A search for comic creator Don Zolnerowich yields exactly two hits from Google. Wikipedia mentions him in its entry for the Quality Comics character Merlin the Magician: "Merlin was probably created by artist Don Zolnerowich..." The only other search result lists him as the creator of Merlin. This is sparse documentation indeed. Zolnerowich the Mysterious seems to have only been involved in the initial appearance of the character, however, and the series was immediately turned over to the much better known Golden Age great Fred Guardineer. Guardineer wrote, drew, inked, and lettered (he did everything but the colors on nearly all his work) the exploits of this Mandrake knock-off under the pseudonym Lance Blackwood from 1940 to 1945.
Guardineer was no initiate in the mystic art of conjuring comic book magicians. His first published work was in Action Comics #1, with the first appearance of the magician Zatara, whose most profound difference from the much imitated Mandrake was his power of sdrawkcab hceeps (backward speech); anything the mage uttered in reverse was a magic spell. Guardineer also created Yarko the Great for Fox, Marvelo, the Monarch of Magicians for Columbia Comics, and Tor the Magic Master for Merlin's own Quality Comics. Merlin was one of the few comic book magicians not actually created by Guardineer, but the prolific fellow would do more to distinguish the character than anyone else.
Quality's Merlin was playboy Jock Kellog, who receives from a dying uncle both a green hooded cloak and the news that he is the last direct descendant of the legendary magician Merlin. The cloak gives him the powers of his famous ancestor, and he immediately sets out to use his 'occult powers to aid democracies in their fight against oppression' in war-torn Europe.
Guardineer would give Merlin Zatara's power of backward speech, but the most distinguishing characteristic would be the chosen mode of transportation for Quality's first magic dude; the airplane. Merlin had levitated like a good magician for a number of issues before adopting the airplane as a means of travel. This was perhaps an appeal to the Lindbergh envy of those times as well as a nod to the barnstorming Houdini. Either way, this modern-day Merlin got around in style.
The tale below is from National Comics #19, October 1941, and was likely on the newsstands between three to six months before the US actually entered the war. What is interesting about this tale is the relatively even treatment of the three German characters, with the Goering stand-in actually exhibiting such qualities as determination and bravery, while the other two are practically converted to the Allied cause due to the sterling example of the magnificent Merlin. This is an untypical tale illustrated by one of the founding fathers of comics.
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