Saturday, February 9

Belated Outrage

Masks #1, p. 1
Okay, so sometimes I can be very unobservant. It was only with my receipt of the third issue of Dynamite's neopulp comic book series Masks in my monthly shipment of comics that I noticed something that I cannot pass up expressing my outrage about, however late it might be. In fact, I'd rather work through my ire in this separate post so that when I do my monthly round-up of Dynamite Comics in a few days I can get right past it and down to the business of continuing my commentary on the story, which I am enjoying.

Nevertheless, from when I first saw the announcement of this eight-part miniseries last year and knew immediately that it was based on the great 1938 trilogy of issues of The Spider magazine containing the stories known collectively as “The Black Police Trilogy,” recently republished in a semischolarly modern collection as The Spider vs. the Empire State (see here, here, and here), I noticed that none of the promotional materials seemed to acknowledge that fact. Admittedly, I probably saw only a fraction of the various interviews that would have presumably come out, and in fact coincidentally only this morning found one, from 'way back in July 2011 when the project was first announced at San Diego Comic Con, which does show they were not keeping it secret, but as far as I could tell from casual observation over the next few months neither were they trumpeting it. In my blog post for issue #1, I commented on being gratified at least by the inclusion of a full-page ad for the Age of Aces edition. But I had not noticed a glaring omission in the dedications that come at the bottom of the credits page – p. 1 in issue #1, inside front cover in issues #2 and #3. There, after “special thanks” are extended to individuals instrumental in the new pulp movement, the series is “dedicated to” the following:

Walter B. Gibson, who under the Street & Smith house name “Maxwell Grant” wrote the majority of The Shadow pulp adventures and in so doing formulated much of the character's image and mythos, although the more mystical aspects such as the ability to “cloud men's minds” to effect virtual invisibility are not present in the pulp tales but only in the radio plays;

Harry Steeger, the co-founder of Popular Publications, the rival to Street & Smith that published The Spider pulp stories, which character Steeger is also credited with creating;

George W. Trendle, radio producer and co-creator, along with Fran Striker, of The Green Hornet;

Fran Striker, more famous as the creator of The Lone Ranger, but also co-creator with George Trendle of The Green Hornet; and

Johnston McCulley, the creator of Zorro.

Which is all fine and good … except that while Harry Steeger might well have created the Spider, and another author penned the first two adventures, the bulk of the later adventures including the three comprising “The Black Police Trilogy,” and in fact the single most important creator in formulating the Spider mythos behind the Popular Publications house name “Grant Stockbridge,” was Norvell W. Page.

Who goes unmentioned.

This is truly an outrage. In my opinion, Page should be given first billing here, or at the very least equal billing with Harry Steeger. In his foreword to The Spider vs. the Empire State, “Blackshirts on Broadway,” Thomas Krabacher of California State University, Sacramento, states: “The Spider and the Black Police were, more than anything, the product of two key individuals, Harry Steeger and Norvell W. Page” (p. 13). Krabacher continues with brief accounts of these two men and their unique qualifications to produce the politically charged saga that raised the frenetic tales of a bloody vigilante dispensing his own brand of justice to the level of “both an allegory and a cautionary tale for the real-world events of its era” (p. 17). Whatever Steeger's determination to turn his company's most successful property in this direction, there is no doubt that it was mainly Norvell Page who executed the task so brilliantly.

And he deserves at least some mention.

No other word describes the injustice that has been committed by the omission of Norvell Page as producing the primary inspiration and indeed the basic story structure for what is now being published as Masks, than outrage.

Not feeling very Cheery right now, I nonetheless thank you for reading.

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