Thursday, May 31, 2007

Newspaper Reprints: Smilin' Jack

Smilin'Jack is the first title in the second series that also appeared in the first series. Issues 5 and 10 in series I featured the flyer and his friends, lovers and enemies. Issue number 4 in series II is the first of 6 appearances. Jack graduated to his own series from Dell which ran for 8 issues. All the Dell issues reprinted the material from the Syndicate.

Zack Mosley was the creator of Smilin' Jack Martin, a knight of the skies. Mosley himself was an aviation enthusiast and flyer and brought that attitude and experience to his cast.

Born on Dec 12, 1906 in Hickory Oklahoma Mosley became interested in flying after an old Army Jenney made a forced landing on the family ranch in 1918. After graduating from High School Zack moved to Chicago where he studied art at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Chicago Art Institute.

Mosley submitted samples for an aviation strip to the various syndicates. Captain Joseph Patterson of the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate accepted the strip and on October 1, 1933 "On the Wing" debuted as a Sunday strip. The strip centered on the adventures of Mack Martin, an aviation student and his fellow student flyers. Mosley himself was a student at the same time and earned his pilots license on Friday November 13, 1933.

Captain Patterson changed the lead characters name to Jack and renamed the strip Smilin' Jack on December 31, 1933. The daily strip began on June 15, 1936. One of the most popular of the aviation strips it continued until Mosley retired on April 1, 1973, a forty year run.

Mosley was an avid flyer and was a member of the Civil Air Patrol and logged over 300 hours flying planes along the Atlantic Coast during the opening months of WWII. His strip and flying exploits put him in contact with famous pilots from pioneers Jimmy Doolittle to astronauts Buzz Aldrin.

Mosley died in 1994. His daughter Jill is the keeper of his legacy and has a website where she sells prints, original strip art and Mosley's autobiography "Brave Coward Zack".

Smilin' Jacks first Four Color appearance was in issue number 5 in Series I. At this time, I don't have a copy to review. See the want list for this and other issues needed to complete the series. If you have a copy that you can scan or are willing to loan or sell cheap, get in touch.

Check back for future updates on this issue.

Jack's second appearance is also in Series I, issue number 10. This one I have a scan made with microfiche as the source. The colors are a little washed out and it gets blurry when it's enlarged but it beats not having it all. If you look closely at both covers you can see that Jack is clean shaven. By the next issue Jack has grown his signature mustache, one of the few "good guy" characters to sport one. This issue reprints strips published in 1937-38.

As the issue opens on the inside front cover, Jack is disguised as a passenger on a South American airplane being piloted by two of his associates, Von Bosch, a German and Marcel, a Frenchman. Along with Sir Percy, an Englishman they make up the Legion of Lost Pilots, a group of ex-patriot flyers from the Great War. They attempt to extort the passengers of the airplane by threatening dangerous maneuvers unless they pay. Jack reveals himself and forces they back to the airfield.

They continue with other schemes, bombing ranches and selling fake parachutes to frightened passengers for outrageous amounts. Jack catches them again in a trap and fires them from Pedro's Brazilian Airline.

Meanwhile Jack's complicated love life involves Bonita, a local Senorita with designs upon him and his old flame Dixie, working as a "hostess" (the modern title is Flight Attendant) for an airline back in the States is on the verge of marrying Dude Duncan. Dude is a scoundrel, he dupes the airline and is rewarded for successfully landing his plane in the mountains after running into trouble. He promptly loses the money in a card game. He gets Dixie to give him more money om the pretense of buying furniture for their new home. However, he promptly heads to the casino where he runs into an old girl friend and loses the money.

All this time a letter that Dixie wrote to Jack telling him she will marry Dude unless he returns finally makes it's way around the world, only to fall into Bonita's hands. She holds it past the wedding date before giving it to Jack. But what Jack doesn't know is that the wedding was postponed. Duke returning from his drunken casino date crashed his car and had been unconscious in the hospital.

While Dude is in the hospital he flirts with all the nurses continuing to pull the wool over Dixie's eyes. Jack sends a congratulatory cable which Dude receives and destroys before Dixie can read it. Jack meanwhile is starting to fall for Bonita.

The Legion of Lost Pilots decides to finish Jack off by pushing him out of a plane. Marcel rebels and wounds the others saving Jack's life.

Bonita decides she wants to take up flying and have Jack teach her. Von Bosch from his hospital bed plots his revenge on Jack by having his agent crash a plane into Jack who is about to fly a load of nitroglycerin. Bonita sees it and intercepts the agents plane. Jack believing Bonita will not survive agrees to marry her, but she knows she will recover and puts off the wedding.

Dixie has accepted a new run with the airline, to Brazil. Dude knowing Jack is in Brazil tries to delay her so she'll miss the flight, however they both make it. Dude then tries to get the pilot to marry them, trying to convince everyone it's just like a ship captain. He reluctantly agrees but doubts it's legal. He calls back to the airline and it's confirmed, he cannot marry passengers, so he tells Dixie and Dude they aren't married.

Upon landing in Brazil, Dude decides to fly out into the jungle with Dixie until he can get her to agree they are married. He fakes engine trouble and lands. Unfortunately for him, Jack was also flying in the area and lands to offer assistance. He learns Dixie is not married to Dude, but feels bound to his pledge to Bonita. Dixie and Bonita meet and Bonita tells her of her claim on Jack. Dixie is upset but Jack finally explains the situation to her. She forgives him but they can't figure out how to escape the mess.

Jack is hired to fly a group of new Hostess trainees that Dixie is to train. Bonita sneaks on board to protect her interests. During a tropical storm they crash on an island. Bonita and Dixie fight it out when Jack suffers sunstroke. Dixie knocks her out and establishes her claim to nurse Jack. They meet a group of what they think are wild men but they turn out to be shipwrecked sailors. The girls pair off with the sailors and are married up. With the sailors help, they rig the airplanes fuselage into an outrigger and Jack, Bonita and Dixie set sail. Another storm destroys their sail, Jack sacrificing his rations has become delirious. Finally the plane drifts into a sea lane and they are picked up by a liner. Bonita frees Jack from his promise and leaves.

Back in Brazil Jack finds that Von Bosch has been attacking Pedro's planes and forcing them to crash. Jack takes to the air to track him down, but Von Bosch marked Dude's plane to look like his and Jack forces Dude to crash. Dude is alive but Jack is arrested for attempted murder. Marcel destroys Von Bosch and finds his agent. He flies in time to rescue Jack from a firing squad. Jack is freed.

Jack and Dixie return to the States where Jack proposes. She accepts but trouble arrives in the form of her brother Cotton. Cotton wants to be a pilot but is too lazy and vain to put in the effort. He crashes Jacks prize racer and tells Dixie his injuries were from a hit and run driver. As the issue comes to a close, Jack has lost his plane, lost Dixie when she defends Cotton and has lost his pilots license as Cottons erratic flying of his plane is blamed on Jack.

Whew! 68 pages of nonstop action. Other than a couple of bad edits that make the story jump, it's an entertaining read.

More updates to come on the remaining issues.

Series II issue 4.

UPDATED July 2, 2007, review of Series II Issue 14 .

We open with a quick synopsis on the inside cover, Jack has lost Dixie who has married Dr Medic and had signed on as a test pilot to forget her. Jack and his friend Gull Wing on the trail of saboteurs and out to prove the innocence of Gull Wing's daughter have hidden away on a plane owned by Miss Gale. They overhear a conversation between her and a fellow named Powder and find the two are spies. A fight breaks out and all except Gull Wing are knocked out.

We open with Gull Wing landing the plane and Jack turns the spies over to the Authorities as represented by the Inspector. Looking over papers found on the injured Powder the Inspector notices a remarkable resemblance of the Spy to Jack. The Inspector proposes a daring plan, Jack will impersonate Powder and meet the boss of the spy ring.

Jack agrees and has his hair permanently waved and bleached, begins to grow a mustache and worst of all has his hand branded with a symbol to match Powder. After much study we see Jack preparing at the right for his first test. Can he pass himself off as Powder to Miss Gale. We also see on this page, Jack's first appearance with what would become his trademark mustache.

Jack passes the test and is on his way to the rendezvous with fake documents. He arrives on board the Spy Ship only to be confronted with Laura. Jack quickly learns she is Powder's wife. Even worse he has an infant son Wally! What to do? Laura will quickly determine he's an impostor. Jack solves his dilemma in family newspaper fashion - he picks a fight and declares he's leaving them.

Jack next meets the head of the Spy Ring - "The HEAD", a small man with an oversize head and big buggy eyes. He also meets his henchman, "The Claw" and huge man with a hook for his right hand.

Jack continues to play the role but finally slips up and is exposed as an impostor. Jack is tossed into the hold until they reach The Head's island base where he will be tortured and killed. Enduring his time Jack hears the engines of a Navy airship, stolen by agents of the Head landing next to them. He greases himself up and manages to squeeze out the porthole. Landing in the water he swims to the far side of the airship and takes over the plane. The Head and Claw pursue him in a light plane from the ship and attempt to shoot Jack down. Jack turns the tables and shoots them down, watching them land in a fiery crash in the water.

Jack's luck gets worse, he flies into a storm that forces his ship down and destroys it in the rough sea. Jack eventually makes it to an island, helped by friendly porpoises. Jack fall asleep on the beach only to be awaken when grabbed by native savages.

Well one native isn't a savage. As seen in the page at left, is the first appearance of Fat Stuff. Jack is once again mistaken for Powder. It seems he has visited before and agreed to marry the Chief's daughter. Despite his protests he is engaged. One native, a huge brute Taboo challenges Jack to a fight for the girl. This proves not to be Jack's out, the loser goes into the volcano. Jack prevails and Taboo proves to be too big to be carried up to the volcano, escaping the booby prize. The final step in the wedding ceremony is a drink from the Mystery River. Jack sees that it flows from an underground cavern and dives in hoping to make an escape. He finds Fat Stuff has come along. They escape the cave into the ocean where they spot a boat. Swimming for it they are spotted and rescued.

Once again Jack is mistaken for Powder. This time by Limehouse, a passenger on the ship and the former Head Guard at Death Rock, a notorious South Sea prison. Limehouse also recognises Fat Stuff. It seems both Powder and Fat Stuff were escapees from the prison. Jack and Fat Stuff are now on their way back to the Death Rock. Limehouse gives Jack a chance. Before escaping Powder killed another prisoner and stole a treasure map. If Jack will lead Limehouse to the treasure, he will not turn him in at the prison. Jack agrees hoping he and Fat Stuff will be able to escape from Limehouse.

Upon reaching the island the three set off in a jeep. Limehouse is about to shoot Fat Stuff when Jack convinces him that he is more valuable for the reward of turning him in. They leave him tied up in a hut. Jack leads Limehouse on a trip into the jungle, pretending to be following the map and makes a break. Limehouse manages to shoot him in the leg and recaptures him. He gives up on the treasure and turns them in at the prison getting the reward and his old job back.

It seems the other prisoners disliked Powder for many reasons and are getting their revenge by tormenting Jack. Only Fat Stuff's watchful eye keeps it from being fatal. Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, The Head and the Claw appear as new prisoners.

Backed by the Claw's muscle (and the jagged knife the Head devised to replace the hook taken by the authorities) The Head establishes himself as boss of the prisoners. He sends them out on a scheme to make money and bribe the guards so they can escape. Once they earn enough they escape taking Jack and Fat Stuff with them. Fat Stuff is able to trick them into losing all their provisions and leads them through the jungle for days, weakening them physically. They finally break away from the Head and the Claw only to be captured by natives who turn them in to the prison for the reward.

All are sentenced to solitary confinement on the island of the Devil's Kitchen, a towering rock island. Things look bad for Jack until one day Limehouse discards a broken lighter near his cell. Jack manages to reach it and begins to fashion a key from it in hopes of opening the lock on his cell. He succeeds and a plan for escape begins to form. Jack has noticed an airliner that passes over the island on a regular basis. He begins to build a glider in hopes of taking off and getting noticed and rescued by the ship.

Scavenging from around the island at night Jack builds his glider and is awaiting the Clipper when he is spotted by Limehouse. During the fight Limehouse falls to his death. Jack takes off and is spotted by the airship, which lands and picks him up.

Informed by the pilot that he must return him to the prison, Jack is finally saved when his is recognized as Smilin Jack by the navigator. It's the first appearance of his old friend Downwind Jaxon!

Returning to the island prison Jack gains Fat Stuff's freedom by threatening the warden for falsely imprisoning him. Now they all head back to the United States.

Upon arriving back in the States, Downwind quits his airline job and joins Jack in a freelance flying business. Jack get Fat Stuff a job as a cook in the airport diner and enrolls him in school.

As the issue comes to an end Jack has begun a romance with a mysterious woman ham radio operator he met on the airwaves during a hazardous moment on a job. Downwind has girls on every arm. Fat Stuff wants a girl friend too and of course Downwind has just the girl for him. He hooks him up with a member of the chorus at the Tropical Club, Woo Woo Bali.

Another action packed 68 page issue, this time the reprints were from 1938. And one of the best issues in the series with lots of action and little of the romantic soap opera that most of the other issues feature. This one's a winner.

Jack looks confident on the cover of Issue 36 but opening to the inside cover we are informed that Jack's love life is as chaotic as ever. "His wedding postponed by an emergency call, Jack tries to fly an acute appendicitis case to a hospital, but a storm forces him to crash land. When the operation is performed in a farmhouse, the patient proves to be Dixie, Jack's old sweetheart, now a widow and blind. Mary, jack's fiancee goes to the farm to care for Dixie". Starting from that point the issue reprints strips from 1938-39-40.

Jack's buddy Downwind Jaxon arrives by auto pulling a trailer to ferry Mary and Dixie back to town to the hospital. Mary, knowing who Dixie is and of her past relationship with Jack worries about a spark being rekindled. Dixie unaware of Mary and Jack's engagement tells Jack how lucky she is to have them as friends.

Downwind is about to have women problems of his own. A magazine article published his photo along with his current location. Scores of his former "de-icers" (a Mosley term for a pretty girl as in so hot she'd melt the ice off a wing) are on their way to extract their revenge for the various affronts they suffered at Downwind's hands. He escapes by jumping into his plane and taking off. Followed by a flight of de-icers he ducks into a cloud and disappears.

Fatstuff has a different problem, he's in love with Woo Woo Bali, a former South Sea dancer before she gained too much weight and became plump. He proposes and Woo Woo accepts.

Mary and Jack decide to fly Dixie to see a specialist who might be able to restore her sight. Knowing her pride they trick her into the trip. However, she discovers the true purpose and during a refueling stop takes off. Mary discovers her missing and goes searching, finding her in a wind tunnel. Jack discovers them just as the test begins and manages to lock his legs around a hot steam pipe and hold on to the girls. The force is strong enough it pulls Dixie's dress which goes through the blades. The shredded material blows out and realizing something is wrong the test is stopped.

They are rescued in time but Jack's legs suffered third degree burns. Unless Jack has skin grafts he may never walk again. So massive are the burns they will need more than one donor. Immediately both women volunteer.

While recovering in the hospital Jack discovers that his ward mate is none other than Downwind. The de-icers caught up with him and messed him up. Downwind is released but is worried about his looks, who would want to go out with him now? However it doesn't slow him down, girls continue to flock around. Jack attributes it to personality rather than looks.

As Jack is being released from the hospital, he is visited quickly by both Mary and Dixie who each kiss him and depart. Jack discovers notes from each girl telling him she is leaving so that he may be with the other. Both have disappeared.

Jack throws himself into his work to escape. He and Downwind have landed a contract to train College students as pilots. One student in particular, nicknamed Rabbit has a profound fear of everything. He has enrolled in the hopes that if he can conquer his greatest fear, he can overcome all the others. Jack has taken him on as a student but all appears hopeless for poor rabbit.

Meanwhile Madam Mongoose has summed her agents. She is out to sabotage the training program. He plan is to cause the instructors to have a fatal crash and scaring off the students.
She slips poisoned gum to Jack who is going up with Rabbit. Jack is put to sleep by the gum but Rabbit is able to resist and safely lands the ship.

Pursuing a lead Jack and Downwind find themselves captured by the Mongoose and taken to her estate. There they find that Dixie is innocently working for the Mongoose. She devises a death trap for the three and binding them fly high into the atmosphere where the lack of oxygen will kill them. However they plane ices up before that point and crashes. The Mongoose is escaping only to find herself killed by a plane she sabotaged as this 52 page issue ends.

Issue 58 reprints strips from 1940. On the cover we find Jack waving to Dixie. As the issue opens a man is at the airport attempting to hire a pilot for a Mister Beaverduck. As soon as they hear the name they all cut and run.

Dixie has met another fellow in Jack's and is now engaged. She tells Jack of her predicament and that the fellow threatens harm to anyone who attempts to steal her away. Jack doesn't care he's not worried, If Dixie loves him that's all he needs. Dixie refuses to be a blind millstone around his neck. Jack has found that there is only one doctor who might be able to treat Dixie and regain her sight but he is in war torn Europe. To raise the money Jack signs on to work for Beaverduck.

The job is to teach Beaverduck's daughter Joy to fly properly. Joy is a socialite with an attitude and jack has his hands full dealing with her and her tipsy friends. Jack finally has enough and takes Joy over his knee and gives her a good spanking. Beaverduck is delighted and promotes Jack to oversee all her activities. Joy is starting to get interested in Jack but he shoots her down by telling her he's engaged to Dixie.

Not one to take no for an answer she hires an Bottles, an ex-pilot and bootlegger to help her get Jack's pilot's license revoked so he can't earn the money for Dixie's operation. Bottles stows away on Jack's plane and knocks him out during a flight. He then executes dangerous maneuvers so that Jack's plane numbers will be reported. Bottles, Pours booze into Jack, set the plane on auto pilot and bails out. Jack recovers and lands the plane but is accused of the airborne stunts and along with the booze on his breath loses his license.

As seen on this page Joy has come up with a scheme to keep Jack around but since he can't fly she pays him less, so he can't raise the money f0r Dixie's operation. She hires Downwind to teach her pilot a glider but proves to be just as bad flying a glider as a plane.

Joy finally throws herself at Jack but he rebuffs her. She becomes infuriated and decides to set a glider altitude record by recklessly flying a thunderheads updraft. As expected she runs into trouble, her glider is broken up and she parachutes out. Landing hard she is knocked unconscious. Downwind is unable to fly a rescue plane, he had partied too hardy the night before, so Jack takes the controls. Joy has been badly injured, many broken bones. Jack and Downwind deliver her to the hospital where they discover she needs a blood transfusion. Having a rare blood type the only person that's a match that can be available in enough time is Dixie. In her delirium Joy reveals her plot to capture Jack which Dixie overhears. Noble to the end, Dixie provided the needed blood.

Upon recovering Joy experiences a change and decides that she owes Dixie fro saving her life. Joy secretly provides the money to send Dixie to Europe for the operation to restore her sight.

Meanwhile Jack and Downwind accept a job to dust crops for their old friend Cyclone. Cyclone is laid up from a crash, it appears someone is trying to run him out of business. As Jack is walking down the street he runs into none other than Joy Beaverduck who is visiting her uncle. It appears her uncle Gumbo is behind all the dirty business, trying to force all the other cotton farms into bankruptcy so he can acquire them cheap. Jack tells Joy her uncle is behind the plot but she refuses to believe him. Jack while investigating Gumbo's cotton gin discovers how Gumbo disposes of dead bodies and is on the verge of experiencing it first hand when Joy arrives. Jack grapples with Gumbo who falls into the gin. As the issue ends so does Gumbo.

Issue 80 is a 36 pager and picks up in 1940 where issue 58 ended. Jack and Downwind have completed their cropdusting assignement when they learn Dixie's operation was a success and is returning home.

Meanwhile Fatstuff and WooWoo have become parents of triplets.

As Jack and Dixie try to get married before anything else gets in they way she receives a telegram. Her long dead husband has turned up alive. Dixie leaves to be with him as he is too ill to travel. Jack once again is down in the dumps. Joy Beaverduck is still around and just as much in love with Jack as ever, but doesn't know how to approach him. Downwind decides to try to re-ignite the romance between Jack and Joy.

Downwind has decided to organize a "Sixth Column" to fight the Fifth Columists. He "interviews" prospective de-icers by kissing them, if they pass then they become members. When they encounter a suspecious person they get information using their feminine whiles and pass it on.

A group of Fifth Columnists led by the Eye has learned of Downwind's group. Those are the fellows with Downwind on the cover of this issue. One of the girls has become suspicious of a fellow worker at the airplane factory. During a night of drinking and dancing he reveals his connection. The Eye decides to send Miss Fahrenheit to lure Downwind into their trap. In true James Bond fashion, his kiss brings her over to his side.

Downwind's efforts as matchmaker are beginning to pay off, but he discovers that he is also falling for Joy. While wandering the streets bemoaning his situation he is captured by the Eye. Downwind is taken to the harbor where is tied up on a ship that is to be towed out to sea and used for dive bomber practice by the Navy.

Tepid Fahrenheit has learned of Downwind's capture. Hurrying to the airfield she learns from Joy that Jack has flown out of town. Revealing what she knows to Joy, they spot the planes lining up to attack. Joy jumps into her plane and takes off to intercept the squadron. Once airbourne she discovers that her radio is not operational, so she flies into the formation disrupting the attack. Joy crashes her plane into the water and is able to pull the unconscious Downwind from the ship. As a seaplane lands to pick them up she is stuck by a floats and they sink. Pulled from the water they are resusitated. Tepid gives Downwind the location of the Eye's headquarters and they break in and thrash them soundly before turning them over to the authorities.

Meanwhile Jack has made the realization that he is in love with Joy. Jack tells Downwind who leaves rather than come between them. Jack and Joy are married when word arrives that Downwind has disappered in the mountains. Leaving his new bride behind Jack takes off to find him. He locates his crashed plane and later finds him safe at a farmhouse. As the issue ends on the last page, Jack gets tossed into jail for car theft.

Reference: Comics and Their Creators, Martin Sheridan, Hale,Cushman and Flint 1942; 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Maurice Horn ed., Random House 1996; Grand Comics Database;

Series II issue 149

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