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Amazing Mystery Funnies

Entry updated 15 April 2024. Tagged: Comics, Publication.

US Comic (1938-1940). Twenty-four issues. Centaur Publishing. Artists and script writers (usually performing both tasks) include Harry Campbell, Bill Everett, Paul Gustavson, Malcolm Kildale, George Loomis and Basil Wolverton. Usually 7-9 strips and a two-page text story each issue, plus brief factual articles ("many serious defects may result from a child sucking his thumb"); the December 1939 issue includes a two-page review of Fanzines, including The Fantast and Spaceways (see Harry Warner Jr.). Some strips are reprints from other comics, including two non-genre Will Eisner stories.

Sf and Fantasy strips were initially uncommon: the first issue had only a Lost Race tale and a cover featuring Skyrocket Steele, whose first strip would appear in the next issue, where he investigates a planetary outpost that has fallen silent; the only other sf story in the second issue is the two-page ­2038AD: An Excursion to Mars, Humour about routine tourist trips to Mars. Besides continuing the Skyrocket Steele and ­2038AD: An Excursion to Mars serials, the third issue features the first Dirk the Demon strip, about a boy (its subtitle, "24th century archaeologist", is eventually dropped) who discovers a chamber containing gold and a living gold prospector from 1937; Dirk reasons that "sealed up in here for centuries – Suspended Animation – this air-tight chamber would preserve him for years". There is also an sf text story. The other strips in these early issues were neither sf or fantasy, being detective, western, sea, mercenary, Yellow Peril, air warfare and adventure stories set around the world (though a Moroccan adventure does include herbs that might cure cancer – see Medicine).

The number of genre strips does increase: for example, the seventh issue has five. These included The Madhouse Murder Mystery, about a sanatorium's brain specialist attempting to perfect brain swapping by experimenting on the patients and a nurse who spurned his affections; a new serial, Air Sub 'DX', concerns the adventures of Professor Gray, Tim and Rita in a winged submarine that is at home in both air and water and is also armed with a dissolving Ray; however, the despot Curley wants it, believing it could make him "Emperor of the whole Universe" (see Imperialism). Also featured are Skyrocket Steele, Dirk the Demon and a two-page humour strip, Eddie the Odd.

Gradually non-genre stories would shrink to 2-4 per issue (except the 20th, with five). New sf series/serials were Daredevil Barry Finn – his adventures included combating Dr Zaroff "whose diabolical brain had conceived the idea of creating an amphibious race of people". Speed Centaur, where a trapper finds a young centaur in the frozen north – the sole survivor of an earthquake that destroyed his City. The centaur (see Supernatural Creatures) is Superpowered (being strong and able to fly despite lacking wings) and, because the trapper was formerly a publisher run out of town by dirty politicians, he is raised to fight crime, occasionally wearing a horse mask so as not to be conspicuous. In one story a Mad Scientist swaps his assistant's brain and vocal chords with those of a Dog, declaring "this is for science". Don Dixon and the Hidden Empire: Don and Dr Lugoff's "aero-sphere" is wrecked when they arrive in the aforementioned empire, so – after having rescued Wanda, Princess of Pharia – they seek to return to the outside world, engaging with Monsters and evil rulers whilst doing so. The Fantom of the Fair is a generic superhero who initially protects the World's Fair – such as when a remote controlled giant robot runs amok – but when it closes he casts his net wider, including getting involved in union busting. In the 24th issue he is renamed Fantoman.

Jon Linton is a "flyer, Scientist, adventurer" who, in 2009, is interrupted whilst building his Spaceship, when he learns that Satan Rex plans to destroy the Earth by "halting it in its orbital path and dropping it into the Sun", using his "green mist of force", a kind of Force Field. Satan Rex is a scientist who – a century previously – came up with Relativity ten years before Einstein, but was ridiculed by his peers; he also discovered "agelessness" (see Immortality). He vowed to destroy the Earth, then go with his followers to another planet; though foiled in this, he does fire a ray from Venus that removes the Earth's Heaviside layer (see Disaster). Space Patrol involves Nick Nelson and his Martian partner Kodi having planetary adventures, such as fighting a space bandit on Venus or investigating "one of the alien pigmy planets that [have] drifted into the solar system's boundaries lately". Tippy Taylor on Fantasy Isle has reporter Tippy's plane crash landing on the "Isle of Phantasy", inhabited by Dinosaurs and other strange creatures. Here he meets a wizard, the last of the race that once lived there, who is working on a formula to give "spiritual animation" to his "synthetic robots" which are human-like and made of plastic (see Androids). He sends Tippy on three quests to gather ingredients, after which he promises to help him get home. Tippy succeeds and the robots are animated, the wizard explaining that they "are not people, they have an enormous ­intellegence [sic] but they have no soul or emotions". They are mass produced: one, Electra, becomes the wizard's secretary and he jokes, "Ha-ha she also has a women's intuition!" (see Women in SF). When she warns of a snowball that will grow in size "until it becomes a roaring avalanche" he complacently dismisses it as part of her poetic, imaginative nature; however, she foments a robot rebellion, though the wizard is powerful enough to foil it. A sudden earthquake then drops Tip into the realm of the Queen of the Underworld, who turns out to be a female Bluebeard (including having a secret room he is forbidden to enter): he escapes marriage by being shrunk to insect size (see Great and Small).

Later Air Sub 'DX' adventures include fighting a "giant mech" (a giant robot, presumably one of the earliest uses of the phrase in this context). Another has a call for help from Dr Ralon at an Arctic experimental camp, who reports he has "succeeded in bringing to life, through my evolutionizing machine, human beings!! – developed from animals" (see Evolution), then warns that the world faces a catastrophe ... but before he can explain a woman enters the room and kills him with an electric pistol. Tim and pals go to find out what has happened: it turns out the newly evolved humans – of which the woman was one – promptly went mad and now seek vengeance on mankind, creating an army in their "undersea breeding grounds". Fortunately a random volcanic disturbance kills them all with lava.

One Daredevil Barry Finn story has a British scientist whose Invention "creates five million vibrations per second which gives out a ray that stimulates the growth gland of every insect" until they are several hundred times their normal size. Unfortunately it is stolen by Dr Zaroff, who – in return for a substantial payment – promises the leaders of the axis powers (not named, but clearly recognizable) that he will prevent the USA from interfering in their war plans (see World War Two): he duly releases giant insects into New York and elsewhere ... but the plot fails, as the insects can only survive a few hours at their new size, due to the strain on their "growth gland". Barry rescues the heroine, but has no effect on the main plot.

A late Jon Linton serial has his spaceship using a new fuel, but the controls jam and "approaching the speed of light" (which they later surpass), they enter another galaxy – and pass through a planet unharmed. Jon realizes this is due to the Lorentz-Fitzgerald Contraction: "We have negative thickness and must be in the fourth dimension." Their journey continues and a week later, when the stars have shrunk and gathered closer together, they reach Quinton, the "world of the fifth dimension" where the friendly locals can create matter from thought (see Psi Powers). Jon and pals are given a tour of the world and help them defeat their enemies.

Early issues of Amazing Mystery Funnies tend to be poor in both story and artwork, but there is some later improvement. The standout strip is Basil Wolverton's Space Patrol; though the plots are unremarkable, their artwork is distinctive and memorable. Though flippant, the curious Tippy Taylor on Fantasy Isle is not without interest. There is much bad science mixed in with the occasional use of legitimate scientific terminology. Some of the other strips have their moments, though set-ups that attract the reader's attention are often wasted with a rushed ending; the Jon Linton serial cited in the previous paragraph is probably the best of them. [SP]


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