Top-Notch Comics was the name of an American comic book anthology series published by MLJ Magazines Inc., more commonly known as MLJ Comics, during the 1930s and 1940s period known as the Golden Age of Comic Books. From issue #28 it was re-titled Top-Notch Laugh Comics.
Cover of Top Notch Comics 1 (Dec 1939)
|Publisher||MLJ Magazines Inc|
|Publication date||December 1939 – May 1942|
|No. of issues||27|
|Main character(s)||The Wizard|
Kardak the Mystic Magician
Wings Johnson of Air Patrol
Keith Cornell, West Pointer
Bob Phantom, Scourge of the Underworld
Fran Fraser, Girl Photographer
Top-Notch Comics was the second anthology comic published by MLJ Magazines Inc., the precursor to what would become the publisher Archie Comics. It was launched a month after Blue Ribbon Comics #1 (Nov. 1942) with an editorial page exclaiming 'Let's all whoop it up together for TOP-NOTCH....THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC BOOK!' . The series was edited by Harry Shorten.
The format of Top-Notch Comics was very similar to Blue Ribbon Comics; 64 pages of short strips, initially featuring a mixture of science-fiction stories such as "Scott Rand in the Worlds of Time" (#1–2) written by Otto Binder as 'Eando Binder' and drawn by his brother Jack Binder; and "Streak Chandler on Mars" (#4–8), the crime story "Lucky Coyne, Undercover Man" (#1) and true crime detection stories in "Manhunters" by future Plastic Man creator Jack Cole (artist) (#1–3); and a number of adventure tales, "Swift of the Secret Service" (#1–3), "The Mystic" (#1–3), "Dick Storm" (#2–8) and "Stacey Knight, M.D." (#2–4).
Furthering the similarities with Blue Ribbon Comics, the medieval Knights of the Round Table tale "Galahad" by Lim Streeter (#5–11), mirrored the Green Falcon series in that title. Early issues of Top-Notch Comics also contained text stories, as all comic books did through the early 1960s to satisfy U.S. Postal Service requirements for magazine rates. A few short humor strips also featured in the first four issues, "Lonesome Luke", "Impy" by Winsor McCay and a rhyming funny animal strip "Pokey Forgets to Remember" (all in issue #1), while "Noodle" by Quincy featured in six issues (#2–7). The "Impy" 1-page strip was the only reprint during the Top-Notch Comics run.
No single character lasted for the whole run of Top-Notch Comics/Top-Notch Laugh Comics, although the costumed hero the Wizard – subtitled "The Man With the Super-Brain", which began in issue #1, ran until #27 (May 1942). A number of other costumed heroes accompanied The Wizard with long runs in Top-Notch Comics, "Bob Phantom – The Scourge of the Underworld" (#3 -25), initially by Irv Novick but later written by editor Harry Shorten and drawn by Bernie Klein, had made two appearances in Blue Ribbon Comics prior to transferring to Top-Notch Comics. The superhero the "Firefly" made 19 appearances (#8–26) while "Kardak the Mystic Magician", by the Shorten/Klein team lasted 25 issues. Black Hood, who appeared from issue #9 (Oct. 1940) until the last issue of the renamed Top-Notch Laugh Comics (#45, June 1944), was the longest running character in the title, displacing The Wizard to feature on every cover from #9.
MLJ also introduced a wide range of long-lasting adventure characters early on in the series; "Air Patrol" (#1–27), re-titled "Wings Johnson of Air Patrol" from #3 (Feb. 1940), about an American flyer who enlists in the British R.A.F. before America enters World War II, was written and drawn by Irv Novick, and later by Jo Blaire and Ed Smalle, "The West Pointer", later renamed "Keith Cornell, West Pointer" (#7–27) which followed Keith Cornell through United States Military Academy and into various theaters of war, "Fran Fraser"', about a girl photographer who travelled the world on adventure assignments, by Irv Novick and Joe Blair (#9–24) and a boxing story, "The St Louis Kid" (#14–26) with artwork mainly by Bob Montana best known for his work on Archie Andrews. This line-up gave Top-Notch Comics a roster of characters that changed very little over the life of the title, outlasting its companion Blue Ribbon Comics by a year – over two if the revamp to Top-Notch Laugh Comics is included.
MLJ ran a reader-participation competition in Top-Notch Comics #6 (June 1940), offering 100 prizes to readers who completed a coupon listing their favorite characters.
Another feature unusual in early superhero strips was used several times by MLJ. In Top-Notch Comics #5 (May 1940), MLJs Pep Comics character the Shield guests in the Wizard story, while The Wizard appeared in the "Keith Cornell, West Pointer" story. This cross-over gimmick was repeated in #7 by The Shield and The Wizard again (although only in a 3-panel cameo). This time the appearance was designed to set up the announcement of a new MLJ title, Shield-Wizard Comics #1, advertised in the issue.
|Top-Notch Laugh Comics|
Cover of Top Notch Laugh Comics 28 (Jul 1942) Art by Bob Montana.
|Publisher||MLJ Magazines Inc|
|Schedule||Monthly / Bi-monthly|
|Publication date||June 1942 – June 1943|
|No. of issues||8|
|Main character(s)||Black Hood|
Kardak the Mystic Magician
Snoopy McGook the Soapy Sleuth
Dotty and Ditto
In a change of editorial direction, from issue #28 (July 1942) the story emphasis changed to humor strips and the title became Top-Notch Laugh Comics to reflect this. All the long-running adventure series from Top-Notch Comics ended between issue #24 (Feb. 1942) and #27 (May 1942), leaving only Black Hood and Kardak the Mystic Magician as non-humor strips in the title; although Kardak only lasted until issue #30 (Nov. 1942). This change of emphasis to humor strips had been presaged in Top-Notch Comics #25 (March 1942) when "Snoopy McGook, the Soapy Sleuth" joined the roster. From issue #28 he was joined by "Pokey Oakey", "Senor Siesta", the boxing humor strip "Canvas Back Corkle", "Percy The Three Monkey-teers" and, from issue #29 (Sept. 1942), "Gloomy Gus – the Homeless Ghost". One of these new humor strips, "Dotty and Ditto" by Bill Woggon (best known for his "Katy Keene" comic) was unusual as it featured a continuing storyline as opposed to single-issue scripts.
A peculiar effect of MLJ retaining Black Hood, one of their most popular characters, on the cover of Top-Notch Laugh Comics was that he shared the covers in humorous situations with the other featured characters, despite maintaining the dark, violent tone of his previous stories within the issues.
Despite the switch to a humor theme, Top-Notch Comics first went to a bi-monthly schedule with #43 (Feb. 1944), and then was retitled Laugh Comix with issue #46 (Summer 1944) for three more issues before being canceled with #48. (Laugh Comix is not to be confused with the later Laugh Comics series).
The Black Hood is a fictional character created by MLJ Comics (later known as Archie Comics) during the period known as the "Golden Age of Comic Books." The Black Hood first appeared in Top-Notch Comics #9, October 1940 and became one of MLJ's most popular characters. He has been in four self-titled series as well as in his own radio show, Black Hood (1943-1944). In recent decades, the Black Hood (along with other Archie Comics superheroes) has been sporadically licensed and published by DC Comics. However, the character reappeared under the new Dark Circle Comics line in 2015.Black Hood (radio)
Black Hood was an American radio serial based on the popularity of the US superhero comics series Black Hood. It was broadcast on the Mutual Broadcasting System July 5, 1943 - January 14, 1944.Black Hood Comics
Black Hood Comics was the name of an American anthology comic book series published by MLJ Magazines Inc., more commonly known as MLJ Comics, for eleven issues between Winter 1943 and Summer 1946. The series featured MLJs costumed hero Black Hood, and "Boy Buddies", featuring Shield's partner 'Dusty the Boy Detective' and Wizard's side-kick 'Roy the Superboy', together with humor strips.Dark Circle Comics
Dark Circle Comics is an imprint of Archie Comics Publications, Inc. Under its previous name, Red Circle Comics, it published non-humor characters, particularly superheroes in the 1970s and 1980s, and was a digital imprint from 2012 to 2014. In 2015, it was converted back to a print imprint and was completely revamped as Dark Circle Comics, featuring darker and more mature content than previous incarnations of Archie's superhero line.
The term "Red Circle characters" is also used to refer to Archie Comics' superheroes, including such characters as the Black Hood, The Shield, the Wizard, the Hangman, The Fly, Flygirl, The Comet, and the Fox.
These characters were previously published when Archie Comics was MLJ Magazines, then published under various Archie imprints: Archie Adventure Series, Radio Comics/Mighty Comics Group, Red Circle Comics and the Red Circle Comics digital imprint (2012).
Archie licensed their Red Circle characters to DC Comics in the early 1990s under the DC imprint Impact Comics, and then again from 2007 to 2011, when DC attempted to integrate them into the DC Universe. When this failed, the characters reverted to Archie Comics, which launched the imprint digitally. The company retired this in late 2014; the line was relaunched as the Dark Circle Comics imprint in 2015.Firefly (Archie Comics)
The Firefly is a fictional comic book character created by Harry Shorten and Bob Wood for MLJ Comics in 1940. He first appeared in Top-Notch Comics #8. Artist Warren King and writer Joe Blair loaned their talents to many of the Firefly's installments.Harry "A" Chesler
Harry Chesler (January 12, 1897, or January 12, 1898 (sources differ) – December 1981), often credited as Harry "A" Chesler, with the "A" an affectation rather than a true initial, was the entrepreneur behind the first comic book "packager" of the late-1930s to 1940s Golden Age of comic books, supplying comics features and complete comic books to publishers testing the waters of the emerging medium.
Chesler's studio, which began in either 1935 or 1936, provided early work to artists and writers including Jack Cole, Jack Binder, Otto Binder, Charles Biro, Mort Meskin, and many others.Harry Shorten
Harry Shorten (1914–1991) was an American writer, editor, and book publisher best known for the syndicated gag cartoon There Oughta Be a Law!, as well as his work with Archie Comics, and his long association with Archie's publishers Louis Silberkleit and John L. Goldwater. From the late 1950s until his 1982 retirement, Shorten was a book publisher, overseeing such companies as Leisure Books, Midwood Books, Midwood-Tower Publications, Belmont Tower, and Roband Publications.Jackpot Comics
Jackpot Comics was the name of an American anthology comic book magazine series published by MLJ Magazines Inc., more commonly known as MLJ Comics, for nine issues between Spring 1941 and Spring 1943. It featured new stories of a number of characters previously seen in other MLJ publications.John L. Goldwater
John Leonard Goldwater (born Max Leonard Goldwasser, February 14, 1916 – February 26, 1999) founded (with Maurice Coyne and Louis Silberkleit) MLJ Comics (later known as Archie Comics), and served as editor and co-publisher for many years. In the mid-1950s he was a key proponent and custodian of the comic book censorship guidelines known as the Comics Code Authority.List of superhero debuts
The following is a list of the first known appearances of various superhero fictional characters and teams.
A superhero (also known as a "super hero" or "super-hero") is a fictional character "of unprecedented physical prowess dedicated to acts of derring-do in the public interest." Since the debut of Superman in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, stories of superheroes — ranging from brief episodic adventures to continuing years-long sagas — have dominated American comic books and crossed over into other media. A female superhero is sometimes called a "superheroine."
By most definitions, characters need not have actual superhuman powers to be deemed superheroes, although sometimes terms such as "costumed crimefighters" are used to refer to those without such powers who have many other common traits of superheroes.
For a list of comic book supervillain debuts, see List of comic book supervillain debuts.Mighty Crusaders
The Mighty Crusaders is a fictional superhero team published by Archie Comics. The team originally appeared in Fly-Man No. 31, #32 and No. 33 before being launched in its own title, Mighty Crusaders. Written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, the series lasted seven issues before being cancelled. The team was revived under Archie's Red Circle Comics line in 1983. In 1992 DC Comics licensed the characters and relaunched the team as The Crusaders, aiming the comic at younger readers as part of its !mpact line. This series lasted eight issues, cover-dated May to December 1992.Paul Reinman
Paul J. Reinman (; born Joseph Paul Reinmann, German: [ˈʁaɪnman]; 2 September 1910 – 27 September 1988) was an American comic book artist best known as one of Jack Kirby's frequent inkers during the period comics fans and historians call the Silver Age of Comic Books. This included the first issues of The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men.Pep Comics
Pep Comics is the name of an American comic book anthology series published by the Archie Comics predecessor MLJ Magazines Inc. (commonly known as MLJ Comics) during the 1930s and 1940s period known as the Golden Age of Comic Books. The title continued under the Archie Comics imprint for a total of 411 issues until March 1987.
Pep Comics was the comics title that introduced the superhero character The Shield, the first of the super-patriotic heroes with a costume based on a national flag (pre-dating Captain America by over a year), The Comet, who was the first superhero to die, and Archie Andrews, who eventually became the main focus of the company's extensive range of publications.Shield-Wizard Comics
Shield-Wizard Comics was the name of an American comic book series published by MLJ Magazines Inc., more commonly known as MLJ Comics, for thirteen issues between Summer 1940 and Winter 1944.
It featured the titular comics superheroes The Wizard and The Shield and their supporting characters throughout.Shield (Archie Comics)
The Shield is the name of several fictional patriotic superheroes created by MLJ (now known as Archie Comics). Appearing months before Captain America, the Shield has the distinction of being one of the first superheroes with a costume based upon United States patriotic iconography.
The name was used by MLJ/Archie for four characters. DC Comics' Impact line, which licensed the Archie properties, also used the name for several characters. In 2010, DC announced plans to integrate the Shield and other MLJ characters into the DC Universe, but in 2011 the rights to the characters reverted to Archie Comics. A fourth Shield was introduced in October 2015.Team-up
In superhero comic books, a team-up is a fictional crossover where two or more superheroes or superhero teams who usually do not appear together work together on a shared goal.Web (comics)
The Web is a fictional character, a superhero created by MLJ Comics' in 1942 by artist John Cassone and an unknown writer.Wizard (Archie Comics)
The Wizard is a fictional superhero character created by Will Harr and Edd Ashe, Jr. for MLJ Comics, which later became Archie Comics. He first appeared in Top-Notch Comics #1 in December 1939, and he was one of the headliners of that title until its cancellation in 1944. He was one of the earliest superhero characters to appear after the debut of Superman in 1938.
His real name is Blane Whitney, a man of great intelligence. He descends from a long line of men who fought for America in its wars, including General Steven Whitney who was General Washington's chief aide in the Revolutionary War (and it was later retroactively revealed that Blane was not the first Whitney to defend his country wearing the red mask and cloak of the Wizard during key events in early U.S. history). At ages 14, Blane met President Woodrow Wilson, who told him to use his brain only for good and not for evil. While in college, he was a superb athlete and student. His brother Grover, chief of the Naval Intelligence Service, usually informed him of enemy plots against America. To aid him in his fight against these enemies, the Wizard had various contraptions and machines of his own design available to him, like a vibra-ray gun and a car that could reach up to 500 mph. He had several devices that enabled him to fly. Coming from a rich family, he also had airplanes and submarines at his disposal.At first, the Wizard, similar to other MLJ superheroes like the Black Hood and the Firefly, did not possess superpowers but was merely a man with great physical and mental prowess. He eventually, however, started to exhibit superhuman strength and a "Super Brain" that gave him a photographic memory and "supersensory perception" that enabled him to psychically "see" distant places, people and events, as well as a talent for hypnosis and telepathy. He also started consuming capsules containing secret formula F22X that replenished his super-strength. In his final appearances, however, he had no powers other than his clairvoyant visions.
In his early appearances, the Wizard wore a tuxedo and cape, thus he was similar in appearance to Mandrake the Magician (a resemblance made even more obvious by his dashing pencil thin moustache). At first, his cape and mask were white, but they were soon switched to a more striking red. During the Moskovia Invasion crossover storyline (which featured the Shield) where he was briefly blinded by an enemy attack, he developed a bullet-proof, explosion-resistant costume that consisted of blue tights with red trunks, cape, and mask. He wore this costume for the remainder of his Golden Age appearances.
The enemies of America that the Wizard faced in each adventure were usually from a fictitious country, like Jatsonia (in his first appearance) and Bundonia, but due to facial features or accents made apparent in speech balloons, these enemies were obvious, unflattering caricatures of Germans, Soviets, or Japanese.
Usually, after each adventure, the last panel would feature a note from the Wizard that read: "Our country / right or wrong / our country / The Wizard."
After several months of publication, the Wizard was given a kid sidekick named Roy Rossman. Admiring the lad's courage when he saw the blond orphan bootblack leap to defend a mugging victim from several thugs, Blane took him in, clad him in a red and white striped polo shirt with a large blue collar, blue trunks, white sneakers, and a red mask, and dubbed him Roy the Super Boy, training him until he had the strength of ten men. Roy would later join the Shield's sidekick Dusty in the super-duo known as the Boy Buddies.Blane Whitney also had a girlfriend named Jane Barlowe who was a reporter at the Daily Citizen, a newspaper Blane had inherited from a murdered friend. She was often disgusted with his polo-playing playboy lifestyle but developed an attraction to his superheroic alter-ego, creating an odd love triangle that is quite common in comic books (i.e. Superman/Lois Lane/Clark Kent, Hal Jordan/Carol Ferris/Green Lantern).
The Wizard was popular enough to receive a second publication alongside another MLJ superhero, The Shield. Shield-Wizard Comics first appeared with a Summer, 1940 cover date. He started sharing cover appearances of Top-Notch Comics with the Black Hood, an indication of waning popularity. Top-Notch was converted into a humorous publication in 1942, but the Wizard continued to appear in Shield-Wizard Comics until its cancellation in Spring, 1944.
Archie Comics, formerly known as MLJ Comics, revived its superhero line in the 1960s, but the Wizard, now with actual magical powers and corrupted by greed, returned as a villain with a long white beard and a new maskless and capeless outfit that befitted the evil sorcerer he had become. He fought The Mighty Crusaders, a team consisting of many old MLJ heroes, and at one point was confronted by both his former sidekick Roy (now re-dubbed "the Mighty Boy" for obvious reasons) and his heroic younger self who had been magically brought forward in time to stop him. In the 1980s revival, however, he returned as a red-caped and masked hero with no mention of his villainous period, although now with a purple skintight bodysuit rather than his original blue. Since then, the Wizard has been appearing sporadically throughout the Archie Comics titles on irregular bases.Zip Comics
Zip Comics was the name of an American anthology comic book series published by MLJ Magazines Inc., more commonly known as MLJ Comics, for 47 issues between June 1940 and Summer 1944. It featured a number of adventure, humor and costumed hero stories throughout the series, including the first appearance of superhero "Steel Sterling" and the earliest appearances of the humor strip Wilbur, who later had his own long-running series for Archie Comics.