Teen-Aged Dope Slaves and Reform School Girls

By Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman & various (Eclipse Books)
ISBN: 0-913035-79-3   ISBN-13: 978-0-913035-79-5

As the flamboyant escapist popularity of superheroes waned after World War II newer genres such as Romance and Horror came to the fore and older forms regained their audiences. Some, like Westerns and Funny Animal comics hardly changed at all but crime and detective tales were utterly radicalised by the temperament of the times.

Stark, uncompromising, cynically ironic novels and socially aware, mature-themed B-movies that would become categorised as Film Noir offered post-war society a bleakly antiheroic worldview that often hit too close to home and set fearful, repressive, middleclass parent groups and political ideologues howling for blood.

Naturally the new forms seeped into comics, transforming two-fisted gumshoe and Thud and Blunder cop strip-thrillers of yore into darkly beguiling and frightening tales of seductive dames, big pay-offs and glamorous thugs. Sensing imminent Armageddon, the moral junkyard dogs bayed even louder as they saw their precious children’s minds under seditious attack…

From that turbulent period a number of tales and titles garnered especial notoriety from the doomsmiths and particular celebration amongst us tragic, psychologically scarred comics-collecting victims, so in 1989 Eclipse Comics parceled together a bunch of the most salacious, shocking, sensationalistic, best written and drawn examples, produced by an impressive variety of superstars and anonymous unsung draftsmen purely in the interest of historical research…

Still readily available through internet suppliers at extremely reasonable prices, this cool chronicle opens with a handy and informative introduction from Eclipse publisher Dean Mullaney before the sordid spectacle begins with the outrageously trashy tale of Faith: a Bad-Girl-gone-Badder, who only just found redemption in the arms of her equally penitent-and-going-straight ideal man Jeff. There’s no record of who scripted ‘Reform School Girl!’ (1951) but the splendidly kinetic art comes from Louis Zansky.

There are no credits at all for ‘Trapped!’ (also from 1951, and can I detect hints of John Rosenberger or Paul Reinman?); the tale of High School kid Bill Jones, sucked into a spiral of failing grades, lost friends and rebellion against parents and adults after he tries a reefer in the boys toilets. Fear not, however: love, decency and understanding once more save the day.

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby ushered in the American age of mature comics, not only with their creation of the Romance genre but with challenging modern tales of real people in extraordinary situations, seen in their other magazines produced for the loose association of companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines. From Headline Comics #27 (1947) comes the stunning saga of Stella Mae Dickson… ‘The Bobby Sox Bandit Queen.’

Fictionalising true crime cases was tremendously popular at the time and of the assorted outfits that generated such material nobody did it better than S&K as this incredibly hard-punching saga shows with the tale of a young girl willingly drawn into a life of robbery and violence. Her ending was not so happy…

Next up is something of an oddity but still addictively enthralling for all that. ‘Lucky Fights it Through’ was published in 1949, a popular song adapted in 16 pages by Harvey Kurtzman (there’s even a sheet music section) as part of an educational comics project sponsored by Columbia University (as was Trapped!), a contemporary western saga about an ignorant cow-poke (don’t! It’s what they were called, not what they did) dealing with and explaining how to cope with Syphilis.

Crime Detector #5 (September 1954) provided two anonymous stories: ‘Gun Happy’ and the single pager which closes this volume. The former details the sad, brief life of juvenile delinquent Thomas Parker whose obsessive love of firearms took him into the army and Korea but who couldn’t stop the shooting once he returned.

He is followed by a second Simon & Kirby classic from Headline Comics #28. ‘I Worked For the Fence!’ outlines the sorry tale of show-girl Monica who found the lure of a smooth-tongued hustler and other people’s jewels too great to resist, before the major part of this tome relates the shocking fall and rise of a High School Jock dragged down by narcotic addiction until medical attention and the love of a devoted girl dragged him back from the edge…

The notorious ‘Teen-Aged Dope Slaves’ by Martin Bradley & Frank Edgington came from Harvey Comics Library #1 (April 1952) but was actually a resized reprint of a sequence from popular family newspaper strip Rex Morgan, M.D. Nonetheless, for all its strident preachiness, it remains a powerful, well-meaning drama that never forgets the cartoon doctor’s prime doctrine “First, Don’t be Boring.”

That aforementioned one-pager from Crime Detector closes the volume on a tantalising high note as Homicide Inspector Craig challenges the reader to solve the fair-play mystery of ‘The Deadly Needle’

These black and white tales from a simpler a time about a society in meltdown are mild by modern standard of behaviour but the quality of art and writing make them far more than a mere historical curiosity. Teen-Aged Dope Slaves and Reform School Girls is a book well worth your time and attention, but please beware: such material can be habit-forming…
© 1989 Eclipse Enterprises, Inc. Individual strips are © 1947-1954 their respective creators/copyright holders.