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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 359: Planet Comics #5

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. As it’s now December, I will be examining the LAST pages of random comics, so watch out for SPOILERS! Today’s page is from Planet Comics #5, which was published by Fiction House and is cover dated May 1940. This scan is from Supermen!, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2009 and is, frankly, totally awesome. Enjoy!

Man

According to the text notes in the back of this collection, this was Al Bryant’s first published work, drawn when he was 22 or 23, and it’s … well, it’s something. The star is Fero, the “planet detective,” who’s the “one man who can thwart the evil doings of vampires and werewolves that have invaded the Earth from Pluto.” Why he’s the only man who can do this not explained – he shoots a werewolf, strangles a dwarf, and pushes this vampire off a cliff. I mean, anyone could have done that.

On this page, Fero carries Phyllis out of harm’s way – she had been abducted, and her father had come to Fero for help but was killed by a werewolf. The green light, which we’ve seen before in this story, becomes the vampire, but Fero manages to chuck the vampire – who has wings, it must be noted – off a cliff. This breaks its spell, and the lodge in which Phyllis was held explodes and she wakes up. She doesn’t care all that much about the death of her father, instead calling Fero “wonderful” even though he let the old man wander out onto the moor by himself while Fero watched from the window of an adjacent house. Yeah, I bet you left that little tidbit out of your story, didn’t you, Fero? Then we get that totally brilliant final line: “We have to stamp out these vampires of Pluto that have invaded Earth!” Man, you don’t much more pure distilled awesome than that too often.

Bryant’s artwork is primitive, as most comics art was at the time, but he does some nice things. His vampire design is pretty neat, and considering that this came out after Bela Lugosi made Dracula suave, it’s interesting that Bryant made it a vile abomination of nature. Fero’s look in Panel 5 is pretty good, too – he’s completely unperturbed by this vampire attacking him. The page layout at the bottom is a bit wonky, because we might be tempted to read downward when the lodge explodes, but we’re meant to read from that panel to the right, then zig back to the panel where Fero tells how he let her father die like a coward. Again, this might be a function of the newness of the art form – page layouts hadn’t been a concern with comic strips, so comic book artists were working to figure out how to tell the story sequentially. Bryant has a lot to pack into this 5-page story, so he uses small panels and a layout that might be confusing at first glance.

As with every story in this collection, “Fero, Planet Detective” bristles with wild and anarchic energy, and it’s ridiculously fun to read. Sure, there are some problems with this page (not to mention the story), but you still track this book down and wallow in the awesomeness of late 1930s/early 1940s comics. You know you want to!

Next: One of my favorite Christmas issues ever! So you know it’s going to be a bit twisted! Find more twisted comics in the archives!

4 Comments

Man, talk about frantic. “This happens! Then this! And now, a vampire! But he’s dead now.”

Those 40s guys could have condensed War and Peace into 3 pages.

I always like guessing what next’s installment will be, so I’ll say it’s Hitman’s Christmas issue.

Dang, Pedro, you’re too smart!

To be sure these comics could have used a bit of decompression :)

About the page layouts, it was not completely unfamiliar territory for comic strips since sunday pages could be the size of a comic book page or even bigger, and e.g. Little Nemo had been playing with innovative layouts (which were also not always that easy to read but anyway…)
Though of course several artists were also doing the three-row-12-panel-extended-gag sunday strips.

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