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.
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.
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.
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:
I mentioned that Robby himself sometimes sprouts tentacles. Here’s a good example:
Jim Mooney was responsible for Dial H for Hero‘s art for many issues, from the onset of the series with House of Mysteryno. 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 Mysteryno. 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):
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!
« 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!
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…
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!
« 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?