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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 153: Comics Magazine #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade(s): the 1930s/1940s! Today’s page is from Comics Magazine #1 (a Dr. Mystic story), which was published by Comics Magazine Company and is cover dated May 1936. It’s reprinted in Supermen!, which Fantagraphics published in 2009 and which is ridiculously awesome. Enjoy!

My middle name is Zator

So here’s the deal with this month. As most of the comics I own are modern, the random stuff I pull is naturally going to skew toward the 1990s and 2000s, which are the two decades during which I bought most of my new comics. I decided to do weeks focusing on the decades prior to those, but then I decided to skip the 1980s, because I have quite a few of those, too, so the randomness of the odd-numbered months means I get more of those, too. I decided to combine the 1930s and 1940s because comic books didn’t begin until the 1930s were well under way, plus I don’t know if I have enough variety from each decade to fill up a week (I could do all Batman comics, for instance, but who wants that?). So this week I’m featuring comics from the 1930s/1940s, next week I’ll move on the 1950s, then the 1960s, and finally the 1970s. I’ve had to borrow some comics from my local comics retailer because I don’t own a ton of stuff from the 1950s and 1960s, but that just means I have some odd stuff coming up!

Anyway, this month begins with two gentlemen named Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, who, I’m sure, wrote and drew this Dr. Mystic story and then were never heard from again. We get the name prominently displayed so we know exactly whom the story is about, and then we get, on the extreme left, the towering figure of, as it turns out, Zator. Shuster gives us an imposing figure, and it’s pretty keen to see him draw the skyscrapers – they’re not precisely drawn, and their abstractness helps make Zator more of a menace, because his lines are sharper and stand out more against the vague rectangles over which he towers. Siegel certainly lays on the melodrama on this page, but he gets the point across – in the second panel, Dr. Mystic uses an “old, mystic ritual” – no modern pseudo-science for Siegel, daggumit! – to grow and become “semi-material” to fight the giant figure. As the city shrieks, the two titans clash! Again, Shuster does a nice job – we get a good sense of how big these two figures are from the buildings and the people dots below, but he doesn’t allow the focus to drift from the central image. Panel 4 is so Golden Age as to defy description – Zator realized that the “easiest way” to find Dr. Mystic would be to draw him out to “wage battle” with him. No one in 1936 had heard of the telephone, apparently. I do like the way Shuster draws Dr. Mystic’s face: it’s a combination of happiness at seeing his friend and barely-controlled rage that he used such a douchey way to get a hold of him. It’s pretty awesome.

Siegel gets to the point in Panel 5 when Dr. Mystic asks Zator how “the Seven” are, to which Zator responds that it’s the plot of the comic, so hold on! The two are still giants, which must have been freaking out the populace more than Siegel lets on, and they lock arms “comradely” and vanish. Hmmm … how much should we read into the use of the word “comradely” in the politically charged atmosphere of 1936? Finally, Siegel lets us know that they’re bound for India. That’s nice. Shuster gives us an interesting final panel – the two men zoom to the right, of course, to lead us onto the next page, and the spirit at the bottom of the panel adds some weirdness (well, more weirdness) to the scene. Without color, Shuster’s line work becomes more important, and it’s interesting to see the strange spirit world – what is that hand clutching, anyway? It hints at the evil lurking on the next page, which the two heroes must tangle with!

While the way Zator contacts Dr. Mystic is rather dumb, Siegel does get the reader involved quickly in the story while showing the kind of power his characters possess, which is probably the point. This is lean and mean, like comics stories were at the time, and Siegel and Shuster manage to get a lot of information on this page. That’s not bad.

Next: It’s not The Spirit, but it’s a familiar name connected with that hero! If you’re already jonesing for more modern comics, take a gander at the archives!

7 Comments

Interesting. Looks like Siegel & Schuster picked this character up and took him to DC, renamed him “Doctor Occult” and dropped him into New Fun Comics pretty much as is.

A great feature Greg. Your analysis is always interesting, and this look at past decades is a great idea!

While I suspect you already have most of this month plotted out, allow me to make a request if there’s still an opportunity for such a thing…

I hope you devote most of the 60′s and 70′s to the artists that were really at the forefront of innovative page designs and story-telling techniques: guys like Neal Adams, Steranko, Starlin, Marshall Rogers, Frank Brunner, Windsor-Smith, Kaluta, Simonson (picking a page from his Manhunter stuff would be like Christmas for this column), P. Craig Russell (his Killraven stuff was ridiculously ahead of its time), Ditko’s Dr. Strange (far more out there than his Spidey), etc.

You began this feature with the masterful Sienkiewicz page that kicked off his New Mutants run in the mid-80′s. It will be interesting in this travel through the previous to see how comics got to that visual capability.

But I trust you, Burgas! You’re one clever fellow!

Greg: Thanks, sir!

Third Man: I am limited by the comics I own, unfortunately, but for the 1970s, I do have a lot of stuff from those artists, so while I didn’t set out to do that, that’s actually not a bad idea. I’m only 2 weeks ahead at this point, so I’ll have to consider what I want to do for the 1960s and ’70s. You gave me some ideas, though!

Lots of words here, but the art is impressive, all scratchy semiabstract B&W, especially the first and last panels on the page (does the face on the bottom left corner of the last panel have significance?)

Actually, if “The Seven” don’t use modern technology at all, it makes perfect sense to do something to make the person you are seeking in a city of a million or more present himself in such a way as it’s not blatantly giving away his secrets (yelling out their name isn’t going to help their attempts to hide their ID – while being immaterial and so tall the entire city is looking at you from below your chin makes a certain sort of sense in keeping your face unknown). Of course, heroes back then in pulps and early comics seemed to not realize the effect their appearances had on the mundanes (car crashes, heart attacks, etc.) – those kind of concerns rarely manifested before the Silver Age.

And, were the urban centers in India even reliably linked into the American/European phone lines and oceanic cables of the time? Let alone ancient mystic hidden citadels….

The only real issue is if their “semi-material giant” states make their voices heard only to each other, since it also appears that they are only solid in relation to each other, as well.

Actually Dr. Mystic was a Dr. Occult story. The guys who created The Comics Magazine used to work for the company now known as DC & when they left to start their own company they took some stories with them, although no one is certain if they got the stories in lue of payment or if they just took them.

AS: Yes, the face in the last panel is significant, because the two of them get attacked by the weird things in the spirit world on the next page.

Basara: Well, I doubt if Siegel thought about it as much as you did, but you’re right. Zator is already in the city, though, so whether or not India was linked to the States yet isn’t relevant, I don’ think. I’m sure they just wanted to show two giant dudes grappling for a panel or two!

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