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Golden and Silver Age Comics - Read new comics, but keep the old!

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Action Comics #8
Written by Jerry Seigel Drawn by Joe Shuster

Hey, I’m back with these. Like, don’t expect too many too often but surely more than before, since I have SLIGHTLY more free time. Slightly.

Anyway, if you missed the old one’s I’m basically doing story by story breakdowns of classic Golden and Silver Age comics, mostly from DC Comics, though not exclusively. I did a bunch about the first seven Superman stories and this is number 8. If you never read them, you might be surprised to find what kind of hero Superman was then. Often he is often presented as practically Messianic but things are a lot more humble here. He’s a rough and tumble dude who can’t be beat, the wish fulfillment of people who would love to see justice done with their bare hands. He doesn’t just o after gangsters, he fights politicians and lobbyists and war profiteers. He specifically fights for the underclass and small things like helping orphans is not beneath him.

Of course, what it looks like to be a hero in the fiction of the late 30s might look a little questionable now. No, no, thankfully this issue doesn’t have him vilifying a minority (that’s for whatever story is going on in the cover). Instead, its Superman taking on a real world problem with his super powers and… the method kind of makes no sense. So lets hit skid row with “Superman in the Slums”.

Have buses ever looked like that? I’m not saying they haven’t, I just want visual evidence.

The story begins promisingly enough. A poor kid is going to jail and it looks like the systemic failures that lead to his trouble with the law isn’t going to be taken into consideration in his trial. The judge even says that his ruling is based on his tough way of talking rather than his actions (though his actions indicate he did mug a dude). Clark Kent, who is watching closely, knows that he’s going to have to be the one to do something.

The boy, Frankie, is given two years at reformatory school. Meanwhile, Kent notices the young boy’s fellow gang members and overhears them discussing someone named Gimpy and decides to investigate. I don’t know what gimpy meant back then but its less cool now.

Superman eavesdrops on the tough kids (nearly literally, as he is hanging from a tenement building) and overhears that they’ve been committing crimes for Gimpy with the promise he’d protect them if they get caught. Of course, they explain it with a tough wrong-side-of-the-tracks dialect. The kids come in and Gimpy gives them some feeble excuses and the kids threaten to beat him up.

You’d think this is the time Superman would swoop in but nope, Gimpy instead promises them one last job and they’ll be paid after. When they leave, Gimpy reveals he’s planning to call the cops on them and he already intentionally threw Frankie under the bus because the kids were getting “too tough.” Gimpy is about to rat them out but mid-rat, Superman shows up to give him a beat-down and a different sort of face palm.

Superman dumps Gimpy in tar…

And rushes off the rescue the kids. One kid nearly gets nabbed by the cops but is rescued by Superman by picking him up and running off with him while shouting “He’s mine!” Probably not the best thing to say, Superman. It’s a weird look for a good deed. Speaking of bad looks, one cop fires actual gun bullets at a minor for the heinous crime of trespassing and fleeing and America hasn’t gotten any better, has it?

Next Superman frees another kid from a paddy wagon because in these days Superman was less interested in the laws and more interested in justice.

I understand “Halp” is a dialect thing but I actually can’t bring to mind how that would sound in real life.

Superman then stops the other two kids from committing their crimes, noting that despite the crimes themselves, the kids actually have good qualities (one clever, the other diligent) that could be put to honest use. Superman then reveals to the kids that they are being used. The kids start talking about bringin’ the hurt to Gimpy but we find Gimpy has been eavesdropping and fires a gun at them.

The framing is weird here. Though not explicitly that, the skyline seems to imply, whether or not by intent, that Gimpy is standing on a building far away and then he’s instantly in an alley at relatively close range in the next panel. I mean, it isn’t as disturbing as Shuster’s occasional monstrous uncreatures that are people and goats, but it is weird.

Anyway, Superman uses his super speed to stop the bullet.

Superman chucks Gimpy away (credit to Gimpy for his strong core while being thrown into a river) and I guess his final fate is that he must swim away in defea—

DID SUPERMAN TWIST THAT MAN’S NECK 180 DEGREES BEFORE TOSSING HIM AWAY? I mean, he’s still alive-ish, but I don’t think he’ll be able to swim back to shore after that.

This doesn’t stop Nick from trying to bean Superman on the head with a wrench.

I mean, if it bent, that also means Nick has a shockingly strong wrist, right? Otherwise it would just bounce off of him.

Superman is slightly miffed at the youngster’s betrayal following saving them AGAIN, and decides to give them scare by carrying them across the city on telephone lines.


To Superman’s surprise, the kids LOVED the scare as if it were an amusement park ride. Superman is all “You kids are alright!” The feeling is reciprocated and Superman helps the kids turn over a new leaf. But Superman knows the real problem is the poor living conditions. What can he do? Perhaps use his power and fame to raise attention for the people in need? Or…



Oh, God no, Superman.

Superman decides to absolutely people destroy an entire neighborhood in the hopes of the government paying for a new neighborhood. Which is a bad solution, considering even if people move their stuff, these are people’s homes and its doesn’t fix the deep systemic problems that lead to the stuff and that a nicer neighborhood could lead to gentrification, making the homes too expensive for—



“GO TO HELL, DOMICILES!”

Its at this point that the army shows up to stop Superman from heroically destroying a city and inadvertently becomes an indictment of military intervention. At first, Superman is dodging American soldiers. And then the army goes straight from “bullets don’t work” to “lets bomb the fuck out of him.”

Superman thanks the bombers for doing his work for him and then the city rebuilds the slums as apartment buildings.


This is treated as a happy ending but even by the standards of a late 30s Golden Age comic, it seems that it’s a wildly naïve take on how to combat poverty and poor living situations. This really feels like it should have been an attack on slum lords and laws that enable them. Bomb the slums and everything is going to be OK is certainly a take.

The end.

But wait, the comic also gives you a tip on how to acquire SUPER-VISION.




I think whoever wrote this needed some… supervision.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

I’m great.

Anyway, because I know very little about ocular science and how to improve vision on your own, but my first instinct was “this makes no sense and its 1930s nonsense.” But looking it up, it is apparently a thing. Based on what I am reading, the exercise should specify about “15 seconds” but as dumb as it sounds, it does keep your vision healthy (though “super” is a bit much to ask for from it.

But hey, I learned something from a comic I assumed was BS, so at least they did their due diligence on exercise more than political science and infrastructure.

The latter half is kind of sweetly yet worryingly naive but I did like Superman sticking up for those underclass toughs and them being mutually won over by each other. Its nice to see that Superman can be impressed and surprised by the kids he’s trying to teach a lesson to.

I will say there’s sort of a follow up to this. The next Superman adventure is about the police trying to catch Superman for his vigilante ways. But we’ll get to that. Next, we are getting to the Silver Age era where…

Next: Superman gets the head of a lion!

Until next time!

 
I think that panel where Superman races the bullet is the earliest example I've seen of "speed lines" used that way. I always figured it was a Japanese invention.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Shuster's art is often very rough looking but there is an energy and joy to it to be sure. I would be completely interested in a series of columns that track the history of things like speedlines, splash pages (which I think is attributed to Eisner), et al.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Action Comics #243

Written by Otto Binder Drawn by Wayne Boring




What a cover, huh? How do you not buy this issue. Also, it’s a weird way to put your situation, Superman. I feel like literally part of the plot will be to go on stage for a performance. And considering the Silver Age, yeah, probably.

And having read this, that wouldn’t be NEARLY the weirdest thing that happens in this one. In the 1960s, Superman plots were more like weird (and often sexist) fairy tales. Superman still stopped crime but their were fewer conventional villains (though certainly some of the most memorable ones emerged in this era, like Metallo, Brainiac and Bizarro) and more hi-jinx and weirdness.
Magic Powers

Wedding After Wedding After Wedding



And did someone say long lost brothers?




So yeah, the era was less focused on real drama and more storytelling gimmicks. The biggest gimmick, aside from apes (apes were big back then) was changing forms. Ant Superman, Giant Brain Superman, Scrooge McDuck Superman, Hobo Superman, Fat Superman, Fat Lois, Giant Turtle Jimmy Olsen, Porcupine Monster Jimmy Olsen, Jimmy Olsen Hogging All the Monster Shapes So Perry White Doesn’t Get Any.

This is actually one of the most iconic transformations and has even been immortalized in a replaceable head action figure (which also included some other Silver Age heads).



But while the cover is wacky, the story itself… is really wacky. Like far wackier than I remembered. This is a wild one. Get ready for…



I’m not trying to shit on Wayne Boring, one of the most influential of Superman writers, but I tend not to think of his emotive facial expressions beyond the broadest. But this lion has an incredible one and that will be a recurring theme through the issue: the insanely specific expressions of lion-headed Supes. I feel like Boring was made to draw sad, upset lions and somehow was trapped having to do Superman stories. Also, imagine being those people down there and seeing lion headed Supes. I guess they should have their brains broken but considering this is the DC Universe and even Superman’s charitable work is an act of madness, this feels in the range of raised eyebrow territory.

Our story begins with Superman entertaining orphans at a circus by lifting elephants and putting his head in a lion’s mouth. The latter one is less impressive considering that he is invincible and that’s a trick completely non-invincible people do. Maybe he should have used his powers to fly around with it or do any number of things that you don’t need superpowers to do. An element of danger is what makes that so fun. Its not fun is the trapeze artist brags to us about his awesome, foolproof net that no man could get hurt on. I don’t have a blood lust hat its not impressive considering Superman flying around and throwing cars seems like an everyday sight.



First amazing lion face. This lion clearly feels confused and humiliated. “Why are you doing this to me?” his eyes seem to say. “In the Savannah, I was king. Why is my emasculation hilarious to you?”

Superman is rewarded for his hilarious cruelty with a plaque, which he puts in his Fortress of Solitude. While looking at Kandor, the bottle city of Krypton trapped at a super tiny size, Superman’s supervision overreaches (how does that work) and he catches site of a woman almost being crushed by ruins somewhere in Greece. Superman saves her and makes a shocking discovery.



But no, she isn’t Circe, she’s Circe’s daughter, Circe Jr. OK, its more like ancient ancestor but Circe Jr. is funnier to me. She reveals Circe was actually an alien who came to Earth on a flying saucer, which I’m sure is something Wonder Woman would probably want to know about. Also, the changing human into animals thing wasn’t black magic but super-science in the form of an “evolution” serum, because the aliens presumably defined evolution a lot differently than us.

Immediately, she’s all like “You’re awesome. Have an unnamed drink!” Which Superman does, ignoring ALL of the context clues of his situation. Soon, Circe begins to spell out her intentions.



“Glub” is a weird reaction. I think its supposed to be a spit take but his lips are nowhere near the cup. He's just looking at the water and shouting GLUB! I like to think he’s pretending to be a fish to get out of this conversation. His actual excuse is not much better. Silver Age Supes, who is too much of a coward to politely just say no when a pretty girl comes on strong, instead says “Sorry, but er I must decline the honor, Circe!” Not a bad start “And I uh just thought of an important appointment.” You did not stick the landing. And don’t get me wrong, I very much get were your coming from, as I am shy too, but I expected better of you. Circe’s then like “Hey, stupid, I put evolution juice in your water. That’s why I gave you water IMMEDIATELY after talking about my evolution juice. Superman flies off, claiming to himself that he’s immune to poisons and serums (the serum immunity feels like an odd claim) but the next day.



Superman turns into a lion man, the animal he most resembles (is this how evolution works?) due to his heart, strength and presumably his barbed dick. As far as lion faces go, this is one of the lesser ones. So lets move on to better lion faces.



Yes, here we are. Superman is very sad and I am loving it. Also, I can’t tell if Perry is too surprised or exactly the right amount of surprised. Like, that’s a crazy sight even before you realize that’s a REAL Superman with a lion’s head. But also, he’s doing jazzhands, which seems like a weird extra detail. Anyway, Superman tries to prove he’s really Superman by causing destruction and chaos.



“Let me finish Perry, I was going to say I’ll prove my strength by throwing you out this window to your death. You know, Superman.” Also, I feel like you could have proven your strength without melting his window. I’ll, maybe destroy something… not expensive. Anyway, Superman does not appear to fix or pay for the window and Perry tells him to keep it a secret or it will “demoralize the world” (holy shit, that’s a Hell of a thing to lay on Superman’s feet. Also, I feel like it is more likely to confuse it than demoralize it). Superman reacts to this by immediately flying out the window with his lion’s head, because he forgot what he was immediately told, meaning he’s a character I can relate to.

Superman flies off to Circe’s location only to find a “fuck you, loser” note and the knowledge that she flew off to one of any number of countless planets. Superman digs underground and arrives at the Planet to talk to Jimmy.




…Are we sure Jimmy’s in the basement? I like to think this is the 8th floor and Superman just flew threw them all in the name of “stealth”. Also, I love Jimmy’s non-reaction to lion-headed Supes flying through his floor. Nothing about this is surprising to him. I feel even if I was told as Jimmy was what had happened, everything about this would floor me. But Jimmy is so used to this weirdness and Superman’s casual destruction of Planet property that his reaction is “Hey, dude. You a’ight?”





No, Superman, Jimmy is genuinely unsurprised. He transforms more than anyone. Anyway, another great lion face. Also, Superman your face has already been lionized. I cannot tell if this is an actual attempt at a pun by Binder. He’s not a dumb guy and he must know the word but I feel like he could have written it without realizing it. Anyway, Lois walks in and says “Hey, Supes”, not realizing the lion head thing even though with his bat turned he has a huge freakin’ mane.



Another great sad lion face. Seriously, this is Boring’s special gift and he kept it hidden for far too long. Superman reveals himself to Lois.



The comic is immediately trying to make me forget Lois’ “favourite escort” like. Superman is a canonically a gigolo now and don’t you forget it. Everything else Lois does is trying to force him into a Pretty Woman scenario where he leaves the life behind. Circe could have made a financial proposition and there’s a good chance he would have agreed after talking with his pimp, Jimmy Olsen. Note, as a pimp, Jimmy isn’t being abusive, he’s simply getting him work like a publicist or an agent. CANONICAL, I TELL YOU.



Lois and Superman head to the theatre as if it were their own parents’ execution. Even worse, it is only know that Lois realizes that she chose the most inappropriately appropriate show to see, Beauty and the Beast. And boy is Superman bummed.



Like, before Superman was funny sad but now its like… oof. This is just Super Ennui. Seriously, this is the best this Wayne Boring has ever done. I haven’t done the research but I can say this with supreme confidence. Also, Superman was specifically told to keep this a secret but he’s in the balcony of a big stage show. You are bad at this. Luckily, people think its promotion for the show rather than the usual Metropolis weirdness.

Anyway, Lois decides to kiss Superman but sadly it doesn’t end like the show and Lois probably feels weird about it and is having thoughts about his rough tongue I don’t want to dig into. Superman flies off and decides to use his new head to make orphans happy, as one does.





Seriously, everything you just said, kids, seems like a warning that should be heeded. There is nothing that isn’t sketchy as fuck. The unseen guardian supervision. Letting a lion put its head in your mouth. The glory hole tone of the entire endeavor. This feels so wrong. And it looks like all parties are being abused somehow. Superman says he’s happy to make the kids happy but he looks extremely distressed, as if he’s thinking things at gunpoint… well, kryptonitepoint.

After Superman’s weird self-humiliation, he spots a problem that only a lion-headed superhuman can solve. A lion in a Superman costume is sick and if he can’t perform, the circus owner will fire the trainer. What an INSANELY fortuitous circumstance. And Superman has a solutioH DEAR GOD!



If you wanted either Superman or a lion give an ahegao face congrats, you know have all of the above either in a perfect form or as a monkey’s paw torment. I guess it depends on how you respond to the above image. For me, the answer is fear. Too much tongue Superman, far too much tongue, both in volume and usage. Superman then perform trick, obstencibly to help a man and his sick lion but also because he is very much into taking orders and I won’t kink shame Superman but I feel like you are involving an unaware audience including children and that makes it a little more uncomfortable.



Superman claims to be using a piece of rope as a “tail” but I can’t imagine anyone is fooled. That lion clearly has extremely human musculature and the fact that your plan involves flying around, apparently, feels like something of a tell. People will notice.

And if they don’t, guess what, you are setting up people for disappointment with your next decision.



Great Superman, but you clearly did things the lion couldn’t, meaning that from now on, people are going to find that lion disappointing. You’ve pretty much doomed this trainer to failure until he can make his lion fly and even in the Silver Age, theirs only a 25% chance of that happening.

Superman next notices yet another lion related disaster he must avert, because that’s the only thing he’s allowed to do, now. This comic decided that Superman is only going to have a lion-headed Superman once so they need to sit down to that premise with a bucket and milk it until it bleeds.

The problem is filmmakers shooting some lion shots accidentally are scene and the lions are ready to attack. Superman has only one option… TO BE MOUNTED BY A LION.



Superman’s plan is to lead the other lions away by flying under the leader and having him go another way which I feel like it doesn’t entirely work that way. Doesn’t that just mean the other lions will take initiative and bring food to their boss lion. Anyway, Superman saves the camera people but not before someone sees a two headed lion and stops short of rubbing his eyes and throwing away a liquor bottle in a paper bag.

Superman has a kink but as we all know he has a problem closing any sort of sexual deal (maybe he’s into all the other things and doesn’t like actual sex) because it looks like a lion pile of sex is about to happen with Superman as the candy center.



Superman flies off and starts lamenting his fate, considering becoming a sideshow.



But this comic needs to end with the status quo so how do we wrap it up? Well, Superman hears from his fortress as “kryptonite detector” and he realizes he’s setting it off. He deduces that the serum contains trace amounts of kryptonite to get past his “serum immunity” (whatever) but not enough to hurt or weaken him in another other way. Also, the girl must be from Krypton, he figures (though why was she almost killed by rubble? Or was she faking? SO MANY QUESTIONS) and finds a solution within the books of the Bottle City of Kandor.



So our story ends with Superman being returned to normal, he surprises Lois with a kiss (it was consensual, he just didn’t reveal he was back to normal until the lips met) and Superman flies off. Even by Silver Age Superman standards, this is a wild one. I also like how problematic it isn’t. There are still lies but it doesn’t feel like the usual gaslighting and there’s no overt cruelty to Superman’s friends for once. Like a lot of Silver Age (and Golden Age) stories, it feels more like a series of vignettes where a change is introduced and we see Superman having a few mini-adventures that would be normal but the change effects Superman’s decisions on how he approaches it. It also gives him scenarios that convinces him “well, at least for this situation, my weird circumstance is a HUGE ADVANTAGE!”, despite the fact that he’s Superman and probably could have easily solved all of his problems without a lion head.

Does anyone learn anything? Nope, except Circe learns to get out of Dodge when you mutate the world’s most powerful man. Its not even “appreciate what you have” because Superman always does that. Its just a story where we get to lay Superman low a bit and learn Wayne Boring was made to draw the saddest of lions.

Next: I hope you like lesbian spankings and ugly-ass kangaroo mounts. I definitely like one of those things.

Until next time!

 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Simba nuzzling his fathers corpse does not look half as distraught as Superman does when he realizes he'll have to restrict all his heroic deeds to be lion-centric from now on.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Sensation Comics #6



Written by William Moulton Marston Drawn by Harry G. Peter


You know what the kids want? Wonder Woman mounted on a hideous kangaroo, tying up an old time hobo. I’m a little disappointed because I thought this one was this weird issue where there are kinky hunting games on paradise island with women hunting women dressed in skintight deer costumes, but this is a big deal issue. First of all, we get the first appearance of one of Wonder Woman’s most famous tools in her fight for justice. And also, some ugly, ugly kangaroos. Get ready for a homecoming AND a homegoing in “Summons to Paradise”!



Our story begins with Steve Trevor being promoted to major and being made acting commanding officer to the intelligence service while the colonel is away. Diana, secretary to the colonel, wants to use this opportunity to act as her love’s secretary but her regular secretary fills the roll and looks REALLY aggressive about someone trying to horn in on her turf.


She’s clearly yelling and is ready to punch. Lila will not give an inch. “HE’S MINE. I WILL BREAK YOU!”

Anyway, later Diana goes to check on him and discovers a letter from villain Baroness Paula Von Gunther, who Wonder Woman beat once before. Seeing as she’s behind bars, Trevor laughed it off because supervillains were a new concept at the time, I assume. Diana is more concerned and gets advice from mom and her mom, in turn, gets advice from the Gods. The Gods suggest Diana return for a time to Paradise Island, which she is excited to do.


And flies home on her invisible jet through a rainbow landing field and arrives just in time for an “athletic meet” which, of course, involves “Kangas”, giant, terrifying kangaroos. Diana decides to disguise herself and join in, just as she did in her origin story. And the meet itself involves a lot of women tying each other up, because this is Wonder Woman.


I know this is all good sexy fun but one lady is clearly about to strangle another with rope. Its Lila-levels of aggression. The game comes down to Wonder Woman and a woman named Mala, who looks like more than half of the amazons because they are like beat em up palette swap characters, I guess. Mala is good but Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman, so…


Wonder Woman wins and reveals herself to much celebration. Meanwhile, her mother has her own surprise for her daughter.


Another palate swap in glasses help Hippolyta make a new weapon for Wonder Woman from her enchanted girdle: an unbreakable golden chain. Yep, it’s the first appearance of the Golden Lasso… in thin chain form. It doesn’t have EXACTLY the “make people tell the truth” power yet but it pretty much does as it has the “makes person do what I say” power. Wonder Woman uses it on Mala, who wants to leave Paradise Island.


I mean, I don’t like that she’s taking agency from her friend, even if its supposedly for “her own good” but at least she specifically limited it to today and didn’t tell her to always stay. Still, kinda not cool, WW. Anyway, we FINALLY get to the actual plot of the issue, Baroness Von Gunther. Steve and Wonder Woman meet and realize the Colonel is missing and was on a ship called the Gigantic, which Wonder Woman acts like is the biggest deal. And its clearly an allusion to the Titanic but the name of a ship that hasn’t been established to the reader seems a bit much.

Then we flashback to how Paula stole the Gigantic. First she escapes through the brilliant dual arts of seduction and shooting a guy, Paula makes her escape.


So it looks like Paula only exists at that one angle. It feels like Paula is holding still and people are sliding the rest of the panel into place around her. Anyway, Paula unveils her new weapon in the fight against freedom: the invisible ray, which she unveils in the kinkiest way possible.



Sure, I guess you could just use it on a bunny or something but Paula opts for a chained-up slave girl tied to a bed frame while someone slaps her body around. Also, Lady Chumpley is a funny name. And it turns out Lady Chumpley isn’t just a made up alias, its someone who exists and JUST HAPPENS to look exactly like Paula, because this if this can happen to Diana…

Anyway, Paula puts the finishing touches on her plan to take over the ship, which involves being in that one angle on the panel again.



The plan works perfectly, the invisible ray means no one can find the ship and the Gigantic is taken by a Nazi sub. With a poorly painted swastika.


I think the Reich sent its C-team to capture this ship. The Nazis kidnap the colonel and plan to blow up the ship. When Wonder Woman and Steve realize they need to find the ship. Luckily, Wonder Woman’s invisible jet can get them there in regular time.


Oh, so you just… had some rope lying around? Not even like a rope ladder in case of an emergency, just some rope? OK.

Anyway, the invisible ray decides to stop factoring into the story and with all the build up, Wonder Woman solves everything within a page (remember when you could accomplish stuff in a page of comics?) Wonder Woman wraps her legs around the torpedo bound for the Gigantic and changes its direction and then pretty much takes care of everyone in two panels.



Heck, Paula is tied up off panel. The issue ends with the Colonel thanking Trevor who, once again, credits Wonder Woman for the heroism and meanwhile Wonder Woman waxes poetic about how her golden chain could make everyone better but she can’t use it on herself to fix her romantic woes.


So what is supposed to be the main plot is a little vanilla but the Golden Chain is a perfect encapsulation of the weird ethos of early Wonder Woman. It really was a comic about the healing power of bondage (though it can also be used for evil by people like Paula Von Gunther) and its use to redeem villains and lost souls. We’ll get back to that eventually as Von Gunther’s story will have an interesting trajectory for its time. Overall, I wish it was just a Paradise Island story with her trying to convince her friend to stay and maybe fighting bears or something.

Next: Diving back into my collection of Super Weird Heroes!

Until next time!

 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Captain Hadacol

Written and drawn by UNKNOWN



“What is Hadacol?” you might be asking. Well, I think I have the answer for you here.



But heck, why show it to you when we can SING IT TO YOU!


If you are thinking “WOW, this sounds like an old timey scam” you are absolutely right. Hadacol was non-literal snake oil but it sold REALLY well in a lot of Southern areas? Why? Because said areas are dray areas and Hadacol contained 12% of “preservative”.

Hadacol is seriously nakedly an excuse to drink. Check out this quote from the “creator” of Hadacol with hard hitting journalist Groucho Marx.

Martin Gardner's In the Name of Science (1952) mentions an interview that LeBlanc gave on Groucho Marx's radio program: When Groucho asked him what Hadacol was good for, LeBlanc gave an answer of startling honesty. "It was good," the senator said, "for five million dollars for me last year."

Hadacol was a real big deal for a brief period. Hadacol had a downfall involving terrible debt and, eventually bad publicity. BUT despite this there are three instances of trying to bring the Hadacol name back as late as 1997.

I wouldn’t mind so much… except this was a product marketed to the whole family as an energy drink. You’d think this would be easy to see through but never underestimate the ability of a showman which Dudley J. LeBlanc had. He made promotional records and had promotional travelling shows like one would see in a comedy set in rural America in the 1890s.



Those are some big names, even for the era of 1949. They weren’t alone. George Burns and Gracie Allen, Lucille Ball and, probably most distressingly considering the product, Judy Garland.

But most gallingly was a comic book aimed at children trying to sell 12% proof energy juice to 9-year-olds.



Yeah, I wasn’t kidding. The add keeps using the words “Vitamins and minerals” until the words have lost all meaning and trying to make you think that if the add has them, the product must too. It does not. But we do have a Hadacol fueled superhero adventure for you. Guess where he gets his power from. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

We begin our tale in Rivertown, which seems to have modernized since its appearance in the Hobbit.



We open in on our point of view character “Red” Reddie, a boy so popular his nickname has a nickname. In quotes no less. The kids plan on having a picnic at the damn but the narrative scroll (scroll as in paper, not Star Wars-style movement across a screen) promise tragedy!



So far every other panel is silence and doesn’t establish all that much. I mean, the forth does show them getting to the damn but considering its rare for a comic of this era to feature pages without some sort of text is weird and it makes it feel like an art film. Just Red smiling and riding feels like a David Lynch moment when the narrative takes a break for mood. I can just imagine an Angelo Badalamenti score playing as Red drives on.


Anyway, we are told that “Red wins --- as usual* *Red takes Hadacol” to remind us our hero takes the miracle drug that allows you to win bike races and designate friends as effeminate, the worst of all sins for teenage boys from 1932 to 1955, when they discovered new levels of homophobic name calling.

I love how early the pro-Hadacol propaganda begins and attributing his achievement to the special energizing child booze he drinks. Sitting and waiting for his friends, he must think “I have achieved Godhood… but has it set me too far apart from my fellow man?” *Looks wistfully at friends struggling up the slope, sweating and crying in pain* “I can no longer understand their suffering and as such, I also can no longer understand their joy.” Anyway, then they go to the damn for a picnic of what I assume as sandwiches filled with the spiciest ingredient of the era, peanut butter. We don’t actually see the picnic, instead seeing the kids going for a swim. Clearly, Red has more energy because the bike ride has aged the other kids, turning their hair white. Despite being close to dropping off their mortal coil, Red challenges them to a swimming race, because there is nothing Red can’t turn into an excuse for crushing his friends.



Red and the child who survived the contest decide to take a quick rest and investigate a boat because they have no sense of respecting anyone’s privacy.



I’m going to applaud that this Hadacol ad is willing to show that Hadacol, while full of “vitamins” and “minerals”, it also gives you some fierce cheek rash.

Anyway, the boys, one who’s lack of Hadacol consumption has robbed him of a face or identity beyond “Red’s friend”, discover a man tied up in the boat.



Its John Wright who… uh, who? These kids seem to know him but we never find out how. Presumably because he drinks even more Hadacol than Red and game knows game.

Anyway, the Gray Gang is going to blow up the damn for some reason. Quick action must be taken.


Once red goes for help, Wright immediately reaches for his medicinal table wine. BTW, the best part is there is still another kid on the boat watching this unfold, to our knowledge.

“What… what’s happening here?”

And the answer is even stranger than expected.



John Wright drinks his watered-down booze (there, now it has the alcohol content of a strong wine cooler) and transforms into a “superhero” with white thigh-high boots for someone two feet taller than him and a tablecloth. Again, imagine that other kid just standing in the corner and watching this unfold.

Also “John’s identity as Captain Hadacol is unknown to his friends” feels like code for “John has managed to keep his friends in the dark about his drinking problem.”

And off Captain Hadacol flies to save the day.



“No time for swimming” he says to himself, because drinking and swimming doesn’t mix. But it turns out Hadacol isn’t quick enough to actually stop the explosion. But he can still save the day with a quick repair job.




Meanwhile, Red and his friends (if a paragon of next-level human is capable of having such things) stumble on the gang who take them hostage. But I’m not sure why, its not really established that there’s a specific reason. I don’t think they know that the kids know. Seems like its riskier and more cumbersome to have to juggle them and their plan to blow up the damn in order to… wait, why are they blowing up the damn? Do they have a lot of rafts they want to sell or is this a Michael Caine “some people just want to watch the world burn” thing?



Note they took three hostages but Red began with four friends. THAT OTHER KID IS STILL ON THE BOAT! JUST TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT HAPPEN. Either that or.. uh, the Gray Gang just killed him as a message to others? Those are the only two possibilities.

Meanwhile, Hadacol fixes the damn…



Seriously, read that first sentence and try to explain that the Captain Hadacol doesn’t have a problem. Then Hadacol finds some bikes and decides the only explanation is that the Gray Gang has kidnapped the kids and not, say, they are children and would just leave their bikes just lying around. So The Captain needs MORE Hadacol… which is pitch black.



After drinking what I can now only imagine as the black viscous coffee from the second season finale of Twin Peaks, Captain Hadacol finds the criminals because… Hadacol, and beat them up.

Hadacol them makes a phone call and either someone forgot to colour his hair or the price of Hadacol is the draining of your life force…



John is told about the incident while trying to ignore the kids and looking like the Luke Perry that isn’t from that one Simpsons joke about 40 year olds playing teens.



And that’s the adventure… but there’s more to this ad. Check out what these moms and their kids had to say about their presumably harrowing experiences with Hadacol.




I love that last minute “Oh, by the way, I’m 11. In no way a 53 year old marketing guy trying to imagine what an 11 year old talks like. Kids are concerned about their ambition right? Because I know I am.”



If complaining about ambition had this peg as being written by a grown up, imagine a child complaining about being “run down”. I can only imagine this child: skulking home from work, stooped appearance, taking off his fedora and overcoat and getting himself a bottle of gin. Real 9-year-old stuff.



This is the second one preying on parent’s extreme fear of their children not eating. Like, that was a huge concern back then. Still, even for the time, its weird to see an appetite improving medicine being marketed. I also feel like mother nervousness is less an issue related to needing a miracle tonic and more about having to live in a society just on the other end of a huge five year war and also being a woman who is about to have to live in the 1950s.



Look, I feel comfortable laughing at these notes because I am VERY confident that these are all fake. The reality of it might be horrifying. Maybe Hadacol ruined lives. Maybe not. I haven’t seen any articles about the Hadacol Generation so maybe no one got hurt by this alcohol for kids. But this one is WORRYING. A Hadacol Girl sounds like a tragedy that’s far too sad for me to read. At least she’s filling her mouth hole again. Whew.




Color me not surprised that these aren’t real photos of Hadacol drinkers.

Man, I do think as a work this is funny but having to think about the reality of the situation is potentially scary. Selling booze to kids in the hopes that they and some adults will want to buy it is pretty gross even if the alcohol content probably means kids were getting it relatively watered down.

Interesting, Dudley LaBlanc did do one important thing: he proposed what became the Social Security system of the USA. But that was taking what may have been an empty campaign promise and someone made something real with it and even if it wasn’t that in no way excuses his selling a pretty skeevy and its amazing people have tried to bring back the “brand” on more than one occasion.

Next: The Flash is back and he gets his first returning villain! But don’t call it a comeback because the villain has chosen a new name for himself…

Until next time!

 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Showcase #14

Written by John Broome and drawn by Carmine Infantino



Its time for Flash’s first returning villain! But this time he has a brand-new name and look. It’s the Flash Vs. Doctor Alchemy in…



Our tale begins with the chronically late Barry Allen getting a call from Iris West… who tells him that SHE will be late, covering a story about how the villain Mr. Element has broken jail. Barry declares to himself that he’s his most dangerous foe (note that he’s only had three so far. Though I guess that’s more than I ever had.) and must be dealt with immediately.

But Mr. Element is no longer Mr. Element. In his spooky evil lair, he’s taken on a new name… Doctor Alchemy.



I’m going to say, I miss the Mr. Element outfit already. The elephantine gas mask was kind of a cool look in my opinion.



His new costume isn’t bad but it’s a little more generic. That said, I like what Carmine Infantino does with the look of the *character*.



Doctor Alchemy is so over your shit. He just can’t even. Seriously, I feel like a lot of the faces in the era, even when expressive, tend to be the same kind of expressive. Alchemy’s expression isn’t unique but somehow… Infantino gets it to speak volumes. He’s a cool costumer who has all the time in the world. And the funny thing is, its all in the shadow. I don’t think if his eyes weren’t peaking through the shadows, I would think nothing of his look but that little touch makes it work. Its basically like this.



And what cause Element to become Alchemy? Turns out Element had a cellmate who talked about a Lucky Stone. This causes Element to think this is the Philosopher’s Stone, a magic alchemy stone, which proves to be correct. Which feels like a leap but to be far we never get any details about the cellmate’s lucky stone stories, though I feel whatever he said to convince Element probably means “lucky stone” is a name that is lacking. Soon Element is turning kitchen pipes into gold after he escapes and claims the stone. However, despite the fact that he could easily retire from crime, Alchemy nee Element wants something money can’t buy… vengeance on the Flash. At least, I assume. He never actually SAYS this but considering he can make gold, there’s no reason to rob banks. But still, he mostly states that its so Flash won’t get in his way but… it seems like he isn’t. If you let it end here, you won. Its like the Hamburglar getting an infinity hamburger card from McDonald and then he insists on stealing some salads or some other thing no one actually orders at McDonald’s. A McPizza maybe?



The Flash stops by the robbery while looking for Element and it doesn’t take him long to figure out Alchemy is Element with a new outfit… but he’s not ready for his new tricks.



Seriously, The Flash’s stories would all end much sooner if he didn’t constantly look at his villains and say to himself “I wonder where he’s going with this.” Like, if this was a hostage situation, I get it, fools rush in, but this guy is clearly up to something and you can do something before he does it. And what he does is turn coins into quicksilver, causing the Flash to literally slip up while he escapes.



Flash is probably lucky that the World’s Fastest Man gets a little extra time when his villains give up a good 5 to 10 seconds of prime escaping time with an explanation-gloat. But he still manages to go in a panel that should be just a conventional looking around panel that instead looking needlessly cool due to some textbook use of angles to give a sense of space.



Like, this isn’t amazing but its needlessly dramatic looking considering the nature and point of the scene. Its really aesthetically pleasing to me, even if its more or less “baby’s first sense of depth” (not that I could do it. I’m pretty sub-baby in the art department).

Meanwhile, the Flash looking for Alchemy scenes are kind of weak compared to a lot of the Infantino Flash art we’ve seen before.



Anyway, Flash tracks Alchemy to his lair but that was part of his plan. Using the Philosopher’s Stone, he turns the walls of his lair into crystal, which causes a reflective and dazzling illusion.



Again, it’s a case where the new costume is… fine at best but man, Alchemy’s face is doing a lot of heavy lifting. That’s an A+ face. The Flash grabs rocks from the ground to break the crystal and escape.




“He’s the most disappearing man I’ve ever come up against.” Says wordsmith Flash. That said… what was Alchemy’s endgame? Did he think he could leave him in the cave forever? Or that he’d die from… not escaping? Maybe? It feels much more like a stalling tactic except he also said that he specifically led the Flash there.

Alchemy then has his next plan… turning garbage cans into “pure gold”.



That could also have been the last stage of his plan but in fact it’s a ruse to distract from his next caper. This time, Dr. Alchemy decides to trap the Flash by turning the air into rubber bands (I’ll admit, not a plan I would have thought of) to catch the Flash. But Flash finds a way to get loose.



Then uses his superspeed to grab the Philosopher’s Stone and chuck it into space.



Barry then goes on a date with Iris, saying that the whole Dr. Alchemy affair kept him busy at the police station. Iris then says that he can thank a “real man” like the Flash for making life easier for Barry. Damn, Iris, that’s cold.

Obviously, despite the fact that his super-power is floating around the Earth, Doctor Alchemy will be back, eventually. With him and Captain Cold, the Flash is developing a Rogue’s gallery and while the designs aren’t as good as Spider-Man or Batman’s rogue gallery, I think I’m starting to appreciate the design in some of these early Flash villains. Doctor Alchemy has an OK costume but a great face. But Mister Element has “no face” but a cool mask. And Captain Cold? That’s just perfect in its simplicity.

Next: Another Legion of Super-Heroes tale. But I forget which one.

Until next time!

 
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