Sunday, February 01, 2009

Single Issue Review: Four Color #760

This one requires quite a bit of background material, so bear with me, I will get to the comic book itself. I read my first Hardy Boys book sometime around 3rd grade; it was the Secret of Skull Mountain. Long before I dreamed of reading every Batman comic I set out to read all the Hardy Boys mysteries, and in fact I did eventually read every one published before about 1966.

Even before that, I had heard of the Hardy Boys from the Mickey Mouse Club on TV, although to be honest, the serials that I preferred from that show were the Spin and Marty stories. I saw those and the Hardy Boys shows sometime around 1961 or 1962, so these were clearly syndications of the originals, which had run in 1956.

The Hardys themselves had been around since the 1920s, and although I didn't know it at the time, the publisher was putting out new editions of many of the original stories. They were updated for the times, with those mysterious cars referred to as "Phaetons" and "Coupes" disappearing into the mists of history. Also disappeared were several unfortunate racial characterizations, insane people, and much of the charm of the original series.

The Mickey Mouse Club serialization of the first Hardy Boys novel was called The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure (the book was entitled The Tower Treasure). The serialization featured Tim Considine (My Three Sons) and Tommy Kirk (Old Yeller) who went on to become teen stars. This comic is an adaptation of that story, rather than either version of the novel.

Iola is given a much bigger role in this story than she would have for many years in the real novels, and actually crowds her brother Chet (a mainstay of the books) right out of the picture. Disney wanted a character for the girls to identify with in the serial, which was aimed at boys and girls (unlike the books).

In the story there are a lot of mysterious goings-on around the Applegate mansion. There's one noticeable negative about presenting this in a comic; the cliffhangers from the serial (and at the end of virtually every chapter of the novels) lack a certain drama. For example, I remember this scene being the climax of one of the episodes:

But of course in the serial the appearance of the wild-eyed man with the sword was the end of that episode, and so for a whole day kids were left to wonder if the Hardy Boys were about to be eviscerated. There is a certain loss of dramatic effect when the reader can turn the page:

The art there is good enough. One of the problems with licensed characters is always that they tend to be under the same budget as non-licensed products and so the publishers tend to scrimp on the actual product. Still, Disney was a great license for Dell back then and we'll assume that they recognized the Hardy Boys as a potential addition to the lineup given their obvious appeal to youngsters.

The story itself never varies far from the old Applegate tower and when the boys find a clue:

It's time to tear apart the old tower with the willing cooperation of the owner, but the gold coins are not to be found. Where can they be?

In the book and the comic the answer occurs to the boys unbelievably:

And after a non-threatening encounter with a criminal inside the water tower they emerge, having "solved" their first case.

Reading this comic does show how many red herrings the Hardy Boys mysteries threw at the reader. For example, there's the mystery of who grabbed Iola's purse:

That attacker turns out to be Perry Robinson trying to get back a gold doubloon he'd found that Iola picked up after a mishap between the two. Could happen to anyone.

Overall the comic is entertaining from a storytelling point of view. The art is sketchy but with enough modest flourish as to indicate seriousness of purpose. Dell did publish three more Hardy Boys comics in their Four Color line, all of which featured Considine and Kirk on the covers: