You know who we haven’t talked about very much on this blog series? Stan Lee.
It’s no small secret that the man is a comic book legend. Although his first written work was with Captain America in the 1941 with the story Captain America foils the Traitor’s Revenge (fun side note this was the first story that had Captain America throwing his shield)
His most impressive creative period was the 1960’s, where he created some of the most iconic characters of all time and secured his place as a legend of comic books.
But the man’s impressive body of work didn’t just spring out of a vacuum. The man started working in the comic book business at the very beginning in 1939 back when his name was Stanley Lieber (he used Stan Lee as a pseudonym and would later have it legally changed) and would eventually rise through the ranks to become the man he is today.
So why am I talking about this here? Because in 1941 Timely Comics an unknown writer by the name of S.T Anley had a story published about a new super hero called “The Witness”
The name was a pretty cheesy pseudonym for Stan Lee but even though the Witness wasn’t the first hero that Lee would create for Timely (oh we’ll definitely be getting to those), he was definitely one of the most interesting.
Origin and Career
The Witness first appeared in Mystic Comics #7 in December 1941.
He was a Jewish kid who grew up to join the Chicago Police as a detective until he accidentally shot an innocent man in the line of duty. He was tried and sent to prison, something that only seems to happen in fiction nowadays, for two years and when he got out life wasn’t much better.
In another interesting twist the poor man attempted to commit suicide but was saved by a mysterious voice who told him it wasn’t his time. He would later become the costumed hero The Witness.
His power set was actually pretty interesting because while he didn’t have super strength of flight he did have a strange ability to tell who was going to be the victim of a crime before it happened. He would then find the future victim, observe them, and then decide if they deserved to be saved or whether he would simply be a witness to the crime.
In his first appearance he brought down a group of assassins called the League of Blood and their evil leader Mr. Natas (groan) who the Witness sent hurdling to his death. He also discovered that a humble pawn shop owner named Booie Dawdly was actually a highly accomplished mobster and jewel thief known as the Imp.
His final adventure involved him breaking up a gambling ring on a ship.
So what happened?
Like so many superheroes of the time The Witness only had two stories in the 1940’s and would have been doomed to obscurity if it wasn’t for his revival in the 2007 series The Twelve.
In the series the Witness was sent to Europe to fight in WW2 where he witnessed the horrible events that happened at Auschwitz. While the events must have had a terrible impact on the psyche of a Jewish American hero he didn’t allow it to faze him as he joined his comrades for an assault on Berlin.
However, the Twelve were captured and placed in suspended animation by Nazi scientists where they would remain until 2007 when they were rediscovered.
The Witness actually took the change of scenery pretty well. However, his powers prevented him from enjoying his new life and he was called to a diner to witness a death. It turned out the man who was doomed to die was actually a prison guard from Auschwitz and the hero watches as the man was run over by a truck.
He was also called to witness the death of his teammates after it was revealed that Dynamic Man had actually gone crazy and started killing his former teammates. His story arc ended with him surviving the destruction and disappearing off the face of the Earth. It turned out he had recruited by Nick Fury in order to work for SHIELD as an operative who punished anyone who had committed a crime.
The Witness was a strange hero. On one hand he was actively punishing those who he knew were guilty but on the other hand he was doomed to remain a passive observer in the lives and deaths of random people he had never known. Regardless, the Witness was one of the most interesting heroes to come out of the Golden Age and a definite sign of Stan Lee’s budding genius.
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