Friday, August 14, 2015


On a couple of different occasions, Doll Man had the opportunity to fight a banjo-bearing baddie by the name of The Minstrel, whose criminal career is defined by what appears to be some sort of severe budget issue in the wardrobe department.

Debuting in Doll Man vol.1 No.23 (July 1949), The Minstrel was originally outfitted like some sort of bootleg Joker action figure from a Taiwanese flea market; white top hat, lime-green lapels and striped pants jutting out from a merlot-color waistcoat. This is how the Spin Doctors would have dressed if they'd become unstuck in time and Quantum Leapt into 1949.

Try fuckin' it to death.
As bad as the costume is, it could have been worse (and was- stay tuned!), and at least it was dynamic as all get out. Also aiding the Minstrel in his music-themed robberies and mayhem was his gimmick banjo, hiding in the neck both a double-barrel shotgun and a device to shoot magnesium flares at unsuspecting pursuers.

The gimmicks worked superbly in his first outing against Doll Man, although what made the genuine difference was the thing which usually unseated Doll Man - some sort of equally small menace! The Minstrel makes use of a parade of small robot replicas of himself, which as I think about it sounds a little familiar. Whatever the case, I leave that argument up to the fine folks at the patent office and focus on the results; Doll Man is ultimately laid sufficiently low that the Minstrel can murder him in the most efficient way possible; tying him to the clanger in the town bell and letting him get rung to death.

Well, naturally our hero escapes that death trap and puts the malicious Minstrel behind bars. For a minute anyway. He's back only a few months later in Feature Comics No.138 (September 1949) bearing a distinctly different look. Gone is the high hat, the sweet spats and the Fruit Stripes-colored ensemble and in its place is ... Woody Guthrie?

This Machine Kills Doll Men
Yeah, he kind of looks like Woody Guthrie now. Dressing down in a loose-fitting chamois-cloth shirt and hard-worn fedora, the once-snazzy Minstrel has suffered sufficiently reduced circumstances to go about looking a bit like a railway bum, and a lot like the author of This Land Is My Land.

His motive has changed somewhat, as well. Pride appears to be the encouraging factor in his later crime crusade: "I'll prove that I'm the world's greatest minstrel!" he tells a roomful of cronies, "And at the same time I'll help myself to a fortune! This is a perfect opportunity to display my twin talents for music -- and crime." He shoulda just stuck around and let the residuals for that Wilco/Billy Bragg album come in.

The dramatic change in appearance may have merely been the result of a little miscommunication within the busy studio - it happened elsewhere and on larger scales than Doll Man, no pun intended. It also might have been the result of a little pressure from often-litigious DC Comics, as The Minstrel more than a little resembled the clown prince of crime (and, for that matter, stole that accolade for himself).

Whatever the case, at the very least a character named "The Minstrel" could have been a lot worse. At least he didn't avail himself of blackfa --



John Longenbaugh said...

You, sir, are on a roll. "Woody Guthrie" indeed. I kind of found Doll Man comics charming, but then again, that's based on a half-dozen reprints, and you've clearly uncovered a trove of less well-known stories.

I continue to depend on you for a regular dose of seasoned snark aimed at comics, and you rarely disappoint. Thank you.

Malcolm said...

"That's an interesting disguise" is the wisecrack of a very uncomfortable superhero. Syung Myung Me said... this guy knocked a blackface performer out before he can "ply" his "art".... and HE's the bad guy??

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