The Shining Knight | Origin
Classic Comic Books Home Page (with many articles on comics)
These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
The Shining Knight tales ran in Adventure Comics from 1941 to 1951.
With his golden armor and flying horse, the Shining Knight seems the ultimate figure of romantic adventure.
Once again, comics prove their deep nature as a medium in color. No other medium of its era would have been able to create a figure who wore shining gold armor. The gold is highly visible and conspicuous in the comics; it would have been invisible in the black and white films of the era. The armor lies closely over the Shining Knight's huge musculature. It covers his immense chest, arms and neck, as well as forming a peak on top of his head.
The Sword of Sovereigns (1946). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Chuck Winter. A sword purported to be King Arthur's Excalibur is targeted for theft by gangsters, and protected by the Shining Knight and boxer One-Punch Purdy. Nice tale with some pleasant humorous touches.
One-Punch Purdy is a good comic character. He is a good natured, rowdy roughneck. Like many Shining Knight characters, he seems to be of working class origin. The Knight tales often have a Depression era feel. Their good guys, boxers, pilots, cowboys, tend to be of professions who were heroes in the 1930's. There is only a little sense of the new middle class possibilities that were opening up for Americans after World War II. However, the optimism of the tales is more typical of the booming post-1945 era than of the poverty stricken 1930's.
Some of the best parts of this story involve Shining Knight help Purdy get his confidence back. This was a recurring theme in the Shining Knight tales. Near the end of this story, the Knight points out several plot events in the tale that should encourage Purdy about his abilities and skills. Comics tend to be a plot oriented medium. Even on a purely thematic subject like courage, the writer makes the character's abilities be part of the plot of the tale. This helps make the plot more complicated, typically a goal of the comic book medium. It also helps add logical structure to the plot elements: they are there not just as a random collection of events, but elements structured to underscore Purdy's abilities.
I also liked the publicity agent in this tale. Publicity men were big in the 1930's: one thinks of Lee Tracy's relentless publicity man in the movie Bombshell (1935), and Craig Rice's publicity man -detective hero Jake Justus in her late 1930's and early 1940's detective novels. All of these men are comic characters, full of wild schemes to promote their clients. The publicity man here is a good guy, lacking malice and trying to help others. He too has a working class feel, an ordinary guy without much background who is pulling off some zany scheme.
The Flying Pony Express (1946). Writer: ? Art: Chuck Winter. An old cowboy, Arch "Gold-Dust" Morgan, who is trying to start up a Pony Express-like mail delivery service by horse, enlists Victory's help. This is just one strand of a complexly plotted story. It is also an early amnesia tale, a plot gambit that would flourish from the Golden Age here through the Silver Age of the 1960's. The tale is full of gentle humor and pathos.
A key scene here has the cowboy share his emotional vulnerability with the Shining Knight. This scene is touching. It is quite unusual, as the narrator of the tale partly points out. Many of the Shining Knight stories explore men's vulnerability and emotional needs. The fact that the men tend to be in macho professions, like the cowboy here, gives license for their feelings and problems to be explored.
The story has some panels showing Justin in his civilian identity. One scene shows his wearing a sharp suit, at the museum. Another has him speeding along the highway in a spectacular roadster. I was reminded of movie actor Gary Cooper, especially in his off screen, real life activities. Cooper was usually dressed in superb suits, and he drove the ultimate car of the era, a Dusenberg. Justin is living the life of a 1940's hero here. He seems remarkably "with it".
The way that this tale intermixes Westerns, science fiction and crime elements is typical of comic books. These three genres interbled with each other in the comics, more than they generally did in novels or movies.
The Mummy That Came to Life (1946). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Chuck Winter. When an ancient Egyptian mummy is unwrapped by Justin at the museum, it turns out to be a beautiful, - and living - woman, who claims to be the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti.
Because much of the story takes place in the museum, Justin's secret identity plays an unusually large role here. This is pleasant: it is an interesting secret id, one of the least nerd like in comics.
The story is full of comedy. Some of the plot ideas anticipate later Lois Lane stories such as Otto Binder's "Lois Lane in Hollywood" (Lois Lane #2, May-June 1958) and Robert Bernstein's "Lois Lane's Soldier Sweetheart" (Lois Lane #14, January 1960).
Trial by Trickery (1946). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Chuck Winter. A Hollywood movie mogul arranges a medieval style tournament as publicity for his upcoming picture. This story fits in which Samachson's theme of modern recreations of old legends. However, it differs in that the mogul is not trying to trick or hoax anyone. His tournament is openly a recreation of the past, arranged purely as a public relations extravaganza. This quest for publicity here recalls the public relations man in Samachson's "The Sword of Sovereigns" (1946).
This story has some nice satire of Hollywood, including the gung ho, imperious producer Tom McGrew, the narcissistic and vain actors Dawn Dale and Craig Corson, and the humble flunkies Malcolm Meeks and Helen who keep getting bossed around. Such satire would later be a staple of Weisinger's Silver Age Superman family tales. Hollywood is depicted as both glamorous and silly.
The narration describes the tournament as "a riot of color" - clearly, this is a hint to the artist. It also reminds us of what a color oriented medium comic books are.
The Shining Knight is described as "The Man of Yesterday" in this tale. Such vivid epithets were a standard feature of comic book writing. They helped define the hero, and underline what was unique about him.
The Dragon's Teeth (1946). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Chuck Winter. Crooks fake the old Greek myth about the sowing of dragon's teeth giving rise to a crop of soldiers. This is one of Samachson's most elaborate hoax stories.
The eccentric professor Augustus Twill in this tale anticipates Professor Potter and all the other good natured but crackpot inventors and scientists in the Silver Age Superman stories.
Galloping Gold (1946). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: Chuck Winter. Crooks are trying to smuggle stolen gold out of a remote Western ghost town area.
This is another Western story, like "The Flying Pony Express" (1946). As in that story, there is a sympathetic character who has a business dream at which everybody scoffs. Here the hero believes that his long depressed Western town can come back to economic life. The hero is a member of a horse centered profession here, being a blacksmith, just as the hero of "The Flying Pony Express" wanted to bring back a horse driven mail service.
The City of Tomorrow (1946). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Chuck Winter. Justin chases crooks through an architectural exhibit depicting the city of the future. The city is right on the outskirts of Justin's home town, the city of Gotham. It is a full, life size version of the futuristic metropolises that one typically sees in science fiction comic books. It is an awesomely large looking and impressive area. The 1939 New York World's Fair had featured The World of Tomorrow as its theme, and had built some futuristic buildings; so eventually did Disneyland (1955). The 1939 Fair had deeply impressed comic book creators, and it shows up repeatedly in their work. However, I do not know of any fair or exposition creations of a City of Tomorrow on the scale shown in this comic book story. It is huge, and covers many city blocks.
Many of Samachson's Shining Knight tales involved him with ingenious modern recreations of ancient myths and legends. This tale varies this approach: here what is recreated is not an old myth, but rather a science fiction idea, the futuristic city. Still, the city is another fantastic idea, brought to life in modern times. As typical of Samachson's stories, the reader is in on the creation of the idea right from the start. Samachson does not treat it as a mystery; the reader is fully informed right away that this is a fair ground.
Chuck Winter does an excellent job on the city, especially in the large splash panel. The skyscraper buildings are almost entirely rectangular. This is a contrast with most comic book future cities, which tend to be full of round buildings, domes, spheres and cylinders. Winter does include a few rounded corners of ramps, and some other modest curves, but they are strictly accents in a rectilinear design. Winter's architecture is closer to the modernistic style of the Bauhaus, than the Art Deco that flourished in most comic book cities. It also recalls the city in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1926), as well as early illustrations in the science fiction pulps. Winter's city has a pure quality, underlined by its rectilinear style. Nor is it as cluttered as are many future cities in the comics.
The Grade B Burglars (1947). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Chuck Winter. The Shining Knight and his horse Winged Victory fill in for a milk-man whose delivery horse is sick. The "Grade B" in the title is a joking reference to a grade of dairy products, as they were classified in that era, and the story is full of puns and jokes about milk, in the 1940's comic book dialogue tradition.
Milk-men were a common feature of the era, now completely unknown in the modern United States. I still remember the milk-man coming to our house regularly in the 1950's, but most of my younger readers will have no recollection of this. By the 1950's milk-men all used trucks, not horse drawn carts, which were already becoming an anachronism by the time this tale was published. The plot here in fact revolves around the milk-man's desire not to replace his beloved horse Geronimo with a truck. Such fondness for horses, and the attempt to continue their use in the modern world, were present in other Shining Knight tales, such as "Galloping Gold" (1946).
The story has some nice use of technology, both by the hero and the crooks. It also has a useful lesson about helping others.
The Wooden Sword (1947). Writer: Don Cameron? Art: Chuck Winter. The Shining Knight helps a man who has lost his arm get his courage back, when he fights without his magic sword.
The man here is an auto mechanic. In the Shining Knight stories, men are often good at working with machines. The Shining Knight has his weapons and armor, and many contemporary characters understand airplanes or cars.
Too High for the Law (1948). Writer: ? Art: Chuck Winter. The Shining Knight helps out his friend Robert, who has lost his money at a crooked gambling establishment on a dirigible. The story has a powerful preachment about the evils of gambling. In the 1940's, gambling was frowned upon, something much more justified in my opinion than the social acceptance gambling often finds today. The story is an expose of how casinos exploit their victims.
AS the tale points out, the idea of an aerial dirigible working as a casino is a variation on the idea of a gambling ship, located off the coast so that it is beyond the reach of the law. It allows Samachson to develop much exciting aerial action.
The story continues the series' tradition of male bonding, with the Shining Knight sharing his adventures with other men. Here, both men are allowed to ride Victory.
We Knight Thee Dub (1947). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Chuck Winter. The Shining Knight helps a boy who is trying to join a club based on the ideals of King Arthur and his Round Table. The boys in this story are all poor city kids, whose club house is on a vacant lot. But they are all upstanding kids, who combine an interest in being good students, good athletes and honest and helpful to others. Such high ideals seem refreshing. They reflect the urban idealism one often finds in comic books. Comic book heroes typically were 100% good guys, who lived in cities, and helped out people in cities who were in trouble.
The story also reflects in a mild way Samachson's interest in recreating ancient events in modern times. Just as the movie producer in "Trial by Trickery" (1946) recreates a medieval tournament, so do the boys here revive ancient ideas of knighthood. They do not wear costumes; the reflection of ancient ideals is purely at the mental or spiritual level.
The Three Aerobateers (1947). Writer: ? Art: Chuck Winter. Three best friends who flew in the US Navy open an air circus after the war, but suspicious aeronautical crimes occur after one has an accident.
The word Aerobateer is a clever neologism. It is a combination of aero, acrobat and musketeer. Since the three men run an air circus, they can be considered as aerial acrobats. And since they are best friends and comrades in adventure, they resemble the Three Musketeers of novelist Alexandre Dumas. This story celebrates male bonding. The three are rough necks, but they also have deep feelings for each other, and considerable sensitivity. It is an idealized portrait of male friendship. The Shining Knight also eventually bonds with these men. The three aerialists admire him highly, and are thrilled to meet him. It is the Shining Knight's male bonding that ultimately saves these men. It is shown as a powerful positive force, supporting men's lives.
Chuck Winter does a good job with the skyscraper art. Much of the story takes place on or near the roof of a big city skyscraper, surrounded by other tall buildings. These urban landscapes are vividly drawn.
The Saga of a Sword (121, October 1947). Writer: ? Art: Chuck Winter. In a story narrated by the Shining Knight's story, Excalibur, the sword tells how he was once separated from the Knight by crooks. This is a minor story, but with a few nice touches. Tales narrated by inanimate objects were an infrequent but standard gambit in the comics. They could be relied on to add a few touches of jazz to a story. Here the author has some pleasant ideas about the ability of swords to talk to each other. This adds both humor an some sf ingenuity to the plot.
Another interesting moment: when the Shining Knight accidentally re-encounters his missing sword late in the tale, his arm experiences a tingling sensation, alerting him to fact that this is his missing, beloved sword Excalibur. This is the only time I can recall that such a tingling is mentioned in the Shining Knight tales. It seems to be invented for the story. It is not given any further explanation or rationale in terms of the Shining Knight's mythos. It strongly anticipates the later tingling sensation that Superman will experience whenever he encounters Red Kryptonite.
The Crooked Fireman (1947). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Chuck Winter. A crook joins the fire department so he can aid his gang to loot burning buildings.
Like many of Samachson's stories, this reflects the influence of film noir. This tale is especially close to the semi-documentary films of the period. Many semi-docs dealt with a quasi-militarized government institution: in this case the fire department. As in the semi-docs, we see the elaborate training required to join the institution. These fire-fighter training scenes occur at the opening of the story, just as in the semi-docs. There is much emphasis on the uniforms worn by the characters: we see both their regular work uniforms, and the fancy, formal fire fighter uniforms worn on training school graduation. As in many semi-docs, the finale takes place in an industrial location: here a burning factory. Many semi-docs involve a government agent undercover in a gang of crooks. This tale reverses that paradigm: here a crook is undercover in a government institution.
This story has much welcome humor. It makes clear that the Shining Knight is now a famous person, and that people enjoy meeting him. The tale also expresses optimism, like many of the Shining Knight stories. It implies that human nature has a strong good side, and that men will be pulled toward it. Stories that show the development of a man, as his movement towards constructive attitudes and actions, were a staple of the Shining Knight series.
The Man Who Refused to Die (1948). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: Chuck Winter. A millionaire who is terrified of dying makes plans to have himself frozen then revived in a hundred years. Powerful tale, with allegorical implications. This story has much to say about attitudes towards life. The millionaire is severely criticized here for his attitudes. His obsessive fear of dying is called the root of many real life problems - it puts a great blight on his life. It also actually hurts people around him, too. Instead, the tale suggests he should be concerned with helping other people, instead of worrying about himself. The doctor who opens the tale thinks in terms of building a hospital - something the millionaire could do, but never does, concerned only with his own self-absorption.
The story is poetic and flowing throughout. It is a mix of feeling and ideas, all presented naturally together.
Cameron retells the origin of the Shining Knight here. Its plot is woven into the millionaire's story - events that happened to the Knight are inspirations to the millionaire's schemes. Cameron occasionally built plots in other series on the origin or powers of the heroes: see his Johnny Quick tale "The Scourge of Speed" (Adventure #119, August 1947). Both here and in that tale, what happens to a character in the tale is a conscious, explicitly presented variant on the origin and super-power experiences of the hero. Such tales are close to the mythos approach that will become prevalent in the Silver Age. They are far more unusual in the 1940's, when each comic book story was considered an individual entity, complete in itself.
The Sky-High Hijackers (1948). Writer: ? Art: Chuck Winter. Justin dreams that he travels 100 years into the future, to the year 2048, and battles crime in a high tech world where everyone pilots a personal airplane. Engaging science fiction story. Other contemporary heroes sometimes had dreams in which they encountered the future. Steve Wilson, the newspaperman hero of the Big Town detective stories, daydreamed about the future in "Theft of the Billion-Carat Diamond" (Big Town #45, May-June 1957). There are differences in the time travel approaches of the two tales: Justin dreams that he actually visits the future, while Steve imagines his 21st Century equivalent fighting crime.
This tale was written near the start of the era in which the comics discovered science fiction. Tommy Tomorrow was already a regular feature; two years later the all-sf comic book Strange Adventures would be launched. This story's humorous look at a future in which airplane travel has all the features of post-war American car culture anticipates the Space Cabby series (1954 - 1958), which did a similar tongue in cheek version of space travel as a 1950's automobile lover's dream.
Chuck Winter includes a huge panorama of the air lanes of the future (p2). He and the writer have loaded this with science fictional detail, showing many futuristic aerial equivalents of 1948 road travel.