Saturday, February 15, 2020

The 'unpublished' inventory Ghost Rider stories in Australia: The Scream in the Night!

Magazine Enterprises' Ghost Rider has a rather labyrinthine history which I don't wish to rehash in detail here. What interests me for the moment is the original stories illustrated by Dick Ayers.

Or rather, the stories not published.

When Mark Cannon exchanged some emails with Dick Ayers c.2000, he mentioned reading Second Thunder Valley, a Tales of the Ghost Rider story that didn't appear to have been published in the US during the original Ghost Rider run. Ayers told him that a number of Ghost Rider stories were completed but weren't published in the US as the series was cancelled due to the Comics Code. He recalled ME publisher Vin Sullivan  once mentioned licensing a lot of ME material for publication in Australia, some of which may have been inventory stories 'leaked' onto the Australian market. 

Bill Black's Best of the West: Golden-Age Greats Vol. 7 contains a checklist of Dick Ayers' work for ME which lists the following Ghost Rider inventory stories:

The Small Green Snake
Warrior From The Dead
Scream in the Night
Vigilantes of Hate
Second Thunder Valley
Man of Gold
The Vanishing Herd

To date I have found four of these stories in K.G. Murray issues published c.August 1967:

The Scream in the Night!: All Star Adventure Comic #46
Vigilantes of Hate!: All Favourites Comic #61
The Vanishing Herd!: All Favourites Comic #62
Second Thunder Valley: Bumper Western Comic #32

Ghost Rider was also published in Australia by Apache Comics in King Size Comic, so it is possible some of the missing stories appeared in this series.

And so, for your edification, here's The Scream in the Night! as it appeared in All Star Adventure Comic #46:

I will post the other inventory Ghost Rider stories I have in my collection over the next few days and update the links.

I began this post by saying I didn't want to rehash the publishing history of Ghost Rider. That's my way of inviting Mark Cannon to fill in the details in the comments section. Mark knows more about Ghost Rider and ME than I do, and was invaluable in providing much of the information above, spurred by my query when I couldn't locate a source for The Scream in the Night! For ages now I've been urging Mark to run his own blog on Australian reprint comics. I've even suggested a title: Shots from the Cannon - but to date he has resisted the temptation, preferring to lie low as one of my operatives. So consider this a proxy Shots from the Cannon post.


Mark Cannon said...

Thanks, Spiros. How could my ego refuse an invitation like that?

As a nipper I eagerly read K G Murray’s large anthology reprints of American DC comics from around mid-1965 onwards.

While I initially assumed that all the stories in the KGMs originated with DC, I soon realised this wasn’t the case. Some of them looked similar to the type of stories appearing in the American Comics Group anthology titles like “Unknown Worlds” and “Forbidden Worlds”; they were then in their last couple of years of publishing, and I had read a few issues.

There were also a lot of Westerns, featuring characters like the Durango Kid, Bobby Benson, Tim Holt / Red Mask, which didn’t really look like DC material. It wasn’t until quite a few years later - I forget exactly when - that I learned these were all originally published by a small US imprint that ceased operating around late 1957 - Magazine Enterprises (ME).

I’ve never really been a Western fan, but I really liked one of these ME characters - the Ghost Rider. While there was nothing actually supernatural about the title character, and most of the plots had rational explanations, I enjoyed the slight horror tinge that was present in many of the stories; the first one I read, in “Tip Top Comic #15”, concerned an ancient treasure that killed anyone who touched it. As I recall, little 7 year old me was extremely creeped out by this - but loved it! The distinctive art of Dick Ayers helped; while he later became a more conventional Western artist, at the time Ayers was also drawing quite a bit of Pre-Code horror for publishers like Atlas and Charlton, and that feel flowed over into his GR work.

So - wherever these stories originated, I liked them. But… wait a minute! By mid 1966 I was also reading Marvel Comics, and each month their books contained the “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” page, which included a little checklist and synopsis of all the comics they issues that month, and items on some other comics and creators. In February 1967, this included a listing for - “Ghost Rider” #1, featuring a character who looked exactly like the GR who had been showing up in many of those “DC reprints” comics I was reading! How could this be?

Again, I don’t think I learned the backstory until many years later, but despite the carbon-copy appearance of the Marvel version (also drawn by Dick Ayers!), this was a new character. Supposedly the original trademarks had lapsed and Marvel simply took advantage of that and the decade lapse since the original version (and ME itself) ceased publication, and grabbed onto them. While the original GR was Marshal Rex Fury, the secret identity of this version was school-teacher Carter Slade. Despite a slightly mystical origin he was, like the original, a normal man who masqueraded as a ghost. This version lasted 7 issues in his own title, and also appeared in several issues of “Mighty Marvel Western”.
(End Part 1)

Mark Cannon said...

In 1972, Marvel premiered a completely new “Ghost Rider” character - the flaming-headed, motorcycle-riding version who was a genuinely supernatural charade ,and who has been through a number of iterations in the subsequent decades. Some of this character’s adventures were reprinted locals by Yaffa/ Page in the late 1970s-early 80s and by Federal in the mid-80s.

Just a few years later Marvel reprinted the exploits of their earlier Carter Slade GR, but changed his name to “Night Rider” to avoid confusion. The character was then dormant for a few years, and when he next appeared in Marvel comics his name had been further amended to “Phantom Rider”. Presumably someone at Marvel had eventually realised that “Night Riders” was a common term for the early Klu Klux Klan - and that this wasn’t really a welcome association for a comic book hero riding around at night dressed in white in the late 19th Century… Anyway, this Phantom Rider has shown up occasionally in Marvel comics over the last few decades.

But what of the original, Magazine Enterprises Ghost Rider? Well, the KGM reprints of the character - and the rest of the ME Western heroes - which had commenced circa 1965 had mostly ended by around 1974 (though there was one as late as 1978). However in the early 1970s, American comics creator and Westerns enthusiast Bill Black revived the ME characters, mostly in reprints but also in occasional new stories, under his Americomics (AC) imprint. Given that Marvel now had dibs on the “Ghost Rider” moniker, Bill reduced him as “The Haunted Horseman” -which I’ve always thought a pretty neat title in itself. From the late 1980s until around 2010, AC produced a great many reprints of ME and other classic Western comics characters, although they now sadly appear to have ceased.

Now if that history isn’t confusing enough…. When eBay began to generate a substantial trade in old Australian comics, I noticed a few issues appearing of a comic titled “Phantom Rider”. From the covers these were clearly Australian reprints of the ME “Ghost Rider”, and they pre-dated the 1960s KG Murray reprints by some years. The invaluable “Ausreprints” site estimates the title ran for 20 issues from Atlas Publications (no relation to the US Atlas imprint that eventually became Marvel) in 1954-55. So why didn’t the local publisher simply use the original title of “Ghost Rider”?

Because there had been another, earlier Australian comic titled “Ghost Rider”, that’s why! Also published by Atlas, this premiered circa 1951 and ran for some 57 issues up until 1956. Kevin Patrick gave a nice rundown on the character (who had no supernatural pretensions whatsoever, and seems more of a Lone Ranger type) here There’s also a nice cover gallery at Ausreprints

(End Part 2)

Mark Cannon said...

SO - if all of the above hasn’t already made you feel ads though you need a cup of tea, a Bex and good lie down, here’s a rough timeline -

1949 - The Ghost Rider (Magazine Enterprises, USA) first appears in “Tim Holt” #11 (Nov 1949).

1951 - The Ghost Rider (Atlas Publications, Australia), a completely unrelated character, first appears.

1954 - The Ghost Rider (Magazine Enterprises, USA) makes his last appearance in “Red Mask” #50 (Jul-Aug 1955).

1954-55 - Magazine Enterprises “Ghost Rider” stories are reprinted in Australia by Atlas Publications, under the title “Phantom Rider”.

1956 - The adventures of the Australian “Ghost Rider” cease publication.

Circa late 1950s - some ME “Ghost Rider” stories are reprinted in Australia in Apache Publications “King-Size” title, un der the title “Ghost Rider”.

Circa early 1965 - 1974 - ME “Ghost Rider” stories are reprinted in various KGM anthology titles (eg, Wonder Comic , All Star Adventure, All Favourites and Particularly “Bumper Western Comic”)

1967 - Marvel Comics (USA) publishes its own “Ghost Rider” comic, featuring a new character whose appearance and basic concept is virtually identical to that of the ME character.

1972 - Marvel Comics (USA) premieres a completely different “Ghost Rider”; a flaming-skulled, motorcycle-riding demonic character.

1972 - Bill Black first reprints some ME Ghost Rider stories as “The Haunted Horseman”

1974-5 - Marvel reprints some of its 1967 “Ghost Rider” stories as “Night Rider”.

Mid-1980s - Now renamed “Phantom Rider” Marvel’s “Ghost / Night Rider” appears in various stories. Other versions of the character, using that same name, have appeared subsequently in various Marvel stories.

Late-1980s - 2010 - Bill Black’s Americomics reprints numerous ME Ghost Rider stories as “The Haunted Horseman”, as well as a few new “Haunted Horseman” stories, in a variety of titles. This included a one-shot “Haunted Horseman” comic in 1999, commemorating the character’s 50th Anniversary, which included the first US printing of the inventory story “The Second Thunder Valley” (printed in Australia in 1967 in Bumper Western Comic #32”.

I hope that the above makes some sort of sense. If anyone else can add or correct anything, please feel free to do so!