Tuesday, October 17, 2017


The Press Guardian was a character who had an ongoing series in PEP COMICS in 1940-41 for 11 issues, and thus this collection contains eleven stories of six pages each from PEP #1- #11. PEP was published by MLJ, which was the fore-runner of Archie Comics. The earliest appearance of the Archie-related characters was in PEP COMICS #22 in December 1941--Press Guardian’s final appearance was in Pep #11, dated January 1941 (so he was gone before Archie began)--and after the huge popularity of the Archie franchise, the company changed its name to Archie Comics, and it’s still doing big business today. Archie Comics radically changed its visual style a few years ago. To me, that was like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but the Archie corporation has always tried to keep contemporary (they were in on the online comics bandwagon early, for instance)....and even when I have not liked the directions they’ve moved into, which is pretty much always, their gambles seem to have paid off financially. The RIVERDALE TV show has been a huge ratings success, and even though it has little to do with the Archie characters and images we longtime readers know and love (and have championed here at BTC), it’s making money. And Archie Comics is a business. As most of you know, only a fraction of Marvel’s income comes from comics themselves nowadays--it’s mostly from licensing, film deals, etc. Obviously, the Archie corporation has seen the dollars signs in that strategy.

Thankfully, the Press Guardian comics come from a period when the pre-Archie MLJ was trying to keep afloat in the general comics market, populating their PEP COMICS with all kinds of stories and characters and moods to appeal to the 12-year-old boys of all ages and genders. Thus, these stories seem as fresh and as alive as a Columbia B-crime film or a Shadow pulp story (one can assume that the present-day Archie product will have only camp/kitsch appeal in 25 years or be used as research in some deadly and humorless college “popular culture” study).

When I first heard of Press Guardian, I assumed that was his name a la BRICK Bradford or BLAZE Baylor or FLASH Fulton, but no....he is the Guardian of the Press. As with Bruce Wayne/Batman, he has an everyday identity--Perry Chase, son of the publisher of the Daily Express newspaper, and “society reporter” (!!!) for the paper. His everyday persona is somewhat milquetoast, and at the beginning of one comic, he’s even described as sissified (!!!). His secretary, Cynthia Blake, knows that he is secretly the Press Guardian, and she accompanies him on his adventures.

Usually, the newspaper is out to break some crime-related story, and Perry asks his father if he can cover it. He’s always told no, go back to your society reporting, and then he seems to agree and sulks away. Then he and Cynthia go undercover, he puts on his Press Guardian uniform, and he beats up the bad guys and cleans up the crime situation. As with Clark Kent, who always seems to have “just missed” the big situation that Superman cleans up, Perry “just misses” the stories that his alter ego Press Guardian cleans up.

Clearly, they were making it up as they were going along with the Press Guardian series. In the first story, his identity is not divulged or even hinted at. I even guessed wrong about who it was. Then once Perry Chase was identified and given a female partner, the series proceeded with stand-alone stories which were totally completed in six pages. Then we had a story which ran from one issue to another, with a serial-like cliffhanger. Then the stories became somewhat complete, but there was an ongoing villain named The Claw, who never seemed to get killed at the end of the previous chapter, and who continued on. The final installment obviously was not planned as the final installment, since that story in issue #11 ends with a teaser about how we can catch more of his adventures next month in Pep Comics.

Also, the early entries in the series are more hard-boiled urban crime in their orientation, and as the series continued, it veered off into strange sci-fi/horror oriented stories, with The Claw creating a race of Beast-Men with devil horns who will do his bidding in taking over the world. Interestingly, although The Claw is not really defeated or caught in story #10, hinting that he’d be back, he does not appear in the final story, #11, which deals with hard-boiled urban criminals blackmailing good-hearted immigrants who are in the country illegally and who are being blackmailed with the threat of turning them in to the authorities. Then the series ends...

Crusading newspapermen and women seem as antiquated today as stagecoaches and 8-track tapes, so it’s refreshing to make the acquaintance of The Press Guardian. The stories are over-the-top enough to bring a grin to the pimpled face of the reader, exciting enough to please the action fan, odd enough to satisfy the urge for something different, and straight-forward enough to be resolved (mostly) in six pages. The art seems somewhat hurried and with a lack of consistency in the depiction of the characters....and classically-trained comics artists such as Burne Hogarth would be outraged by the crimes against perspective and the human form and the horizon line and the like in the compositions. However, as with a quickly-written pulp magazine story (or Ed Wood’s adult fiction), the very quickness of the drawing captures a kind of momentum which brings action and immediacy to the story. Like a one-take, low-budget 1930’s indie crime film or western, you can tell that these people are working without a net.

For me, THE COMPLETE PRESS GUARDIAN is just the antidote I need to today’s over-hyped “must see TV” and pretentious comics. It’s available now, and it’s reasonably priced. What’s stopping you from ordering a copy?

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