Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Fantastic Comics #16, which was published by Fox Feature Syndicate and is cover dated (from what I can discover) March 1941. It was reprinted in I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets! by Fantagraphics in 2007. Enjoy!
Fantastic Comics was an anthology title that featured Stardust, the Super-Wizard, the most famous (?) creation of Fletcher Hanks. Hanks, of course, was rediscovered a few years ago when Fantagraphics put out two collections of his work. They’re awesome. You should get them.
Of course, whenever we venture into Golden Age comics, we must occasionally contend with casual racism, and we certainly get it here! You’ll notice the gangster in the mini-splash page at the top – he looks sinister, but perhaps not stereotypical. Well, his name is “Slant-Eye” and he’s purchased an island in the “South Seas,” so let’s just leave it at that, shall we? Let’s not even get into Stardust’s Aryan look …
Hanks is a crude creator, but like many of the Golden Age writers and artists, his work brims with energy and a kind of logic-defying insanity that makes them extremely fun to read. Stardust, the “most remarkable man who ever lived,” spends his time “racket-busting” when he can do things like turn entire islands upside-down (as he does in this story). He lives on a “private star,” and the planned robbery of Fort Knox is enough to set his “crime-detector” a-whirling. He can also eavesdrop on private citizens, apparently. There’s a ton of information in these five panels, and while much of it is goofy, there’s an undercurrent of paranoia and repression that makes it a bit disturbing.
Hanks doesn’t do too much with the art, but he does know, at least, how to place things in the panels so we don’t get too caught up. Stardust moves left to right in the second panel, the crime-detector needle points left to right and toward the caption box in the third panel, Stardust faces right in the fourth panel and his word balloon leads us to the fifth panel. Hanks fails to show how much bigger Stardust is than regular men in the first panel – it’s interesting that centuries of people being used to perspective in drawings makes us automatically place Stardust closer to us than the gangsters, so we unconsciously adjust his size. This panel would have been more effective as a medieval drawing, because Stardust is, in fact, much larger than the people of Earth, and the medieval mind, trained to deal with drawings in two dimensions, would have seen that instantly. It’s only when we see Stardust with other men do we realize how big he is.
There’s a lot “wrong” with Fletcher Hanks’ comics, but their wrongness is really part of their charm. He simply wrote and drew anything, it seems, that came into his head, and his comics reflect that. I mean, Slant-Eye ends up getting eaten by a giant golden octopus in this story. If you can find something more COMICS! than that, I’d be impressed.
Next: Black and white? Independent? Humorous? What madness is this? And I always love to point you toward the archives!