Thursday, December 01, 2016

This Story Bugs Me

Back in the early days of comic books there was some “borrowing” going on as various companies ground out stories for a hungry market.

Over at Chester/Centaur/MLJ -- or whoever that week was the publisher -- there was a character called Dan Hastings.   An athletic type, all-American.  He worked with a scientific genius with a beautiful daughter.  The daughter joined in – basically she got captured – in Dan’s adventures.  When an intergalactic menace arose Dan hopped into his rocket and off he flew into outer space.  Gee, was this character a cheap knockoff of a popular spaceman featured in newspaper comic strips and movie serials?

Dan’s adventures can be found online via scanned copies, free to read on screen or to download for later perusal.  [ ]

In one adventure Dan fights giant bugs from planet Plexis (is that near Solar?) in Dynamic Comics #10 (1944).  The ending is irritating, not a proper denouement.

The story involves “the child in danger” motif to the extreme.  Children of top Earth’s scientists are being attacked by boll weevils on super-steroids.  In the opening scene a baby is playing and a “hideous giant bug” stabs the innocent one with its nose lance, pinning the baby to the floor.  The parents rush into the room.  To their horror they find their offspring has been reduced to a baby skeleton.

Later at another top scientist’s home two children, brother and sister, are in bed but before they fall asleep a strange creature attacks.  In one panel we see the boy being speared by another giant bug, a close up showing the victim getting shafted in his gut. 
Mom and Dad rush in but each kid is just a pile of bleached bones.  Sorry, sis didn’t make it.

In another heartwarming scene a girl – another top scientist’s child – is kneeling by her bed, saying her prayers.

Her message to God is memorable: “I want to thank you for making me so pretty.  But daddy says you need brains in this world.  So could you please give me some.  Amen.”

Apparently God doesn’t like little girls reinforcing male chauvinist stereotypes so a special visitor arrives.  It ain’t her guardian angel.

In the next panel the girl is on her feet but not for long.  In silhouette we witness another colossal schnozzola shafting, right through the gut.  Her reaction: “Yaaaaaa!”

Time for Dan Hastings to get on the case.  Consulting with Dr. Zarkov – oops, Dr. Carter – Dan learns that all the victims of members of the Academy of Science. 

Arriving just in time he saves one child by punching the nose off the giant bug.  The critter’s reaction: “Arkkk!”  The bug flees and Dan tells the child’s father – a top scientist, of course – to “get your ray-visualizer machine going.” The ray-thingamajig tracks the bug to the planet Plexis.

On Plexis we meet the mad scientist behind the attacks: Dr. Strange. (No, Marvel/Disney, you’re not entitled to scream copyright violation.)  Apparently Dr. Strange is POed at the Academy of Scientists for outlawing him because of “his insane practices.”  That means he can’t join in the Academy’s reindeer games.

His latest insane practice: add a company of chemicals and – PHOOF – instant giant bug monsters.

Knowing that Dan Hastings is on the way the Strange has his giant bugs capture Dan’s squeeze, Dale Arden – uh, Gloria Carter.  Somehow they transport Gloria through outer space sans ill effects despite the fact there’s no air and lots of radiation out there.

After landing on Plexis Dan knocks the nose off another mutant boll weevil.  He tells the bug: “Here’s something worth arking about.”

In the mad doc’s lair Gloria is tied up to a pillar. Dr. Strange says he’s going to inject her with his special dissolving serum, the same juice his bugs use to reduce kids into skeletons.  Our hero crashes through a window (without any cuts), ready for action, wearing his bright red onesie.  The mad doc gets ready to hit Flash Gordon – I mean Dan Hastings – with a bottle of his nasty serum.  Dr. Strange holds the bottle over his head to launch it.  But Dan stops him by throwing an object that looks like a potato masher at the glass container, breaking it.  The serum spills over the villain, doing its skeletonizing stuff.

Or does it?  We never see what has happened to Dr. Strange.  Dan and Gloria run off and then blast off, reciting the usual denouement clichés in Dan’s rocketship. 

I checked to see if the story was a reprint.  Through some digging I located what appears to be the first publication of the story in a scanned copy of Scoop Comics #2 (1941).  Comparing the two versions I noticed minor artistic and coloring changes were made with the reprint.  But the original story still had the same ending.

If the villain was reduced to a skeleton why would that be less shocking than the bare bones of his child victims?  Maybe the freelance comic book staff loathed children, toiling in a sweatshop studio while putting out crap for bratty kids.  Some of them could have been married with crying babies at home, no more marital relations, pitiful men reduced to uxoriousness.

Another explanation pops up with a one page text story included in Scoop but not reprinted in Dynamic.

It’s been said if a comic book publisher wanted cheaper second class mailing rates two pages of text had to be included in each issue to meet postal regulations.  Usually the text pages were black print on a garish yellow background to make it less appealing to read.  It’s also been noted that these text stories were hardly ever perused by readers who were attuned to the words and artwork format, the art by itself telling most of the story.

The text story, “The Return of Dr. Strange,” opens right after the ending of the illustrated story.  Dr. Strange is dissolving, a victim of his own serum.  Dan and Gloria run off without making sure the mad doc is really dead.  (And you thought villains were stupid this way, capturing the hero in a death trap and then just leaving, never assuming the hero might free himself.)

It’s explained that while Dr. Strange was dissolving he managed to grab some of his bug monster creating serum.  This saved his life but transformed him into a feathered  monster.  Dan faces the mad doc on earth.  This time he kills off Strange’s dreadul new form by using acid again.

In the text story no children are dissolved and killed.  Apparently the one page limitation excluded such fun family entertainment.

OK, the editor decided not to show Strange dissolving in the word-and-art version, keeping the villain’s true fate as a surprise for the text story.  But this still could’ve worked with just one panel showing the dissolving villain looking kinda mushy in silhouette.   After all it wouldn’t be as bad as seeing children brutally stabbed by giant pointy proboscises.

Without witnessing the graphic comeuppance of Dr. Strange his child victims are exploited, stuck with the dirty end of the proboscis.

Does that lack of a proper anti-climax bug you, man?

*  *  *

 Sweet dreams, little ones.

How many nightmares did this crap induce in impressionable young readers?

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