The Promise Collection 1948: Justice and the World of Tomorrow

With criticism against the comic book industry ramping up during the final months of 1947, the industry began to fire back: "The main contention of the principal critic of the comics, a so-called psychiatrist, is that, according to his findings, juvenile delinquents have been reading comic magazines, he therefore concludes that the youngsters became delinquent because they read comic magazines," publisher Lev Gleason declared in a radio address in early 1948. Gleason's comic book output was well familiar to the young man who was assembled the Promise Collection, as he had been reading Crime Does Not Pay, Daredevil Comics, and Boy Comics for years by this time. And Gleason's fiery address — which obviously singles out Fredric Wertham — makes it clear that he was well aware that he was among the primary targets of industry critics.

Planet Comics #52, the Promise Collection 1948.
Planet Comics #52, the Promise Collection 1948.

"I think this is preposterous," Gleason continued. "The influences on children which bring them to the commission of had deeds are many and complex. Here's how these 'reformers' come by their conclusions. The psychiatrist talks to a boy who has committed a crime. 'Do you read comics?' he asks. Yes,' says the boy. 'I read comics.' 'Ah ha,' says the reformer, 'now we have it.' The boy committed the crime because he read comics. But suppose we question the same boy and ask him if he eats cereal for breakfast each morning. The boy answers 'yes.' We could just as reasonably conclude that he committed the crime because he ate cereal.

"Of course, the average youngster eats cereal. The average youngster goes to the movies, listens to the radio, goes to church and Sunday School, reads comic magazines, plays baseball. And the average American child is not a delinquent. Delinquent children number only a fraction of one percent. What's all the shouting for anyway? Juvenile delinquency is sharply on the decline. In New York City the number of children arrested for crime has been cut almost in half, in the past 15 years, that is, since comic magazines became popular. It is the good influence of comic magazines that has brought this about!

"I cannot for the life of me understand where, except in the minds of a few radical thinking psychiatrists, the idea originated that children must not read about crime. Our whole Western civilization is based upon the idea that we learn to avoid what is wrong in life by being aware  of what is good and what is bad. The Bible is testimonial to that… Comics are a good, sound force in American life. There are more than 280 different comic magazines now being published and this huge industry is becoming as much a part of the American way of life as the movies, the radio, football and baseball."

Welcome to Part 16 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.

Gang Busters #2, 1948.
Gang Busters #2, 1948.

January Through March 1948 in the Promise Collection

Lev Gleason had very good reason to try to get out in front of the growing anti-comics crusade of this period.  While there were signs that the superhero market was softening, Gleason's business seems to have been booming. One of Junie's regular superhero titles, All-Flash, had been canceled at the end of 1947. According to Audit Bureau of Circulation numbers, another popular Promise Collection title Captain Marvel Adventures was down as much as 40% throughout 1947 vs its war-era peak. Meanwhile, Gleason had moved Crime Does Not Pay to monthly by mid-year and had begun proclaiming "More Than 5,000,000 Readers Monthly!" in unmissable, large type above the title itself.

That number requires some unpacking. There's widespread misunderstanding about circulation data of this period because publishers who proclaimed millions of readers often factored the idea that kids passed comics around to their friends into the equation.  The number of titles that really did surpass one million in paid circulation is likely smaller than is generally believed over this time frame.  Superman peaked at nearly 1.8M, and Captain Marvel Adventures peaked at around 1.4M in 1946, for example. There is no ABC data for Gleason's line, but presuming that he established that three people read every copy of CDNP, that would still give us an eye-popping 1.6M in paid circulation.  Obviously, that's just a guess — but while we don't really know what CDNP's circulation was in late 1947, the rest of the comic book industry seems to have had a pretty good idea.  The Promise Collection contains an astonishing 11 new crime comic book title #1's which were launched within the first three months of 1948 alone:

  • Authentic Police Cases #1
  • Crime Detective Comics #1
  • Dick Tracy Monthly #1
  • Exposed #1
  • Mr. District Attorney #1
  • Murder Incorporated #1
  • Outlaws #1
  • Public Enemies #1
  • Real Clue Crime Stories #1
  • Underworld #1
  • March of Crime #1
Startling Comics #49, 1948.
Startling Comics #49, 1948.

Futurama's Bender and the Startling Comics Mystery

Of course, crime was not the only genre that the comic book industry was moving into by early 1948. Good Girl-oriented titles were still on the rise, and some segments of the industry were moving into horror in earnest by this period.  While there's not too much horror in the Promise Collection, such moves to figure out what worked in the post-War world occasionally created the type of accidental magic that makes comic book collecting so interesting.

Startling Comics #49 is an example of something I love about the vintage comic book market: no matter how long you've been collecting them, vintage comics will still surprise you. There's always that special cover tucked away in the middle of some forgotten title run that you haven't noticed before, that fresh connection to some film or television series, or that forgotten artist you've never heard of waiting to be rediscovered. After 80+ years of riding the tides of American pop culture, sometimes even the most obscure characters and titles of decades past wash ashore on the modern media landscape and leave a bigger impression than their original creators would have imagined.

An obscure Marvel/Atlas comic from 1956 like Mystery Tales #40 can show up out of nowhere on the TV series Lost, prompting us all to revisit not just that issue but the entire Mystery Tales series.  And a classic but obscure Alex Schomburg cover painting for the Standard/Nedor-published Startling Comics #49 can go absolutely crazy on the vintage market because the robot on the cover looks for all the world like it's the original version of Bender from the television series Futurama. Or at least a prototype.

To my knowledge, Matt Groening has never addressed this matter. But in 1999, he told the New York Times:

For starters, there was Bender's head. The hard-drinking and nihilistic robot started out with a squarish one, on the assumption that most robot heads would look that way in the year 3000. But then, Mr. Groening said, Bender's was rounded to underscore the fact that he is a misfit, a round peg in a square hole.

"We initially gave him antennas where he would have ears, but we decided it was more effective to make him more streamlined," Mr. Groening said. "He's not streamlined as a personality, and that's part of what makes him funny."

It is also what helps make Bender believable as a machine who can still be a companion of sorts. He knows no guilt, constantly feels sorry for himself and can bend metal.

And yet, it didn't take fans too long to wonder about the coincidence.  Then, in Futurama Season 5, Episode 1, a more "primitive bending unit", a primitive version of Bender essentially, appeared which matches the particular details of the look of the Startling Comics #49 robot even more closely.

It's not too hard to imagine how such an influence might have come about during the design of the Futurama series.  The name itself comes from the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair — an important moment for the comic book and pulp publishers of the era, some of whom created tie-in titles to take advantage of the excitement surrounding the Fair.  For example, the long-running DC Comics title World's Finest essentially started its run as New York World's Fair Comics.  Similarly, Standard/Nedor editor Mort Weisinger (later a longtime DC Comics editor) was inspired to create the character Captain Future during the Fair. There were both pulp and comic book versions of Captain Future, and the comic book version was used as a regular feature in the Startling Comics title.  Futurama and the 1939 New York World's Fair marketed the experience to visitors as "The World of Tomorrow", and Captain Future was promoted in Startling Comics as "The Man of Tomorrow".

All of these elements appear to have come together to influence the design of Bender at some fundamental level.  Serious vintage comics fans believe there's a connection, at least — and based on the above, I tend to agree.  And while publishers like Ned Pines were simply attempting to navigate the perilous waters of public sentiment in this moment of time, further developments in 1948 will also provide us with some surprising hooks into the history of the comic books of that year.

Title Issue # grade GCDBpublication_date Prices Realized
4Most v7 #1 January-February 1948
4Most V7 #2 March-April 1948
Abbie an' Slats 1 March 1948
Action Comics 116 January 1948
Action Comics 117 February 1948
Action Comics 118 March 1948
Adventure Comics 124 January 1948
Adventure Comics 125 February 1948
Adventure Comics 126 March 1948
Airboy Comics v4 #12 January 1948
Airboy Comics v5 #1 February 1948
Airboy Comics v5 #2 March 1948
All-Star Comics 39 February-March 1948
All Top Comics 9 January 1948
All Top Comics 10 All Top Comics #10 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1948) CGC VF 8.0 Off-white to white pages March 1948 $3,240.00
All-American Comics 93 January 1948
All-American Comics 94 February 1948
All-American Comics 95 March 1948
Archie Comics 30 January-February 1948
All True Crime Cases Comics 26 February 1948
America's Best Comics 25 February 1948
Archie Comics 30 January-February 1948
Authentic Police Cases 1 February 1948
Batman (1940) 45 Batman #45 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM- 9.2 Off-white to white pages February-March 1948
Big Shot 85 January 1948
Big Shot 86 February 1948
Big Shot 87 March 1948
Black Cat 9 January 1948
Black Cat 10 Black Cat Comics #10 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Harvey, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages March 1948 $2,160.00
Black Terror 21 The Black Terror #21 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Nedor Publications, 1948) CGC NM 9.4 Off-white to white pages January 1948
Black Terror 22 March 1948
Blue Beetle 52 Blue Beetle #52 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages January 1948
Blue Beetle 53 Blue Beetle #53 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages February 1948
Blue Beetle 54 Blue Beetle #54 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1948) CGC NM 9.4 Off-white to white pages March 1948 $52,800.00
Boy Comics 38 February 1948
Boy Commandos 26 Boy Commandos #26 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white to white pages March-April 1948 $408.00
Bruce Gentry 1 January 1948
Captain America Comics 65 January 1948
Captain Easy 11 January 1948
Captain Marvel Jr. 57 January 1948
Captain Marvel Jr. 58 February 1948
Captain Marvel Jr. 59 March 1948
Captain Marvel Adventures 80 January 1948
Captain Marvel Adventures 81 February 1948
Captain Marvel Adventures 82 March 1948
Comic Cavalcade 25 February-March 1948
Crack Comics 52 January 1948
Crack Comics 53 March 1948
Crime Detective Comics 1 March 1948
Crime Does Not Pay 59 January 1948
Crime Does Not Pay 60 February 1948
Crime Does Not Pay 61 March 1948
Crime Must Pay the Penalty 33 February 1948
Crown Comics 12 February 1948
Dagar 14 8.5 February 1948
Daredevil Comics (1941) 46 January 1948
Daredevil Comics (1941) 47 March 1948
Detective Comics 132 February 1948
Detective Comics 133 March 1948
Dick Tracy Monthly 1 January 1948
Dick Tracy Monthly 2 February 1948
Dick Tracy Monthly 3 March 1948
Dixie Dugan 10 1948
Doll Man 15 Winter 1948
Dynamic Comics 24 March 1948
Exciting Comics 59 Exciting Comics #59 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Nedor, 1948) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white to white pages January 1948 $1,680.00
Exciting Comics 60 Exciting Comics #60 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Nedor, 1948) CGC NM 9.4 White pages March 1948 $8,700.00
Exposed 1 March-April 1948
Famous Funnies 162 January 1948
Famous Funnies 163 February 1948
Famous Funnies 164 March 1948
Feature Book 53 Feature Books #53 The Phantom – The Promise Collection Pedigree (David McKay Publications, 1948) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white to white pages 1948? $10,800.00
Feature Book 57 Feature Books #57 The Phantom – The Promise Collection Pedigree (David McKay Publications, 1948) CGC NM- 9.2 Off-white to white pages 1948 $9,600.00
Feature Book 51 1948
Feature Book 54 1948
Feature Comics 118 January 1948
Feature Comics 119 February 1948
Feature Comics 120 March 1948
Fight Comics 54 Fight Comics #54 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fiction House, 1948) CGC FN+ 6.5 White pages February 1948 $348.00
Flash Comics 91 Flash Comics #91 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM- 9.2 Off-white to white pages January 1948 $10,800.00
Flash Comics 92 Flash Comics #92 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white pages February 1948 $25,200.00
Flash Comics 93 Flash Comics #93 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white to white pages March 1948 $27,600.00
Four Color 180 Four Color #180 Ozark Ike – The Promise Collection Pedigree (Dell, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages February 1948
Funnyman 1 January 1948
Funnyman 2 Funnyman #2 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Magazine Enterprises, 1948) CGC NM- 9.2 Off-white to white pages March 1948 $1,020.00
Gang Busters 2 Gang Busters #2 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages February-March 1948 $1,560.00
Green Hornet Comics 37 December 1947-January 1948
Green Hornet Comics 38 March 1948
Green Lantern (1941) 31 March-April 1948
Headline Comics 28 February-March 1948
Hit Comics 50 January 1948
Hit Comics 51 March 1948
IBIS 6 Spring 1948
Jack Armstrong 3 January 1948
Jack Armstrong 5 March 1948
Jo-Jo Comics 10 January 1948
Joe Palooka 17 February [1948]
Joe Palooka 18 March 1948
Jumbo Comics 107 January 1948
Jumbo Comics 108 February 1948
Jumbo Comics 109 March 1948
Jungle Comics 97 January 1948
Jungle Comics 98 February 1948
Jungle Comics 99 March 1948
Justice Traps the Guilty 2 January 1948
Justice Traps the Guilty 3 March-April 1948
Kerry Drake Detective Cases 6 9.6 January 1948
Kerry Drake Detective Cases 7 9.4 March 1948
Kid Eternity 8 9.4 Winter 1948
Kid Eternity 9 Kid Eternity #9 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1948) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white to white pages Spring 1948 $504.00
Laugh Comics 25 Laugh Comics #25 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Archie, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages February 1948
Li'l Abner 62 February 1948
Lone Ranger 1 January-February 1948
Lone Ranger 2 March-April 1948
Manhunt 5 February 1948
Manhunt 6 Manhunt #6 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Magazine Enterprises, 1948) CGC VF- 7.5 Off-white pages March 1948 $4,020.00
Marvel Family 19 January 1948
Marvel Family 20 February 1948
Marvel Family 21 March 1948
Marvel Mystery Comics 85 Marvel Mystery Comics #85 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1948) CGC NM 9.4 White pages February 1948 $14,400.00
Mary Marvel 20 January 1948
Mary Marvel 21 February 1948
Mary Marvel 22 March 1948
Master Comics 87 January 1948
Master Comics 88 February 1948
Master Comics 89 March 1948
Modern Comics 69 Modern Comics #69 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1948) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white pages January 1948
Modern Comics 70 February 1948
Modern Comics 71 March 1948
Mr. District Attorney 1 Mr. District Attorney #1 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM- 9.2 White pages January-February 1948
Mr. District Attorney 2 Mr. District Attorney #2 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages March-April 1948 $1,980.00
Murder Incorporated 1 Murder Incorporated #1 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1948) CGC NM- 9.2 White pages January 1948 $4,800.00
Mutt & Jeff 32 February-March 1948
National Comics 64 February 1948
Nyoka the Jungle Girl 15 January 1948
Nyoka the Jungle Girl 16 February 1948
Nyoka the Jungle Girl 17 March 1948
Outlaws 1 February-March 1948
Pep Comics 65 January 1948
Pep Comics 66 Pep Comics #66 The Promise Collection Pedigree (MLJ, 1948) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white to white pages March 1948
Phantom Lady 16 Phantom Lady #16 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1948) CGC NM- 9.2 Off-white to white pages February 1948 $16,800.00
Planet Comics 52 Planet Comics #52 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fiction House, 1948) CGC NM 9.4 White pages January 1948
Planet Comics 53 March 1948
Police Comics 74 January 1948
Police Comics 75 February 1948
Police Comics 76 March 1948
Prize Comics 68 February-March 1948
Public Enemies 1 [March-April 1948]
Rangers Comics 39 February 1948
Real Clue Crime Stories v2 #11 January 1948
Real Clue Crime Stories v2 #12 February 1948
Real Clue Crime Stories 1 March 1948
Real Fact Comics 12 January-February 1948
Real Fact Comics 13 March-April 1948
Saint 4 9.6 1948
Sensation Comics 73 January 1948
Sensation Comics 74 February 1948
Sensation Comics 75 March 1948
Shadow Comics v7 #12 Shadow Comics V7#12 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Street & Smith, 1948) CGC NM 9.4 Off-white to white pages March 1948 $3,360.00
Skyman 4 1948
Smash Comics 75 February 1948
Smilin' Jack 1 January-March 1948
Sparkler Comics 76 February 1948
Sparkling Stars 31 January 1948
Sparkling Stars 33 March 1948
Star Spangled Comics 77 February 1948
Star Spangled Comics 78 9.2 March 1948
Startling Comics 49 Startling Comics #49 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Better Publications, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages January 1948 $132,000.00
Startling Comics 50 9.6 March 1948
Super-Mystery Comics v7 #3 9.6 January 1948
Super-Mystery Comics v7 #4 March 1948
Superman (1939) 50 January-February 1948
Superman (1939) 51 Superman #51 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages March-April 1948
Suzie Comics 61 February 1948
Target Comics v8 #11 January 1948
Target Comics v8 #12 February 1948
Target Comics v9 #1 March 1948
Terry and the Pirates Comics 8 February 1948
Tex Farrell 1 March-April 1948
The Killers 2 1948
Thrilling Comics 64 February 1948
Tony Trent 3 1948
Tony Trent 4 1948
Two-Gun Kid 1 Two-Gun Kid #1 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Atlas, 1948) CGC FN/VF 7.0 Off-white pages [March] 1948
Underworld 1 February-March 1948
Wanted Comics 11 January 1948
Wanted Comics 12 March 1948
Western Comics 1 January-February 1948
Western Comics 2 March-April 1948
Whiz Comics 93 January 1948
Whiz Comics 94 February 1948
Whiz Comics 95 March 1948
Wilbur 17 February 1948
Wings Comics 89 January 1948
Wings Comics 90 February 1948
Wings Comics 91 March 1948
Wonder Comics 16 February 1948
Wonder Woman (1942) 27 Wonder Woman #27 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages January-February 1948
Wonder Woman (1942) 28 Wonder Woman #28 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM- 9.2 White pages March-April 1948
World's Finest Comics 32 January-February 1948
World's Finest Comics 33 March-April 1948
Wow Comics 62 January 1948
Wow Comics 63 February 1948
Wow Comics 64 March 1948
Young King Cole v3 #6 January 1948
Young King Cole v3 #7 February 1948
Young King Cole v3 #8 March 1948
Young Romance 3 January-February 1948
Young Romance 4 March-April 1948
March of Crime 1 1948

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Mark SeifertAbout 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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