Turning Back the Clock
Supermen: the First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936 -1941
Edited by Greg Sadowski
“Murder by Proxy” story and art by George E. Brenner.
Fanagraphic Books, 2009
by Scott Anderson
As we all know, the comic industry is in a bit of trouble. While comic companies are still making money, the readership is way down. The most popular comics in the Golden Age of comic books sold over a million, but the best sellers today are lucky to get a hundred thousand. And the Golden Age saw far more titles of comics and more genres. So what can the comics companies of today do to recapture the glory of the Golden Age?
Comic critics like Journalista's Dirk Deppey suggest that the problem is that comics are too decadent today, too full of sexy images, violent content, and morally ambiguous protagonists that are best left to adult readers. These critics fear that if comics don’t reach out with kid-friendly content, comics will simply die off as there will be no new readers to replace us old farts who eventually quit comics or die off like the TV single dad aising adorable son witth the help of his Asian maid comics and TV straight doctor played by gay man comics that were made when comic companies new what kids wanted died off.
To help me figure out what made the Golden Age comics so much more kid-friendly, I read Supermen: the First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936 -1941, edited by Greg Sadowski, a rollicking compendium of Golden Age comics. Surely, this collection would show us how to write comics for kids, the kind that don’t have sexy images, violent content, or morally ambiguous heroes.
The first comic reprinted in Supermen is from Funny Picture Stories: The All-Pictures Magazine – In Colors! Now, that is a kid-friendly comic title. You just know that a comic full of upright heroes and cute talking animals. The star of the book is the Clock, a masked crime fighter whose wholesome secret identity is a “small time dip—- a drug addict——accepted by the underworld as harmless.” Wait? This kid’s comic has the star disguised as a loser drug addict? Is this a kid’s comic book or an episode of the Chappelle's Show?
Anyway the sweetly entitled story “Murder by Proxy” opens with the body of a stabbed man hanging from the ceiling that was so gruesome that one of the cops on the scene was sickened and had to leave the room. OK, that sounds a little heavy for kid’s comic but keep in mind that the bleeding corpse hung by its hands to resemble the hands of a clock striking twelve in morbid joke was shown in silhouette, so it’s still pretty innocent as sinister posing of murder victim jokes go. The positioning of the body is part of a ploy to frame the Clock for the murder.
The Clock’s O.J.-like determination to find the real killer has him using his disguise as a Bowery addict to slip into a series of drug dens and dives. He ends up in a strip joint. Umm. Strip joint? In a kid’s book? I must be wrong. That can’t be a stripper we see through the cigarette smoke, dancing in her underwear and high heels. In fact, that can’t even be cigarette smoke. She’s probably a magician’s assistant, and we just can’t see the magician with his smoke and mirrors because he’s off panel … stabbed and hanging from the ceiling.
In the smoke-filled bar with half-naked women dancing in it, we learn that the Clock’s addict persona is named Snowy. He’s greeted by a thug who says, “Hel-lo, Snowy,—When’d you blow inta town?” Get it? Snowy? Blow? Those are jokes referring to cocaine addition! Kids love jokes! You don’t see nearly enough jokes in the comics of today. Why can’t the comics of today add a little cocaine-related humor to them?
A crack addict.
A crack addict who?
A crack addict who will kill you and hang your body from the ceiling if you don’t give me your fucking money, bitch!
That’s the kind of humor that will pull the kiddies in! Oh, and did I mention that the Clock was the lead character in Crack Comics #1? It’s like the Golden Age publishers could see the future!
Snowy overhears that a crime boss’s drunken moll (which can be defined as either a gangster’s “companion” – wink, wink – or prostitute) has been talking about how the crime boss had framed the Clock. The crime boss is called the Chief. The Clock breaks into the Chief’s home, and after the Chief is accidentally killed by his own death trap, the Clock pistol whips the Chief’s assistant, holds a gun on him, and coerces him into signing a confession while the Chief’s body bleeds out on the floor. The confession includes this sentence: “This confession is made of me own free will.” There you go! That makes it all nice and legal!
Grisly deaths, drug addicts, crime lords, strippers, drunk molls, and morally iffy protagonists, that, ladies and gentlemen, is how they wrote comics for kids, millions of kids, in the innocent days of yesteryear. Makes you wonder if comics today were more like the Clock’s adventures if kids today would be as interested in comics as they are with wholesome video games like Grand Theft Auto.
Came back next time when we’ll examine more comics for kids from the Golden Age! Up next, Dirk the Demon: the lighthearted, outer space adventures of an intersexed, murderous child! All right, all right. I’m kidding. They aren’t really lighthearted.
Scott Anderson settled in Nashville, Tennessee, after living in various locales across America. Although Scott currently works as a legal assistant, his past jobs have included freelance editing for several science fiction/fantasy authors and assembling sparkly fairy wands.
Article copyright Scott Anderson.
Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).