Friday, September 29, 2017


Gwandanaland Comics has issued well over 1000 books of classic public-domain comic reprints, and one area they’ve done a fantastic job with is republishing complete series collecting the stories of characters who had ongoing features in multi-character comic books. In this case, all four stories from Cat-Man Comics devoted to Blaze Baylor have been collected in one slim volume.

Cat-Man Comics (and this Cat-Man is no relation to the character introduced in the 1960’s into Batman comics) began in 1941 (the character had been introduced in Crash Comics the year before), and Cat-Man was a costumed crime-fighter with an alternate real-life identity, not unlike Batman, who had been introduced in 1939. He was popular during the WWII period (the Cat-Man and Kitten characters have been revived here and there over the decades, as recently as 2008!), and in the first four issues of Cat-Man Comics, there were stories devoted to another crime-fighter, Blaze Baylor. However, Blaze focused on one crime only: arson. Each of the four Blaze stories begins with the same prologue: “When the famous fire chief “Smoky” Baylor is killed in an incendiary fire, his son vows vengeance and dedicates his life to the task of tracking down all who profit from the crime of arson.”

The Blaze Baylor stories are essentially crime comics, but in three of the four stories Blaze dons a superhero-esque costume, which is not radically unlike that of Cat-Man. Perhaps the character’s creator Charles M. Quinlan felt that he could have Baylor ride in on Cat-Man’s coat-tails to some extent.

Blaze Baylor existed only in four six-page comic stories, published between May and September of 1941, and without this new book devoted to his exploits, he could well have stayed buried in those issues of Cat-Man Comics, known only to hardcore collectors and those who read Public Domain comics online at Comicbookplus.Com and other PD comics websites.

These brisk, fast-moving stories have the gritty feel of a Monogram Pictures crime film, and at six pages each, they don’t overstay their welcome.

Baylor is usually out of costume, and he’s your usual two-fisted but classy urban crime-fighter, who could easily be a cop or a private detective or an insurance investigator. However, since everyone knows who he is and that he’s an arson-fighter, I’m not exactly sure why the costume is necessary. He seems to put it on right when he springs into action in a burning building or warehouse. Yet he does NOT wear it when he’s doing the preliminary investigations and even engaging in fights with the bad guys before the story’s climax. The costume is not at all missed in the one story where he does not wear it. I’m guessing the costume is included to make the character appeal to Cat-Man’s regular followers, since HIS name is the one on the cover and the one responsible for separating a twelve-year-old from his precious dime.

The colors are eye-poppingly bright, and the fires and explosions are presented in such a way as to suggest movement and danger…which is quite an achievement, as drawings of a fire or an explosion could easily look static like a photograph. Not everyone wants a 300-page comic reprint book costing $35 or more, so this Blaze Baylor book is an appealing volume for those who want to sample a solid crime comic featuring a distinctive character but not spend two weeks of free evenings with it. The stories also hold up to multiple readings, the way a good Republic or Monogram 58-minute crime programmer does.

Blaze Baylor deserves to be remembered, and his crime comics have many of the conventions we enjoy so much with B-Crime films of the era: sensationalistic newspaper headlines; tough guys who seem to have stepped off the screen from a Crime Does Not Pay short-subject; no-nonsense police commissioners; harsh urban landscapes that also manage to look All-American.

We’ll be looking at more classic comic reprints from Gwandanaland Comics here at BTC in the coming months, but until then, you should check out their offerings. They sell through both Amazon and Create Space, and perhaps the easiest way to find their recent offerings is to put ‘Gwandanaland’ in your search box at Amazon, then sort your search by “Publication Date,” and you’ll get all the recent offerings. This is an outfit that has DAILY release announcements, so you might also want to “like” the Gwandanaland page on Facebook to get those daily updates. As for me, I’m going to join Blaze Baylor as he investigates a suspicious series of nightclub fires in the city that never sleeps…

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