Wonder Comics #1
Fox Feature Syndicate (May, 1939, apparently listed as Bruns Publications, scanned for Comic Book Plus)
So…after looking at the credit for Blue Beetle #1 the Golden Age comics all seem to have multiple stories per issue, like Mystery Men Comics, so the heck with it. Golden Age Fridays will just focus on the entire Fox Universe (or the superhero stories anyway) as we look not only at old Blue Beetle stories but some of the forgotten heroes of this comic series. It wasn’t much of a shared universe at the time but let’s go ahead and do this. It should be interesting to see where comics got their start and since I’m on this publisher already let’s start here. You may even see a few names you know.
Since this is an anthology I’m not going to have a big credits thing. I’ll put the names next to each story and do a quick review. This is going to take long enough as it is and I’m going to have to come up with a system to make this easier on me. Meanwhile, follow along with me here.
Wonderman by Will Eisner
They don’t take long with an origin. A Tibetan yogi (no bear jokes, please) gives radio man and inventor Fred Carson a ring that makes him invulnerable and gives him superhuman strength. He adopts the hero identity Wonderman (or Wonder Man depending on the panel you’re reading). Fred has to play escort for his boss’s daughter and her jerk fiance when the girl decided to join the Red Cross in a region dealing with civil war. So Wonderman has to stop the war so the people can get things like food. He also kisses an unconscious girl (the boss’s daughter Nora, except when her name’s Brenda) so that was wrong. The story was fine but the origin was clearly not thought out so they could get their superman into place.
Shorty Shortcake by Jerry Williams
Want to see what pointless looks like? A kid named Shorty is captured when he comes upon a group of weapon smugglers. His numerous escape attempts fail but the bad guys lock him up with the ammunition, which he sabotages by filling the bullets with cheese before escaping. Meanwhile his friend Suzy goes to rich man Mr. De Welth, whom she exposes as a kleptomaniac (spelled with a c) when he robs a man for his watch. Now immediately reformed he agrees to help find Shorty, who finally made his escape. So we don’t see what happens with the cheese bullets and the klepto plot basically wastes time. Maybe the next issue has the second part of the story but there’s no indication from the next time blurb. Finally, what accent is the smuggler boss speaking? The story takes place along the US/Mexican border but every time he talks my brain goes to Achmed the Dead Terrorist from Jeff Dunham’s shows, especially when he says he’ll “keel” Shorty. Just zoom past this one.
Patty O’Day by Adolphe Barreaux “Fire At Sea”
I have to wonder if there are pages missing. If not it’s not a very exciting story. Reporter Patty parachutes onto a boat supposedly on fire, but it turns out to be a smoke bomb. Not wanting the shipping line to look bad they won’t allow her to film (yes, she jumped onto a burning ship with a 1930s movie camera) but she gets help recording and escaping from Lord Michael Farnsworth, who in exchange asks her to mail a letter for him. Could this be another one that continues next issue? I don’t know but it’s not bad, just not very interesting.
Dr. Fung: Master Sleuth Of The Orient by Arthur Dran “The Oasis Of Dr. Li-Wang”
Dr Fung is a detective and Dan Barrister…might as well be the main character as he does all the fighting and getting kidnapped by Li-Wang, who of course wants to take over the world. Dan and Fung uncover his operation and the people he’s turned into mental slaves, and destroys his operation. You might be inclined to write this off as another “evil Chinese” story but remember the hero (or at least the title character) is also Chinese and surprisingly the characters aren’t nearly as yellow in color as you’d expect from the period. So what you get is a story that only doesn’t age well because the white guy is technically the hero but otherwise for the time it isn’t as casually racist so this could just be any old mad scientist villain.
“Wild” Tex Dawson by Leon Spuds “Lone Hand”
Comic Book + suggests this may actually be Will Eisner under a pseudonym, just after his text story I’m kind of afraid to discuss given our modern climate. Plus this is a comic review, not a prose review. Obviously this is an old west story. There’s quite a few different genres here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see horror or romance pop in before I’m done. Anyway, Tex goes to work for a cattleman in a territory dominated by sheep herders, but the sheriff is using them because he’s a criminal, specifically the man who killed Tex’s father. It’s a pretty good Old West action story.
K-5: Spies At War by Wil Eisner (as Ned Cole–how many pen names does he have?) “The Menace Of The Mask”
Secret agent K-5 is visited by an old friend who just happens to be acting as a soldier of fortune for the side of a rebel war the agent is investigating. I thought it would turn out the friend was the “Mask”, the head of gunrunners, but it turns out he actually saves K-5 but is killed by Mask for it…and he’s a senator. Between the stories in this issue and Mystery Men #1 someone really doesn’t like Congressmen and gun running was a huge issue in 1939. Throw in Superman also dealing with people trying to keep a war going for their own wallets and it may end up being a running plotline.
“Gang-buster” Robinson by Harold Vance “Gang-Buster Appointed By Gov. Harmon”
Richard G. Robinson (whose beard in the scans I’m using appears to have been drawn on by a previous owner of the comic who really liked that style beard…hope he failed to grow his own as punishment or that it looked terrible) is the new special prosecutor dealing with corruption and a drug crime wave. I don’t think prosecutors ever do the investigating themselves, or at least not to the level Robinson does but it’s otherwise a decent story.
“Spark” Stevens Of The Navy by Bob Kane “The Hijacked Pocket Battleship”
It should be noted that many of these titles come from Comic Book Plus because they aren’t in comic itself. And yes, our final story of the issue (not counting the bonus features) comes from Batman’s concept creator. (Kane created the character, Bill Finger created the look.) Stevens and his bickering buddy Chuck Lawton are sailors and radio operators aboard the Navy’s new pocket battleship. Criminals want it to outrun the government trying to shut down their drug running operation so they have to try to work together long enough to reclaim their boat. Some decent action and not much else.
I can already see why none of these characters ever moved on to any kind of prominence. Wonderman is just another Superman clone, with the ring giving him powers but he still needs to change into a costume. The others are dime-a-dozen reporters, government agents of various branches, and nothing really stands out among any of them. There’s one more issue before they rebrand and we’ll look at that next time. This time I will keep to that. If all of these are going to be multiple story anthologies, even when there’s a title character, I might as well settle in for the long haul.
[…] the same story from Wonder Comics #1 so here’s the same review: “Dr Fung is a detective and Dan Barrister…might as well be […]