The late 1930s and early 1940s were full of companies attempting to carve a niche in the fast-growing comic industry. Some titles (and publishers for that matter) vanished before readers even knew they existed. It is time to dust of the old comic box to review another short-lived title.
Dr. Doom, Electro, Thor -God of Thunder.... No, this is not an article on Marvel Comics, These characters appeared in comicbooks published by Fox Publications. The first two appeared in Science Comics. (Thor appeared in the sister title Weird Comics.) Science Comics was a short-lived title that was published for eight issues from February through September 1940. It was an anthology title typical of the time period with features running from super-heroes to space adventures to jungle adventures and adventures under the ocean.
Science Comics was published by Victor Fox and Fox Publications. Fox had worked for National Periodicals and was so impressed by the early dollar returns on Superman that he decided to start his own comic book company. Fox was the self-proclaimed “King of Comics”. Fox was a wheeler-dealer who seemed to “court” adversity in his early comicbook endeavors. His first title, Wonder Comics, starred Wonderman who was created to be a clone of Superman. Cover dated May 1939, DC Comics was quick to institute a lawsuit against Fox with a temporary restraining order (March 16, 1939) followed by a preliminary injunction hearing (April 6, 1939) so that there never was a second appearance of Wonderman. In fact, the title of this comic changed to Wonderworld Comics with the third issue apparently because of another legal conflict, this time with Hugo Gernsbach who published a science fiction pulp called “Wonder”.
Fox appeared to hit his stride with the publication of Wonderworld (July 1939) and it lead character, “The Flame”, Mystery Men Comics (August 1939) and it lead character “The Blue Beetle”, and Fantastic Comics (December 1939) and it lead feature of “Samson”. Many of these early issues sported wonderful covers by Lou Fine and Joe Simon. Simon, in fact, helped with the art direction after Fox had a falling out with the Iger-Eisner Shop following the Wonderman debacle. It was here at fox that Simon made the acquaintance of a young artist named Jacob Kurtzenberg (better known as Jack Kirby) with whom he was to have a long and creative relationship in comics. Additionally he also met Alfred Harvey for whom he did several projects after Harvey set up his own comic book company. (See, for example, Pocket Comics, Champ Comics, Speed Comics, etc.)
“Bad luck”, however, continued to follow Fox. He create a comicbook that showcased his three major character called Big 3. According to Crawford’s Encyclopedia of Comic Books, some in the government found the title - and the parody use of the characters- to be demeaning to Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin- the beg three leaders of the war effort. A newly created government board set up to conserve the manufacture of non-essential goods apparently focused specifically on several of Fox’ titles forcing him to discontinue many of his titles in early 1942 just when the war and the comicbook industry took off. However, Fox returned in a big fashion in the late 1940s with a slew of new titles characterized and fueled by “good girl” artwork.
Science Comics was the fourth title produced by Fox. Many of its features were derivative of the type of hero strips that were currently in vogue. The covers of the first five issues were drawn by Lou Fine and Joe Simon. It is these covers which form the highlight of the series. (Since I am a Lou Fine fan I will digress and point out that Fine created some of the most beautiful covers and art of the golden age. My personal favorite covers from each of the series he drew are Science Comics #2, Fantastic Comics #3, Hit Comics #9, Mystery Men Comics #3, Wonderworld Comics #7, National Comics #7 Planet Comics #2 and Jumbo Comics #10. End of digression.)
The roster of characters in this comicbook series consisted of:
“The Eagle” was Bill Powers , a young scientist, that discovered an anti-graitational 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 were the intoductory captions: “Down from the skies like an avenging shadow swoops the Eagle, relentless scourge of the underworld rackets” In issue number 7 (August 1940) he gives up his wings and uses his formula on a cape and starts to use a mask. The Eagle continued to fly in Weird Comics and his own title until the Fox implosion of 1942.
“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 electrodes. He finds that he can control electricity, create force fields to protect himself from bullets and fly thuough 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 consequeences of his advanced scientific experiments. When drained of his powers he recharged himself by going to the nearest electrical outlet or railroad track.
“Cosmic Carson was the first of the “alliteratively” named space adventurers of this title. Carson, “ace pilot of the interplanetary patrol”, grapppled 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 scietist 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 ofter resort to his fists and one-liners to subdue the slime buckets of the galaxy. His adventure in issue four (May 1940) is notable in that it was drawn by Jack Kirby. Some of this work was done by Kirby under the pen name “MIchael Griffith”.
“Perisphere Payne” was the second space adventure strip. He was an interplanetary explorer who was called on for the tough assignments. One adventure has him outwitting the beings of Duotania where every creature has two heads. The evil plan of the Duotanians is to enslave Earth. Because of their two heads they are “doubly” cruel and “doubly” smarter than the Earthlings. Their superiority and diabolical plans come to an abrupt halt as Perisphere Panyne has an asteroid crash into Duotania.
“Marga The Panther Woman” was the “Sheena” strip of the title. Von Dorf, a mad physio-biologist escapes into the heart of the African jungle from an asylum. He brings, as a hostage, a “beautiful white blond nurse”. His warped mind is determined to create a race of panther-men and the nurse is his first experiment. The experiment is successful, but a fire starts and he is killed. Marga appears to be possesssed with animal strength. With no real purpose, Marga wanders about and, inexplicably, hooks up with The Grant, an aviator. She shares a series of mindless adventures with Grant.
“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 everone seemed ot 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 (issue 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.) Story and artistic continuity flipped back and forth on this strip indicating a lack of editorial control. Actually the strip was a lot of fun.
“Navy Jones” was the last strip in the book. Jones is in a submarine when it is struck by an old mine and all his men die except him. He is rescued by a race of fishmen who take him to an undersea city where the king outfits him with a breathing apparatus. Jones gets into the middle of a power struggle in which he is seriously injured. The emergency surgery allows him to breath underwater. Future isssues involve underwater adventures with Princess Coral and Capt. Nemo (of Jules Verne fame) who wanders onto the scene. Issue two has a couple of full page panels which was extremely uncommon.
The series ended with issue eight. However, Dynamo, The Eagle, Marga and Navy Jones moved to the sister title, Weird Comics, starting with issue eight. The strips they displaced were actually clones of these strips. Weird Comics retained its resident evil scienttist, “Dr. Mortal”, and its space adventurer, “Blast Bennett” (another alliterative hero). Science Comics is highly recommended as typifying the breadth of genres of the golden age coupled with some classic cover art.
© Jon Berk 1994 and 2009, All Rights Reserved.