Thursday, February 11, 2016


One of the most charming aspects of the Golden Age of comics was the presence of genuinely well-crafted humor features, particularly as so many of them existed before the realm of self-satire overwhelmed the offerings of the oeuvre (and before superhero comics proliferated in such abundance that even the most stoic and stalwart superhero became effectively a parody of itself, although that's a topic for a different discussion). Unbeholden to precedent, humor features like Gill Fox's excellent Granny Gumshoe -- which ran a respectable fourteen consecutive appearances in Quality's National Comics starting in issue number 57 (December 1946) -- were able to provide comedy on its own terms, although Granny racked up a number of her own thematic, weirdo villains.

Granny likes to jump boxers and beat them in the face
with a hammer, which is why we took her to live in a home.
An amateur octogenarian sleuth (by which I mean an amateur sleuth who was also in her apparent dotage, although thinking about it I suppose we're all amateur eighty year-olds when we get there. Who gets paid for being old?) living with her granddaughter "Lippy Lu" (I'm assuming that's Lucy Liu's mother) in the quiet suburb of Weston. 

Despite her advanced years, Granny Gumshoe (her actual last name) was both an inventor and a detective, solving murders and robberies in the otherwise quiet borough. Part of the charm of the character resided in her turn-of-the-century garb and accouterments, appearing as she did a bit like Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey, only (slightly) quicker to slug someone with a cocked fist. 

The other winning component was her impressive rogues gallery, a catalog of which could easily fill its own collection of accolades. My personal favorite is Mr.Worm (good morning, how are you?), an apparently boneless accountant who only discovers his rubbery resilience when he tries to snuff himself by jumping from a ledge forty stories up. He develops an immediate crush on Granny, in front of whose car he had the poor taste to land. To be honest, I'm feeling a little warm to the old broad, myself. Worm goes on to propose to the old bird, despite landing in jail for robbery, by slipping through the bars of his prison cell, squeezing into a drainpipe and popping out of her kitchen faucet. 

And you've got spinal trauma.
Visually, it's all the treat of Jack Cole's Plastic Man, and it's kind of a crime that it hasn't been collected and reprinted. DC may currently own the Quality characters (and other assets), but the original stories having fallen into the public domain doesn't give them much of a financial incentive to collect, remaster and release dedicated volumes of these obscure creations.

So, faded into obscurity with Granny are the femme fatale Mademoiselle Angora, the hollering Screaming Percy, the murderous ventriloquist dummy Splinter, the mad reformer Dr.Crud, the brutal boxer Rocky Granite, and composer Ludwig Cymbal who happens to own a voodoo doll of the Earth.

One of the refreshing elements of Granny Gumshoe was that she wasn't portrayed as frail, daffy or weak. Part of the humor obviously comes from the inversion of those expectations, but mostly it's just rewarding to see an action hero - however intentionally comical - in the pages of a comic who isn't a burly, bare-chested he-man. Comics could have probably used a few more Granny Gumshoes, in whatever form they took.


Cheryl Spoehr said...

There seems to be a sub set of golden age super/otherwise heroes who at least pretend old age. Two others are Mr.Whiskers in Four Favorites,and Madame Fatal in the horribly named Crack Comics. Both were young actors who used makeup and costume to pretend age,then surprise the heck out of their enemies when they fought with youth and strength.

Noah Riggs said...

Nice TMBG reference!

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