The Timely Comics Story


One of the most obvious changes in Timely's comics was that the identity of the enemy changed. Although the heroes had been beating up Germans for over a year, they had not been taking on the Japanese. While Americans were, to a lesser or greater degree, aware of Japanese actions in China and Southeast Asia, and might also have known how the American embargo of oil to Japan had exacerbated the tensions between the two countries, the attention of the US at the time was almost completely on Europe; Japan was commonly seen as simply not being that much of a threat. This was reflected in the identity of the fictional villains that the Timely heroes were thrashing; the Japanese weren't nearly so much of a danger (so the thinking went, not just at Timely but nation-wide) as the Germans.

Once Pearl Harbor was bombed, however, that changed. The first issue done after Pearl Harbor was Captain America Comics #13 (cover date April 1942), which, as you can see, reflects a very different attitude towards the Japanese. Obviously the comic book writers and artists had a new target on which to unleash their heroes.

(As a sidenote, this is, as far as I can tell, when the images of the Japanese became stereotyped in comics in this way. When the Japanese appeared before this, they were not depicted in nearly so biased a manner)

Early 1942 brought a lot of upheaval to Timely. The draft took its toll on Timely's staff, as it did with the staff of every other comic book company; Timely lost, among others, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Bill Everett, and Carl Burgos, with Stan Lee volunteering for the army.

Timely, though, did not allow this to slow them down, and they in fact hired more staff and expanded its publishing line. Goodman, aware of the success that Dell Publishing was having with their comic adaptations of the Disney cartoon characters, decided to expand into the humor market. Joker Comics #1 and Comedy Comics #9 (it had previously been Daring Mystery Comics) appeared early in the year. (It's hard to tell when, exactly, which is unfortunately the case with a lot of Golden Age comics; Joker and Comedy were both cover dated "April," but that could mean they first appeared anywhere from January to March).

Both books proved to be popular, humor being a good market to expand into at that time. Joker Comics, in addition to being a straight comedy book, had one other major thing going for it: Basil Wolverton. Wolverton, an artist of enormous talent, had done other work for Marvel, including "Rockman" for USA Comics, but his real forte' was humor, as he would later show at Mad Magazine, among other places. Joker Comics was where Wolverton first regularly started doing humor for the comics (he'd done "Disk-Eyes the Detective" for United Feature Syndicate's Circus the Comic Riot in early 1938, and had put Disk-Eyes in an issue of USA Comics, but had otherwise had been doing science fiction strips such as "Spacehawk."). Wolverton started out, in Joker, with "Powerhouse Pepper", who would become his most popular character and his favorite one. Powerhouse Pepper was a funny strip, and its humor holds up well even today. Wolverton also included, in Joker Comics #1, his character Stuporman, from Daring Mystery; Stuporman was a funny Superman satire. In later issues of Joker characters such as Tessie the Typist and Millie the Model made their debut; both were extremely popular after the war. And Joker, some issues down the road, also saw work by another comic book immortal: Harvey Kurtzman.

Comedy Comics started as a superhero comic; issue #9 featured Bill Everett's The Fin, Harry Sahle's Silver Scorpion, Ben Thompson's Citizen V, and Captain Daring. But it also had a satire of Hitler and Stalin, as well as Wolverton's "Splash Morgan", a science fiction comedy strip. And #9 saw the first appearance of the Comedy Kid, who would become a regular in Comedy. The book quickly shifted to all-humor, with Stuporman making another appearance and Kurtzman doing art here, as well. Finally, Comedy Comics, in issue #14 (cover dated March 1943), debuted Super Rabbit, a character who would become quite important for Timely.

Timely started out doing comedy books featuring people, but within a few months chose to follow Disney's lead and do funny animal books. In July Timely started publishing Krazy Komics, which starred Toughy Tomcat, Silly Seal, and Ziggy Pig, all original Timely characters; Ziggy Pig was done by Al Jaffee, a name which would become familiar later on to Mad Magazine readers. In issue #12 the entire Timely staff drew themselves into one story, which was not the first time that artists at Timely had placed themselves in a comic; that had taken place in an early issue of Marvel Mystery, where Bill Everett and Carl Burgos had appeared and argued the merits of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. And in June, 1942, in Marvel Mystery Comics #34 (cover dated August 1942), Everett, Burgos, Martin Goodman, and the Funnies, Incorporated office appeared in a story and battled Hitler. So the practice Marvel adopted during the 1960s, of sometimes placing their staff into the stories themselves, actually dates back much farther than that.

Anyhow. Krazy Komics also later had a Super Rabbit story as well as making use of Harvey Kurtzman art.

Later, in October, Timely launched Terry-Toons Comics. Terry-Toons did not feature original characters; the stars of the book were Gandy Goose and Sour-Puss, which had started life as cartoon characters from the Paul Terry animation studio. This was Timely's first use of licensed characters, and led to Mighty Mouse appearing in Timely books, first in Terry-Toons Comics #38 and then later in his own book. Later still, in issue #50, Heckle and Jeckle appeared. Both Krazy Komics and Terry-Toons Comics sold very well for Timely, and provided financial support for the company at the war's end and afterwards, when many of their books were not selling so well anymore.

The book to the right is, as you can see, Animated Movie-Tunes. It actually started much later, in the fall of 1945, and only lasted two issues. I've included it here, however, because it was a funny animal book, featuring Super Rabbit, Ziggy Pig, and Silly Seal; because this is where I've been talking about Timely's funny animal books; and because this is the only decent image I've been able to find and scan that features Super Rabbit.

Super Rabbit is one of the obscurities of Timely's Golden Age that is almost completely forgotten about today, but during his time he was almost as important to Timely as Captain America. He was not the first super-bunny in superhero comics; that honor goes to Fawcett's Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, who debuted in Funny Animals #1, cover dated December 1942. And Super Rabbit was never as big as Hoppy. But Super Rabbit appeared in most of Timely's funny animal books, was the mainstay of that line, and had his own, eponymously-titled book, which lasted from the fall of 1944 to November 1948, outlasting several of Timely's superhero books. Super Rabbit, like the rest of Timely's funny animal line, languishes in undeserved obscurity today, but he was done with skill and charm, and deserve better.

With Stan Lee's departure, a new editor was needed, and Vince Fago was chosen. His strength was funny animal books, and that was the most popular genre of comics at the time; with Stan Lee he'd done previous work on characters like Silly Seal and Ziggy Pig, as well as having experience with Popeye and Betty Boop at the Max Fleischer studio.

Timely also adopted a new insignia during this time - a red, white, and blue shield, designed to reflect the patriotism everyone was feeling. This shield is what's flanking the title of this web page, at the top of the page.

In August Mystic Comics was cancelled, most likely due to poor sales. Although the character the Destroyer was popular, Mystic's rotating cast of characters and wildly-varying quality could not have helped it. Mystic had actually been cancelled once before; issue #5, cover dated March 1941, had been the last issue of the first run, and had been full of backlogged stories from the Funnies, Incorporated shop. Mystic had resumed seven months later with issue #6 (cover dated October 1941), with some new characters: the Challenger, the Destroyer, the Witness, and Davey & the Demon, among others (the Black Marvel and the Blazing Skull were two characters who survived the cancellation). The Destroyer, who also appeared almost simultaneously in All-Winners #2 (cover dated "Fall 1941"), became the most popular of Timely's second-string heroes, but his popularity was not enough to carry Mystic.

At the end of 1942 Timely started Miss Fury. The character of Miss Fury was down by Tarpe Mills, one of the rare female talents of the Golden Age. She'd started doing a Sunday newspaper comic strip called the "Black Fury," who was one of the first female costumed crime fighters to appear in newspapers. The strip proved to be very popular during the war, with the character changing her name to "Miss Fury" and taking on saboteurs and the enemy in a wide range of environments, including Panama and Pacific islands. Timely's Miss Fury was a collection of reprints from the newspaper comic strips.

Shortly after that Timely came out with Kid Komics #1 (cover dated February 1943). Like Young Allies, this was aimed at the kid's market, and Timely pretty clearly seems to have been making a great effort to have Kid Komics duplicate the success of Young Allies. The first issue costarred Knuckles & Whitewash Jones, from Young Allies; it also had art by Basil Wolverton. Moreover, issue #1 introduced Captain Wonder and his sidekick Tim (that's Captain Wonder on the cover to the left); Captain Wonder and Tim inhale the fumes of a wonder drug, which gives them the strength of twelve men, so (naturally) they go out to fight crime. Captain Wonder and Tim were fairly obvious knock-offs of Captain America and Bucky, but done with the art of Syd Shores, rather than Jack Kirby (a definite step down) and without the vitality that made Captain America such a best-seller. Issue #1 also introduced Subbie, the side-kick to the Sub-Mariner. By this point in time the Sub-Mariner was mostly a hero, albeit a grouchy one; his rough edges had been smoothed out, and the anti-surface-man temperament which had initially made him a villain had, for the most part, disappeared. Which is likely why Timely felt it safe to give him a side-kick.

Issue #2 of Kid Komics brought in the rest of the Young Allies - Bucky, Toro, and Tubby - and so Timely was no doubt hoping that the addition of Subby to the team, and the presence of Captain Wonder and Tim, and the Alex Schomburg cover (he did the covers for issues #2-4 and #6-10) would make Kid Komics look like it combined the the best features of Young Allies and Captain America Comics. It didn't work, the sales of the book were lacklustre, and Captain Wonder and Tim were dropped from the book after the second issue.

Kid Komics limped along for a few issues more, finally being cancelled with issue #10, in the early spring of 1946; the introduction of a new kid gang (the Daredevils) and new kid heroes (Red Hawk, Tommy Tyme), and the insertion of proven superheroes (the Vision, the Destroyer, and the Whizzer) did not help the book's sales.

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