Monday, October 23, 2017

Number 2118: “Hot dawg! Ain’t I nifty?”

 I have seen many examples of stereotypes in old comics, including some really egregiously racist portrayals of African-Americans, and in this story, a “minstrel face.” Caucasian male ZX-5 is the face behind the make-up, in this tale from Jumbo Comics #101 (1947). Artist Jack Kamen used ink lines on the face for shading, and then the colorist added the brown color over the lines. It isn’t as bad as I have seen in other places, where the minstrel make-up is solid black, but it is still insensitive, a relic of its era.

I like when ZX-5 and his platinum blonde partner, Rita, go into their soft-shoe routine. It makes for an amusing two panels at the top of page 4. That ol' devil weed, marijuana, also figures into the story. The artwork shows that Jack Kamen, who later went on to EC Comics, could draw pretty girls, but his action panels always looked stiff to me.

Even after having shown two other ZX-5 stories,in 2008 and 2013, I still knew nothing of the character. I went to Public Domain Superheroes, where I lifted this:
Created by Will Eisner


Agent ZX-5 was one of the top US spies. He answered to his superior Major Jason, who gave ZX-5 missions around the world fighting the Axis powers during WWII. He would continually come into conflict with foreign spies such as Madame Terror. After the war, he goes on to become a private eye.

He was known for his charm and carried a trick cane with numerous buttons each with a different function such as one for tear gas.
ZX-5 gets a ringing endorsement from his boss in the next to last panel: “For the first time, I like’re actually human!” Not only that, he had staying power. ZX-5 appeared in all 140 issues of Jumbo Comics.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Number 2117: Enter Calamity Kate

This story is for reader Darci, who asked  in a comment to a previous posting for another Calamity Kate episode from The Westerner Comics. So I am showing the first Calamity Kate, from The Westerner #26 (1950).

Calamity Kate is the masked identity of Miss Patricia Layne, the daughter of a deceased sheriff. She fakes being a stage robber, but in conjunction with Wild Bill Pecos goes in pursuit of the real bad guys. Something I noticed: Wild Bill knows who Miss Layne is, behind her disguise. In that way he is different than the hundreds of other comic book characters who don’t recognize the face under a domino mask.

Another thing about Wild Bill: his clothing style is...well, wild. He is color coordinated in purple pants with a matching neckerchief (which looks more like a shorty necktie), green shirt, cowboy hat and boots. No one else would look to see who Calamity Kate is, because their eyeballs would be too busy bouncing off Bill’s colorful outfit.

The story is drawn by Mort Lawrence.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Number 2116: Stormy Foster was a jerk

Stormy Foster the Great Defender may have had one of the longest superhero names, but his run was of short duration. He appeared in Quality’s Hit Comics from issues #18-#34 (1942-44). Stormy, in his civilian identity, was a soda jerk in a drug store. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a soda jerk was a person who prepared ice cream confections for customers of pharmacies, many of which featured that service in days gone past. Long past, I might add. I had experienced them a time or two in my youth, and my youth is as long gone as those soda fountains. Enough said about that.

Stormy found a “supervitamin” which gave him the strength of 10 men for a limited period of time. Some kind of super steroid, perhaps? Stormy should have turned that “vitamin” over to the War Department for the sake of national defense, but he kept it to himself. Even patriotism has its limits, I suppose.

He was also a grown man with another minor child as a sidekick. In this case it was Ah Choo, a Chinese youngster. The Public Domain Superheroes website, from which I am taking this information on Stormy, calls Ah Choo “horribly stereotypical,” yet if compared to Blackhawk’s hideous teammate, Chop Chop, at least Ah Choo looks human. (A note for my readers in non-English speaking countries: “Ah choo” is a sound effect many comics used for a sneeze, so Ah Choo’s name is a lowbrow pun.) And speaking of lowbrow, Stormy’s costume looks incomplete. He forgot to put on his pants. Stormy wears white briefs along with his white socks and slip-on shoes.

Grand Comics Database gives Max Elkan credit for the sharp artwork. From Hit Comics #24 (1942):

Monday, October 16, 2017

Number 2115: The Grimm ghost spotter

“Grimm, Ghost Spotter” appeared in the four issues of Bomber Comics, from 1944. But this episode is a reprint of a story that appeared a couple of months earlier in Harvey’s War Victory Comics #3 (Winter, 1943). I am not sure how all of this happened, but the contents of Bomber #1 appear to be reprinted from various sources, with the indicia listing the publisher as “Elliott Publishing Co.” I believe it may have been a company formed to print some comic books using a willing third party’s paper ration. To compound confusion, the Grand Comics Database lists the story as it appeared in War Victory as having art by Rudy Palais with a ? after his name, to show they aren’t sure. For Bomber Comics they list the artist as just ?

I am used to seeing comic book stories by Rudy Palais having characters dripping sweat. I don’t see sweat, but I think it may be a comic book sweatshop job with various artists working on it.

I like that Grimm goes to work carrying a ghost disintegrator, which in his line of work would be a handy device to have. But the unknown writer* must not have consulted the Monster Manual. Grimm says the countess is a zombie, but she doesn’t cast a reflection in the mirror. I thought it was vampires who don’t have reflections. Well, neither do I, but that's because I close my eyes when I look into a mirror so I don’t have to see myself.

From Bomber Comics #1 (1944):

*I assume the name “Don Weaver” is a pseudonym.