Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 10

« Ghosts! Haunted house! … wow!
I’m glad we don’t have to investigate
around a joint like
that! »
— Woozy Winks… who else?

How about some Golden Age Plastic Man Hallowe’en goodness? I thought as much. All this and Woozy Winks too!

This lovely splash opens Murder in Maniac Mansion, from Police Comics no. 17 (March 1943, Quality), edited by John Beardsley. Script, pencil and inks by Jack Cole.

Never mind the trick– treat yourself and read this sprightly ol’ comic book right here: http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=14584

Mr. Cole’s splashy splash from another spooky Plas yarn, The Ghost Train, from Police Comics no. 23 (Oct. 1943, Quality). Read it here: https://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=37425

The supremely versatile Jack Cole could always be counted on to inject a bit of sinister ambiance (or over-amped sensuality, depending on his mood) to mix up the generally humorous proceedings of the stretchy exploits of the former Patrick “Eel” O’Brian. At times, things got pretty grand-gignolesque, as in the following case.

This is Police Comics no. 26 (Jan. 1944, Quality). Cover art by Jack Cole.
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. This is Plastic Man no. 33 (Jan. 1952, Quality); cover pencils by Jack Cole, inks by ‘Burly’ Sam Burlockoff.

By the 1950s, Jack Cole had moved on to other pastures and projects, but Plastic Man kept right on stretching, one of the few superheroes flexible enough to withstand the horror boom. But not without a few alterations to fit the times, as evidenced by the following pair of samples.

This is Plastic Man no. 38 (Jan. 1952, Quality); cover art by Alex Kotzky. You have to appreciate that boney Monk Mauley hung on to his lucky belt even as his pants lost their corporeality. That’s commendable dead-ication! (sorry); Oh, read all about it: https://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=30201
This is Plastic Man no. 43 (Nov. 1952, Quality); cover pencils by Dick Dillin, possible inks by Chuck Cuidera.

It must be stated that, even without the masterly Jack Cole, Plastic Man clearly brought the best out of the rest of Quality’s admittedly admirable bullpen, so his adventures remain worth reading… which is certainly not the case with most subsequent revivals, with the exceptions of DC’s 1976-77 mostly-ignored Ramona Fradon run and Kyle Baker‘s award-winning 2004-06 outing.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Dial T for Tentacle

Some people automatically conflate “goofy” with “childish”, but goofiness comes in many guises: from the charmingly nonsensical to the playfully quirky, from the clearly brilliant but confusing to the fucking stupid. (It’s also a snow-boarding term – How do I tell if I’m Goofy or Regular?) Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is goofy, all right, but more in the category of seemingly drug-induced codswallop. Another word for Dial H for Hero is wacky; distinctly wacky, so wacky that (as co-admin RG put it) it’s hard to really dislike it.

Maybe I should backtrack for those in the audience who are not familiar with the concept of Dial H for Hero. Robby Reed, a lucky (?), plucky teenager with a propensity to shout “Sockamagee!” in moments of excitement, stumbles upon some sort of magical thingamajig in a cave that enables him to become a superhero at the drop of hat (well, a turn of a dial). The process has unpredictable and uncontrollable results, in the sense that Robby has no idea who he will become, or what powers will be at his fingertips.

I have nothing against the idea of a rotary phone cum magical dial – that idea is rather interesting, given that rotary phones are indeed mysterious objects to the current generation – but I find the stories a tad too random to be enjoyable. Yet that’s the aspect that some readers clearly relished. To quote a letter from House of Mystery no. 172 (January-February 1968) from Bethesda, MD’s Irene Vartanoff.

« One of the best things about DIAL H FOR HERO is the huge amount of imagination put into each story. When at least two new heroes with new powers, costumes, weaknesses, bodies, etc. have to appear in each story, it may make your writers rack their brains and work overtime, but the results are fantastic. »

Given all the transformations Robby has gone through and the many bad guys he has had the pleasure of defeating, it is unavoidable that he would 1) encounter some villains with tentacles 2) acquire some tentacles himself. Dial H for Highball on *your* old-fashioned phone, if you still have one gathering dust in the attic, and enjoy this gallery of fun nonsense.

The very first appearance of Robby Reed and his magical dial, and already we have tentacles:

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House of Mystery no. 156 (January 1966), cover by Jim Mooney. This is a good demonstration of how random some of the superheroes generated by the machine are.

HouseofMystery156- The Marauders from Thunderbolt Island
This is the first Dial H for Hero story, and as such it has no other title. Scripted by Dave Wood, drawn by Jim Mooney. [RG: panel three looks suspiciously like the work of George Tuska. Ghosting… or swiping? Hmm…]
I mentioned that Robby himself sometimes sprouts tentacles. Here’s a good example:

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House of Mystery no. 159 (June 1966), cover by Jim Mooney. Another issue, another gallery of improbable heroes and villains

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Human Starfish Robby Reed conveniently improves upon the concept of a normal starfish, developing prehensile appendages to capture a very stretchy criminal. The Clay-Creep Clan is written by Dave Wood, and drawn by Jim Mooney.

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Jim Mooney was responsible for Dial H for Hero‘s art for many issues, from the onset of the series with House of Mystery no. 156 (January 1966) to House of Mystery no. 170 (October 1967). Dial H for Hero lasted three more issues after Mooney’s departure. As luck would have it, no. 171 and no. 172 bring our most striking examples of tentacles yet. (The final DHFH issue, House of Mystery no. 173, features a cover by Jack Sparling, with insides by Charles Nicholas and Sal Trapani.)

Arguably the prettiest cover of this post (my favourite, at any rate):

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Back to fighting tentacles! House of Mystery no. 171 (December 1967), cover by Nick Cardy.

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The Micro-Monsters! is written by Dick Wood and illustrated by Frank Springer.

HouseofMystery171- The Micro-Monsters-3

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House of Mystery no. 172 (January-February 1668), cover by Frank Springer.

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The Monsters From the H-Dial! is written by Dick Wood and illustrated by Frank Springer.

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How does Chief Mighty Arrow defeat the flying octopus? Why, by shooting jet-propelled feathers from his headdress, of course.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that my favourite Robby Reed appearance was in an issue of Plastic Man, of all places – to be more precise, in Plastic Man no. 13 (June-July 1976). In If I Kill Me, Will I Die? (read it here!), scripted by Steve Skeates, pencilled by Ramona Fradon and inked by Bob Smith, Reed not only gets to take on Plas (in more ways than one), but also falls deeply and magically in love with a professional hog-caller. Also, tentacles. Adorable *and* exciting!

PlasticMan13p13APlasticMan13p14A~ ds

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Quality

« I tell ya, Spirit… this neighborhood is like a lit firecracker… »

I’m surprised that it took us this long to get to Will Eisner and his signature creation, The Spirit. Is it perhaps too obvious a topic? Nah. Though the ink and the pixels may flow, and even if everyone and his chiropractor has already waxed rhapsodic about old Will, the subject retains its depths of evergreen freshness.

For most generations of cartoonists, Eisner is an irresistible influence. My own initial encounter came in the early 1970s, when I glimpsed ads for Warren’s Spirit reprints in the rear section of Famous Monsters of Filmland. And then I was introduced to his groundbreaking style and storytelling approach… only it wasn’t, in this case, quite his.

In 1975, I had stumbled upon a Dutch collection of WWII-era Spirit newspaper strips (The Daily Spirit, Real Free Press, 1975-76… a publication designed by none other than Joost Swarte), and I was captivated… by the ghost work of no less than Plastic Man creator Jack Cole!

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« You can do that in a comic strip? » was my general feeling as a ten-year-old aspiring cartoonist. From The Spirit daily strip, January 3, 1942 (scripted by Manly Wade Wellman, illustrated by Jack Cole).

I won’t go over the action-packed history of the character… what I’ll focus on here instead is inextricably linked to Eisner’s terrific business acumen: having held onto his character’s ownership, he could shop him around the publishing world, a process still unfolding to this day, well beyond his own passing.

The Spirit, that well-travelled rascal, has witnessed his exploits bearing many a publisher’s imprint, from Quality to Fiction House, through I.W. (naughty, naughty!), Harvey, Kitchen Sink, Warren, and DC… so far. And the coolest thing is that Eisner was along for most of the ride, creating glorious new cover visuals for the venerable archives.

Today, we’ll focus on Quality’s output (1942-50), which alone was contemporary to the strip’s tenure. About half of it was Eisner, but I’m no purist: the man hired some of the finest ghosts in the medium’s history, when it came to both story and art. To name but a few favourites: Manly Wade Wellman, Jerry Grandenetti, Jules Feiffer, Wally Wood

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Speaking of Jack Cole… before he got his own title, The Spirit was featured for a couple of years in Quality’s Police Comics anthology. He occasionally ran into his fellow headliner, Plastic Man. This is Police Comics no. 23 (October, 1943). Cover by Jack Cole. Read this issue here.

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This is The Spirit no. 12 (Summer 1948), cover by Eisner, and featuring a bunch of Manly Wade Wellman / Lou Fine Spirit tales, which is to say “Eye, Feets, and Lock” (August 12th, 1945), “The Case of the Missing Undertaker” (September 30, 1945), “Skelvin’s School for Actors” (November 18, 1945), “The Whitlock Diamond Caper” (June 24, 1945) and “Nitro” (October 21, 1945).

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This is The Spirit no. 13 (Autumn, 1948), cover by Eisner, and gathering a clutch of Wellman / Fine outings, i.e. “Mr. Martin’s Pistols” (September 23, 1945), “Red Scandon” (June 3, 1945), “The Strange Case of the Two $5.00 Bills” (December 9, 1945), “Mr. Exter” (May 27, 1945) and “Vaudeville Vinnie” (November 4, 1945).

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Another high-wire master class in design and tension from Mr. Eisner. This is Quality ComicsThe Spirit no. 14 (Winter, 1948), featuring reprints of Spirit adventures (“The Alibi Factory“, “The Kuttup Shop“, “Prominent Executives Vanish“, “The Masked Magician“, “Belle La Trivet“) from 1945, written by Chapel Hill‘s foremost scribe, Manly Wade Wellman, and illustrated by Lou Fine and the Quality shop.

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This is The Spirit no. 15 (Spring, 1949), cover by Eisner, and gathering a bouquet of Wellman / Fine offerings, namely “Rosilind Ripsley” (June 10, 1945), “Madame Lerna’s Crystal Ball” (September 16, 1945), and “The Case of the Will O’Wisp Murders” (November 5, 1944).

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This is The Spirit no. 16 (Autumn, 1948), boasting an Eisner cover and rounding up a rogues’ gallery of  Spirit exploits scripted by Bill Woolfolk: “The Case of the Uncanny Cat” (October 8, 1944) and “Jackie Boy” (September 9, 1944) and Manly Wade Wellman: “The Case of the Headless Burglar” (September 24, 1944), all pencilled by Lou Fine.

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I’ll bet Dolan could kick himself if he wasn’t so tidily trussed up. Fooled by a pretty… er, face again. This is The Spirit no. 20 (April 1950), featuring “The Vortex” (September 8, 1946); “The Siberian Dagger” (January 27, 1946); “Magnifying Glasses” (May 26, 1946), plus a couple of Flatfoot Burns stories by Al Stahl. Cover by Will Eisner, and a gold star and a hearty round of applause for the colourist. 

As for the insides… I’m tickled to inform you that all of Quality’s issues of The Spirit are available gratis on comicbookplus.com. Enjoy!

– RG

The Unforgettable Jack Cole

« What are you mumbling about? »
« Oh, nuthin’! … just that 
my false teeth get loose 
an’ make a lot of noise! »

Today marks the one hundred and third anniversary of the enigmatic Jack Cole (December 14, 1914 – August 13, 1958) a man embodying, in equal parts, hilarity, talent and torment. Just when everything seemed to be going his way, he took his own life in 1958, for reasons still surmised about. His widow was the only one to know, and she took her secret to the grave.

Let’s move past this morbid stuff and concentrate on the man’s creative legacy, shall we?

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Cole’s cover for his Plastic Man story « The Rare Edition Murders » (originally called « The Bookstore Mystery », judging from the cover art) cleverly ties in the mag’s other features. And they do need to be mentioned: Flatfoot Burns by Harvey Kurtzman, The Darson Twins by Jack Keller, The Spirit by Will Eisner (or his talented ghosts), Manhunter by Reed Crandall… This is Police Comics no. 25 (December 1943, Quality.)

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Routine, the same old grind… another issue of Police Comics, another splendid Jack Cole cover. This is Police Comics no. 27 (February, 1944), featuring Plastic Man in « Woozy Winks, Juror », and tales of Dewey Drip, Flatfoot Burns, Destiny, Manhunter, Dick Mace, The Human Bomb, Burp the Twerp (by Cole), and of course The Spirit. Sounds potentially entertaining? Read it here, then: http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=37421

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Cole’s Plastic Man, one of the timeless wonders of comics’ Golden Age, a character only his creator truly knew how to handle properly. This is Police Comics no. 72 (November 1947, Quality.)

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Another vivid (what else?) example of Mr. Cole’s boundless inventiveness, featuring his flagship creation, Plastic Man (and rotund sidekick Woozy Winks). This is Police Comics (1941-1953, 127 issues) no. 76 (March 1948, Quality.)

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« You mean this guy had nine slugs in his chest and still choked the other one to death? » Web of Evil no. 5 (July 1953, Quality.)

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Web of Evil no. 6 (September 1953, Quality.)

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This lovely watercolour ran in Playboy Magazine‘s August, 1955 issue. It’s titled « The Elongated Hand ».

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« Like they say in the travel folders, Miss Duncan – ‘Getting there is half the fun’ ».
Playboy Magazine, August, 1956.

Versatile, wasn’t he?

– RG