Thursday, January 19, 2017


Quality Comics was not lightly named, with a roster of creative talent collaborating on some of the most-satisfying adventure stories inhabiting the Golden Age racks. Particularly of value was Quality's roster of post-war second-stringers. While Blackhawk, Doll Man, Kid Eternity, Uncle Sam and Plastic Man made up the top of the company's weird roster, later additions like The Barker and Captain Triumph were of equally great standards to their forebears.

I'd start with the stout-ish hearts to begin with and work up.
Even the short-lived latecomers had a peculiar charm to them, such as The Whistler, a tune-tootling tough guy whose pursed lips could sink ships. From National Comics No.48 through No.54 -- long after patriotic pugilist Uncle Sam had vacated the book in favor of fresher faces -- The Whistler provided backup adventures to the book's cover feature favorites, and partnership to other flashy heroes like Quality's speed-happy Quicksilver (later redubbed Max Mercury in DC's catalog of acquired characters).

"New Thrills - New Adventures!" promises the introductory caption, "A brand new comic character ... The Whistler! Meet him here --- learn his weird secret weapon against the tycoons of crime -- follow him into a whirlwind future of action and excitement in every issue!" That's all well and good, but he ran for eight appearances.

Young Mallory Drakes, would-be police reporter, berates his editor into finally gifting him his sought-after assignment, and rushes off to tell his world-famous brother the good news. What inordinate skill granted older sibling Jerry Drake the celebration of the world's audiences? He was a theatrical whistler. I can hardly imagine someone whistling their way to rapturous applause, but then again there used to be musical farters. Also, have you ever seen the Jim Rose Circus? Or Two Broke Girls? Anything's possible.

And how does Jerry react to the good news? He goes and ungratefully allows himself to be shot by notorious hoods. Hey, he's whistling from two places, now!

He might whistle it at you, tho.
Before death takes him completely, Jerry begs his younger brother to remember an ominous musical tone of their youth. "Remember ... once you whistled ... three notes? Made shivers run down my spine" he confesses, dying, "Scariest sound I ever heard."

"Use that whistle to scare criminals. Pay them back." And then he dies. Although unpublished, Mallory's speech at Jerry's funeral almost certainly included the passage "And he thought I should go fight crime by whistling at it. Haha, yeah, he was out of his mind before he died."

As it is, the three-note whistle to which Jerry alluded was not the NBC theme, as I sort-of assumed it was, but an actual tool in the commanding of men's minds. "The whistle paralyzes them for a moment!" Mallory is amazed to admit to himself, tooting from a bush.

Likewise, Mallory's whistle can be put to amazing uses. For instance, at one point, he causes a gun to fire, without any hand resting on or near the trigger, just by whistling a note so high and keen that I guess the gun wanted whoever was doing it to die. You ever get stuck in an office scenario with someone who just tunelessly whistles all day? I have, and I wish they could make guns accidentally go off towards them with the right note.

Created by Vernon Henkel, The Whistler shared a name with a popular radio mystery host, whose signature whistle during the intro to his program was almost undoubtedly the inspiration for this particular character. However, while the radio's Whistler managed to remain in the public consciousness on and off for a few decades, the comic book Whistler faded into obscurity, distantly tweeting ever more quietly as he walked off into relative obscurity. He's irritating the angels now.

This is not the time to debate the specifics.


Eric said...

As a fan of old-timey radio shows (Sirius XM's Classic Radio channel can be the best thing ever on long car trips), I wondered whether there was a link between the radio character and comic book character. And when I got to your final paragraph, I had to wonder what the hell Quality was thinking if they didn't have rights to use the name, or was that a factor in the shortness of his run?

The radio's Whistler ran on the radio for thirteen years and had a series of feature-film spinoffs, several of which were directed by William Castle (yeah, the same guy who became famous in the '50s for publicity stunts like selling life insurance policies at the movie theatre or stationing women in nurse outfits in the lobby--because that's how terrified you'll be when you see this movie!). So he wasn't exactly an obscure character and publishing comics featuring "The Whistler" seems like a pretty obvious attempt to pull one over on the public and the owners of the original IP. (It looks like Quality's Whistler came out two years after the radio series started and a year after the first of the Castle films--the height of the radio show's popularity, probably.)

I'd be curious to find out if you know whether Quality's Whistler was killed by a cease-and-desist letter.

Calamity Jon said...

That's something I certainly wish I knew but, as you can imagine, I imagine that Quality's Whistler wasn't a significant enough character to warrant even a footnote in most comic book histories (everyone is welcome at Gone&Forgotten, of course). I think the odds are even that some sort of legal notice might have been handed down somewhere, but also just as likely is that it wasn't a very well-known or popular character and it vanished without much fanfare...I'll see what I can find out, though.

John Mayer said...

As we all know, the Shadow started his on-air career as an announcer/narrator very much like the Whistler, but quickly morphed into a crimefighter in his own right, while the Whistler remained in the role of one-man Greek chorus. I wonder if somebody at Quality decided that the radio Whistler was missing a bet in not following suit and figured, well, if THEY'RE not going to run with it, we will.

John Mayer said...

We all know that the Shadow began as an announcer/narrator much like the Whistler, but quickly morphed into a crimefighter while the Whistler remained in his role as one-man Greek chorus. I wonder if someone at Quality felt the producers of The Whistler were missing a bet by not following suit and figured that if THEY weren't going to run with the idea Quality might as well.

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