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Recommended Stories

Zip Comics

The above is not a complete list of the Web stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazines, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.


The Web

The Web is a crime fighter in the tradition of Batman. Like Batman, he has no secret powers; like Batman, he wears a masked costume to guard his secret identity. Unlike Batman, he seems to have few technological gimmicks. Instead he solves crime by brain work.

The Web was a shorted lived Golden Age hero. He appeared in Zip Comics from #27 (July 1942) to #38 (July 1943). He was revived briefly in both the 1960's and the 1990's.

The Web's costume looks unusual. It is much fancier than most comic book costumes, with an ornate, almost 16th Century feel. The Web's neck ruff is scalloped. The scalloping on the neck ruff is designed to make it look like a spider's web. The Web's mask is scalloped along the edges, with a series of curves that look as if they were cut out of the material. The two sets of scallops create a series of visual echoes. They help make close-ups of the Web compositionally complex, with the many curving edges playing a prominent role in the compositions. The Web's gloves also have scalloped cuffs, and his boots have scalloped tops. He also wears a cape, which is unique in that it is not of solid cloth; instead, it is of a loosely meshed web. There are numerous holes in it between the lines of the web. Such a cape is unique among super-hero costumes. Neck ruffs, scalloping and the almost lace like effect of the cape all recall clothes of Elizabethan era and the century following it. The two sides of the Web's costume are in contrasting colors, yellow and green; these alternate in different regions of the Web's body. His gloves and boots are also in asymmetric colors, with the yellow glove and boot on the right, and green glove and boot on the left. Even the Web's belt is either yellow and green, on different halves of his body. The whole effect suggests a Harlequin figure.

In his secret identity, the Web is respected criminology professor John Raymond. He switches to the Web to fight crime. John Raymond is highly admired in his profession. He is definitely not a nerd. Instead, he is a person to whom people in trouble go for help. His Web persona is clearly designed to keep his identity secret from crooks. John Raymond is drawn as a man of distinction. He is slightly older, with a hint of gray at the temples. He is clearly a very successful figure in the world. He also seems to be a man who has made it on his own merits, not someone who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

John Raymond wears good suits on the street, and dressing gowns at home. Both his clothes and his portraiture recall the successful men in such Alex Raymond comic strips as Secret Agent X-9 (1934). One suspects that Alex Raymond helped create a cultural ideal in his heroes, masculine, intelligent, courageous, highly competent and professional, not to mention very well dressed. One can also note the same last names in fiction character John Raymond and real life cartoon artist Alex Raymond, and wonder if John Raymond were named in honor of the artist. Alex Raymond was at the height of his prestige in the 1940's, and was one of the most admired comic artists in the world. One sees his influence on the work of many Golden Age comic book artists, who had adopted him as their model.

The Men Who Went Nowhere (1943). Three men who walk Madeline Freeman home each vanish without a trace after pursuing a laughing voice in the woods; the terrified Freeman turns to John Raymond for help. The last Golden Age tale of the Web.

This story is in the tradition of Weird Menace stories, in the prose mystery pulps. Weird Menace stories are a pulp fiction version of the Impossible Crime mystery tale. They feature a crime that is hard to explain by anything other than supernatural or science fiction elements, and lots of spooky and apparently supernatural atmosphere along the way. At the end, the detective proves that the crime was committed by purely natural means, and that nothing really supernatural had transpired at all.

This is a well constructed mystery tale. While the crime is not at the John Dickson Carr level, it is plausibly and fairly put together. The tale also shows good atmosphere and storytelling.

John Raymond's use of brain work, and dignified life as a professor, are consistent with the Weird Menace tradition in the pulps. Weird Menace stories often featured detectives that remind one of the hyper-intellectual sleuths of Golden Age mystery novels. Despite their appearances in pulp magazines, their sleuths do not much resemble the hard-boiled private eyes featured in Black Mask and other pulps.

The villains faced down here turn out to be Nazi spies. These were common villains in the Web stories, which were published during World War II. The elaborate schemes cooked up by spies also lent themselves well as rational explanations for the spooky-seeming events of the Weird Menace plots favored in The Web.

Both the Nazi villains, and the use of Weird Menace mystery plots, also showed up in the tales about Steel Sterling, with whom the Web shared Zip Comics. In both series, the use of well constructed mystery plots seems like a welcome alternative to the largely plotless adventure stories that often appeared in Golden Age comic books. Many Golden Age stories are simply a series of battles between a hero and a group of villains. They have no plot in any strict sense, meaning a logical progression of events. By contrast, the best Web and Steel Sterling tales have logical, well put together mystery plots. Such use of genuine plots seems highly welcome. It is also a harbinger of the 1950's and 1960's Silver Age, when plotting in comic books reached its creative zenith.