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.

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