King Faraday | Non-Series Tales | The Letter Column | Dan Ryan
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. King Faraday stories are marked (KF).
Previously, there had been a pulp magazine called Danger Trail. I do not know what relationship, if any, there was between the pulp magazine and the comic book.
Hunters of the Whispering Gallery (1950). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Carmine Infantino. In Grand Central Station in New York, King Faraday overhears two hit men plotting to kill an unknown person; he struggles to prevent this. The origin of King Faraday, an ex-soldier who gets involved in various heroic adventures. The stories are all realistic, non-science fictional tales. They resemble movie thrillers.
The opening tale is especially close to film noir, then at the height of its popularity. We are all familiar with noir movies; we tend to forget there are noir comic books, as well. Both Kanigher's script and Infantino's art have much in common with the noir movie thrillers of the era. Faraday narrates his stories in the first person, just like countless noir heroes. His dialogue is full of both atmospheric descriptive passages, and wisecracking, snappy patter. The story has the urban crime atmosphere of noir. Infantino includes some steep overhead shots that resemble the Expressionist camera angles of noir films. One overhead shot of subway tracks reminds one of all the trains in Fritz Lang. The trench-coated hero who wears sharp suits recalls the high style dressers of the noir era. People might be in danger, but they looked good. Infantino had also used noir style clothes previously in his Black Canary tales.
This delightful tale is fun throughout. It maintains a light heart, and a sense of comedy and exuberance. It is certainly less gloomy than some noir films. There is a sense in it that its creators are fantasizing about how much fun it would be to be in a crime movie. King Faraday is their vehicle for participating in such an adventure. The reader, too, can experience what it is like to participate in such an event. Comic books are a more intimate art than the movies. They come directly out of a few people's heads. Comic book stories tend to reflect people's dreams is a very naked way, far more than the elaborate physical enterprise of the films. This distinction is not necessarily part of the two media themselves; but it does seem to part of the actual practice of the two art forms through much of their history.
The story opens with the hero leaving a theater where he has just seen the noir film Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). He recounts the plot of the film, pooh poohs it, but then precedes to experience the same plot himself: overhearing an attempt on someone's life. The story is explicitly structured to pose the question: what would it be like to live out a noir crime adventure yourself?
Infantino actually shows an image of the film's star Barbara Stanwyck on the phone - the central image of the film. We see this image in black and white, projected on a large movie screen behind the characters. Such multi-media techniques were frequently employed by Infantino: see the article on The Flash for more details.
Infantino includes other multi-media effects. The narration is frequently done on vertical side panels at the left of each of the main panels of the tale. Many of these panels have illustrations at the bottom. These anticipate Infantino's famous illustrated side panels in Strange Sports Stories in the 1960's. They differ from Infantino's later work in two ways. First, these are full color, detailed illustrations, whereas the Sports pictures were silhouettes. Secondly, they do not form a flip book as do the later Sports pictures. Still, they have much of the feel of Infantino's later work.
Hangman's House (1950). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Carmine Infantino. Faraday breaks an atomic scientist out of a notorious communist prison known as Hangman's House. Hangman's House (1928) is also a picture directed by John Ford. That film has an Irish background, and little to do with this comic's story. It does suggest how closely Kanigher and other comics scriptwriters followed the movies.
With this tale, the King Faraday mysteries veer from mystery to espionage fiction. Even in the first tale, there were escaped Nazis running around. However, while the first tale had an urban, New York City setting that recalled noir films, the other Faraday tales had international locales in which King tangled with spies.
This story continues Kanigher's approach of an ordinary person experiencing a well-known situation. Here his hero learns first what it is like to be in a Communist country, then in a notorious prison. We have all often read about such awful places; here Kanigher allows us to fantasize about what it would be like to be there. Elements of the prison escape also recall Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo (1844).
Kanigher uses a running theme throughout the story, a half quarter. It keeps being used in different ways throughout the tale. It reminds one of the Metal Men, and the way Kanigher keeps employing their metal properties to new ends.
The hero keeps encountering a brutal Communist soldier. His low intelligence and vicious nature are typical of Kanigher menaces, which tend to be more stupid but powerful beasts or robots, rather than the scheming super-scientist or super-criminal villains of other comics writers.
The shadows of the prison bars over people's faces recall the lighting of film noir, which often featured similar effects with venetian blinds or other masking devices.
Thunder Over Thailand (1950). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Carmine Infantino. Agents trailing a notorious spy keep getting murdered; King trails them first to Bombay, India, then to a remote jungle in Thailand. The best part of this tale is its central section (pages 6 - 9), in Bombay. It introduces Vilma Hobart, a woman reporter and photographer. If the King Faraday series had run longer, Vilma would probably have become a continuing character. She is gutsy, morally principled and beautiful. She also insists on accompanying King on his adventures, just as Tina later will in Kanigher's Metal Men. Her adventurous spirit makes her a fitting companion for King Faraday. She is certainly the sort of role model that feminists would applaud. Women in the comics were often astonishingly brave. One suspects that comics were trying to appeal to female readers as well as male. Like Kanigher's other heroines, Vilma is completely independent, and successfully resists being under the control of King. She is an independent force, with a mind of her own.
Vilma Hobart is a wonderful name. It evokes the whole world of 1940's noir. Vilma reminds one of Velma in Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely (1940), although Vilma is as good as Velma was evil. One also thinks of Vicky in Steve Fisher's I Wake Up Screaming (1941). Heroines whose names began with V were big in the 1940's.
Vilma works for a publication called the Picture News. This is the same name as Iris West's paper in The Flash, which Kanigher and Carmine Infantino revived in 1956. So Iris has the same profession and paper as Vilma in the King Faraday tales. Iris' last name also recalls King's friend Jimmy West in "Hangman's House".
The Reign of the Scarlet Umbrella (Danger Trail #4, January-February 1951). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Carmine Infantino. King Faraday goes after a claimant to the ancient throne of Madagascar, and his religious fanatic, terrorist followers. According to this tale, the scarlet umbrella is the symbol of kingly power, in the long ago days when Madagascar was a monarchy. This grim story is not very good. The Madagascar background also seems forced. Madagascar will recur briefly in opening of the Gardner Fox-Mike Sekowsky Adam Strange tale, "Invaders from the Atom Universe" (Showcase #18, January-February 1959).
Spy Train (World's Finest #64, May-June 1953). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. Faraday has to hunt down an unknown spy on the Orient Express. Two years after the Faraday stories came to an end in Danger Trail, his creators revived him for this single tale. It has a reputation today, but it seems the most ordinary of the stories to me. It has endless scenes of various bad guys trying to kill Faraday.
This train was a common setting of mystery fiction, notably in Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express (1934). Train stories were common in all media; one also thinks of the Laverne and Shirley spoof, "Murder on the Moose Jaw Express" (1979).
I-Spy (Showcase #50, 1964). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. Most of the Faraday tales were reprinted in two issues of Showcase, at the height of the 1960's spy craze in 1964. Unfortunately, this did not lead to a revival of the series. This brief (four page) story was new. It shows King Faraday accepting a US Government spy position as a full time agent. Most of the earlier Faraday spy tales showed him taking on one time assignments as favors to old friends - he was an adventurer, not a professional spy. The story is unusual for closing with a full page facial portrait of Faraday, something that is very rare in the comics. It is typical of Infantino's often innovative approach to the medium. The splash panel is also notable. It is covered with dozen of repetitions of the words "I-Spy", done in varying sizes and arranged in regular arrays.
This story shows King taking orders from a lot of uniformed generals; in the earlier tales, he had tended to work with old friends, who were in civilian clothes. King is still in his trench coat and suit, however.
3 Steps to Mr. Sandino (1950). Writer: David Vern Reed. Art: Frank Giacoia. The mysterious Mr. Sandino asks young adventurer Cliff Hoyt to collect three objects from three friends of his in three different Mexican cities.
Danger Trail author Kanigher was an early and persistent supporter of Civil Rights. Similarly, David Vern Reed is is careful not to indulge in any negative stereotypes. He includes a Mexican good guy, the young airplane pilot Ramon Valdes, among the heroes, and the villains include both Americans and Mexicans. And while there are tons of exotic local color, there are no negative stereotypes of Mexico here. This is typical of all the stories in Danger Trail. They offer wish fulfillment experiences for the reader, depicting exciting adventures in global locations, but they never put down or defame the countries they visit. Reed's approach here is oddly similar to the magazine National Geographic, which had a long time policy of positive depictions of countries around the globe. It also recalls the pulp magazine Adventure, which specialized in exciting tales in remote lands. Each tale in Adventure took the reader to a different foreign country; the same approach was used in Danger Trail.
Mr. Sandino resembles other sinister figures who set challenges for the heroes of Kanigher's fiction. The "Master of Doom" (Mystery in Space #4, October-November 1951) in Kanigher's Knights of the Galaxy tale similarly offered a series of challenges to Kanigher's hero Lyle. In both stories, the challenges often seem more like puzzles than anything else.
This tale involves both Cliff Hoyt and other characters traveling all over Mexico. The illustrations regularly include maps, showing the path of the hero. This is typical of the multi-media nature of the comics, as well as being frequent in movies of the era. Another Knights of the Galaxy tale by Kanigher, XXX, has his characters wandering all over the universe. In both tales, the complex pattern of movement of the characters is woven into the plot of the story. The patterns built up are quite pleasing. They involve both space and time.
This tale is among the most intricately plotted of the Danger Trail stories. Kanigher manages a number of mild surprises in the pattern: things do not always work out as Cliff Hoyt and the reader expects. These too add to the tale's ingenuity.
Giacoia does a vividly atmospheric job with his Mexico art. The illustrations are full of landscapes, showing trees and mountain roads.
Mystery of the Highland Queen (1950). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: Lee Elias. The hero, a professional diver, rescues a woman when her car is thrown off a Scottish ferry boat known as the Highland Queen. This story is remarkably dream like in its series of events. Bernstein himself notes this in his dialogue. The idea of rescuing a woman by night and in water seems like something out a fairy tale. So do the other water centered events in the tale. Bernstein also includes a complex mystery plot as a back-story to the events. This plot keeps the characters in complex patterns of movement around Scotland, just as the mystery plot did in Mexico in "3 Steps to Mr. Sandino". The movement here is more circular, however: it keeps returning the characters to the ferry, and locations they have visited before. This constant return is both comic and poetic.
Elias' art is wonderfully atmospheric. It takes full advantage of the possibilities of night, mist and water. He also has a good, nearly wordless sequence, in which his hero and heroine are attracted to each other (p4). The whole tale is very romantic.
The hero of this tale is neither a professional lawman, nor an adventurer. Rather he is someone whose profession takes him to exotic places: in this case, he works on bridge building projects. Such construction workers and engineers who roamed the world were heroes of prose adventure stories, at least back to the time of Richard Harding Davis. Similarly, the hero of "Trouble in Trinidad" in the next issue is the radio officer on a ship, sailing men also being perennial heroes of adventure tales. Neither man is at all looking for trouble; both just are minding their own business when they innocently get involved in danger. There is something refreshingly wholesome about these men: their behavior is sensible, and oriented towards a positive, constructive attitude towards life.
Shadows Over London (1950). Writer: Ed Herron. Art: Frank Giacoia. American private eye Matty Raven is attacked immediately and mysteriously on his arrival in London, England for a case. This story contains one of Herron's pleasantly complex plots. Three different stories, two from the present, one from the past, intersect. They eventually prove to be united.
Giacoia has a giant figure of Matty Raven on his splash panel, narrating the tale. He is clad in a three piece suit, and looks most imposing. He is typical of the stylish, elaborately dressed men of Giacoia. Later, we see Matty from the back, with his hands in his pockets, and his suit coat riding up (p6). He also shows Matty with a swirling coat skirt (p7).
Trouble in Trinidad (1950). Writer: David Vern Reed. Art: Carmine Infantino. A ship's radio operator, Ross Page, becomes innocently involved with a crooked gang during his ship's layover in Trinidad.
This tale starts out simply, without any apparent complications. It then blossoms nicely into a most pleasant piece of storytelling. The plot construction is more linear than in other Danger Trail stories, with one main plot line being followed throughout. Reed keeps weaving pleasant bits of business into the plot, adding to the richness of this central story line.
The story is notable for the way in which facts about Trinidad are woven gracefully and naturally into the plot. Reed seemed to specialize in stories laid around the Caribbean: his "3 Steps to Mr. Sandino" is set in Mexico. In both tales, the dialogue notes the beauty of the cities, and notes that it is "right out of a Hollywood movie set".
Several characters become hypnotized during a performance of the Indian Rope Trick. Infantino has a memorable panel, showing the swirl of images that affect them. Many of these are superimposed on one another. It is one of the most elaborate illustrations in his early art.
Infantino clads his hero in a white suit and a snazzy naval uniform cap. He looks both tropical and terrific. The cap conveys that he is a ship's officer; the civilian suit that he is on shore leave.
Danger Trail #1 featured a contest, asking readers to write in and tell the editors which locations they would like to see as locales of stories. The best 25 letters would win a prize. The readers duly complied, and many of these letters appeared in Danger Trail #2. The letters column was known as Danger Trail Junction, and featured a small illustration of King Faraday. Letters columns would become popular much later, in the late 1950's, after Mort Weisinger initiated them in his Superman family magazines, but they were apparently very rare in comic books at this early date. There had been letter columns in the early 1940's in Blue Bolt Comics, home of Blue Bolt and Dick Cole. Later letter columns would usually also have a standard illustration serving as a logo, just like Danger Trail. The 1940's letter column in Blue Bolt Comics did not have such an illustration.
One difference: later letter columns would usually consist mainly of readers commenting on existing stories; the one in Danger Trail consisted exclusively of reader requests for stories yet to be written. Weisinger magazines did occasionally print reader ideas for future tales; Weisinger often timed these so they appeared a month before the story actually appeared, thus allowing the letter to double as a publicity blurb!
The first Danger Trail Junction in Danger Trail #2 says that "our writers have been all over the world, in and out of uniform". This makes it sound as if the magazine were being written by a whole league of soldiers of fortune.
The Cop They Couldn't Lick (Police Comics #102, October 1950). Writer: ? Art: ?. Policeman Dan Ryan loses his cool and knocks down, right on the court house steps, a mobster and the crooked lawyer who got him acquitted of a brutal murder. The tale reveals that even in 1950, long before the 1970's obsession with "technicalities" getting crooks off, that people were disturbed by these acquittals. Here the acquittal is blamed not on technicalities, but on lawyer's tricks.
The knock down is only one part of a well constructed story. It is central, however, and takes place on the splash panel. The panel shows the immediate aftermath of the knock down, with the two men on the ground, and Dan Ryan being held by two other cops. His uniform tunic has come open, revealing his tee shirt and a medal he wears around his neck.
This is a non-series story: as far as I know, it is the only tale to feature Dan Ryan. The trial in the story takes place on August 17, 1948, over two years before the tale's publication. One suspects it might be an older story, perhaps a pilot for a potential series that never materialized, that was finally published here long after it was written. The tale has some stylistic similarities to the "Manhunter" feature which ran in Police Comics. The story seems to be taking place in New York City. The police uniforms look like the old-fashioned kind worn by New York cops, and the newspapers in the story include a Broadway-style columnist named Tom Tyler, who reports on the goings on around town. The narration claims that the tale is a true story, about which the reader has heard; I have no idea if this is accurate, or just a device to aid believability to a fictional tale.
Comic book critics of the era stated that comics glorified crime. It is hard to see how such a criticism would apply to this tale. Dan Ryan is handsome and heroic here; the mobsters are ugly and craven. The artist of the tale has depicted Ryan as spectacularly muscled, in the comic book hero tradition. Dan Ryan is a super clean cut young Adonis, whether in his police uniform, or in double breasted suits. Ryan complains right in the story about the way the public seems to idolize gangsters, instead of supporting the police. Clearly, a tale like this is on the side of the police.
This tale has something of the feel of the semi-documentary films of the period, with its police hero. However, unlike the semi-docs, our hero is just a regular patrolman, not a member of some elite federal government organization. He also does a great deal of pure detective work, which makes him a bit closer to the detective hero of a pulp mystery story. However, the tale perhaps resembles most of all other comic book stories. There were many, many comic book tales of heroes going after gangsters in the 1940's. Dan Ryan is much more realistic than the costumed crime fighters who often starred in comics, but he is on the same beat.