Rick Richards

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Dick Cole

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Rick Richards

Rick Richards owned and ran a huge firm, that dealt in engineering, construction, and other high tech activities. Rick had a bizarre super-power: when he heard a sudden loud noise, his special adrenal glands produced a burst of adrenaline, which gave him great strength to perform amazing feats. You can tell by the late 1940's, that comic book creators were really scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with super-power ideas. If Rick's super-powers read like a spoof, some of the actual stories were very good. The tales dramatized the tremendous power of engineering, to perform amazing feats in the real world. They often gave readers inside looks at various high tech businesses, wrapped inside an exciting adventure story. The tales often had a social consciousness as well, expressing sympathy with the poor and workers. Rick was a wealthy man, having inherited money and built up his huge business, and the stories tended to suggest that alliances could be formed between the rich and the poor.

Rick had no secret identity, costume, or technological gimmicks. He usually wore a good suit, in keeping with his role as a business tycoon. His super-powers usually only came into play to help him perform daring feats; otherwise, these were largely realistic stories of engineering in modern American life.

Rick Richards' stories perhaps owe a bit to those of Johnny Everyman. Both are clean cut, dynamic American heroes, who wear suits and who have an engineering background and role. Both series try to educate readers, and comment in a liberal way about social issues, while wrapping these ideas in an adventure framework. Both were back-up series in magazines whose star attractions were more purely entertainment and less message oriented. The Johnny Everyman series was frankly, explicitly educational; it has features relating it to public service pages. By contrast, the Rick Richards stories present themselves more as entertainment to readers.

Rick Richards ran in Blue Bolt Comics from #74 (Vol. 7 No. 8) (January 1947) through #98 (March-April 1949), then for two more stories in #100 (July-August 1949) and #102 (November-December 1949). When Dick Cole, the star attraction of Blue Bolt Comics, got his own magazine, Rick Richards briefly appeared in Dick Cole #2 (February-March 1949).

Housing for the Poor (1947). (Title made up by me.) Rick tries to build pre-fabricated houses to provide good homes for slum dwellers. Better housing for people in slums was a persistent concern of comics. See Jerry Siegel's anti-slum tale starring the Star Spangled Kid, "Vortex of Doom" (Star Spangled Comics #2, November 1941); both stories also involve an evil slum lord. There is an excellent "symbolic" splash panel, showing a giant Rick wrecking old slum buildings with his bare hands. Few images can convey more the sense of positive power that technology confers on Rick Richards in these tales.

The story shows one of the factories that Rick Richards owns. It seems designed to create a positive role model for young people, encouraging them to dream big, and to invent a similar future for themselves. A later comic book scientist who owned a series of labs and factories was Doc Magnus, inventor of the Metal Men. Both Rick Richards and Doc Magnus were handsome young men who combined brains with a wholesome glamour.

The two pictures of pre-fab houses show the interest in architecture often found in comic books. The first, wrongly assembled home is delightfully surreal. It shows imagination in its juxtaposition of architectural elements that do not belong together. The second home, showing correct assemblage, is a modernist structure, with Art Deco features, such as a window that wraps around a corner. Both images show the love of Art Deco prevalent in the comics.

The TV Camera (1947). (Title made up by me.) Rick's newly invented portable TV camera is stolen, before he can get a patent on it. In 1947 television was high technology. Rick Richards is an innovator here, creating a new type of camera that will revolutionize the industry. This story is ahead of its time: a film like Primary (1960) will eventually show what documentary filmmakers could do with portable cameras. And the invention of the Steadicam will allow even more.

This delightful story is rich on all levels. It has an ingenious plot, in which the aspects of the camera are woven into the story. It has lively, humorous dialogue. The reader will learn a lot about how business, industry and invention work. And there is an endearing character, aspiring comic Windy Punner, who adds comic relief as Richards' sidekick.

Television, in this story, is shown broadcasting events at point A, so that they can be seen at a different point B. This is more like a "phone with pictures" invention, than a mass medium showing events to millions of people in their homes. Previous widely seen films, such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) and Phantom Empire (1935), had also featured television-phones. Later, the Superman stories of the Silver Age (1956-1966) will also use TV in this way. Both in the Rick Richards story, and the later Superman tales, the ability to see at one place events happening elsewhere, becomes the main engine of the plot, allowing for ingenious plot developments to take place.

There are brief educational tidbits at the bottom of the pages of Blue Bolt Comics, often in the form of little quizzes. These fun facts were clearly designed to make the comics "educational", and deflect some of the blanket condemnation comic books were receiving at the time. In this story's annotation, one can learn that there were only six commercial TV stations broadcasting in the USA in 1946. TV was just getting underway as a mass medium.

Trouble in the Mine 89 (Vol. 8 No. 11 April 1948). (Title made up by me.) Rick Richards investigates a labor-management dispute at one of his mines. This is a fairly by-the-numbers labor-management tale, with few surprises. It is interesting in that Rick tries to provide enlightened management, and pay good benefits and provide good working conditions for his employees. The tale is highly sympathetic to labor.

The Air Queen (1948). (Title made up by me.) A new dirigible, the Air Queen, meets sabotage on its maiden flight to Rio. Exiting look at dirigibles and airplanes, with the emphasis on daring stunts. It recalls the aerial stunts in Red, White and Blue stories. There is less social commentary in this tale.

Turning a vacuum cleaner into a dangerous weapon (1949). Writer: ? Art: ?. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database, based on opening words of the story.) Production of a new radio and refrigerator at Richards' plant is sabotaged by an inventor named Mr. Wizley Zard. One suspects that Wizley Zard is supposed to be an expanded form of "Wizard". Once again, the writers come up with a fun story, dealing with modern engineering and manufacturing. The light hearted tale in fact manages to cover a lot of ground, looking at this interesting subject matter. It could certainly give the magazine's young readers a whole look at the process of developing and manufacturing new products.

The comic look at the messed up version of the products, near the start of the story, recalls the wrongly assembled house in "Housing for the Poor" (1947). The central action of the tale, Rick's attempt to break into the bad guy's lair, also echoes the main story-line of "The TV Camera" (1947).