Secondary Superheroes Of Golden Age Comics by Lou Mougin (book review).

In this introduction, Lou Mougin got so bored waiting for a reference book on second tier super-heroes, that he opted to write the book himself, so presenting ‘Secondary Superheroes Of Golden Age Comics’.

When Superman and Batman proved a success back in the late 1930s, every publishing house wanted to have their own super-heroes and reading this book, some were very successful and some were lucky to have lasted more than a few issues, even in the anthologies comicsbooks were in those days. I suspect this wasn’t helped by World War Two when so many comicbook artists and writers were enlisted in the US military although Mougin doesn’t note it here, although there was a limited amount of paper over that decade.

Oddly, not all of them were clones of Superman or Batman, and were mostly were human with occasion enhancements later. Probably the oddest was Speed Centaur who had some of Superman’s characteristics and, well…he was a centaur.

I suspect you’ll also be raising your eyebrows from time to time seeing character names that you thought were from the 1960s coming up far earlier, including a Black Panther in 1941, although this was only a one-shot.

Don’t think they were all like that. Mouglin uses a company per chapter and character entries are as long as needed. This way you get there complete history even into the modern day with the likes of Blue Beetle and Phantom Lady as they were bought by different companies and with these two into the DC Universe. Mind you, seeing a pin-up of a character called the Bouncer, described in the text as wearing a kilt but looks more wearing a skirt will make for another raised eyebrow.

Reading the Harvey Comics super-heroes, I did wonder on what he classifies as secondary super-heroes. After all, the Green Hornet and the first Black Cat certainly aren’t.

The MLJ/Harvey Comics has one of the biggest chapters, hardly surprising with the number of super-heroes they generated in the 1940s and many of them resurrected in the 1960s and 1990s. Interestingly, a number of firsts were made there. They had a story noting the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1939. The Shield and Wizard were the first super-hero team-up in Top Notch Comics # 7 in May 1940 rather than seeing them fly past each other.

It’s rather interesting seeing the length of time each of the characters lasted because there is no indication as to whether a sales drop was because their fanbase grew up or went off to war. Whatever, they were all eventually supplanted by Archie Andrews. I should point out that many companies had their super-heroes grouped on the cover but never met inside.

Rather interestingly, with Nedor Comics, the number of their character when outside of copyright were used by Alan Moore in his titles and AC Comics’ Fem-Force.

When I started reading this book, I did have a flash memory that Mougin wasn’t the first book on this subject, although not from the story aspect, as I reviewed something similar a few years back. Still have to remember the title though. I think ‘The League Of Regrettable Superheroes’ got pretty close. However, when it comes to Lev Gleason’s company and their creation of the first Daredevil, then Lou Mougin has obviously missed TwoMorrows’ ‘American Comic Book Chronicles’ series.

Both of these books can work hand-in-hand as Mougin does give a literal blow-by-blow account of some of their significant stories and these also cover the companies in greater depth. Reading about the exploits of the deadly villain Iron Jaw, I can see some of the concerns for a cut-down in the excessive violence in comicbooks at that time.

The last half of the book does appear to have smaller chapters, but these companies didn’t have so many super-heroes and the ones they did have had reasonable sales. As you read, you will occasionally come across creator names that became more well-known with the Big Two and you do have to wonder where was Joe Simon and Jack Kirby?

Joe Simon was already doing art for Novelty Comics when Jack Kirby came along and they worked on the Blue Bolt and became a working team. There were several teams that the various comicbook companies would call upon if they wanted to increase sales and they became one of them. Their names kept popping up in these smaller chapters showing how they raised the bar, although they were often doing crime stories more than super-heroes.

Mougin tracks many characters as to whether they were continued by other companies later far more than resurrecting their names. Occasionally, they had to get around the problem of new names. Take Street And Smith’s character, The Avenger, back in 1940. Here, you couldn’t use him as a comicbook title because of a certain Marvel team, so DC Comics had him as the lead character in ‘Justice, Inc.’ in 1989, even though the title didn’t last too long.

It’s rather interesting to discover how the likes of Ace Books actually started off in comicbooks. Oddly, Mougin didn’t spot, considering that he looks at modern day resurrections, that Jack Kirby resurrected the name of Captain Victory in 1981, although that’s the only connection. Then again, the name ‘Captain Courageous’ was also a film back in 1937 so these companies didn’t mind swiping from different sources. Just goes to show, very little is new or there is a limited number of good choices. Oh and Chestler Comics are the key target for Frederic Wertham for their violence content, more so as his studio supplied material to other comicbook companies.

This is an incredibly absorbing book both for tracking these characters and the people who worked on them. If you have a geeky outlook, it also presents the information you need to track careers. There are plenty of comicbook covers so you do get enough pictures to see what many of these characters look like. I suspect it would have taken too many more pages to look inside the covers but based on these, the art is very detailed showing how much work was really done in these sweatshops on low wages. If you have an interest in comicbooks, then you really do need to read this book.

GF Willmetts

April 2020

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(pub: McFarland. 438 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £77.95 (UK), $103.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-476667-513-8)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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