THE JERRY MORRIS CLAW STORIES – Dreamslaves and the fiery brilliance of youthful comic book invention

Stories in this post:

Silver Streak Comics #01 - the claw

THE COMING OF THE CLAW
Story, art, lettering by Jack Cole
Silver Streak Comics #1
December, 1939
Lev Gleason

 

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HIGHWAY OF ICE
Story, art, lettering by Jack Cole
Silver Streak Comics #2
January, 1940
Lev Gleason

 

 

In late 1939, Jack Cole got his first comic book to edit, Silver Streak Comics. The first two issues were filled with lackluster leftover Chesler shop stories, but no matter. The lead stories featured one of Cole’s most feverish creations: THE CLAW.

Cole developed THE CLAW for the next 10 issues, culminating in a 4-issue mash-up epic, “Daredevil Battles the Claw.” This inspired idea for expanding a story across issues and including the line’s best heroes and villains all in one story set the tone for the Golden Age era of comics.

The first two CLAW stories featured the “chemist-adventurer” JERRY MORRIS as the hero. After this, Cole would pit his gargantuan oriental nightmare against heroes who had superpowers. The first two CLAW stories are, in my opinion, pretty special.

JERRY MORRIS has no extraordinary physical powers, but he appears to have no fear and, best of all, he has the ability to create mind-boggling inventions. In Silver Streak #3, Cole would introduce an extraordinary, slightly auto-biographical story cycle about another inventor, DICKIE DEAN, BOY INVENTOR.

Crazy inventions were a major theme of Cole’s work, and a story device he turned to time and time again throughout his career.

In this first CLAW story, Jerry Morris invents a “radium serum” that makes him immune to the Claw’s ability to control others through their dreams. (See the post on “The Dictator of Dreams” from Police Comics #78, in which Cole returned to this idea as a mature artist).

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The first CLAW story is filled with elements that would become obsessive mainstays of Cole’s work: fire and water, dark forces, dreams and the sub-conscious, and wild inventions.

In this story, both the hero and the villain have cool inventions. Cole devotes most of pages 8 and 9 to explain THE CLAW’s ingenious method for secretly stealing ships’ cargoes. Thus, THE CLAW’s power is built on both supernatural evil forces and modern technology!

In the second CLAW story, Cole takes a major leap forward as an artist. We move from the rather standard treatment of the Claw’s towering evil presence shown on page three in story one to the astonishingly weird and elegant pose of the villain on page 5 of the second story.

 

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This story is one of Cole’s wildest ever, and that’s saying a lot. sheer imagination and quantity of the inventions alone is staggering. It’s not the inventions alone that make this story remarkable, but rather their unusual and poetic application.The idea of a car that can travel on top of the roaring ocean waves is a brilliant juxtaposition of modern technology and powerful natural forces. Cole would recycle this idea with a melting ray mounted on a car in a Midnight story a few years later.

This story ranks among the very best of Cole’s early stories, along with “Sounds From the Past” (Dickie Dean, Silver Streak Comics #3), “Wizard Ward and the Boat Race” (Quicksilver, National Comics #13), and the formally perfect fourth Midnight story from Smash Comics #21.

Much in the way Cole created the Plastic Man character out of an evil man, in an almost unconscious reversal of the typical formula, he started his own title without a featured hero and instead made the all-powerful occidental villain THE CLAW the focus of the book. Art Spiegelman said THE CLAW made Ming the Merciless look like Mother Theresa, and even that is an understatement!

The prime creators of the early Golden Age comics channeled the evil forces around them that were growing in power. In the second CLAW story, from 1940 (before the United States joined the war), Cole includes Hitler and Nazi Germany.

In these stories, Cole also showed his own inner demons and darkness. At the bottom of page 5 in story two, the page with the weirdly graceful pose of the villain, there is a vivid image of a suicide.

imageIn some ways, this story, created early in Cole’s 16-year career in comics, is very similar to his last comic book story, “The Monster They Couldn’t Kill” (Web of Evil #11, 1954) also about a towering giant menace. The difference in the early CLAW stories and “The Monster They Couldn’t Kill,” is a shift in the way technology is viewed. In his last story, Cole’s giant monster is a scientist trying to accomplish something good, and in the end, he does this by killing himself…. a solution Cole would enact in his own life. In the early CLAW stories, however, Cole displays a wholehearted, youthful, fever-pitch enthusiasm for technology and the belief (for it is as much a belief system as any religion) that humanity can invent it’s way out of any crisis.

2 comments:

  1. Wonderfully priceless stuff! I've always been intrigued by "The Claw" stories and this mythical forgotten company that ran a series based on a villain! I wasn't aware of Cole's link to this until your blog.

    Feels like Saturday morning 1939...I got some reading to do!

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  2. Amazing! There's much more pain than action in these stories. Cole had to feel an insane tendency towards the darkest side of life. That remembers me in a sense Fletcher Hanks' disturbing vision of death above live-
    You can see clearly inside the plot a considerable number of deviations to focus on pain. And even so the story is still standing!
    That proves the high artistic character of this great cartoonist.

    Great post, Paul!
    (as usual)

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