Tales from the Calendar: Flash Comics #15

Each month I'll be writing about the comic behind the cover featured that month in the 2018 Vintage DC Comics Calendar from Asgard Press. Note: sometimes life just gets in the way of keeping a schedule, and for me, that meant going largely missing from The Fifth World over the past month.  However, I am back and raring to catch up.  As such, I just published the April entry earlier this week, meaning the May entry is coming a little later in the month than normal (but hey, at least it's still in May, right?  Right? ... Sigh.). The May entry is Flash Comics #15, cover date March, 1941 with a cover by Sheldon Moldoff.

I mentioned back in my post about All-Star Comics #2 that Shelly Moldoff is my favorite Golden Age artist.   He evolved his style over time and adapted it to fit the strips he was working on.  For Hawkman, he adopted a style based on Alex Raymond's work on Flash Gordon.  It's a very rich style for that time period, with deep shadows, detailed textures, and expressive faces.  It fits the pulpy feel of Hawkman adventures.  I have to confess that this cover is not one of my favorite examples of his work, with the shadows not as rich as his interior art, the slight movement lines that Moldoff used getting a little lost in the image so that the dive-kick Hawkman puts on the criminal with the bag looks awkward, and the straight-on view of Hawkman's mask never being the most dramatic pose the character would take.  But still, look at that detail and that use of perspective.

According to Comicvine, Flash Comics #15 hit the stands January 16, 1941.  As with much of the Golden Age, World War II dominates the histories of the time.  The United States would not enter the conflict directly until the end of the year (and, in fact, aviator Charles Lindbergh would testify to Congress one week after this issue hit the stands, urging the country to sign a non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler), but the rest of the world was roiling.  The Germans were bombing Britain and sinking or capturing ships in the Atlantic.  Allied forces were fighting the Italians in Eritrea and Libya, resulting in Rommel taking over the Afrika Corps.  And rumors were starting to fly of a planned attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor.  But the news wasn't all war all the time.  Just the day before this issue hit the stands, two researchers from Iowa State published details on the first digital computer.

Despite its title, Flash Comics was an anthology that included, but did not solely star, The Flash.  If you wanted a book dedicated to the Flash, you'd need to read the appropriately titled All-Flash Quarterly, which would begin publication in the summer of that year.  Only the stories starring Flash and Hawkman from this issue have been reprinted, so I only have details for those and mere synopsis for the others.

In the first story, Jay Garrick (The Flash) has taken his girlfriend Joan Williams to the circus when they spot thugs chasing and kidnapping a young woman.  Not even bothering to change into the Flash, Jay speeds into the thugs' car and rescues the girl (between behavior like this and the insistence on not wearing a mask, it's no wonder his secret identity didn't last).  The girl turns out to be Nellie Craft, whose father earns the circus and who had just been robbed of the payroll. The circus is going out of business because they have no act that draws crowds.  Jay, who's donned his Flash disguise by now, takes back the payroll cash and agrees to be the main act for that night's circus performance.  He doesn't get far into his act before the crooks show up again, and he defeats them once and for all, dressing them as clowns in the process.  It turns out the crooks enjoy being clowns more than being crooks, so they end up joining the circus as the new main act.  Jay leaves a smitten Nellie to get back to Joan, who is less forgiving about Jay leaving her alone at the circus to go into action.

Back then, clowns just had to stand around to be funny.  These days, that's considered "creepy".
The story was written by Gardner Fox, who also wrote two others in the issue.  He worked on almost every DC Golden Age and Silver Age character during his career, particularly due to his work with the Justice Society and Justice League.  He co-created the Golden Age Flash, Hawkman (both Golden Age and Silver Age), Doctor Fate, and Sandman.  He also introduced many of Batman's gadgets, like the utility belt, Batarang, Batgyro, and Ace the Bat-Hound.

The artist on the story was Everett E. Hibbard, who drew many of The Flash's adventures in the Golden Age.  When not drawing Flash stories, Hibbard drew stories starring his co-creation with Gardner Fox, the trio of Winky, Blinky, and Noddy.  Hibbard would also sometimes draw the odd story of other Golden Age heroes, such as Green Lantern and Mr. Terrific.

Fox also wrote the Hawkman story for this issue, with art by Shelly Moldoff.  Carter Hall has driven out to the country to visit his father's friend Elwin Thayer when he spots Elwin's daughter Teddy lying unconscious in the lawn.  Elwin is dead, choked to death by a mysterious disembodied hand, which also seems to have stolen the Everest Emerald from the Thayers.  Carter leaves Teddy with his girlfriend Shiera to change to Hawkman and hunt down Elwin's killer.  It turns out that the hand was the creation of Elwin's estranged brother Edward, who used the hand to commit the murder and steal the gem for his girlfriend, Sandra.  The rest of the story is a bit of a mess, with the hand almost killing Teddy, Sandra killing Edward, the hand vowing revenge, Sandra trying to kidnap the hostages, and the hand getting its final revenge.  Throughout, Hawkman beats up a couple of thugs, but that's about it.

The quintessential Golden Age character: a guy who talks with his fists.
The one other Justice Society member to be a regular feature in Flash Comics was Johnny Thunder, and this issue features his usual brand of hijinks.  Johnny had gotten a job at the fire department, and at first he was a superstar, using the Thunderbolt to put out fires right and left.  He eventually gets fired when (of course) he can't keep the firehouse itself from burning to the ground. 

The story was by writer John B. Wentworth and artist Stan Aschmeier, the team that created him.  They both had relatively short comics careers.  Wentworth did leave his mark on DC, as besides Johnny Thunder, Wentworth created Sargon the Sorcerer as well as The Whip, who also has a story in this issue. 

The Flash, Hawkman, and Johnny Thunder are probably best recognized by modern fans for their membership in the Justice Society rather than their Golden Age solo stories.  The Flash remained semi-active even during periods when the JSA was disbanded, lost, or dead.  After Crisis on Infinite Earths folded the multiverse into one, Jay became a father figure and mentor to other speedsters.  He vanished with most of the JSA after Flashpoint, but his recent reappearance is hoped to herald a return of the team.  That disappearance is linked to Johnny Thunder, who is living in a retirement home and is in his addled state claiming responsibility.  Hawkman's history has been convoluted to the extreme since Crisis, and though it seemed like he was gone with the rest of the JSA in the New 52, as the Thanagarian Katar Hol returned to continuity and went by the name Carter Hall.  However, Carter returned in the Dark Nights: Metal, and it's been recently announced that he'll be getting his own series soon.

Getting back to The Whip, his story in this issue features him pursuing a crooked tax collector who has kidnapped a cleaning woman's godson to keep her from going to the police about his crimes.  Written by Whip creator John B. Wentworth, the story is drawn by Homer Fleming.  Besides drawing The Whip for an extended run, Fleming also created, wrote, and drew cowboy features like Buck Marshall and Charles Dawson, and wrote stories featuring the Magic Crystal of History.

The Whip was Rodney Gaynor, who adopted his Anglicized name from his birth name, Rodrigo Gaynor.  He was the typical East Coast playboy who was a noted polo player when he traveled across country and found himself in Seguro, New Mexico.  Angered by the treatment of the poor there, he vowed to fight injustice and took the persona of The Whip.

He was inspired by an old hero named El Castigo, who operated in Seguro when it still belonged to Mexico.
The final illustrated story from this issue featured The King, who works to thwart a jewel heist by his nemesis The Witch and her henchmen.  It is written by King co-creator Gardner Fox and drawn by Harry Lampert.  Lampert actually co-created The Flash with Fox, but soon asked to be moved off that strip because he didn't think his style worked with super-heroes.  Lampert would draw The King, short-lived humor strip Cotton-Top Katie, and the military/spy/crime fighting adventures of Red, White, and Blue.

The King was King Standish, a wealthy (if only all of our rich people today decided to go out and personally fight crime) master of disguise who usually fought crime from within.  As a result, he was typically branded a criminal.  He remained in disguise at all times, wearing a mask when not impersonating someone.  He's not been seen since an appearance in Starman in the 2000s.

Images of The King are few and far between.  Here he is from a different adventure.
Besides the above five features, Flash Comics #15 also featured five additional short stories, which I can't find any information on:

  • "Les Watts Radio Amateur" in "Adventure of the Tin Plate Princess" by Don Cameron.  Don Cameron was a mystery writer as well as comic book writer.  He introduced Alfred to the Batman mythos along with Bob Kane in Batman #16.  He also co-created Batman villains Tweedledee and Tweedledum and the Cavalier, Superman villain The Toyman, and heroes Liberty Bell and Pow Wow Smith.
  • "Cliff Cornwall Special Agent" in "Industrial Sabotage" by Ben Flinton and Leonard Sansone.  Cliff Cornwall was an FBI agent who had a short run of adventures in Flash Comics.  Ben Flinton co-created the Golden Age Atom.  Leonard Sansone is best known as creating The Wolf (also known as G.I. Wolf or Pvt. Wolf) for the U.S. Army.
  • "Voice from the Sky" by Evelyn Gaines.  Evelyn Gaines was the niece of publisher MC Gaines and often wrote pieces for her uncle's company.
  • "Minute Movies. Secrets of Satan" by Ed Wheelan.  Ed Wheelan was a comic strip writer and artist whose work was sometimes re-published by DC.  Minute Movies was perhaps his best known strip.
  • "Hooded Horror.. Flash "Picture Novelette"" by Ed Wheelan

That's it for May.  I'll be back in a couple weeks with a look at Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #7.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog, NerdlyManor.com.  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.

Tales from the Calendar: Flash Comics #15 Tales from the Calendar: Flash Comics #15 Reviewed by JL Franke on Friday, May 18, 2018 Rating: 5
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