became a stronger and stronger force within the company's line; appearing in such new titles as "Jughead", "Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica" and "Archie Giant Series Magazine" among others. But while Archie would be the main focus of the line (which eventually became known as "Archie Comic Publications") from 1948 right up until the present, the MLJ heroes would never completely vanish into comic book limbo as future installments will show.

That's it for this installment of the MLJ/Archie heroes historical overview. As I a couple of comics to review I'll be taking a break from this exploration for a week or two but when we return we'll be taking a look at Archie Comic Publications' superhero silver age.But while you are waiting for that plus my comics reviews why not visit and find out what my buddy The Groovy Agent has to say about comics of the 1970s. See you next week.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Volume Three, Number Thirteen

- - - - - - - -
Part Five
After the release of "Wizard-Shield Comics" MLJ Magazines waited until the spring of 1941 to launch their next superhero oriented title. Like their first four books "Jackpot Comics" was an anthology but appeared only quarterly with the final issue being number nine (spring 1943). Following the format that had been established by National/DC's "Comics Cavalcade" Jackpot featured additional adventures of the top characters from MLJ's other anthologies (Blue Ribbon, Top-Notch, Pep and Zip) in hopes of giving them the additional exposure necessary that would eventually lead to them receiving their own title. It didn't hurt company finances either to release a comic starring its top stars under one roof.

Initially the top stars of Jackpot were "The Black Hood", "Mr. Justice", "Steel Sterling" and "Sgt. Boyle". These heroes though soon lost their dominance-not only in "Jackpot Comics" but across the MLJ line-as beginning with Jackpot number four (which appeared at the same time as "Pep Comics" #22 December 1941) the "Archie" comics series began appearing in the title (and Pep).

So much has been written elsewhere about the early days of Archie Andrews and his friends that it won't be necessary to go over it here. His appearance in Jackpot though did not seem to draw any additional attention to the title because as stated earlier it was canceled with issue nine. Beginning with the following issue it was renamed "Jolly Jingles Comics", an all-humour title which itself only lasted until issue number fifteen (winter 1944-45).

NEXT WEEK: The Hangman and Black Hood.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Volume Three, Number Twelve

Part Four


MLJ's fourth comic was also an anthology. Titled "Zip Comics" its first issue was cover-dated February, 1940. Running for forty-seven issues, Zip ended its run in the summer of 1944.

Zip is best known for its lead feature, "Steel Sterling". Gaining invulnerability and super-strength by covering himself with a special chemical and then leaping into a vat of molten steel (an action that earned "Steel Sterling the nickname "The Man of Steel", long before Superman-who actually was called "The Man of Tomorrow" in the 1940s-was referred to in such a fashion), "Steel Sterling" appeared in all forty-seven issues of "Zip Comics" as well as in "Jackpot Comics" and other MLJ titles. Throughout his career "Steel Sterling" dealt more with the weird than the common place, spending most of his time battling witches and werewolves rather than run-of-the-mill criminals. If not for the paper shortages of the period and "Archie" becoming so popular "Steel Sterling" may well have eventually been given his own series. But that was not to be, at least not until the 1980s under a different Archie Comic Publications imprint.

Standing beside "Steel Sterling" the other heroes that appeared in "Zip Comics" appeared for the most part to be second and third stringers. Some though had a great deal of potential including "The Web" (a non-powered crime fighter who actually had a fairly large following in the 1960s during the camp hero craze of the period), "Inferno The Flame Breather" (who the head honchos at MLJ seemed to have high hopes for due to him appearing in both Zip and "Blue Ribbon Comics"), "The Scarlet Avenger", "Zambini the Miracle Man", "Nevada Jones" and "Black Jack". These and other series made "Zip Comics" a quality publication during its run but it was "Steel Sterling" who was the king of the hill.

The next title to join the MLJ lineup debuted in the summer of 1940. The usual practice by comics publishers during the 1940s was for a character who gained popularity in an anthology to be given his (and on occasion her) own title; usually a quarterly. With its fifth title MLJ took a different approach by combining "The Shield" from "Pep Comics" and "The Wizard" from "Top-Notch Comics" to create the quarterly "Shield-Wizard Comics". Most likely the folks at MLJ took this approach due to paper shortages at the time, but another reason may well have been because they felt that a comic featuring two of its popular characters would do better financially than individual titles for "The Shield" and "The Wizard". Whatever the reason "Shield-Wizard Comics" ran for thirteen issues with the last one appearing in the spring of 1944. As the title proceeded the headline stars would share the comic with Shield"s kid partner "Dusty the Boy Detective" (who debuted in "Pep Comics" #11) beginning with issue #5 and Wizard's partner, "Roy The Superboy" (who debuted in "Top-Notch Comics" #8) starting with issue #6. Later, Roy and Dusty would work together as "The Boy Buddies" which debuted in "Special Comics" #1 and appeared in "Hangman Comics" and "Black Hood Comics".
That's all for this week folks. Due to a number of commitments-including developing a new project for CE Publishing Group-I'm taking a week off from E-Dispatches but will be returning the week of Monday October 6th 2008 with the continuation of this overview of the MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications superhero lines. While your waiting though why not check out for The Groovy Agent's take on comics of the 1970s. Each installment is a fun and informative read. See you next week.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Volume Three, Number Eleven

A Historical Overview of the
MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications
Superhero Lines
Part Three

ON THE ROAD TO SUCCESS: Cover-dated January 1940 "Pep Comics", MLJ Magazines' third anthology, was the company's most successful and innovative anthology. Not only did Pep run for a total of 411 issues (the final one cover-dated March, 1987) but it was also where comics' first patriotic hero debuted, where the first comics hero died in the line of duty and where the comics character that the publisher eventually renamed itself after first appeared.

The cover feature for Pep during its early days beginning with its first issue was "The Shield". Appearing in the first sixty-five issues of "Pep Comics" he was the last superhero to be published by MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications during the 1940s.

America's first patriotic superhero, FBI agent Joe Higgins used his scientific knowledge to give himself super-strength, enable him to leap great distances and to develop a costume that was flame proof and protected him from physical harm. It's worth noting that when comics' more successful patriotic superhero, "Captain America", debuted some eighteen months later, MLJ Magazines sued its publisher, referred today as Timely Comics, not because of its copying Shield's patriotic costumed hero motif but rather because Cap's rectangular shield resembled the front part of the costume of "The Shield". Thanks though to previous association between MLJ's Louis Silberkleit and Timely's publisher Martin Goodman a legal battle was averted when "Captain America" creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby agreed to make Cap's shield round in shape. In the long run this actually worked out for the better for the "Captain America" series as artists could now have Cap using the shield as a throwing disc resulting in more dynamic fight scenes.

As well as appearing in Pep "The Shield" also appeared in "Shield-Wizard Comics", "Jackpot Comics" and other titles. Shield's final appearance was "Pep Comics" #65 in late 1947. While some have speculated that if the "Shield" series hadn't been elbowed out of Pep by Archie Andrews it would have lasted longer more knowledgeable fans have expressed serious doubts on this matter as the more popular "Captain America" only lasted two additional years.

A less successful but no less innovative superhero who also debuted in "Pep Comics" #1 was "The Comet". The victim of a scientific accident "The Comet", aka John Dickering, terrorized criminals for the first seventeen issues of that title. The artistic creation of Jack Cole (better known as the creator of "Plastic Man"), "The Comet" used his disolvo-vision and power of flight to battle evil and injustice.

According to many comics historians "The Comet" was probably the most violent superhero comic of the 1940s. While "The Batman" and others were known to have tossed criminals off roof tops and other violent acts "The Comet" would gleefully slaughter dozens of villains a story with his disolvo-vision, turning them to protoplasmic mush. But as the saying goes, "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword", and such was the fate of "The Comet" who met his end in a hail of bullets in "Pep Comics" #17. This though was not the end of the violence by any means as brother, Bob Dickering, adopted the non-super powered identity of "The Hangman" and went on a murderous rampage of his own; first to avenge his brother's death and then to deal out justice in the tradition of "The Comet".

"The Hangman" was far more successful than its predecessor, due in part to the artwork of Bob Fujitani. "The Hangman" appeared in "Pep Comics" #s 17-47 along with "Special Comics" #1 and "Hangman Comics" #s2 to 8.

With "The Shield", "The Comet", "The Hangman" and later "Archie" getting the readers' attention other series that appeared in Pep didn't stand much of a chance. Some of them are though worth noting including "The Press Guardian" (called "The Falcon" in Pep #1 he was a costumed hero who fault for freedom of the press ), "Fireball", "Captain Commando" (a costumed hero who fought against the Nazis behind enemy lines) and the sultry "Madame Satan". So after Archie Andrews debuted in "Pep Comics" #22 superheroes began to gradually disappear from that and other titles with "The Shield" being the last.

NEXT: The original "Man of Steel" !

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Volume Three, Number Ten

Let's continue our historical look at the MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications' superhero lines.
Part Two.
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MLJ Magazines had a lot more success with its second title, "Top-Notch Comics". Debuting in December, 1939, "Top-Notch Comics" (called "Top-Notch Laugh" from no. 28 on) appeared until cover-date June, 1944, with the last issue being numbered 45. During its run Top-Notch introduced a number of now-classic MLJ heroes including "The Wizard", "The Firefly", "The Black Hood" and "Roy, the Super Boy" (the second costumed boy hero after DC/National's Robin). Top-Notch also featured the work of a number of talented artists including Bob Montana, Mort Meskin, Jack Cole and Bob Novick.

Top-Notch's most successful heroes were "The Wizard" and "The Black Hood". "Wizard" (who initially appeared in civilian clothes and possessed a super-brain that enabled him to perform numerous feats) debuted in "Top-Notch Comics" #1 and appeared in every issue except for #25. He also appeared in all thirteen issues of "Shield-Wizard Comics". From time to time he would also make guest appearances in other series including the origin of "The Boy Buddies" which appeared in "Special Comics" #1. While "The Wizard" is regarded as one of MLJ's big guns, he was at best a second stringer when compared to "The Black Hood".

Introduced in "Top-Notch Comics" #9, "The Black Hood" appeared for a total of thirty-five issues. He also appeared in all nine issues of "Jackpot", "Black Hood Comics" #s 9-19 (taking over the number of "Hangman Comics" and in turn had its numbering taken over by "Laugh Comics", a title that lasted until #400, April 1987) and "Pep Comics" #s 48-51 and 59-60, the last issue of which was cover-dated March, 1947. Not including guest appearances, "The Black Hood" appeared in a total of fifty-one stories, a number surpassed only by "The Shield" and "Steel Sterling". Where "The Black Hood" outdid them, though, was by having his own brief radio program and appearing in a series of stories in the pulp magazine "Hooded Detective".

To be sure "Top Notch Comics/Top-Notch Laugh" was a definite success for MLJ Magazines, but its success paled compared to that of the company's next title; "Pep Comics".


Be back tomorrow as we continue to look at MLJ Magazines and its title that not only launched the career of comics' first patriotic super-hero but introduced one of the most successful comics characters ever to appear. And while you are waiting for that installment feel free to check out what The Groovy Agent is writing about at . See you next time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Volume Three, Number Nine

As you'll recall my intentions were to comment on the picking up of the license for the Archie superheroes by DC this time out. After giving it some thought though I've decided to take the next few installments and write about these characters and the MLJ/ARCHIE ADVENTURE SERIES/MIGHTY COMICS GROUP/RED CIRCLE COMICS GROUP history after which I'll comment on what I think about DC's newest project. The material you are about to read in this installment and the next few installments was written by me and originally published in "The People's Comic Book Newsletter" Vol. 4 No. 36 Jan. 24, 2001. Enjoy.

While a great deal has been written over the years about Archie Andrews and his pals the same cannot be said about Archie Comic Publications' superheroes. Few people seem to know that not only Archie Comic Publications get its start-under a different name mind you-in 1939-as a publisher of superhero comics but that it was one of the more innovative comics publishers in the industry. This article is an attempt to rectify that and while space limitations prevent me from going into a great amount of detail I hope that I can at least cover the more important points regarding Archie Comic Publications' superhero history.

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THE BEGINNING: MLJ Magazines (named for its three founders; Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater) came into being in 1939 with its first comics title, "Blue Ribbon Comics". But before the creation of MLJ Magazines, two of its founders had previous experience in the magazine business. John Goldwater got his start as a purchaser of out-of-date American magazines which he bought for a penny each and then shipped them overseas for re-sale. This venture eventually lead to Goldwater meeting up with Louis Silberkleit who at the time was a pulp magazine publisher. Silberkleit got his beginnings in the offices of pulp magazine legend Hugo Germback who was behind the publication of "Amazing Stories", the first pulp devoted entirely to science fiction. While working for Germback, Silberkleit became friends with another employee, Martin Goodman. In the early 1930s Silberkleit and Goodman left Germback to set up their own pulp fiction publishing company, Red Circle. Under the Red Circle imprint the pair published a number of titles including "Two-Gun Western", "All Star Adventure" and "Sex Health". During their years together Silberkleit and Goodman were relatively successful but nowhere near as successful as they would become after their partnership dissolved in 1937. After both publishing pulps individuals over the next two years in 1939 Goodman went on to launch a line of comics that would eventually evolve into Marvel Comics Group while Silberkleit would become one-third of the partnership that would start the company that eventually became known as Archie Comic Publications.

"Blue Ribbon Comics" #1 hit the stands late in the summer of 1939. Cover-dated November 1939 chances are that appeared around the same time as Martin Goodman's "Marvel Comics" #1. The first issue of "Blue Ribbon Comics" was fairly uneventful with its most exciting strip being a Rin Tin Tin imitation titled "Rang-A-Tang". It wasn't until issue #2 that "Blue Ribbon Comics" began to feature superheroes with the introduction of a rather oddly named character called "Bob Phantom". Despite his less than heroic name "Bob Phantom" (whose abilities included intangibility) had a moderately successful run. As well as appearing in "Blue Ribbon Comics" #s2 to 22 his strip also ran in "Top Notch Comics" #s 3 to 25 for a total of 44 appearances.

"Blue Ribbon Comics" itself ran for a total of 22 issues on a somewhat irregular schedule with its final issue cover-dated March 1942. But while lasting only for less than two dozen issues "Blue Ribbon Comics" none the less featured a number of memorable characters including "The Fox", "Doc Strong", "Mr. Justice", "Inferno, The Flame Breather" and "Captain Flag". Unfortunately, with the possible-and to some today surprising-exceptions of "Bob Phantom" and "Inferno The Flame Breather" none of the series had much staying power. So when MLJ Magazines had to drop a title to give "Hangman" his own book (a practice during World War Two by comics publishers due to paper shortages at the time; when a publisher wanted to launch a new periodical an existing one had to go or merge with another comic) "Blue Ribbon Comics" was the obvious candidate. As is often the case though in the comics world "Blue Ribbon Comics" didn't become a permanent resident of comic book limbo. In 1949 St. John Publishing revived the title for six issues and from 1983 to 1984 Archie Comic Publications brought it back again as a Showcase-type comic. But more on that later.

While "Blue Ribbon Comics" didn't exactly take the comics industry by storm, MLJ Magazines had better success with its second title, "Top-Notch Comics". We'll be exploring that comic and more about the early days of MLJ Magazines in the next installment of E-Dispatches later this week.