One of the greatest guides to the concept of continuity in a specific series is The DisContinuity Guide: The Unofficial Doctor Who Companion
by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, first put out in 1995.
From my point of view the genius of this work is in the way the authors peel back the layers of a complex text like Doctor Who, and start back at the beginning, when we didn’t know anything about the series or what it would eventually evolve into.
This allows us to see the ways in which the universe was expanded,
sometimes carefully, often times not. We get to see undeveloped themes
and the earliest examples of new themes.
Like an evolutionary biologist studying our small, brown furred
burrowing human ancestors, we get a look at the way things were without
the baggage of the way things are.
Marvel Comics Golden Age DisContinuity 002:
Daring Mystery Comics 001
Fiery Mask: The Fantastic Thriller of the Walking Corpses
Soldier of Fortune, John Steele
The Texas Kid, Robin Hood of the Range
Monako, Prince of Magic
The Thundering Terror of Gold Creek
Flash Foster at Midwestern
Phantom of the Underworld
Barney Mullen, Sea Rover
Publication Date/On Sale Date:
Jan 1940/October 30, 1939
Marvel Comics 001, Mandrake the Magician, The Pit and the Pendulum, Robin Hood, Pre-WW2 anxiety, The Lone Ranger
Continuity – Fiery Mask
The first story is the first appearance and origin of the Fiery Mask. After this the character gets only three more golden age appearances, in Daring Mystery Comics #5
, Daring Mystery Comics #6
, and Human Torch #2
. Fiery Mask is revived in 2008 in Twelve 001
, but writer J. Michael Straczynzski and artist Chris Weston retconned his origin quite a bit. For now we’ll worry about this particular story.
Entitled “The Fantastic Thriller of the Walking Corpses” we are introduced to Dr. Jack Castle, who has been asked by Police Captain Benson “to analyze a strange case.” Artist Joe Simon wastes no time as we are plunged right into the strange case when a ray beam suddenly brings a dead man to life, who instantly attacks our heroes! The “zombie” attacks Dr. Castle but is shot dead (again?) by Captain Benson.
Dr. Castle’s analysis is ridiculous: “I can’t understand it, Captain… He didn’t have sleeping sickness or any disease known to science… yet… He just kept standing and staring as if he were not alive… that face… so green!!” How exactly do those who are not alive stand and stare?
Dr. Castle takes the case. His medical expertise is no help, he simply asks around after missing homeless people (he calls them “bums”) until he strikes on the idea of examining electrical bills, figuring that whoever is turning people into mindless green killers must be using a lot of electricity. Going to an “old ramshackle house” with a big electric bill, Dr. Castle is immediately taken prisoner by another green skinned zombie.
Entering the underground tunnels beneath the ramshackle house, Dr. Castle and his captor pass a beautiful woman in chains awaiting further treatments to sap her will. Then they both have to fight off giant guardian buzzards.
Eventually the arrive at a lab, where a twenty foot tall green skinned mad scientist decides to turn Dr. Castle into a zombie!
The mad doctor is “thousands of years ahead” of current medical science and has “captured the elements- The wind, the storm the lightning.” (None of which are actually elements.) His grotesque size made him ashamed to go out in the daylight, so he’s been hiding underground for fifty years! The mad doctor hits Castle with the ray, but Castle’s familiar with hypnotism, and resists!
Enraged, the mad doctor turns the machine all the way up to eleven, causing the machine to explode! Instead of being killed Jack Castle gets super powers of course.
He easily kills the 20 foot tall mad doctor, and
rescues the girl. With his super breath Jack dispatches the buzzards,
crashing them into the ceiling.
Jack then leaps with the girl out of the
underground lair and out of the ramshackle house.
He drops the girl off
without so much as a how do you do.
Dr. Castle finds Captain Benson and tells him all about his adventure and new powers. His face sparkles when he gets angry, so he adopts a costume and a mask, and calls himself the Fiery Mask! The end.
Continuity- John Steele, Soldier of Fortune
Next up is “Soldier of Fortune” John Steele. John Steele runs around the European continent waging war against the Germans well before the US and Germany were at war. Aside from good luck and a tendency to only kill when necessary, there’s not much to his character. This his only appearance until 2009, when Ed Brubaker includes him the Marvels Project (2009). Brubaker reveals that John Steele ha bulletproof skin and enhanced strength, not immediately evident in his one golden age appearance.
Continuity- The Texas Kid, Robin Hood of the Range
The Texas Kid has a large white horse named Spot and it’s only appearance ever. I like the idea of giving a horse a name typically given to dogs, but otherwise there is little clever about this Lone Ranger rip-off. Typical western with little to recommend it. The story ends by inviting us to read “The Texas Kid” again next month, but this is his only appearance.
Continuity- Monako, Prince of Magic
After appearing in this comic, Monako, Prince of Magic appears three more times, in Daring Mystery Comics #4
, Daring Mystery Comics #5
and Daring Mystery Comics #6
. Then, as far as I can tell, he never appears again again until being revived (in a cameo only) in 2009 by Ed Brubaker in Marvels Project #2
(2009). Monako is a magician character in the tradition of Lee Falks Mandrake the Magician
, first introduced in 1935. Mandrake’s appearance, and elegantly dressed stage magician with top hat and cape has inspired countless imitators. However, in Monako’s second appearance and thereafter, he’s traded in his top hat for a red fez. I wonder if this is a result of a possible lawsuit.
|Daring Mystery Comics 004
Whereas Mandrake used hypnosis to fool people into thinking they were perceiving things other than reality, Monako seems to have actual magical powers. Our story opens with a woman crossing the street about to be hit by a car. “Quick as a flash Monako gestures– and the girl suddenly seems to be crossing a bridge over the street-“
The question is, is she actually crossing a bridge over the street, or just seeming to? And if she just seems to be crossing the street via a bridge, how does that prevent a speeding car from running her over?
Turns out that Monako knows the girl, named Josie, and he also knows the man in the car, a Japanese villain named Mr. Muro. Muro’s driver is named Tashu. The fact that Monako and Mr. Muro have tangled before indicates and unseen adventure.
Turns out Josie’s brother has perfected a powerful new explosive for the government, and Mr. Muro wants it. Josie’s scientist brother, Al, after perfecting the formula commits it to memory and burns his research. After a terrific fight, Al is subdued with drugged needle.
Monako has a weird power, he can send his “Vision” a
translucent, ghostly version of himself, to observe things from afar
while his body is fully functional. In a sense, it allows Monako to be
in two places at once.Dr. Strange will use a similar gimmick years later, but his body, when he sends out his astral form, is an empty vessel when he does so. Monako’s power allows him to essentially be in two places at once.
By concentrating Monako can project what his
Vision sees on the wall through his eyes. Monako’s Vision can also
Mr. Muro has a room that Monako’s Vision can’t
penetrate. Is it magically warded or made of an impenetrable substance? It
doesn’t matter, because Monako arrives at the door and discovers a
small hole. He shrinks himself to get through the hole. This is
outright magic. Then he uses his wand to make footprints, normally
invisible to the naked eyes, glow so he can follow Mr. Muro.
Trapped, Monako fills the room with duplicates, but somehow Mr. Muro is not fooled. Nevertheless, Monako can fight with gestures, causing fists to appear in midair and punch people.
Despite his powers, Mr. Muro captures Monako, and chains him to the wall next to Josie’s brother. Then Josie’s brother is “tortured for hours” but will not reveal his secret.
Desperate, Mr. Muro straps Monako and Al to a table and swings a blade back and forth over them, Pit and the Pendulum style!
Suddenly remembering he has magic powers, Monako talks to the ax. “Suddenly the ax leaves the ceiling, and flits around cutting all their bonds!”
Monako shrinks himself and Al, and they hide from their pursuers in a wall crack. Monako and Al escape just in time to see Mr. Muro abduct Josie! The villains tie Josie up in an old tugboat, and leave a can of gasoline attached to a long fuse that Mr. Muro calls an “ingenious bomb.”
Monako and Al run to Al’s laboratory, where Monako
sets up some tricks to stop Mr. Muro in his tracks. Mr. Muro gets to a
seaplane and takes off, and Monako hears Josie yelling from the tugboat,
and rescues her in a nick of time, non-magically.
We are promised future Monako adventures, and we’ll get to them, in the coming weeks.
Continuity- Flash Foster
Next up is Flash Foster, a college football player. Flash is expected to win a big football game, one that will get his team into the Rose Bowl, but a mobster kidnaps his girlfriend and tells him to throw the game. At halftime Foster figures out where his girlfriend is and rescues her, then makes the last five minutes of his game, claiming a come from behind victory with seconds to spare. The final panel promises another adventure, this time at the Rose Bowl, but that adventure never appears. This is Flash Foster’s only golden age appearance until Marvel’s aborted All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes 001
Continuity- Phantom of the Underworld
The Phantom of the Underworld is a singularly unimpressive character. In a strip that seems unneccessarily talky and underwhelming in the action department, we are introduced to “Doc” Denton, a police detective who is also a surgeon. “Doc,” with the help of his potential girlfriend Nurse Andrus, fights crime through what can only be called malpractice. Convincing a criminal gang that he is one of them, he pretends to diagnos their leader with a contagious disease. Then he administers the antidote, a drug that induces temporary blindness. (Why not just knock them out? He doesn’t say.) The mobsters, realizing they’ve been duped, start firing their guns randomly, trying to off Doc Denton and his nurse sidekick, before being arrested by the police.
The art, by Maurice Gutwirth, reminds me of Red Meat by Max Cannon.
Fortunately for us, there is no “next job” for “Doc” Denton. This is his only appearance.
Continuity- Barney Mullen, Sea Rover
Barney Mullen is contracted to deliver gold to help the allies during the early days of WWII. After a series of adventures involving aerial bombers and submarine attacks, Mullen delivers the goods, at the cost of his boat. It’s hard to see what his continuing adventures would be like, and fortunately we don’t have to find out. This is his only appearance.
After the great success of Marvel Comics 001
, which introduced the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, two characters unlike anything ever seen before, Daring Mystery Comics 001 is a bit of a disappointment. The two best stories in the issue belong to the Fiery Mask and Monako, Prince of Magic, but the Fiery Mask is just too strange to be popular and Monako lacks originality.
Neither of these characters would last long, and their revivals in the modern era don’t do much for them.
The other characters in the comic are lackluster. Western comics in this era are just so dry and dull- I’ve yet to read an example of the genre from this period that excites me. The Phantom of the Underworld has a great title, but his shtick, that he’s a cop who is also a doctor prone to malpractice, is underwhelming.
As for Barney Mullen and Flash Foster, even if I found the genres compelling, the stories aren’t that good.
Still, for sheer entertainment value, the Fiery Mask story never lets up. His origin is just so loopy: zombies, a 20 foot tall green skinned mad scientist, giant buzzards, hypnosis and a maiden in distress make for an almost hallucinogenic experience. Future Fiery Mask stories are similarly weird. When the character is revived in The Twelve, it’s too bad more of this weirdness wasn’t revived with him. It might have made him more memorable.
Daring Mystery Comics would only last for eight issues, all of which are available through the two Marvel Masterworks that collect them.
Next week we’ll be looking at Fantastic Four #5, which introduces the world to Doctor Doom, arguably the greatest super villain in comic history, and after that we’ll go back the golden age when we examine the third ever Timely Comic, Marvel Mystery Comics #2, featuring the second appearance of the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, the Angel and others.
Additional comments and suggestions are welcome.