Johnny Quick | Origin
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
In his secret identity Johnny Quick was newsreel photographer Johnny Chambers, for the Sees-All Tells-All News. This secret identity was partly in the tradition of Clark Kent, whose reporter job helped him be in the middle of many exciting and newsworthy events. However, Johnny's secret identity differed from that of Clark Kent in that he was not a nerd. Being a newsreel photographer was a fairly glamorous profession. He was not well to do, but clearly he was an admirable man with a lot on the ball. Johnny Chambers was also a reasonably glamorous figure in his personal appearance.
Johnny Quick had a humorous assistant, Tubby Watts, who was always eating. The comedy relief associated with Tubby seems pretty strained to me, and has generally not stood the test of time. In their civilian personas and jobs, Johnny Chambers and Tubby Watts remind one somewhat of the detectives from Frank Gruber's prose mystery novels, Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg, who first teamed up in The French Key (1940). They also resemble Siegel and Shuster's pioneering comic book private eye Slam Bradley and his humorous assistant Shorty Morgan, who first appeared in Detective Comics #1, March 1937.
Riddle of the Crying Clown (#71, September 1941). Writer: Mort Weisinger. Art: ?. Johnny Quick solves a circus mystery, while a flashback shows how he received the math formula that gives him his powers from his childhood guardian, Professor Gill. The first story about and Origin of Johnny Quick. This story is a genuine origin tale. It briefly recounts how Johnny learned the formula from his late guardian, the math genius Prof. Gill. It also sets up the basic situation that would remain unchanged throughout the Golden Age: Johnny's secret identity as a newsreel cameraman, his assistant Tubby Watts, his powers of speed.
Despite its origin status, this seems to be a pretty minor story. There is not much interesting about the origin flashback, which simply shows Johnny being handed his powers. Nor is the circus mystery much. The idea of Johnny being a newsreel cameraman is a good one, however.
Weisinger is careful to indicate that there is nothing magical about the formula: it is purely scientific. This is consistent with the respect for science and disdain for superstition that runs through all of Weisinger's work. One complexity here in the origin: Johnny Quick invokes other math to speed up and slow down. This plot wrinkle will disappear in most later stories, with Johnny Chambers invoking the formula just once, each time he changes into super-fast Johnny Quick.
Another familiar Weisinger plot device: the villain disguises himself with rubberoid masks here. In Weisinger's Silver Age Superman family stories, these would become plastic face masks, but otherwise, the idea is present here at an early date.
The Mystery of the Music Murders (#72, October 1941). Writer: Mort Weisinger. Art: ?. Johnny Quick solves a series of murders. This OK tale is very like a 1940's movie whodunit, with a series of rich men getting murdered, and a circle of suspects. Weisinger's solution is a bit far out.
The Black Knight (1941). Writer: Mort Weisinger. Art: Ed Moore. Johnny Quick must figure out why the Black Knight, a huge, masked figure in black armor, is running around destroying statues. Well constructed mystery tale with a good plot. Although this tale has scenes of fighting too, it is much less oriented towards random violence than are some Golden Age stories, and much more interested in trying to tell a good mystery story.
Johnny Quick is captured, and put into two Traps by the villain. Such traps would be persistent features of comics from the 1940's to the 1960's. Here Johnny Quick must use his intelligence and ingenuity to escape from the traps, just as Adam Strange will in the 1960's. Once again in this tale, brute force is out, intelligence is in. The better of the two traps involves a room full of mirrors, anticipating the Mirror Master in the Silver Age Flash.
This story still takes place in a Gothic world familiar from Golden Age tales, with sinister scientist villains, nocturnal crimes and adventures, remote castles serving as villain's lairs full of traps, millionaire victims of crime, and police everywhere. Such settings are familiar in early 1940's super-hero tales. However, this world is used as a background for a genuine mystery story here, not the pure violence of many Golden Age works. The mystery plot points ahead to the Silver Age. Also, by the late 1940's, this Gothic world is gone. Johnny Quick will operate in a much more naturalistic version of modern day America.
The Curious Cargo of the Bonnie Bess (1946). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: Mort Meskin. Johnny Quick and Tubby film Professor Peeker's expedition diving for sunken treasure, and help protect it against modern day pirates. Pirates often showed up in Adventure. These were not the earring and cutlass pirates of bygone eras; they were modern gangs who looted and attacked ships at sea. They looked and dressed like the land-based gangs in the comics, although they had special expertise with nautical equipment.
The ocean floor was a favorite location for both Superman and Aquaman tales. This tale has a somewhat different feel, however. Johnny Quick has super-speed but he is not invulnerable, and he has no special ability to live underwater, unlike Aquaman. When he gets under the sea he is much more like an ordinary human, someone who needs air or a diving bell to survive. This means the tale is more like a realistic adventure story of diving to the ocean depths. Both the writer and the artist have a real feel for such an adventure, extracting maximum drama out of each stage and step in the story. Especially effective is a wordless sequence of three panels, showing a desperate situation under water (p7). Like the other art, these are moody and evocative. The story as a whole builds up an under water landscape.
This story is one of Tubby's finest hours. He rises above his status as comic relief with genuine idealism. Don Cameron had real sympathy with Tubby, and tried to maximize his role.
Professor Peeker is one of a long series of brainy scientists who showed up in Weisinger magazines. His name reminds one of Professor Potter to come, in the Superman family tales. Although Peeker has a humorous side, he is far more gifted and responsible than Potter, who is an eccentric who builds goofy inventions.
This is the first Johnny Quick story in Adventure, after his move from More Fun Comics. It looks as if special care was taken with all aspects of this story, to make it as good and as interesting as possible.
Mr. Bee Goes to Town (1946). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Mort Meskin. Tubby gets a role in the latest picture produced by Hollywood boy wonder Arch Archer, a musical fantasy about insects and flowers. Nice Hollywood satire. When people thought of a "Boy Wonder" or "genius" in 1940's Hollywood, they immediately thought of Orson Welles. Meskin does not draw our hero to look like Welles. Nor does Arch Archer star in his own pictures. The title recalls Dave Fleischer's real life animated feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941), also known as Hoppity Goes to Town, which is also a musical comedy about insects. However, Arch Archer's picture here is a live action film with special effects, not an animated cartoon.
Samachson liked stories about fish out of water, people moving into novel environments for them. Many of these were alien beings visiting Earth. But he also wrote tales about humans in new environments, including this tale of Johnny and Tubby going to Hollywood.
The idea that a science fiction movie might be a big hit was a novel one. Hollywood in 1946 had rarely produced any serious science fiction films. It would not be till 1950 that the flood of science fiction movies would start appearing. So this story is ahead of its time. One suspects that the entire science fiction community was rooting for Hollywood to get in there and make some sf films. Weisinger, with his deep ties to sf, would be part of this. During the Silver Age, the Superman family magazines relentless promoted the idea of a Superman movie. The film in this story, a musical extravaganza, was very different from the adventure and monster sf films Hollywood would eventually make.
Mort Meskin does a nice job with the actors costumed as insects for the film. The bad guy "dragonfly" (p7) is a witty image.
The Shipwrecked Romance (#106, July 1946). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: Mort Meskin. Two old lovebirds who have been feuding for twenty years innocently get involved with some nautical crimes.
The best part of this story is architectural: the landscaped houseboat on which the heroine lives. Meskin has some intriguing aerial views of this. Such innovative architecture and landscape recalls Golden Age prose mystery stories.
The Man Who Hated Speed (#111, December 1946). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: George Roussos. A dour, old-fashioned man feels that speed is bad, and insists that his whole household live without modern time-saving inventions such as electricity and autos.
The Menace of Mercury (1947). Writer: ? Art: George Roussos. Johnny Quick deals with a crook who claims to be the ancient Greek God Mercury, with his powers of super speed. The idea of facing Johnny Quick off against a super-fast criminal is a good one. This story is well put together, and has some good plot ideas.
The Scourge of Speed (1947). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: Mort Meskin. A crook gains super-speed when he accidentally stumbles on Johnny Quick's secret formula.
This tale echoes "The Menace of Mercury" (1947), in that it looks at a super-fast crook whom Johnny Thunder must defeat. It uses a very different approach, however. "The Menace of Mercury" viewed its crook from the outside, with Johnny Quick being the point of view character, while this tale shows us events partly from the crook's point of view. This tale also shows us the crook getting his powers, depicting the whole process step by step, while in "The Menace of Mercury" the crook just shows up with super-speed, leaving both Johnny and the reader mystified at first as to how they were obtained. In fact, in "The Menace of Mercury" how the crook obtained his powers becomes a major mystery subplot in the tale. Lastly, this tale involves an in-depth look at Johnny's magic formula, something that is absent in "The Menace of Mercury".
This tale tells us more about Johnny Quick's formula than any other Adventure Comics tale. It gives us a complete look at how it operates. It also builds on this part of Johnny's mythos to show plausibly how a crook might invoke it accidentally. These sections are logically constructed, and with some ingenious detail. Such careful building on a pre-existing mythos anticipates Silver Age Superman family stories to come. Cameron also built on the Shining Knight's mythos in "The Man Who Refused to Die" (Adventure #125, February 1948).
The 9th Wonder of the World (1947). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Mort Meskin. After it is destroyed in a fire, Johnny Quick recreates and prints an entire issue of a comic book in 24 hours.
This story gives a fascinating inside look at the creation of a comic book. It shows a little of the artistic side of comic book creation. But mainly it concentrates on technological issues, including a very detailed look at how the story is engraved, printed and published. Such a tale must have been fascinating and educational to the young readers of the magazine. Finger would go on to an inside look at the development of a comic strip, in "The Adventures of Mental Man" (Action Comics #196, September 1954).
The Speed Collector (#122, November 1947). Writer: ? Art: Mort Meskin. Johnny Quick helps a millionaire collector of speedy vehicles, such as race cars, to win a series of charity races.
The best part of this otherwise routine tale is Meskin's splash page. It shows four Johnny Quicks on the start line of a race, each on a different kind of vehicle. A fifth Johnny Quick is manning a news reel camera, photographing the race: Johnny often did this in his secret identity of Johnny Chambers. The series often showed multiple Johnny Quicks, the idea being that he was so fast that he could virtually be in two places at once. This splash is one of the most delightful incarnations of that idea.
A Modern Cinderella (1948). Writer: Bill Finger? Art: Mort Meskin. Johnny Quick helps a secretary who falls in love with a young man at a millionaire's ball. Johnny Quick essentially plays the role of the fairy godmother, turning this working woman into a Society lady, the modern day equivalent of a princess. The story has no fairy tale elements (other than Johnny's powers); it is set in a realistic modern day world. The story has a refreshingly down to earth quality. It lacks the sentimentality of many Cinderella variants, instead being full of romance.
Bill Finger wrote many stories of hoaxes. Here, Johnny Quick is helping the working girl heroine pretend to be a society dame, so she will not lose the boyfriend she has just met. Crooks in the tale also have a hoax of their own. This hoax and counter hoax construction is typical of Finger's skill at such matters.
This story has another of Meskin's beautiful, elaborate houseboats, just as in "The Shipwrecked Romance" (#106, July 1946). Aquatic backgrounds were not restricted to Aquaman; they ran through many other series in Adventure Comics.
The Roamin' Roman (1948). Writer: ? Art: Mort Meskin. Johnny Quick goes back in time to Ancient Rome.
Batman stories were already having him travel regularly to different eras. So it was natural that Adventure Comics would send its heroes time traveling.
This tale has plenty of welcome humor. Some of this is ingeniously anachronistic, with spectators at gladiator matches behaving just like modern Americans at a baseball game. This story echoes all the traditional scenes that show up in modern stories of Ancient Rome. Far from being a flaw, this adds to the story's comic zing. The reader gleefully anticipates Johnny Quick's intervention into gladiator matches, for example, and is pleased when they show up.
Tubby Watts, Athlete (1948). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: George Roussos. A series of misunderstandings and hoaxes builds up Tubby Watts in the unlikely role of "World's Strongest Man". This tale is both funny and ingenious. The story develops every sort of hoax involving Tubby in his new role. Some of the hoaxes play off each other in ingenious ways. There are at least five separate series of hoaxes. Such plotting ingenuity anticipates the Silver Age to come.
The Miracle Farmer (1948). Writer: Don Cameron? Art: Mort Meskin. When the European town of Ridice experiences hunger after World War II, its namesake town of Ridice, USA sends it food. This is one of the most creative and socially conscious of Golden Age stories. Its humanitarian theme still seems impressive.
We do not learn which country contains Ridice, but it is on the banks of the Danube, and is clearly somewhere in Central Europe. Its name echoes that of Lidice, a Czech town whose destruction by the Nazis evoked world wide outrage.
This story also has lots of science fiction invention. It is especially interested in technology used in food production. Another story attributed to Cameron, the Green Arrow tale "Live Wire Loot" (Adventure #116, May 1947), had looked at a company that made home appliances. This sort of technology used in daily life was clearly of interest to Don Cameron.
This story is also unusual in that it has no villains. It surely does not need them: it has drama aplenty.
The Nimble Names Crimes (1948). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Mort Meskin. The Nimble Names Club, made up of men whose last names suggest speed, has a yearly contest to see which member can perform some challenge fastest.
This early story by Binder shows many of the techniques that will later appear in his Silver Age work. It is especially reminds one of the transformation tales Binder would write for Jimmy Olsen, although there is no transform in this tale. The structural role of the transform is here taken up by the contest, instead. Just as the transform triggers a series of ingenious incidents, each one using the transform in some clever way, so here the contest is the catalyst for a series of ingenious episodes, each around a panel long. Like the transform stories, it takes place against a background of daily life. The little incidents each depend on some interesting or unusual feature of daily life. Binder shows his fondness for interesting locales, here a zoo and a skyscraper. These locales are both part of daily life, being familiar to everyone, and yet atypical, being places with many unusual characteristics. Such locales are the frequent settings of the transformation tales. The transform tales often conclude with crooks exploiting the transform to aid them in some ingenious scheme. The second half of this tale depicts crooks exploiting the contest for their own ends.
There are other Binder themes, here. The hatching ostrich egg at the zoo anticipates Binder's "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet" (Jimmy Olsen #20, April 1957). The members of the club keep coming up with clever ideas to perform their tasks. Later, Binder with have Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen come up with ingenious ideas to perform their reporting jobs.