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

by  in Comic News Comment
Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 153: <i>Comics Magazine</i> #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!

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!