Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Spectre and The Almost Man, Part 2

      For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
      And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:
      And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
      And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

                 -- Lord Byron, from The Destruction of Sennacherib


     "...Siegel came up with the feature, The Spectre," Bernie Baily told interviewer Ron Goulart, "The look of the character I created, the script he wrote." 1
     Apparently nobody involved gave much thought to the incongruity of publishing The Spectre, Spirit of Vengeance, in a comic entitled MORE FUN COMICS.

     The Spectre, a supernatural being whose mission on Earth is to stamp out crime and to enforce justice with the aid of such weird powers as becoming invisible, walking through walls and delivering death with a glance. -- Introduction from the splash page of MORE FUN COMICS #52

     Although this oft-told tale of the reincarnated murdered police detective, Jim Corrigan, was likely rooted in Siegel's grief over his father's death, his words in the splash panel of The Spectre's debut appearance read as a simplistic reimagining of a far older Judaic entity, the Angel of Death. This entity was so important that on the first day of Creation, God granted, "Over all people have I surrendered thee the power," 2 to take life.
     Like the Talmudic version of this angel, who was said to be "full of eyes",3 doomed evil-doers can't escape The Spectre's stare.
     While this antecedent may have provided inspiration, and while Siegel's words gave The Spectre purpose, it was Baily's drawings that gave him form.

MORE FUN COMICS #52 (Feb. 1940)

     Proving himself up to the challenge, Baily accomplished the remarkable task of modernizing the traditional depiction of Death. His was a brawny Grim Reaper, sans scythe.
     Along with the hooded cloak, life-stealing eyes and blanched complexion expected of his ghastly position, The Spectre also unnecessarily sported boots, gloves and tighty-whiteies (albeit, green*) in keeping with the already de rigueur superhero fashion of the era.
     *(In reality, The Spectre was initially depicted as being gray. My assumption--supported by two panels near the end of his origin story in MORE FUN #53--is that he was wearing a costume, which was later reinterpreted as his bloodless pallor. Furthermore, MORE FUN #52 had his cloak, gloves, boots and shorts colored blue. This coloring suggests that DC wanted potential comic book buyers to confuse this ghostly newcomer with their current star, The Batman.)

MORE FUN COMICS #53 (March 1940)

     (Addendum: to further complicate matters, the VERY first appearance of The Spectre, in the last panel of Baily's final Buccaneer story, bizarrely depicts him as having a purple cape, blue shirt and a green face!)

MORE FUN COMICS #51 (Jan. 1940)
Last page of Baily's final Buccaneer story

     Baily's drawing was equal to The Spectre's grim task. Terrified villains would visibly cower at his appearance, mouths agape, while his pupil-less eyes would send chills through the reader. As the Earthbound ghost was unapologetically remorseless, Bernie responded with appropriately graphic bluntness. In one memorable sequence from MORE FUN #56, The Spectre first crushes, then heaves, a car full of pleading criminals. Mercy be damned!

MORE FUN COMICS #56 (June 1940)

     Baily also proved to be a masterful cover artist. His striking rendition of a towering Spectre striding through a battlefield, wreaking destruction, ranks as one of the most iconic images of the Golden Age.

MORE FUN COMICS #54 (April 1940)

     One might think that the portrayer of such Old Testament-minded retribution to be a misanthropic recluse, but nothing was further from the truth.

     When Bernie married the former Regina Rachinsky on June 24, 1939, he had already taken to using the truncated version of his last name, Bailynson. "He always said," Stephen Baily told me,"the reason he did it was that there was a Mickey Mouse wristwatch he coveted when he was young in which you could substitute the letters of your name for the numbers--and Bernard Bailynson was four letters too long." Then, too, the Anglicization to Baily wouldn't hurt when looking for a job.

Bernie and Regina Baily
[photo courtesy of Eugene Baily]

     Regina, born Riva, emigrated to the U.S. from Russia with her family in 1923. While details of her grandparents courtship are lost, granddaughter Miriam Risko recalled, "...I heard they met in the Catskills."
     The young couple moved into a four room apartment in a 13-story high-rise at 22 Metropolitan Oval in The Bronx. The kitchen table in apartment 5H became Bernie's de facto art studio.

22 Metropolitan Oval
The Bronx, New York

     At about the same time the Bailys were beginning their life's journey, Bernie's comic career was beginning to take off.
     While The Spectre replaced his Buccaneer feature in MORE FUN, Baily continued work on Tex Thomson.
     "At the time," Baily told Ron Goulart, "I feel everything was being geared to Superman, who'd become their big property. At the height of his popularity, in the beginning, I had my Tex Thomson feature in ACTION. I created a cyclops character called The Gorrah."

"The Return of the Gorrah!!"
ACTION COMICS #27 (August 1940)
[image courtesy of Bruce Mason]

     "Now, they had a contest at that time. The kids sent in the names of the characters they liked the best and that character ran so close to Superman in popularity that they made me cut it out. Really." 4
     In the same issue as the above mentioned Gorrah story, Bernie got the rare opportunity to display his humorous side, with the filler page, Mr. Pots. Just the month before, in ADVENTURE COMICS #52 (July 1940) and then again in MORE FUN COMICS #58 (Aug. 1940), Baily contributed a Farmer Doode page to each issue.

Farmer Doode page
ADVENTURE COMICS #52 (July 1940)

     Meanwhile, Editor Vin Sullivan apparently had enough confidence in the Tex Thomson creative team to assign them another feature, a new super-powered hero to headline ADVENTURE COMICS.

     While Jim Corrigan paid the ultimate price to transform into The Spectre, writer Ken Fitch 5didn't expect Rex Tyler to make a similarly gruesome sacrifice to become the Hour-Man. He simply took a pill.

     "Rex Tyler, a young chemist, discovers MIRALCO, a powerful chemical that transforms him from a meek, mild scientist to the underworld's most formidable foe...with MIRALCO, he has for one hour the power of chained-lightning--speed almost as swift as thought. But unless he performs his deeds of strength and daring within one hour the effects of MIRALCO wear off and the Hour Man becomes his former meek self..." -- Introduction from the splash page of ADVENTURE COMICS #48

"Presenting 'Tick Tock Tyler' The Hour-Man"
ADVENTURE COMICS #48 (March 1940)

     Ken Fitch was 13 years older than Baily and his upbringing couldn't have been more different. Born and raised in Norwalk, Connecticut, Fitch had deep familial roots in the Nutmeg State going back hundreds of years and an ancestry that boasted colonial governor Thomas Fitch. 6
     Before heading off to Pace College in New York and obtaining a degree in accounting, Fitch was a member of the Young Men's Community Club; an organization whose presidency he fiercely pursued. The battle between Fitch and his main opponent was dutifully chronicled in the Norwalk newspaper's local news column.
     Now, that in itself may not matter much. What is interesting, though, is the name THE NORWALK HOUR gave to the anonymous reporter who wrote of Fitch's campaign. This writer was known as "Hour Man".

Hour Man column
THE NORWALK HOUR (July 9, 1920)

     As a life-long Norwalk resident, Fitch was undoubtedly aware of this long-running column, but whether his appropriation of its writer's nom de plume was intentional or based upon latent memory will never be known.
     Baily's depiction of Hour-Man was straight forward. Clothed head-to-toe in a traditional circus strongman's outfit, the Man of the Hour's added accouterments were his cape, half-mask and a dangling hourglass to remind him of his time constraint. And if he forgot, small boxes counting down the waning minutes appeared at the bottom of every few panels.
     Although lacking The Spectre's moodiness and opportunity for expanding his artistic horizons, it was Baily's Hour-Man that received the editorial popularity boost. In ADVENTURE #54, at the end of a tale involving his new young partners, The Minute Men of America (a bit of jingoist provincialism from Fitch--the Connecticut Yankee in Rex Tyler's court), an announcement in the last panel informed readers of a contest that included a cash prize and an original piece of artwork from Baily.

ADVENTURE COMICS #54 (Sept. 1940)
[image courtesy of James Ludwig]

     The entries were read, the winners determined and finally, in ADVENTURE #57, their names were announced.

ADVENTURE COMICS #57 (Dec. 1940)
[image courtesy of James Ludwig]

     Along with the $1.00 cash prize, the ten winners each received their personalized artwork, including "William Carroll", the first person listed.

Hour-Man contest winner original art
inscribed to "William Carroll"
[image courtesy of Jon Berk]

     Soon after their debuts, both The Spectre and Hour-Man would find themselves appearing in other venues.
     When the New York World's Fair opened for its second season on May 11, 1940, the kids in the crowd who were able to coax their parents into spending the exorbitant sum of 15 cents for a comic book (!), were greeted by a cover featuring DC's big guns--Superman, Batman and his young sidekick, Robin--waving cheerily back at them. Not to be outdone, the newcomer, Hour-Man, had secured a place on the inside for his own fair-oriented adventure.


     Virtually simultaneously (on May 24th, actually), ALL-STAR COMICS #1 (Summer 1940) appeared on newsstands, featuring both The Spectre and Hour-Man, both illustrated by Baily.

ALL-STAR COMICS #1 (Summer 1940)

     The concept of ALL-STAR was likely an outgrowth of the NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR comics' success. Instead of featuring its heavy hitters, though, DC and related publisher All-American,7 chose to showcase their second-tier heroes in this new title.
     Along with DC's Sandman and All-American's Ultra-Man and The Flash, Baily's Spectre captured one of the coveted quarters of the cover. Meanwhile, Hour-Man was relegated to "Also Featuring" status in a blurb along the bottom. The disparity continued on the interior as Hour-Man was given just six pages for his adventure, while The Spectre topped everyone with his ten-page tale.

The Spectre splash page from ALL-STAR #1
Debut of classic Spectre logo, which was essentially
a reworking of Baily's MORE FUN #54 cover.

     The Spectre's cover presence percentage increased with the second issue as Ultra-Man was gone and he now appeared alongside only The Flash and Green Lantern.
     While the first two issues of ALL-STAR were anthology comics made up of unrelated individual adventures, a radical new format was introduced in ALL-STAR #3.

     "I worked from the beginning with the Justice Society stories," wrote famed writer, Gardner Fox, in a letter dated March 26, 1979, "though the idea of creating the Justice Society was Gaines' (I believe)."8 Additionally, Roy Thomas has speculated it was the aforementioned 1940 WORLD'S FAIR comic cover that inspired the concept of a super-team.9
     Whatever the inspiration, the format premiered in ALL-STAR #3 allowed the reader to see their favorite super-heroes (and DC/All-American had more than anyone else at the time) meeting to swap stories of their exploits.

ALL-STAR COMICS #3 (Winter 1940)

     Each hero related their individual adventure in turn. The Spectre told of his battle with an interplanetary beast named Oom. Baily's unique style was well-suited to depicting their cosmic rumble.

Baily Spectre page

     Unlike the other JSA members, who ended their tale in one panel before the next hero appeared in the following one, The Spectre and Hour-Man (spelled Hourman here) occupied one panel in a seamless segue. Curiously, even though it appeared in the middle of a Baily drawn page, this panel was drawn by E.E. Hibbard, who also provided the bracketing JSA sequences and the linking interludes between the individual adventures.

The Spectre and Hour-Man panel
drawn by E.E. Hibbard

     For his part, Hour-Man battled a gang of thieves dressed to look like him. In this case, Baily's artistic versatility prevailed over a fairly pedestrian story.

Baily Hour-Man page

     By 1941, with two lead features, their additional ALL-STAR stories and his long-running Tex Thomson, Baily had established himself as DC's most reliable artist. He was also apparently given a greater say in the plotting of The Spectre.
     "The thing I created in The Spectre was his sidekick, Percival Popp, the Super Cop. An interesting thing is that in many cases the side characters became more popular than the main characters. For the obvious reason that you could do more with them."10
     While it's difficult to see how anyone could do more with a bumbling, self-deluding, wanna-be detective than the limitless wraith, Percival Popp not only became a part of The Spectre's supporting cast, he eventually took over his feature.

MORE FUN COMICS #81 (July 1942)
[image courtesy of Bruce Mason]

     But introduction of Popp in MORE FUN #74 (Dec. 1941) wasn't totally driven by creative possibilities. There were larger concerns.
     In an article dated May 8, 1940, author Sterling North decried the fact that, "Virtually every child in America is reading color "comic" magazines--a poisonous mushroom growth of the last two years."
     North seized the moral high ground, royally noting that, "...we found that the bulk of these lurid publications depend for their appeal upon mayhem, murder, torture and abduction...".
     What likely resonated particularly at DC, was North's scorn for, "Superman heroics, voluptuous females in scanty attire, blazing machine guns, "hooded" justice...".11 The pointed mention of their franchise star made it apparent that they were a target.
     In reaction to North's essay and the growing murmur of condemnation heard expressed by other concerned citizens, DC developed an in-house editorial code that mandated squeaky clean behavior from its heroes, including the edict that none of them would ever knowingly kill. What was a minor inconvenience for Superman, was a game-changer for The Spectre.
     By the summer of 1941, the company had also created an Editorial Advisory Board, populated with child-rearing specialists and other upstanding citizens. Goodbye death-staring Spirit of Vengeance, hello clownish Super Cop.
     The Spectre, I can't avoid noting, became a ghost of himself .
     Meanwhile, even though the team concept in ALL-STAR was proving to be a success, Hour-Man's role in it was apparently not. He became the first original member of the JSA to leave, making his last appearance in issue #7 (Oct.-Nov. 1941). What prompted Hour-Man's departure is speculative (He was granted a leave of absence after the last JSA story in this issue.), but it resulted in Baily having one less story to draw each month. And the loss of income couldn't have come at a worse time. Bernie's son Stephen had just been born.
     As with most who worked in comics at the time, Baily's steady production hadn't been enough to warrant special compensation. "When I was working for DC, I wasn't on salary." said Bernie, "It was always page rates."12
     Baily's prospects at DC were limited. Added to that fact, a growing family and a diminished workload were realities that couldn't be ignored. Reasons enough for Baily to look elsewhere to pad his income.

     Bertram D.(“Bert”) Whitman's transient career as a cartoonist had taken him from Chicago to Los Angeles, from Detroit to Cincinnati. But like many of the young (he was born in 1908) artists eking out a living, he ended up back in his native New York City and the boomtown environment of the late-1930s comic book industry.

Bert Whitman (1961 photo)
[photo courtesy of Allan Holtz]

     While he may have established himself a bit with individual efforts in several early Fox titles13, Whitman quickly followed the entrepreneurial lead of Harry "A" Chesler and Eisner & Iger by forming his own comic shop, circa 1939. And Whitman's primary, if not only, client was Frank Z. Temerson.
     Temerson was the former city attorney of Birmingham, Alabama, who had partnered with Irving W. Ullman in various business ventures going back to 1935, at least. One such was the early comic publisher, Ultem Publications.
     Ultem folded in 1938, selling their titles to Centaur Publications. However, Temerson soon re-emerged with a new company, Tem (AKA Nita) Publishing, at the same 381 4th Avenue address.14
     While Bert Whitman Associates packaged such comics as CRASH and WHIRLWIND for Tem and Nita respectively, they also supplied the contents of the licensed GREEN HORNET COMICS for yet another Temerson company, Helnit Publishing.
     Both CRASH and WHIRLWIND failed quickly, off the newsstands by the fall of 1940. With his shop pretty much reduced to packaging the GREEN HORNET, Whitman began considering other options. Although a proposed Green Hornet newspaper strip didn't sell, Whitman continued to produce the comic book a bit longer, until issue #6 (Aug. 1941). He ultimately sold the publishing rights to the character to the new Harvey company (Ron Goulart wrote, "He later maintained that he made more money by selling the rights to the Green Hornet than anyone ever made off publishing comic books about him."15) and closed up his comic studio.
     In the meantime, though, Whitman had already moved on to another strip that did sell.
     In March, 1940, the Chicago Tribune debuted their new Sunday supplement, the CHICAGO TRIBUNE COMIC BOOK, a format similar to the better known SPIRIT supplement which was to come along in June of that year.

Bert Whitman Mr. Ex page (circa 1941)
[image courtesy of George Hagenauer]

     Whitman sold the syndicate a strip about a secret agent, a master of disguise. And on January 19, 1941, Mr. Ex premiered in their supplement.
     Enter Bernie Baily.


     It's hard not to note the irony in Bernard Baily, artist of The Spectre, being a "ghost".
     How he came to be an uncredited assistant on Bert Whitman's Mr. Ex isn't known, and neither is the exact time frame. But the loss of the Hour-Man solo story work in ALL-STAR closely corresponds to the ending of Whitman's comic shop, circa the summer of 1941.
     It is difficult to ascertain exactly what strips Baily had a hand in. As with many "ghosts", Baily's own style virtually disappears in an effort to maintain visual continuity with Whitman's. But Baily's moody, seriousness appears at times in contrast to Whitman's own lighter, cartoony style, as in the undated Mr. Ex strips that were reprinted in A-1 COMICS #2 (1944).

Mr. Ex page
from A-1 COMICS #2 (circa 1944)

     Even though Mr. Ex ran until late June of 1943, Whitman was still drawing comic books. As was Bernie.
     In Fawcett's MASTER COMICS #32 (Nov. 4, 1942), Whitman took up the art chores on the ongoing El Carim feature, introducing Balbo, Boy Magician in the process. By the next issue, Balbo had taken El Carim's spot in MASTER's line-up.
     Coincidentally (or not?), an inter-office memo dated "Sept. 21"--without a year designated, but likely 1942--notes that Baily was also working for Fawcett. Historian Roger Hill, who revealed the contents of this memo to me, reports that Baily is credited with having completed a Captain Marvel Jr. story entitled, "Once Upon a Time".
     Armed with this information, I conducted a search of CM Jr. stories and though that line didn't show up as a title, it did appear as an opening line in a CM Jr. backup tale in CAPTAIN MARVEL JR. #2 (Dec. 18, 1942).

"The Pied Piper of Himmler" splash page
CAPTAIN MARVEL JR. #2 (Dec. 18, 1942)

     Once again, it is hard to see Baily's style in this work (perhaps it is only his pencils under another artist's inking). The intent was to give the illusion that primary CM Jr. artist, Mac Raboy, was drawing this back-up as well.

Comparison of panel details

     As with other CM Jr. artists, Baily employed liberal use of pasted-up stock Raboy poses and CM Jr. faces. Unlike his DC art, this story is unsigned--not only in deference to his role as a "ghost", but likely a job-saving consideration in light of DC's discouragement of their artists' freelancing, particularly with their main competitor.
     Bernie's moonlighting at Fawcett continued at least until early 1943. A March 29, 1943 artists rate list retrieved from the files of editorial director Ralph Daigh (and published in P.C. Hamerlinck's FAWCETT COMPANION), indicates that Baily was still producing work for the company at that time. Note, too, that his credits also included artwork for the Spy Smasher feature.

Fawcett artist rate list (March 29, 1943)
crediting "Bernard Bailey" (sic)
[image courtesy of P.C. Hamerlinck]

     Curiously, at about the same time, Bernie was getting a helping hand on The Spectre. The helping hand of Pierce Rice.
     The Spectre chapter in ALL-STAR COMICS #14 (Dec. 1942-Jan. 1943) has been identified as having been penciled by Rice, with Baily providing the inks. Furthermore, Rice also handled the art chores on the Ghostly Guardian's story in MORE FUN COMICS #90 (April 1943).

Pierce Rice Spectre splash page
MORE FUN COMICS #90 (April 1943)

     At first look, it doesn't add up. Why would an artist jeopardize his bread-and-butter job (and split his page rate) in order to pick up a few assignments elsewhere? It's not like Baily was overwhelmed with work at DC. During this same time period--fall of 1942--Hourman (who had lost his hyphen along the way), ended with ADVENTURE COMICS #83 (Feb. 1943).
     So what was going on?
     A clue can be found in a statement made by Bernie's son, Stephen.
     "From the time he was a kid he preferred working for himself."
     Fate had positioned Baily perfectly. The burgeoning comic book industry was full of guys just like him: would-be entrepreneurs with little money, but a lot of moxie.
     The marketplace demanded material; it was ravenous...and undiscriminating. At best, quality was an afterthought; publishers just needed something to fill their pages. This shallow need spawned the comic shops--low paying, no frills, grind-it-out art sweatshops.
     Bernie Baily had seen Jerry Iger, Will Eisner and Bert Whitman profit from this business model.
     Why not him?


1 Baily, Bernard. interview by Ron Goulart, "Golden Age Memories", THE HISTORY OF DC COMICS (1987), pgs. 50-51.

2 Tan. to Ex. xxxi. 18; ed. Stettin, p. 315.

3 Ibid.

4 Baily, op. cit.

5 There has been some debate as to the writer of the first Hour-Man story. Even the influential Grand Comic Book Database [GCD] site credited Gardner Fox for some time. My inquiries into the subject led historians Craig Delich and Martin O'Hearn to re-evaluate the writing style of the origin story. In an April 15, 2009 email, Delich informed me, "Ken Fitch wrote the Hour-Man story in NY WORLD'S FAIR 1940, and also wrote the stories for the character in ALL-STAR #2, and ADVENTURE #48 well into issues in the 50's.The credits came from Jerry Bails, who got it from Fitch himself, who also said that he created the character." Delich, with verification from O'Hearn, made subsequent corrections to the GCD credits.

6 Another Fitch ancestor, the Governor's son, Colonel Thomas Fitch, Jr., was THE "Yankee Doodle". According to the story, during the French and Indian War, Fitch commanded a rag-tag troop of colonists attached to the British army. Elisabeth Fitch, the colonel's sister, thought to dress-up the uniform-less Norwalkers by giving them chicken feathers to wear as plumes in their hats. Upon seeing this, the British regulars ridiculed them unmercifully, prompting one of them to mockingly change the words to the then popular tune, Lucy Locket, to what we now know as Yankee Doodle.

7 All-American (AA) Publications was owned by Max C. Gaines and, ostensibly, Jack Liebowitz, DC's "secretary and treasurer". In reality, Liebowitz, while certainly a partner, was gifted that position by Harry Donenfeld, Detective Comics undeniably shady owner and the real money behind AA. The two companies enjoyed a special relationship, outwardly evidenced by reciprocal advertising and the publication of ALL-STAR COMICS.
     Eventually, Gaines would sell his share of AA to DC, as it became one part of the amalgamation of distribution and comic book companies under the umbrella corporation, National Periodical Publications.

8 Fox, Gardner. letter printed in ROBIN SNYDER'S HISTORY OF COMICS, vol. 2, #2, (Feb. 1991).

9 Thomas, Roy, "Seven Years Before the Masthead", THE ALL-STAR COMPANION, (2004), pgs. 13-14.

10 Baily, op. cit.

11 North, Sterling, "A National Disgrace", THE CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, May 8, 1940.

12 Baily, op. cit.

13 Although several sources give Whitman credits as early as NEW FUN #1 (Feb. 1935), this is unlikely. Not only was Whitman living and working halfway across the country at the time, the feature credited to him--Judge Perkins--was probably drawn by Bert Salg, a veteran illustrator who died in 1938.

14 The Temerson saga is an involved one that necessarily dovetails into a discussion of the quagmire surrounding such publishers as Holyoke and a plethora of small publishers with a possible, but indeterminate, relationship. As Bernie Baily was himself related to this discussion, I will return to it in a later installment of his story.

15 Goulart, Ron. COMIC BOOK CULTURE: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, (2000), pg. 113.