Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Speed Spaulding is the perfect hero for a 1930’s or early 1940’s B-movie or serial or comic book---a former college football star, a former championship boxer, a man who is knowledgeable in many fields, a handsome and athletic blonde who is attractive to the ladies (but is devoted to his main squeeze), a quick wit with a self-deprecating charm. I can easily imagine the late 30’s Buster Crabbe or Kane Richmond playing him on screen.

FAMOUS FUNNIES ran from 1934 through 1955, putting out 218 (!!!) issues in that time. It’s considered a pioneering comic book, and while not the first comic book, is one of the first publications to resemble what we’d today consider the classic comic book form. Much of its content consisted of republished comic strips, which had appeared in newspapers and then pretty much vanished unless someone clipped the strips and collected them. Famous Funnies founder Maxwell C. Gaines (whose son was William Gaines of Mad Magazine and EC Comics fame!) felt that those old discarded strips still had secondary value and that people would pay to read them—FAMOUS FUNNIES then took off, but unfortunately Gaines was ousted from it by the publisher, Eastern Color Printing (he later had a lot of success doing the same kind of thing elsewhere, so he probably had the last laugh). FAMOUS FUNNIES DID have some original content, not just reprints of strips, and when I got this SPEED SPAULDING collection, I first assumed that it was an original creation (Golden Age Reprints books have no information in them about the source of the material and no introductory essays—you’re on your own!). Liking the book a lot, I decided to review it for BTC and then did some online research, which has turned out to be like peeling away the layers of an onion. Yes, it is based on an obscure strip, which had both a daily (see the B&W pic of sample) and a Sunday (see the color pic of an excerpt of a Sunday page) version….but both of these were an adaptation of a science fiction novel, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, and the credited “authors” of the strip are the authors of the novel. Art is credited to Marvin Bradley, who later worked for many years on the well-known strip REX MORGAN, M.D., which still runs today in many newspapers. Because the comics in the book under review are in color, I presume they are Sunday strips, which were somehow re-edited or re-contextualized for the comic book page.

The novel WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE was made into a classic science fiction film in 1951, produced by George Pal. This strip has less to do with the source novel than the film does, beyond taking the general premise….about two distant bodies in space which are headed to crash into and destroy earth…and weaving it into an overall plot which at any time has 3 or 4 OTHER subplots running. It’s kind of like WHILE Speed Spaulding is posing as a boxer or fighting organized crime or having relationship issues with his girlfriend or helping the State Department or whatever, there is the thread of a plot about his girlfriend’s father, who is a scientist, having discovered that the worlds will collide and trying to figure out some way to keep the event from happening.

What I like so much about the SPEED SPAULDING comics is that they contain pretty much everything one would want in a 30’s/40’s action movie serial or comic book: gangsters, aviation thrills, brawls-a-plenty, intrigue in exotic foreign lands, all held together by the bizarre science fiction premise of the world potentially ending from this interplanetary collision, and with the usual B-movie/comic-book thugs and clichéd foreign agents trying to get in the way of the heroes. I’m reminded of those late-period Republic serials where some alien takeover is planned, and the entire invasion force consists of three or four fedora-wearing, dark-suited gangster types working for the alien powers and using such advanced interplanetary methods as fistfights and revolvers and running cars off highways to help conquer the earth! Also, as the newspaper comic strips appeared in 1940 and 1941 (and the FAMOUS FUNNIES version came soon after that), right before the American entry into WWII, you can be sure that there are a number of faux-Japanese and vaguely Germanic villains and flunkies to liven up the proceedings. This reprint ends with the final installment of the comic strip, which kind of leaves a lot up in the air….or does it? I’m not going to be a spoiler—you read for yourself and decide.

Golden Age Reprints offers an attractive printed collection of the SPEED SPAULDING comics from FAMOUS FUNNNIES, but they are also available for free online (as they are in the public domain) at comicbookplus.com----the earliest issue of FAMOUS I see Speed listed in is issue #71, and the latest issue is #86, so you could just do a search for FAMOUS FUNNIES on the comicbookplus website and read them for free, if you’d like. You’ll be glad you did….

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