By Michelle Nolan
What comic book best represents the transition from The Golden Age to The Atom Age, pre-Silver Age — or whatever else you might call the mysterious post-war four-color limbo of the late 1940s and early 1950s?
Some might say Fawcett’s Sweethearts #68 (Oct 48), previously Captain Midnight #67 (Fal 48). Others may choose DC’s All-Star Western #58 (Apr 51), previously All-Star Comics #57 (Feb 51) with The Justice Society of America. There are dozens of examples of such radical genre shifts.
But the answer we’re looking for does not involve postal permit shenanigans. Instead, we’re seeking a comic book with genuine transitional qualities, representing the possibly subtle end of one era and the beginning of another. In fact, it’s something readers of the time might have noticed barely, if at all.
I stumbled across one significant possibility while browsing through Harley Yee’s customary stock of box after box of 1940s and 1950s comics at Comic-Con International: San Diego in July. (The well-stocked likes of Harley and A-1 Comics impresario Brian Peets always bring so much material it keeps me intrigued.) But I didn’t realize I had found the answer until I began leafing through Pep Comics #60 (Mar 47), which I had purchased from Harley hours before.
By the time Pep #60 appeared, it was the last of the original MLJ titles to feature super-heroes — The Shield and The Black Hood. In fact, the MLJ logo had long since been supplanted by “An Archie Magazine” as the imprint.
Pep #60, though, surprised me. I had forgotten that this issue contained the last Golden Age adventure of The Black Hood. I had also forgotten that The Black Hood was not in costume. He had also appeared only in mufti in Pep #59 (Dec 46), about six months after Black Hood #19 (Sum 46) morphed into Laugh Comics #20 (Fal 46), another example of those many drastically different transitions.
Nor was The Black Hood ever referred to in Pep #60 as Kip Burland, which had been his civilian identity since he first hit the MLJ scene in Top-Notch Comics #9 (Oct 40). He was just called Mr. Hood or Hood, the man who ran The Black Hood Detective Agency (as the sign on his office door indicated), and the last Golden Age image of The Black Hood was a picture of The Black Hood’s headgear on the door.
It’s fascinating to realize that MLJ’s executives had decided that The Black Hood would be more intriguing out of costume, even though the experiment lasted for only two issues. In 1947, there were still plenty of super-heroes remaining, including most of the stars from DC, Fawcett, Timely, Quality, and Nedor, among others.
Fawcett, however, had already pulled a similar caper while converting the costumed Spy Smasher into the trench-coat hero Crime Smasher in Whiz Comics #76 (Jul 46). The difference was that Spy Smasher was clearly a character influenced by foreign wartime villainy; The Black Hood was pretty much a Batman knockoff. In any case, Crime Smasher didn’t have much more commercial success than the non-costumed Black Hood, last appearing in Whiz #83 (Mar 47), which carried the same date as Pep #60. (A Crime Smasher one-shot, apparently filled with inventory stories, appeared in 1948.)
The Black Hood’s final story was a 12-page murder mystery, “The Kiss of Death,” in which the hard-boiled Hood correctly figured the killer was a glamorous but greedy young woman. Meanwhile, The Shield did not appear until the last three pages of a horror-crime story in Pep #60, “The Case of the Living Puppets.” Even though the logo included Dusty the Boy Detective, Dusty was nowhere to be seen.
The Black Hood was essentially replaced by Joe Edwards’ long-running cute kid creation Li’l Jinx, who made her debut in Pep #62 (July 47).
There was something else notably special about Pep #60 — the iconic glamour girl Katy Keene began her long run in Pep in this issue. At the time, Bill Woggon’s then highly sexed pin-up queen was less than two years old, having been introduced in Wilbur #5 (Sum 45). The Archie editors also put Katy in Laugh Comics beginning with #20 (Fal 46), the first issue. Katy’s eye-popping poses in Pep #60 — the like of which the Comics Code Authority would never have permitted — were the highlight of what was only her 10th story in comics.
Archie had long since copped the cover of Pep Comics, having begun his regular solo cover appearances in #51 (Dec 44). But, as you can see, the real transition issue was #60. Can you think of a better example of a subtle (not overt) Golden Age transition issue?
I made another fun “find” in San Diego, this time at the table of longtime dealer Dave Downey of Sacramento’s World’s Finest Comics. I had been looking for Marvel’s version of Annie Oakley #11 (Apr 56) for years, since this is the last issue and boasts a gorgeous John Severin cover. (He signed his name under one of the two six-shooters Annie brandishes.) Marvel’s second series of Annie Oakley (there were four humorous issues in 1948) began with #5 (Apr 55).
Gail Davis played Annie in 81 syndicated episodes on television, first appearing in 1954-1956, and TV inspired Dell to extend the series of her title to 18 during 1953-1959. Charlton also put the legendary Wild West crack shot in several issues of the contemporary title Cowboy Western. Comics based on real-life frontier legends were big in the mid-1950s and included Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Wyatt Earp, and Jim Bowie — but Annie was the only significant female who dared match guile and gunshots with the bad guys of the comics.
Apparently, however, Annie Oakley didn’t sell nearly as well as such mythical Marvel characters as Kid Colt, The Two-Gun Kid, and The Rawhide Kid, since Annie was the first to bite the bullet, er, dust.
Dave Downey also sold me Peter Panda #5 (Apr 54, the scarce “marching carrots” cover) at a very fair price, but Jamie Newbold of Southern California Comics provided my biggest Peter Panda moment. (If you’ve never seen this charming children’s comic and you have a sense of humor honed by an appreciation of the likes of Alice in Wonderland, you have a treat coming.)
If memory serves, Jamie had recently purchased a batch of original-owner Golden and Silver Age comics, and I eagerly dove into his large supply. Wonder of wonders, there was Peter Panda #20 (Nov 56) — the last comic book I needed to collect all 378 comics issues DC published in 1956. That was the year I began to buy comics (though I could afford relatively few of them in my youth), so I long ago vowed that someday I would have every issue from my three favorite childhood publishers — DC, Archie, and Dell. (I’m still looking for a handful of 1956 Dells at the right prices.)
Peter Panda #20 has one of DC’s early “wash cover” experiments, though that wasn’t why I bought it. Jamie, always one of the most affable of dealers and very knowledgeable, has sold me a lot of comics over the years at Comic-Con, but this was the first time he’d ever wanted to buy one back from me the next day! He offered me $20 more than I paid — nobody could have been more fair — but my longtime wish to have every 1956 DC won the day, and I kept the issue. (Jamie, if I ever run across another Peter Panda #20, I’ll buy it for you and sell it at the same price you sold it to me.)
Although I don’t ever expect to own all the slightly more than 2,000 comics published in 1956 — I can’t afford many of the Atlas/Marvel issues — I have amassed nearly 75% of the 1956 run, including one I certainly had not expected to see in San Diego. But Chuck Rozanski, the Mile High Comics owner who sells untold zillions of comics every year, had a surprise for me — a 1956 comic I had never seen.
Charlton’s Timmy the Timid Ghost #3 (Feb 56) — actually the first issue — was among the earliest Casper knockoffs, although Marvel had beaten Charlton to the punch with Homer the Happy Ghost a year earlier. I loved all those ghostly humor comics as a child, especially Casper, so I was happy to see the debut of Timmy the Timid Ghost — actually one of Charlton’s few really successful titles — for the first time in Chuck’s bins.
This copy was in Fair condition, and the price had somehow fallen off, so Chuck kindly just gave it to me, while I purchased his copy of Hickory #5 (Jun 50) for my generous convention host Dan Stevenson (who had sought that issue for many years in order to complete his run of the seldom-seen six-issue Quality humor series).
Comic-Con International has become such an incredibly diversified media convention that it’s harder to find huge numbers of old comics than it once was, especially since collectors have now been spending 42 years scooping them up! But I counted no fewer than 34 dealers with substantial holdings of Golden and/or Silver Age comics this year, along with many more dealers of post-1970 issues, so there are still treasures to be found.
I would estimate I’ve found more than 3,000 comics from the 10¢ era in all those years at San Diego. Now, if only I can find more of those wacky issues Scott Shaw! features in his annual (and screamingly funny) “oddball comics” show at the convention …
A special thanks to Heritage Comic Auctions for providing the color scans in this piece.