So, a little while back, I found an affordable copy of Master Comics #45, from 1943. One of the features was “Balbo the Boy Magician”, which I had never heard of before and I’m now sort of fascinated with. Two reasons for that: one, it’s a “magic” character but the stories have a strong skeptical bent, and two, Balbo’s partner is a man named John Smith, an African-American character not drawn in a stereotyped manner or speaking in dialect. In 1943. Giving the lie to the defense of characters like Ebony and Steamboat, that we shouldn’t consider those portrayals offensive because “no one knew better back then.”

Anyway…Balbo is performing a trick for a packed house when one spectator becomes agitated.

It seems that Mr. Walsh panicked because he’s being tormented by a man claiming to be immortal magician Caliostro who keeps threatening to show him things that grow bigger. Uhm…okay. I’m not sure why that’s so terrifying, but Balbo and John agree to help Walsh and expose this Cagliostro as a fraud.

Balbo chooses the wrong time to get smug.

After our heroes are tricked and overpowered by a dwarf, Cagliostro appears and delivers the least menacing line in super-villain history.

And now, terrifying “wearing glasses” horror!

Oh no! It’s a…larger than average guinea pig…

Ah, look at the apparently terrifying giant animals playing!

Uhm…that’s clearly an octopus…

John Smith saves the day with dwarf-tossing!

I have to admire the dwarf’s loyalty…after being tossed through a glass tank at an octopus, he’s still not betraying his boss.

Okay, so a villain who casually tosses off misspelled references to Lovecraft is kinda cool.

And now, Cagliostro’s peculiar plot explained!

And rationality triumphs.

11 Responses to “Nightmare Spectacles”
  1. pyramus says:

    “I want a policeman! As a matter of fact I want a lot of them!”

    I’m sure you do, Red.

    Good to see a black character from the era who’s depicted as a human being and not a shuckin’, jivin’ stereotype, though.

  2. Scipio says:

    “Addlepate”?

    That made my day. Thank you, 800-year-old evil dwarf assistant from the Golden Age!

  3. John G says:

    Not only is John Smith sophisticated in dress, but he has a quick eye for contract law!

  4. “It seems that Mr. Walsh panicked because he’s being tormented by a man claiming to be immortal magician Caliostro who keeps threatening to show him things that grow bigger.”

    Sounds like a typical Friday night to me.

  5. Sallyp says:

    I too was charmed by the use of the word “addlepate”. Not an epithet that gets tossed around too much any more, which is a shame. I also like ninnyhammer.

  6. hydrogenguy says:

    Good to see a black character from the era who’s depicted as a human being and not a shuckin’, jivin’ stereotype, though.

    A comic book from 1943 that’s less racist than a contemporary Michael Bay movie. Huh.

  7. Chad says:

    I’m impressed they used an actual and arguably semi-obscure historical figure for the villain. Popular literature that anticipates that a young audience would know things!

  8. Brian says:

    How many giant octopuses had to die before all the evil optometrists of the WWII era were routed, I wonder?

  9. buzz says:

    So now we know where Louis Farrakhan got his fashion style.

  10. Dorian says:

    So now we know where Louis Farrakhan got his fashion style.

    I’m…really not quite sure what your point there is. Balbo wears a bow-tie too. Is that where Tucker Carlson got his style from?

  11. wallruss says:

    This John Smith character is a great find. Thanks! I’m always looking for more positive portrayals of Black characters in comics.

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