RETRO REVIEW: Crash Comics Adventures #1 (May 1940)
Or – “The Golden Age Was Full Of Plagiarism!”
A couple of months ago, I took a look at Wonder Comics #1, Fox Features’ attempt to cut in on the Superman money train, the first of many heroes to try to replicate the success of the Man Of Steel. He was, however, certainly NOT the last… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review awaits!
CRASH COMICS ADVENTURES #1
Writer(s): Scotty Walters/Jack Stark/Jack Kirby/Lowry Bishop/Matt Robertson
Artist(s): Mostly Uncredited/Jack Kirby
Publisher: Tem Publishing Co.
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3600
Previously, in Crash Comics: In the beginning, there was Superman. And he was pretty much okay, though there are many who like to whine that he’s too powerful. Then came a virtual flood of superhumans from all corners, many of whom ended up treading the same turf. Temerson Publishing is one of the most low-profile of the fly-by-night companies of the Golden, often confused with the later Holyoke Publishing (which took over some of its title later in the 40s. Strangely, though their output was small, their characters are well-remembered by fans, with this issue’s cover feature being revived/revamped by both Marvel and Dynamite in recent years. ‘Course, being remembered doesn’t always equal being MEMORABLE… (Well, it actually does, what with being a synonym, but work with me here!)
That page right there? The entire (and ONLY) origin of Strongman, in thirty-five words or less. Economy was at a premium in the Golden Age, where, as the old aphorism reportedly went, “you gettin’ paid by the page, you ain’t gettin’ paid by the word.” Right off the top of my head, I’d say that any lasting power that Strongman has comes from the striking cover of this issue and his admittedly pretty cool costume. I say this mostly because his debut adventure is like a fever dream of comics clichés, as we are introduced to the “famous Jodpur pearls”, then watch them get stolen in the space of three panels.
I’m not entirely certain if Strongman is engaging in a Superman “homage” here, or if Percy’s shirt-ripping predates Clark Kent’s iconic button-bursting pose, but it’s interesting nonetheless. It’s also worth nothing that he’s presaging the iconic ‘Family Circus Billy’s Trail’ cartoons as well in that final panel, as Strongman quickly leaps onto the gangster’s escaping car, trailing them to their hideout…
In issue 2, the dictator nation (or another dictator nation, we’re never really clear) is identified as “Aissur” (read it backwards), making another instance where the mostly unknown creative team on Strongman was ahead of their time. After discovering that the bad guys were hired by the mysterious ship’s captain, he discovers what the villain is buying with his illicit gains: military grade weapons.
Super… I mean, Strongman catches the massive steel tank, leaps onto the ship and starts cracking skulls with the power of Yogi-ness. (One must first visualize a pick-a-nick basket.) Of course, being super-strong, nigh-invulnerable and bulletproof doesn’t mean that Strongman is completely impervious to harm…
What an odd weakness to have. “Oh, no! My arch-nemesis, The Schvitz! How will I overcome him this time?!?” Strongman awakens, chucks the anchor back at the ship, and scares the villains so badly that they scuttle their own ship, leaving Percy to recover the stolen pearls…
He busts open the safe, finding not the pearls, but a naked sketch drawing of Kate Winslett and an autographed photo of Celine Dion, continuing the prescience of Strongman’s first story, and… No? Not buying it? Okay, fine, he gets the stupid pearls back. Meanies.
It’s a pretty generic tale, actually, although Percy’s little monocle is absolutely adorable. As a Golden Age comic book, though, each of you is probably aware that Crash Comics Adventures is an anthology, filled to the brim with stuff in the custom of the forties. This is true, but unlike Wonder Comics #1, Crash brings some pretty stale stuff to the table, even by ’40s standards. Like the overt racism of Buck Burke…
…the generic spycraft of Secret Agent Z-2…
…the generic sci-fi of Solar Legion, featuring art by Jack Kirby and the heroes TERRIFYING floating head…
…the generic super-heroing of Blue Streak…
…the generic AND racist adventurers of the Flying Trio…
…and the generic detective adventures of Jane Drake.
Not everything in the back half of Crash #1 was generic, though. ‘Alec and the Legion of Yang’ is three pages of utter lunacy in the Popeye/Tintin vein, featuring bigfoot art-style and writing so purple it made Violet Beauregard envious.
And the last tale, ‘Shangra,’ features more lemon-yellow asian caricatures, some weird Flash Gordon archetypes and a wonderful caption reading “Suddenly like out of nowhere.” It’s truly impressive hackery, the work-for-hire mill at it’s finest, entertaining in spite of itself.
I think it was Theodore Sturgeon who first posited that “ninety percent of everything is crud,” and this issue is the Retro Review proof in that particular pudding. While hardly awful by Major Spoilers standards (I’d read this thing five times before picking up ‘Shadow-Hunter’ or ‘Captain Marvel: The Return’ again), it’s a comic book that exists only for getting 10 cents out of a few hundred thousand kids with the least amount of effort. Jack “King” Kirby himself is onboard for the issue, but even that tale is kind of bland and generic. Strongman himself has fallen into the public domain (along with all the heroes of Holyoke Publishing and Temberson/Tem’s various publishing concern names) and has been revived by Marvel as a villain (in the under-rated ‘Invaders’ 4-issue mini from the 90s, a book which also features the X-Club’s Doctor Nemesis). He appeared in Project: Superpowers (though I don’t believe he did much of anything) along with every other public domain superhero ever created, mostly because our hobby is powered by the twin engines of nostalgia and snark. All in all, Crash Comics Adventures #1 is one of the Golden Age’s understandably forgotten tributaries, a book that may be of vague interest to G.A. completists or diehards but few others, earning 1.5 out of 5 stars overall. Maybe next time I should look at the much more successful adventures of Catman, the same publishers Batman knock-off?
DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!