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 off the old comic box again. This time around we take a look at Superworld Comics, which not only was a shortlived title- three issues- but was the only title produced by famed science fiction pulp publisher, Hugo Gernsback. The books in the series were all oversized which increased their eye appeal.
Published in 1940, this title appeared in April, May and August of that year. This title tried to carve out a niche in the comicbook marketplace by proudly proclaiming in its opening editorial:
Here at last is a new and different kind of comic magazine. Having noted the trend of the present-day magazines in the field we believe that parents and educators will welcome this new monthly which, while admittedly a comic, yet is geared to give much valuable and educational information to the reader. Let it be understood at once that nothing will ever be printed in this magazine that is downright impossible.
All features are based on present-day science, and practically all of them are of an educational trend. The young reader is not confused and befuddled with impossibilities which can never come about, but at best give him an erroneous idea of man’s inherent capabilities. Whatever scientific material is presented- or whatever kinds of machines are used- all are within the realm of possibility.
No superhuman feats impossible of accomplishment are printed. These can serve only to give totally wrong ideas of man’s prowess.
Well, following this pitch to the parents about the scientific “reality” of this new comic, the first story is “Mitey Powers Battles Martians on the Moon”. This inaugural tale is drawn (as is each of the covers) by Frank R. Paul, famed science fiction pulp illustrator (who also drew the cover to Marvel Comics 1). This tale finds Mitey Powers building a space flyer in order to prove to the world that the mysterious bombardments destroying cities on Earth are actually being shot by Martians from a base on the moon. Powers travels to the moon in his spaceship (named “Nina” after his girlfriend). Needless to say, although initially captured by the Martians, who use an “electric paralyzing ray” encasing him and his cohorts in a green-like bubble (the scene depicted on the terrific cover to this first issue), Powers escapes to direct Earth’s space armada which finally destroys the Martian super-gun.
The second issue finds the Martians having deposed the leaders responsible for the attack on Earth. Powers accepts an invitation to be Earth’s first emissary to the “superworld” Mars. While marvelling at the wonders of this superworld, Powers learns of a plot to destroy Earth by the deposed leaders. By judicious use of “subelectronic guns” and space beams, Powers once again saves the Earth.
It is with issue three that “reality” strikes home, as Powers saves not only Earth, but Mars from the diabolical machinations of the “Super Giants of Jupiter”. On Mars, the Martians receive a message from Jupiter demanding the Martians turn over all their radium. A similar demand is made of Earth which Powers states will be the doom of each planet. He decides to journey to Jupiter to determine if they will negotiate a resolution. Even before he can get there, the Jovians drive his spaceship off stating that they don’t want to negotiate.
Powers returns to Mars where he hatches a new plot. After conversations with his Martian friends he brings a small iron chest onto his spaceship which he has painted black so to avoid detection by the Jovians.
Apparently this ploy is successful because his second attempt to reach Jupiter is uneventful. He avoids the thousand feet tall Jovians and sneaks his way into the palace of one of the Jovian head honchos. He comes upon the sleeping official and releases the contents of his chest which contains Martian poisonous gnats. The gnats puncture the skin of the sleeping giant and lay thousands of eggs breeding more gnats which quickly spread to the Jovian populace killing most of them. Following this act of genocide, Powers returns to Mars a hero where he is heard from no more as the title ceased publication.
Okay, maybe the editors pushed the reality thing a little far in their first feature. The second feature of this title firmly yanked the reader back to terra firma -”Buzz Allen The Invisible Avenger”. This is a feature about a young boy who is a radio ham enthusiast whose father was killed by protection racketeers. One day, while installing a “super-electron tube” to boost the power of his radio, Buzz notes it makes his radio invisible. Adopting the tube for use with a belt he and his friend, Will Lawrence, take on the racketeers and crooks in rather lackluster tales.
Their third and final adventure has them vacationing in Alaska, following light beams back to the hidden city of Atlantis. (Are you following me?) There the city’s leader, “Phatso”, captures the boys and informs them he is going to take over America. The boys do in Phatso’s diabololical plans by use of their electron guns which have escaped the detection of their captors because they were collapsible.
Okay, okay lets avoid “superhuman feats” that are impossible. This dose of “reality” is supplied by “Hip Knox The Super Hypnotist”. Professor Knox is driven by the belief that he can change the world by endowing a human with super hypnotic powers. As fate would have it an infant is abandoned on his doorstep. Although seemingly dead from exposure to the elements, Knox revives the infant with a secret operation to the heart head and eyes. As the boy grows, he has exceptionally large eyes and head.
The boy can seemingly hypnotize man or beast with but a single gaze. The Professor nicknames the boy, “Hip”, (which the reader is told is short for hypnotism.) Boyhood bullys don’t bother Hip; the last bully was left on the sidewalk in a “cataleptic hypnotic position” (say what!).
At twenty-one Prof. Knox gives the boy a sporty outfit (essentially a skin tight body suit with a large eye on the chest and, what appears to be a bathing cap type headwear. It looks real nifty with his itsy-bitsy moustache.). Hip solemnly pledges, “I swear never to use my hypnotic powers to do evil on this earth”. Hip immediately dedicates himself to fighting crime and is able to “sense” crime.
Well, as it turns out there lives in the city one Eric MacFadden, mortal enemy of the Knox family who has long dedicated himself to resisting being subjected to any hypnotic power. He discovers if he wears quartz lenses while his head is encased in a mesh cage (honest!) that he cannot be hypnotized. Their pointless confrontations come to a head in the third issue when McFadden captures Hip as he sleeps. He is bound and tied into a rocket plane which McFadden aims to land in the ocean. The plane overshoots its mark and Hip is able to escape his binds. The ship has no controls, but he hypnotizes millions of condors to fly into and under the rocket plane so to slow it down and cushion its fall. Stories would end with McFadden imparting a “curse” as he escapes, “I’ll get you yet”.
Obviously, the editors saw that the magazine needed a greater dose of reality so they introduced in the second issue, “Marvo 1-2 Go, the Super Boy of the year 2680-prodigy-mastermind-explorer and adventurer”. Marvo is the son of one of the world’s greatest scientists. Heredity had given Marvo a powerful brain and magnificent intelligence. Government registered names are used instead of the confusing last names of the 25th century. Marvo is but 15 years old, but has the knowledge of “an average scientist of 40”. The government has given Marvo the great “+ “sign, which has only been given to 10 men. This “+” sign entitles Marvo to use the super-hyponobioscope which teaches him while he sleeps.
Marvo’s most “interesting” adventure (there were only two) has him flying off to intercept a strange planet which is on a collision course with Earth. Reaching what appears to be a dead planet, Marvo discovers an entrance to an inner world where he meets, and is captured by antmen of (what else) Antar. The Antarenes have travelled from their dead sun in search of a new one. Their plan is to displace the Earth. While seemingly acquiescing to his captivity, Marvo escapes and destroys the machine that would have destroyed the Earth.
The rest of the issues are rounded out by a detective feature, “Detective Crane”, various pages of magic tricks, science facts, humor strips (“Alibi Alice”, “Smarty Arty”, etc.) and essays by Gernsback. To put the finishing touches on this eclectic title, several pages of “Little Nemo in Dreamland” by Windsor McKay are presented in each issue.
Neither this title nor publisher went very far in the heyday of the golden age. However, if one seeks something decidedly different from the standard super hero fare of the day, with some terrific cover illustrations, Superworld Comics is a must.
© Jon Berk 1995 and 2009, All Rights Reserved.