Scott's Classic Comics Corner: Bob Powell at Magazine Enterprises

Happy New Year everyone. This week, I am taking a quick look at Bob Powell’s work for Magazine Enterprises.

Bob Powell is one of the all-time great comic book artists. I have only come to truly appreciate his work over the past 5-10 years. He did plenty of work for many publishers from the early 40s until his untimely death in 1967. He is best remembered for his Good Girl Art, his work with Norman Saunders on various bubble gum cards, and his early involvement with Blackhawk. Today, I’d to look at his time spent at Magazine Enterprises; a particularly strong period of his career. I’ll tackle other aspects of Powell’s career in future segments.

Magazine Enterprises (ME) was founded by Vin Sullivan in 1943, but really hit its stride in the post-WW2 years. For one reason or another, ME steered clear of supheroes and focused on genres such as western, war and jungle. They had a stable of strong artists including Dick Ayers, Mart Bailey, Ogden Whitney and Frank Bolle but Bob Powell was their true superstar during the 50s. He contributed more than 100 stories and dozens of covers for the company.

Powell was a great fit for ME, as he (and his staff) could draw just about anything. MR has a number of strong war books including American Air Forces and United States Marines. Check out this page from U.S. Marines #7 from 1952. American bombers take out a communist convoy in a page so well laid out that it could have been wordless.

Powell was also right at home on westerns, and contributed to most of ME’s western titles. For my money, Bobby Benson’s B-Bar-B Riders (that’s a mouthful) is one of the more entertaining western books of the early 50s, much of it due to Powell’s artwork. I thought I’d include this wonderful full page map of the B-Bar-B Range and environs in west Texas. Powell was not only a master of action, but also a pretty adept cartographer.

Powell was also well known for his jungle work, as he did a ton of work for Fiction House in the 40s. ME entered the jungle with titles such as Cave Girl and Thun’da. On the latter book, Powell had the rather daunting task of replacing Frank Frazetta, who had drawn the first issue. In my opinion, he more than held his own. The image I’ve included is the opening splash page to the final issue of Thun’da, and is shows the fluidity that Powell brings to the human body.

Powell could also handle other genres such as crime and espionage. I’ve included two splash pages from the I’m A Cop one-shot, as they demonstrate two contrasting aspects of Powell’s talent. The opening page to Waterfront Watch demonstrates that he is a master at establishing an atmosphere. You can almost feel the fog rolling in. The second splash, from Crusade for Vengeance, begins to tell the story of a robbery gone bad. In both cases, Powell manages to engage the reader with just a few images – with the perfect mix of movement and detail.

It is perhaps ironic that ME got into the superhero business right before its demise. It exists as a footnote in comic book history because it introduced some of the earliest ‘Silver Age’ heroes on record. Characters such as Strongman and The Avenger showed that Powell also had a knack for the capes and tights crowd, something Stan Lee obviously felt when he had Powell do some work at Marvel in the mid-60s, but that’s another story.

Although original Magazine Enterprises books are as good a bargain as you’re likely to find in books of that vintage, we fans are fortunate that Bill Black and AC Comics has seen fit to reprint a good deal of Powell’s work for ME. These books are plentiful and are regular denizens of dollar bins so I suggest you keep an eye out for any book with that ‘Powell’ signature on the cover. I’ll likely discuss more Bob Powell in the not too distant future, but if you’re really interested in the man and his work (beyond my surface scratching here), I strongly recommend the issues of Alter Ego dedicated to Powell from a few years back.

For more comic book nonsense, please stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent

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