By: Kevin Noel Olson
While studying for an article on Mr. Justice, I took note of what appeared at first to be minor details. Aside from the printing of his name, Mr. Justice stops appearing on the cover of Blue Ribbon Mystery Comics on issue #19 (Dec. 1941). This disappearance occurs after he and Captain Flag shared the covers for three issues running. While perhaps intriguing to the true and deeply-involved lover of comics, this fact really didn’t seem to have any unusual bearing on the subject of Mr. Justice. The events simply seem to indicate Captain Flag achieved a place in the hearts of the publishers and readers. Despite the good Captain’s best efforts, however, the series folded at issue #22. Captain Flag appeared on the cover a total of six times and graced only three covers without Mr. Justice. Mr. Justice appeared a total of ten times, with seven solo appearances.
Jackpot Comics told a slightly different story. For the first five issues, Jackpot Comics covers featured four heroes, Mr. Justice, Black Hood, Steele Sterling, and Sergeant Boyle. In issues #5-8 only The Black Hood and Steele Sterling appeared on the covers. Sergeant Boyle joins The Black Hood and Steele Sterling for the cover of issue #9; the very last issue in MLJ’s Jackpot Comics. I began to wonder why MLJ had removed Mr. Justice and Sergeant Boyle as I performed a cursory examination of the cover of issue #6. While the picture offered no clues to my initial question, it brought a new curiosity to mind as something directed my eyes to a certain spot on the cover. It appeared the top and eyes of Mr. Justice’s head thrust itself out of a pile of goo in the center of the floor. (A comparison with Blue Ribbon #13 is offered here to clarify.):
The image seemed quite clear and reminiscent of a particular Dore woodcut from his Inferno illustrations. Could it be that Mr. Justice remained on the covers after all? Was the spirit of Prince James returning to an old haunt?
The image became intriguing and led me back to the cover of Blue Ribbon Mystery Comics #19. I sought in depth the image, but it delivered nothing to my Rorschach sensibilities. This result repeated itself with all the covers until Blue Ribbon’s demise.
It only remained to examine the rest of the issues of Jackpot to put to rest the idea of ghostly Mr. Justice appearances on the covers. However, the haunting images would not die! Issue #7 offered distinct the eye, jaw-line, and hood above the brow features that belonged to Mr. Justice. (These images were reduced to black and white for enhanced image comparisons.):
It all appeared too easy and too eerie. A bit shaken by my discoveries, I continued in my journey. If Mr. Justice loomed in the obscure darkness of Jackpot Comics covers, I supposed it would take careful examination to find his features again. My presupposition proved wrong. After a mere moment of examining issue #8, I discovered Mr. Justice’s features as clear as a bell. Once more, Prince James haunted me:
The image appeared particularly haunting. His eyes stare at the observer from a death-mask, boring the accusing gaze into any that look into them long enough. Further, it is clear that the nose flairs slightly and the brow furrows into a somber expression. Once found, there is no question to whom the haunting and stygian of the ghost-like face belongs. Mr. Justice has once more appeared surreptitiously on the cover of Jackpot comics. What’s more, there is the inexplicable appearance of a demonic face on the cover:
Its jaws are open wide and gore drips down from its elongated teeth. Pressed back into the creature’s low brow, the red eyes seem expressionless and belie the violence in its expression. The spirit of Mr. Justice burns with a passion, not unlike the rage seen in the frightening maw. After the disturbing revelations on issue #8, I dreaded to continue to #9.
At first, the cover image did not appear to have any appearance of Mr. Justice. Though my journey thus far had proven to grow incrementally creepier, I did not wish it to grow into downright, irrational fear. Nor did I wish to be disappointed that the journey may end without further discovery. Quite on the brink of relieving my sore and tired eyes from detailing the last image, Mr. Justice appeared to me again. Another five seconds and I would have laid the idea to rest as a hoax I had played on myself. However, Mr. Justice’s eyes stared out from the picture unmistakably. My breath pressed out in quick huffs. It was true! Mr. Justice, irrefutably and unmistakably, haunted the final covers of Jackpot Comics! The following image proves my assertions:
Those very same eyes that began Mr. Justice’s journey across comic-book covers ended that journey. Peering out from inside the cockpit of an airplane, Mr. Justice haunted the MLJ series until the very end. Even his cowl comes down over his brows as it did in Blue Ribbon Comics #9!
While your continued skepticism is quite understandable; but there is no more proof than what is visible with a pair of good eyes. Examine the covers carefully and with a critical view. It’s likely you’ll come to the same conclusion as I have: Mr. Justice haunted the final covers of the Jackpot Comics series.
“So, what of it?” you might say. “What if a fictional comic-book character appeared on the covers of some old comics?” Indeed; what of it? What does it mean? Perhaps our excursions into the spirit world may be the same as our travels in the world of fiction. It might be works of fiction, seemingly nicely told lies, actually hang on us a deeper truth. Maybe Mr. Justice reflects a deeper spirit desiring justice within us all. Though the haunting is still visible today in the pictures, the implications of their reality provide us with a living ghost.