Originally published 1940 by Pelican Publications
Bob's link to this book reminded me I wanted to write about it. I shelled out 99 cents at IndyPlanet for the electronic version, when of course I could've used his link to get it for free! Ah well… At least I didn't get the Print-on-demand version. Unless it's cleaned up, I can't see this book selling to a wider audience than diehard fans. Various articles say that no more than 12 or 15 copies were sold during its original run! It has to have a wider circ in its afterlife.
Let's make one thing clear: this isn't a good book. It's only two years after the debut of Superman, after all, and there are still plenty of growing pains (pun not intended) on display here.
The Green Giant (no connection to the frozen vegetable firm) leads off with a full-color story, credited -- if that's the word -- to George Kapitan and Harry F. Sahle. Mr. Brentwood (no first name given) runs a brokerage firm on "Hall Street." He starts to run across counterfeit stock certificates and decides to root out the perps. I like that, when he touches his special belt to grow several stories tall, the caption says, "The Green Giant Lives Again!" when this is his first appearance. Anything to build credibility.
GG's powers are remarkably fluid: he grows (and shrinks), he flies, he's super-strong and invulnerable, all seemingly at random. Even worse than his power set is his slapdash attitude towards crimefighting: Twice he threatens underlings with being squeezed in his gargantuan fist, and once they squeal, he lets them scamper away with no concern that they'll sound the alarm. The head of the counterfeiting ring proves elusive but no real threat and is tossed summarily into police HQ.
The final caption says, "Another Green Giant story in the next issue of this magazine." But of course there was no next issue. It's hard to imagine there would be many crimes in the financial district that could be solved by a size-changing superhero. Although a hero who's also a broker might do well in this "Wolf of Wall Street" era. (I understand that the character of Greent Giant, which is in the public domain, was brought back in AmeriComics FemForce title, but I've never seen those issues so I can't comment.)
The next story is titled, "Dr. Nerod, Super-Scientist." The splash picture is signed Kiefer, if that means anything to anybody.
"While soldiers march across battlefields," goes the opening caption, "scientists devise new military torments to afflict suffering humanity." And we see planes dropping bombs and poison gas on civilians. Ships blow up, planes are shot down, a destroyer plows into a submarine.
Against all this carnage, "Doctors patch up the heroes….. FOR WHAT?" (Boy, does that resonate these days!)
Anyway Dr. Nerod is beavering away in his mountain stronghold and is now ready to spring his Big Idea on the generals. The military men are hungry for a new explosive, but Nerod says he has a more humane way: Flies. He exposes an ape to a fly infected with sleeping sickness. "Within an hour he sinks into a coma." "The ape will die in sixty days unless I treat him," says Nerod, "for only I know the cure!" He also has special infra-red rays that not only kill the flies but render them sterile. (Sounds like overkill.)
Nerod lays out his plan: "We will put the enemy to sleep, take them prisoners, and only cure them if they promise never to fight again!" And it's probably not giving anything away to say that the rest of the story follows Nerod's plan exactly, with no hitches. What the story lacks in tension, it tries to make up in scope: we see platoons of soldiers building arrays of infra-red lamps, bunny-suited technicians assembling the sleep bombs, planes and ambulances standing ready.
The enemy soldiers (no nationality given) refuse to believe the democracies have such a wonder-weapon, and as a result, they drop like, well, flies. Ambulances gather up the enemy fallen for treatment. Doc Nimrod, I mean Nerod, says, "anyone who escapes will be dead in sixty days -- all prisoners who sign the Peace Pledge, will be released when cured." Not surprisingly, all the foot soldiers sign. Their leaders -- again, no recognizable faces -- are exiled to an island, with flies waiting to be released in the event of escape.
Nerod is barely a cardboard cutout here, and of course there's no place in this story for someone like Jeff Goldblum's character from Jurassic Park, to point out how chancy relying on biological warfare is. Don't forget, this story was published in 1940, and the war in Europe was very much on people's minds. A story like this would have been wish fulfillment in its purest form.
Now the book goes from full color to two-color, red and black. The next story is "Mundoo of the Northwest," by John E. Pierotti. Mundoo is a wolf-German shepherd mix, clearly aiming at the Rin-Tin-Tin / King of the Frozen North crowd. Every page has a fresh title panel; either these are repurposed Sunday comic strips or are meant to suggest them.
Next is Kar Toon and his Copy Cat, by Martin Filchock. (Anybody ever hear of these people?) An example of the variety of features found in a Golden Age book, Kar is clearly influenced by Fleischer and Warners cartoons. We get four pages of Kar Toon's cartoons jumping off his drawing board. His mean old uncle is at the door! "More next issue!" Odd that the humor feature has the cliffhanger.
"Master Mystic" could have been done by Fletcher Hanks or Basil Wolverton. Both Master Mystic and his opponent Rango have unlimited powers. Rango commits genocide (apparently -- he knocks down skyscrapers and starts fires, but we never see any dead bodies). This story doesn't end so much as stop; Master Mystic gets fed up and melts Rango like a candle.
We jump back to full-color with "The Black Arrow," a shot across Spy Smasher's bow. Then cowboy action with "Lucky Lane" by Grant Evers. This story also ends on a "to be continued."
The next story, by Frank Thomas, features a debonair hero who combines the style of James Bond with the inventions of Q. He defeats a foreign spy with his x-ray flashlight, his paralysis ray and remote-controlled automobile. And the name of this escapee from a pulp novel?
Really, the Researcher. No other name given. And I thought Jade and Obsidian were dumb hero names…