New York World's Fair 1939-1940 Annex

To New York World's Fair 1939-1940

Comic Books Related to the Fair

A message received Nov. 28, 1999, from Ken Arromdee,
Newsgroups: rec.arts.comics.misc,rec.arts.comics.dc.universe
Subject: New York World's Fair Comics 1939

Well, I finally bought the microfiche edition of this ( [see]). This book has been the holy grail for me ever since I read about it in an Overstreet price guide ages and ages ago. Anyway, I finally got it and read through the whole thing. I'm not disappointed, though like most Golden Age books you need to get in the right frame of mind to read the book. (For some reason their price list doesn't include this comic, but you can still buy some if you ask for them.)

The microfiche actually holds only 98 pages, with the inner front and back covers missing. I doubt there was anything important on them anyway; if it had cardboard covers, there might not have been printing at all. It's 98 pages of pure story and filler; no ads.

Set the wayback machine. Germany had already taken over Bohemia/Moravia and Austria in 1938, and Krystallnacht had already happened in November of that year; Japan owned Korea and Taiwan and had already taken over Manchuria. Italy was occupying Albania and it had invaded Ethiopia several years before (nobody told them that the free 'colonize Africa without condemnation' coupons had all expired in the early part of the century). And in New York, a fair opened, showing the hope and promise for a better world of tomorrow. We begin with the first real page. "Official licensed New York World's Fair Comics"... "a cordial welcome to the New York World's Fair".

First up is a story featuring the thrilling adventures of Superman. 12 pages of "Superman at the World's Fair". We begin with Clark Kent using his powers to get a scoop on who'll be nominated for governor (I don't remember Clark ever using his powers to get a scoop in the Archives I have), and then asking for a vacation. Instead he's sent to cover the opening of the New York World's Fair, and asks for Lois to be sent with him for the feminine perspective (what?). There really isn't much of a story; Superman stops a train wreck, helps build an infantile paralysis exhibit at the fair (I wonder how long the trees there lasted, considering he got them by pulling them out of the ground by their trunks), and stops a crook who kidnaps and tries to kill Lois when she unwisely lets on that she knows his name.

Interesting note is that a train takes many hours to get from Metropolis to New York. I think that at this point "Metropolis" is modelled mostly after Cleveland.

A 2 page fact feature: "From the Fair Corners". The Trylon stands 700 feet high, 150 feet taller than the Washington Monument. Well, until it was torn down for scrap metal after the fair ended. I would imagine that fair-goers had seen this stuff over and over again, so this ranks as purely filler--less so to a modern reader.

"Chuck Warren goes to the New York World's Fair" (6p). Chuck Warren is a college mile runner. Before setting the record for the mile relay at the Fair, he manages to stop some bank robbers in his car. I have no idea if this guy was a real person (I suspect not--a real person would never be shown as winning a record unless the fair had already started and he really won it in real life), a non-powered feature character in some comic, or a one-shot.

"Hanko goes to the World's Fair... 3000 miles on horseback *as told by his horse Nellie*". Hanko is a comedy-type cowboy who came from San Francisco to New York to see the fair.

"Would You Believe It" (2p): mini-feature aping "Believe It or Not" like so many did, but using Fair facts.

"Butch the Pup at the New York World's Fair" (4p). Filler, but still obviously written specially for the fair. Butch steals a bone from a dinosaur exhibit and eventually falls into machinery and pops out of a can of dogfood.

"Cuffnotes from the Fair" (2p). Another mini-feature.

"Ginger Snap at the New York World's Fair" (2p). Ginger is an annoying kid and this is another joke strip.

"Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter " (6p). Scoop solves a mystery where an exhibitor of bomber planes is threatened by a group "The Bat's Wing".

"Wonders at the World's Fair". Wow, more mini-features.

"A Day at the World's Fair" (8p). This strip features an ordinary family touring the fair and has no plot; again, if I was living at the time, I would have hated it, but to us people in the distant future living in the technological utopia of 1999, it's an interesting look back. It's just a rundown on all the exhibits at the fair (Dr. Wertham would have had words about the giant eye). It is also the only strip that is in both the 1939 and 1940 versions of the comic book. (C'mon, do they think nobody would notice?)

"Slam Bradley at the World's Fair" (12p). An early Siegel and Shuster strip that explicitly starts in Cleveland. Slam (a detective) captures crooks, gets the reward, and he and his sidekick go visit the fair. It turns out that they are the victims of thieves who slip notes (telling where their loot is) into people's pockets only to pickpocket the note when their victims get to the fair. Personally I would have just sent the letters air mail, but what do I know.

"Curiosities from the Fair". Don't you just love mini-features?

"The Sandman". The first appearance of the Sandman, this strip is really pretty unexceptional. Wesley Dodds, already the Sandman in this story, and already an outlaw, invented a "new government raygun" to be exhibited at the Fair. He feels "that queer intuition of danger" (ah, the change in meanings in English) when he meets with a federal man to deliver the plans, and manages to drop the important part of the plans on the floor just before the lights go out and someone swipes them. As the Sandman, he frees the real agent (that one was an impostor) and catches the bad guy, an executive shown in panel 1. No Phantom of the Fair is in evidence (nor was there any in the 1940 issue), so I assume that was a complete retcon.

"Zatara the Magician and the World's Fair Exhibit": Zatara is called by Elmer Gordon (who's he? Recurring character?) "to go to Inner Mongolia after the fabled Jade Necklace of the Princess Ti-Lo of the Ming Dynasty" to exhibit at the fair. This story, unlike most of the others, does seem like it was a non-fair story with the Fair added in a line or so of dialog. Zatara is not yet using his backwards magic in this story; he does use it in the 1940 World's Fair story, but even then, sometimes he does magic without speaking at all.

Zatara has a servant named Tong. I think he is supposed to be Indian; anyway, he's colored bright reddish-pink. He and Tong go to Inner Mongolia where the locals tell him that the necklace is cursed. Luckily, the necklace is located right in the open in a palace that doesn't seem to belong to anyone, so he can just go in and take it without any inhabitants being there to complain about this crazy white man stealing another country's cultural heritage. (But then, I doubt that China has much respect for the culture of Inner Mongolia anyway.) Zatara and his "coolies" (a word you'd never see today) are attacked by Chinese (colored pale yellow). He defeats them and pretends that there's a curse by using his magic. "I think it's about time someone taught these Chinese bandits a few things, Fong, so that white men may be safe from them in the future". Unfortunately, Fong (not being a white man) does not reply by pulling a gun on Zatara--I'd have been sorely tempted to. Anyway it turns out the bandits were hired by a rival collector, and Zatara defeats him. End of story.

It's also the end of this issue. I'm not sure if I'm ever going to fully review or write about the 1940 issue. It did, however, include a lot more superheroes (Superman, Zatara, Hourman, Sandman, Johnny Thunder, and Batman) and seemed somewhat less connected to the fair, though ironically, the Zatara story, which was only peripherally connected in 1939, had a full World's Fair theme in this issue.

Epilogue: at the 1939 New York World's Fair, television was introduced to the public. "I never thought it would be like this. Why, it's beyond conception, and here it is." It and its spinoffs would ensure that comic books in America never had the place they had in the Golden Age again.

Would I want to see this in an Archive or Millennium Edition? Oh, yes. It's a lot of fun to read, and even the non-superhero stories are all Fair-related. (I wonder if the Fair theme is what kept these stories out of the Archives. Maybe not, since none of the Golden Age World's Finest stories appear there either.) And it's hard to read microfiche at 10 PM at night, on a train, or in the restroom. It has all the disadvantages of CD-ROM, and it also costs more to make, can't be printed except in a library in B&W, and can't be searched.

The other fiche I got was the first Whiz Comics set. I'd been meaning to read the end to that Ibis story, which I read in the 1970's in the Famous First Editions reprint. Ibis rescues his girlfriend and proceeds to become one of the most ridiculously powerful characters in comics, managing to turn anything into anything else, to conjure up a city, vehicles, animals, riches, and even an *airplane detector*. -- Ken Arromdee / /

To New York World's Fair 1939-1940

To see a list of world's fairs held in the Americas, and for some additional links, click here.

Created Dec. 3, 1999
by Alan Anderson
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