Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 13

« Room for one more, honey! »

A Jack Kirby cover scene gets winningly recast for the 70s by Jerry Grandenetti, himself a contributor to the original series. This is This is Black Magic no. 6 (Oct.-Nov. 1974, DC).

When I was a kid (of twelve or so, if memory serves), I found a muddy and mildewed copy of this issue in the woods, which tremendously added to its allure, if not its readability.

And since I’ve mentioned it, here’s the original Kirby cover, regrettably one of the King’s least engaging, if you ask me. This is Black Magic no. 11 (vol. 2 no.5, Apr. 1952, Prize).

Well… little did I know what a protracted history this particular little scenario had. Let’s return to the presumed beginning, or at least the industrial age version.

Around the turn of the last century, the prolific English writer Edward Frederic Benson (1867 – 1940) wrote a story entitled The Bus Conductor [ read it here ] that saw print in Pall Mall Magazine in 1906. It was quite well-received, then began to widely make the rounds… as putative fact.

Things kicked into high gear in the mid-1940s, as the tale was recounted as an oft-heard anecdote in editor Bennett Cerf‘s 1944 short story anthology, Famous Ghost Stories, which contained a Benson contribution… but not The Bus Conductor.

That same year, Cerf shared the anecdote with the legion of readers who picked up his highly-entertaining (and still dirt-cheap and easy to find, over three-quarters of a century later, which gives you a sense of its original success and ubiquity) book of anecdotes, Try and Stop Me. The pertinent chapter was the splendidly-titled The Trail of the Tingling Spine. As examined earlier on this blog, this chapter was used by EC Comics’ Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein as what they termed ‘springboards’ for their earliest stories.

Cerf’s version, from Try and Stop Me:

When an intelligent, comely girl of twenty-odd summers was invited for the first time to the Carolina estate of some distant relatives, their lovely plantation fulfilled her fondest expectations. She was given a room in the west wing, and prepared to retire for the night in a glow of satisfaction. Her room was drenched with the light of a full moon.

Just as she was climbing into her bed, she was startled by the sound of horses’ hooves on the gravel roadway. Curious, she walked to the window and saw, to her astonishment, a magnificent old coach pull up to an abrupt stop directly below her. The coachman jumped from his perch, looked up and pointed a long, bony finger at her. He was hideous. His face was chalk-white. A deep scar ran the length of his left cheek. His nose was beaked. As he pointed to her, he droned in sepulchral tones, “There is room for one more!” Then, as she recoiled in terror, the coach, the horses and the ominous coachman disappeared completely.

The girl slept little, but the next day she was able to convince herself that she merely had a nightmare.

The next night, however, the horrible experience was repeated. The same coach drove up the roadway. The same coachman pointed at her and exclaimed, “There is room for one more!” Then, as before, the entire equipage disappeared.

The girl, now panic-stricken, could scarcely wait for morning. She trumped up some excuse to her hosts and left immediately for home.

Upon arrival, she taxied to her doctor from the station and told him her story in tremulous tones. The doctor persuaded her that she had been the victim of a peculiar hallucination, laughed at her terror, and dismissed her in a state of infinite relief. As she rang for the elevator, its door swung open before her.

The elevator was very crowded, but she was about to squeeze her way inside — when a familiar voice rang in her ear. “There is room for one more!” it called. In terror, she stared at the operator.

Try and Stop Me was lavishly and diversely illustrated by The New Yorker great Carl Rose, which surely must have contributed considerably to its success. I’d say Simon and Grandenetti were quite familiar with this striking image.

He was the coachman who had pointed at her! She saw his chalk–white face, the livid scar, the beaked nose! She drew back and screamed… the elevator door banged shut.

A moment later the building shook with a terrible crash. The elevator that had gone on without her broke loose from its cables and plunged eighteen stories to the ground. Everybody in it, of course, was crushed to a pulp.

Then followed Ealing Studios‘ legendary portmanteau film, Dead of Night, in which Benson received his due credit as the source for its The Hearse Driver segment [ look for the germane bit around the 1:25 mark ].

A moody still from Dead of Night.

Then came Simon and Kirby’s comics take.

On to the Sixties: Rod Serling also drew upon the Cerf anecdote as grist for his The Twilight Zone episode Twenty Two (season 2, episode 17, aired Feb. 10, 1961). Here’s a pivotal scene from it.

Well, that’s certainly easier on the eyes than that gaunt vulture of an elevator operator… but no less menacing. You may recognize Mr. Spock’s future bride, Arlene Martel.

The Twilight Zone’s continuing popularity pretty much killed the scenario’s urban legend potency (Snopes.com checked it out!) In 1999, Urban legend authority Jan Harold Brunvand wrote, in his Too Good to Be True – The Colossal Book of Urban Legends:

According to my readers when I wrote a newspaper column in 1989 about the old ‘Dream Warning’ legends, The Twilight Zone version was the only one most of them knew. After numerous reruns, the TV episode had virtually replaced the folk legend in the popular mind. Every reader who wrote me following my column mentioned this episode, with one exception, and this person mentioned that he saw the plot enacted in a mid-1940s film, called Dead of Night. I’ll bet my legend-hunting license that this film, too, borrowed from the Cerf version.

I wouldn’t make that wager if I were you, Mr. Brunvand… since Dead of Night properly credits Benson.

To give you a sense of how effectively these stories flit and flicker across storytelling modes and media, power pop wizard Scott Miller (1960-2013) opened his band Game Theory‘s 1988 album, Two Steps From the Middle Ages, with a haunting ditty entitled Room for One More, Honey, an acknowledged quotation of the Twilight Zone episode.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Golden Age Superheroics

“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman–a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, and for every successful superhero remembered throughout the ages, there’s probably about a hundred forgotten characters of varying degrees of goofiness. Periodically, some artist or writer digs up one of them from the deep recesses of time, dresses him in a new frock and plugs him into the modern era of Internet and cellphones, with almost universally lacklustre results.

I like to contemplate these bold strangers in their natural habitat — Golden Age comics! And for a 40s superhero, there is simply no better way to demonstrate super powers and a nimble brain than a friendly tussle with a cephalopod.

The Black Owl, clad in a red-and-blue costume with some odd leopard-print swimming cap… oh, sorry, that’s his blond hair:

Prize Comics no. 18 (January 1942). Cover by Jack Binder.

The Sandmanoh shoot, which one? Remember we have both feet firmly planted in the 40s in this post. This Sandman is Wesley Dodds, created by artist Bert Christman and writer Gardner Fox. Accompanied by his sidekick Sandy, this superhero-cum-detective wielded a special gun that could put criminals to sleep or act as a sort of truth serum.

The Adventure of the Magic Forest, published in World’s Finest Comics no. 6 (Summer 1942, DC), was scripted by Jack Kirby (Tentacle Tuesday Master!), pencilled by the King and inked by Joe Simon.

You’re not convinced that those are tentacles? Shame on you. Take a gander at this:

The next superhero (technically with no super powers, but managing beautifully all the same thanks to his lightning-fast reflexes and superior fighting skill) is my personal favourite Green Turtle, a Chinese superhero who fought against Japanese invaders in WWII. Unfortunately, the publisher wouldn’t let creator and artist Chu Fook Hing make his creation obviously Chinese, so the Green Turtle was never seen without a mask. It’s okay, we can read between the lines!

This Green Turtle adventure was scripted and illustrated by Chu F. Hing and published in Blazing Comics no. 1 (June 1944, Rural Home). With apologies to our Japanese readers.

Magno the Magnetic Man has, believe it or not, magnetic powers (though I imagine it’s not helping him much in this particular skirmish). He’s irresistible to women (maybe they have metal parts?), impervious to harm, and is accompanied by his side-kick Davey, whom he periodically magnetizes to ensure that the little whippersnapper also has access to magnetic powers.

Super-Mystery Comics vol. 5 no. 4 (February 1946, Ace Magazines). Cover by the sudorific Rudy Palais.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 24

« Somehow, this thing had caught the spark of life! And, anything that lives will fight to stay alive… even if it’s just a Rag-a Bone and a Hank of Hair! »

Ah, Brother Power, the Geek. A notorious flop for DC in 1968… or was it? At the time, it took several months for a book’s initial sales reports to make their way back to the publisher. Axing a title after two measly issues is quite a preemptive and premature strike against it. I suspect a case of toxic in-house politics. From the onset, editorial cold feet had the suits meddling with the project: the character of the animated rag doll was to be called The Freak, which was nixed in favour of the less druggy but more chicken-head-bite-y The Geek.

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This is Brother Power The Geek no. 2 (Nov.-Dec. 1968, DC); cover by Joe Simon, colours by DC’s peerless production manager Jack Adler, and logo presumably by Gaspar Saladino.

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I recall that this particular house ad seared itself into my brain at a very young age, but I had to wonder where exactly I’d first encountered it. As it turns out, it was in a random comic book that happened to land my way in childhood, namely Superman no. 211 (Nov. 1968), featuring You, Too, Can Be a Super-Artist!, written by Frank Robbins (I just found out!) and illustrated by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.

Ahem. Anyway, BPTG was the brainchild of Joe Simon, presumably expanding on his and partner Jack Kirby‘s far darker A Rag-A Bone and a Hank of Hair (Black Magic no. 13, i.e. vol. 2 No.7, June 1952), illustrated by Mort Meskin (likely inked by George Roussos).

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This is Black Magic no. 13, aka vol. 2 No.7 (June 1952, Prize); cover, of course, by Jack Kirby, with likely inks by Joe Simon. Read it here!

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This lovely panorama is from Brother Power The Geek no. 1 (Sept.-Oct. 1968, DC). Written, laid out and inked by Joe Simon, finished pencils by Al Bare.

Say, have I seen Brother Power’s fellow detainees somewhere? Why, yes, of course! It’s Tentacle Master Wally Wood‘s Dorothy, Stanley and Doris, introduced to the world by ToppsUgly Stickers back in 1965! Designed by Wood, they were painted by the masterful Norman Saunders.

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Brother Power the Geek, despite its commercial failure and infamy, offered a good-natured, unpretentious romp, even if didn’t quite show us « The Real-Life Scene of the Dangers of Hippie-Land! » You can’t always get what you want.

Brother Power was brought back under DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1993, but as with the revival of its fellow Joe Simon creation, Prez, it received a « groovy » and « ironic » hipster treatment. Bah.

– RG

Tentacle Tuesday: The Golden Age of Grabbery

For today’s Tentacle Tuesday post, I’d like to highlight some comic book artwork from the Golden Age, which is to say the period between the early (or late, depending on who you ask) 1930s and 1956, the year Showcase #4 was published, heralding the new era of superhero comics. (Our other TT post dedicated to the Golden Age was about Planet Comics; visit it here).

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Blue Bolt vol. 1 no. 5 (October 1940), cover by W. E. Rowland. The series was created by Joe Simon, who promptly enlisted Jack Kirby’s help. This cover story, «War in the Fourth Dimension»,  is by the Simon-Kirby team. Read the issue here.

The Blue Bolt gets tangled up in quite a few (crushing, of course) tentacles. Art by Jack Kirby.

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And a few pages later….

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It might be surprising to see the Shadow in the grip of an octopus, but there’s probably not that many creatures he *hasn’t* grappled with!

When a radio show was introduced in 1930 to boost the sales of Detective Story Magazine, the company (Street & Smith Publications) wasn’t expecting its freshly-minted narrator, The Shadow, to hog the limelight – but that he did, as listeners found this sinister character far more compelling than the stories he was narrating.

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Shadow Comics vol. 3 no. 6 (September 1943), cover by Vernon Greene. Just imagine the possible drama of this cover – the swordfish is actually the octopus’ friend, but he’s forced to become an instrument of his death by the merciless Shadow (only he would descend to the depths of the ocean to fight “devils” in full suit-and-cape regalia).

As his fans kept requesting copies of The Shadow magazine (which didn’t even exist at the time), Street & Smith obliged and The Shadow Magazine was born in 1931. The Shadow’s step-father is Walter B. Gibson, writing under the pen-name of Maxwell Grant. He wrote « more than 300 novel-length » Shadow stories to meet the demand of a public greedily clamouring for its hero, although at some point several writers were hired to lighten Gibson’s ridiculous workload. The Shadow soon slunk beyond the confines of pulp novels and into comics: a syndicated daily newspaper comic strip (written by Gibson and illustrated by Vernon Greene), preceded (by a month) by a comic book published by Street & Smith, which was supposed to attract a younger audience to pulp magazines (101 issues, from 1940 to 1949).

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Shadow Comics vol. 5 no. 5 (August 1945), cover by Charles Coll. Everybody is making puppy eyes at the Shadow, but will he choose the pretty girl or the pretty octopus?

Speaking of heroes, Wiki calls The Shadow « a film noir antihero in every sense »; now, I’ll concede the film noir, but I’ll balk at calling him an anti-hero, at least in this incarnation, as *that* term is defined as « a character who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, and morality », all of which The Shadow has abundant reserves of. He’s a bit laconic and brusque with this conspirators, but that’s understandable when he had to destroy peace-threatening crime rings and bring brilliant crime-perpetrators to ruin at least twice a month.

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Who’s that handsome guy shooting commercials for Crackety-Wackett Cereal? Why, it’s Lars of Mars, the debonair Martian! In between fighting his communist arch-enemy (it was the 50s, what can I say?) and robots harassing women, Lars likes to relax by grappling with tentacled creatures.

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This lovely cover is Lars of Mars no. 11 (July-August 1951), painted by Allen Anderson (or Norman Saunders, according to another source, though Anderson seems likelier). What’s inside? Jerry Siegel scripts and Murphy Anderson art (and one story by Gene Colan). Yummy!

Lars of Mars was created by Siegel in 1951 for Ziff-Davis. There are only two issues (bizarrely numbered 10 and 11). The art for Lars of Mars, done by Murphy Anderson, is very nice indeed, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Feast your orbs on the first two delightfully nonsensical LoM stories on Pappy’s Golden Age blog.

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Now, is that any way to address a many-tentacled creature?

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« Scarlet’s adventures are never run-of-the-mill. Instead she enters into every phase of American life – whether on the baseball field or in a night club – always finding a way to help her clients, aid the forces of law and order… and bring plenty of thrills and laughs to her readers. »  Apparently « every phase of American life » includes being on the ocean’s floor, trying to stab an octopus with only 5 arms. Hmm…

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Harvey Comics Hits no. 59, 1952. Art (probably) by Al Avison. Interestingly, the fish is nibbling on the hand of the monster, when it could be partaking of the delicious flesh of the blub-guy. Tales of the Invisible reprints a bunch of Scarlet O’Neil stories from Black Cat, topped off with an introduction titled « Meet Russell Stamm » (the creator).

Incidentally, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil is supposed to be the first heroine with superpowers (well, one superpower: invisibility).

If I may be excused for going off-tentacle-topic,  « Blood of a Monster », the title story that takes up half of this issue, is surprisingly good (though it doesn’t really contain tentacles aside from a minor mention of cephalapoda at the beginning). The art (by the aforementioned Russell Stamm) is moody and quite unhinged in places.

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I enjoyed « Grave of Greed », the second half of the issue, even more, because it involves mushroom picking as part of the plot!

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Read the full issue here – it’s worth the detour, I think!

Stay tuned for our next Tentacle Tuesday post! In the meantime, visit our previous TTs (we’re getting to have quite a backlog) for your tentacle fix.

~ ds

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Harvey and…

« It was long past midnight on a hot, wet June night many years ago… Central City lay choking for breath in an eerie fog… »

In this, part three of our chronicle following as we can the meandering and sometimes mystifying odyssey of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, we reach the most outré segments of the former Denny Colt’s road.

In a unique twist, The Spirit’s next residence, nearly a decade after his Fiction House run, had nothing at all to do with Will Eisner… in terms of securing his assent, that is.

It was down to the fabulously sketchy Israel Waldman, one of those fringe-dwelling characters who made the comics industry such a colourful snake pit. To quote the Grand Comics Database: « I.W. Publications (1958-1964) was part of I.W. Enterprises, and named for the company’s owner, Israel Waldman. Reportedly, Waldman came into possession of a printing company and among the assets were the production materials for several hundred comic books previously published by various publishers as well as a limited amount of previously unpublished material. Waldman equated possession of production materials as the right to reprint and I.W. became notable for publishing unauthorized reprints of other companies’ comics, often with new covers, as Waldman’s windfall did not often include the production materials for covers. The later half of the company’s existence, it published comics under the Super Comics name. Usually these companies were out of business, but not always. »

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This is The Spirit no. 11 (1963), featuring The Man Who Killed The Spirit (Mar. 24, 1946), cover-featured The Case of the Balky Buzzard (Apr. 21, 1946), Carrion’s Rock (May 19, 1946), all scripted by Eisner, as well as Honeybun and Flatfoot Burns shorts. Cover by Joe Simon (“Joe, did you even read the story you’re depicting?“). This one was well worth one’s hard-earned twelve pennies. Read it here.

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This is The Spirit no. 12 (1964), featuring, this time, a trio of WWII-era Spirit stories scripted by Manly Wade Wellman and Bill Woolfolk and illustrated by Lou Fine, rounded off with a pair of Flatfoot Burns shorts by Al Stahl . Cover again by Joe Simon. Read it here.

If memory serves, Waldman’s comics craftily bypassed the Comics Code (another exception!) and the newsstands, being exclusively sold in sealed bags of three in bargain-basement department stores. To bait the hook, Waldman paid top dollar for new cover artwork, approaching established pros like Ross Andru (who actually delivered some fun stuff, unlike his unforgivably atrocious turn as DC’s main cover artist in the late 1970s), John Severin, Jack Abel, and in these two cases, Jacob Kurtzberg‘s old partner, Joe Simon.

Unsurprisingly, Waldman skimped on all other materials, particularly the paper his comics were printed on, which means that I.W./Super Comics are pretty hard to come by these days in any kind of decent state, so they’re ironically pricey.

A few years later, Eisner struck a deal with another rascal (albeit one with cleaner fingernails), Alfred Harvey of Harvey Comics, Stan Lee‘s only credible competition in the credit-usurping, I created-the-Universe stakes. Again, two issues, but this time with some new Eisner material, including origin stories for The Spirit (his third, but definitive one), and his arch-nemesis Zitzbath Zark, which you may know as purple glove enthusiast The Octopus.

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Harvey’s The Spirit no. 1 (Oct. 1966), featuring the new Origin of the Spirit by Eisner, and classics Lorelei Rox (Sept. 19, 1948), Two Lives (Dec. 12, 1948), Agent Cosmek/Visitor (Feb. 13, 1949), The Story of Rat-Tat the Toy Machine Gun (Sept. 4, 1949), Ten Minutes (Sept. 11, 1949), Thorne Strand (Jan. 23, 1949), Gerhard Shnobble (Sept. 5, 1948), all scripted by Eisner, save Ten Minutes, which hails from the mind of Jules Feiffer.

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Harvey’s The Spirit no. 2 (March, 1967) features the brand-new Octopus: The Life Story of the King of Crime and 2-pager The Spirit Lab, plus a generous helping of fine oldies, namely Plaster of Paris (Nov. 7, 1948), The Deadly Comic Book (Feb. 27, 1949), Rudy the Barber (Oct. 22, 1950), The Story of Sam, the Saucer That Wanted to Fly (Sept. 17, 1950), Sam Chapparell (Oct. 10, 1948), La Cucaracha (Nov. 19, 1950), The Halloween Spirit of 1948–Ellen Meets Hazel (Oct. 31, 1948), all scripted by Eisner… the book wraps up with a preview of the next issue, which never saw print. And so it goes…

Mr. Eisner then finally had the good fortune to run into an honest man, who would prove in time to be his most steadfast ally: Mr. Denis Kitchen. Their first collaborations were a bit tentative, but quite sympathiques, with Eisner kind of slouching towards the Underground, his creation even cover-featured on Kitchen’s long-running humour anthology Snarf.

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This is Kitchen Sink Enterprises’ Snarf no. 3 (Nov. 1972), featuring an original Eisner cover.

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Another two-issue run! Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit no. 1 (Jan. 1973), featuring a new cover by Eisner, and precious relics Max Scarr’s Map (Apr. 14, 1946), Caramba (Nov. 10, 1946), Return to Caramba (Nov. 17, 1946), The Rubber Band (June 23, 1946), plus a few brand-new short pieces.

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Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit no. 2 (Nov. 1973), featuring a new Eisner cover, an original four-pager, The Capistrano Jewels, and, as boasts the cover, all about P’Gell, with Meet P’Gell (Oct. 6, 1946), The School for Girls?? (Jan. 19, 1947), Competition (Aug. 3, 1947) and The Duce’s Locket (May 25, 1947).

Next time out: some interesting times with Warren.

-RG