THE OTHER GUYS (AND GAL)

 

 

One time Fawcett and MLJ artist, Edd Ashe, produced the covers of the middle issues of the core Fox titles-- Wonderworld Comics, Mystery Men Comics, Weird Comics and Fantastic Comics. He also drew the earlier issues of the latter Fox titles of Big 3 Comics, Flame Comics and Green Mask Comics.







            The Flame #2 (Fall 1940)
      Wonderfully rendered portrait of
            The Flame by Edd Ashe.

     Although it is the early Fox covers of Fine and Simon that are best known, several semi-classic golden age covers were produced at the end of the title runs in late 1941 by Ramona Patenaude. Little is known about her. She did some work for MLJ and for Target Comics.



It was a female artist that drew the bulk of the bondage covers that graced the Fox titles at the end of their run. See Mystery Men Comics #26-31 (September 1941- February 1942) and Blue Beetle Comics #10-12. (Issue number 12 actually appeared on the first Blue Beetle cover published by Holyoke Publishing Co. The cover, obviously, had been drawn by Patenaude before the demise of Fox Publications on March 6, 1942. She finished up the run of Weird Comics #18-20 and Eagle Comics #3 and 4.



                                                                         Blue Beetle #11 (Feb. 1942)                                                                   Ramona Patenaude bondage cover.

     Patenaude shut the lights off at Fox by doing both issues of V….Comics; issue 2 being the last issue produced by the company, cover dated March 1942.

(Patenaude was not the only female artist and writer to work for Fox. Sandra Swift who created the Sorceress of Zoom for Weird Comics was one of the first female writer/artist in the comicbook field. With the resurrection of Fox titles during the crime/romance era, she played a significant role in the romance titles for Fox.) The covers for the remaining run of the other titles were the collaborative product of Pierce Rice and Louis Cazeneuve (Wonderworld Comics 30-33 and U.S. Jones). Cazeneuve drew the final issues of Green Mask Comics and Flame Comics. These three artists drew many of the features as these titles ended.

           U. S. Jones #1 (Nov. 1941)
     Rice/ Caseveuve anti-Nazi cover.


THE CHARACTERS

     Dr. Doom, Electro, Thor -God of Thunder.... No, this is not an article on Marvel Comics. These characters appeared in Science Comics and its sister title Weird Comics. Although today these certainly are not household names, these characters were part of dozens churned out in Fox anthology books of the day to fill out sixty-four pages. These books were typical of the time period with features running from super-heroes to space adventures to jungle adventures and adventures under the ocean. Many of the features were derivative of the type of hero strips that were currently in vogue

     Some of the “well known” Fox heroes of that time were:

     Electro, "dynamic man of electricity” only lasted one issue before changing his name to Dynamo. Jim Andrews was a brilliant research scientist who, while conducting an electrical experiment, becomes caught between two giant elec-trodes. He finds that he can control electricity and thus create force fields to protect himself from bullets and fly through the air. He dons a misfitting helmet and vows to “defend humanity against the cruel ravages of criminals and war makers”. His adventures were actually pretty wild, often involving the consequences of his advanced scientific experiments. When drained of his powers he recharged himself by going to the nearest electrical outlet or railroad track. Perhaps the most lasting quality of this character is the three wonderful Science Comics covers that Fine drew. In Fine’s covers, one could hear the “crackle” of this hero at work.

        
                                                           Science Comics #2 (March 1940)
                                                                   Wonderful execution of fantasy art                                                                                     by Lou Fine.

     The Eagle was Bill Powers, a young scientist, that discovered an anti-gravitational fluid which, when placed on his specially designed wings enabled him to fly like a bird. The Eagle took on garden-variety crooks with names like “Bulvo”, “The Purple Gang” and “The Black Circle”.

The best thing about his strip was the introductory captions: “Down from the skies like an avenging shadow swoops The Eagle, relentless scourge of the underworld rackets”. In issue Science Comics #7 (August 1940) he gives up his wings and uses a special formula on a cape and starts to use a mask. The Eagle continued to fly in Weird Comics and his own title until the demise of Fox in 1942.


             The Eagle #2 (Sept. 1941)
    Patriotic cover by Rice/ Casaneuve

     Cosmic Carson was the first of the “alliteratively” named adventurers of Fox. Carson, “ace pilot of the interplanetary patrol”, grappled with all sorts of nasty space villains like “Brigo and the Fangmen of Jupiter” and “The Skullmen”. Carson’s exploits involved saving a Venusian princess from cannibals on Eros, Earth slaves from the Plutonian “protoplasmic degenerator”, and a scientist and his daughter from being injected with a serum that would have converted them into insects. Although he had the usual weapons of a space adventurer available to him, Carson would more often resort to his fists and one-liners to subdue the slime buckets of the galaxy. His adventure in Science Comics issue four (May 1940) is notable in that it was drawn by Jack Kirby. Other alliterative Fox heroes were Perisphere Payne, Flick Falcon, Blast Bennett, Sub Sanders…well you get the idea.


                                                                      Science Comics #4 (May 1940)
                                                                 Cosmic Carson cover by Joe Simon.
                                                                      Within was the first Fox story
                                                                             drawn by Jack Kirby.

     Dr. Doom was a fiendish fellow who was always plotting some diabolical scheme. His evil experiments always involved Jan and Wanda, aviators, who had the misfortune of bumping into the doctor on Earth or Jupiter (where everyone seemed to scoot off to) at the wrong time. The dear doctor would shrink these two to the size of microbes or transport them to a different dimension. In fact, in this latter story (Science Comics #8 September 1940), Jan and Wanda are now newspaper reporters- not aviators- who work for the “Daily Star” with a news editor named “Mr. Lane”. (Fox must have had a death wish.) In fact, Detective Comics, Inc. sued Fox again for copyright infringement based on the failure of Fox to heed their letter of July 2, 1940 as to The Lynx and Blackie the Mystery Boy being a copy of Batman and Robin. The court in awarding damages of $2,000 noted that Fox Publications “does not seem to have profited by its experience in the case of [Wonderman]”. Of course, by the time this award was made on August 14, 1942, Fox Publications had been in bankruptcy for five months.

Introduced in Weird Comics #4 (August 1940), Dart and Ace Barlow continued through the end of this title run. Taking over the cover until issue 13, The Dart gave way to The Eagle. The Dart is Casius Martius, the “terror of Roman racketeers” who is captured and placed into a sleep to last 2200 years by a sorcerer. Awaking in 1940 in full Roman gear, he is just in time to see a young boy’s parents gunned down. Taking the young boy under his wing, they pledge to use his sword and ancient powers to destroy the present day rackets. Outfitted with a bright yellow uniform with a red arrow, The Dart would get around by, well, “darting”


                                                                      Weird Comics #6 (Sept. 1940)
                                                                      First Dart cover by Edd Ashe.

The Big 3 plus 1

The “Big 3” of the Fox stable was
The Flame, The Blue Beetle
and Samson. They appeared together in a title called Big 3.

                       
          (except for the final issue where
         Samson
 was replaced by V-Man.)


         Big 3 #6 (Nov. 1941)

The Flame

   The Flame replaced Wonderman as the lead character of the line
with Wonderworld Comics #3
(July 1939). As revealed in Wonderworld Comics #11
(March 1940, Fine’s last issue), The Flame is the baby son of Arnold Charteris, an American missionary in China. A flood washes Charteris away, and his son is saved by being placed in a basket. The basket containing the infant is washed into a mystical valley where he is found by lamas. They raise, educate and train him, so that he is at the peak of physical and mental powers. He is also trained in magic. Before leaving to take his place in the outside world, he is given the power over flame.
 


      

                                                                  Wonderworld Comics
#3 (July 1939)
                                                                     Lou Fine renders the first cover                                                                        appearance of The Flame.

     The Flame can emerge from flame (a match burning or any fire) and control flame, is hot enough that bullets melt when they touch him. The earliest adventures have him taking on gangsters and mysterious evil ghouls. He uses his Flame boat, Flame car and Flame plane to great advantage. Women are drawn to him as moths to a Flame. “In the battle against crime and oppression you will find The Flame where the fighting is the thickest.” By issue 23 (March 1941), he would burst into flame like the Human Torch, as opposed to using his Flame gun for the source of his flame power. Criminals and mad scientists kept him busy until Nazis and fifth columnists became his foes as of issue 26 (June 1941).

With the addition of U.S. Jones, a patriotic hero in issue 28 (and the introduction of an civilian alias as “Gary Preston”, and the addition of Flame Girl in Wonderworld Comics #30 (October 1941), obviously the popularity of The Flame was burning less brightly. The promotional ad for her appearance is rather dramatic:



                                                                 
   Wonderworld Comics
#28 (Aug. 1941)
 
Edd Ashe creates a 'monsterous' cover.

The Flame lay there, on the ground, helpless, dying… and if he passed on, so would all those innocent people whom he had sworn to protect….But there was still one way could come to their rescue, by passing the secret of his flame powers on to the one person he could trust the most….Linda Dale…

But Linda Dale had scorned him…had called Gary Preston, in reality, The Flame, a yellow coward-she had threatened to aid her uncle, a fugitive from the law…would she use The Flame powers for good, or through her uncle would all of Gary Preston’s good work fall into the hands of the underworld?

     But the introduction of a new supporting character was not enough to save The Flame from being replaced as the cover feature on Wonderworld Comics #32 (December 1941) by U.S. Jones. The Flame was extinguished, with the rest of the Fox characters, mere months later.

The Blue Beetle

     The second “costumed hero” to be created by the Eisner Shop actually started as second banana to the The Green Mask which was the lead cover feature for most of the earliest Mystery Men Comics issues. Created by Charles Wojtkowski (Charles Nicholas), the Blue Beetle was derivative of the Green Hornet and was to spawn another colorful insect hero with the Red Bee in Hit Comics when Eisner created a new universe of characters for Quality Comics in early 1940. In his initial adventure he sported a suit and mask ala the Green Hornet. He was rookie cop, Dan Garrett. In the second issue he wore an all blue garb, but with face exposed. Realizing by his third adventure that it was tough to be a masked hero without a mask, he began to don the well-known domino mask. “When crime shows it head, The Blue Beetle is always on hand!” It is not until issue 13 that it is stated that Dan Garrett obtained his super-energy by ingesting “Vitamin 2X”, which was distributed by his local super-hero helping pharmacist, Dr. Franz. (Also, rather novel for comics, the cover for issue 13, is derived directly from a panel in the Blue Beetle story.) The Beetle would flash a Blue Beetle light before he pounced on the bad guys. (And I thought the Spider-Man light was all Spidey.) By issue 14, he confronts his first nemesis, “The Skull”, who is leading attacks on America to promote the interests of the “fatherland”. (Interestingly “The Skull” appeared as the protagonist the following month in a different strip, Lt. Drake of the U.S. Naval Intelligence.)


                                                               Mystery Men Comics #13 (August 1940)
                                                             Edd Ashe renders a portrait cover of the
                                                                      Blue Beetle with gun ablazing.

Fox, noticing that the Blue Beetle was the most popular of his characters aggressively pursued “marketing” of this character in manner of Superman. First appearing in Mystery Men Comics #1 (August 1939), the Blue Beetle made his first cover appearance and moved to the first feature in Mystery Men Comics #7 (February 1940) followed by his own comicbook appearing in January 1940 (cover dated March 1940). This was not a coincidence as the newspaper syndication of Blue Beetle also began in January 1940. Syndication only lasted until mid-March. Undaunted, Fox attempting to emulate the marketing success of Superman, Blue Beetle began a radio show on May 15, 1940 starring Frank Lovejoy that continued for forty-eight episodes until September 13, 1940. During this time Fox Features sponsored a "Blue Beetle Day” on August 7, 1940 at the New York World’s Fair.

        
        "Blue Beetle Day"
was August 7, 1940
               at the New York World's Fair.

     Drawn by a number of artists through the 1940s, many of his stories were scripted by Robert Kanigher, who contributed a number of features in the Golden Age for MLJ, Fox and Fawcett. In 1946 he moved over to DC and scripted many features for DC golden age heroes. Later he created for DC such features as Sgt. Rock and Metal Men and many other characters. He edited many of the “Big Five” war books of DC and scripted The Haunted Tank for fifteen years. His prolific career and writing was intertwined with sixty years of comicbook creation. One of the few characters of the non-DC and non-Timely world to make it to present times, the Blue Beetle has survived the first and second demise of Fox Publications before being resurrected by Charlton Publications and then by DC Comics. He actually made it to the “hit list” of Dr. Wertham, as exemplifying all that was wrong with comicbooks, as the industry was assaulted in the early 1950s.


                                                                                                                          Mystery Men Comics #8 (March 1940)
                                                               Lou Fine takes his one and only crack
                                                                       at drawing The Blue Beetle.

Samson

     Samson is the direct descendant of the Biblical Samson and wears the same general style of clothes (loincloth and sandals). His initial adventures have him taking on despotic rulers or “hatchers” of fiendish plots. “Where there is injustice and despair” you will find Samson. He has great super strength and can perform huge leaps. His feats of strength are incredible. His main method of travel was power-walking (except in issue 4 when Professor Brun helps him get about with a ‘decomposing ray” -which is just like the transporter beam in Star Trek).

By issue 3, Samson hits the big city and finds it less conspicuous to travel about if he wears a suit. Fantastic Comics #3 features what some consider THE classic Lou Fine cover.



                                                                     Fantastic Comics
#3 (Feb. 1940)
                                                                        Classic Fine Samson cover.
                                                               (Note the cover art subject is fitting for                                                                           the robot story in issue 4.)

From mad scientists to mechanical giant robots to fighting Eelo The Fishman and monsters created by “crazed” doctors, Samson’s exploits were truly “fantastic”. He loses his power if his hair is cut as one learns is the eighth issue, but one also learns that if cut, it regrows quickly (issue 12). As many hero of the day after the advent of Robin, Samson rescues and gains a boy assistant named David in issue 10 (September 1940- same month The Green Mask got his boy side-kick). David’s main role was to get into trouble for Samson to rescue him and to crack one-liners at the bad guys. They were fairly conspicuous as they strolled the city streets bare chested with loin cloths. Samson’s main shtick was to toss trucks, ships and buildings around which seemed to interfere with the plans of most evil-doers.



      Fantastic Comics #22 (Sept. 1941)
         Samson battles Hitler while
                David raises the flag.

The Green Mask

Little was known about the Green Mask in his first stories. Drawn by Walter Frehm (a/k/a Walter Frame), he was an acrobatic crimefighter whose identity had to be kept secret until “society was purged of crime.”

As opposed to the monosyllabic and taciturn Blue Beetle, the Green Mask was a rather glib fellow. The following can sum up his attitude. Tied tightly by ropes, the bad guy tells him: “Before, I kill you, Green Mask, I will give you a demonstration of my great powers”…To which G.M. replies: “Before I’m thru with you, I’ll give a demonstration of my left hook!” By issue 12 (July 1940) the first hints of America and the coming war become subject matter of the strip.



                                                               Mystery Men Comics #3 (October 1939)
                                                               Only Lou Fine could bring such grace
                                                                 and lyrical style to the drawn page.


     In issue 13, we learn that the Green Mask is Michael Selby, an independently wealthy private eye. His powers were given by exposure to the “vita-ray.” He is placed in a "vita-ray" chamber and subjected to "super-charged shocks." (Note with issue 13, the editor felt compelled to “enhance” the powers of both the Green Mask and Blue Beetle by outside power sources.) He can now leap through the air and has increased strength. Without any introduction he is suddenly assisted by Domino, The Miracle Boy (move over “Boy Wonder”) commencing in issue 14 (September 1940).

DOWN BUT NOT OUT

Just as America joined the war and the super heroes of America had super villains of the Axis to fight, Fox Publications joined a number of publishers that went under. Fox was forced into involuntary bankruptcy on March 6, 1942 by a number of his creditors including, Bulkley, Dunton & Co., Phelps Publishing, and Chemical Photo Engraving Inc. with monies owed in excess of $100,000. (This was due, probably, in no small part to the fact its distributor, Colonial News, Inc. went under, owing Fox Publishing $173,551.)


The last Fox issue was V…Comics #2 (March 1942), which hit the stands in January 1942. Blue Beetle Comics, after a short hiatus, was picked up by Holyoke Publishing and continued with issue 12 (June 1942).



         
V...- Comics #2 (March 1942)
   The pre-war run of Fox Publications
     comes to an end with this issue.
       Cover by Ramona Patenaude.

     On February 15, 1944 Fox filed a petition to emerge from involuntary bankruptcy by proposing to “pay creditors 33 1/3% of net proceeds of the magazine Blue Beetle.” Continuing as Fox Feature Syndicate, Inc., Fox started a
new line of comics and wrested Blue Beetle Comics back from Holyoke Publishing Co. with issue 31, cover dated June 1944.

     Note that toward the end of the run of the titles that the Fox “publication” offices moved from Springfield to Holyoke, Massachusetts. Holyoke Publishing Co. began publication with Catman Comics, with its first issue being produced cover dated February 1942, just as the Fox titles went under. The Holyoke title Capt. Aero Comics started with issue 7, picking up the numbering from Samson Comics #6. The first Blue Beetle comic for Holyoke was cover dated June 1942 (#12). Although the editorial office address in New York City was different for each company, the “Office of publication” had the same address: 1 Appleton Street, Holyoke, Massachusetts. The link to Holyoke, as a “holding” company for the most popular of the Fox characters, has yet to be explored. See, for example, Fox Feature Syndicate, Inc. v. Holyoke Publishing Co. Inc., 56 N.Y.S.2d 395 (1945) as Fox Syndication, Inc. fought over debts and ownership with this company and the bankruptcy trustee for Fox Publications.


         Blue Beetle #12 (June 1942)
       Cover by Ramona Patenaude
   (Note the “white space” on the cover
      where the Fox Publications logo
           was obviously removed.)


Fox Features had a successful rebirth during the mid- and late1940s producing crime, humor and “good girl” comics (integrating its business by buying a paper mill on October 23, 1947 and purchasing a printing company).


                                                                       Fox expands his business...

However, as the new decade began, Fox Feature Syndicate was forced to file a voluntary petition for bankruptcy on July 15, 1950 along with its wholly owned subsidiary, Central Color Printing in an attempt to obtain protection from its creditors. The company tried to rearrange its debts via petition dated March 27, 1951. However, listing debts of $775,000 versus assets of only $30,000 as of July 31, 1951, a bankruptcy receiver was appointed for the company on August 2, 1951. The company was unable to emerge from bankruptcy, and Fox himself declared personal bankruptcy on May 29, 1952.

                                                                       ...and goes bankrupt again.
     

     As a final note, Robert Farrell, the right hand business “associate” of Victor Fox brought back reworked versions of The Flame and Samson in his short-lived Ajax-Farrell titles that joined the brief- the very brief- golden age super hero resurgence in 1954-1955. (Farrell even recycled the name Fantastic Comics for a similar brief period.) However, the brief resurgence of golden age super heroes and the post-war production of comicbooks by Fox are, as one says, stories for another day.


The author would like to acknowledge, in addition to primary materials, the reference works of Howard Keltner, Jerry Bails, Ron Goulart, Mike Benton, Will Eisner, Joe Simon, Robert Harvey and interviews conducted by Dave Armstrong. An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Comic Book Martkeplace 107.

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