Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Episode #111: Who's Who In Action Comics #1!

Since this year is the 75th anniversary of DC Comics, I decided to dedicate episodes through the year to shedding some light on some of the unexplored corners of Superman's part of the DC Universe. For this episode I'm featuring the other characters and creators who appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938. This issue wasn't published until April 18, 1938, according to documentation submitted with the ongoing lawsuit between the Jerry Siegel family and DC Comics (as noted by the Grand Comic Book Database at Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics, at, gives the date as being around May 3, 1938. The issue contained 64 pages and was sold for a dime. Vin Sullivan was the editor of this title, which was originally planned as Thrilling Comics, as noted in episode #108 about Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Superman was featured on the iconic cover, drawn by his co-creator Joe Shuster. Superman would not return to the cover until issue #7. He was also featured in the first 13 page story of the issue. But this episode will highlight the other characters who appeared in comic book stories in this issue. I'll give a brief history of each character and creator, and how long they ran in Action Comics or other DC Comics.

This past weekend when I picked up my comic books at my local comic book store Acme Comics in Longwood, Florida, I missed an opportunity to pick up the Millenium Edition Action Comics #1, cover dated February 2000. Since I couldn't read the stories themselves to do the synopses, the main resources I used were the aforementioned GCBDB and Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics. For the brief creator biographies I used the Lambiek Comiclopedia at There were some short features in the issue but I'm concentrating only on the other comic book stories, all untitled, in order of appearance (with the titles as they are referred to now):

Chuck Dawson, in the 6 page western adventure The A-G Gang, written and drawn by Homer Fleming.
Zatara: The Mystery Of The Freight Train Robberies, 12 page occult story written and drawn by Fred Guardineer.
Stcky Mitt Stimson: , 4 page crime story written and drawn by Russell Cole.
Marco Polo: , 4 page historical adventure written and drawn by Sven Elvin.
Pep Morgan: The Light Heavyweight Championship, 4 page adventure story written and drawn by Fred Guardineer.
Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter: The International Jewel Thief, 6 page adventure story drawn by William "Bill" Ely.
Tex Thomson: Murder In England, 12 page adventure sotry written and drawn by Bernard Baily.

Chuck Dawson, in the story The A - G Gang, went on a vendetta against crooked ranch owners who had committed fraud to swindle him out of the ranch he inherited from his late father. The story continued in future issues of Action Comics, and Chuck lasted through issue #22, cover dated March 1940. His creator, Homer Fleming lived from 1883 - 1967. During the 1920's he was the artist for the comic strip Craig Kennedy, about a criminologist written by Arthur B. Reeve. He was a comic book artist who drew mostly western characters for DC from 1936 - 1945, like: Buck Marshall: Range Detective for Detective Comics, Captain Jim Of The Texas Rangers for New Comics (later New Adventure Comics), and The Whip for Flash Comics, a Zorro-like character of the 1840's. Fleming also drew two issues for Classics Illustrated, Tom Brown's School Days (1948) and The Adventures Of Marco Polo (1950).

Zatara, in The Mystery Of The Freight Train Robberies, and his assistant Tong helped his friend, police Detective Brady, guard a freight train from the Tigress. While the train went through a tunnel Brady was killed, and the rest of the police and Zatara and Tong were trapped. Zatara saved everyone from the trap but the crooks escaped. Zatara suspected train Inspector Babcock as being an accomplice to the gang, and his investigation proved his suspicion correct. Tigress attempted to kill Zatara in a fire, but he escaped to stop another robbery and capture the crooks, except for Tigress. She escaped to fight another day.

Zatara had the second longest run in Action Comics after Superman, lasting through issue #132, May 1949, and then issues 136, 138 and 141, February 1950. Zatara would also be featured on some early covers of Action Comics. He also appeared in both issues of New York World's Fair Comics, which was renamed World's Best, then World's Finest Comics through issue #51, April/May 1951. Zatara was a copy of Lee Falk's adventure comic strip hero Mandrake The Magician, complete with a dark ethnic assistant. He is also the only other character other than Superman whose legacy continues today, through his daughter Zatanna. John Giovanni Zatara was a stage magician, adventurer and crimefighter. He got his start as a magician from his grandfather, stage magician Luigi Zatara. On his 15th birthday his grandfather gave Zatara a box of magician's stage props and admonished him to practice so he could become a stage magician. Zatara did just that and became a professional magician at the age of 19. During his career he acquired a copy of his supposed ancestor Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook, written backwards to protect his secrets. Zatara discovered that by reading the backward words aloud he could perform real magic, not just stage illusions. He used his magical abilities to fight crime during his stage career. Roy Thomas would use Zatara as a member of the All-Star Squadron in the 1980's, so some of the details of Zatara's biography are from this later run.

In Turkey, Zatara became trapped by an avalanche he created to defeat his enemy King Inferno. Zatara was found by a woman named Sindella. They fell in love and married, and had a daughter Zatanna, who is a member of the DC Universe today. Zatara defeated the elemental Allura, who placed a curse on Zatara and his daughter. Both would be killed if Zatara saw her again. Zatara disappeared, searching other dimensions for a counterpart to Allura to defeat him. Zatanna herself became a magician like her father and began searching for him. Zatara found a good version of Allura, who forced his evil counterpart to release Zatara from the curse, and he was reunited with his daughter. Zatara would later sacrifice himself to save Zatanna during a battle with the primordial Shadow Creature. Zatara would periodically guide his daughter from the afterlife.

Another Zatara, presumably his grandson, would appear in the Elseworld's mini-series Kingdom Come.

Zatara's creator, Fred Guardineer was born on October 3, 1913 in Albany, New York and died on September 13, 2002. He earned a fine arts degree in 1935 and moved to New York City and got his start drawing pulp magazine covers. In 1936 he joined Henry Chesler's comic shop, working on such features as Lobo and Dan Hastings. Fred became a freelancer in 1938, drawing comics for Centaur from 1937 - 1939, DC from 1938 - 1940, drawing Zatara, Pep Morgan and Speed Saunders, and Marvel in 1941. From 1941 - 1944 he worked for Quality, on Tor the Magic Master, Merlin, Quicksilver, and Marksman. He also worked for comics publishers Hillman, Eastern Pines and Gleason, where he drew mostly crime stories. Fred retired from comics in 1955 at the age of 42, and became a government employee. He died in San Ramon, California.

Sticky Mitt Stimson, in perhaps his only comic book appearance in a crime story, was chased by police for stealing some apples, and got a lucky break to make his escape. This story was drawn by Russell Cole, who I could find out little about. He drew stories for other DC titles such as New Comics (later New Adventure Comics then Adventure Comics) and Detective Comics.

In his historical adventure, Marco Polo, his father and uncle were granted an audience by the Pope, who gave them a mission of traveling to the Khan of Tartary. Their mission was to take priests and men of learning to the monarch to bring their knowledge to his people. Their adventure continued in future issues through the 17th issue of Action Comics, October 1939.

Sven Elven, the story's writer and aritist, was born in 1880, but I could find no information about the date of his death. The only information I could find about his comic book career was that he worked in the early years of the industry. For DC he worked on various titles, beginning with New Fun #5, August 1935 through Detective Comics #37, March 1940. He drew stories for such DC features as Captain Quick, Cosmo, The Phantom Of Disguise, Pirate Gold, The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island as well as Marco Polo. For Centaur he worked on Miraclo The Great, and for Fawcett he drew El Carim and the Jungle Twins.

Pep Morgan faced a crooked fight trainer who decided to take his revenge on Pep after the Boxing Commission pulled his boxing license. Pep would continue to have adventures through Action Comics #41, October 1941. His creator was also Fred Guardineer.

Scoop Scanlon, the Five Star Reporter, in his first adventure witnessed the rescue of a jewel thief from authorities by his gang. Scoop was accompanied by his pal and sidekick Rusty. He chased after newspaper stories through Action Comics #13, June 1939.

Scoop's creator, William "Bill" Ely, was born in 1919, and I could find no information about his death, or even if he is still alive. He had a long and prolific career in comic books from the late 1930's - 1960's. Bill began at the Funnies, Inc. comic book packaging house and also worked for Dell on such titles as Ellery Queen, Martian The Magic Man and The Robinsons. He had an extensive career for DC, beginning with Sandra Of The Secret Service in More Fun Comics #21, June 1937 through Winner Take All for Young Love #62, July/August 1967. Bill also worked for many other comic book publishers: Centaur, Fiction House, ACG/Creston, Ziff-Davis, Eastern Color and Marvel. He worked on many titles, genres and characters for DC including Rip Hunter Time Master and The Atom.

The final story of the issue involved Tex Thomson, an oil tycoon who, on a visit to England, found a dead body in the English countryside. An area girl named Sonja accused Tex of murder, forcing him to go on the run from the sheriff. Tex learned that Sonja was a member of the gang responsible for the murder, and that they had kidnapped a boy named Bobby who could clear Tex of the crime. Tex freed Bobby only to be captured himself, but the sheriff arrived and arrested the gang. Tex would become the masked hero Mr. America in Action Comics #33, February 1941, in the story The Origin Of Mr. America. Tex had quit fighting organized crime to join the war relief effort and had boarded a relief ship bound for Europe. The ship was sunk and Tex was apparently the only survivor. He was rescued by another ship and returned to the USA, where he dedicated himself to protecting his country. Tex dyed his hair and donned the red, white and blue caped costume of Mr. America. His first mission was to bring the saboteurs of his relief ship to justice. Mr. America discovered that defense contractor Pratt was the leader of the saboteurs and exposed him, leading to the whole gang's arrest. Tex's identity would be changed again to Americommando in Action Comics #52, and he would continue to appear until issue #74, July 1944.

Tex Thomson as Mr. America would be a major character in the four issue Elseworlds mini-series Golden Age, written by James Robinson and drawn by Paul Martin Smith, published in 1993. The story was collected in a trade paperback in 1995. You should be able to find copies in the back issue bins of your local comic book store or on the internet.

Bernard Baily, Tex Thomson's creator, was featured in episode #20, Jerry Siegel's Other Artists. That episode contains a more complete biography. Bernard was born on April 4, 1916 and died on January 19, 1996. He had a mulit-faceted comic book career as publisher, editor, writer, artist and head of his own comic book packaging company. His most famous character was the Spectre, co-created with Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. Bernard drew both story art and covers for many DC titles from the 1940's - 1960's. He also worked for Stanmor and Marvel in the 1950's, mostly on mystery titles. He was also a comic strip artist for Stories Of The Opera in the 1940's and Gilda Gay in the 1950's.

I hope this episode was not too boring, but I thought it would be interesting to find out a little bit about the careers of the characters who made their debut in Action Comics #1.

Next Episode: Superman Vs. The Clan Of The Fiery Cross. Since February is Black History Month I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at this story form the 1940's Superman radio show, when the Man Of Steel played a small part in the civil rights movement by exposing the secrets of the Klu Klux Klan.

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