The Barker

Created by Joe Millard and Jack Cole

NAME + ALIASES:
Clarence "Carnie" Calahan

KNOWN RELATIVES:
None

GROUP AFFILIATIONS:
Mammoth Circus

FIRST APPEARANCE:
National Comics #42 (May 1944)

APPEARANCES:

National Comics #42–75 (May 1944–Dec. 1949)

The Barker, 15 issues (Autumn 1945–Dec. 1949)

The Barker II

NAME + ALIASES:
Kieran "Kitt" Calahan

KNOWN RELATIVES:
Colonel Brand's Traditional Family Carnival

GROUP AFFILIATIONS:
Mammoth Circus

FIRST APPEARANCE:
Detective Comics #801 (Feb. 2005)

APPEARANCES:
Detective Comics #801-804

SEE ALSO:

Cole's Comics: The Barker

Toonopedia: The Barker

+ History

Carnie, Tiny, Midge, and Lena. From National Comics #50 (1945). Art by Jack Cole.
Leo the Lion Man, from National #68 (1948). Art by Klaus Nordling.

The Barker was the delightful creation of Joe Millard and Jack Cole (signed), a feature that followed a colorful group of circus performers across the country. Cole drew only the first two adventures, in National Comics #42–43, and then it was taken over by Klaus Nordling, who continued to build the momentum that led to a solo series in 1945. Cole’s brief involvement is probably the reason why editor Gill Fox claimed that Klaus Nordling created “The Barker.” Most of this band of freaks weren’t truly “super-powered,” but the series had the same sense of continuity, oddity, and camaraderie as strips like “Death Patrol,” “Blackhawk,” and “Plastic Man.”

In each tale Clarence “Carnie” Calahan (a circus barker, his first name revealed in National #48) and his friends traveled to a new city, where they performed their specialty acts. When first introduced, they were looking for work and staying at Liz Flannery’s Boarding House for Show People, in Big City, Pennsylvania (a link to Cole, who was from that state). There the silver-tongued fortune teller Professor Zell intercepted a telegram to Carnie from Colonel Lane of the Mammoth Circus. Lane had invited Carnie to participate in his sideshow. As Zell attempted to sneak out, he was caught by Carnie and his pal, Major Midge (a little person). Lena the fat lady and Tiny Tim the strongman rounded out his crew. Carnie’s troupe headed out after Zell to Waynetown, where they wrested the contract from Zell and set up shop in Lane’s circus. The show there also included a “rubber man” performer called Elasto. (National #42)


[ Read the full profile in the Quality Companion ]

DC

Created by Mike Carey and John Lucas

The Barker received a little-known (even to me!) remake in 2005 when Mike Carey and John Lucas delivered a four-part backup in Detective Comics #801-804. Many of the cast members were familiar.

The scene opened on Colonel Brand's Traditional Family Carnival, with Kieran "Kitt" Calahan (a new first name for the character), Midge, Painted Rose the tattooed contortionist, and Firestone the strong man. Kitt was about to drown his sorrows over the death of their friend, Mitchell Tomjohn the dog-faced boy, who was found dead that day. The police ruled his death an accident and the circus folk were angered when the local authorities refused to investigate further, so they decided to find justice themselves. (Detective #801)

The second Barker, Kitt Calahan ushers his doomed friend, Tomjohn, in to the tent. From Detective Comics #801 (2005). Art by John Lucas.

They investigated on two fronts, breaking into the police morgue, and scouring Tomjohn's trailer. Both yielded clues that pointed towards a would-be Senator, Rowley. (#802) It seems Tomjohn wasn't Mitchell's real name, but Mikhail Tamyanovic; he was a Croatian immigrant whom Rowley had "smuggled" into the country sometime earlier. But just Kitt and his friends were poised to extract more information, Rowley was shot to death from afar. Another shot hit Kitt in the arm. (#803)

With Calahan was out, the circus people looked to their most competent membefor guidance, Lena the fat woman. She realized that there was only one person in the circus capable of making a shot in the rain from a distance. At the same time, Kitt also realized that he was in the care of that killer—the Colonel himself! They extracted a confession from him but Kitt punched him so hard that the Colonel died on the spot. For his friend, Kitt took the fall and confessed to everything, ending in a prison cell. (#804) The cast of this drama was rounded out by the conjoined Twins, and Bones the gnarly headed brute

Notes

Calahan states that ever since the Flying Graysons were killed, carnie's won't pitch their tents in Gotham City. (The Flying Graysons were the family act of Dick Grayson, aka Robin/Nightwing.) He also mentions that Colonel's grandfather (perhaps a nod to the original Colonel Lane?) was with "Cole's" and his parents with Clyde Beatty, a real life animal trainer and showman.

+ Powers

The Barker himself had no extraordinary abilities, but some of the freaks in his sideshow did. Many characters, when introduced, only appeared to be super-powered but in the end were revealed as shysters. In one case, he was challenged by Percy the Powerful, a 90-pound weakling who took special pills every twelve hours for his tremendous strength. Percy’s pills were stolen by a mad professor who fed them to the animals. In order to bring order to the circus, Carnie downed a mouthful of the pills, which enabled him to speed around the circus and clean up the mess! In the end, they decided to destroy the pills, lest the market become saturated with strongmen. (National #69)

The most notable exception was the four-armed Clarence Twiddle aka Spudo the Spider Man, who was introduced as an adversary in National #43, but became a prominent supporting character. He was even awarded his own spin-off feature beginning in The Barker #1.

 
Left: Unlikely casanova, Spudo the Spider Man, from The Barker #1 (1945). Right: The Copper Man, from The Barker #2 (1945) Art by Klaus Nordling.

Many of the guest stars in the “The Barker” appeared to possess truly superhuman powers. Aside from Spudo, whose four arms were “real,” there was the Copper Man, whose body was half copper, divided down the middle. He found a way to restore himself to fully human. (Barker #2)