Golden Age Showcase: The Black Widow

Today we’re going to talk about the Black Widow.

No, not that one.

The current, and perhaps more famous Black Widow as a product of the 1960’s and was one of the deadliest Russian spies the world had ever known before she decided to turn traitor and work for the United States.

The Black Widow we’re going to talk about today was a bit more…terrifying.

Origin and Career

The Golden Age Black Widow first appeared in Mystic Comics #4 in August of 1940.

She was created by comic book writer George Kapitan and artist Henry Sahle and was billed as the “strangest, most terrifying creature in action picture magazines”.  Judging from some of her pictures

it looks like they weren’t that far off.

The Black Widow started life as the psychic medium Claire Voyant (really Timely?  Really?) who was hired by the Wagler family for a seance in order to try to contact their dead father.  Unfortunately, Claire was possessed by Satan (because of course) who foretold that the family would all perish in a fiery death.

The prophecy turned out to be a fast acting one, as the Wagler family was killed in a brutal car accident after leaving from the seance.  However, the son James managed to survive and blamed Claire for his family’s death.

While this was probably the machinations of Satan, James paid the demon no heed and gunned Claire down.

Satan used this opportunity to collect Claire’s soul and turn her into one of his agents.

She would be tasked with acting as the Devil’s agent on Earth, collecting souls that were deemed evil enough to belong to the Prince of Darkness.

In order to fulfill her evil work Claire was given the gift of immortality (although this might not be true), immunity to most mortal weapons, and the ability to kill with a touch much like a Black Widow spider.

I’m not going to lie, I think this is awesome.

Sadly, like most characters we talk about on this blog, she only lasted a couple of stories.  That man in the frilly costume she’s killing?  That was her second victim, a notorious crime boss named Garvey Lang.  She would appear in three more stories where she targeted several villains and doomed them to an eternity in Hell, although there was one recorded instance where she helped heal one of the victims of a man she was charged with sending to Hell.  After that, shedisappeared off the face of the Earth for almost fifty years.

So what happened?

The Black Widow would find new life in Michael J. Straczynski’s 2008 mini series The Twelve, only this time with a revamped origin story.

This time around she gained her powers in 1928, after swearing her soul to Satan in exchange for the ability to avenge the death of her murdered sister.

In 1945 she joined a group of Golden Age heroes in storming Berlin at the tail end of the war.

She’s the one lifting the tank.

However, the raid went bust and the heroes were captured and put into suspended animation where they remained until they were rediscovered in 2008.

After waking up The Black Widow realized that her deal with Satan still applied and she would still be required to kill evildoers and deliver their souls to Hell.  Her first victim was a man named Simon Dexter, who she ripped limb from limb.

However, her reawakening wasn’t all bad.  She befriended several patrons at a goth themed bar

although that didn’t last very long and she wound up developing romantic feelings for one of her colleagues, the Phantom Reporter.

Sadly many of her friends wound up perishing when it was revealed that one of their own had turned evil but thankfully, the Black Widow would get a happy ending.

She wound up realizing that she and the Phantom Reporter were in love,

and became private investigators for Exec Enterprises, a private investigation firm headed by another one of their colleagues: Mastermind Excello.

A happy ending for one of the most troubled anti heroines in all of comics.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Aumakua #3

Today we’re going to be talking about superheroes.

Stop, don’t leave, let me explain.

Comic books, especially comic book super heroes, are a great way for readers (especially younger readers) to learn about identity and culture.  That may seem strange at first but consider that this guy,

has transcended the bounds of being a mere literary character and has become a pop culture icon while this guy

has become one of the most popular figures on the planet because he is incredibly relatable and human.

Today’s Crowdfunding Spotlight is going to look at a project that is trying to do the same thing to one of the most underrated and overlooked cultures on the face of the planet: Polynesian and native South Pacific culture.

The comic book called Aumakua and follows a broad collection of South Pacific superheroes as they protect their native home of Hawaii.

The project is headed by a creator owned comic book publishing company called Mana Comics and is the third book in a four book series which you can check out here.

Kickstarter campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/247175080/aumakua-3?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

As far as I can tell this is Hawaii’s first superhero team.

It’s a reflection of the many ethnic populations and a monument to Hawaii’s history.  Now I’m an American and I live on the East Coast so truth be told I don’t really give the last state in the Union all that much thought unless I’m talking about a place to go on vacation or the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Basically what I’m saying is that to me Hawaii might as well be another country, which for the longest time it was.

Hawaii actually has a long and proud history as an independent nation.  They were part of an ethnic group of people who explored the Pacific Ocean long before the Europeans.

They established the independent Kingdom of Hawaii under the Kamehameha dynasty.

and probably would have continued along just fine if it wasn’t for the United States decided that it wanted to “borrow” the island permanently.

After it was annexed by the United States the island fell under the rule of some pretty powerful business interests and welcomed several waves of immigrants who came to work on the island’s sugar and fruit plantations.

So Hawaii has a rich history that hasn’t always been pleasant, one of the most unique cultural melting pots, and oh yeah one of the largest military presences in the country.

So there are plenty of opportunities for some interesting stories.

Special mention goes out to the comic’s determination to bring Polynesian culture to comic books.  If you ask me the South Pacific has a ton of potential for interesting stories because when you have locations like this.

Coupled with a hodge podge of traditions and cultures that look like this,

the potential for storytelling is endless.  Heck this guy’s Samoan

and he’s basically a living superhero already.

Why you should donate

Comic books have helped shape the identity of millions of readers over its relatively short history which is one of the biggest reasons why comic books are often criticized for their lack of character diversity.

Yes I’m bringing up this little chestnut again but let’s not kid ourselves here, comic books have a reputation for being incredibly…white.

That’s not to say things aren’t getting better.  Some of Marvel’s most iconic heroes are now black.

and there’s the ever present and truly excellent Milestone Universe created by the late great Dwayne McDuffie.

The reason I’m bringing this up again is because comic books superheroes are often more than overly muscled beings with impossible proportions, garish costumes, and cool superpowers.  They are a fantastic way for young people (and older people as well) to explore and discover their identity.  It’s important for comic books, or all forms of entertainment for that matter, to accept and embrace different cultures and ways of life as a way to tell new stories and draw attention to new issues and ideas.

So if you want to support a creator who is bringing new and exciting ideas and voices into the world of comics, consider donating to the Aumakua project on Kickstarter.

Campaign link:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/247175080/aumakua-3?ref=category_newest

 

Golden Age Showcase: The Blue Blade

 

So this little movie came out not too long ago.

For anyone who is curious about what I thought about it, I liked it.  It was funny, well paced, and had a surprising amount of…heart.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the movie was the sword play.

I thought it was nice to know that even in an age where most people would scoff at using swords in favor of guns Hollywood realizes that sometimes audiences just want to see a good old fashioned sword fight (although to be fair, the gun play in Deadpool was also pretty damn cool).

This is in NO way a semi awkward attempt to tie a recent comic book superhero success to the subject of today’s blog post (it totally is though).  See, I love a good sword fight and I especially love old school Hollywood swashbucklers.  Stuff like Errol Flynn movies and the old Zorro films

were things that I grew up with and I still enjoy today.  And since these movies were incredibly popular it would make sense for comic books to try to create their own swashbuckling heroes.  One of these heroes was Timely Comics’ Blue Blade.

Origin and Career

Nobody knows who created the Blue Blade, although judging from the costume and demeanor he was a pretty blatant rip off of Errol Flynn.  His first appearance was in USA Comics #5 dated in 1942.

Where he helped defeat a gang of Japanese spies looking to steal an experimental weapon.

His real name was Roy Chambers.  He was an expert swordsman, acrobat, and had an incredibly well trained horse that was somehow better than a car in 1940’s America.

For some reason the Blue Blade just didn’t catch on (whaaaat?) and he would have remained a forgotten relic of the Golden Age of Comics until the 2008 mini series The Twelve.

So what happened

The Blue Blade had been drafted in 1945 and sent to Europe to fight the Nazis.  Despite his fighting prowess he was viewed as more of a tourist and used his natural flair for entertainment to appear in shows for the troops.

He was pat of the failed Berlin raid that led to a team of twelve superheroes being captured by the Nazis and placed into stasis.

Eventually the heroes were rediscovered, thawed out, and returned to America to readjust to modern life.  While some of the heroes took the news rather hard the Blue Blade was actually rather happy about it.

He thought that their former celebrity status, coupled with the novelty of being relics of the past, would be something he could leverage into a profitable entertainment career and for a little while it worked.

However, audience tastes change with the times and sadly the Blue Blade was unable to find a show that would appeal to modern audiences.

Desperate to find something that would thrust him back into the limelight the Blue Blade attempted to reactivate one of his fellow heroes, the robot Electro.

Unfortunately, the Blue Blade failed to realize that Electro had already been activated and was working under the control of another hero.  In an attempt to keep its master a secret, Electro murdered the Blue Blade.

The Blue Blade was not very good at being a superhero.  He was loud, brash, outspoken, and probably not very well suited at being a hero in the first place (kind of like Deadpool if you want a tenuous connection to the movie) but like Deadpool he was one of the few heroes who realized the profit making potential of being a costumed vigilante (along with other comic book luminaries like Ozymandias, The Heroes for Hire, and Deadpool’s old buddy Cable) and he was a tribute to many of the Hollywood swashbuckling films that were one of the biggest influences on the early days of comic books.

 

 

President’s Day special: The Fighting American

Happy President’s Day everyone!  For anyone who doesn’t know about the holiday President’s Day started off as a day to honor America’s first president, George Washington.

Today it is a day for Americans to look back and honor the men who have led our country over its 240 year history, although currently it is often associated with taking a day off from school and going out to take advantage of the many President’s Day sales available.

So naturally in keeping with the patriotic theme of today let’s talk about some old school patriotic comic book heroes.

Too easy, how about someone else.

Already talked about him.  You know what?  I’m feeling a bit cynical today, what with an erstwhile holiday being devalued by rampant consumerism and an excuse to try to sell you more cars and a new mattress, is there a hero we can talk about that didn’t take his patriotism so seriously?

Okay, this could work.  Ladies and gentlemen….the Fighting American.

Origin and career

This is going to require a bit of context.  The Fighting American was created in 1954, near the tail end of the Golden Age.  World War 2 was over,

the Cold War was getting underway as the Soviet Union and America started acting like two married people who hated each other and were fighting to see who got ownership of the condo,

and the comic book business was undergoing a massive upheaval.  Between the decline in readership, the Senate hearings, and the new censorship rules, the industry was in trouble.

A lot of Golden Age heroes didn’t survive and the ones that did changed to the point where once edgy and socially conscious heroes like Superman and Batman became safe and non threatening characters who were tasked with upholding the status quo.  Needless to say, a lot of the stories suffered.

One of the few characters to make it through the 50’s relatively intact was Captain America, because what red blooded American parent wouldn’t trust a man who uses the flag as a shield?

However, even Captain America wasn’t safe from change in the 1950’s.  See, while the 1950’s are remembered as a pretty good time in American history (assuming you were white and middle class) there was this guy

That’s Senator Joseph McCarthy and in the 1950’s he took full advantage of the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union to launch a massive publicity stunt known as “The Red Scare”.

The Red Scare was a smear campaign led by Senator McCarthy against political opponents which he branded as Communists or sympathizers to the Soviet Union.

It is not remembered fondly by most historians but that didn’t stop America from going nuts with anti communist sentiment.

Needless to say, Captain America was the perfect superhero to take full advantage of this growing paranoia and in the 1950’s Atlas Comics (Timely Comic’s successor) had Captain America fighting Communists with just as much subtlety as he had fought the Nazis.

However, it turned out that while Atlas had relaunched Captain America as an enemy to Communists everywhere they had done so without the input or permission from the character’s original creators: comic book legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Sadly, these types of stories were par for the course in the early days of the comic book industry.  So instead of complaining or taking it to court Simon and Kirby created a new patriotic superhero: The Fighting American.

His story goes like this.  Mild mannered and ordinary Nelson Flagg (no really) was serving as the writer for his brother Johnny Flagg, who was not only a war hero and star athlete but a popular television commentator and an outspoken anti-Communist.  Sadly, Johnny was killed by communist sympathizers and Nelson vowed revenge.  He volunteered for the U.S military’s “Project: Fighting American” and had his mind and thoughts transferred into his brother’s physically augmented corpse.

Ew.

He was also given a kid sidekick named Speedboy, an unnamed page who tried to help the Fighting American chase down one of the bad guys.

The comic was published by a company called Crestwood Publications, a publishing company noted for publishing the first romance comic and one of the first ongoing horror comic books.

 

However, while The Fighting American was all geared up to become one of the premier anti Communist American heroes of the 1950’s things took a rather dramatic change.

It turned out that while anti Communist paranoia was a pretty big deal in the 1950’s a lot of people quickly realized that Senator McCarthy was actually full of crap.

Simon and Kirby saw that the Red Scare was actually hurting a lot of people and became uncomfortable with the rantings of a man who was destroying lives and careers with little to no evidence to support his accusations.  So they decided to relax and have some fun with the Fighting American and by its second issue it had turned into a superhero parody.  To give you an idea of the comic’s sense of humor, one of his first villains was a two headed Communist named “Doubleheader”.

The Fighting American and Speedboy would continue for a seven issue run fighting such colorful enemies such as the bouncing bank robber Round Robin.

a villain named Invisible Irving  known as the Great Nothing (a play on the unfounded early Cold War paranoia perhaps?)

and my personal favorite: Rhode Island Red.

It should be noted that a Rhode Island Red just so happens to be the name of Rhode Island’s state bird.

So what happened?

The Fighting American lasted for seven issues ending in 1955.  However, he got a re release in 1994 with a six issue mini series published by DC.

and there was a two issue miniseries published by Awesome Entertainment in 1997.

It should be noted that Awesome Entertainment was a company owned and operated by  Rob Liefeld

and the Fighting American mini series was marked by a massive legal mess involving Liefeld, Simon, and Kirby’s estate which resulted in a horrific legal mess that we don’t have the time to get into here.

The Fighting American was a hero whose existence seems like a joke.  He was created by two men who had been screwed out of their original work, he underwent a tremendous change in character and tone in only one issue, and he was the target of several reboots and re interpretations by some of the more notorious elements of the comic book industry in the 1990’s.  Despite all that I like this guy.  In a way he is one of the most patriotic superheroes out there because not only did he fight Communists he shed light on just how ridiculous most of the early Cold War paranoia really was.

Golden Age Showcase: Electro

So last week we decided to take a look at the Phantom Reporter, a hero who only lasted one issue in the 1940’s but found new life in a modern story about Golden Age superheroes called “The Twelve”

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That turned out to be a popular post so let’s take a look at another one of the heroes form this story, one who managed to last a bit longer than one issue and proved to be a major player in the modern comic book series: Electro.

Origin and career:

Electro was created by writer/artist Steve Dhalman and debuted in Marvel Mystery Comics Issue #4 in 1940 as a backup feature to more popular heroes of the time such as the Human Torch and the Sub Mariner.

Electro was a robot created by Professor Philo Zog in the name of helping all of mankind.

Electro was an actual robot, not a human flying around in a robotic suit like Iron Man.  Electro was controlled by a special microphone/telephone created by the professor that could be used to summon the robot and make it do its master’s bidding.

The robot itself was pretty powerful in its own right.  Capable of running at speeds in excess of 100 mph, impervious to most firearms and explosives, and capable of lifting a human being with little to no difficulty

Electro was certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Philo Zog’s creation would have a fairly long and successful life as a back up feature in the Marvel Mystery series, which was one of Timely Comic’s biggest and most successful series at the time.  What’s interesting is that many of these stories weren’t really about Electro the Robot but rather about Philo Zog and a collection of twelve human agents who worked for Zog known as “Secret Operatives”.  Basically an Electro story would go something like this: one of the Secret Operatives would be sent out to investigate a crime or disturbance (this could range anywhere from a kidnapping to preventing a full blown international civil war) stumble on something that was far too big for one man to handle, call in Electro, and the robot would make quick work of whatever criminal/drug dealer/dictator/alien was a threat that day.

Electro’s final Golden Age appearance was in Marvel Mystery #19 where Professor Zog and Electro manage to fend off a crazed mad scientist who invents an invisibility potion.  While Electro was defeated by one of the mad scientist’s servants who was using the potion the robot did go out with a bang after fighting off two gorillas.

So what happened?

The robot and his twelve agents just stopped being published, I guess he just wasn’t popular enough to last.

While the creation of Professor Zog wouldn’t be revived until 2008 the name Electro would live on in Marvel history: first as a Soviet agent who fought Captain America in 1954 when Marvel Comics was known as Atlas Comics

and second as the more well known Spider Man villain who made his first appearance in Amazing Spider Man #9 in 1964.

But we’re here to talk about the Golden Age Electro, the one who appeared in the 2008 series The Twelve.

During WW2 Electro was sent to Europe to fight off the Nazis.  He proved incredibly effective and popular with the soldiers, although the Phantom Reporter commented that it was somewhat “creepy” that a man could be killed by remote control.

The series starts off with twelve Golden Age heroes assaulting a bunker in 1945 Berlin.  However, they were discovered, captured by the Nazis, and placed in suspended animation for further study. However, it was too late and everyone who was tied to the project was either killed or captured leaving the twelve heroes trapped in stasis for years.

In 2007 a construction project uncovered the heroes and they were returned to the United States for reintegration into society.  Unfortunately for Electro he remained deactivated and it turned out that the robot had been controlled by a highly sophisticated device that allowed the user to control the robot with his or her mind.  Unfortunately for Professor Zog the shock of losing his robot was too much for his brain and it was reported that he “died of loneliness”.

During this time Professor Zog’s niece attempted to regain possession of her uncle’s device but couldn’t raise the money to take care of it.

Ms. Zog wound up reaching a deal with another hero from the Twelve called the Blue Blade.

In exchange for using the robot in a show the Blue Blade would give Ms. Zog all the money she would need to reclaim the robot.  However, something went wrong and the robot wound up killing the Blue Blade.

It turned out that the robot had not remained idle all these years.  In an attempt to re connect with his old master Electro’s primitive brain began reaching out in an attempt to find a new mind to connect with.  He wound up discovering the mind of another one of the twelve heroes, a Golden Age hero called Dynamic Man, and wound up basically becoming Dynamic Man’s servant.

Dynamic Man was revealed to be evil and used Electro to slaughter innocent people in cold blood.  However, Dynamic Man was eventually stopped at great cost to the rest of the Twelve and Electro reverted back to being a docile robot.

However, this was not the end of Electro’s career.  It turned out that Electro could only be used by one of the twelve heroes that had been placed in suspended animation.  The United States government wound up reaching an agreement with Zog’s niece where they would pay her to use her uncle’s invention for military use.  His was last seen being operated by another one of the Twelve, a hero called the Laughing Man, and tearing through the Middle East with some heavily upgraded weapons.

If you want to get technical than Electro wasn’t really a hero.  He was simply a tool, an invention created by a well meaning scientist who simply wanted to make the world a better place.  But the story of Electro represents some important themes that can be found in a lot of superhero stories: that power isn’t nearly as important as the choices made by those who use it.

Golden Age Showcase: The Phantom Reporter

So I was perusing the Marvel comics library on Comixology (because I live miles away from any sort of comic book store and I like having comics on my phone) and I came across this.

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The Twelve was a limited comic book series published by Marvel Comics in 2008.  The series was written by J. Michael Straczynski who is known for writing some brilliant stuff

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as well as some really bad stuff.

The Twelve was a comic book series about some of the earliest Marvel comic book heroes from the early 1940’s, a time when Marvel Comics was originally known as Timely Comics.

The series followed a collection of 12 heroes who were tricked into being frozen in stasis while fighting the Nazis at the tail end of World War 2 and follows them after they were re discovered, thawed out, and attempted to acclimate back into modern society.

A series about old Golden Age heroes attempting to fit in with modern society that AREN’T named Captain America?

This is going to keep me busy for months!

Origin and Career

Let’s start with one of the weakest members of the team and the one with the shortest Golden Age career: The Phantom Reporter.

First appearing in Daring Mystery Comics #3

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The Phantom Reporter appeared in his first, and only, solo appearance.  That being said his only solo adventure is a pretty good one.

The Phantom Reporter’s actual name is Dick Jones.  In terms of backstory he decided to become a morally upright hero after his father died during World War 1.  Over the course of his early life be became an All American football player, boxer, and fencer.  After college he decided to become a reporter (surprise!) and decided to adopt the identity of a costumed vigilante in order to right the wrongs he couldn’t fix through his reporting work.

In his solo story “Murder on the East Side”, Dick Jones discovers that a corrupt Parks Commissioner and two newspaper barons are attempting to scare off residents living in the East Side of the city (it’s not clear exactly which one) through a series of murders and home invasions in order to buy the land for cheap and turn it into profitable park land.  Dick brings the robbers to justice by alternating between his civilian reporter identity and the Phantom Reporter and beating everyone involved into submission.

So what happened?

The Phantom Reporter made only one Golden Age appearance during the 40’s.  Everything else was fleshed out in The Twelve.

When WW2 broke out the Phantom Reporter spent some time combating Nazi spies but by 1945 he found himself in Germany fighting alongside some of Timely’s other more powerful heroes from WW2.

During his tour of duty the Phantom Reporter became a war journalist for the superheroes as well as actively fighting in the war itself.

Although he was a capable combatant he was viewed as more of a tourist by many of his super powered peers.  However, he did prove his worth as a journalist by reporting on important events such as the Nazi war crimes at Auschwitz and even managed to save Captain America’s life after the Captain was buried under a pile of rubble.

 

His adventures came to an end when he joined a group of twelve other superheroes on April 25, 1945 for an assault on an S.S bunker in Berlin.  The bunker turned out to be a trap and the twelve heroes were gassed and placed in suspended animation for future study.  However, the Nazis were beaten back by the Soviets and the project was abandoned with every Nazi involved either captured or killed in action.

The heroes would remain in suspended animation until the 21st century when they were discovered buried under a construction project.  The United States government decided to thaw them out and attempted to re introduce them into society gradually, not much unlike another famous Marvel hero who had to be thawed out and re introduced to society.

In the case of the Twelve the Phantom Reporter was the first one to figure out something was wrong by noticing that none of the nurses wore garters or that some of them had multiple ear piercings.

Out of all the twelve heroes who were thawed out the Phantom Reporter was one of the best at re acclimating to the modern world.  After taking a job as a reporter at the Daily Bugle

The Phantom Reporter became grounded enough to be able to observe many of his former co workers.  I won’t go into tremendous detail about what happens because I want to save it for future articles (plus if you’re interested yourself I highly suggest reading the series) but here are the Phantom Reporter’s main bullet points.

  • Dick Jones develops romantic feelings for one of his female team mates, a super powered psychic medium who turned out to be Satan’s assassin, who’s name was Black Widow (no not that one and yes we will be getting to her)

  • He then proceeds to solve the murder of one of his colleagues named Blue Blade and discovers that the crime was committed by another former team mate named Dynamic Man.

  • After a tremendous brawl with Dynamic Man the Phantom Reporter finally becomes a hero with actual super powers after his team mate The Fiery Mask is killed.

The battle with Dynamic Man is the key point of the entire comic book series and we will be approaching it from different points of view.  After the brawl is over and the remaining twelve heroes have saved the day the Phantom Reporter re unites with his lady crush Black Widow and the two finally realize that they love each other.

At the end of the comic the two are private detectives and working together to make the world a better place.

While the Phantom Reporter only lasted one issue in the 1940’s he did get one hell of a send off in the modern day.  Not only was he a capable detective and reporter but his unwavering determination to doing the right thing and doing good for the world wound up paying off in the end.  He got a happy ending, he got the girl, and he even got actual super powers.

Next week: Another one of the Twelve whose story didn’t end so well.