Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Speed Comics #34

Centaur and Harvey Comics liked doing text stories in their comics, often featuring characters that starred in strips. So, most of the text stories are coming from these companies. Speed Comics was an anthology title, originally starring Shock Gibson in a slightly different form. Eventually, he was joined by Captain Freedom (who edged him out of the cover spot) and the Black Cat. The covers would often be by Simon & Kirby or Alex Schomburg and as often the case were often more interesting looking than the actual stories inside. Especially Schomburg who specialized in providing all-star jam-packed action on the cover, showing the heroes all together in climactic battle with the enemy. At other companies, readers usually just had to wonder exactly what was the adventure behind the cover, making it up in their heads. Not so at Harvey! In the text stories, they started providing a little feature called "the Story behind the Cover".

Here's one such from Speed Comics #34, 1944. The whole comic can be read at Enjoy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Captain Freedom takes Berlin!

Captain Freedom debuted in Speed Comics #13, May of 1941 (an oddity, most of the patriotic Axis-smashing heroes debuted before America's involvement in WWII). In issue 16, he'd take over the cover spot and remain there until the end of his run although some of the covers teamed him up with the other major stars of the title.

Despite this and some wonderful covers by Simon & Kirby and Alex Schomburg, he never really caught on enough to carry his own book nor leave a legacy. So far, attempts at bringing back some of the GA heroes of Harvey comics have focused mainly on the Black Cat with Shock Gibson making an appearance or two. Probably two good reasons for this. One, his costume changed almost with each issue, there was really no good iconic look for him. Two, nothing really stood out about him, he was made up of various elements from other characters. He was given the generic job of newspaper publisher and then saddled with a kid gang who generally served as impetus for his adventures and suspected his real identity.

This little story may be one of the more unique and interesting things ever done with him. Speed Comics #26 was published in 1943 and depicts him in one of his better costumes. In the text story, it reveals that he has a super-fast aircraft of his own design which he uses to quickly fly to Germany to help soldiers take Berlin! Hitler's own final fate depicted here is eerily prescient.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Amazing Man: Death Looks in a Mirror

Amazing Man was one of, if not THE, biggest stars produced by Centaur. Among one of the earliest heroes to jump on the Superman bandwagon, he was also an early creation by Will Everett who would become more famous for Namor, the Sub-Mariner and a host of other aquatic heroes (and who strangely had nothing to do with the Shark, Centaur's resident underwater hero). Amazing Man's abilities came from one of those hidden mystic Tibetan retreats but he was not a mystical hero such as Chandu but a very physical and violent one, echoing early Superman and Wylie's Hugo Danner.

Even if Aman, as he was sometimes called, didn't originally last beyond America's entry into WWII, his legacy was long lasting. In the 1960s, Pete Morisi would lift many story elements for his more contemplative philosophical hero Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. Marvel would also go to the same well for the origin and back story of Iron Fist. More recently, they acknowledged that past by introducing a mystery man called the Green Mist into the Iron Fist canon, another name that Amazing Man was sometimes called. In between, DC would introduce an African American hero called Amazing Man in the pages of All-Star Squadron who would cast his own extensive legacy. Malibu comics would bring back a version of the original in the pages of The Protectors, a re-imagining of the Centaur characters on one team. And, then, there is also DC's charming 'Mazing Man.

Amazing Man also gave readers one of the first true great super-villains, the Great Question. He opposed Aman from the start and under several different names and guises, he fought Amazing Man in almost every story up to the end of the run. As the Great Question he dressed in robes and with his face covered by a hood with a question-mark on it AND he possessed powers, some of which dwarfed Aman's own. He stands unique.

In addition to his strips, Amazing Man was regularly featured in small text stories. This is from issue 19 of Amazing Man Comics, 1941. More of the comic can be found at:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dr. Darkness!

Text stories in comics could generally be broken down into several categories. Some characters only appeared in text stories and were generally of the same genres of pulp fiction of the day: adventure, western, detective, etc. Centaur often had several of their ongoing adventure characters who had their own strips appear in text stories and some of them have some wonderful art by great Fred Guardineer. Sci-fi hero Dan Hastings was one of these and whose adventures in text and strip would span comic companies. Then you had the superheroes who appeared in their own strips but also text stories. Centaur's own Amazing Man was one of those. Harvey had their stories-behind-the-covers that told of the amazing adventure that was on the cover but not in the book otherwise.

It was odd to see a masked hero appear only in an text story and only in that one. Yet, as far as I've been able to ascertain, we do have two such cases, once with Mystery Man and here with Dr. Darkness. I've yet to come across other stories with either character. It's possible other stories were planned but just never made it into print. Neither is a bad little story.

Dr. Darkness appeared in 1940 in Keen Detective Funnies #24. More of the comic can be seen at