Golden Age Showcase: Atomic Man

The Golden Age of Comics gave us our first modern superheroes and established the idea of the modern day origin story as an important part of any superhero’s lore.  There were plenty of ways for someone to decide to become a superhero.  He/she could be naturally endowed with great power,

He/she could have suffered a great personal tragedy,

or a person could have gained powers from some sort of magical incantation/device or scientific experiment.

But one of the most popular ways for a superhero to gain powers was a little known plot device called radiation.

It should be noted that while radiation can kill you in real life, a lot of comic books saw the wonders of the real life Atomic Age and decided that this,

could give you superpowers.

The list of superheroes who gained their powers from some form of radiation is extensive and makes up some of comic’s greatest heroes.

Most of these characters were products of the Silver Age of Comics, a time period between 1956 and 1970 where comics became heavily influenced by science fiction and the brave new world that gave us the Space Race and Tang.

However, the heroes of the Silver Age were not the first superheroes to gain powers from strange radiation.  Comic book writers had known about atomic energy since the end of World War 2 and responded accordingly.

Today I present the first hero of the Atomic Age, a man known simply as…Atomic Man.

Origin and Career

Atomic Man first appeared in Headline Comics #16 in November 1945.

There are two things worth mentioning here.  First, while the Atomic Man doesn’t appear on the cover he is used in its advertising and second, this comic would have been published mere months after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War 2.

The character was created by comic strip artist Charles A. Voight,

who began work as a cartoonist in 1908 and was most famous for a strip called “Betty”.

Voight created the Atomic Man as a scientist named Dr. Adam Mann, a scientist who made it his life’s work to study this strange new nuclear science.

Sadly, Dr. Mann fell victim to a lab explosion while experimenting with uranium 235, the type of uranium which makes atom bombs go boom.   The explosion embedded radioactive shrapnel into his right hand.  However, instead of killing him the shrapnel gave him incredible powers including super strength, flight, the ability to manipulate minds (somehow), and energy blasts.

Naturally, Dr. Mann was somewhat terrified of his newfound power, not just because he had the ability to do great damage to the people he cared about, but because of the damage it could cause if it fell into the wrong hands.  As a result the doctor would wear a lead lined glove on his right hand while in his civilian identity and take it off whenever he needed to call upon his powers.

It should also be noted that his costume simply appeared once he took off the glove.

So what happened?

Atomic Man would appear in five more anthology issues and had a pretty good run for a Golden Age hero, even making the cover of Headline Comics three times.  He spent his time fighting various science fiction threats, criminal enterprises, and communists.

His last appearance was in September of 1946, his creator would die in 1947.  Atomic Man himself would be phased out of the Headline Comics title when the comic transitioned away from superhero comics to crime stories that were written by Captain America co creators and comic book legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

While Atomic Man has faded from memory his legacy is an important one for comic books.  I mentioned before just how many superheroes gained their powers from radiation and Atomic Man was the first hero to accomplish this.

But there is something more to the hero than just a cool origin story.  Atomic Man represented a change that wasn’t just occurring in comic books, but in our society as well.  We had just witnessed the awesome and terrifying power of atomic energy,

and we had so many questions and concerns.  How dangerous was this thing?  What if it got into the wrong hands?  What were the true effects of radiation on the human body?  Will this new idea elevate us to a new Golden Age or plunge us into the apocalypse?

Yes a comic book hero as silly as Atomic Man got quite a few things wrong about radiation and yes, maybe a children’s comic book wasn’t the best place to be asking these sorts of questions.  But whether its audience knew it or not, Atomic Man did ask these questions, putting it at the forefront of some of the most important issues of our time.

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Comparing the two greatest father figures in comics

Happy post Father’s Day Monday everyone!

For our international readers, Father’s Day is an American holiday where we celebrate the role and achievements fathers play in all our lives.

Some would say it’s a chance to give dads the recognition they deserve after Mother’s Day (Mother’s Day was a federally recognized holiday before Father’s Day) and some would say that it’s a cynical attempt for the card companies and power tool companies to sell more stuff.

Whatever you believe in it’s important to recognize that fathers have a huge impact on our personal lives and world view and comic books are a medium that is filled with fatherly influence.

Now, being a dad in a comic book can be rather difficult.  It’s even more difficult when you realize that in mainstream American comic books fathers either wind up dead or have to go through hell for their children.

But whether we like it or not, comic book dads fulfill an important role in comic book story telling: they help the main character become the person he/she needs to be in order to become a superhero, and what’s really interesting is that more often than not there are many different ways fathers can teach their biological/surrogate offspring to become a hero.

So today we are going to look at two of the greatest father figures in comic book history: Pa Kent and Uncle Ben.

Pa Kent

Within the Superman mythology Ma Kent is usually the one that’s portrayed as the principal caretaker of Clark considering that Pa Kent winds up dead in quite a few variations of the story.

With that being said, while Ma Kent is usually the one who gets to be the principal caretaker and moral compass for her adopted son, Pa Kent has the honor of being the wise old man that the world’s most powerful being looks up to.

The Kent family has been by Superman’s side since the very beginning.

What I find most impressive is just how capable these two are.  In fact, if it wasn’t for this guy

I’d say they were the most capable parents in all of comics.

They are kind, dedicated, and somehow they took the strongest being on Earth and not only managed to keep his existence a secret for a very long time, but they managed to install a moral compass on kid who was practically immune to all forms of punishment.  After all, a spanking seems kind of pointless when you have a son who can deflect bullets.

The results speak for themselves and Superman grew up to become one of the most selfless beings on the entire planet instead of the ruler and dictator that so many would expect from a being who possesses such power.

One of the things I like about the Kents is how they’ve managed to go through so much and still remain the kindly couple they are today.  They have no trouble hosting aliens who actually look like aliens,

to helping their son learn how to fly.

By the way, the page above is from a series called Superman: American Alien by Max Landis.  It is an amazing series and I cannot recommend it enough.

Whether it’s dealing with the emotional loss of Jonathan Kent

or dealing with yet another alien invasion that decides to take place on their front doorstep.

The Kents have remained one of the most steadfast and loyal families in all of comics.

Uncle Ben

You know him or more specifically you know his line.

Say it, say it now.

There used to be a famous saying in the comic book industry: “Nobody dies in comics except Jason Todd, Bucky Barnes, and Uncle Ben”.

Then 2005 happened.

and it just became “Nobody dies in comics except Uncle Ben.”

Uncle Ben has taken a more relaxed attitude towards instilling heroic ideals in his children.  Granted, it’s mostly because he’s been dead all this time but the results speak for themselves.

In the brief time we get to see Uncle Ben alive in the comics he comes off as a kind, caring, and compassionate person who only wants the best for his adopted son.  In fact, he’s so nice and so good that after he dies Peter is wracked with so much guilt that he decides to dedicate the rest of his life to being one of the most helpful and dedicated superheroes in the Marvel Universe.

Which is saying something considering the amount of pain and suffering Peter has gone through over the years.

So which father figure is better?  Honestly I don’t think it matters.  Both men provide their adopted sons with the necessary moral guidelines that are needed for being a superhero and both are great father figures.

While Father’s Day may be over it is important to recognize the roll that fathers have in our lives and even though we may not live in a comic book universe, they can help all of us become superheroes.

Golden Age Showcase: The 3Xs

Before we begin I would like to talk briefly about the horrible mass shooting in Orlando.  Since I write these blog posts several days in advance, and since I make it a point to make these articles goofy and funny, it seemed in poor taste to not acknowledge this awful tragedy and pretend everything was “business as usual”. 

I actually went to college near Orlando and as a result I have several friends who live in the general area.  Thankfully they are all unharmed but it is important to remember that events like these have a tremendous negative impact on communities, residents, and survivors alike that last well beyond the time when the news cameras stop rolling and the experts stop talking.

This was an awful and horrific tragedy and I respectfully ask for your thoughts and prayers for the victims and survivors of the shooting.  Thank you. 

Today we’re going to talk about the three Xs.

No!  Not that kind of X.  Besides, the comic book world doesn’t need my help when in comes to adult entertainment.

No, today we are going to talk about one of the most obscure superhero teams of all time, a rough and tumble group of early superheroes who worked together to fight crime.  They’re so obscure that I could barely find any pictures of them and you know what?  It’s a crying shame that more people don’t know about them.

Today, I present…the Three Xs.

Three Xs (Earth-616) from Mystic Comics Vol 1 1 0001

Origin and Career

The Three X’s first appeared in Mystic Comics #1 in March of 1940.

The only credit I can seem to find is that they were created by a man named Robert O. Erisman.  Again, I can’t find much of what he did except for the fact that he was the editor of a magazine called Marvel Science Stories.

The magazine was initially home to trashy science fiction but would later host sci fi greats such as Arthur C. Clarke (the man who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey) and Issac Asimov (who basically invented everything we know about robots).

If it seems like I’m circling around the subject of the actual super heroes it’s because there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff to write about.  The Three X’s were a group of private detectives who went around fighting crime and each member had their own specialties.  There was 1x

who was a highly skilled criminologist and detective.

Then there was 2x

the group’s inventor and resident nerd (after all…he has glasses) and finally there was 3x,

a skilled boxer and the group’s resident brawler.

In the group’s first and only case they were hired by the Baltimore Police Commissioner (because law enforcement was something you could just outsource in the 1940’s) to track down a kidnapped lady by the name of Maisie Leeds.  The group managed to trace the kidnappings back to a villain known only as the Green Terror.

The Green Terror was actually a pretty effective villain.  He was from South Africa and he was basically immortal…so long as he consumed the blood of young people on a regular basis.

The Three X’s track the Green Terror, get captured, manage to escape, and take down the Green Terror with little to no difficulty.  It’s a pretty standard story.

So what happened?

Like I said above, the Three X’s only appeared in one issue and that was it.  There was no follow up, no second story, and not even a modern revival of the characters.

The sad thing is, I actually think these characters would make a fantastic addition to the Marvel Universe.  You have three incredibly brilliant individuals working together to solve crimes.

Three Xs (Earth-616) from Mystic Comics Vol 1 1 0001

They are all experts in their fields (I love old school sci fi tech and I just know that someone like 2x could create some really cool gadgets and devices), they are clearly not phased with going toe to toe with some of the more sinister elements of the superhero world, and they are just obscure enough and just generic enough that a good writer could turn them into something really interesting.

What are their real names?

Where do they come from?

How did they meet?

Do they have lives outside of detective work?

What motivated them to become detectives in the first place?

All this and more is ripe for the taking because as far as I can tell, these guys are in the public domain and its about time someone brought them back and made them into the proper heroes they deserve to be.

Golden Age Showcase: The Human Top

We’ve covered a lot of stupid on this blog post from insect controlling lawyers to bird politicians but today we’re going to talk about a hero that beats them all when in comes to sheer lunacy.  I present, the Human Top.

Origin and career

While he may not look like much, the Human Top’s career started off with a literal bang.  He first appeared in Red Raven Comics #1 in August of 1940.  His story was written by comic book writer and artist Dick Briefer.

Interestingly enough, this issue also held the first appearance of another super hero we’ve talked about on this blog: Mercury.

The Human Top was originally named Bruce Bravelle, a man who volunteered as a human guinea pig for one Dr. Davis.

The good Doctor was attempting to find a way for humans to feed off of electricity (Golden Age science was weird) and naturally the experiment went wrong when Bruce was accidentally struck by lightening.

Since this is a superhero comic, the wrath of God doesn’t kill Bruce but gives him the ability to spin up to speeds of 250 miles per hour.

What’s really interesting about this Human Top is that his powers weren’t based off of something like the Speed Force or divine intervention.  His ability to spin comes from opposing electrical currents which he can create by either crossing his wrists or by getting shocked from an outside electrical source.  While I don’t think the writer had a really keen grasp on how electricity works it is interesting to see a Golden Age hero who’s powers were based purely off of science instead of magic.

Professor Davis dubbed Bruce “The Top” and suggested that he go out and fight crime, since that’s all the motivation a super hero needed back in the 1940’s.

In his first adventure the Human Top foiled a bank robbery when it was revealed that the bank’s president, a man named Horace Vanderveer,

attempted to frame the Human Top and escape with the money.  Fortunately, the Human Top stopped the greedy bank president and the day was saved.

The hero would go on to have one more adventure in March of 1942, published in Tough Kid Squad Comics.

It is worth mentioning that the Human Top would also get a costume redesign for his second appearance.

Bruce Bravelle (Earth-616) 002

In his final adventure the Human Top would defeat a masked train robber named the Red Terror.

The Red Terror had a gang of armed goons, a couple of pet lions, and a rocket powered zeppelin which he used as a getaway vehicle after orchestrating a series of train wrecks.  However, the Human Top stopped him and he was sent plummeting to his death at the end of the story.

So what happened?

Bruce Bravelle would never have another comic book story.  However, he is still treated as mainstream cannon in the Marvel comic book universe and while Bruce is no more the name and idea behind the Human Top would continue.

The first reiteration of the name would be used by a super villain calling himself “The Human Top” and would appear in Tales to Astonish #50 in 1963.

He was a mutant named Darren Cross and he was an Antman villain.  He would later re name himself Whirlwind and he was successful enough to appear in other media as well, including his most recent appearance in the excellent Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon.

But the Human Top would be reborn yet again in 1978 as part of Marvel’s Kid Commandos team that was published under the Invaders title.

His name was David Mitchell and he worked with Toro, the sidekick of the Golden Age Human Torch (who was a cyborg instead of a boy) and Bucky Barnes himself.

Goldengrrl.jpg

They fought Nazis, as almost all Golden Age superheroes fighting in World War 2 were required to do.

The Human Top is one of the more ridiculous ideas to come out of the Golden Age of comics.  The idea that spinning in circles really fast is a super power is less of a cool idea and more something to make you giggle as you imagine the hero/villain having to stop and vomit from the motion sickness.  However, while the super powers of the Human Top may seem a bit ridiculous, it is important to recognize the creative passion and drive behind heroes like these and admire them for the silly and amazing creations they are.