Forgotten Masterpiece: MASTER COMICS #41

It’s one of the great mysteries of the Golden Age of Comics why, after the Justice Society of America proved to be so popular in the pages of ALL-STAR COMICS, other publishers didn’t attempt to put together their own teams of costumed crime-fighters to compete with it. There was really only DC’s own Seven Soldiers of Victory in LEADING COMICS, and two postwar meetings of the All Winners Squad in ALL WINNERS COMICS. But apart from that, while super heroes would occasionally cross paths with others who shared the pages of their anthology magazines, there weren’t any other super hero teams in existence.

Still, there were a couple of times that a publisher put out a story in which a bunch of its costumed champions united in common cause, but those stories all wound up being one-offs. One of those appeared in this 1943 issue of MASTER COMICS from Fawcett Publications, and which we’ll look at a bit more closely. This story was considered so not noteworthy that it was buried in the middle of the book and there wasn’t any kind of call-out about it, even on tis contents page. If not for Roy Thomas writing about it in the All In Color For A Dime feature serialized in the fanzine XERO in the early 1960s (and eventually collected into book form in 1970) I wouldn’t even be aware of it. So come, let us check in on the first and only meeting of the Crime Crusaders Club.

The Crime Crusaders Club made its only appearance in the Minute Man strip. The author’s name lost to history, but the artwork appears to have been contributed by Phil Bard. The Club was comprised of all of the costumed heroes whose adventures filled the pages of MASTER COMICS; Minute Man himself, of course, captain Marvel Jr. and Bulletman and Bulletgirl. (Hopalong Cassidy and Balbo the Boy Magician apparently didn’t have the goods to make the cut.) Minute Man was one of Fawcett’s attempts to ride the patriotic super hero bandwagon that had been heated up by the first appearance of Captain America. There’s not really anything much to distinguish him for the dozens of other star-spangled super heroes who gave the Axis fits during the war years.

The story is a naked shill for the purchase of war bonds, but it’s wrapped in a fun adventure. As we open, Minute Man is concerned because there’s one segment of the American population that hasn’t been doing their part to contribute to the war effort–and that’s criminals! He hits on the frankly insane idea to stage a bond drive where he’ll give criminals a free chance to kill him in exchange for them buying war bonds. Hey, this wasn’t any more dangerous an idea than fighting in that conflict, so it does kind of make sense. That’s a paste-up of a Mac Raboy Captain Marvel Jr. figure in the fifth panel above, I believe–Raboy kept stat sheets of key poses to use again and again in the strip, and here Bard (or editor Rod Reed) must have borrowed one to keep Junior looking on model.

So the Crime Crusaders spread the word (you’d think that, if they can find all of these underworld guys to give them the notices, they’d take the additional step of locking them all up for their crimes.)

I love the insanity of this bit. The Crime Crusaders disarm all of the criminals who show up for the event, and then Minute Man sells them back not only their guns but their bullets for $100.00 a pop to the war effort!

And the heroes have a ringer in the form of Bulletman, who posed as a Nazi villain to help keep Minute Man out of harm’s way. Doesn’t seem fair, really, but those contestants are killers, after all.

“Are you implying that I broke my word? That I lied? The way Bulletman did by posing as a ringer? Poppycock!”

Sadly, Bulletgirl doesn’t really get to contribute to the melee–she gets forgotten about part of the way through the story. But hey, she’s only a dumb girl anyway.

This issue also includes a house ad for the adventures of Mary Marvel in WOW COMICS, with a headline and some copy that really hasn’t aged well.

4 thoughts on “Forgotten Masterpiece: MASTER COMICS #41

  1. While they didn’t have a JSA analogue, Fawcett was more like Timely than DC in that had a fair number of crossovers between characters. Mary Marvel teamed up with Pinky (sidekick of Mr. Scarlet), and Bulletgirl in her own feature. Captain Marvel battled a brainwashed Spy Smasher in Whiz Comics. My sense was that the other outfits may not have had an actual team, they were happy to have the characters interact together.

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  2. The execution is quite poor, but I’d say there’s the core of a very entertaining full-length story here. The premise isn’t quite so insane in the context of the times, where there really was a (note, very racist) carnival game where players could buy baseballs to throw at a person. To readers who had that as part of their culture, a fundraiser with buying bullets to shoot at a hero would just be a superhero version of a known game.

    I don’t have a problem with the event publicity. There’s plenty of low-level thugs who the heroes can know of, but are not actively wanted for crimes at the moment. Or the ones being apprehended can pass the info on to their associates later. A longer story could have some more fun with this.

    The main event should be done more fair on the hero side, and be a showcase for Minute Man as awesome. Not just evading the shooters physically, but psychologically manipulating them, playing them off against each other (“You gonna let him get the glory? What a ridiculous excuse you are!”). After all, getting criminals to kill each other is a proud Golden Age tradition. Any criminal who cheats loses immunity, so that keeps the scales a bit balanced.

    I’m not sure what would be both a good and permitted ending. That time zone bit strikes me as a cheat too (any court is going to construe “midnight” as “midnight” for the area where the event started, not “local time zone anywhere”). The climax really should be someone about to succeed and kill Minute Man, to underline this was a stupid idea. Maybe they get stopped, by a surprise appearance of hero not part of the original agreement. Let it be at least recognized that the guy gets bragging rights, he won, Minute Man lost (where the moral of the story is then you may be awesome, but eventually your luck will run out).

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