Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The War I Never Forgot!
Notes & A Sort of Prologue to Part Two

Ha! I bet you thought I forgot. Well, I didn't forget. I'll never forget The War I Never Forgot!

But let's get to it, shall we?

What is the War I Never Forgot?

Why would anyone think I'd forgotten it?

And who cares?

  • Back in May -- May 22nd, to be exact -- I posted Part 1 of a planned essay on one of my favorite comicbook titles of all time, National Periodical/DC Comics's beloved Star-Spangled War Stories "The War That Time Forgot" series (click this link, and scroll down past the intro paragraphs of that day's post).

  • Much has diverted my attention since then, but I've kept chipping away at it nonetheless, and have at last arrived at the necessary time to re-engage with that long-overdue followup.

    Alas, since I'm still unpacking my library and collection, and will be for months to come, some of the prototypes and precursors to "The War That Time Forgot" I intend to discuss will have to wait for the revised and expanded draft, which will go up on my website later this summer. For the time being, this offhand 'prologue to Part 2' (ya, I know, it's daft structurally, but hey, it's a blog, not a thesis paper or book) will have to suffice. Note, too, that I'm also springboarding a bit from
  • three-part review of the new DVD release of The Giant Behemoth, which began here --
  • -- part two is here,
  • and here's the final chapter -- not essential to enjoying this multi-part comics essay, but some of the references I'll be making offhand may make more sense in context of these earlier essays.

  • ACG's Forbidden Worlds #3 (November 1951)

    As in all eruptions in the pop culture, "The War That Time Forgot" didn't emerge in a vacuum. In Part 1 of this essay (see link above), I noted the immediate context and contemporaries among the comicbooks that shared the stands with editor/writer Robert Kanigher's canny fusion of combat and carnosaurs -- but there were many precursors to the series, including specific fusions of World War II and the lost world/lost island archetype Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs and countless pulp imitators and monster movies had popularized. In my own humble dinosaur comics collection, the earliest example I can lay hands on is an old American Comics Group -- ACG -- curio entitled Operation Peril, pictured alongside the title of today's post.

    Operation Peril #6 (November 1951) features among the earliest of all soldiers vs. dinosaurs situations on its cover. Operation Peril was ACG's "Action-Packed Adventures!" (as ballyhooed on its debut issue's cover) comics title of the period. From its first issue, Operation Peril featured a regular lineup of features in every issue -- "Typhoon Tyler" (art by Ogden Whitney of Herbie fame, ACG's best-known regular freelancer), "Danny Danger," "Blackbeard, The Pirate Peril," and "The Time Travelers." This wasn't a successful comics series, lasting only two years and about a dozen issues (1950-52), but it should be recognized as a clear precursor to Kanigher's "War That Time Forgot," if only for #6's cover and story.

    Typical of the era, Pre-Code sf and horror comics would often sport a dinosaur on their cover sans any dino story inside -- consider, for instance, the first periodical horror comics anthology series of 'em all, ACG's venerable Adventures Into the Unknown. Pictured here is the 13th issue of the series from November of 1950. Though it looks like ACG was aping the 1950s monster movies, this cover image handily pre-dated all the reanimated dino/giant monster movies of the '50s; only Winsor McCay's animated short Dream of a Rarebit Fiend: The Pet (1921, the first 'giant monster attacks the city' movie of all time), Willis O'Brien's pioneer stop-motion epic The Lost World (1925), the 1933 King Kong and the Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoon The Arctic Giant (which debuted February 27, 1942) had featured giant monsters loose in a metropolis thus far; the nearest contemporary movie of its ilk, Unknown Island (1948), was a typical 'lost island' opus (featuring men-in-suit saurians and Ray 'Crash' Corrigan in a pretty bogus 'sloth' outfit). AITU #13's Ogden Whitney cover art in fact echoed many a pulp cover while anticipating the iconic 1950s Reynold Brown movie poster art so beloved today -- but nary a dino lurks inside the comic itself (cover artist Ogden Whitney illustrated "Beware the Jabberwock!", accompanying the self-descriptive "The Vampire Swoops," "Menace from Mars," and ghost yarns "A Knight in Black Knoll" and "The Lost Soul" -- alas, no dinos). This was a typical sales ploy of the day, using interchangeable but always eye-catching art unrelated to anything in the comic to spark sales.

    Adventures Into the Unknown and ACG's other titles of the period often played this shell game, as did almost every other Pre-Code publisher. Consider Whitney's nifty cover for Adventures Into the Unknown #17 (March, 1951, still predating the boxoffice bonanza The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms by two years), which also sported pterodactyls, but nothing of the sort soared inside (ahem, "Ghostly Destroyer," "The Graveyard Wanderer," "Ozark Witches," "The Phantom That Foretold," "Beast From the Beyond," "Uncanny Mysteries," and "Curse of the Catacombs" actually lurked within). Later in the 1950s, ACG played fairer, with cover imagery always directly tied to interior narratives and art (however tentatively). If there was a dinosaur or caveman on an ACG cover after 1955, it was definitely in the comic itself, though (like all other comics publishers) they weren't above inflating a one or two panel dinosaur or caveman appearance in a story into the cover spot, promising much more to wee dino fans like myself than the comic actually delivered. We had to satisfy ourselves with crumbs and tidbits of the dino comics we craved!

    That irrevocably changed two years later, thanks to the great Joe Kubert and his antediluvian hero Tor. Though reprint editions and Joe's subsequent adventures appear under the title Tor, that wasn't the title of Tor's debut comic series. 1,000,000 Years Ago!/One Million Years Ago #1 (September 1953) hit newsstands and comic racks late summer of 1953, about the same time Ray Harryhausen's Rhedosaurus was stomping boxoffice records via the surprise success of Warner Bros. release of The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms. The timing of 1,000,000 Years Ago! couldn't have been better, and Joe Kubert, Norman Maurer and their publisher St. John were more than playing fair with dino fans: with Tor its hero, the title was the first all-prehistoric (I hesitate to say 'all-dinosaur,' given Joe's proper focus on his caveman protagonist and tribal life) comicbook series.

    To Be Continued... have a great Wednesday!

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