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" !

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