Thursday, March 22, 2018

Now that I'm in a howshallwesay "advanced" state of years I figured that I just must tell all of you, must put it on record before my mind goes completely blooey and tell you that, after years and years of Golden Age comic book reading and other assorted funzies the Quality line of comics produced thee BESTEST comic books to make their way to the twirling racks of anystore USA or elsewhere for that matter. Yeah DC had its moments but they could get rather staid, Timely was too cluttered-looking and besides sometimes their good guys were so squeaky you just couldn't help rooting for the enemy, and MLJ amongst others just didn't have the same verve and drive I'm looking for in a comic book adventure. But Quality, boy were they good at putting out mags brimming fulla boffo heroes, twisted adventures and sometimes a good yuk or ten thrown in amidst the wild carnage that was taking place.

Sure some of their titles featured heroes that just weren't up to snuff, but when it came to those masked guys sporting forties suits and wide-brimmed chapeaus like the Spirit or Midnight they were definitely on top of the comic book heap! And as far as weird heroes go Quality had the monopoly on 'em from the ever-stretching Plastic Man to the Human Bomb whose mere touch could send any badski straight to YOU-KNOW-WHERE!!! And as far as plots and so outta the loop strange storylines go well, forget the competition. And no, they didn't even have to stoop to sheer sensationalism like making so-and-so a Muslim or everybody's favorite hero gay. It was all done with sheer genius from the cranium that, judging from what I have seen in comic books, has been in in pretty short supply since the mid-seventies (though some may beg to differ).

Anyway, the fine folk at Golden Age Reprints have done us a neat favor by printing up two Quality Comics collections (known as what else but volume 1 and volume 2) which are available with the mere click of a key if you go to the highlighted links. Yeah, they are pricey at sixty bucks a pop but I got a whole lot of enjoyment outta 'em and I'm sure you would too burying yourself in one of these thick books during one of those winter cold snaps we've been having. And believe-you-me, these Golden Age sagas featuring action and real thrills probably beat all those billion buck superhero movies that have been comin' out over the past few decades, not that I've actually had the gall to go see any...

Granted...not all of the stories or characters come up to Will Eisner or Jack Cole levels. In fact, some of the leading characters in the non-superhero sagas are so bland that even you will kinda hope that the Nazi officer garrotes them at the most appropriate time. Sheesh, sometimes I wish there was some Golden Age character who was a total heel---y'know, bombed orphanages and sunk lifeboats if only to break the squeaky clean monotony of it all! But then again most of these stories are top notch Saturday Afternoon Barbershop Kid entertainment that really packs a good wallop and, like Bill Shute repeatedly says, really paid off for the kiddo who plunked down a whole dime for an issue way back when money was hard to come by for those depression-era wage kids who hadda scrimp and save. Or, as my dad said, these really paid off for FREE if you knew a kid whose father owned a corner store and let you keep all those comic books with the titles ripped off the top of the covers and stashed 'em away up in the attic for years until mom finally threw 'em all out!

Come to think of it a few of even the superhero series presented just didn't grab me by the fibula like I thought they should. OK, I did like that one story where "The Red Bee" goes up against a crooked political boss but sheesh, the hero's gimmick, releasing a red bee that terrorizes his adversaries straight from his belt buckle, just didn't seem pow/slam as it should. Maybe this was because I first got (and devoured) this book during the summer when a buncha yellowjackets had invaded the bathroom exhaust system and were swooping in en masse causing a few painful stings to my person that I had an aversion to this particular title.

Other titles actually improved over time, like The Black Condor whose schtick was being able to fly and of course put up a good fight. The Condor learned his schtick after being orphaned and stranded in India where he was raised by actual birds who somehow taught him how to fly which makes me glad he wasn't trained by dung beetles. Earlier episodes are comic book wowee enough true, but it isn't until he makes his way to Ameriga where he takes the place of his exact double, a US senator who was murdered by evil political rivals, that the series kicks into high. Not only does the Condor suddenly gain political power galore, but he even has a fiancee who doesn't realize that her hubby-to-be ain't really the guy who is her truly intended. Oh well, I'm sure the truth will come out once she gets the fake senator into the sack again and notices that maybe the similarities do end as far as masculinity goes and BOY WILL THERE BE FIREWORKS GALORE!!!!!

But still, there's plenty to pour through here from some pretty great art (Paul Gustavson of "The Jester" and "The Ray" [who has the GAYEST superhero costume ever created!] fame being one of the better of the batch) to some previously unknown to me heroes and stories you'll love pouring through when you get into one of those suburban slob ranch house moods I always seem to be in. It ain't complete, but it's a grand introduction to what else was being done at Quality back during those days when the entire industry seemed to just explode all over the mindscape of anykid USA givin' a whole batch of bored pennyscrapers yet another reason to live!

Oh yeah, if you can latch onto it try to find the by-now ancient issue of Eclipse Comics' MR. MYSTIC title. Perhaps the most ignored Quality title Mystic only appeared in the same newspaper comic book section as THE SPIRIT and LADY LUCK, although while their "Comic Book Section" adventures got reprinted in the legitimate comic titles (POLICE COMICS and SMASH COMICS respectively) MYSTIC did not meet the same fate. Too bad because it was a boffo comic that, while not as gripping as THE SPIRIT or PLASTIC MAN, still had great artwork and stories that didn't make your mind wander. Gotta say that although MR. MYSTIC was great in that middle-eastern occultish sorta way, the series really didn't kick in until the appearance of  the mysterious "Shadowman" who, while seemingly cut from the same SPIRIT/MIDNIGHT/MOUTHPIECE suited and wide-brimmed hat mold, could have been both a hero and villain depending on the exact situation. A few of these Mystics featuring Shadowman pop up in the Quality books but since these particular reprints are more/less outta sequence (with no Shadowman origin in the batch) we modern types are definitely gettin' the mushroom treatment when it comes to this particular being who I think coulda carried his own title with relative ease. Oh well, I hope Golden Age Reprints remedies this obvious gaffe in yet another edition!

TWO OR SO MONTHS AFTER WRITING THE ABOVE SCHPIEL UPDATE! Just couldn't resist buying up even more of these Quality reprints and as I'm sure you would know right off the bat I don't regret my financial actions one single iota! I mean, rather my money go to these true comic book fans than to the giant megaoctopussian DC conglomerate who have more buckskins in their maws than they know what to do with. Not only that but these titles are presented as they were (in 1945) and ARE (in their advanced state of decay) which gives one the feeling that they're picking up an authentic piece of history instead of something that was re-tooled and re-colored and re-edited for modern-day fru fru tastes.

The SPIRIT sagas do well even without an in the army now Will Eisner's artwork and story crafting abilities (which I know have been rightly praised over the years but sheesh, at some point we've GOTTA draw the line between funtime entertainment and highbrow uppercrust art appreciation worthy of an Art Spiegelman tome!) and come to think of it the rest of these comic book inserts ain't that bad as well. The last of the MR. MYSTICs appear here and show a quite different character than the original man o' mystery, he now totin' around this weird sidekick with blank Li'l Orphan Annie eyes in sagas that just pale next to the original high-wired comics that started out the series.

Judging from these final frolics I guess it was clear that MYSTIC was on the way out because the guy was eventually replaced by a new series called INTELLECTUAL AMOS which dealt with this weird large-domed and misshapen bald boy in overalls who is smarter than his years would belie and hangs around with a weird dragon that talks with a lisp (lisping sidekicks must have been the big to-do then given the one that appeared in the BEYOND MARS newspaper strip). I guess the thing would have its "charm" if you're some rapidly aging school marm type but I found these a trifling too cute and downright boring for my own digestive tract. But since they blow a whole load of the competition outta the water even in this advanced state I'll give the kid his just dues.

At least the FLATFOOT BURNS comics that replaced it do have a tad of the Quality snide humor qualities that were prevalent in the likes of THE SPIRIT and PLASTIC MAN even if the artwork might seem aimed at the more youthful amongst the comic book reading set. Even the opening pages of these has the patented Quality style with the innovative mastheads and title character's name spread across the page matching in with an urban sprawl or plastered on a billboard. And come to think of it the stories are kinda funny, sorta watered down versions of the standard Quality fashion for kids who just ain't ready for the real deal yet I guess---but I get the idea that in a short span of time they will be!

Of course (at least for me) the real deal surprise of these inserts were the LADY LUCK comics, this being a title I instinctively thought would fall closer to the less engaging Quality titles than they would the SPIRIT/PLASTIC MAN axis. Hey, these LADY LUCK stories are actually well-crafted enough (again complete with those innovative opening page graphics starin' right at-cha, not to mention the keen insertion of proto-MAD styled humor mixed in with the action) to the point where I wonder why creator Klaus Nordling hasn't been hailed by the art snobs in the same fashion Eisner and Cole have lo these many years. Not that I'd want to see him befall such a fate...hope nobody gets any ideas from this post I'll betcha!

Lady Luck is a femme fighting figure who dresses in green, wears an equally green if translucent veil to hide her identity (which naturally doesn't really hide much though given some of the dunces she's surrounded with does she even have to try?) and engages in fun if at times grisly adventures that remind me of some of those earlier Plastic Man stories which teetered between hard-edged adventure and downright humor. Lady Luck is in reality bored and gorgeous heiress Brenda Banks, and when she ain't living the high life she's out busting up the local mob with either her chauffeur Peecolo or her diminutive "boyfriend" Count Di Change in tow. Both of 'em tend to be somewhat dimwitted in light of the brainy Lady Luck which only goes to show you armchair feminists who might happen to be reading this that strong women can be nice and soft and cuddly 'stead of garlic odored clam-digging overgrown adolescent 12-year-old boys all of you "dames" most certainly are!

I mean really, I never even fell in love with a comic book character (tho Yoko Tsuno might come very close, especially that time she went swimming wearing a skimpy bikini!) such as this! Such grace and style and hotcha art (with even some nice swimwear and underwear scenes tossed in perhaps because artist Nordling was concerned that the 12-year-old boys of the day just weren't getting enough glandular encouragement) coupled with the at-times over-the-top stories made LADY LUCK a comic that I can read again and again. Imagine if Hillary Brooke was a costumed crime-fighter and you'll get an idea of just how this 'un resonates even seventysome years down the line.

The four pages devoted to LADY LUCK in these inserts just ain't enough to really develop a good and solid story true, so thankfully the gal appeared in her own title where her exploits could more or less stretch out into something as developed as her firm figure. These magazines allow for more room to build on plots and general tension, and not only that but the Count is even given his own story just like they used to do with Woozy Winks in the PLASTIC MAN titles. A real deal as far as suburban slob fun and jamz go if you ask me, and why not?

To close this 'un how howzbout one more Quality comic, this one reprinted courtesy Gawandaland comics who do a pretty good job in the reprint department themselves. And what makes this 'un so special is that it was yet another creation of Jack Cole, whose work on PLASTIC MAN and MIDNIGHT ranks as some of my fave rave Golden Age comic stories so you know it can't be as bad as I'm probably gonna make it all out. Anyway ANGLES O'DAY is yet another serio-comedy, this time featuring a low-budget, no-account-ish private investigator who seems to be loathed by just about everyone at Po Po's Pool Hall 'cept for this short, unshaven and scurvy-ish character named Shagmore whose hat and hair always seem to be covering his eyes a la Beetle Bailey. O'Day is, as you would expect from a continuing semi-serious private eye comic such as this, getting in trouble with the usual heavy-duty gangsters or revenge-seeking relatives, and although these comics can get rather intense (like the one where O'Day is held down under a spinning drill which is about to bore his chest) there is a strong comedic undercurrent that reduces a whole lotta the pressure you'll be under if you happen to be one who really gets into whatever you're reading. And let me be one to say that Cole's comics (even the early comedy toss offs) are worth your while even as far as casual Saturday afternoon comic book reading time goes. Really, and when you wrap your mind around the infamous "Murder, Morphine and Me" saga which Fredric Wertham made plenty of hay outta just try telling me that comic books ain't nuttin' but kiddie stuff, you phony intellectual snob you!


Bill S. said...

I was not really aware of the non-Eisner Spirit. The Spirit is usually sold on Eisner's name and prestige! I will look into getting those.

Bill S. said...

Well, your column just inspired me to do a search of recent releases from Golden Age Reprints (I usually buy from Gwandanaland)....there goes some more of my disposable income!