« Merchant and pirate were for a long period one and the same person. Even today mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement of piratical morality.» — Friedrich Nietzsche
This charming rogue doesn’t look like he’s going to share his pretties with just anyone, so be sure to ask nicely.
Stanley P. Morse ran a rather fly-by-night operation, even by funnybook industry standards, but someone in there had some taste, as evidenced by the classic material produced under its various dodgy banners (Aragon, Gilmor, Key Publications, Media, S.P.M., Stanmor, Timor…) by such notables as the aforementioned Mr. Baily, Basil Wolverton (including his enduring The Brain Bats of Venus) and a fledgling Steve Ditko.
« … drawn by a terrible hypnotic fascination, the gangster peers deep into Jim’s dark eyes and glimpses — DEATH! » — “The Spectre”, More Fun Comics no. 52 (Feb. 1940)
Today, we salute Bernard Baily (April 5, 1916 – January 19, 1996), recalled nowadays as co-creator of The Spectre (with Jerry Siegel) and Hourman (with Ken Fitch) and conjurer of many of the 1950s most notorious comics covers… but there’s much more. Let’s take a look, shall we?
To my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of Golden Age superheroes whose costumes were so perfectly designed in the first place that no change whatsoever has been required over time. The Spectre has to be exhibit number one in that case.
« Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. » — Denis Charles Pratt (1908-1999)
Longtime companions Bruce and Alex, who spend their days tracking down and investigating “queer events”, presumably for a guide they’re putting together, happen to drive near Oakville, where a gleeful oldster is on a tear.
Alex has a plan, and Bruce grasps instantly what Bruce has in mind. It’s like they’ve done this before. Somehow, Alex’s brainstorms always involve Bruce disrobing, and, judging from his expression, he’s unfailingly eager to comply.
« I hate war, Steve! I hate the people who cause it and I hate them with very atom of my being! So I pretend to respect the enemy, even like him. I try to minimize him with love! » — Gen. Maximillian R. Hart, The Zanti Misfits
Feast your rheumy peepers on Bernard Baily‘s (co-creator, with Jerry Siegel, of The Spectre) famous cover for issue 4 of Gilmore Publications’ Weird Mysteries, April 1953. The cover’s creepy promise was squandered, since Baily’s friendly lil’ fella never appears within the issue.
Rogers was a right mother from the start, but when his captain had his fill of his homicidal shenanigans, dropping him off on a remote island to cool him off, a funny thing happened. He found nothing in the place save ants, which had made short work of the unlucky goat population and the local flora. So what did the crazy bastard do? He gobbled ants. For weeks. And became a giant ant himself, it follows. You are what you eat, right?
Anyway, Rogers has got to be the most pragmatic villain ever, quite content, in the end, to be The Thing on the Beach!
Which brings me back to where I started: some say (okay, well, I do) that Baily’s WM4 cover may have inspired The Outer Limits’ ultra creepy The Zanti Misfits. Or maybe they’re just oddball products of the same era.
Welcome to the entertaining world of science-fiction/fantasy of the 60s! If you’re an admirer of extravagant creatures with improbable anatomy, or a fan of twisted stories that take questionable leaps of logic to arrive to an implausible conclusion, willkommen.
However, if, like me, you tend to root for strange creatures (most of which didn’t want to be discovered in the first place), tread gently. If there’s one pattern in House of Mystery stories, it’s that the “monsters” (that fly in from space/emerge from the sea/crawl out of the depths of the earth/are born in fire/whatever else we can think of) get slain, more often than not, by well-meaning people… or not-so-well-meaning people who are afraid of anything that looks different. If they somehow manage to escape getting shot or bombed out of existence, they’re buried under a convenient avalanche or volcanic eruption.
I know that it’s Tentacle Tuesday and everything’s possible, but… this? An octopus with spines on his tentacles (very conveniently placed, I might add) and the puffy eyes of a career alcoholic? A parrot-dragon with opposable thumbs?
As Tentacle Tuesday continues, we are once again confronted with a situation where misunderstanding between species leads to needless conflict. Shoot first, sort it out later, is the mantra of any red-blooded man! I’m sorry, am I being a tad unsubtle?
Some guys land on an island patrolled by creatures controlled by a beautiful woman. Well, there’s no need to quarrel, they can talk it out, right?
Okay, the woman seems to be friendly. So far, so good.
So perhaps everyone can go on their merry way and leave the island and its creatures alone? No, it’s not enough to just kill them. Oops! The whole fucking island explodes to smithereens when the guys detonate some explosives in a cavern and thus trigger an underwater eruption. I mean, the real threat to these “nice” people was the evil guy trying to gain control of the beasts, but do they try to attack *him*? Nah, they focus on killing the octopus, instead! And the giant armadillo! And the furry rhinoceros!
« And soon, Beast Island sinks beneath boiling, steaming waters… », the omniscient narrator tells us. « The island is gone now – and so are the terrible things that walked on it, flew over it — and swam around it! » The power-grabbing asshole is okay, though – he escaped just fine!
There’s plenty more tentacles in House of Mystery – to which we will no doubt return.