RETRO REVIEW: Zip-Jet #1 (February 1953)
Or – “Ironically, Those Suits Clearly Have No Zipper…”
There’s a strange time period between about 1948 and 1959 where comic books entered a strange dormant period, entering what would prove to be a larval state before their chrysalis broke wide open with the dawn of the Silver Age. During that time, a lot of weird comic books made it to print (Captain America’s Weird Tales, anyone?) and a lot of creators struggled to find the formula that would work in the new decade. Of course, there were also those who literally put out precisely the same books that worked in the last decade and hoped that no one would notice… Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!
Penciler: Art Pinajian/Ruben Moreira
Inker: Art Pinajian/Ruben Moreira
Publisher: St. John Approved Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1000
Previously, in Zip-Jet: Harry “A” Chesler (the middle initial is in quotes because it’s not his actual middle initial, which I find pretty awesome) is a mostly forgotten name in comic book publishing these days, but back in the 1940s, his “Chesler Shop” was a studio that rivaled Will Eisner’s, supplying work for artists like Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert and George Tuska, and putting a great deal of product on the stands for half a dozen publishers, including Chesler’s own eponymous company. One of their heroes was Rocket Man, whose adventures appeared in the pages of the oh-so-very forties named Scoop Comics and Punch Comics. (For the record, “Scoop” and “Punch” were two of the rejected names that my wife wouldn’t approve for our child.) Joined by his paramour/sidekick Rocket Girl, Rocket Man was secretly Cal Martin, and looked like this:
I think it’s gonna be a long, long time before you find another hero capable of saucily leaning on the fourth wall with that kind of attitude. But the war was the end of the salad days for Chesler (and, to be honest, for many of his publishing peers), and sales never quite recovered. By 1953, Harry Chesler had partnered with Archer St. John in HIS self-named publishing venture, and they put out this issue, featuring Zip-Jet! Joined by his fiancée/sidekick Pat, Zip-Jet was secretly “Tech” Carson, and looked like this:
It’s interesting to me to see how the production process changed these stories when they were re-presented in the ’50s, including all new dialogue. In fact, the cover of this issue is actually a reworked splash page from one of Rocket Man’s earlier appearances, but with some additional artwork and a little bit of post-production trickery. Zip-Jet must have seemed very retro to those kids old enough to remember the proliferation of super-hero comics, and even *I* can tell that it’s not your standard 1953 cowboy/crime/horror comic. Of course, that’s not to say that horror isn’t IN the issue…
Those figures in panel one, for instance, are pretty frightening… (Cheap shot, I know.) We start this first appearance in media res, as a group of mobsters sets off on their cunning plan to force truckers to crash their rigs, then salvage the cargo as their own. “Tech” and Pat, apparently already recognizable superheroes, decide to intervene on behalf of the forces of good…
Zip-Jet and Pat (who doesn’t even get a decent heroic alias this time, a situation made doubly sad because of how awesome the name “Rocketgirl” is) let the bad guys go, but track them to their lair, swooping out of the sky like elongated hawks!
And BOOM, their debut story is over! It’s a bit telling to see these anthology adventures pulled from their original format, where a strong story or set of characters could follow up on a weaker one and balance the book out. In this issue, there is nowhere to go but Zip-Jet, as our second story sets “Tech” and Pat against air pirates with a similar tactic to the road pirates in story #1…
This story explicitly refers to the Zip-Jet’s incredibly form-fitting gear as “vinyl” suits, something which puts a whole new complexion on their twin compunction to fight crime. Pat’s suit, in particular, is so tight as to make the character seem nearly-naked, which must have been quite titillating to the boys of ’53, perhaps replacing the proverbial Sears Catalog for your girl-watching needs. The Zip-Jet’s take to the air against the villainous Senor Ortega…
As with the first story, things end somewhat abruptly, and I’m a bit puzzled as to why, given that the story seems to have been pretty much entirely re-dialogued from its original appearance. In story number three, a call from an old friend sets “Tech” into action, flying from California to Florida (!!) in a vinyl body-stocking with tiny jets on the neck. Clearly, this bold decision proves that the man is a superhero, unless the development process for the Zip-Jets has left him without the scratch to spring for a couple of cross-country plan tickets…
Arriving just in time, the Zip-Jets end up tracing the real murderers (a brother and sister team) into the swamps, where Pat finds herself far out of her element, to her detriment…
Another reprint (this one of a suspiciously Flash-Gordonesque character named Frank Sterling and his space patrol) follows, ending the issue with another murder mystery and several panels that make it quite clear that Pat’s costume, more even than other heroes of the 1940s, is basically just a few lines drawn on an unclothed female form. All in all, this is a choppy issue, for obvious reasons, and the stories reprinted here are somewhat standard Golden Age second-tier superhero fare, regardless of the time period in which they were printed. There is some inspired art here (albeit mostly by comparison with other works of the period, mind you) and the Zip-Jet’s flying sequences are entertainingly reminiscent of ballet dances, but all in all, it’s a book mostly memorable for the story behind its strange second life. Zip-Jet #1 is an odd book, and not one that will make most collectors pay the premium prices it usually commands, but it’s okay in a Golden Age kind of way, earning 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. I will say, however, that Harry Chesler and his partners knew what they liked, and were pretty shrewd in re-purposing the existing material, so you have to give them credit for that…
DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!