Today, I’m taking a look at one of my all-time favourite series, and one that suffered through more than a handful of identity crises. This week, it’s the Nine Lives of Harvey’s Black Cat.
Black Cat ran 64 issues, lasting nearly two decades (with a hiatus or two). It may be best remembered for a couple of iconic horror covers, but it started out as a squeaky clean Golden Age superhero book. The Black Cat (aka. Hollywood starlet Linda Turner), had a long run in Harvey’s Speed Comics, and was finally given her own title in 1946. The early issues are a lot of fun, with great art by Lee Elias on the Black Cat stories and supporting contributions from Joe Kubert, Bob Powell and George Roussos. Some of these issues even feature some Simon and Kirby artwork. I’ve got Black Cat #9, and it has a Stuntman story reprinted from Stuntman #1 (I wonder how often you saw reprints back in the late 40s). Seeing as how she’d already appeared on horseback several times, the title was changed to Black Cat Western for a few issues. It’s not really a true western, as it takes place in modern times (and conveniently close to various movie sets), and it wasn’t long before the Western angle was drop (for the time being). By 1951, the tone had shifted from Golden Age superheroics to the slightly more macabre. Even before a wholesale genre change, the title was altered slightly and some horror elements were introduced as the Black Cat began to take on foes such as the Salem Witch and the Black Cat’s Judo Tricks feature was replaced by Black Cat’s Encyclopedia of Superstition. The writing was on the wall.
The next stage in Black Cat evolution was the complete change to Black Cat Mystery, and Linda Turner was sent off to the Retirement Home for Golden Age Heroes. Now, it was a full fledged member of the Harvey Horror family. For my money, these books hold up very well and feature a stable of talented artists such as Bob Powell, Rudy Palais and Manny Stallman. For some reason ‘Mystery’ was dropped from the cover, and Black Cat entered its most notorious phase. Just the phrases Colorama and White Heat are enough to evoke a reaction in horror fans. I’ve always been particularly creeped out by Clean as a Whistle. It’s a testament to Lee Elias’ talent that he can produce something as wholesome as a Black Cat’s Judo Tricks feature, as well as something as unsettling as the Clean as a Whistle cover. The Comics Code Authority brought an end to the fun, and the title went 180 degrees with issue #54, entitled Black Cat Western Mystery. Huh?
Two more Black Cat Western issues followed (the ‘Mystery’ was dropped) and Linda Turner was back from limbo. These books are all reprints from the late 40s issues. I can only guess that Harvey want to keep the presses running until they figure out their next move. The next move was indeed a good one. Black Cat Mystic (with a single Black Cat Mystery thrown in) was a clever series produced within the confined of the CCA. Some issues, such as #59, are true classics featuring wonderful stories by Simon and Kirby. Others, such as #61, are interesting curios – featuring ‘altered where necessary’ reprints of pre-Code stories. These are tough to find – but beat up copies can be had for a reasonable sum. Finally, after a 4 year hiatus, Harvey decided to jump on the superhero bandwagon and produced three giant sized issues featuring a selection of Black Cat reprints. These are a great way to check out the Golden Age stories, and to witness the majesty of Lee Elias. Sadly, these are no longer the Silver Age bargains that they once were as I’ve noticed prices climbing higher and higher.
It’s tough to follow the bouncing ball with Harvey’s Black Cat, but it’s a lot of fun. I’d love to see the whole series reprinted in its entirety – just so that we can witness the genre shifts within the titles just as a reader would have back in the day. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trippy trip down memory land. For more random classic comic talk – feel free to visit my blog Seduction of the Indifferent
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