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Into the back issue box #31

by  in Comic News Comment

We’re setting the Way Back Machine for this week’s entry.  Can the comics that Greg Hatcher loves so much stand up to the scrutiny????

Of course, it wouldn’t be nice of me to leave out what I’m doing with these posts!

Ragman #4 (“The Dream Killers”) by Bob Kanigher and “The Redondo Studio,” with a back-up story with art by Joe Kubert.  Published by DC, February-March 1977.

                      


Does anyone ever claim that the famous Superman holding Supergirl cover is an homage to this?  No?  Man, Joe Kubert was always getting the shaft.

I always thought that using “studios” for the art was a relatively modern sensation, but here we have a comic from 1977 doing it.  I assume the Redondo Studio had something to do with Joe Kubert.  Can anyone help explain the situation?

We begin with some purple prose, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: “Jeanne Wilson’s face shone like a spring morning … Her eyes glowed … Her laugh was music!  Then — the contents of a little white envelope lifted her to the clouds … and toppled her into suffocating quicksand!“  We see Jeanne receive said envelope from a mysterious gloved hand, and then she dies.  Three “hyenas in human form” decide to dump her body into the river because if the cops spot her it will “raise heat” for them.  As they stand on the bridge, they see Ragman, who swoops down and dispatches them with ease.  But not without more purple prose: “The blazing eyes of Ragman cloud with sorrow … as he kneels over the inert form of the dead young girl … He moves the long hair out of the sightless eyes …”  He says that she overdosed on stuff that’s flooding the city, and unless the dealers are stopped, anyone could be next!!!!!!!!

        


There’s a whole heck of a lot that’s silly about the first three pages of this comic (what’s the drug that kills Jeanne, who are the three hoods who are so scared about the death of one anonymous addict, why does this particular death spur Ragman into action?) but at least it sets up the issue – Ragman is some mysterious avenger who is going after drug dealers.  Fine.  On the next page Ragman is standing in the morgue, apparently by invitation, because the cops don’t seem to mind, and the coroner tells the cop that he did an autopsy on a 12-year-old, and the cop says the drugs are coming into the city somehow, but they “can’t get a handle on it!”  Ragman slips away to a “darkened junk shop” and enters, revealing his “civilian” identity of Rory Regan, “buyer of broken dreams and junk of which life is made!”  Kanigher never saw an exclamation point he didn’t like, apparently!!!!

         


The next morning a woman named Bette and a young black kid named Teddy wake Rory up with the reminder that they’re taking some of the kids from the orphanage to “Floating Funland.”  Bette’s though balloon before she enters the shop is: “Poor Teddy … not able to see … or to talk!  He’s a brave youngster!”  I mention this because I’m going to keep track of how many times a character reminds us that Teddy can’t see or talk.  It’s rather humorous.  When next we see our hero, he’s taking the ferry to Floating Funland, an amusement park built on an island in the harbor.  Rory tells Bette that he knew they’d make it, and Bette tells him it’s only because they woke him, and it would have been a terrible disappointment to Teddy, because he “can’t see or speak … but he heard you promise …”  That’s twice in four panels that we’re reminded of Teddy’s issues.  They arrive at the park and meet Mr. Seriph, who built it.  He gives the kids silver coins and tells them to enjoy themselves.  I’m sorry, but maybe I’ve read too many comic books, but a person named “Seriph” just sounds sinister, despite the angelic connotations of the name.  The minute I saw that dude I didn’t trust him.

                           


           “Their smiles … and their sweet, sweet addiction to my drugs!!!!!”

The kids ride the roller coaster, circle the park in submarines, and have a grand time.  While they’re on the submarines, Bette asks Rory: “See how Teddy touches the glass?”  Rory responds (say it with me): “Yeah, Bette!  Not being able to see … or speak … he uses his other senses as a supplement!  He can feel the water outside!”  When the exit the sub and head to the food court, Rory says to Bette, “Funny, Bette … How much Teddy enjoys all this!  Even though he can’t see or speak!”  That’s four times in three pages, and twice in three panels.  Gee, I wonder if Teddy can see or speak?

              


    


 


              


Pop Quiz: What are Teddy’s disabilities?  Cite your sources.  Also: is it just me, or does he look really creepy in that last panel?

As the ferry is leaving that night, Rory and Bette bask in the glow of happy kids and somehow don’t mention that Teddy can’t see or speak when suddenly a kid climbs over the railing at the top of the ferry and jumps in the water.  Rory dives in after him and manages to grab him, but his puny strength is no match for “the powerful harbor riptide” that “tears them apart” and drags “the boy like flotsam floating out to sea!”  Bette consoles him later, but that night, Ragman heads back to Floating Funland, where something smells fishy!  He’s right on, naturally, as klieg lights blind him and “a cherubic smile and a cheery voice greet the Ragman’s searing stare …”  Yes, it’s Mr. Seriph, and he throws a bunch of his silver coins at our hero.  Why?  Well, they give off an electrical charge and paralyze Ragman.  Like a true Bond villain, Mr. Seriph puts Ragman into a roller coaster car instead of shooting him in the head.  Why does he do this?  “The car will leave the track at its apex … and land in the harbor!” he helpfully explains.  The car indeed flies out into the harbor, but Ragman wakes up in time to solve the entire mystery.  He spots one of the Funland submarines (through the windows of which Teddy was able to “feel” the water) and deduces that it operates off the track, and that’s how they get the “stuff” in – they pick it up beyond the 12-mile limit and deliver it to Floating Funland.  Ragman gets out of the water and interrupts a transaction, “arms flashing like tireless steel pistons” as he “explodes like a raging inferno against the minions of greed and evil!”  He walks away from the unconscious bad guys, and the last we see of Mr. Seriph, he’s sitting in a jail cell trembling because he’s so scared of Ragman.  Ha!  Take that, drug pusher!!!!

              


The second story is a silent story that looks somewhat better because Kubert did the art, but it’s not really noteworthy.  It shows three grave robbers who dig up a coffin with jewelry buried inside.  Ragman stops them, and they earn themselves an ironic death.  It’s nice to look at, but that’s about it.

           


So what can we learn from this relic of the past?  Well, comic book writing has gotten better, certainly, but does Kanigher give us enough information to follow the story?  Well, sure.  It’s a perfectly fine story of a masked hero stopping a drug ring.  However, two things really weaken the story.  At no time do we find out if Ragman is super-powered in any way or if he’s just a dude in a weird costume.  Personally, I know that later his costume is powered by souls, but we don’t know if that’s the case here.  He doesn’t do anything supernatural to indicate that he’s something more than a guy in a costume, and it seems strange that, with all the purple prose in this comic, Kanigher doesn’t add something like “Ragman uses his strange grim power, given to him by the souls of the mournful dead that make up his costume, to uncover the wretched pushers who lurk in the children’s happy paradise!”  We’re left wondering.  A very minor point is that we’re not sure what drug Seriph is pushing, exactly.  Ragman calls the drugs “the dream killers” and I guess we’re supposed to assume the silver coins that Seriph gives out to the kids have something to do with it, but then what’s the deal with the electrical charge the coins emit?  The interesting thing about these two points is that they could easily be cleared up with a couple of sentences.  In a comic where we’re told four times that a minor character is blind and mute, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.

                      


Kanigher does a nice job with Rory, however, and gives us a good feel for the comic book.  It’s not a very good comic at all, but it does tell a story, features a weird hero with an interesting twist (Rory owns a junk store, which is kind of neat), and gives us a sense of both the hero and his alter ego.  I wanted a bit more information from Kanigher, but this would certainly be a good enough comic to entice people to come back.  Of course, as it turned out, this was the second-to-last issue of the series, but it probably deserved better.  Oh well.  Life, as they say, goes on.

              


(I put this up because I love that in 1977, we can get an advertisement based on The Maltese Falcon and people – presumably kids buying this – were expected to get it.  I also like “Petula Lorry,” the “sniveling, shadowy henchwoman.”  I mean, I was 6 in 1977 and was probably who this comic was aimed at, and I didn’t know about The Maltese Falcon.  But I’m probably just an idiot.)