We're looking at the alpha and omega of WINGS COMICS, one of several pulp-inspired comics titles published by Fiction House in the 1940s. Fiction House had published pulp magazines for years. When the company started doing comics as well, it was natural for it to turn to genres which had proven successful for its magazines: war, jungle, science fiction...and aviation.
WINGS COMICS #1 [September, 1940] filled its 68 pages with a dozen different features. Cover star Suicide Smith, the only hero to appear in both the title's first and last issues, was a fighter pilot leading a team of "Air Commandoes." He would end up flying solo, save for the occasional sidekick.
Other WINGS COMICS #1 strips included:
The Skull Squad: a Scotsman, Yank, and Brit fighting Nazis in a story drawn by Arthur Peddy;
the Parachute Patrol: a trio of French boys and paratroopers fighting Nazis and possibly drawn by Nick Cardy;
Jane Martin: a "war nurse," possibly drawn by Cardy;
Clipper Kirk: a Canadian fighting Nazis, and drawn by Clark Williams;
F-4: a US intelligence agent fighting Nazis behind enemy lines and drawn by Charles Sultan;
the Phantom Falcons: fliers fighting the Luftwaffe from their secret base in Switzerland;
Powder Burns: an American who fought Nazis across France and Europe. At least in this debut issue, the heroes of WINGS COMICS were single-minded when it came to choosing foes.
WINGS COMICS #124 [Summer, 1954] cover-featured Captain Wings. The character had made his first appearance in issue #16 [December, 1941] as an Air Force desk jockey who would rather be fighting the Japanese. Since he owned his own P-51 Mustang, the Captain decided to wage his own secret war against the Japanese and, later, against costumed criminals, Communists, and UFOs. In his final adventure - "Death Below Zero" - Wings fought Commies in a story drawn by John Belcastro.
Half the size of its first issue, WINGS COMICS #124 only had room for five stories. Besides Captain Wings, it featured Suicide Smith, Buzz Bennett, and two non-series war stories. Don't ask me who "Buzz Bennett" was. He's one of the few Golden Age heroes not listed in THE GOLDEN AGE HEROES DIRECTORY, a knock-your-socks-off site [ratmmjess.tripod.com/gold/page.html] created by Jess Nevins. Much of what you have just read would not have been there without the amazing Jess...and I think him for his scholarship, hard work, and unfailing generosity.
Writing about WINGS COMICS has me wondering what an aviation comic would be like today. Our military probably uses bombers and helicopters as much or more as it uses fighter planes. Jane Martin would likely be a combat medic. Would there be counterparts to the maverick heroes of the 1940s? Would there be any interest in such a comic at a time when air travel is so common? Feel free to jump in with your own thoughts...and watch for more alpha/omega comics in future TOTs.
INFINITE CRISIS CRISIS
We're up to the DCU titles from the week of February 15, and, truth be told, I'm losing interest. Too many of these comic books seem padded, too many seem like they are merely marking time until the post-crisis, and too many of them seem brutal and violent for the sake of being brutal and violent. If there is a new bright and shining DCU at the end of all this, is it really necessary for us to be dragged through Hell to get there?
If there is that bright and shining DCU, I'll be delighted to repent my present misgivings. However, at the moment, my pessimism is ascendent.
There were 13 DCU or DCU-related titles in the comics shops. I haven't received DOOM PATROL ARCHIVES VOL. 3, but I'll recommend it based on my memories of the stories it reprints. I decided to put aside BATMAN: YEAR ONE HUNDRED #1 for now because I've read so many other Batman series of late. There's no reason for anyone to read the repugnant BATMAN: WAR CRIMES trade paperback. As for the KID ETERNITY trade, I'll likely read it eventually. I just wasn't in the mood for it this week. That leaves nine.
Expect some SPOILERS as I review them.
ACTION COMICS #836 [$2.50] is the second chapter of "This Is Your Life" by Joe Kelly. Drawn by 14 artists, the chapter's point seems to be that Superman is capable of making mistakes every bit as bad as his Justice League buddies. Or maybe it's that Superman is fast forwarding through alternate realities. Or maybe...y'know, who really cares? I held off rating the first part of this story, which appeared in SUPERMAN #226, because I wanted to see where it was going. Maybe the third and final chapter will prove to be the charm, but this chapter gets a puny one Tony.
BATGIRL #73 [$2.50] is the final issue of the series. Batgirl died last issue, but, no surprise here, Lady Shiva restores her to life with a dunk in Ra's al Ghul's magic hot tub. The things moms do for their daughters. Batgirl returns the favor by beating and killing Shiva, though she leaves her hanging from a hook over the magic hot tub. Gee, do you think that's significant?
Okay, I'm being far more snarky than Andersen Gabrych's story deserves. The writer has given me a better picture of this Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) and the horrible life she's endured. So, at the end of this issue, when she gives up the Batgirl suit to find a new life for herself, I'm sincerely happy for her.
This Batgirl was a child of the brutality that has diminished super-hero comics over the past decade or two. Mostly male editors and writers living out their abusive fantasies on the pages of the comic books so foolishly entrusted to them. I don't want Cassandra to be a part of that sickness any longer. Don't let the Batman use her any more. Don't let the villains use her any more. Don't let those editors and writers use her any more.
Oh, I'm sure *someone* will bring Cassandra back and probably sooner rather than later. Allow me to hope that when that happens she will be treated with more dignity and respect than previously. For now, BATGIRL #73, Gabrych, penciller Pop Mhan, and inkers Jesse Delperdang and Adam Dekraker earn a respectable three out of five Tonys for giving Cassandra a decent exit, no matter how temporary it might prove to be.
The cover of BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #74 [$2.50] proclaims "IT ALL ENDS HERE!" It lies. The rematch between the Joker and Hush doesn't end here. The issue "ends" with them facing off on a roof, a scenario orchestrated by the Batman, the clearly depressed to the point of insanity Batman. The issue "ends" with Batman wondering if he should just leave them to kill each other. All that really ends here is the GOTHAM KNIGHTS title. The final editorial word comes in the in-house promo page:
So what do you think Batman ended up doing? And what's better than some healthy debate to end the series?
What's better? A modicum of respect for the readers who have been buying this book would be better. The deaths of Hush and the Joker would be better. A Batman who isn't an insane prick would be better. Need I continue?
BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #74 gets no Tonys.
BIRDS OF PREY #91 [$2.50] is a pretty good done-in-one story by guest writer Jim Alexander. A Metropolis gangster is dying of kidney failure. His only hope of survival is a nephew en route to the city. Many people want to keep them apart. Barbara Gordon is not one of them.
Barbara's actions puzzle her teammates, but Alexander delivers a good payoff by story's end. Less satisfying are the obligatory fight scenes between the heroes (Black Canary and the Huntress) and the villains (rookie members of the Royal Flush Gang). But, as I said, it's a pretty good story...and it has good art by Brad Walker (pencils) and Jimmy Palmiotti (inks). The BOP don't always sound quite right to me - regular writer Gail Simone's voice is missed - but this issue is still good for three Tonys.
FIRESTORM #22 [$2.50] is the second half of "Building a Better Firestorm" by Stuart Moore (writer) and Eddy Barrows (penciller). It's basically 22 pages of Jason Rusch and Professor Martin Stein standing around talking about Firestorm's powers as they plan their super-heroic comeback. That this makes for entertaining reading is a tribute to Moore's skills. In fact, I so enjoyed this respite from the overblown and overly violent melodrama of INFINITE CRISIS that I'm awarding it four Tonys.
JSA CLASSIFIED #9 [$2.50] strikes me as a placeholder for the "One Year Later" stories to come. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the Flash and Wildcat going up against the Spear of Destiny again. I enjoyed that and I enjoyed the conversation between the two aging heroes at the end of the story. I hope they both remain active members of the Justice Society for a long time. But the story was just an average super-hero adventure, nothing profound and nothing senses-shattering. That's good for three Tonys.
JUSTICE #4 [$3.50] will likely be the last issue of the series I review for a while. I think this "Ultimate Super Friends" book by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Doug Braithwaite is great fun, but, after four issues of the Legion of Doom hatching a masterful plot against the heroes, I've decided this story will be best enjoyed in its entirety. The series has been earning four out of five Tonys all along and this latest issue is no exception. But, as JUSTICE doesn't bear directly on current DCU matters, I'm putting it aside for the time being. I'll be back.
MANHUNTER #19 [$2.50] wraps up the "Who's Your Daddy?" story and clears the deck for what ever is going to be happening to Kate Spencer one year after this issue. The resolution of last issue's dire cliffhanger is a good one, slightly marred by my unfamiliarity with all of Manhunter's and Phoebe's capabilities. If writer Marc Andreyko could work on one thing in the year between this issue and the next - heh, heh - it should be crafting his scripts to be more inclusive of new readers...and old readers who haven't majored in DCU trivia.
Moving on, I'm not sure how I feel about the extra portion of misery dumped on Kate in the issue's closing pages. If it doesn't play a key role on the book's OYL situation, then it's just badness for the sake of badness...and we've had more than our share of that from DC over the past two decades.
MANHUNTER #19 gets three out of five Tonys.
SGT. ROCK: THE PROPHECY #2 [$2.99] continues my disappointment with this six-issue series by Joe Kubert. Rock and his men have been charged with protecting an arrogant young rabbi, bringing him out of war-torn Lithuania. While the story is moving more slowly than I would like, what really bothers me is how unlikeable Rock's men are here. Wild Man is a racist. Ice Cream Soldier is a lech. Bulldozer is somewhat dim-witted. I don't expect the battle-hungry G.I.s of DC's Silver Age war comics, but I do expect to recognize these classic characters. The terrific Kubert art notwithstanding, the best I can do for this issue is two Tonys.
This wasn't a particular good week for DC. Here's hoping the next week's offerings turn things around. Look for my reviews of those books early next week.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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