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 dig deep into the old comic box to review Crash Comics, a title that ran from May 1940 to November 1940. Crash, although only lasting five issues, was, in historical retrospect, a wonderful title. It was produced by “Tem Publishing”. In the fifth issue of Crash, it has an ad for Whirlwind Comics (and Speed Comics also) which was produced by “Nita Publications”. Both titles appear to have been produced by Bert Whitman. In the early 1940s Whitman produced a number of features through Whitman Associates, one of the many art shops that sprang up to meet the insatiable demand for original material from the ever-increasing number of comic publishers. Most of the covers for these apparent sister titles were drawn by Bert Whitman. (Is it possible that “Nita” and “Tem” Publications are an anagram of “Bert Whitman”?)
Bert Whitman had an early and distinguished golden age career. He was there at the very beginning of comics. His first work, “Judge Perkins”, appeared in New Fun 1 and 2. His credits include “Cyclone” in Whirlwind Comics, “Dr. Mortal” in Weird Comics, “Green Hornet” covers and art and several features for Fawcett including “Masterman”.
For Crash Comics he contributed “Strongman”, the title’s Superman knock-off. “Strongman” was described as having “the strength of a hundred elephants, the speed of a racing car and the skin with the toughness of a rhinoceros...the perfect specimen of a human being...a super-human of brain and brawn...the mighty man of tomorrow among the ordinary people of today.” These traits were developed by following for many years a secret book of yoga. He dedicates himself to fight on the side of “American ideals”; he is a crusader for “good against evil, he dares any feat, regardless of danger”.
Strongman was Percy Van Norton, yet another in a long line of playboys in comics who turned to superheroics for diversion. Most of his adventures pitted him against invading dictatorial forces massing against small defenseless nations. He usually learned of these heinous events while cruising on his yacht with his other rich companions. The fictional evil invading protagonists in the strip were only thinly masked from the real life tyrannical despots threatening Europe at that time. For instance, in the third issue Strongman repels the invasion of Dictator “Nilats” of “Aissur”. The final confrontation takes place in “Wocsom”.
An amusing aspect of the Strongman tales is that epic confrontations against these evil powers would develop and be resolved within an impossibly short time span while his companions went to the movies or were serving a meal to refugees on his boat. For instance, in issue #5 he is about to enter a theater with his friends in Polaria, when he observes (with his “super sight”) a parachutist landing in the distance. He excuses himself, takes a cab to the landing site, captures the parachutist and his many other parachutists which are the vanguard of an invading force, succumbs momentarily to a “liquid cement” cannon, escapes, hops on a missile being fired at the capital of Polaria and diverts its trajectory, rallys the Polarian defensive forces, helps them prevail in a fight with the invading army, stifles a counter attack and returns in time as his friends exit the theater.
Strongman’s secret yoga exercises must have been something special (move over Charles Atlas) because his strength is incredible, being able to attack ships, divert missiles and take on whole armies. He is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound derivative of another do-gooder over at Action Comics. Brightly clad in a blue and yellow outfit, Strongman did not make it beyond the fifth issue. In fact, he was displaced as the cover feature by “Cat Man” who only had appeared for the first time in the preceding issue.
Some other strips rounding out this short-lived title was “Blue Streak”- defender of the people (a costumed hero who would take on evil dictators around the world who victimized local populaces), “Buck Burke” (a humorous jungle series about a young zoologist out to bring back zoo specimens who is aided inadvertently by his jungle guide “Jo-Jo”), Secret Agent Z-2 (run-of-the mill espionage adventures), “Jane Drake Detective”, “The Flying Trio” (a bunch of happy-go-lucky aviators involved in various adventures in pre-war Asia), “Shangra” (a continuing drama set in a mysterious country ruled by a mystical person who is 200 years old the seventh son of a seventh son who tries to exert control over two western reporters stranded in his land).
The feature that gives this title some historical notoriety, and was the only feature to survive the demise of this title and go on to enjoy another of his nine lives, was “Cat Man”. His origin in issue 4 (September 1940), is derivative of the origin of Lou Fine’s “Black Condor” who had debuted in Crack Comics 1 (May 1940). (The Black Condor was an infant who accompanied his parents on an archicalogical expedition in Mongolia. All save himself are massacred by roaming bandits. Coming upon the scene of carnage a female condor takes the infant and raises him as her own. He learns the attributes of a condor, including flying.)
“Cat Man” is an infant, David Merrywether, who is traveling with his parents in deepest India. They are on an expedition, searching for botanical specimens, when the family is killed by a band of spear-toting “jungle wild men”. A hungry tigress comes upon the scene and instead of slaughtering the surviving infant, her mothering instincts, sensing the great tragedy, takes the child as her own cub. As with the “Black Condor”, close family life allows Merrywether to take on many of the attributes of a cat, including great leaping ability, dexterity and the ability to see in the dark with eyes that glow and light up in the dark. The evils of the world scar his sense of righteousness so that he decides to devote his life to combating evil.
The Cat Man is outfitted in a green uniform with a cap, cat cowl, and oversized cat claw gloves. As he evolved in Cat Man Comics, he went through a series of costume changes.
In each of his two adventures he is beaten and killed by his adversary. However, in each story the spirit of his old guardian tigress comes to revive him using up one of his nine cat lives. These two adventures were drawn by Irwin Hasen, who drew a number of golden age features ranging from “The Ferret” for Timely to a number of characters in All American Comics.
Crash is also notable for previewing, “Solar Legion”, which was one of the first comicbook science fiction series drawn by a young Jack Kirby. (See “Cosmic Carson” in Science Comics for his other early sci-fi strip.) The hero of the series is Adam Starr whose goal is to “bring justice to a solar system ruled by the lawless”. While the plots were fairly thin, this series premiered some cosmic art and fantastic creatures that Kirby was to refine nearly twenty years later at Marvel Comics.
Crash Comics, like many of the titles of the early 1940s, did not last for long. However, it is one of those special short-lived titles that would be a proud addition to any golden age collection.
© Jon Berk 1995 and 2009, All Rights Reserved.