Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Speed Demons (No. 9, Jan., 1958)--Bill Molno at the wheel again

Bill Molno's stamp is all over the highly enjoyable Jan., 1958,  No. 9 issue of Charlton's Speed Demons.  What isn't present is a single Molno signature--no intials, no "Bill," no nothin'.  Par for the race course.  (And "par for the race course" only gets 13 Google search results. Strange.)

Here's the cover.  Dick Giordano?  Looks like him.  Molno-Giordano, maybe?  Someone else?

But I can declare with nearly absolutely certain confidence that "Grand Prix de Cuba," despite the lone "Mastroserio" signature, is in fact Molno-Mastroserio (pencils-inks).  Dig the faces and the stiff Bill-"Rocke" bodies:

The next entry, "Grand Prix de Cuba," is typical Charlton race-car fare: essentially plotless, and with lots of speeding wheels and dirt clouds--just what the readers came to see.  What it lacks is the obligatory "I've been waiting for this!  (POW!!) panel," as I call it. The other three stories make up for this.  Here are their POW!! panels:

In fact, the final story has two face-punch panels, bringing the issue to a total of four.  Four stores/four face-punch panels.  All is well in the universe.

Where were we?  Oh, yes--the second story, "Right Car... Wrong Driver," features easily identifiable pencils and inks--namely, Molno and Vince Alasica.  Molno and Alascia were a magical combination on these types of stories, with a highly convincing sense of speed, motion, and space in the racing scenes.  And the sound effects are worth the price of the comic: "BRRPPP!" RROOAARRR!" "SCREEECHH!"  They more than make up for the lack of "POW!"'s in the issue's punch-out panels:

"Dirty Driver" is Molno inking Molno, and the racing panels have the same highly artistic quality as those of "Right Car...Wrong Driver"--minus Alascia's streamlined inking.  "Dirty Driver" boasts a slightly more complicated plot than usual, with the hero, Jocko McCoy, having to prove he's the victim of "dirty driving" rather than the instigator.  He accomplishes this by drawing out the bad guys, countering their dirty driving moves and forcing bad guy Nick Prado, in full view of all, to go after him ever more aggressively.  Racing official in final panel: "Your troubles are over, Jocko! Instead of barring you, we've barred Nick Prado and his pals.  The crowd knows the truth now!"  (Just in case the preceding narrative left us confused.)  By the standards of the genre, pretty multi-leveled stuff.

"Tramp Driver" is another cheating saga, but I have no idea what the title means.  I Googled it (entering "What is a 'tramp driver'?") but, despite a decent number of hits, no clear definition.  Someone who drives a heavy load, maybe?  As in, not someone to put your hopes in, race-wise.  Maybe that's it.

Art is by Fran Matera, who kindly provided his signature in the first panel.  Yet the faces are highly Molno, no?  So is the final race.  Was Matera working from a Molno layout?    

I have a few later (1960s) Charlton car mags, but I don't like them nearly as much as these early issues.  There's a genre-in-progress feel here that's quite cool, and there's less emphasis on youth than we'd expect from 1958.  Strange, really, with the death of James Dean a recent memory, with teen-oriented B movies raking in the bucks, and with Elvis tearing up the charts even as he served in the Army.  Charlton is often chided as a copy-cat company, but here they seemed to be forging their own course against the teen-culture onslaught of the day.  Skimming over the list of Charlton titles at Comic Book Plus, I only spot four teen titles of the late 1950s, three of them romance.

Charlton wasn't riding the crest of the teen trend--at least, not yet.


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