« And something horrible is going on in Foley’s body! Come at once! Come quickly! »
The Dead Who Walk is a mysterious one-shot from 1952. It was issued by Realistic Publications, an ephemeral publishing arm of Avon Books, during the decade that they haphazardly dabbled in the funnybook field.
The pungent dialogue and its implications aside, what fascinates me about this lavishly grotesque cover is the jarring schism in art styles: the damsel in peril is of the classically-buxom Matt Baker–Nick Cardy species, while the revenants belong to an expressively oddball Edvard Munch–Manny Stallman–Jerry Grandenetti school. As far as I know, the cover artist(s)’s identity is lost to time and obscurity. It has been established, thanks to a signature, that the insides were provided by longtime jobber Tex Blaisdell… a rather stiff and workaday performance, regrettably. But the cover assuredly isn’t his, no matter what the good ol’ GCD says.
« Tentacles lashing wildly with pain… the squirming squid releases a sudden gush of inky-black liquid… »
Just look at that… yet another Tentacle Tuesday has come crawling (unless it prefers to travel by jet propulsion) out! Today our handy time machine brings us, once again, to the Golden Age of comics (1930s to 1956), when war was very much on people’s minds, and tentacles were very much part of every decent comic artist’s repertoire.
During WWII, it was not unusual to find the Axis powers represented by an octopus in caricatures and political cartoons. As a matter of fact, as The Octopus, a Motif of Evil in Historical Propaganda Maps argues, the octopus, scrawled onto all manners of maps by caricaturists, has represented the spread of evil since the 19th century. I highly recommend at least glancing through the aforementioned essay – aside from being fascinating from a historical perspective, it also has tentacles galore. Anyway, the following comic eschews any subtlety and depicts Hitler himself as the Octopus of Evil:
There’s a great essay about Blue Circle Comics on Four Color Glasses. To quote, « Enwil’s “flagship” title was called Blue Circle Comics. It was a fairly common for publishers to use a color in conjunction with a shape or symbol for their comic book titles: Blue Circle, Red Circle, Red Band, Red Seal, Blue Ribbon, and Gold Medal were all titles from the Golden Age. In the case of Blue Circle Comics, though, the title did actually feature a character called the Blue Circle. » Read it here!
A recurring theme of octopus adventures is that there’s some treasure involved. I bet the lady would prefer to stay with the octopus troupe and their tender nuzzles than to be rescued by this odd assortment of cut-throats in sailor costumes… The chick en question is Harvey Comics’ Black Cat.
The title story turned out to be nothing but text… Though for readers with a decent imagination, a “score of octopi” and “bubbling moans” is definitely more than enough.
I bet you’re wondering how all this ends. Well, « Still, the octopi flopped forward!! CAPTAIN FREEDOM yanked the controls and the ship’s whirling airscrews roared into the octopi, sharp blades ripping tentacles from their bodies with murderous force! » Goodbye, trained octopi (which is not even the correct pluralization of an octopus).
« They were like octopuses — they scurred along on huge rubbery tentacles, and their bodies were nothing but huge heads in the midsts of these. Monstrous squawking beings coming at us from all directions! » Lovely writing, isn’t it? Nevermind that “scurred” is not an actual word. The title tale is actually an illustrated text story titled « Octopus-Kings of the Lost Planet », scripted by W. Malcolm White. Well, “scripted” is a bit strong.
Airboy, a.k.a. David Nelson, has been in some truly bizarre scraps in his time, so a fight to the death with tentacled monsters who want (as usual) to take over Earth is strictly routine. Created by writer Charles Biro and artist Al Camy, Airboy not only used his expertise in aviation to fight off Nazis, but also all manner of fantastical monsters. A quick look through the covers of Airboy Comics will reveal crazy scientist machinery, rabid tigers, gladiator fights, giant amœbas, pterodactyls, minotaurs, insect-shaped aliens, an invasion of man-eating rats, and so on. Pure entertainment! Airboy’s most memorable (and prettiest, by far) foe (and love interest) is Teutonic aviatrix Valkyrie, who eventually defected to the Allies’ side. She barely seems like a Golden Age creation – with her blouse splitting until her navel and her skin-tights pants, her costume leaves little to the imagination.
She was sexualized further in later incarnations – Dave Stevens’ version of her for Eclipse Comics is probably the hottest – but the Golden Age Valkyrie is more charming and earnest (IMHO), devoid of the nymphomaniacal arrogance appended to her personality in later years. Anyway, back to the topic:
The title story, « My Home… », scripted by Al Feldstein and drawn by Joe Orlando, is emotionally manipulative… and succeeds very well in breaking the readers’ hearts (or pissing them off, depending on your temperament). Read a synopsis of the plot, if you wish, or read the whole story here – who am I to give spoilers to those who don’t want ’em?
Cue in the taut, frantic jungle drums! Picture this: through a thick tangle of brush and tropical vegetation, prances a fair maiden who is quite unaffected by spiky plants or venomous insects. She’s the staunch defender of jungle animals, friend to jaguar or hippo (or whatever other animal the artist’s imagination conjures, even if it’s entirely inappropriate to a jungle… but who cares about zoological accuracy?) One creature this wild child is definitely not a friend to, however, is the octopus: anything with tentacles gets stabbed and killed, as expediently as possible. That’s little cause for concern, however – the real octopus, who lives only in oceans, has little use for a jungle… so whatever’s getting killed must be an impostor or a mutant.
I am amused by jungle comics, which perhaps require an even more dramatic suspension of disbelief than many an equally action-oriented genre. The female protagonists, usually clad in some sort of leopard/jaguar skin (which makes one wonder why big felines even want to hang out with someone wearing their relatives’ pelt), are usually portrayed as guardians of the wilderness… but some of them kill an awful lot of animals for supposed protectors of the feral kingdom. The blonde Sheena (first female comic book character with her own series), equally blonde Lorna the Jungle Girl (Atlas-published, a rival to Fiction House’s Sheena), Avon’s Taanda – White Princess of the Jungle, Camilla – Wild Girl of the Congo (a case of Fiction House knocking off their own Sheena)… the list definitely goes on. That’s quite a few jungle queens bouncing around, dealing with hostile tribesmen getting uppity, lethal white hunters up to no good and would-be Romeos perpetually being held hostage. Sometimes they even have cat fights and overthrow one another. Very amusing indeed. Pepper the dialogue with lots of bwanas, toss in an epic rescue of hapless natives, and you’re all set.
To be fair, however, some Golden Age jungle comics boast fetching art and compelling stories in which natives are their own agents and her Royal Highness gets to show off her wits (and her gams) to best advantage. It’s hard to dislike stories in which a strong, clever woman gets to save the day.
Without further ado, I present Jungle Queen vs Octopus!
First up, there’s Sheena, who has struggled with quite a few tentacles in her day:
Time for other queens to borrow Sheena’s spotlight:
This Camilla story was scripted by Victor Ibsen and drawn by Ralph Mayo, and was published in Jungle Comics no. 144 (1951, Fiction House):
We’ve had a lot of blondes so far, how about a redhead?
The cover story, «Fangs of the Swamp Beast»:
Back to our regularly scheduled blonde heroine! This is «The Devil’s Lagoon», scripted by Don Rico and drawn by Werner Roth, published in Lorna the Jungle Queen no. 4 (December 1953, Atlas):
For a chuckle, read Stupid Comics‘ critique of Devil’s Lagoon here. Moving on, I have no wish to be unfair to brunettes, especially given that I generally prefer them:
Here’s a rather amusing explanation for Rulah’s raison d’être from Toonopedia: «One day, while piloting a small plane across Darkest Africa, she crash-landed where civilization had scarcely been heard of. Her clothes were damaged to the point of leaving her butt naked (“like Eve in the Garden,” she mused), modesty preserved only by shadows and strategically-placed vegetation — yet, her skin wasn’t noticeably scratched or abraded. Fortunately, her plane had whacked a giraffe on the way down, so she skinned it and skillfully fashioned a fetching bikini from the raw, uncured pelt. Her uncovered parts were no more bothered by thorns, rough bark, poison ivy and the like, than were her bare feet. Next, she saved a tribe from the local tyrant, a white jungle queen much like herself, and was proclaimed its ruler — provided she could prove herself by killing a starving leopard with nothing but a dagger, which she did.»
Phew, that tromp through the jungle wore me out! Until next Tentacle Tuesday…