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.

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