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‘Secondary Heroes of Golden Age Comics’ (review)

Secondary Heroes of Golden Age Comics
Written by Lou Mougin
Published by McFarland Books

 

Lou Mougin loves comic book superheroes.

Anyone who ever enjoyed one of Lou’s Hero Histories back in the glory days of Amazing Heroes would certainly never question that and that love shines through on every text-heavy page of Lou’s new book, Secondary Heroes of Golden Age Comics.

Tackling each of those Golden Age publishers and their heroes in a separate chapter, the nearly 500-page volume can be seen almost as annotations for Yoe Books’ two volume Super Weird Heroes set of a few years back, which reprinted actual stories of many of the same characters discussed here in more depth.

It’s clear right off the bat that the author is not writing for the layman here.

His writing is informed and informative, laced throughout with names, companies, incidents, and pop culture references with which he seems to just presume his reader has already a working knowledge. And he’s probably correct as the price and the heft of the book would most likely preclude newbies from purchasing it.

A fount of trivia, Mougin constantly offers up fascinating little asides, many of which were new to me and I have a pretty fair working knowledge of his subjects!

My favorite chapter is the one dealing with my personal favorite GA company (of the ones covered here) which is MLJ. As this is a company I myself have researched and written about quite a bit, I was surprised to find so much with which I was previously unaware!

I also found what might—or might not—be a minor mistake in that chapter as well. Lou says that the 1950s version of the Shield was “sued out of existence by DC.”

Was he? Or did DC just threaten a lawsuit? Not sure.

Other favorite chapters for me cover Street and Smith and Prize Comics. I was particularly pleased at the coverage of favorite strips of mine such as Supersnipe, and at least a mention of American Eagle, even though they aren’t exactly standard “superhero” strips. Another atypical favorite, Sparky Watts, is also given his due.

Throughout the book, in fact, non-superhero features are mentioned and sometimes even given some discussion in order to place the featured superhero strips into their larger context.

Writers and artists are also critiqued, often a thankless task when dealing with Comics’ Golden Age as the writing in particular often seems prehistoric compared to what would come down the line. The strips tended to coast on the energy of the art, and even that was often only a crude precursor to the likes of Steranko and Alex Ross.

When accepted on their own terms, though, there were plenty of exceptional artists and Lou celebrates them—Bob Powell, Lou Ferstadt, L.B. Cole, Ben Thompson, Irv Novick, Arturo Cazaneuve, Rudy Palais, Dick Briefer, and Boody Rogers, among many others.

And the weird heroes, now trivia questions to most, include The Black Dwarf, Bob Phantom, The Kangaroo Man. Fearless Flint, Stuntman, and a whole bunch of Captains—including Flag, Freedom, Fearless, Battle, Truth, and Midnight.

As with his old Hero Histories, Lou seems to delight in sharing as much info as he can on these creators and their characters, making it all feel very much like just a modern continuation of those nostalgic days when I could just kick back in my bed and read all about these superguys I had never heard of before!

The main difference is that it’s hard to kick back in bed with a pdf on a desktop computer.

Comics fans of my generation, who just had to find out every little detail of what came before the Silver Age of Comics, will cherish Lou Mougin’s Secondary Heroes of Golden Age Comics.

Booksteve recommends.

 

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