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Comrades and Companions: A Morse Side-Note

by Curt Ladnier

From Issue #4, May, 1992

When a stone is dropped into a pool of water, ripples glide across its surface. The metaphor is certainly older than any of us Carlton E. Morse fans; but, it holds true in all aspects of life...including Morse's writings. His work created at least one small ripple on the face of popular culture, even though few of us remember it today.

Imagine that you are a child again -- fourteen years old. The time is December of 1941. You've just listened to the latest installment of I Love a Mystery's Secret Passage to Death, and you have some time to kill before you start your homework. You pick up this month's issue of Master Comics (issue #21, which your dad brought home from teh drugstore) and proceed to lose yourself in a world of four-color heroics for half an hour. Captain Marvel and Bulletman have teamed to battle the latest Nazi menace. The story ends with a cliffhanger, so you turn to some of the shorter features in the back. Having just herd Jack, Doc, and Reggie's latest exploit, you experience a mild sense of déjà vu when you encounter a strip entitled "Companions Three." The story chronicles the escapades of three roving adventurers, Spike, Don, and Nifty, to whom "adventure is Life."

"They dally daily with danger, toy with terror..." the magazine proclaims, but all in all this "Companions Three" tale is pretty tame stuff in comparison to the perils faced by our Three Comrades in I Love a Mystery. Still, Morse's influences are are acutely evident on the story's uncredited writer in terms of content and format. The similarities in character's names is obvious, and the idea of three friends travelling in search of "a hint of excitement" seems very familiar. But beyond this point, some ingrediants are missing from the formula.

Gone are the color and verve Morse always instilled in his characters, the outrageous detail that makes each of them unique. While the "Companions Three" are always ready for a fight, they have no personalities. Spike, Don, and Nifty are vertual clones of each other (and what kind of soldiers of fortune go seeking adventure wearingf identical double-breasted suits?!). As the ILAM heros leap vividly from teh airwaves, the Companions lie flat on the printed page.

Although the fourteen-year-old probably didn't realize it, the strips biggest problem was that it was derivative of a popular show. The writer, fearing that all-powerful copyright law that was later to claim even the mighty Captain Marvel, could not make his strip too closely the image of his inspiration. Hence, Morse's ideas were brought into the comic book medium, but stripped of vitality and life.

Does anyone else know more about "Companions Three?" I have only one story from December, 1941, so my authority on the subject is rather limited, but I would like to know more. As the series progressed, were there anymore parallels with ILAM? Spike, Don and Nifty may only be pale shadows of Jack, Doc and Reggie, but they are shadows nonetheless, and they deserve a small niche in the memories of Morse enthusiasts.