Friday, March 31, 2017

Lance Hale, or It's Hard to Become a Jungle Lord [Guest Post]



By GW Thomas

Lance Hale (originally by John Hampton) begins his career in Silver Streak Comics #2 (January 1940). In the jungle, the tall redhead is captured by natives and taken to a white scientist who increases his amazing strength with an armband that contains a special metal. With this armlet, Lance now has super-human strength, tearing up trees and killing a leopard with one punch. The scientist prepares Lance for his great experiment, which is a rocket to take the two to a distant planet.

Silver Streak Comics #3 (March 1940) sees the rocket arrive in Spirit-Land (what planet was that?) where the evil King Loti rules over strange beast-men. Dr. Grey (who now has a name) and Lance make their escape back to Earth along with the inevitable scientist's daughter, Myra, only to find the Spirit-men invading the planet. Cliffhanger alert! And boy, are you in for a wait! Seventy-six years later, the conclusion to this story is still MIA.

Silver Streak Comics #4 (May 1940) sees a new, unknown (and less talented) artist and an entirely different storyline as an armband-less Lance inherits an African mine from his uncle and ventures underground. A troglodyte race known as the Cave Men capture him and take him before their human queen, Aldia. She recognizes Lance because she knew his uncle, who Lance resembles. The Cave Men are about to be attacked by the Lizard Men. Lance fights on the side of the Cave Men, killing all the Lizard Men. With her enemies vanquished, Aldia demands Lance stay and be king. He escapes with a fortune in jewels, though one day he might return.

Lance returns from Africa in Silver Streak Comics #5 (July 1940) where he is attacked on board his ship by thugs trying to steal the treasure he took from the mine. After killing a shark and getting back aboard, he follows the thieves in a speed boat. They shoot his boat out from under him and take his treasure to Lurida, the evil gang leader. Lurida uses an evil African gem to summon the Shadow Monster, a hideous giant that steals from banks and terrorizes the citizens. Lance arrives in America only to come across the monster. He trails it to the thieves' hideout. Lance is captured but manages to shoot all the bad guys except for Lurida, who subdues him with the monster. She hangs Lance up over a fire to kill him. He escapes, destroys the monster and sees Lurida throw herself into the fire.

In Silver Streak Comics #6 (September 1940) Lance finally throws away his city clothes and goes to the jungle to dwell in a loin cloth. At last! It's been a long trail from super-human giant to Flash Gordon spaceman to underground adventurer to monster-fighting ghostbreaker, but now Lance Hale has arrived at his true calling... Jungle Lord! In this first adventure he acquires a kid sidekick named Jackie who befriends an elephant and takes out a band of murderous white poachers. In Silver Streak Comics #7 (January 1941), he takes a break so other heroes can kick Hitler's ass, but in Silver Streak Comics #8 (March 1941) he's back, now at only five pages instead of eight, saving the beautiful Ruth and her scientist friends from cannibals and crocodiles. Silver Streak Comics #9 (April 1941) has Lance save an aviator from a race of treetop dwelling pygmies (who speak backwards (siht ekil gnihtemos) and charging lions.

In Silver Streak Comics #10 (May 1941) Lance joins the war effort and destroys a Nazi sub while escaping a giant octopus. Silver Streak Comics #11 (June 1941) bears the name of Fred Guardineer as comic creator and a new look. Lance rescues the geologist Nellie from kidnapping natives and their giant rat, Kadu. In Silver Streak Comics #12 (July 1941) we finally get dinosaurs as Lance ventures into the forbidden valley of Ka-Zor. (Somebody has been reading Bob Byrd's Ka-Zar, I think.) Lance must defeat an Ape-man then a T-Rex. The Ape-man becomes his friend and Lance has to rescue his wife and child from a sabertooth tiger. Lance teaches the Ape-man how to use a bow and arrow before returning to his own jungle. Silver Streak Comics #13 (August 1941) sees him rescuing Princess Nada from a rampaging elephant then putting the beast out of its misery. On his way home he rescues Nada's brother from a hyena. (Haggard's Nada the Lily, I wonder?)

By issue #14, Lance Hale was done with his illustrious career as Jungle Lord. In his place more popular characters such as Daredevil and the Silver Streak (as well as Leslie Charteris' The Saint) filled the pages. So Lance had to remain in his jungle unobserved. Such were the wages of WWII. The adventures of Lance Hale may seem like a chaotic jumble, but when you consider the way in which comics were created in the early 1940s, things become much clearer.

Lance was a character published by Silver Streak Comics but the writing and drawing of his stories were done by sweatshops known as studios. The individual assigned to the strip probably changed at least as often as the storyline. There was little content control as long as product was made and delivered to the packager, in this case Lev Gleason. Unlike characters like Sheena or Tarzan, Lance did not have a single creator (or more often a writer and an artist) who kept an eye on development. The studios often stole ideas that were hot from movies, radio, and the newspaper comic strips. Since they were working in a medium that was beneath notice, no one really cared until the famous 1941 National Comics v. Fawcett court case. Slowly companies like DC, operating their own bullpen of writers, artists, and editors, replaced the studios. Lance Hale was long forgotten by that time.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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