The Debut of Fiction House's Ranger Comics, Up for Auction

As we've mentioned recently, after Fiction House launched its first comic book series with Jumbo Comics in 1938, its next four comic book titles were counterparts of four of its pulp titles.  Jungle Comics hit the newsstand in October 1939.  Planet Comics and Fight Comics followed in November.  Wings Comics was launched a few months later, hitting the newsstand in June 1940.  But the company's fifth comic book title was a departure from the pulp/comic formula.  Rangers Comics, which technically debuted as Rangers of Freedom Comics, had no direct pulp title counterpart.  The title was very much a product of its moment in time, as both an obvious war title, and in the beginning, one that pitted costumed heroes against a war-themed supervillain.  The beginning of an underappreciated series that lasted 65 issues 1940-1952, there's a Rangers Comics #1 (Fiction House, 1941) CGC FN- 5.5 Off-white to white pages up for auction in the 2022 October 13 The Fiction House Showcase Auction #40199 at Heritage Auctions.

Rangers Comics #1 (Fiction House, 1941)
Rangers Comics #1 (Fiction House, 1941)

The Fiction House line received much of its comic material from the S.M. "Jerry" Iger Studio (Will Eisner departed the studio in 1940), but unlike every other comic book series that Fiction House published at this specific time, the listed editor for Rangers Comics was not the company's relatively well-known editor Malcolm ReissRangers Comics was launched under the editorial direction of DeWitt Shank.  A little-known figure in pulp and comics history, Shank was likely a calculated choice for what would be a very military-themed title from Fiction House.

Oliver DeWitt Shank Jr. was born in 1913 in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the son of a businessman who had founded the Harrisonburg Candy and Fruit Company in 1921.  Shank attended Duke University where he was part of the school's short-lived boxing program.  His first professional writing work came during his final year at Duke, with the March 1935 issue of American Boy, which launched a series of sports stories by Shank for the magazine.

After several years of freelance magazine fiction writing, Shank joined Fiction House as an editor alongside Reiss in Fall 1940, taking over pulps North-West Romances and boxing-centric Fight Stories, where his boxing and sports fiction experience would be put to good use.  Likely anticipating the inevitable entry of the United States into World War II, Shank joined the New York National Guard in March 1941.  He got married on January 31, 1942, and enlisted in the U.S. Army on April 4, 1942.

Shank's general editorial duties at Fiction House were taken over by John F. "Jack" Byrne, a figure who is much better remembered by history. Byrne was the brother of Olive Byrne, the polyamorous life partner of Elizabeth Holloway and Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston. Byrne's mother and aunt, Ethel Byrne and Margaret Sanger, were historically important Progressive Era feminists who opened the first birth-control clinic in the United States, and Jack Byrne's tenure at Fiction House is often cited as a reason behind the publisher's female heroes and usage of several women artists.  Jack Byrne already had a long history at Fiction House by that time, having been on staff at the publisher in 1926 and elevated to managing editor there in 1929.  Byrne had then become the managing editor for the Munsey pulp line in the late 1930s ending in 1939, and after freelancing for a period, returned to Fiction House to replace Shank in 1942.

It appears possible that the original Rangers of Freedom saga may have been written by Shank, or was his concept, as the feature abruptly vanished with Shank's own departure for the war.  Rangers Comics #4 is the last issue he is credited as editing.   The cover of Rangers Comics #5 featured the original Rangers of Freedom costumed characters and their supervillain nemesis SuperBrain, but the interior feature introduced a new team of Rangers who were U.S. Marines taking part in more traditional war stories.

DeWitt Shank would never return to the publishing field, choosing a career with the U.S. Army instead.  He held various posts for U.S. Army Intelligence during WWII and the Korean War, and eventually retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  Oliver DeWitt Shank died in 2000 at the age of 87.  Like his editorial stint on the Fight Stories pulp, it appears that the launch of the military-themed Rangers Comics under his tenure drew on his life's interests.

After the war, Rangers Comics pivoted to features including Firehair, Tiger Man, and Sky Rangers.  But in the beginning, Rangers Comics was very much a title of its moment in history, and there's a Rangers Comics #1 (Fiction House, 1941) CGC FN- 5.5 Off-white to white pages up for auction in the 2022 October 13 The Fiction House Showcase Auction #40199 at Heritage Auctions. In addition to the items listed in this post, you can check out Fiction House titles such as Planet Comics, Jumbo Comics, Jungle Comics, Fight Comics, Rangers Comics, Wings Comics and much more. New to collecting Fiction House or want to learn more?  Bleeding Cool is doing an ongoing deep dive into the history behind Fiction House in the run-up to this auction. If you've never bid at Heritage Auctions before, you can get further information, you can check out their FAQ on the bidding process and related matters.

Rangers Comics #1 (Fiction House, 1941)
Rangers Comics #1 (Fiction House, 1941)

Rangers Comics #1 (Fiction House, 1941) CGC FN- 5.5 Off-white to white pages. Titled Rangers of Freedom. First appearance of Ranger Girl and the Rangers of Freedom. Dan Zolnerowich cover. Joe Doolin art. Overstreet 2022 FN 6.0 value = $1,785. CGC census 9/22: 3 in 5.5, 10 higher.

CGC Grader Notes:
Right Bottom Front Cover Small Tear
Right Top Front Cover Chip Out
Top Front Cover Multiple Tear Breaks Color
Top Staple Front Cover Detached

View the certification for CGC Certification ID 1211370001.

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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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