by Jimmm Kelly
shock and horror
Covers for JOURNEY INTO FEAR 13 (May ’53), STRANGE MYSTERIES 12 (July ’53), MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] 5 (January ’54).
For background on Canada’s wartime and post-wartime comics, check out last Issue’s CAN COM 101.
When it comes to horror comics, the first publisher that springs to mind is EC, of course. Their horror anthologies from the early ’50s are often cited as the top in terror. During the period of the EECA [Economic Exchange Conservation Act], the branch plant publisher of Canadian editions for EC was Superior Publishing-even though, by this time, the Fulton Bill was supposed to prohibit such violent comics. Superior did make one concession to the Fulton Bill to be in compliance with the letter of the law, if not the spirit–they changed the name of EC’s CRIME SUSPENSTORIES to WEIRD SUSPENSTORIES.
In ’51, Superior began to publish their own original horror comics–yet, from ’50 through ’53, they also continued to produce Canadian editions for all three EC horror anthologies: THE HAUNT OF FEAR, THE VAULT OF HORROR and TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Superior’s own horrors might not have achieved the same consistent quality as EC–yet their brand of schlock offered unexpected surprises.
Superior’s Canadian edtiions of: THE HAUNT OF FEAR 17 (circa October ’50), cover by Johnny Craig; THE VAULT OF HORROR 13 (circa July ’50), cover by Johnny Craig; TALES FROM THE CRYPT 21 (circa January ’51), cover by Al Feldstein.
Check out this blog for more on Superior/EC: Unofficial Checklist of Superior/EC Comics.
crime and punishment
Wartime Superior pulp covers: FAMOUS CRIME CASES April ’42; GREATEST DETECTIVE CASES June ’45; TRUE CRIME CASES August ’45.
With the restrictions on American products coming into Canada, including pulp magazines and comic books–thanks to the War Exchange Conservation Act, passed into law December 6 ’40–Canadian publishers rushed to get out both pulps and comics. Superior Publishing was one of the big producers of the Canadian pulp magazines in the early ’40s. Their titles–which included FAMOUS CRIME CASES, GREATEST DETECTIVE CASES and TRUE CRIME CASES–specialized in the spicey true crime genre. Women in dangerous situations appeared on all their covers.
Some time after they launched their true crime pulps, Superior started to publish comic books, but they don’t seem to have been as successful with those as they were with the pulps–not during the war. Their greater success would come after the war as they aggressively pursued sales both in Canada and the United States.
Post-war Superior pulp covers: TRUE CRIME CASES March ’48; FAMOUS CRIME CASES May ’48; FAMOUS CRIME CASES July ’48; FAMOUS CRIME CASES November ’53.
For more about the Canadian pulps from 1940 – 52, check out Library and Archives Canada’s Tales from the Vault.
dynamic and daring
Superior’s DYNAMIC COMICS No. 24 (March ’48): Dynamic Man (an android, similar to Timely’s Dynamic Man) makes his final appearance in this issue, having first appeared in Chesler’s DYNAMIC COMICS No. 1 (July ’41) [art appears to be by Stan Asch]; E. G. Letkeman, who worked for a number of Canadian publishers, provides a feature page on cosmetics; and Fred Kelly, known for his work on Doc Stearne/Mr. Monster for Bell Features and F. E. Howard, provides the “Chuck” Torrance feature.
Superior’s publisher was William Zimmerman and he seems to have been determined to build on Superior’s success, where other Canadian publishers had failed after the war. With the Economic Exchange Conservation Act in late ’47, Canadian publishers were now largely branch plant operations for American comic book producers. Superior was a leading publisher of these Canadian editions, but unlike the other publishers, Superior published original material, as well.
After Chesler/Dynamic stopped publishing DYNAMIC COMICS, Superior acquired the title and continued it with all new material. Where other Canadian editions were largely intended just for Canadian consumers who couldn’t get the genuine American comics (except as contraband), titles like DYNAMIC were intended for both markets, which gave Superior a much larger consumer base to draw on. This seems to account for the success they enjoyed in the late ’40s and early ’50s, despite the obstacles in their way.
Those obstacles being: the Fulton Bill passed on December 10 ’49 censoring comics; the removal of the EECA restrictions on American comics and pulps in ’51; and ultimately the censorship in the United States, as well, which resulted in the Comics Code Authority in ’54. Despite all these pressures, Zimmerman didn’t give up and in fact defied public policy by putting out his line of shocking horror titles.
For more public domain Superior comics, check out Comic Book Plus.
An ad in DYNAMIC COMICS No. 24 (March ’48) for GREAT JUNIOR CLASSICS available from the Dominion Mail Order Agency, headquartered at the same address as Superior Publishing–this appears to have been yet another of William Zimmerman’s sidelines.
fear and loathing
JOURNEY INTO FEAR was Superior’s first horror title. EC had its three hosts that introduced their stories and JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 1 (May ’51) holds out a nascent possiblity of a host, as one of the Furies of ancient Greek myth tells the first of the four tales (not including the text story).
A bland mix of science fiction and suspense and not really a good horror story–as with a lot of the early Superior horrors–the one great hook in this story is the Fury. She’s unnamed, but let’s call this member of the Erinyes, Megaera. As Megaera tells her story she sews a shroud. Presumably Matt Baker did the art for this one.
Another good prospect for a narrative device that never goes anywhere is a purple, phantom stranger that walks and talks through the third story. But this violet visitor seems to get bored with the very story he’s involved in. At one point he says this is dull and sorry I took up your time–then gives up on the narrative before the end. Hardly an encouragement for the reader to stick with it to the bitter boring end.
The violet visitor as a stand-in for the writer is nearly a metaphor for how the early Superior tales unfold. As each story opens there’s something that looks interesting, but as the story goes ahead it’s almost like the writer checks out two thirds of the way and doesn’t care how it finishes.
A Fury (by Matt Baker) and a strange visitor help out in narrating JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 1 (May ’51)–as reprinted in STRANGE MYSTERIES No. 19 (Septermber ’54).
Still, there’s a wealth of compelling ideas in these horrors and every now and then, there’s one story that delivers the goods. In this first issue, for my money the last story pays off. In The Playful Executioner, we have a Pumuckl type goblin who is apparently only visible to the reader and not the residents of the story. George Mason’s wife is a real nag and our kobald doesn’t like her much. Meanwhile at the office, a pretty secretary, Sally, seems a better love match for George and this Pumuckl makes sure that the wife is put out of the way permanently, so George can have a clear shot at Sally. In this case, the lack of clear reason in the story works in its favour. The kobald operates best as an unexplained interloper.
The Playful Executioner, JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 1 (May ’51)–as reprinted in STRANGE MYSTERIES No. 19 (September ’54).
desire and despair
After the first issue, there’s no evidence of Matt Baker’s further involvement with JOURNEY INTO FEAR, but it’s assumed all the stories were created by the Iger Studio and one of the Baker impressionists at Iger (as with Iger’s Baker-esque artists on Fox’s RULAH) creates a Baker-style femme fatale for Gypsy’s Curse, in JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 3 (September ’51):
Original art for the newspaper strip, FLAMINGO (June 30 ’52), by Ruth Roche (writer) and Matt Baker (artist); and unpublished original art by Baker for a projected Flamingo comic book feature.
When movie star Greg Peters toys with Lucia’s heart and refuses to marry her, she puts a curse on him. No woman that loves him will escape death.
After Greg’s co-star stabs him in the back (literally), he doesn’t die but ends up with a pretty nurse–and she, in the end, unintendedly dies by his own hand.
In terms of horror, JOURNEY INTO FEAR remained relatively tepid with its first few issues, but by issue 6 (March ’52) it has fully embraced the macabre elements of ’50s horror comics. That issue’s lead story, Partners in Blood–about a vampiress and her thrall–even dares to flirt with lesbian eroticism.
Partners in Blood, JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 6 (March ’52).
irony and tragedy
Superior’s second horror title was STRANGE MYSTERIES–its first issue cover dated September ’51. It copied the format of the first title: four horror stories per issue, plus a two page text story.
They continued to explore the same themes of murder and monsters, revenge and retribution, but the plots became more inventive. There were some good yarns.
Strange Mysteries No. 8 (November ’52) boasts excellent artwork and memorable plotlines. One of these is Through Wicked Eyes, where an average guy finds a pair of witch’s spectacles which let him see what is about to happen. What he sees is never good:
The plot comes to a head when he foresees the death of his own wife and rushes off to save her. But he ends up in the very taxi that strikes and kills her.
But the best story in issue 8 has got to be Flaming Horror–the heart wrenching story of Tubby Brant who is stuck in an obese form due to a glandular problem that is beyond the medical science of the day. Worse yet Tubby gets caught in an apartment fire:
Finally, things start to look up for Tubby when he inherits his cousin’s house, situated far from the madding crowd, where Tubby is safely removed from the stinging remarks and abuses of an uncaring public. It turns out that this house is haunted, by a murdered woman who was not a beauty in life. She and Tubby find contentment in each other’s company.
Yet their happy home is threatened when the oil company lays claim to the land and intends to tear down their house. The ghost urges Tubby to kill the oil company man and then she kills Tubby, so they can both escape the bitter consequences of the earthly realm and live forever in happiness in the sweet hereafter:
love and death
Out of the many bizarre tales in the Superior horror anthologies, one of the most bizarre is Evil Intruder in JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 12 (March ’53). This tells about It, a member of a tribe of beasts called Truggs. It decides that it wants love and goes into a town, peaking in windows, in search of love. Until It finds a couple in love. Taking the place of the man, It is able to delude the woman into thinking she is with her man:
Evil Intruder, JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 12 (March ’53)--It has strange desires, but in the end the other Truggs drag him back to participate in their arcane rituals.
A common plot in the horrors was the appointment with death, where someone is destined to die and comes face to face with the personification of death (usually represented in skeletal form). Horror Holds the Reins, in STRANGE MYSTERIES No. 16 (March ’54), does a nice variation on this with a modern day Romeo and Juliet, who mistakenly end up in Death’s horse-drawn coach. Death shows a heart and seeks to arrange a happy ending for these two–of the less morbid variety.
Death has a change of heart in Horror Holds the Reins, STRANGE MYSTERIES No. 16 (March ’54).
cold and darkSuperior’s third horror title was MYSTERIES not to be confused with STRANGE MYSTERIES. While the indicia identifies it as simply MYSTERIES, the cover always says: MYSTERIES WEIRD AND STRANGE [except for the very last issue], which is how it’s sometimes called to make a clear distinction from the similar STRANGE MYSTERIES title.
The first issue of MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] was cover dated May ’53. Coming in late, it wouldn’t enjoy as long a life as the other two, running for only eleven issues. The last issue, MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] No. 11 (January ’55), was the final horror comic from Superior and the publisher’s entire line of comics would fade out by the end of that year. But in truth the end came for the horrors much earlier as the last issues to feature new stories were STRANGE MYSTERIES No. 18 (July ’54), MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] No. 8 (July ’54) and JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 21 (September ’54)–the last few issues of STRANGE MYSTERIES and MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] had reprints from earlier issues.Generally the tales in these anthologies took place in one of three different locations. Either they were set somewhere in the United States, or somewhere abroad (such as London, Paris, Vienna–or often small foreign villages) or in an unidentified place that could be in the U.S., Canada or elsewhere. Seldom was a location identified as being in Canada (and never as being in Toronto, the home of the publisher), but there were a few Canadian tales.
One such was The Sea Goblins in MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] No. 7 (May ’54), which takes place on the B.C. coast. In fact, the artist gives the story a real sense of place, as though he or she had been there and knew enough to get the details right (more or less).
The story is about a native legend that says the sea goblins will come on shore in their mystery ship once every hundred years to take their brides. And arrive they do.
One of the sea goblins shows very tender feelings for his chosen wife, Dr. Pamela Preston (anthropologist). Although the goblins hunt down their mates, when their ghost ship leaves, the bodies of the women are left on the beach at the end, their souls having been abducted.
As seems to happen in most funny books, no matter where they come from, the Mountie in this story is in the traditional red serge dress uniform, which is only for formal occasions not regular police patrols. Another error is that the Mountie is called a Northwest Mounted Policeman, even though that name had long since changed to Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Almost the same mistake was made in Blood On Her Lips, in JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 11 (January ’53), where the Mountie is a member of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, even though the story is clearly identified as taking place on January 5th ’52.
eerie and absurd
Issue No. 8 of MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] (July ’54)–in its final story (and this was the final issue to feature new stories)–has one of the most memorable horror tales of them all.
With a dry delivery, Happily Dead, tells how Harry Bates suffers from a strange medical condition, that of being dead. Consequently, he is subject to unfair treatment and injustice–just because he’s different from you or I. If Superior had to die, at least it died with a good ending.
coming up . . .
. . . for the first week in November, ch-ch-ch-changes . . .
Fiction House transports their formula of ray guns, babes and BEMs from their pulp magazine, PLANET STORIES, to their newest funny book title, PLANET COMICS–the first issue (January ’40) going on sale on or about November 1 ’39.
MLJ launches what promises to be one of the longest running comic book titles, when ARCHIE COMICS No. 1 (Winter ’42) arrives at the newsstands around November 1 ’42.
In THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD 105 (January-February ’73), Batman and Wonder Woman play a game of the Spanish prisoner which turns out to be for real–check the spinner racks on November 2 ’72.
SUPERMAN saves a man from suicide and helps him find the will to live, in the January-February ’44 issue (No. 26) of the Man of Tomorrow’s magazine, on sale November 3 ’43.
Superman Breaks Loose on November 5 ’71 in the Amazing New Adventures of SUPERMAN 233 (January ’71), when all Kryptonite on Earth is transformed into iron and a new nemesis rises to challenge the Man of Steel–as Denny O’Neil/Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson begin their Sand Superman Saga. It’s the first issue edited by Julius Schwartz. Neal Adams provides the iconic cover.
On November 6 ’56, DC takes over from Quality in publishing ROBIN HOOD TALES with issue No. 7 (January-February ’57). This is followed on November 8 ’56 with the DC/Quality switch on BLACKHAWK 108 (January ’57)–Dick Dillin and Chuck Cuidera continue as artists on this series. And on November 22 ’56, G. I. COMBAT 44 (January ’57) follows in kind.
On the newsstands November 7 ’41: Wonder Woman begins her run in SENSATION COMICS No. 1 (January ’42)–in addition, the origins of the Gay Ghost, Mr. Terrific, Wildcat and Little Boy Blue are told in their first appearances–while also in this issue, the Black Pirate continues his run from ACTION COMICS. And the Man of Steel encounters a mermaid princess from the Undersea City, in SUPERMAN 14 (January-February ’42)–a classic patriotic cover is provided by Fred Ray.
Weddings always make me cry but you’ll be crying for completely different reasons on November 7 ’53 –issue 150 is the final issue of CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES (November ’53)–will Cap’s career end in marriage?
. . . for the second week in November, try these new fashions . . .
Swing by the newsstand on November 9 ’51 for these two mags from DC: Johnny Peril encounters the mystical Subara the Ice Queen on the top of a mountain, in SENSATION COMICS 107 (January-February ’52). HERE’S HOWIE No. 1 (January-February ’52) features the latest teen comedy character.
All-American launches FLASH COMICS No. 1 (January ’40) which features the first appearances of the Flash, Hawkman, Johnny Thunder, Cliff Cornwall and the Whip, at your newsdealer on November 10 ’39.
You’ve enjoyed them in DETECTIVE COMICS, now Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s BOY COMMANDOS rate their own comic magazine. In issue No. 1 (Winter ’42-’43), the Newsboy Legion guest star, as they go to the DC offices to report the deaths of the Commandos, but Kirby and Simon ask the Sandman to get to the bottom of this story (Jack Schiff, Jack Liebowitz and Whitney Ellsworth also appear). Scheduled for sale on November 11 ’42.
On sale November 11 ’71, for SUPERMAN 247 (January ’72), Elliot Maggin writes his first Superman story–this one based on an idea by Jeph Loeb–as the Guardians of the Universe suggest to Kal-El that his actions are limiting the development of human beings on Earth (art by Swan and Anderson). And in another new story, Denny O’Neil writes the first Private Life of Clark Kent feature, as Clark decides to solve some problems on a human level (art by Swan and Anderson). While the reprint for this issue is an Edmond Hamilton yarn about the Superman of 2966 (here changed to 2496) against his arch enemy Muto (art by Swan and Klein).
Hello! Here we are with the first number of NEW COMICS–the International Picture Story Magazine. Here’s something you have always wanted–eighty pages packed and jammed with new comic features, written and drawn especially for NEW COMICS–never printed before anywhere. Here is a magazine of picturized stories chock full of laughter and thrills, comic characters of every hue, knights and Vikings of ancient days, adventuring heroes, detectives, aviator daredevils of today and hero supermen of the days to come!
We know that your eyes won’t suffer from strain while you enjoy these clearly drawn pictures and the large readable text, but we can’t guarantee that you won’t strain your ribs from laughter at the antics of these comic characters. Also, we’ll guarantee that, no matter how wise you are, there are heaps of things you will learn about this wide world and its people and their histories every time you read through a copy of NEW COMICS Magazine.
So climb aboard and ride with us every month through Eighty Pages of wit and humor, drama and thrills. Laughter is the universal antidote for the blues. Be a NEW COMICS booster.
Yours to command,
–NEW COMICS No. 1 (December ’35) the second ongoing title from Major Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Newspaper Syndicate at newsstands on November 12 ’35. The new features include J. Worthington Blimp by Sheldon Mayer and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels with text and illustrations by Walt Kelly (much of the book is in black and white, with text features).
Seems like these days, every publisher has to have a massive magazine featuring their biggest stars. Not to be outdone, Fawcett debuts AMERICA’S GREATEST COMICS No. 1 (’41) on sale November 12 ’41, with 100 pages featuring Captain Marvel, Minute Man, Bulletman, Spy Smasher and Mr. Scarlet.
Martin Goodman’s new Atlas publications for the week of November 12 ’74 are the first issues of THE GRIM GHOST (January ’75), IRONJAW (January ’75) and PHOENIX (January ’75).
On November 14 ’47, Green Lantern tries to lure the Harlequin out into the open, by using Molly Mayne, in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS 93 (January ’48). The popular radio crime drama MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY gets its own long running DC comic book with issue No. 1 (January-February ’48).
All on sale dates might be approximate, as provided by Mike’s Amazing World of Comics (The Newsstand) and by other sources.
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