Having looked at Jungle Comics #1 I was curious enough to dig into some of the sister titles that came out of Fiction House, a prolific publisher of Golden Age comics. Amongst these is an action-oriented number by the name of Fight Comics. The debut issue was cover-dated January 1940 and the comic as a whole had a good run, eventually ceasing publication in 1954.
Readers who picked up that first issue would have been confronted with an all-new set of two-fisted heroes. And for those of us in 2020, well, each of these characters is out of copyright, so anyone who wants to shoot their own comic-book movie will be spoilt for choice…
While sailing in the South Seas, Brodie rescues an islander girl who tells her of an attack by “evil white men”. The villain turns out to be a seafaring criminal named Nemo, who is established as an old enemy of Brodie’s. With the help of the local natives, Brodie defeats the wrongdoers while Nemo ends up eaten by sharks. Brodie originally had pride of place on the front cover of Fight Comics, but this position never stuck. Truth be told, the comic had trouble finding a stable cover star and simply used a revolving cast of macho men – until 1944, when it hit on the idea of using leggy women instead.
True Life Story of Jack Dempsey
Once we reach this four-page, heavily-narrated biography of the titular boxer, the comic begins to look a little dry. But then we come to…
A goofball comedy strip in the manner of Popeye, starring an overly-muscled and not-particularly-bright boxer. When he was brought back to the comic he was renamed Slug-Nutty Sam.
The Spy Fighter
This is where things take a turn for the fantastical. “The Spy Fighter” is a sci-fi strip set in the year 1997, when just three nations have survived World War II (which, bear in mind, was only months old when the comic was published). Europe and Africa are dominated by Russmany; Asia is held by Mongo; and Greater America stands as the only democracy left (what happened to Australia is unexplained). The Hitler-like dictator of Russmany and the Ming-esque leader of Mongo agree to join forces against America, and succeed in stealing plans for a weapon called a “destroray”.
The job of retrieving the purloined papers falls upon Saber, a man of peak physical and mental prowess who happens to have the gift of telepathy to boot. Granted a submarine sled and a prototype destroray, Saber is able to rescue the plans and, in the very last panel, celebrates by putting his shirt on.
In this strip, a past-his-prime boxer named Chris Harden becomes a mentor to a young fighter dubbed Kayo Kirby – who ends up rescuing Pop Harden’s daughter from kidnappers. With its themes of aspiration and disappointment this is, by the standards of Fight Comics, pretty complex emotionally. The figures of the boxers are drawn with care – too bad about some awkward compositions.
Kinks Mason: 1000 Fathoms Under the Sea!
While trying to set a deep-sea diving record, the unfortunately-named Kinks Mason runs into a shark. He fights off the beast but, in the process, goes astray and resurfaces in a graveyard of lost ships, There, he tangles with tentacle-like carnivorous seaweed and a race of humanoid creatures, the Goors, who are trying to capture a young woman. The woman leads Kinks to the aquatic civilisation of Procono, which he helps defend against the Goors. Kinks’ later adventures would pit him against other quasi-Lovecraftian horrors.
Big Red McLane: King of the North Woods
One look at the weirdly distorted hero makes it clear that this was drawn by Fletcher Hanks, abusive drunkard and creator of some of the oddest comics of the Golden Age. Starring a Canadian lumberjack who clears out a corrupt logging company with his fists, the lack of fantasy means that this isn’t Hanks at his best, although his flair for dialogue is still in evidence:
“Not so fast there, smart guy! I don’t like the way you do your business, and I don’t like your face!! I can’t change your business methods, but I can change your face!! And how!”
Oran of the Jungle
At first glance a Tarzan knock-off, this turns out to be another boxing strip, albeit one with a weirdly convoluted backstory. The main character was lost as a boy in Africa and enslaved by an African tribe; the story opens with him being rescued, after which he heads to America and finds work as a boxer while looking for his long-lost father. In later issues Oran would return to Africa, where he’d use his boxing prowess to defend his father’s plantation.
Terry O’Brien, Gang Smasher
A largely unremarkable gangster story about a tough guy tasked with cleaning up a crime-ridden city. About the only notable thing here is the scene in which the men who hire Terry O’Brien avoid the attention of corrupt authorities by turning up for a meeting in Lone Ranger masks.
Starring an American corporal stationed in China, this is another humorous strip – not the broad comedy of Slaphappy Sam, but still clearly meant to be light-hearted. The story involves Strut and his men defending a group of women from an invasion of “nervy buggers”, the main source of comedy being the men’s excitement at the prospect of meeting ladies – which soon evaporates when the women turn out to be unattractive. At least, I think that’s the plot: it’s not clear if the women are intentionally unattractive or just crudely drawn.
Chip Collins, Sky Fighter
Another story about the American military in China – this time, it’s the air and sea forces. The dialogue doesn’t ascend beyond “velly solly, my sleepy oriental” but the backgrounds are nice.
So, this was the line-up in the debut issue of Fight Comics. Although the more fantasy-oriented strips have their charms, the various boxers and military men do rather blur together a tad. Later issues would begin phasing them out in favour of newer, flashier protagonists to capitalise on popular genres, ranging from the costumed superhero Super-American to the jungle heroine Tiger Girl (who became the regular cover star). But credit where it’s due, one of the heroes in this issue – Kayo Kirby – was popular enough with readers to make it all the way into the 1950s.