BEST COMICS #1
This series is extremely scarce and unusual for several reasons. It is the first of its publisher, Better publications, and was printed uniquely sideways. It was also the first time that any comic book featured a hero, let alone a costumed, hero, who was black. The Red Mask is an African prince who, for reasons never fully revealed, has taken a secret identity as the Red Mask, to fight evildoers. Since this story was published in the U.S. during the height of Jim Crow segregation, it was, for its time, a bold attempt. While his black counterparts in other comics, novels, film and radio stories of the day were relegated to goofy sidekick status, this black-skinned hero fights white-skinned villains and even romances the white damsel in distress. Sales were not good, and Better publications made some odd moves to disguise the race of its hero in hopes of boosting its readership. On the cover of the first issue, the Red Mask is seen in typical fashion for 1939, shielding a woman with his body while he socks the villain hard across the jaw. Of course, what made it completely atypical for 1939 was that it the cover showed a black man punching a white man. On the cover of the second issue, however, the Red Mask is seen as a white man shooting black people. On the inside, however, the Red Mask was still black and the main villain was still white (except for occasional colorist errors). The attempt to fool readers (and newsstand operators) didn t help. Ironically, while the main feature of "Best Comics" brought comics its first black hero, beginning with issue #2 the comic also featured the introduction of a recurring black character named "Mr. Ink, who applies for a job with "Perry Wow" and gets it after he tells her "Ah's lookin' fo' a position wid no work attached to it - if I kin find dat kind of a job, ah'll work fo' nothin'" Ink gets the job despite the observation of Peggy's friend that he's "technocolored." Despite Best Comics best attempts to have it both ways, racially, the comic continued to sell poorly and disappeared a couple months later without finishing the story.