Over the next couple of months we are going to be talking about the first superhero team to ever exist in comic books: The Justice Society of America.
In the early days of the superhero boom the people in charge learned pretty quickly that if individual superheroes could make money than it would be only logical that teams of superheroes would make even more money, a lesson that still holds true today.
The Justice Society of America was created in 1940 and mad their first appearance in All Star Comics #3. In the comic they were appointed by President Roosevelt to defend America against the Nazis (because of course). They were created by editor Sheldon Mayer and Gardner Fox.
A couple things of note. The first iteration of the group can be seen here.
You’ll notice a couple of things. First, there’s no Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. That’s because those three heroes were popular enough to hold their own titles and the editors of each of these heroes didn’t want to risk over saturating the market with their image so instead the big three were often brought in as “honorary members” of the JSA. Second, a lot of the faces may seem a bit familiar. The truth is that most of these characters are still around today but have either been drastically re invented (Flash and Green Lantern) or continue to exist but don’t have the same influence and popularity they once had (Dr. Fate, Sandman, the Spectere). With that said, let’s look at the character on the far right of the picture (the one in the black suit with the yellow cape) Hourman.
Origin and career
Rex Tyler was a humble biochemist working for a company called Bannermain Chemical who discovered an accidental miracle vitamin (because comics are a place where things like unhealthy amounts of radiation and untested drugs can give you superpowers instead of…you know…killing you) which he promptly named Miraclo.
The drug had the strange effect of giving whoever took it superhuman strength, speed, and durability, so of course Rex decided to use it to become a superhero instead of patenting it and becoming a rich man. However, there was a catch. The pill would grant him incredible abilities,
but only for an hour (spare me the Viagra jokes, Robot Chicken already did one). He would place an ad in the local paper of the city he protected advertising his services for anyone who needed his help.
In 1940 he became one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, although he would leave the group one year later to become part of another group called the Freedom Fighters, a collection of superheroes brought together by a hero called Uncle Sam who was the living embodiment of America, tasked with travelling to another dimension where the Axis forces were winning World War 2 (this was a time when DC was starting to fool around with the “alternate universe” theory that would define so much of their comic book lore).
So what happened?
Everything I talked about in the above section describes Hourman’s career during the actual Golden Age of Comics. Like many of the more obscure heroes of the age his popularity began waning during the post war years. However, the story of Hourman has a happier ending than most and during the late 1950’s he experienced a revival.
Hourman has a special place in Golden Age superhero history because he was popular enough for writers to keep working on him and making him more complex and interesting. It turned out that the drug that was giving him his powers was also highly addictive. Coupled with Rex Tyler’s persona and strong desire to fight crime the effects of the drug had a hugely detrimental effect on his body and mind making him one of the first cautionary tales in superhero stories.
Thankfully he was saved by several of his friends and it was eventually revealed that his powers could be accessed through his genetic makeup. However, the strain of being a hero was too much for him and Rex eventually retired from the superhero life (although he still consults every now and then) and settled down with his wife and passed the mantle of Hourman to his son Rick Tyler.
Hourman is still kicking around in the comic book world. Rick Tyler still makes appearances in the Justice League comics and there’s a time travelling android that adopted the same identity that is still kicking around. That being said, the original Hourman deserves all the credit in the world for being part of the world’s first super human team and for being one of the most interesting characters in comics.