You guys ever heard of Stardust, The Super Wizard?

(That distant sound you just heard was Bruce Otter yelping for joy.)  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Fantastic Comics #1 awaits!

FANTASTIC COMICS #1
Writer: Will Eisner/S. M. Iger/Fletcher Hanks/Jack Farr/Toni Blum/Fred Schwab
Penciler: Alex Blum/S. M. Iger/Fletcher Hanks/Grieg Chapian/Jack Farr/Bill Bossert/Fred Schwab/Henry Kiefer
Inker: Alex Blum/S. M. Iger/Fletcher Hanks/Grieg Chapian/Jack Farr/Bill Bossert/Fred Schwab/Henry Keifer
Editor: Victor Fox
Publisher: Fox Feature Syndicate
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.250.00

Previously in Fantastic Comics: One of the earliest comic publishing companies, Fox Feature Syndicate was the brainchild of Victor Fox, who knew a good deal when he saw it.  By packaging and publishing work from other studios (notably Eisner & Iger, one half of which is a name you probably know), Fox provided a wide variety of titles, including the first appearances of Blue Beetle and Green Hornet in comics.  Sadly, the company didn’t survive the post-war comics bust, going under in 1950, but while they lasted, their output was both historically noteworthy and occasionally utterly brilliant.  This issue begins with a hero created by future legend Will Eisner, Samson…

Far away, in an undisclosed land, a wicked dictator named Thorga, who uses a high-frequency “thought transmitter” to control his troops, stumbles upon the mysterious Samson as he searches for threats to his unjust reign…

That, by the way, is the first appearance of Samson, whose origins don’t get revealed until he scores his own solo title several months later.  Without slowing down the story, Eisner and artist Alex Blum show us the power of Samson (who is the descendant of the Samson of myth) with some really lovely battle sequences…

There’s a crude power to Golden Age comics that is incredibly charming, and no amount of computer coloring will ever replace that sheer enthusiastic “BIFF! BAM! POW!”  Nor can the laws of physics slow down the fun, as Samson shows by engaging Thorga’s aerial forces in battle.

That’s… not how strength works, really.  But it still works.  Thorga watches in horror as Samson rips through is defenses, smashing down the door of his fortress and tearing through his guards without so much as hesitating.  But Thorga still has an ace up his bell sleeve…

Will the death ray be enough to stop him?

No.  No, it will not.  We’re less than 18 months out from the debut of Superman in this comic, and the matter-of-fact brutality with which Samson murders Thorga and his men serves as a reminder of the pulp origins of superhero figures.  Having defeated the leader of the land of thugs and monsters, Samson personally sees to the surrender of an entire country…

Samson is the most successful character to come out of this issue, snagging his own solo book and a leading role in ‘Big 3 Comics’ alongside The Flame and Blue Beetle, two of Fox’s other heavy hitters.  In the style of the time period, though, this book isn’t all about superheroes, instead providing an anthology of various features in various genres.  Witness Buzzy, a character who resembles Little Nemo in several ways…

Sadly, one of the ways he does NOT resemble Nemo is in longevity, as this is Buzzy’s only appearance.

Now, as they say in the movies: Our feature presentation!

The brainchild of the mysterious Fletcher Hanks (aka “Henry Fletcher” aka “C.C. Starr” aka”Barclay Flagg” aka “Bob Jordan” aka”Hank Christy”), Stardust The Super Wizard leaps fully formed onto the page like Athena from the brow of Zeus, except his powers are less defined that the Olympian myths.  As with Samson, this first appearance starts with Stardust already known and feared throughout the universe, striking fear into the hearts of a cartel of the worst spies and saboteurs the world has to offer…

The Super Wizard is one of the best example to refute the “Superman can’t be interesting because he’s too powerful” argument in fiction, at least in my mind, as we quickly discover that Stardust seemingly has no weaknesses at all.  The spy coalition scrambles their bomber wing (!!) when their assassins fail…

I love everything about Hanks’ art, reminding me of the doodles every teenager creates on their notebooks in middle school, with snarling monstrous bad guys, fleets of crude airplanes dropping literal hailstorms of bombs, and of course, our square-jawed, giant hero, seven feet tall and utterly without mercy…

His mighty powers aren’t just physical, either, as the defeated and demoralized evil spies quickly discover…

Thus, in those few pages, Stardust devastates a literal army of bad dudes, forces them to face their own evil deeds, and leaves the FBI in his debt.  It’s a model of compact, exciting storytelling, to be honest, and one that makes me sad that Hanks’ career in comics was so short.  (Though he worked under many aliases, Fletcher Hanks was only active for a couple of years, his reasons for leaving comics are not known.  But whatever they were, it’s a damn shame.)  Fantastic Comics also contains stories of knights in armor, a staple of Golden Age books…

…as well as the deep space adventures of the rather mundanely named Space Smith!

This story is also by Fletcher Hanks, using his Hank Christy alias, and it shows once again how his distinct thick-line art was perfect for the reproduction technology of the age.  There’s something almost classical about Hanks’ drawing, showing us an adventure of Space Smith and Dianna versus the evil Martian scientist Glomar.

As for our next story, sometimes you run into stories that remind you that the 1930s were not the most enlightened age…

The evil “Eskimongolians” are an example of the kinds of casual racism that can make Golden Age comic reading such a minefield.  (The exaggerated racist Asian characters on the cover are likewise difficult to get past.)  On the one hand, one doesn’t want to accept that kind of bigoted idiocy at face value, but it’s also important to remember that these attitudes were once considered mainstream and acceptable.  As such, I would argue that it’s important that we not gloss over the Yank Smith story (which is pretty much par for the course for 30s comics, albeit with some spirited and energetic arc) and the awful things it says about pre-WWII race relations.

Sermon over.

We also get the aerial adventures of Captain Kidd…

…followed by a short, but really wonderful four-pager by Boris Plaster about a wonderfully goofy mad scientist…

“If I commit suicide… then I might die!”

Y’know, for kids!  The otherworldly visuals continue in the adventures of Flick Falcon, featuring another trip to Mars and some really disturbing artwork by Don Rico…

The issue wraps up with an adventure of Sub Saunders, Space Smith’s second cousin, making it clear that the editorial team active worked to alternate weird trippy narratives with more run-of-the-mill features to make Fantastic Comics a whiplash inducing thrill ride of a comic.

Still, of all the anthology books of the day, Fantastic Comics #1 has some of the greatest re-readability, and features no utter failures, as even Buzzy’s not-quite-Nemo tale is amusing enough, featuring the first appearance of the greatest hero of the modern age and earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.  Fox Features may not be remembered the way Timely or DC Golden Age stories are, but their plan of hiring skilled cartoonists to crank out whatever tickled their fancy makes for some lovely reading.

(Today’s comic comes to us courtesy of the Digital Comic Museum, which features a wide variety of public domain comics from the earliest days of the supers.  I highly recommend visiting and even donating, if you can…)

You guys ever heard of Stardust, The Super Wizard? (That distant sound you just heard was Bruce Otter yelping for joy.)  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Fantastic Comics #1 awaits! FANTASTIC COMICS #1 Writer: Will Eisner/S. M. Iger/Fletcher Hanks/Jack Farr/Toni Blum/Fred Schwab Penciler: Alex Blum/S. M. Iger/Fletcher Hanks/Grieg Chapian/Jack Farr/Bill Bossert/Fred Schwab/Henry Kiefer Inker: Alex Blum/S. M. Iger/Fletcher Hanks/Grieg Chapian/Jack Farr/Bill Bossert/Fred Schwab/Henry Keifer Editor: Victor Fox Publisher: Fox Feature Syndicate Cover Price: 10 Cents Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.250.00 Previously in Fantastic Comics: One of the earliest comic publishing companies, Fox Feature Syndicate was the brainchild of Victor Fox,…
Spirited, highly creative and a little nuts. Great Golden Age stuff, even if it hasn't all aged well by modern standards... (Coloring is N/A, as I have no idea what it might have looked like back in '39, as the newsprint/microfiche copies still in existence are heavily worn.)

FANTASTIC COMICS #1

Writing
Art

Spirited, highly creative and a little nuts. Great Golden Age stuff, even if it hasn't all aged well by modern standards... (Coloring is N/A, as I have no idea what it might have looked like back in '39, as the newsprint/microfiche copies still in existence are heavily worn.)

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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2 Comments

  1. Frank
    January 16, 2017 at 8:10 am — Reply

    Thank you for this feature. I really enjoy the art style of that period, seeing the art styles of past era. Its amazing the amount of detail that went into the artwork.

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