Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Speed Savage – “Murder Has The Puck”, Part 1

How’s it going, eh?

Eugene Judd Milton Judd, better known as the bombastic Puck, coming ‘atcha again for more Olympic goodness. It took the folks here at comicanuck so long to start blogging about the Olympics (They originally planned to post every day of the Games) that our post-Olympics comic book round-up is now officially a pre-Paralympics series!

Last time we talked up Canada’s favourite game – hockey, eh? Now it’s time for the second period to begin with a nod to the golden age of Canadian comic books.

There’s no doubt that between the Olympics in Vancouver last month and the Paralympics this month, we’re been witness to the top athletes in the world competing in the ultimate competition. But I’d like to tell you about the greatest athlete I’ve ever met. And lemme tell ya, I was born before the outbreak of World War I, I’ve seen a lot of terrific athletes in my day. But first, I've got to set the scene a little.

In the early days of World War II, (Dec. 1940, to be exact) the Canadian government grew increasingly concerned over the imbalance of trade between the US and Canada, One of their solutions was to introduce the War Exchange Conservation Act which limited the importation of non-essential goods – like magazines, books and comic books. I know, how could any rational, sane human being consider comic books to be non-essential?

Eager to fill the void, several indigenous comic publishers arose to fill the void. Maple Leaf Publishing, out of Vancouver, and Toronto’s Anglo American Publishing were first out of the gate, putting their first books (Maple Leaf’s Better Comics with our first superhero, Iron Man, and AA’s Robin Hood and Company) on the stands by March 1941. It may have happened even earlier since most periodicals put a long lead date on the cover to allow for long time on the stands.

For a short time, the classiest books on the stands came from the third publisher to enter the fray; Adrian Dingle’s Hillborough Studios and Triumph Adventure Comics. With the help of his wife and several talented painter friends, Triumph was proudly Canadian and introduced the world to Nelvana of the Northern Lights. Sadly, by the sixth issue of Triumph the burden of writing, drawing, editing, packaging, publishing and distributing his book took a toll on Dingle and he sold his title to publisher Cyril Bell.

Bell hired on Dingle as his art director but Dingle’s other accomplished artists, except for the Kulbach brothers, René and André, did not follow. I suspect several of them were drafted into military service or signed up themselves because Bell Features was soon relying on teenage talent to fill out their ambitious array of titles, rather than more experienced artists.

In the seventh issue of Triumph Comics (which had now dumped the lengthy adventure portion of the title), we see the first of the youngsters to arrive --

-- Ted Steele and his heroic adventurer, Speed Savage!

Based on the popular pulp heroes of the time, Speed Savage is “well-known all over the North American continent as a crack athlete and private detective”. I can vouch for the athlete stuff. There were few competitors as well rounded as Speed. When he wasn’t racing cars or speedboats, Speed was making opponents eat his powder as a crack skier or lighting up the scoreboard as a star hockey player.

To show just how amazing Speed was, here’s a splash page from Triumph Comics 12 that says he is competing in a cross-country ski race at the “St. Anne Winter Sports Carnival in Quebec.” Picture it, Speed is in a cross-country race and yet the splash shows him sailing overa ski jump with perfect form! Either Speed is competing in two races at once (and winning both) or his sense of direction is seriously screwed up!

A competitor as dogged as Speed drew a lot of cheating gangsters and unsportsmanlike criminals into his circle. But Speed took care of them in his own, not so unique way… You see, “only a few trusted friends” knew that Speed was also the “the mysterious ‘White Mask’, dread hunter of criminals and avenger of wrong.”

The White Mask started out fighting crime in a taking-care-of-business zoot suit with a fedora, blazing 45’s and of course, a white mask. He completed the ensemble with a groovy skull symbol on his forehead which, quite frankly, beats the heck out of the “P” plastered on the front of my original costume. Alpha Flight’s government tailors sure make sturdy clothing but fashion forward they ain’t.

Just saying.

Here’s Speed as envisioned by Canuck comic book artist, Scott Hepburn (webcomic The Port and Clone Wars). The sketch is too big for a scanner so I took a digital photo.

Later, much like DC Comics Sandman character, Speed dumped the suit but kept the 45’s as he turned to a more streamlined, skintight outfit. He was busting heads and looking good doing it! Ol' Puck here used some of Speed’s, er, the White Mask’s ideas when they first made my costume. Wish I’d thought to copy the forehead skull though. That’s just dang cool.

Toward the end of the war, after the repeal of the War Exchange Conservation Act, Cyril Bell attempted to position his company for post-war business as usual. He released a number of one shots featuring Bell characters like Nelvana, Tang and the Phantom Rider in the hopes of introducing people to the idea of buying their exploits in their own books. The books contained mostly reprints but I suspect the Nelvana one shot had one new story.

Today’s Speed Savage story comes from the Speed Savage one shot (which sported two covers - one for Canada and one for Britain - shades of modern comic marketing! Pictured below is the Brit version). It was released with two separate covers. I believe the one I have here was for the British market. I suspect this tale is a a reprint but I don’t know what issue of Triumph Comics it's from.

In keeping with our hockey theme, this golden age adventure is all about rinkside shenanigans.

And to make things even more exciting, we have a splash page recreation by none other than Canadian comic book creator Jeff Lemire (Essex County trilogy, Sweet Tooth, The Nobody), who’s no stranger to hockey and comics himself!

So hold onto yer hats, hosers… Comicanuck and Eugene Judd are proud to present Speed Savage The White Mask in “Murder Has The Puck” part one, by Ted A. Steele!

Whoa! What a cliff-hanger. Our eye-patch wearing villain is still going through with his murderous scheme even though his boss, the guy who's presumably paying him, is dead. I guess it's kind of like paying his last respects without having to pop for flowers.

Is it just me or does Speed's plan of getting shot by crooks to throw them off their murderous path seem like a bad idea all around?

Well, the secret is out and now you know why Speed was such a great hockey player. He used to be the top man in the National Hockey League! Let's see... That would have meant he was playing at the end of the thirties, after the Great Depression reduced the number of teams from ten in 1930 to seven by 1940. Playing with greats Howie Morenz, Charlie Conacher, King Clancy, Hap Day, Art Ross and Eddie Shore will make a hockey man out of ya, all right.

Montreal's hockey-crazed citizens supported two teams for years- the Maroons and the Canadians. And New York, then as now, supported two teams as well - the New York Americans and the New York Rangers. The Maroons, despite winning their second Stanley Cup (over the Maple Leafs) in 1935 and considering a move to St. Louis (where the hard luck Ottawa Senators had tried moving to as the St. Louis Eagles for their final season) gave up the ghost in 1939 and the New York Americans were teetering on the brink. After changing their name to the Brooklyn Americans they folded in 1942.

I like to imagine that Speed helped the hard luck Maroons win that last Stanley Cup before they ran out of time and money. Not being part of a storied franchise like the Canadians that lasted into the 21st century and celebrates its past heroes maybe the only reason we haven't heard of Speed's days in the NHL.

We'll retire to the dressing room for a last ditch pep talk while I sweep up the ice (I worked as a human zamboni back in the day, eh?)

Come on back for sudden death overtime when comicanuck presents Part II of "Murder Has The Puck"!

Beavers Up!

1 comment:

  1. A lot of good comics appeared during WWII, comics that where more Canadian than the ones that where coming from the US (for obvious reasons) and well sports have always been a huge part of all this, and I see no problem in any of them.