Captain America #6 (September 1941) “Who Killed Doctor Vardoff”
I do not think Simon and Kirby invented the double page splash. I seem to remember an earlier example in a Kazar story in Marvel Mystery Comics and I make no claim that was the earliest either. Using the centerfold for such a purpose would seem natural for anyone aware of how a comic was made. Because of the vagaries that occur in the folding and stapling of a comic only in the centerfold could a publisher be sure to get a good double spread without registration problems. No I doubt that S&K were the first to do a double splash, but I do not think anyone else at that time did as many or as well.
S&K already had produced a number of comics before their first double splash. In those previous comics are really terrific examples of single page splashes. So it should be no surprise that their first attempt at a wide splash (Captain America #6) would be so successfully done. In it Joe and Jack integrate a scene as well as a caste of characters. The scene occupies only a relatively small portion of the splash, but it is in the center and so commands attention. We find Captain America and Bucky over the victim of a hanging. Although the victim is now on the ground, the noose is still around his neck and the rest of the rope goes up to the top of the splash and then the end drops back down. But the heads of the characters, even the deceased, are turned to our right where the masked hangman stands holding another noose in both hands. Oddly the shadow that he castes also holds a noose but in just one hand.
The noose’s rope that the hangman holds trails along the lower part of the splash visually connecting the various characters arrayed in a broad ‘U’ shape. Besides Bucky and Cap we find a scientist (the victim), a lab assistant, a mob moll (with her cigarette in her mouth as she speaks, a sure sign that she is not respectable), and a mysterious man (whose monocle and cigarette holder indicate that he is a nefarious foreigner). As the eye follows the rope to our left side in ascends until it is covered by a large question mark. But where the rope disappears is well placed because the eye follows the upper part of the question mark until the rope reappears and the victim is portrayed hanging.
Below the splash are a row of story panels. The splash was used to catch the browser’s eye, while the story panels would get him interested in the story. That way when the newsstand owner called “you buying or what? this ain’t no library” hopefully the reader would have become involved enough to purchase the comic. S&K extend the splash panel’s edges to enclose the story panels also. This attempt to integrate the splash and the story panels is the greatest weakness of this double page. In the future Simon and Kirby would use other means to overcome this defect.
The first double page splash already has some features that we will see in others. Often these wide splashes do not just provide a scene but something more complex. It is not just that this sort of thing takes advantage of the greater width, it actually could not be done effectively on a single page. What is presented in the splash is a well integrated “story”. However like some the Harvey covers that I have written about previously, there are logical inconsistencies in what is presented. The Hangman and his shadow holding the noose differently. The victim shown three times, once on the ground surrounded by Captain America and Bucky, also still hanging on the left side and finally as one of the characters describing himself. But like those Harvey covers I really do not consider these true defects. The splash is not meant to be a snap shot, instead variously timed events are represented together. Everything is well placed to provide a sort of condensed story, without the ending of course!