Thursday, August 1, 2013

Forgotten Comics:
"Jill Trent" & "British Agent 99"

During the early years of the comic book industry, more series-leading characters came and went than possibly in all the decades that have followed since. The vast majority of titles in those days were anthologies, so for every issue of a comic book, there was a need for at least three or four different series, not counting one- and two-page filler items. Once reprinting newspaper strips fell out of vogue, a vast number of original series were needed.

Some of these characters remain at the forefront of popular comics today, such as Superman, Batman, The Spirit, and Wonder Woman. Others were popular enough that they continued to receive occassional revivals, at least through the 1990s, as creators and company executives fondly remembered the comic book heroes of their earliest childhoods, such as Plastic Man and the original Captain Marvel (and Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr.)

But for every Superman, there were dozens upon dozens of characters who either had a time in the spotlight (like Black Cat) or who disolved back into the aether of imagination from which they had sprung after just a small handful of stories. And then there were the moderately successful characters who kept popping up here and there, either because just enough readers liked them, or because some editor or publisher had a soft spot for them.

One character who was featured in four issues of Pocket Comics from Harvey, and who was never seen again once that title was cancelled, was Alan Douglas, British Agent 99. Douglas was a British national and celebrated Hollywood star who left acting behind to join the British Secret Service after the German victory at Dunkirk in 1940. A master of disguise, he could become anyone with just a little time to prepare.

Splash page from the "British Agent 99" tale
that appeared in Pocket Comics #3.
The first three "British Agent 99" stories were set against the backdrop of the Nazi expansion into eastern Europe and the Yugoslavian military coup and popular revolt that resulted when that nation's political leadership surrendered to the Nazis. Although Alan Douglas is fictional, many of the characters he interacts with are historical figures, and the story unfolds in a manner that stays true to the actual events. In the fourth and final tale, Alan Douglas is taken out of historical events and goes on assignment to Hollywood where he meets Black Cat and helps take down a Nazi spy ring.

Alan Douglas remained in the shadows for more than 70 years when, though complete coincidence, two different publishers decided to bring him back. 

In April of 2013, Broken Souls published "Tarnished," an anthology featuring grim takes on several Golden Age characters, including Alan Douglas and Black Cat. It's a full-color title with all new stories, and you can learn more about it by clicking here.

While the creatives at Broken Souls were slaving away, NUELOW Games--an outfit I call my own--was preparing its "Film Fun Comics" comics/fiction/gaming anthology series. We too tapped Alan Douglas to be featured, due to his back-story as a former actor and his team-up with Black Cat, the mascot of the NUELOW Games comics line, and a fixture of the "Film Fun Comics" series. As is the case with almost all NUELOW Games's comics releases, "Film Fun Comics: British Agent 99" is presented in black-and-white. We strip the color out of the scans, since the original sources are of varying quality and it's the best way we can bring uniformity to the presentation within our non-existing budget and limited resources. But... since it IS in black-and-white, I have an excuse to make a self-serving post! 

While Broken Souls may have beaten NUELOW Games to market with the first ever revival of Alan Douglas, "Film Fun Comics Vol. 3: British Agent 99" is still noteworthy, as its the first time someone has ever collected all four of Alan Douglas's adventures in one place. Click here to learn more about this important release from NUELOW Games (which also features original fiction by yours truly and a Black Cat story illustrated by Bob Powell).

While "British Agent 99" may be a bit too esoteric and crude in its execution art-wise for many modern readers, the same cannot be said about "Jill Trent, Science Sleuth," another 1940s series that has recently received the NUELOW Games treatment. "Jill Trent" is a series so full of action and Girl Power that it continues to appeal today. In fact, Jill has never completely been forgotten in the seven decades since she first appeared on the scene, as numerous little tributes to her all across the web demonstrate. 

A Jill Trent splash-page from "Science Sleuths" #1.
Jill Trent, along with her gal-pal Daisy Smythe, are independent business women who make their living selling Jill's inventions to companies and corporations. On the side, they use Jill's inventions to fight crime... and they usually beat the heck out of any bad guy unfortunate enough to cross their paths. Jill Trent, Science Sleuth" lasted some 14 episodes, debuting in Nedor's "Fighting Yank" #6, and eventually moving to "Wonder Comics" as a regular back-up feature. When "Wonder Comics" was cancelled with issue #20, so was "Jill Trent, Science Sleuth."  

This series was a lot of fun, and lead artist Al Camy had a style that still holds up nicely today. If you're one of those readers who bemoan the poor (and mostly undressed) state of comic book heroines, I think "Jill Trent, Science Sleuth" will cheer you up. (Heck, if you're an artist, get in touch. Maybe we can make NEW "Jill Trent" stories!)

Click here for more information about "Science Sleuths" #1. Jill will be headlining the first few issues of Science Sleuths, but will be sharing its pages with other science-minded (and far more obscure) characters. We will eventually run out of Jill Trent stories--around #5 if current plans hold--but we're certain readers will come to appreciate the other strips waiting in the wings.

In addition to three "Jill Trent" adventures, "Science Sleuths" #1 presents the origin story for Spider Queen. I touch on that series here.... and I will probably revisit it when "Science Sleuths" #2 comes out later this month.

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