Friday, December 2, 2011

Comics Code Changes

A Code Wind Bloweth
The new issue of Roy Thomas' ever-fascinating magazine Alter Ego has a lengthy article about the effects of the Comics Code on American comics. Way back when Jim Vadeboncoeur and I used to hang out and scour old comics, we frequently encountered early Code-approved stories which had obviously been extensively retouched, often with bizarre results.

The advent of the Code threw the comics industry into a tizzy. Over a period of about a year and a half, comics appeared carrying stories written and drawn before Code censorship went into effect. Publishers were forced to overhaul them to meet Code demands. Weapons disappeared from hands, balloons were clumsily relettered or even blanked out, and endings were changed in sometimes ridiculous ways.

I urge you to check AE for the full story. It goes beyond the changeover period to document the Code's evolution and eventual demise. However for my money the best period was the Great Changeover. And my all-time favorite Code change craziness (not covered in the Alter Ego article) was "Face to Face" in Charlton's This Is Suspense #24.

Charlton took over This Is Suspense from Fawcett, reprinting stories from the pre-Code Fawcett run. The first and last stories in #24 are Fawcett stories with a redrawn and re-lettered panels. "Face to Face," though, may have been a Charlton original. It was drawn by Dick Giordano, who I believe didn't work for Fawcett. At any rate, the story encapsulates the craziness of the Code Changeover in one classic page.

The set-up: crook Quentin Ajax set up his twin brother Paul to take the fall for a swindle they both worked on. Now Paul has escaped from--oops! sorry, been let out of--prison, seeking revenge. The twins argue and Paul socks Quentin:There follows the old head-hits-the-edge-of-the-table gimmick. The helpful Paul decides...hell, panels two and three speak for themselves.
I don't want to leave you hanging off that fire escape, so here's the rest of the story. Paul is elated to discover his twin was hiding a fistful of money. Unfortunately he also learns that a notorious hit man intends to shoot Quentin on sight. The gangster will surely mistake Paul for his target.Suddenly a mysterious someone comes to the door...then lets himself in.'s none other than--
I'll never know whether editor Al Fago intended the story to end this way (a less-peculiar "send an ending" feature had appeared in a different Fago Charlton comic), or whether the Code bounced the original ending and Fago threw up his hands rather than fix it. I suspect the latter is the case because the prize offer is not lettered in the same professional hand as the story. It looks more like the same guy who invented the fire escape.

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