Some comics go down in historical past as masterful examples of the craft and are beloved by a number of generations. And others find yourself on the landfill. On this collection, I’ll be wanting again on some forgotten collection to higher perceive what sort of comics our ancestral nerds have been studying within the days of rotary telephones and report gamers.
In the present day’s topic: Hangman Comics!
Earlier than DC and Marvel developed their superhero universes…earlier than MLJ modified its title to Archie Comics to mirror their hottest property…there was the MLJ universe of heroes. Superheroes have been on the peak of their first spherical of recognition within the Forties, and MLJ contributed to the super-surge with their very own line of heroes.
MLJ’s heroes embody the Defend, who beat Captain America by a 12 months to change into the primary patriotic superhero, and the Black Hood, who hung up his masks and have become a non-public detective after being outted by a man named Needlenoodle, which is simply the best factor I’ve heard all day.
And, after all, there may be the Hangman.
MLJ (an acronym for the founders’ first names: Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John Goldwater) was established in 1939. Archie Andrews wouldn’t come alongside for a few years. Within the meantime, the corporate revealed the whole lot however teen humor: sci-fi, journey, conflict tales, and superheroes.
Harry Lucey, finest recognized for his decades-long run on Archie, does lots of the early tales right here. He’s actually good at displaying how evil ideas rework every villain from put-upon everyman to remorseless killer.
After Lucey left the e-book, Bob Fujitani, who was already performing some tales, picked up the slack. His splash pages look nice, however his animals, not a lot. Different notables embody Paul Reinman, who typically labored with Jack Kirby throughout the Nineteen Sixties on iconic titles like Incredible 4, and Irv Novick, who completely killed it on Batman comics within the Seventies.
I didn’t inform the entire fact earlier than: this e-book glided by a number of names over its nineteen-issue run. The titles for the collection are: Particular Comics #1, Hangman Comics #2-8, and Black Hood Comics #9-19. I’ll solely be wanting on the first eight points, as Black Hood Comics is mostly a complete different e-book.
This collection isn’t the Hangman’s first look — he debuted in Pep Comics #17 — however Particular Comics offers a useful recap of his origin so you can begin from there. The Hangman is basically Bob Dickering, brother of the Comet, one other MLJ superhero. After the Comet is killed within the line of obligation, Bob ignores his brother’s dying request that he reside a standard life and turns into the Hangman, selecting up the place the Comet left off.
Nonetheless, there are some factors of confusion by no means clarified right here. I don’t know what Dickering does for a dwelling, although he appears to hold across the newspaper workplace so much. They usually don’t clarify how he makes the shadow of the gallows — his trademark — seem over the villain’s face at every climactic second. It’s a cool impact, however I’m not clear on how he does it. Is he making shadow puppets? Does he have a custom-made flashlight along with his emblem painted on?
It solely takes till Subject 2 for him to begin beating up Nazis, and Subject 3 has him confronting some horrible Japanese stereotypes. Subject 3 can also be notable for its goriness: our villain, the Executioner, lops off folks’s heads with a bloody axe after which holds their severed heads whereas laughing. I assume this extreme nastiness was as a result of a) Pearl Harbor occurred a couple of months earlier than this problem got here out, and b) People have been unbelievably racist towards the Japanese (and, nicely, everybody else, however that’s not related right here).
Talking of executions, you’d suppose the Hangman, with a reputation like that, would kill his foes regularly, however nope. His opponents all appear to destroy themselves, conveniently tripping into swimming pools of lye or off of clock towers.
For sure, he doesn’t have an entire lot of recurring villains.
There’s additionally a back-up characteristic starring Roy the Tremendous-boy and Dusty the Boy Detective, that are hands-down the worst superhero names I’ve ever heard. (Speedy, I apologize for the whole lot I ever mentioned about you.) They’re the sidekicks of two different MLJ heroes: the Wizard and the Defend, respectively. The “Boy Buddies” are fairly bratty, and their tales are undiluted conflict propaganda that encourage children to wish to develop up quicker to allow them to go homicide Japanese civilians, so, um. There’s that.
The Hangman doesn’t have a sidekick, however he does have a girlfriend, reporter Thelma Gordon, who is aware of his secret identification and typically helps him out. Often by taking pictures folks.
The previous couple of points ditch the propaganda and all hint of logic. In a narrative from the final problem, Hangman encounters a pirate ship that someway time-traveled from 1498. The pirates practically homicide him earlier than an octopus randomly pops out of the ocean to kill the pirates as a substitute.
In Subject 9, one other hero, the Black Hood, took over the title, presumably as a result of he was extra standard than the Hangman: Subject 8 has ads for his radio present. The Hangman appeared as a back-up characteristic for a few points after which disappeared from the title.
It appears bizarre to consider MLJ as a serious superhero writer, now that they’ve aligned themselves with Archie so laborious that they modified their title to his. It’s particularly bizarre provided that Archie is so G-rated whereas the Hangman undoubtedly falls on the grim-and-gritty aspect of the superhero scale. Quite a lot of it reads like a horror comedian.
However whereas we may argue that MLJ/Archie deserted their likelihood at a superheroic legacy to give attention to Archie, their heroes have been beloved sufficient to warrant a number of reboots by MLJ and DC and their varied imprints. These collection all took completely different approaches — one made the Hangman a villain; one gave him a son to hold on the household legacy — however the makes an attempt in and of themselves are a tribute to the lingering fascination with MLJ’s superheroes.
Much more enduring is their idea of a shared universe. These are regular now, however that wasn’t the case within the ’40s. Superman and Batman could pal round on the covers of World’s Best, however they have been confined to separate tales within the comics themselves. Exterior of crew books like Justice Society of America, it was each hero for himself. What MLJ did by casually having the Defend and the Wizard costume up as ghosts to attempt to scare their sidekicks into behaving themselves was really inventive. Silly, however inventive.
Hangman Comics specifically, nonetheless, isn’t the most effective superhero comedian I’ve ever learn. It’s satisfying sufficient, however plenty of it doesn’t make sense. A minor however enjoyable instance from the primary problem: a person is punched to demise, however the physician who examines the physique can’t work out how he died. He simply shrugs and goes “coronary heart assault, I assume?” Sir, the place did you get your doctorate, clown faculty?
Need extra classic goodness? Take a look at earlier editions of RCR: Race for the Moon, Stamps Comics, Tippy Teen, and Winnie Winkle!