Saturday, March 5, 2011

Episode #166: Curt Swan's Earliest Comic Book Stories!

Curt Swan was born on February 17, 1920. To honor his birthday this year, I decided to feature the earliest titles that he drew comic book stories for. Past episodes that featured Curt Swan:

- Episode #2: My Favorite Superman Artist: Curt Swan!
- Episode #61: Happy Birthday, Curt Swan: I Flew With Superman: Superman Annual #9!
- Episode #113: A Curt Swan Toast!

After WWII, writer Eddy "France" Herron, who had written for DC Comics before the war, suggested to Curt Swan that he apply for an art job there, and the rest is history. Since I don't have copies of the individual issues, and the website Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics didn't have plot synopses for these stories, this episode will be brief histories of these titles.

Curt Swan's first published story was as the penciller for the Boy Commandos story, Brooklyn And Columbus Discover America, the fifth story in World's Finest Comics #21, March/April 1946, published around January 30, 1946. It contained 72 pages for the cover price of 15 cents. Jack Schiff was the editor. The cover was pencilled by Jack Burnley and inked by Charles Paris. It protrayed Robin having tossed a basketball in the air, with Batman and Superman leaping for the tip off.

The Boy Commandos were co-created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for National Comics (now DC Comics), after they had left Marvel Comics and their first big creation, Captain America. They were Simon's and Kirby's second hit for National after the Newsboy Legion. The Boy Commandos were inspired by news stories of British Commandos during WWII, before America's entrance into the war. Simon and Kirby combined the idea of commandos with the popular teen gang fad of the comic books, and the Boy Commandos were born. They debuted in Detective Comics #64, June 1942, published around April 28, 1942. The issue contained 64 pages for the cover price of 10 cents. The Boy Commandos premiered in the issue's second story. The Commandos Are Coming. This story was reprinted in Boy Commandos By Joe Simon And Jack Kirby. There were four Boy Commandos: Andre' Chevard from France, Alfie Twidgett from England, Jan Hassen from the Netherlands and Brooklyn from the United States. They were led by Captain Rip Carter.

The Boy Commandos also appeared in their own title, beginning with the Winter 1942 issue. They also appeared in World's Finest Comics beginning with issue #8, also cover dated Winter 1942. Their last appearance in Detective Comics was in issue #150, August 1949, and in World's Finest Comics with issue #41, July/August 1949. Their own title ended with issue #36, November/December 1949.

The adventures of the Boy Commandos would stretch across all fronts of WWII, and their roster would change over time. Jan would be the first to leave, in order to live with relatives in his homeland. His last appearance was in Detective Comics #110, April 1946, in the twelve page story A Flatbush Frolic. Alfy left in Assignment In London, a twelve page story published in Detective Comics #124, June 1947. While the Commandos were assigned to London, Alfie received a letter from an Aunt informing him of acceptance at Oxford University. Alfie didn't want to leave the team, but his fellow Commandos convinced him to take advantage of his opportunity for a higher education. In the same story, Tex, a young rodeo performer also in London, would join the team. The Boy Commandos would join Capt. Carter on his assignment as an international peacekeeper. Andre would make his last appearance in Detective Comics #147, May 1949.

Jack Kirby would return to DC Comics in the early 1970's. One of the new characters he introduced was Dan Turpin, a member of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit. Turpin was revealed to be the adult Brooklyn in New Gods #5, November 1971.

Len Wein, in DC's Blue Beetle, used grown up versions of the Boy Commandos. The adult Alfie was founder and president of Statistical Occurrences, Ltd., and insurance company that specialized in properties that attracted super humans.Andre was head of the fictional Department Gamma of the French Secret Service, and Capt. Rip Carter was now Gen. Carter.

Curt Swan's second title was Star Spangled Comics #55, April 1946, which was published around February 5, 1946. He drew the issue's first, ten page story, Gabby Strikes A Gusher. Swan's credit as artist was the only known credit so far for the story.

The Newsboy Legion were Simon and Kirby's first big hit for National Comics (DC). They first appeared in Star Spangled Comics #7, April 1942, published around February 5, 1942. The issue contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. The editor was Whitney Ellsworth, and the cover was pencilled by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Simon. The Newsboys premiered in the 13 page story, The Story Of The Newsboy Legion, co-written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, and co-written and inked by Joe Simon. This story was reprinted in Newsboy Legion By Joe Simon And Kack Kirby.

Suicide Slum in Metropolis was the home of the Newsboys, who lived up to their name, scraping by selling newspapers on street corners. Back in that era, young boys sold newspapers on street corners or had paper routes for home delivery, like my own Father in Sanford, Florida in the 1930's. Four boys comprised the Newsboys, leader Tommy Tompkins, team genius Big Words, Gabby (whose name explains his main characteristic) and Scrapper, the tough guy on the team. Scrapper most resembled the boyhood Jack Kirby.

The Newsboys would at times get in trouble with the law, but beat cop Jim Harper, who patrolled Suicide Slum, had a soft spot for the Newsboys. Harper would soon take on the superhero guise of The Guardian, and shortly thereafter become the legal guardian of the Newsboys. Their last appearance was in Star Spangled Comics #64, January 1947, in the story Criminal Cruise, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Steve Brodie.

Jack Kirby would bring back the Newsboys in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #133, October 1970. This new version was not the originals, but their sons. The fathers worked at a government genetics project. This new team was updated during this era of civil rights with the edition of African American make Walter "Flipper Dipper" Johnson. He was fascinated by scuba diving, and his nickname would soon be shortened to "Flip".

The Newsboys were re-introduced after John Byrne's Superman reboot of the Man Of Steel mini-series in Superman Annual #2, 1998 and further developed by Karl Kesel in The Adventures Of Superman. This Newsboy Legion were clones of the original, who worked at Project Cadmus. A clone of the original Guardian also became a supporting character in Metropolis. The Newsboys helped break Kon-El (Conner Kent/Superboy) out of Project Cadmus. The Newsboys who were previously known by their nicknames were given proper names: Gabby was Johnny Garbrielli, Big Words: Anthony Rodriguez and Scrapper: Patrick MacGuire. They were briefly joined by the Guardian's niece, "Famous" Bobby Harper, who would eventually go live with another relative.

Curt Swan's third title was Real Fact Comics #7, March/April 1947, published around January 17, 1947. It contained 48 pages for the cover price of 10 cents. The editor was Jack Schiff, and the cover was drawn by Win Mortimer. Swan drew the issue's second story, The Tragedy Of The Titanic. His credit is the only one known for this story, at this time.

Real Fun Comics premiered with the March/April 1946, and its last issue was #21, July/August 1949. Jack Schiff served as editor for the entire run of this title, which was an anthology title presenting short biographical stories of famous people. It did contain a few fictional stories. The first fictional story appeared in issue #5, November/December 1946, in the cover story, The True Story Of Batman And Robin, drawn by Win Mortimer. The reason this is really a fictional story is that it gave Bob Kane solo credit for the creation of Batman. For a detailed look at the inaccuracies of this story, go to Bob Jourdain's blog, The Golden Age Of Comic Books, January 3, 2009, Real Fact ... Or Fiction?

Issue #6 introduced the science fiction character Tommy Tomorrow in the story Columbus Of Space, pencilled by Howard Sherman and inked by Virgil Finlay. This story was reprinted in Pulp Fiction Library: Mystery In Space.

Curt Swan even illustrated a Batman related story before he began his long run as one of the definitive Superman artists ever. He pencilled a Robin solo story in Star Spangled Comics #72, September 1947, published around July 1, 1947. It contained 48 pages for the cover price of 10 cents. The editor was Jack Schiff, and Curt also pencilled the cover, which was inked by Stan Kaye, and featured the first story in the issue, Robin Crusoe. Swan's inker on the story was John Fischetti, and the art credits were the only ones known for this story.

Robin took the Batplane on a solo test flight, but a sever storm caused him to crash land on a deserted island. He used his utility belt to fashion tools and weapons to survive on the island while he awaited rescue. When the renegade Nazi crew of a submarine landed on the island, Robin used his wits and his tools to defeat and capture the Nazi's. He then used the submarine's radio to alert Batman. This story was reprinted in Robin Archives vol. I.

The Boy Wonder first appeared in Star Spangled Comics with issue #65, February 1947, published around December 3, 1946. He had solo adventures in this title through issue #130, July 1952, published around May 7, 1952. That issue contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. Jack Schiff was the editor, and the cover was drawn by Leonard Starr, featuring that issue's first story, the eight page The Haunted Town starring Dr. 13. Robin's last appearance in this title was in this issue's second, 6 page story, Stone Deaf Robin. Batman would sometimes make cameo appearances in these solo Robin stories.

Star Spangled Comics was a mostly superhero anthology title which originally starred the Star Spangled Kid in its first issue, co-created by Jerry Siegel. (For more information about Jerry Siegel's other superhero creations in Episode #20: Jerry Siegel's Other Artists!) As mentioned before, the Newsboy Legion appeared in this title as well as Robin. Tomahawk would also make appearances in this title before earning his own title. Near the end of the title's run, it featured what passed for horror or suspense stories in DC Comics. The title would become Star Spangled War Stories with issues 131 - 133, August - October 1952. The numbering would changed to #3 with the November 1952 issue, and issues 131 - 133 would be retroactively considered #'s 0 - 2. The final issue for this title would be #204, February/March 1977. It would undergo one final title change, becoming Unknown Soldier with issue #205, April/May 1977, and finally end with issue #268, October 1982.

Curt Swan's first issue of Gang Busters was issue #7, December/January 1948, published around October 8, 1948. It contained 48 pages for the cover price of 10 cents. Jack Schiff was the editor and the cover was drawn by Dan Barry. Swan pencilled the final story of the issue, the 10 page T-Man In The Big House, which was inked by Steve Brodie.

Gang Busters originally began as a radio show, originally titled G-Men. It premiered on the NBC Radio Network on July 20, 1935, sponsored by Chevrolet. It claimed to be the only national program that brings you authentic police case histories. It dramatized only closed FBI cases, at the insistence of Director J. Edgar Hoover. The title of the radio show was changed to Gang Busters with the January 15, 1936 episode. Its last episode was broadcast on November 20, 1957. The series was broadcast on several networks. It was first broadcast on NBC July 20 - October 12, 1935. CBS picked it up from January 15, 1936 - June 15, 1940. Sponsors included Colgate-Palmolive and Cue Magazine. It appeared on the Blue Network (originally the NBC Blue Network, and would eventually evolve into the ABC radio network) from October 11, 1940 - December 25, 1948, sponsored by a variety of companies. Gang Busters returned to CBS from January 8, 1949 - June 25, 1955, sponsored by Grape Nuts and Wrigley's Chewing Gum, The series made its final run on the Mutual Broadcast System from October 5, 1955 - November 27, 1957. One of the series' narrators was Norman Schwartzkopf, Sr, former head of the New Jersey State Police and father of Gen. Schwartzkopf.

The radio series was adapted by DC Comics, and the first issue premiered with the December/January 1947 cover date. It contained 48 pages for 10 cents, and the editor was Jack Schiff. The final issue of the comic book series was #67, December/January 1958, published around October 14, 1958. The motto of the crime anthology was You Can't Beat The Law!, fitting with DC Comics' conservative management.

The final Curt Swan story featured in this episode is the Tommy Tomorrow story, The Interplanetary Aquarium, the third story in Action Comics #127, Dcember 1948, published around October 20, 1948. It contained 48 pages for a dime, and the editor was Mort Weisinger. The cover was drawn by Al Plastino, featuring the Superman story, Superman Takes The Consequences. In that story, Superman appeared on the popular radio show which was hosted by Ralph Edwards. (I remember watching the TV show of the same name, hosted by Bob Barker, in the late 1960's and early 1970's,)

The Interplanetary Aquarium was eight pages long and written by Otto Binder, and inked by John Fischetti. In this story, Tommy Tomorrow graduated from Space Port West Point in 1988. (Being someone who grew up watching the Apollo Moon missions, it's sad to see that the space program is not more advanced than what it is.) Tommy's mission was to find alien fish for the Interplanetary Aquarium.Gotham City was not only the capital of Earth, but of the Solar System as well. Beginning with Action Comics #150, November 1950, the timeline of these stories was pushed forward into the mid 21st Century. Tommy was now a Colonel in the Planeteers, a 21st Century police force. He was created by editor Jack Schiff, writer George Kashlwn, Bernie Breslauer, illustrator Virgil Finlay and artist Howard Sherman.

After Tommy Tomorrow's appeared in Real Fact Comics from issues 6, 8, 13 and 16 (1947 - 48). Action Comics #127 was his first appearance in Action Comics, where he would appear through issue #251, April 1959.  Tommy's stories also appeared in World's Finest Comics from issues 102 - 124 (1959 - 1962), and would finish up in Showcase issues 41, 42,44,46 and 47 (1962 - 63).

Next Episode: Superman Family Of Comics Cover Dated March/April 1955: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #4 & World's Finest Comics #75!

In Two Weeks: Superman Titles Cover Dated August 1958: Superman #123 & Action Comics #243!

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