Super Magician Comics Vol 4 No. 4 - Part 3

The final installment of Super-Magician Comics #4, vol 4, is "Blackstone Solves the Riddle of the Rajpoot Ruby."

One of the most surprising things about this short story is that all the action takes place in the space of half an hour, and most of it occurs within a single room. The plot is relatively simple, but it's delivered in a way that's interesting, although I think most people can guess the guilty party before it's half over. Also, keeping with the magician motif, the story also turns around two key magic tricks which are explained in the course of events.

At first I thought the title might be a play on the words "Rajpoor Ruby," or "Rajpur Ruby," but Google didn't return anything significant for that phrase. Searching for "Rajpoot Ruby" returned a similarly named Charlie Chan episode titles "Rajput Ruby" from 1957, and a remake in the 80's. In any case, the phrase seemed familiar, but I don't know why.

The page layout is similar to the first story in the magazine, but I have a problem with both of them. It's odd to read -- going from left to right and top to bottom I'd expect the panel in the lower left to follow the center panel, but sometimes it hard to tell whether it works that way. It's almost as if the artists laid out the page panels first without regard to action, and then filled with a corresponding image according to the script.

True to form, Rhoda's outfit is extremely skimpy.

Check out the ad for war bonds. The text starts "Your sons, husbands and brothers who are standing today upon the battlefronts are fighting for more than victory in war. Interestingly, it doesn't add "fathers," which suggests the intended audience for this particular public service announcement isn't children, but adults. The faces and signatures are of the seven leader of the military, including General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz, and future president Dwight D Eisenhower.

You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

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Super Magician Comics Vol 4 No. 4 -- Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)
Ron Goulart's Encyclopedia of Comics has a page of information on Super-Magician Comics. According to Goulart Blackstone was the "first comic book offering the fictitious adventures of a real-life personality who wasn't a movie cowboy." He clarifies how Gibson created the comic, and also provides and interesting detail on why Street & Smith were so amenable to the series.
"Gibson had started ghosting Blackstone's magic books in the late 1920s . In 1941 he approached Street & Smith, publishers of both the Shadow pulp magazine and the comic book, and suggested a Blackstone comic. What made the deal especially appealing to S&S was the fact that Gibson guaranteed them that the magician would purchase half of each issue's print run to give away at his stage shows. The first issue (May 1941) was titled Super Magic Comics. With the second it became Super Magician. Blackstone grew younger and handsomer for his comic book appearances and also acquired a pretty assistant named Rhoda. On the covers he was frequently called the 'World's Greatest Living Magician.'"
Goulart implies that Gibson wrote all the Blackstone features, while other authors covered the backup stories. He also sheds a bit more light on the artists who worked on the comics.
"The early artwork, mediocre at best, was provided by the Jack Binder shop. Gibson later brought in some of his cronies, including James Hammon and Kemp Starrett, and the look of the feature improved greatly. Both men, along with Gibson, had been associated with the Ledger Syndicate in Philadelphia."
The layout in the "Red Dragon in Spheres of Satan!" is strangely loosely connected, as if in a dream. At first glance it seems to make sense, and then you wonder how the Komodo Dragon manages to fly when it looks like it's in repose, which leads you to wonder ask whether the Red Dragon is mounted on the Komodo, or simply flying next to it. The Komodo continues to inhabit the frames throughout the story, only occasionally acknowledged, like a fnord.

Since this is WWII, the plot concerns the Red Dragon and his sidekick uncovering a Japanese secret war weapon and vanquishing it. The characterization of the Japanese is so crude that it's mostly only interesting in terms of seeing the stereotypes that come out during war, and recognizing that we can still apply these lessons to today.

I'm not sure if the other backup story is an ongoing feature or not. "The Lady in White and the Shrinking Giant..." is oddly set in a hospital, but has little to do with the environment. A patient checks in because he believes that he is shrinking, and so is his pet turtle Algy. Eventually an unnamed nurse ("the Lady in White") solves the shrinking mystery. The art is reminiscent of Boody, although it's uncredited.

Read part 3 here.

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Super Magician Comics Vol 4 No. 4 - August 1945

In May of 1941 a new comic book called "Super Magic" hit the news stands. It portrayed a fictional magician loosely based on the real Harry Blackstone, Sr. In the comic, Blackstone solved crimes and captured evildoers, often at the request of government agencies such as the FBI. After the first issue, publisher Street & Smith renamed the periodical Super Magician Comics, and it ran under that name until slightly after World War II, hanging up the magic in 1947.

There's an interesting convergence in Super-Magician comics. The publisher was Street & Smith Publications, who also put out The Shadow pulp magazine. Walter B. Gibson, the creator of The Shadow, knew the real Harry Blackstone, and according to this article on Wikipedia, he ghost-wrote most of the magician's books, and also wrote the scripts to the Blackstone comics and radio show. This sort of melding of reality and fiction predates the fuzzy edges of 21st century reality TV shows by at least 60 years.

The cumulative effect of these stories didn't fall into a vacuum. The exploits of The Shadow and Harry Blackstone, on the radio, in pulps, and comics, inspired the imaginations and careers of many who heard them. The Amazing Kreskin, for example, explains how they started him on his road to stardom:
Walter B. Gibson's The Shadow was another character that captured Kreskin's imagination as a youth. Today, many copies of the pulp serial from the '30s are in his collection. "Gibson was an authority on crime and magic, and he was a friend of Houdini's," Kreskin said. "Through the character Lamont Cranston (The Shadow), Gibson combined the criminal mind and the crime fighter mind."

The Shadow, of course, became one of the most popular radio programs of all time, but it isn't the only character for which Walter Gibson is known. He also authored the Super Magician comics of the 1940s, often under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant. The main character was based on the real-life magician Harry Blackstone. The premise was that he performed magic and fought crime.

"I have a copy of every Super Magician comic book ever produced (it ran about six years), encased and in mint condition," Kreskin said. "I can't imagine what they're worth, but you know what? I don't care. These books and other items are part of the embroidery that make up the fabric of who I am. They're not for sale, and I don't care to have them appraised. That's not the point."

This issue from 1947 is uncredited, so the writer could have been Walter Gibson, but I couldn't find any corroborating evidence in any book or on the Internet.

The plot for the 14 page Blackstone story "Blackstone Battles Doctor Zero" is relatively simple: The FBI enlists Blackstone and his assistant Rhoda to investigate a strange character whom people have been visiting just before they get kidnapped. As Blackstone puts it "people go to Zero's and are seen there -- then they are found somewhere else, which makes it very uncanny!" The art is competent, although a bit sketchy. I like the "Little Nemo"-esque feeling of the inflating card players.

After the lead is another Blackstone piece, a bit of magic instruction, in "Blackstone Shows Tom and Dick How To Do the Color Trick."

I'll post the other stories, an 8 page Red Dragon story "Spheres of Satan", an 8 page Lady In White story "The Shrinking Giant", and an 8 page Blackstone story "The Riddle of the Rajpoot Ruby", in subsequent blog entries.