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Pocket Comics

US Comic 1941-1942. Alfred Harvey. Four issues. Artists include Al Avison, Louis Cazeneuve, Al Gabriele, Bob Powell and Pierce Rice. Scriptwriters include Eando Binder, Alfred Harvey, Art Helfant and Major Ralston. Each issue was 100 pages, digest sized; they carried eight long strips, as well as a few 1-2 page humorous ones, plus a couple of text stories.

The comic's most overtly sf strip was The Red Blazer. Having invented a Spaceship, Scientist Dr Morgan has been on Mars since 1901; now returning to Earth and not liking the prevalence of crime and war, he drugs passing cowboy Jack Dawson. He dresses him in a superhero outfit and sends him into orbit, explaining the astro-pyro rays there will advance him a few Evolutionary stages, to become a "perfect man" (see Imaginary Science). Aside from losing his cowboy slang, this involves the ability to fly, fire lightning bolts and other heat-related Superpowers: Jack calls himself the Red Blazer – when his powers are activated he is covered in flames – and becomes a Superhero. Dr Morgan (to whom Jack bears no ill-will) offers occasional assistance, such as the use of his visophone, which can show far off events. From #2 the recurring villain is Dr Skull, who is small, weak-bodied and has a giant head: he uses Rocket ships, Ray Guns and, in #4, invents a Drug to make people fearless – this is used on orphans whose foster parents raise them to become thieves. Randomly, Dr Skull is green-skinned in #3.

Great Amron was put into a 6,000 year Hypnotic sleep by his father and disguised as a mummy; now awoken in the present day, the spirit of his father instructs him to use the Magic of Ancient Egypt for the good of all mankind. Named the Phantom Sphinx, his adventures include defeating Kali and entering the Realm of Death to rescue a friend kidnapped by the Genii of Death.

The red-skinned Satan is a "mad dictator of the underworld! Born with an ugly body and warped mind, filled with hatred toward his fellow men [he] seeks the downfall of civilization"; and does so by sabotaging the US military in return for a million dollars from Adolf Hitler (see World War Two). His story is tweaked in #2: he was originally a Spanish conquistador who drank from the Fountain of Youth – this gave him Immortality, but also turned his skin red and altered his physical appearance. Hating life, he repeatedly tried to kill himself; failing, he turned to evil. In #3 a Dr Boneblood offers to sell him an Invention that turns "men into murdering maniacs": Satan simply kills him and uses the device on US armament factory workers, who go on strike, chanting "Kill the bosses, Kill" and "Down with everything". We also learn that Satan can fly. In #4 he meets Natas, a yellow-skinned version of himself who also claims to be the Lord of Evil: they agree whoever does the most wrong will earn that title. However, children not only thwart their plans but also beat them up – so they resort to attempting to murder each other.

There are also costumed superheroes who are athletic but lack superpowers: Linda Turner is a bored Hollywood movie star who gets her thrills by becoming the Black Cat, who exposes Nazi fifth columnists. The Zebra is a wrongly imprisoned man who escapes and incorporates his striped convict outfit into his costume. His first three adventures are non-genre, but in #4 he fights the Human Frog (possibly a Mutant), and there is also a killer plant. The Spirit of '76 fights Nazis in the uniform of his great-great grandfather, an aide-de-camp to General Washington; except for #2, where he fights Satan, his stories are mundane. Spin Hawkins is an ace air pilot; again, only one of his stories is genre: in #2 a man uses a vacuum machine that sucks down aircraft, killing the pilots: his motives are unexplored. British Agent 99 is an actor who uses his talents to foil Nazis.

Though Pocket Comics had unexceptional artwork and mostly forgettable stories, there are some points of interest: it was one of the first Harvey Comics publications (albeit under Alfred Harvey's name); Satan was an interesting character, though underdeveloped; Black Cat is an early female superhero (see Women in SF and the discussion under Miss Fury); and there are some engagingly absurd moments, particularly with the Red Blazer and Satan strips. Less pleasant is the frequent equating of ugliness with evil (on their first meeting the plain-clothed Zebra just gawps at the Human Frog, to be rebuked "go ahead, stare ... remind me of my deformity"). After it ceased publication (the digest size was not popular), Red Blazer, Satan, Black Cat, Zebra and Spirit of '76 moved on to other comics: Black Cat would eventually have her own, whilst Red Blazer lived on only as text stories. Pocket Comics' other main characters were less fortunate. [SP]

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Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 20:43 pm on 22 April 2024.
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