One of the reasons why I suspect Hour-Man is flailing about as a strip so much is that he's not positioned early enough in the superhero genre to be considered a pioneer, but he's not so late to the game either that he can be certain of the reasons why the things which have succeeded are successful. The Minute-Men were introduced only four months after Robin introduced the concept of the boy sidekick. Apparently Robin's popularity was instant enough for DC to know they had a keeper, but without the experiment being repeated ad nauseum (no Bucky, Sandy, Davey, etc) by the time The Minute-Men entered the scene, Fitch doesn't seem convinced that 'Hour-Boy' is the way to go. Instead, we get something closer to The Baker Street Irregulars than kid sidekick. Same thing with Fitch recognizing that the good guy needs to have a meek civilian identity, but not understanding that said meek civilian identity needs to be only a pose. So many of the ideas introduced here feel like they're just so close to hitting the nail on the head - that things are about to fall into piece, that Fitch is just on the verge of deducing why Superman and Batman are hits, but then he just completely drops the ball. Frustrating to watch, but fascinating.
Very cogent and insightful observation, there, one that I've been sensing but that hadn't crystallized in my thinking such that I could express it as well as you have.
Post by M. W. Gallaher on Jan 20, 2022 8:13:40 GMT -5
ALL-STAR COMICS #2, Fall 1940
A more exciting splash, with Hour-Man and the boys confronting a spooky apparition arising from a grave, we get our wordiest banner yet: ‘Presenting: “Tick-Tock” Tyler (The Man of the Hour) as the Hour-Man with Minute Man Martin and the Minute Men of America by Bernard Baily”. Whew!
The caption summary skips explanations of Hour-Man’s power, only telling us that Rex’s true identity is that of “a meek and mild chemist”, but does explain the Minute Men of America and specifically not that the boys “do not know his true identity.”
This new adventure begins in the office of Dr. Morte, a sinister-looking psychic hypnotizing a man in preparation for transmitting a message from the victim’s late wife, Clara. As the man stares mesmerized into the crystal ball, Morte Googles his victim 1940-style, using Who’s Who to learn details about Clara, wife of Robert T. Davis, owner of the Golden Eagle mine. This is what those in the fake psychic business call a “hot reading”: they convince their victims of supernatural abilities by feigning psychic “hits” using information obtained in a mundane, natural manner.
The message Morte delivers is one intended to finance his skipping town: “Tonite there shall be no moon. I want you to bring your money and jewelry to Ever-Rest [Cemetery] so that I can see what you have left!” Davis eagerly promises to follow “Clara’s” instructions.
Back at Bannerman (formerly Bannermain) Laboratories, we see that Davis is the brother-in-law of The Boss, who rails against this obvious fraud to Rex Tyler. Tyler agrees it’s “silly”, but The Boss dares not go against the wishes of his late sister’s spouse. If The Boss won’t act, Hour-Man will, and Rex decides to call on the Minute Men to investigate Morte, while Rex stops Davis from going to Ever-Rest. Meanwhile, Morte is explaining his practice of getting the gullible rich to part with their money to Longo, his henchman. Longo is a former circus act, a homely giant who’s been scaring Morte’s clients once they drop their loot.
Hour-Man has Jimmy Martin summon the Minute Men to headquarters via the group’s two-way shortwave radios. I suppose Rex realized that the boys weren’t the most qualified to perform last-minute background research on Morte and is moving ahead under the reasonable assumption that Morte’s a fraud and a con-man. The new plan is for the boys to prevent Davis from entering the graveyard, while Hour-Man cases Morte’s séance parlor.
From the branches of a tree in the yard, Hour-Man enters Morte’s home to discover packed bags, a sure sign that he’s about to make a getaway. Morte’s entry prevents Hour-Man from further investigation, and Hour-Man returns to the tree until Morte speeds off in his Bailymobile.
Captain Martin directs an unnamed Minute Man and the familiar turtleneck kid to block Davis at the gate. Davis is having none of this interference, even after the boys name-drop their hero Hour-Man. “The Hour Man? That creature! How dare he talk about Dr. Morte!” (Typical sucker’s response we see to this day; the devotion of victims to a talented con artist triggers disdain for the trustworthy if they contradict the delusion.)
Not only have the boys failed in their mission (maybe they should have brought their baseball bats?) but they get spooked, thinking they’ve spotted someone lurking behind the tombstones, and flee to a nearby house.
The house is locked, so Jimmy proposes to boost Thorndyke—the turtleneck-abusing kid, who apparently hates his real name—to an open 2nd-story window, so that he can open the door.
Uh-oh, this is where Longo the Giant is waiting for his role in this scam! Thorndyke runs in terror, bopping Longo on the snout before fleeing with Jimmy and the other boy. Hour Man has found Morte in an unoccupied mausoleum (I’d think at this hour most of them would be unoccupied, except by the deceased, themselves), and has figured out Morte’s clever scheme. He is transmitting his own voice, imitating Clara’s, via radio to a hidden speaker at the grave, where Davis is listening.
The scam is spoiled when Hour-Man interrupts Morte, who breaks character (“Hey, who are you? You! The Hour-Man!”), and Davis finally recognizes he is being scammed. Hour-Man’s confrontation with Morte comes to a halt when the boys call for help on their radio’s: a giant is chasing them! Hour-Man arrives in time to save Thorndyke from Longo’s hurled club, and Hour-Man lifts the giant overhead and tosses him into a pond.
Davis has seen the light, after hearing Hour-Man’s report. Davis vows to “see to it that Dr. Morte is exposed.”
In TwoMorrows’ ALL-STAR COMPANION VOLUME FOUR, Craig Delich argues against Gardner Fox’s claim of writing every story in the first three issues of ALL-STAR COMICS. In #1 and #2, he says, "Fox wrote only the Flash, Hawkman, and Sandman tales." He and Martin O’Hearn, in this article, are focused primarily on the authorship of the stories in #3, the first JSA meeting, but Delich does state, in reference to Hour-Man and The Spectre that “[t]he writers, too, were probably the original writers.” That is, Ken Fitch on Hour-Man, specifically.
Both scholars are far more trustworthy than I am at identifying comics writers. I can’t claim to be able to spot “any recognizable quirk of Fox’s” like O’Hearn can. But if this story was written by Ken Fitch, it’s far better work than anything he’s done so far for this feature. Was it written by someone else? Possibly Gardner Fox? Well, there are some characteristics on display here that often haven’t been seen in prior episodes:
Most of the primary characters are identified by name, including Thorndyke, Morte, Longo, Clara and Robert Davis. (The Boss is still not identified, but that may be because, if the writer was not Fitch, he presumed The Boss had been named—he had not--but couldn’t find it in the sample stories available to him.) Except in the logo, Rex is never referred to as "Tick-Tock".
The villain’s plot is clearly defined and consistently pursued throughout the story.
The Boss is not abusive to Rex Tyler.
The Lab is “Bannerman”, although it was previously identified as the much more unusual “Bannermain”.
Rex is never insinuated to be cowardly or timid, despite the routine description in the introductory caption. Rex takes on the challenge of exposing the hoax without any encouragement, even while The Boss dejectedly accepts his brother-in-law’s inevitable victimization.
Hour-Man never mentions or takes Miraclo. (We faithful readers can easily figure out when he popped his pill: right when he saw Morte’s car speeding off, you just know Rex had to chase it!)
On the other hand, there are a few Fitchian aspects:
Hour-Man spends time sitting in the branches of a tall tree, as we’ve seen a few times before.
Hour-Man’s plan changes abruptly: he says he’ll have the boys investigate Morte while he prevents Davis from entering the cemetery, but the assignments are reversed when the story proceeds. The climax is rushed and unsatisfying, with Morte left to be “exposed” by his former victim rather than being brought to justice, and Longo ends up drenched in a pond.
Again, I’m far from qualified to call it, but this story seems to be very unlike anything we’ve gotten so far, and the plot, involving a scheme by a fake psychic, with spooky scenes in a graveyard and mausoleum, feel a lot more like the kinds of stories I’ve read from Gardner Fox, who had a fondness for Weird Tales types of stories as seen in his Dr. Fate and Spectre stories. Maybe a true Fox story would have those “recognizable quirks” I’m not conscious of, and Craig Delich’s GCD-cited attribution of the story to Fitch is on target. Fitch is listed on the GCD as writing this feature through issue 61 back in ADVENTURE COMICS, with Delich credited with identifying the scripter, so we’ll see if maybe Fitch has just gotten the hang of writing more consistent, entertaining Hour-Man stories. I hope so!
Whoever wrote it, we see some notable developments. Thorndyke, finally identified, will become, later, a prominent component of the feature. We don't even bother with Miraclo, which seems like an odd decision since ALL-STAR was presumably a sampler to appeal to those who might not be familiar with the characters' ongoing features in other series. A new reader would have no idea why he's called "Hour-Man", or what his powers are, if any--we don't even see him chase a car on-panel, and they aren't even mentioned in the splash caption. He can lift a giant and toss him into a pond, so enhanced strength is about all they could deduce.
Post by Prince Hal on Jan 20, 2022 13:45:07 GMT -5
BTW, M. W. Gallaher, it occurred to me earlier (when I couldn't post) that Scrapper of the Newsboy Legion is almost a member of the "half-masked" club, too. He always wore his"newsie" cap and a very heavy sweater with a collar that conceivably could roll up to cover the bottom half of his face.
"The rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance." -- The Tempest, 5.1
Post by M. W. Gallaher on Jan 23, 2022 15:12:08 GMT -5
ADVENTURE COMICS #55, October 1940:
While we've expressed a general agreement in appreciation of Hour-Man's fashion sense, let's give some acknowledgment to the bold sartorial statement made by the fellow with the "dynamite exploder" here.
OK, now hold on, we're about to be witness to a stunning escapade of incompetence on a level never before seen in this feature. But first we need to get through another crowded splash:
Can the introduction get any longer? Of course it can: 'Presenting "Tick-Tock Tyler" (The Man of the Hour) as the Hour-Man with Minute Man Martin Leader of the Minute Men of America by Bernard Baily' Whew! Thorndyke is only a background character this time around, but his following close behind Minute Man Martin foreshadows his looming prominence in this feature, yet to come!
In the introductory caption, we learn that Hour-Man's base of operations is the city of Cosmos (the scripter evidently forgot previously identifying it as Appleton), which is dedicating a few days to educate students--male students, that is, since it's "Boy's Week"--in the functioning of city government. Local crooks think that while kids are being given the opportunity to run the city, this would be a great time to pull some heists. They haven't counted on student "mayor" John Greene appointing Jimmy Martin as Chief of Police! The newly appointed student council does not have the confidence of the local paper, who editorializes that putting the city in the hands of boys without them first having been "schooled in politics" is a foolish move.
Jimmy's certain that the new government will do fine. Sounds like Jimmy understands politics pretty well after all, since the council is apparently stacked with members of Jimmy's own "party", the Minute Men of America (or at least of Cosmos).
Our hero Rex, meanwhile, is, once again, being berated by his still nameless Boss at the chemistry office--seems Rex hasn't shipped out the "emergency supply of sleeping gas" as The Boss has demanded. Rex is concerned about the lack of permits: sleeping gas is authorized only for hospitals and could be dangerous in the hands of thieves! Rex's boss is explicitly more concerned with profit: "We haven't enough orders as it is! Send it out and keep your mouth shut!"
Rex tries to pass this shady operation to the office boy, but since young Tommy has a Minute Men meeting, Rex grudgingly handles the job himself. Sure enough, the drop-off location doesn't look like a hospital, and they don't have a permit...or payment, for that matter. Highly suspicious, yes, but Rex has promised to show up as Hour-Man for the boys' meeting, so the crimefighting will have to wait for a few more hours!
And hey, just to make sure the boys won't be disappointed, Rex pops a Miraclo pill *before* the meeting. So his superpowers ought to wear off about the time he's heading back to check up on that suspicious sleeping gas delivery.
In costume, Hour-Man is impressing the gravity of responsibility the Minute Men face in their new roles in city government, when the radio announces a robbery at the Apex theater! As Chief of Police, Jimmy has a squad car at his disposal, and Rex is close behind as they head to the scene of the crime.
Surprisingly, Rex is a lot farther behind than he usually is when he races on foot after cars. Unsurprisingly, Jimmy reports via short-wave that the audience was robbed and then put to sleep. (I would have suggested doing that in the reverse order, but I'm no criminal mastermind.) The crooks have moved on to the bank, and this time, they're knocking out the guards in advance. A different Minute Man, Cosgrave, who's also evidently authorized to ride along with the "radio car", arrives alert to the bank job underway, but the crooks take Cosgrave and the cop captive, not realizing that Hour-Man has caught up to them. Hour-Man proceeds to do what Hour-Man (usually) does best—he runs after the speeding cars on foot. Evidently Hour-Man has become a little *too* famous for chasing cars, because the robbers have equipped their cars with sleeping gas fed into the exhaust.
When Hour-Man comes to ("some time later"), the thugs are long gone, but Cosgrove has tossed out some critical info for Hour-Man to find: the location of the upcoming stage of the crime wave, "discreetly" scrawled on what looks like four square feet of posterboard. Try not to laugh:
It's off to the Lyceum Theatre next! Somehow Jimmy's also alert to the possibility that the Lyceum might be a target, because he's already posted men there. (According to the Theatre's billboard, now playing is "The Spectre"! Hey, this is way too early for the Spectre film that was released here on Earth-Prime...) And by "men", of course I don't mean the police force, I mean a bunch of the boys from the Minute Men of America...who flee as soon as shots are fired (over their heads; these villains aren't child-killers!).
Hour-Man misses the robbery, but when he hears that the robbers used gas, he finally puts two and two together and calls for the Minute Men to meet him at the river warehouse...and to bring STICKS! Yeah, sticks. Versus guns and sleeping gas. Well, the Minute Men trust in "Tick-Tock", and the call to arms goes out over the group's radio network. When Rex gets there, he treats the crooks to some of their own medicine, releasing some of his own sleeping gas. But with the Miraclo wearing off, he's still not up to the task of subduing the criminals. But of course, the Minute Men arrive, with their STICKS, and beat the sleepy criminals into submission. Each of the thugs gets 20 years, and even Rex's boss praises the youthful civil servants, as do the newspapers. Evidently no one thought to pursue where they had obtained the sleeping gas.
I suppose the premise of letting kids literally be in charge of city government, including the police force, might have been an appealing fantasy to a youthful readership. The payoff isn't very strong, and I think most readers would agree that the papers had a legitimate skepticism over the wisdom of this scheme. Still, the crime wave wasn't the boys’ fault--that falls directly on Hour-Man himself. I mean, it’s one thing to show Rex Tyler encouraging others to give in to blackmail and extortion, but now he’s directly responsible for enabling the crisis, submitting to The Boss, depicted as unethical and professionally negligent. Scripter Ken Fitch doesn’t give us any wiggle room to justify either Rex’s or The Boss’s actions: The Boss convicts himself with his own words: “We haven’t enough orders as it is! Send it out and keep your mouth shut!” Rex, who has raised the specific potential for abuse of the sleeping gas, relents, but only after trying to employ the services of an underage patsy. He recognizes the recipients of the gas as likely crooks, but puts off action in order to give a pep talk to kids.
And given that he's a hero with the specific gimmick of a one hour limit to his super powers, Rex's bad planning is hard to overlook. To take Miraclo before a club meeting immediately after establishing an intent to later go check out an obviously criminal activity is a rookie mistake, and Rex no longer qualifies as a rookie. His poor time management leads to a humiliating loss of powers and defeat, leaving the kids to resolve the problem by rescuing Hour-Man and bludgeoning the bad guys.
This one is without a doubt Hour-Man’s worst showing yet—it’s not just superhero malpractice but professional misbehavior, conspiracy, child endangerment... We can’t really even respect him as a chemist after this! And the only display of power that scripter Ken Fitch manages to work in is car-chasing—and Hour-Man is even foiled at that this time! This defies any effort at analysis; I’ve just gotta shake my head and assume that Fitch was thoughtlessly dashing this off on the fly until he reached the end of the story. It’s crossed my mind that they were contemplating writing Rex himself out of this feature and turning it into Minute Men of America, but that seems unlikely, given that Rex is about to be inducted into the JSA.
Post by M. W. Gallaher on Jan 25, 2022 10:02:42 GMT -5
ADVENTURE COMICS #56, November 1940:
Another untitled story from Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily, unrelated to the nicely colored cover.
Bernard Baily reuses the previous splash image, and as with last issue, the caption is an introduction to the story, not to the character. I guess Hour-Man’s fame has spread such that no introduction to this mighty legend is necessary…So, we are invited to witness some of the strange happenings taking place along the eastern seaboard:
Explosions in a Boston shipyard and Virginia Marine base and a sabotaged bomber in a top secret airfield! The FBI can find no proof of sabotage, but if not that, what invisible foe could be striking these military assets? “In a far off city” (Is this Cosmos? Is it far from the east coast after all?) Rex Tyler is packing for a camping trip to Lonely Island with his Minute Men, when he gets a call from The Boss: Bannerman Laboratories customer Dr. Slight needs the assistance of a chemist at his Castle Doom (ominous estate name, isn’t it?). Castle Doom is clost to Lonely Island, so Rex tells the boys to go without him, hoping he can join them when he’s done with his tasks for Dr. Slight.
At Castle Doom, Rex is threatened by Slight’s ferocious guard dog and escapes the hound when he sees the castle’s moat bridge lowered: “The Hourman leaps…” (Curious that the script refers to him as “The Hourman” when out of costume and presumably un-Miraclo’d, as evidenced by his fear of the dog.)
Dr. Slight greets his new hire and demonstrates his control over the dog using “excellent hypnotic powers.” Slight’s eyes and hands are unsteady today, and he intends that Rex (again referred to in the captions as “Hourman”!) do the delicate work of preparing the chemicals.
It’s an unusual formulation, and as Rex waits to be escorted out, he peruses the newspaper clippings, which report on the mysterious bombings. The returning Dr. Slight is upset to see this, thinking that Rex is looking at his notes. When Rex explains he was just looking at the news clippings, Dr. Slight willingly relinquishes them to Rex and escorts him out.
Along the way through the castle gardens, Rex spots a statue of a winged horse, and Slight explains: “a hobby of mine since childhood!! I used to love circuses! This is just one of my statues. I have lots of other ones! I call them my frozen circus!” (I don’t recall Pegasus being part of any circus I ever went to, but maybe they were better in 1940.)
Suiting up as Hourman, Rex joins his Minute Men on Lonely Island, four miles away. (The ranks seem to have dwindled to a measly three: Jimmy Martin, Thorndyke, and an unidentified portly blond lad. Suddenly, the group sees a massive explosion from the nearby town, and the radio reports the munitions plant has been bombed! “What makes this fantastic is that the watchman has gone crazy! He swears a flying horse bombed the place!”
This is a job for Hourman and the Minute Men. The boys’ task: to go to the nearby circus. Hourman has a hunch, see. This will all make perfect sense, boys, just go to the circus while Hourman investigates. Demonstrating his talent for wasting valuable time, Rex decides the most valuable avenue of investigation will be the watchman. The poor guy is strapped to a chair in a straightjacket, but he continues to swear a flying horse from the east dropped the bomb.
The hospital attendants attempt to restrain the Hourman, taking him for “another nut” on the loose, so of course Hourman has to slug the orderlies and tie them up so that he can rush over…no, not to Dr. Slight’s Castle Doom, but to the circus!
There he follows the circus van, which is, curiously, departing the circus grounds in the middle of a show. Undected, he follows the van to its destination, the powerhouse. (We don’t see it, but we all know how he followed that van, right? On his Miraclo-powered fleet feet, that’s how!)
At the powerhouse, the ringmaster is on guard, and is directing Sandor the strongman to “wreck everything” under the watch of the circus’s resident little person, Midge, whose job is to “see that he does it!”. Sandor threatens to kill the intervening Hour-Man (I’m sharing the script’s inconsistency with the hyphen here!), but Hour-Man strikes a “terrific right to his adversary’s midriff, and….”
Sandow disintegrates, leaving a mechanical voice transmitter, from which issues the cry: “Fool! What has happened? Come, Sandor—come, Midge!”
Before they can escape, Hourman punches more freaks (we never actually see them) into fragments, and yanks Midge’s arm right off his little frame. It’s another mostly-fail for Hourman, as the powerplant explodes behind him, courtesy of a flying horse that soars off away from the conflagration.
Putting together all the clues, Hourman heads directly to…the circus, of course. All the acts have disappeared, but the ringmaster is still around, having fled into a tent. Hourman and the boys find only the ringmaster’s top hat and a pile of rubble. OK, now he’s put together the clues, and he orders the boys to follow him to Castle Doom.
Hourman is heading for the drawbridge when he notes the absence of Dr. Slight’s “Frozen Circus” before falling into a secret passage underground. The passage leads to a trap: a transparent steel coffin! Dr. Slight explains his plan: that chemical gives life to plaster casts, which he directs with a special machine. His traveling circus establishes a reign of terror across the country, through which he…rules the earth. I think there might be a few steps missing in his plan, but we can’t expect him to go every little detail, right?
Dr. Slight is alerted to the arrival of the Minute Men, and dispatches some of his “pets”—which look like musclebound microcephaly patients—to throw acid on the boys!
Hourman’s sometimes-trusty chemical-filled ring has acid in it as well, and Hourman burns a hole through the transparent coffin. A blow from Hourman’s fist sends Dr. Slight head-first into the cavern wall: “That’ll hold you for a while!” Hold that thought.
The boys are bravely climbing the castle walls, not realizing the little freaks looming above them are about to rain down some liquid death, when the Hour Man arrives to smash the freaks into rubble! The flying horse now shatters on its own. As Hour Man explains around the campfire, “Dr. Slight’s plan to control the world failed! Only he could rule those freaks, and with his death, they died, too!”
So, then, Hour Man’s punch just straight-up killed Dr. Slight. Yeah, that will hold him for a while, a long, long while.
The plot, as usual, is too ludicrous to try to make sense of, and shows of Ken Fitch’s typical incongruence. Is Dr. Slight sabotaging the US military, as it appears at first? No, he’s establishing a circus of terror using animated plaster statues, based on the estate of his castle but intended to roam across the land to spread chaos, with the goal of…well, what does it matter, really, let’s just say ruling the world. With plaster statues that would crumble even without the enhanced Hourman punch.
Is Dr. Slight a master hypnotist? No, that’s just an incidental side talent, his main gig is bringing statues to life, and indulging his circus fetish by staging travelling shows with an entire plaster menagerie, while also blowing stuff up everywhere he goes. Also, he creates remote controls for his plaster slaves, so I guess the whole circus is just him at the control board? Even the ticket-sellers and concession stand operators? Oh, and he’s also an explosives expert, making the bombs for Pegasus to drop like TNT-laden horse apples.
And note, once again there is no mention of Miraclo. Is “Tick-Tock” on Miraclo throughout this adventure? If so, why the apparently genuine fear of the dog?
I’d love to be able to hear the reaction of a reader in 1940. Would a boy reading this issue of ADVENTURE take notice of Rex’s clear incompetence at almost every stage of the story? As a professional chemist, he had no grasp of what he had just cooked up for Dr. Slight. As an investigator, he couldn’t grasp the obvious connection between the horse statue and Dr. Slight’s garden decorations, but he did have an interest in the nearby circus after Slight confessed to being a circus-lover. He took unproductive avenues of research that nearly got him locked up as a loon, forcing him to assault and wrongfully imprison innocent working men. He botched the protection of the power plant. And of course, he killed his enemy when he could have easily captured him. How could he possibly explain any of this to the authorities? Well, he doesn’t have to, he just leaves the devastation, the abandoned castle, and the…wait, wait, another inconsistency! If the freaks died only after Dr. Slight died, why did all of the circus performers disintegrate, long before Hourman dispatched the evil genius Dr. Slight? The final panel seems to be trying to explain that, forgetting that it violates the sequence of events that the story established. Maybe those animated statues were intentionally deactivated when Slight’s plan went awry…but wait, his plan went off just fine, the power plant was bombed, it’s just that Midge and Sandor were lost…and they’d be easy enough to recreate, right?
The feature is clearly struggling. If there’s one good thing I can say about this, it’s that between the Baily art and the weird nature of the menace, it’s kind of like getting another Golden Age Spectre story. A lousy one, but with the same vibe of mass destruction, strange threats, and creepy scenes of opponents shattering to pieces at a single blow. Fortunately, it's not the last time they'll take this approach to the feature. The Minute Men are still around, and we'll see if it's still putatively a nation-wide organization of radio-equipped boys are a local kid's gang. One thing to note is that while "Captain Martin" is not identified by name, the script does specifically name-drop Thorndyke, even though he does nothing to distinguish himself (nor do any of the other boys) in this adventure. It's evident that Rex would much rather be playing scoutmaster on the camping trip than engaging in superheroics, but somehow the boys find this an adventure they'll never forget, anyway. I'll buy that: disintegrating circuses are memorable, indeed.
Grand Dictator for Life of the Classic Comics Christmas
I can't figure Fitch out. A former longshoreman, his career in comics lasted from 1936 to 1965, he wrote for more than a dozen different publishers (including Dell), and yet these stories demonstrate no feel for the medium (or for wordsmithing) at all.
Post by M. W. Gallaher on Jan 25, 2022 11:32:17 GMT -5
Fitch has been in a blind spot for me; I'd heard the name but never before paid specific attention to his style until you alerted me that he was the man typing out these Hourman stories at the beginning. I'm kind of fascinated with his flawed approach, so much so that I'm going to have to take a look at his other DC feature with Baily, Mr. America. Not here, probably...to the relief of those still following this trainwreck of a headliner...
Grand Dictator for Life of the Classic Comics Christmas
Post by M. W. Gallaher on Jan 25, 2022 23:01:36 GMT -5
ADVENTURE COMICS #57, December 1940
This time we open with the villain, Dr. Togg, on remote Wide Island, where he is spouting the long-standing mantra of the mad scientist: “Laugh at me, will they? Soon they shall know! Heh! Heh! They won’t laugh at Dr. Togg anymore! The world and all its goods will be mine with my little pets! Police? Bah!”
Togg’s devilish creation? “Pets” created by attaching buzzard heads to wolf bodies! Good boys!
Elsewhere, tonight’s meeting of the Minute Men of America is underway, and all five members, including Thorndyke, await the arrival of their hero, who enters and leads them in the Pledge of Loyalty…or, as I like to call it, the Pledge of Plagiarism:
An S.O.S. comes through on the shortwave: an ailing member (so there are still at least 6 boys in the club) has spotted a bank holdup from the window of his bedroom. Hour-Man, having taken a Miraclo pill before the club meeting, dashes to the scene, ordering some of the boys to follow and others to stay behind.
Hour-Man’s car-chasing abilities guide the escaping thieves smack dab into a fire hydrant, but the second car-full of criminals is about to plow over Minute Man Thorndyke! Saving him has to be Hour-Man’s top priority, but the Minute Men take up the slack, gathering pushcarts full of vegetables to block the street, halting the fleeing bank robbers.
Hour Man and Thorndyke are the first back at headquarters, and when the other four boys arrive, Hour Man expresses pride in the upcoming newspaper headlines, which will let “criminals know that crime is thru!” (Maybe it’s just me, but when I see ‘through’ abbreviated as ‘thru’, it always conveys ‘through’ as in ‘penetrated’, not ‘through’ as in ‘finished’. This is a new awareness for me, and I’m curious if others feel the same!)
Meanwhile, Dr. Togg is creating another hybrid, I guess using the leftover parts from his previous experiments, because this one has the head and torso of a wolf and the talons and wings of a buzzard. He dubs this terror--get this--
The Gombezi cannot be held without special gloves (super slippery skin, you see), and Dr. Togg proceeds to make duplicates of it with his mold.
Before long, the somewhat intelligent Gombezi are causing train crashes, and robbing banks, delivering the stolen loot and mail by air to their master, who controls them by “radiophoto.”
Unsurprisingly, these attacks are big news, generating headlines like “Police and G-Men Baffled by Aero-Midgets!!” Rex Tyler is keeping up with all this news, and he also notes that the S.S. Cambra, carrying $350,000 worth of radium, is docking in town at midnight. Time for a dose of Miraclo and a call to the Minute Men! Don’t worry that it’s a school night, Hour Man wants all his boys at the docks at midnight to capture these deadly monsters! When Minute-Man Martin compares the slippery Gombezi to butterflies, Hour Man gets an inspiration! Trap them in butterfly nets! Fifteen minutes later, Hour Man and the boys are on a speedboat to the S.S. Cambra, where they capture several of the monsters, except the one carrying radium, which escapes with some other Gombezi. As Rex races back to shore, he radios the boys waiting there to capture all but one of the fleeing Gombezi.
With his super powers, Hour-Man keeps pace with the final Gombezi, netting it just before it enters Dr. Togg’s place. Not content with simply restraining the creature, The Man of the Hour gives it a squirt of tear gas from his ring, just for kicks, and retrieves the stolen radium.
All that’s left is to enter the villain’s lair where he encounters his opponent, who appears only on a video screen. “Why, this is a lab! Say—who are you?” Rather than introduce himself, Dr. Togg sics a pack of wolf-buzzards on the hero, but Rex’s chemistry expertise allows him to identify a “powerful explosive” left on the lab table. Hour-Man detonates the chemicals, blowing up the place real good and riding the shock wave to safety, courtesy of his Miraclo boost.
As Hour-Man and the boys bask in the glow of the burning building, he attributes their success to the Minute Men of America, and declares “another victory against a law breaker!”
This time, the story closes with a new bit: a caption teasing the next issue, posing the question: “Is the terrible Dr. Togg really dead? Or has he escaped to unleash new terrors on society?”
See, I told you there’d be another Spectre-style story! This time, it’s Dr. Togg and his hybrids. Typical of Ken Fitch’s disconnected scripting, we never see the first versions of the hybrids do anything, and the bank-robbing segment is unrelated to the main plot.
There’s one significant bit of information provided in this issue’s splash caption, which once again fills us in on the nature of Rex’s power: “No one, not even Jimmy Martin, captain of the Minute-Men of America, knows his real identity, nor that ‘Miraclo’ gives him extra-human powers for only one hour…”
So, despite his name, it’s explicitly established that no one knows his powers only last for an hour. So the old complaints about his name giving away his weakness, at least for now, are invalid. I find myself wondering just why it is that “Hour Man” just kind of sounds cool, whatever it really means. There’s something elusively appealing about the sound of it and hitting upon that name was possibly the best part of the conception of this character. Eleven years later, a variation on the moniker would be an evolutionary link on the path to rock and roll:
Once again, Hour-Man seems more interested in pleasing his dwindling fanbase than with superheroics, taking a pill—presumably to demonstrate his powers—prior to a club meeting. I’ll forgive the unlikelihood of a sick kid spotting a bank robbery from his bedroom window, but it is worth noting that this sequence goes out of its way to have Thorndyke stumble into a situation from which he must be rescued. Thus far, Thorndyke has just been a weird-looking kid, but—spoiler alert!—he’ll evolve into the feature’s obligatory comic relief, and this may be the first steps toward that.
Another of Ken Fitch’s misfires is his decision to have the gang capture the Gombezi—who are supposed to be a creepy, sinister thread—with something as silly as butterfly nets. This really undercuts the sense of menace, if the ridiculous name hadn’t already done that.
The climax is rushed, but I do give the creative team some credit for teasing the promise of Dr. Togg being a recurring nemesis, which is something that would benefit the series. Mad scientists would be a good pool of villains for a chemistry-focused superhero, but Hour-Man hasn’t really fulfilled that promise after all.
For the past couple of installments, Bernard Baily, who lettered his own work, has been employing a new technique, putting captions in blank areas to the left of the art panels (often punctuated with a diamond symbol), rather than above them. I find this to be an appealing choice, and something I’ve always considered a trademark of Baily’s style. While it’s still pretty crude, Baily’s art is a huge part of whatever limited appeal the Hour-Man strip has. Yeah, his monsters are hard to take seriously, but that’s a big part of the charm.
Next up is what may be Hour-Man’s finest hour, as he joins the first great comics superhero team as one of the founders of the Justice Society of America!
Post by chadwilliam on Jan 27, 2022 0:24:19 GMT -5
There is definitely a Spectre-ish feel here which makes me wonder if Fitch is looking at that strip to get a feel for what he should be doing here perhaps even at the behest of Bailey himself.
Of course, that feel extends only to the artwork and to the villains involved. Superhero history is replete with examples of great heroes who thoroughly lacked a memorable rogues gallery, but here we have the opposite. Dr. Togg is a villain worthy of The Spectre himself, but I don't think that The Hour-Man is worthy of him. Attaching the heads of buzzards to the bodies of wolves is villainy at its finest (and I love the way that he honesty believes that "science would love" to see these abominations as if they'd be begging to give him a Noble Prize for them) and it's insulting the way Hour-Man doesn't respect such an effrontery to science by coming up with a counter worthy of such a set-up. Butterfly nets? Really?
The Spectre will cross paths with The Hour-Man soon as they both take turns recounting recent adventures. I'd love it if, after The Spectre presents his nightmarish entry, he takes note of how the rather bland Hour-Man tells a tale sounding as if he just ripped off the story The Spectre just told.
"Musn't tell these fellas how 90% of my time is spent just chasing after automobiles like some dumb dog - I gotta really wow them! hmm... this Spectre guy probably won't notice if I just change a few things about the story he's just finished and claim it as mine".
There is definitely a Spectre-ish feel here which makes me wonder if Fitch is looking at that strip to get a feel for what he should be doing here perhaps even at the behest of Bailey himself.
Of course, that feel extends only to the artwork and to the villains involved. Superhero history is replete with examples of great heroes who thoroughly lacked a memorable rogues gallery, but here we have the opposite. Dr. Togg is a villain worthy of The Spectre himself, but I don't think that The Hour-Man is worthy of him. Attaching the heads of buzzards to the bodies of wolves is villainy at its finest (and I love the way that he honestly believes that "science would love" to see these abominations as if they'd be begging to give him a Nobel Prize for them) and it's insulting the way Hour-Man doesn't respect such an effrontery to science by coming up with a counter worthy of such a set-up. Butterfly nets? Really?
I like that hypothesis of Fitch looking at Baily's other big feature for inspiration. I was surprised to see the strip taking this Spectre-ish turn, but I didn't think to speculate on what might have triggered this approach. The Spectre feature had an advantage in incorporating threats like these, since it could resort to supernatural menaces. Hourman doesn't seem to want to go there, so this stretch of weird villains look to be mad scientists one and all, with very vague explanations ("molds", "special machines", "mechanical contraptions", "mysterious chemicals"). But at least they're more fun than necklace heists and racetrack extortion.
Post by M. W. Gallaher on Jan 27, 2022 9:02:28 GMT -5
ALL-STAR COMICS #3, Winter 1940
From today’s perspective, Hour-Man was joining the big leagues, but let us not forget, all of these Golden Age heroes were just past their formative stages, with less than a year on the stands (excepting the Sandman, who’d debuted just around a year and a half earlier). Ranked by number of appearances so far, we have:
Atom: 4 Dr. Fate: 8 Green Lantern: 8 Spectre: 13 Hourman: 13 Hawkman: 15 Flash: 15 Sandman: 22 (!)
Hourman is one of the senior heroes on the roster, but it’s a safe assumption that he wasn’t one of the most popular, knowing from history that Flash and GL were about to launch into their own solo comics and that all the other characters, even the modest Atom, would outlast Hourman in their respective features and in the JSA. At the time, though, as a cover feature, he was more than worthy of ranking for membership in the first superhero team assembled from individual features in the comics. The Atom would have been the obvious guess as to which of these guys wouldn't pan out on the team, but he, and three others in the inaugural meeting, would be with the team at the end of its run, and appear in almost every issue. And he was never even a cover feature in his regular ALL-AMERICAN COMICS berth!
When we get to the JSA's first team mission in the next ALL-STAR, we'll ponder the rationale behind recruiting a member who'll run out of super powers in 60 minutes...
The premise of the first meeting of the Justice Society of America is well known: Johnny Thunder horns in on the first get-together of the JSA and suggests that they all tell “the most exciting experience you ever had” as they dine together. Hourman tells the fourth tale, following the Spectre’s, beginning on the bottom half of the last page of the Ghostly Guardian’s adventure:
Unlike any Hourman story we’ve read so far, this one, like all of the stories told in this issue, is in first person. Rex Tyler’s boss orders him to accompany his niece to the costume ball at the Durant estate, and suggests he goes as the Hour-Man. Amused, The Boss agrees to pay for a costume, which Rex doesn’t need, of course—that costume money will go to charity. That evening Rex as Hour-Man is accompanying Regina, in her gypsy garb, to the ball.
At the ball, Rex’s “original idea” proves to be a popular one: there are at least five other men in Hourman costumes, one of whom approaches Rex, assuming that he’s “Bill”. The stranger’s reminder that “the boss” said to come stag gives Rex the hunch that these fake Hourmen are crooks, so he (falsely) promises to dump Regina and pops a Miraclo pill in a dramatic silhouette:
Rex and Regina meet their host, diamond jeweler Mr. Durant, and dance their way over to the diamonds on display under armed guard. Obviously, the crooks are after those jewels, and they’re going to place the blame on Hour-Man!
He’s right on the money: the phonies pull their guns, murder the guards and start their looting, foiled by a seeming turncoat in their ranks: one Hour-Man is fighting against them!
Miraclo’s not enough to protect Rex from a pistol butt to the back of the head, and between Hourman’s brief unconsciousness and a plunge into darkness after cutting the lights, the fakes are gone, leaving our hero to take the rap!
Regina’s confused when Rex makes his escape, kicking the pistol out of Durant’s hand and climbing down the ivy outside the window. He ducks into an empty room on a lower floor: it’s Durant’s private study. Here he spots some evidence that rouses his suspicions: a map of the house, a letter from a broker…but the police arrive to interrupt him.
Hourman leaps to a chandelier and drops down on the cops, taking them out. Stealing clothes from the boys in blue, he’s able to escape outside where he spots a motorboat speeding away, carrying the Hourman-garbed thieves.
Rex has done some good detective work, but he’s not so great at surveillance, and the mob spots him at the window, gangs up on him and locks him away.
Groaning as if dying, Rex is able to trick one of the gang to open the door to check on him, and then it’s all over! The real Hourman mops the floor with the phonies, tossing the last of the imitators into the group’s ringleader: you guessed it, Durant himself, who’d staged this theft of imitation jewels as part of an insurance fraud scheme.
For once, the meek chemist Rex Tyler gets to take credit for the heroism, impressing both the police and The Boss’s niece Regina (Regina Paige, that is, thanks to an earlier identification in the dialog). And with that, Hourman hands it over to the Sandman:
Err, no, make that the Red Tornado…
One thing that jumps out at me from the first (half)page is that Regina, in complimenting Rex’s appearance, says “you look just like the Hour-Man—or what I think he looks like!” That’s a notable bit of storytelling perception, as an ordinary citizen would know Hour-Man’s appearance only from second hand reports; we’ve seen nothing to directly indicate that he’s made prominent public appearances at which he’d been photographed or interviewed. Yes, he’s somehow gained enough fame to inspire kids across the country to pledge to the Minute Men of America, but he hasn’t been parading on the steps of City Hall in Appleton or Cosmos or wherever he lives.
However, the Hourman impersonators themselves have been able to authentically replicate his look, down to the red stripes and hourglass clasp on the capes. Their costumes are more ill-fitting, but more accurate than a Ben Cooper Halloween costume at least. I guess if anyone would have the scoop on Hourman's costume, it would be the criminal underworld, since he's let quite a few unsavory characters escape justice so far.
Also noteworthy is that by telling this story, Hourman is being open with his secret identity to his new colleagues in the JSA, as does everyone else on the team. It would be difficult to go with the story-telling conceit without that, and all the JSAers are upright, trustworthy fellows, after all.
It will be worth noting whether this adventure changes the dismissive attitude The Boss has shown for Rex. If this is reflected in the ongoing Hourman continuity over in ADVENTURE COMICS, it may provide some evidence in support of the assertions made by Craig Delich and Martin O’Hearn in THE ALL-STAR COLLECTOR, which I discussed in my review of the previous issue of ALL-STAR.
These two experts argue that regular Hourman scripter Ken Fitch wrote this story, either in its entirety or with a script polish from Gardner Fox. They suggest the possibility that this story was originally scripted to stand as a solo story, as in the previous issue of ALL-STAR, but converted into a first person narrative, when the JSA concept was introduced suddenly into what was supposed to be an anthology comic. Did Gardner Fox handle the rewriting that turned it into a story narrated by Rex Tyler, leaving a Ken Fitch plot beneath it? Or did the order go out to the features’ regular writers to either alter their intended script to first person prior to having it drawn, or to craft it as first person from the start?
Either way, neither of them seem to want to credit the plot to Gardner Fox, and instead agree to attribute the story to Ken Fitch.
And once again, I’m not the skilled expert at identifying creators that either of these gentlemen is, and I don’t know all the subtle indicators of a Gardner Fox story or of a Ken Fitch story. So this is amateur hour detective work…
When Rex takes his dose of Miraclo, he says “Miraclo—do your stuff! Now I’ll rejoin Regina! Hmm-mm! Someone’s with her!” That doesn’t sound like anything Ken Fitch ever had Rex saying when he downed his power pill. One of the thugs says “Ain’t that Bill over there?” I don’t recall Fitch ever have any of his henchmen using “ain’t”, which was considered a vulgar bit of slang among many. The dialog has “battle banter” such as “Hey! What’s this? A double-cross!” “No! A right cross!” unlike what we’ve seen in the regular Hourman feature.
So I’m on board with the idea that someone besides Fitch, presumably Fox, did indeed provide at least the final scripting.
Was that scripting a light rewrite to change the story from the conventional third person to first person? I doubt that, based on the impressions above: the dialog itself seems very unlike what we’ve seen from Fitch, and it’s only the captions that would have to be changed for such a minor re-write. In fact, I’m not buying the proposal that this plot was originally crafted in third person at all. I think such a conversion would read a little more awkwardly than this does, and instead it’s smoother than the typical Hourman story by quite a margin.
So is it a Ken Fitch plot with a significant overhaul by Fox, with heavier re-scripting? Maybe. Again, I just don’t know what indicators Delich and O’Hearn were using to rule out Fox, but this story is clearly way more competently crafted than the stories in ADVENTURE have been. The plot is a bit mundane but it’s consistent, clear, staged convincingly, justifies niggling details like explaining Rex’s possession of an Hourman suit and how he gets out of the ballroom dressed as the person of interest.
It would be an interesting coincidence if the two ALL-STAR appearances thus far, which Fox claimed to have written, would be so more polished than the ADVENTURE appearances if all were in fact written by Ken Fitch. But I’m just an armchair detective who’s read them all up to this point, and I can’t dismiss the clear differences between how these tales have been crafted.
Also, the Gilbert Corporation, the company that made those chemistry sets, would within two years of this story, enter the comics field itself as the publisher of Classic Comics/Classics Illustrated.
I'm a bit late with this, but - I can't find anything linking the A.C. Gilbert Company (founded 1909, maker of chemistry sets, Erector sets, and model trains) with the Gilberton Company (founded 1942, publisher of Classic Comics/Classics Illustrated). A.C. Gilbert did publish two promotional comic books produced by the Custom Comics division of ACG, Adventures in Science with Kurt Schaffenberger art in 1958, and Science Leads the Way with John Rosenberger art in 1959. But the Classics people seem to be unrelated.
-- Rob Allen
I'm finally on Facebook. Friend requests from CCFers are welcome.
Grand Dictator for Life of the Classic Comics Christmas
Rob: The identification of Gilberton the chemistry set manufacturer as identical to Gilberton the comic book publisher comes straight from William B. Jones' "Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History." According to Jones, publishing partner Raymond Haas bought the bankrupt company for a song in '42.
Michael: I think Craig and Martin are mistaken. I believe Fox did write the Hour-Man episode (and all the others except the Johnny Thunder text story) in All-Star #3 for excatly the reasons you mentioned (and, ot to argue from authority, but Roy Thomas thinks so too).