INTERVIEW: DiDio & Lee on "Dark Knight 3," Vertigo's Future & DC's Evolving Readership
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: the 1950s! Today’s page is from The Marvel Family #69, which was published by Fawcett and is cover dated March 1952. I borrowed this and several other comics over the next few weeks from Howard Harris, my comics retailer, who was nice enough to let me take them home and scan them. Enjoy!
According to the fine folk at the Grand Comics Database, Otto Binder wrote this and Kurt Schaffenberger drew this. The colorist and letterer are lost to time!!!!
The page is laid out in an interesting fashion. At the top, we have some boilerplate, which seems like a strange place to put it. I suppose W. H. Fawcett, Jr. was very keen on making sure readers knew that this comic contained “wholesome entertainment” and was “approved reading,” while also advertising the many Fawcett comics one could purchase. No story for you until you read the advertisements!!!
Then we get the “Captain Marvel” style lettering, telling us that the Marvel Family will be battling “the menace of old age.” Man, that seems like a really odd foe. The placement of the “The” inside the first panel helps anchor our eyes there so that we can get a recap of who the Marvel Family is – Mary and Billy say “Shazam” and Freddie Freeman says “Captain Marvel” and they turn into superheroes. Let’s hope no one ever takes that charming and completely innocent conceit and makes it all rapey!
Then we get the splash page, which sets up the story in as literal a fashion as possible. Our eye moves downward to the three heroes, placed in order of (presumably) superiority, with Freddie trailing Mary, who’s behind Billy. They tease us with the dialogue as they run toward the “Castle of Old Age.” Schaffenberger does a fine job with the castle – we see the sickly trees on the left side of the panel first, then the building, and as we look more closely, we see that the castle itself is a bit decrepit. After we read the words, we take in the entire structure. Vultures circle and perch on the left tower, which bends under the weight of the years. Vines and a vulture’s nest hang precariously from the battlements. As our eyes move right, we see another denuded tree, and right below it, more moss dripping over the parapets. The portcullis is halfway open, and Schaffenberger puts more dead plants on the iron grid. Below that, we see grass growing between the cracks in the tiled floor, while some planks of the drawbridge lie broken in the moat. Castle entrances always look like mouths, but Schaffenberger does a nice job making this entrance look aged – the half-raised portcullis gives the impression of an old person with teeth missing, while the floor and drawbridge look like a used-up tongue. Schaffenberger angles the entire castle toward the right side of the page, which, of course, is where our eyes are heading.
What’s the secret of the castle? Well, you’ll have to read the story for that, won’t you? This page, however, is a nicely-drawn, intriguing way to begin!
Next: Some icky stuff for any decade, but particularly so in the Fifties! Find more icky comics (but not too many!) in the archives!
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