Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Rosetta Stone Of The Comics Industry

If you follow the history of some titles, you get a mini history lesson of the comics industry, a cover image guided tour of some of the hot trends.

Because of postal regulations, launching a brand new title cost money, a fee that comic companies of the day were reluctant to pay. Yes, it was an alternate universe where #1 issues were a bad thing. So publishers would often keep the numbering of the older books, while surreptitiously completely changing them: different characters. titles, even genres.

So let's follow the progress of one of those changeable titles, Harvey's Black Cat!

Black Cat started as a hero in the 1940s. Linda Turner was the daughter of a silent film star and a stuntwoman. She became Hollywood's top stuntwoman, and eventually, because of her "natural beauty" and acting skills, she became a leading lady, and one of the movies' top stars.

Then she found out that one of her directors was a Nazi spy, transmitting secret information within his movies! She put on a costume, stopped his plots, and kept on as the Black Cat--movie star by day, crime fighter by night.

You've got to admit--that's a pretty great premise (and what female movie star would you like to have dressing up in a bathing suit and fighting crime today? Discuss). Plus, Bob Haney wrote many of the early stories!!

She was pretty popular, and after a long run in Speed Comics, she graduated to her own book. And for a couple of years it was all Tinseltown adventures, always emblazoned with "Hollywood's Glamorous Crime Fighter" and "The Darling Of Comics."

But in 1948, she began to ride horses an awful lot...

Uh-oh...smell the winds of change, as super-heroes wane in popularity, and Westerns soar, as the book transforms in 1949 to...

See, now she's "Hollywood's Glamorous Western Star," and our stories are set in the Wild West (don't ask how) set exclusively on the sets of Western movies (h/t to "Britt Reid" for correcting me), and the book's title is now Black Cat Western!

Well, that went on for about a year, when suddenly in 1950...

It's back to just Black Cat!! It's back in present day!! It's all Hollywood!! Most issues even featured an "illustrated interview" with real live movie starts!! Glamor!!

But time, and comic industry trends, would stand still for no one, not even the Black Cat. By 1951, she's facing distinctly more supernatural menaces:

The book was suddenly slugged "Strangest Tales Of Fear And Terror": No more glamor or Hollywood here! Witches and ghosts and devils!

Yes, they gave her a sidekick. SPOILER ALERT: his origin is the exact same as Robin's.

For issue #30, they just plain changed the name of the book:

And with the next issue? Linda Turner is dumped!

The book kept the Black Cat Mystery title, but no Black Cat character. It was just a title now. The book became your typical 1950s horror anthology for the next few years, albeit by some standards a little more gruesome than many:


But then, Wertham happened, horror comics were on the bad list, and miracle of miracles, 1955's issue #54 was suddenly:

Ah, it's Black Cat Western Mystery now!! For 3 issues Linda Turner was back, albeit merely in reprints from her earlier western phase.

But 3 issues later, we were back to...

Note the Comics Code seal--Black Cat Mystery was back, but this post-Seduction version was far tamer then the prior version, much more along the lines of what Marvel/Timely was doing.

But the very next issue...

I guess Black Cat Mystic was safer than Black Cat Mystery. Who knows?

The book's "mystic" reincarnation lasted only 6 issues, and then the title was cancelled.

But wait...super-heroes were coming back!! So in 1962, Harvey revived the title (and continued the numbering!):

These were pretty much just reprints, albeit with colorful new covers to emphasize the super-heroey aspects of the stories. Sadly, this lasted just 3 issues.

There have been some reprint series, with covers playing up the "look, she's a hot girl in a bathing suit who is in danger, so buy this, men!" angle:

And that's it.

So, next time somebody whines about how confusing modern comics companies can be with their constant re-numbering/re-titling, just laugh, and point them to the Black Cat. We've been here before.


Britt Reid said...

The "Western" run was also present-day, and involved Linda shooting movies (Westerns, of course) on location and encountering various criminals.

snell said...

Really? That's depressing. The covers involved sure gave a different impression, going so far as to say "stories in the Wild West."

Ah, well, we can always hope for a revival that actually puts her in the olde west...

Britt Reid said...

Comics set in the "present day" West were pretty popular after the Golden Age.
Both John Wayne and Buster Crabbe had comics where they (as themselves) were involved in Western stories set in the present between the actors' movie and tv appearances!
And of course, there was Space Western, with cowboys and the US Army against aliens, also "present-day"...

Prof. Chronotis said...

I wonder why, on that "Hollywood period" cover, she's being hit on by Steve Canyon?

Britt Reid said...

Actually, that's her boyfriend Rick.
But due to the fact that artist Lee Elias was heavily-influenced by Milton Caniff, your assumption wouldn't be unreasonble.
Note: Harvey also published Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon comics during this period!

Mr. Whiskas said...

One of the best blog posts on comics I've ever seen. Well done.