Promise Collection 1947: Changing Tides

"Comic Books Denounced by Police Chiefs," declared a July 22, 1947 report in the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader. Perhaps ironically, Wilkes-Barre was the location of Central Color Press, whose owner Victor Fox was printing a few of the comic books that the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association likely found objectionable, including series such as Phantom Lady which are present in the Promise Collection of this period. "Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association today denounced certain types of comic books as the source of inspiration for brutal crimes committee by teen-age youths and a cause in the rapid rise of juvenile delinquency. A resolution condemning the "funny books," introduced by Frank A. Sweeney, chief of police of Jenkintown, Pa., and sponsored by the law committee was adopted at a morning session that began the second of the three-day 34th annual convention in this city."

"Chief of Police Sweeney scathingly criticized certain types of comic books before introducing his resolution. 'Police are concerned with the rise in crime, particularly the definite increase in crime among boys and girls,' asserted the Montgomery County officer. 'There are several intangible things we can't do anything about, but some contributing causes can be stopped. One of those that can and must be eliminated,' declared Sweeney, 'Is the lurid, gaudy, almost obscene type of comic book that is designed for young boys and girls. Sweeney said he remembered when the Police Gazette had to be smuggled into the home and hidden lest a youth face the wrath of an irate parent. But I can't recall anything in the Gazette then or now that is worse than the stuff in these," he stated, as he brandished a half dozen of the brightly-colored books. [author's note: as a serious Police Gazette collector, I can say with certainty that Chief Sweeney is mistaken about his recollections of that notorious title — even during the 19th century period, and certainly during the times Sweeney would remember — when it was briefly owned by DC Comics owner Harry Donenfeld.]

"Sweeney said one of the worst features about the criminal-inciting type of comic book is that not only do the children buy them but the parents bring them into the home. He said numerous cases can be cited in which teen-age boys and girls charged with heinous crimes admitted to police authorities that they got their ideas from comic books. There is hardly a page in some of these books, Sweeney asserted, that does not contain a murder or other horrible crime committed by novel methods that stir the imagination of Children. Sweeney's resolution was adopted after it was seconded by Chief of Police Harry Christ, of Morrisville, Bucks County, and Chief of Police John Watahovich. Freeland. These three men, convention officials announced, will broadcast a program here tonight detailing the many contributory factors or certain comic books to juvenile delinquency."

The Promise Collection Marvel Mystery #82, Phantom Lady #13, Batman #42, 1947.
The Promise Collection Marvel Mystery #82, Phantom Lady #13, Batman #42, 1947.

Welcome to Part 14 of the Promise Collection series, which is meant to serve as liner notes of sorts for the comic books in the collection. The Promise Collection is a set of nearly 5,000 comic books, 95% of which are blisteringly high grade, that were published from 1939 to 1952 and purchased by one young comic book fan.  The name of the Promise Collection was inspired by the reason that it was saved and kept in such amazing condition since that time. An avid comic book fan named Junie and his older brother Robert went to war in Korea.  Robert Promised Junie that he would take care of his brother's beloved comic book collection should anything happen to him. Junie was killed during the Korean War, and Robert kept his promise.  There are more details about that background in a previous post regarding this incredible collection of comic books.  And over the course of a few dozen articles in this new series of posts, we will also be revealing the complete listing of the collection.  You can always catch up with posts about this collection at this link, which will become a hub of sorts regarding these comic books over time.

Zoot Comics #8, 1947.
Zoot Comics #8, 1947.

May Through August 1947 in the Promise Collection

The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association was not the only such organization that was scrutinizing comic books in mid-1947.  Various other police organizations were leveling criticism at what they termed "unrestrained, bold, vicious, salacious and immoral" comic books.  Many such organizations were beginning to point out that they had local laws on the books that could be applied to comics, such as the Indiana state law which defined penalties including imprisonment "or anybody who sells, offers to sell, prints, publishes or brings into this state for the purpose of selling or giving away, "any paper, book or periodical the chief feature or characteristic of which is the record of commission cf crime or the display by cut or illustration of crimes committed or of the acts of pictures or criminals, desperadoes, or of men or women in lewd and unbecoming positions or improper dress."

It's likely no happenstance that the Promise Collection of this four-month mid-1947 contains a number of noteworthy "Good Girl" oriented characters, covers, and titles just as such comics were receiving significantly heightened scrutiny.  Zoot Comics, Phantom Lady, Blonde Phantom, Marvel Mystery #82 featuring the debut of Namora, Black Cat, Planet Comics featuring Mysta of the Moon and other female characters, The Saint #1, numerous Better/Nedor/Standard issues featuring Alex Schomburg covers, and countless others are part of the collection from this time frame.

The origins and inspirations for most of these characters are relatively easy to decipher.  Jungle Girl characters, femme fatales, damsels in distress and science fiction planets full of warrior women were all long-time fantastic fiction staples, even in 1947.  Female counterparts to male heroes was another tried and true idea.  But one of the most popular and enduring female characters introduced in mid-1947 appears to have a wonderfully specific source of inspiration.

Flash Comics #86, 1947.
Flash Comics #86, 1947.

The Alchemy of the Rare Black Canary

Sometimes when researching the possible inspirations for comic book characters, the historical connections can be complicated and hard to decipher. Like chasing down the butterfly whose flapping wings eventually lead to something greater and trying to make sense of it.  Other times, even the smallest inspiration can be unmistakable, and can still lead to surprising and legendary comic book consequences.  Such is the case with a now-legendary character that debuted in Flash Comics #86 in 1947 (and there's an incredible high-grade CGC 9.2 copy of this issue in the Promise Collection). When I started researching historical elements that might have nudged Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino towards creating that first Black Canary story, and found newspaper headlines across the country about "The First Black Canary", at just the right time, I knew this would be no butterfly hunt.

The real-world Black Canary of that era was also very elusive.  In mid-1945, Mrs H.B. McElwain of Baltimore made the AP newswire with her quest to create the first black canary hybrid bird.  Perhaps it was a welcome distraction for a world worn down by the grim realities of World War II, because the journalists who put together this little burst of newspaper stories that year leaned into it with a vengeance:

Mrs. H.B. McElwain, wife of a Baltimore surgeon, loves canaries, but a canary is not enough. As the alchemists wanted gold from base metals, she wants a black canary.

Just how the aristocratic hybrid will look is conjecture. It may be totally black. Or it may have yellow or green wing markings.  Hard-working Mrs. McElwain is far from annoyed by this uncertainty, however.

"That's the beauty of it," she says. "You never know what to expect. It's just like alchemy."

Though news of Mrs. McElwain's progress was scarce over the next two years, she'd managed to capture the public's imagination with her endeavor.  "Black Canary" briefly became a fabric color alongside the likes of "Canary Yellow".  By 1946, Mrs. McElwain had competition from around the world in her quest for the Black Canary.  And despite seemingly little reported progress, people didn't give up hope.  In 1947, around the time that Flash Comics #86 was hitting the newsstands, the Indianapolis Star noted that members of the Greater Indianapolis Bird Club were still anxiously awaiting the arrival of a Black Canary hybrid.  It appears that such bird clubs had become a serious matter in the U.S. by this time, as the Greater Indianapolis Bird Club was preparing for some sort of Bird-centric Comicon.  Or Birdcon, I guess, for which they expected to attract exhibitors from around the country.  And just like some comic book collector awaiting that fabled back issue dealer who had found a fresh copy of Action Comics #1 in somebody's grandfather's attic, the Bird Club still held out hope that someone would arrive at their event in Indianapolis that year and unveil a Black Canary hybrid to the world at last.

DC's Black Canary soared to unexpected prominence from obscure and elusive beginnings as well.  Her debut in Flash Comics #86 is not just a back-pages story in this anthology, but she is also not the star of the feature — more a likable villain in a Johnny Thunder story.  But like Mrs. McElwain's quest for a bird so unique and unusual that she didn't know what to expect, DC Comics' Black Canary would quickly capture comic fandom's imagination — at least enough to join the Justice Society of America with issue #38 just a few months later, followed by her own solo feature beginning in Flash Comics #92. The record is surprisingly silent about Mrs. McElwain's quest after 1947, and other efforts over the next few years seem vague and unverified.

Not unlike Wonder Woman, Black Canary would largely avoid the scrutiny of the nation's local police forces in 1947.  But some other characters and titles mentioned here would not remain unscathed for very long.  "A law seldom is any stronger than public opinion," the Indianapolis News noted about this brewing controversy. "If the people of Indiana had wanted this statute enforced, it would have been. But the fact that they have ignored it only stresses the need for further education on the consequences of their apathy."  And they were certainly right.  Public opinion was about to be marshaled against comic books at unprecedented levels.

Title Issue # Auction Link/Grade Cover Date Price Realized
Action Comics 108 May 1947
Action Comics 109 June 1947
Action Comics 110 Action Comics #110 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 White pages July 1947 $7,200.00
Action Comics 111 August 1947
Adventure Comics 116
Adventure Comics 117 June 1947
Adventure Comics 118 July 1947
Adventure Comics 119 August 1947
Airboy Comics v4 #5 June 1947
All-Star Comics 35 June-July 1947
All-Star Comics 36 August-September 1947
Archie Comics 26 May-June 1947
Archie Comics 27 Archie Comics #27 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Archie, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 Off-white to white pages July-August 1947
Archie Comics 26 May-June 1947
Archie Comics 27 July-August 1947
Batman (1940) 41 Batman #41 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages. June-July 1947
Batman (1940) 42 Batman #42 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 Off-white to white pages August-September 1947
Big Shot 77 May 1947
Big Shot 78 June 1947
Big Shot 79 July 1947
Big Shot 80 August 1947
Black Cat 6 June-July 1947
Black Cat 7 Black Cat Comics #7 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Harvey, 1947) CGC VF/NM 9.0 White pages August-September 1947 $720.00
Blackhawk 15 Summer 1947
Blonde Phantom 14 Summer 1947
Blondie Comics 2 Summer 1947
Boy Comics 34 June 1947
Boy Comics 35 August 1947
Boy Commandos 21 May-June 1947
Boy Commandos 22 Boy Commandos #22 Double Cover – The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white to white pages July-August 1947 $1,140.00
Captain America Comics 62 May 1947
Captain America Comics 63 July 1947
Captain Marvel Jr. 49 May 1947
Captain Marvel Jr. 50 June 1947
Captain Marvel Jr. 51 July 1947
Captain Marvel Jr. 52 August 1947
Captain Marvel Adventures 72 May 1947
Captain Marvel Adventures 73 June 1947
Captain Marvel Adventures 74 July 1947
Captain Marvel Adventures 75 August 1947
Clue Comics v2 #3 May 1947
Comic Cavalcade 21 June-July 1947
Comic Cavalcade 22 August-September 1947
Comics Novel 1 1947
Comics on Parade 57 June 1947
Comics Revue 2 July 1947
Crack Comics 48 May 1947
Crack Comics 49 July 1947
Crime Does Not Pay 51 May 1947
Crime Does Not Pay 52 June 1947
Crime Does Not Pay 53 July 1947
Crime Does Not Pay 54 August 1947
Daredevil Comics (1941) 42 May 1947
Daredevil Comics (1941) 43 July 1947
Detective Comics 123 Detective Comics #123 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages May 1947 $12,600.00
Detective Comics 124 Detective Comics #124 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white to white pages June 1947 $120,000.00
Detective Comics 125 Detective Comics #125 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages July 1947
Detective Comics 126 Detective Comics #126 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 Off-white to white pages August 1947 $43,200.00
Doll Man 13 Summer 1947
Doll Man 14 Autumn 1947
Dynamic Comics 21 July 1947
Exciting Comics 55 Exciting Comics #55 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Nedor, 1947) CGC NM- 9.2 Off-white to white pages May 1947 $4,560.00
Exciting Comics 56 Exciting Comics #56 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Nedor, 1947) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white pages July 1947 $6,300.00
Famous Funnies 154 May 1947
Famous Funnies 155 June 1947
Famous Funnies 156 July 1947
Famous Funnies 157 August 1947
Feature Comics 110 May 1947
Feature Comics 111 June 1947
Feature Comics 112 July 1947
Feature Comics 113 August 1947
Fight Comics 50 June 1947
Fight Comics 51 August 1947
Fighting Yank 21 August 1947
Flash Comics 86 Flash Comics #86 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM- 9.2 Off-white to white pages August 1947 $48,000.00
Four Color 155 July 1947
Four Color 161 August 1947
Four Favorites 29 Four Favorites #29 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Ace, 1947) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages June 1947 $7,800.00
Frankenstein 7 Frankenstein Comics #7 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Prize, 1947) CGC VF- 7.5 White pages May-June 1947 $780.00
Frankenstein 8 July-August 1947
Green Hornet Comics 34 May-June 1947
Green Hornet Comics 35 August-September 1947
Headline Comics 24 May-June 1947
Headline Comics 25 July-August 1947
Hit Comics 46 May 1947
Hit Comics 47 July 1947
Human Torch 27 Summer 1947
International Comics 2 International Comics #2 The Promise Collection Pedigree (EC, 1947) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages Summer 1947 $13,200.00
Joe Palooka 10 May 1947
Joe Palooka 11 July 1947
Joe Palooka 12 August 1947
Jumbo Comics 99 May 1947
Jumbo Comics 100 June 1947
Jumbo Comics 101 July 1947
Jumbo Comics 102 August 1947
Jungle Comics 89 May 1947
Jungle Comics 90 June 1947
Jungle Comics 91 July 1947
Jungle Comics 92 August 1947
Kid Eternity 6 Kid Eternity #6 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1947) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white to white pages Summer 1947 $2,400.00
Kid Eternity 7 Kid Eternity #7 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1947) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white to white pages Autumn 1947 $2,400.00
Laugh Comics 23 Laugh Comics #23 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Archie, 1947) CGC VF 8.0 White pages Summer 1947
Marvel Family 11 The Marvel Family #11 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fawcett Publications, 1947) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages May 1947
Marvel Family 12 June 1947
Marvel Family 13 The Marvel Family #13 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fawcett Publications, 1947) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white to white pages July 1947
Marvel Family 14 The Marvel Family #14 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fawcett Publications, 1947) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white to white pages August 1947
Marvel Mystery Comics 82 Marvel Mystery Comics #82 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 Off-white to white pages May 1947
Marvel Mystery Comics 83 July 1947
Mary Marvel 12 Mary Marvel Comics #12 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fawcett Publications, 1947) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white to white pages May 1947
Mary Marvel 13 June 1947
Mary Marvel 14 July 1947
Mary Marvel 15 August 1947
Master Comics 79 May 1947
Master Comics 80 June 1947
Master Comics 81 July 1947
Master Comics 82 August 1947
Modern Comics 61 May 1947
Modern Comics 62 June 1947
Modern Comics 63 Modern Comics #63 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1947) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages July 1947 $1,140.00
Modern Comics 64 Modern Comics #64 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1947) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages August 1947 $1,680.00
Movie Comics 3 June 1947
Mutt & Jeff 28 June-July 1947
Mutt & Jeff 29 August-September 1947
National Comics 60 National Comics #60 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 White pages June 1947 $576.00
National Comics 61 National Comics #61 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1947) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white to white pages August 1947 $300.00
Nyoka the Jungle Girl 7 May 1947
Nyoka the Jungle Girl 8 June 1947
Nyoka the Jungle Girl 9 July 1947
Nyoka the Jungle Girl 10 August 1947
Pep Comics 61 May 1947
Pep Comics 62 July 1947
Phantom Lady 13 Phantom Lady #13 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1947) CGC NM- 9.2 White pages August 1947 $38,400.0
Planet Comics 48 Planet Comics #48 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fiction House, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 White pages May 1947
Planet Comics 49 Planet Comics #49 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fiction House, 1947) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages July 1947
Plastic Man 8 Summer 1947
Police Comics 66 May 1947
Police Comics 67 June 1947
Police Comics 68 July 1947
Police Comics 69 August 1947
Prize Comics 64 June-July 1947
Prize Comics 65 August – September 1947
Rangers Comics 35 June 1947
Rangers Comics 36 August 1947
Real Clue Crime Stories v2 #4 June 1947
Real Clue Crime Stories v2 #5 July 1947
Real Clue Crime Stories v2 #6 August 1947
Red Ryder Comics 46 May 1947
Red Ryder Comics 47 June 1947
Red Ryder Comics 48 July 1947
Red Ryder Comics 49 August 1947
Red Seal Comics 19 June 1947
Red Seal Comics 20 August 1947
Saint 1 9.2 August 1947
Sensation Comics 65 May 1947
Sensation Comics 66 June 1947
Sensation Comics 67 July 1947
Sensation Comics 68 August 1947
Seven Seas Comics 5 9.4 [1947]
Shadow Comics v7 #3 June 1947
Shadow Comics v7 #4 July 1947
Smash Comics 71 June 1947
Smash Comics 72 Smash Comics #72 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1947) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white to white pages August 1947
Sparkling Stars 23 May 1947
Sparkling Stars 24 June 1947
Sparkling Stars 25 July 1947
Sparkling Stars 26 August 1947
Spirit 9 Summer 1947
Star Spangled Comics 68 9.2 May 1947
Star Spangled Comics 69 June 1947
Star Spangled Comics 70 July 1947
Star Spangled Comics 71 August 1947
Startling Comics 45 9.2 May 1947
Startling Comics 46 9.8 July 1947
Sub-Mariner Comics 23 8.5 Summer 1947
Super Duper Comics 3 May [May – June] 1947
Super-Mystery Comics v6 #6 9.4 July 1947
Superman (1939) 46 May-June 1947
Superman (1939) 47 July-August 1947
Suzie Comics 57 June 1947
Suzie Comics 58 August 1947
Target Comics v8 #3 May 1947
Target Comics v8 #4 June 1947
Target Comics v8 #6 August 1947
Tarzan 2 August 1947
Terry and the Pirates Comics 4 June 1947
Terry and the Pirates Comics 5 August 1947
The Barker 4 Summer 1947
Thrilling Comics 60 June 1947
Thrilling Comics 61 August 1947
Whiz Comics 85 May 1947
Whiz Comics 86 June 1947
Whiz Comics 87 July 1947
Whiz Comics 88 August 1947
Wilbur 13 June 1947
Wilbur 14 August 1947
Wings Comics 81 May 1947
Wings Comics 82 June 1947
Wings Comics 83 July 1947
Wings Comics 84 August 1947
Wonder Comics 12 June 1947
Wonder Comics 13 August 1947
Wonder Woman (1942) 23 Wonder Woman #23 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 White pages May-June 1947
Wonder Woman (1942) 24 Wonder Woman #24 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1947) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages July-August 1947
World's Finest Comics 28 May-June 1947
World's Finest Comics 29 July-August 1947
Wow Comics 54 May 1947
Wow Comics 55 June 1947
Wow Comics 56 July 1947
Wow Comics 57 August 1947
X-Venture 1 X-Venture #1 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Victory Magazines, 1947) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white to white pages June 1947
Young King Cole v2 #6 June 1947
Young King Cole v2 #7 July 1947
Young King Cole v3 #1 August 1947
Zoot 7 Zoot Comics #7 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1947) CGC NM 9.4 White pages June 1947
Zoot 8 Zoot Comics #8 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1947) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages August 1947
Hi-Jinx 1 July-August 1947

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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