Golden Age Showcase: Lady Satan

I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while, but I just couldn’t find the right time.

But now, I figured we’ve gone long enough on this blog without talking about a lady superhero so let’s talk about one of the more interesting, and quite frankly more terrifying, lady heroes who donned a mask and kicked some ass in the Golden Age of Comics.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Lady Satan.

Origin and Career

I’ve talked time and time again about how this blog was created to showcase the early superheroes who didn’t make it past the 1950’s and Lady Satan is the textbook definition of that kind of heroine.

One of the most interesting things about her is the story behind her creators.  She was part of one of the earliest comic book producers out there, a man who was actually pretty important to the comic book medium: Henry A. Chesler.

 

While Chelser got hist start in advertising he is actually something of an important figure to the comic book medium because he is regarded as being one of the first comic book “packagers” in the business, founding a studio which would develop and produce comic book material to sell to publishers.

One of his first publications was Star Comics first published in 1937.

It was a fun, relatively harmless piece of work for kids and Chesler did well as a comic book packager.  Then everything changed in 1938 with the arrival of Seigel and Shuster’s Action Comics #1

Being the prudent businessman, Chesler seemed determined to ride the superhero hype train and created his own publishing imprint Dynamic Comics in 1941.

A month later Dynamic would publish their second issue, featuring the debut of the heroine of the hour.

Her backstory was a simple one (one of the great hallmarks of the Golden Age is that someone’s backstory didn’t need entire issues, they could tell the entire story in a page or less): she was on a cruise with her husband in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and her ship was sunk by soldiers who aren’t technically Nazis but come pretty darn close.

Unlike many other heroes we’ve talked about on this blog, Lady Satan didn’t waste a single second guarding the homefront from saboteurs and spies, she went straight to Europe and started spying for the forces of democracy.  She wasn’t afraid to use her…feminine wiles to get close to the enemy,

and she was not afraid to get violent either.

Basically, during the war she was the female equivalent of James Bond, only with a much better wardrobe and no chronic alcoholism.

Also, she had a chlorine gun that she could use to incapacitate people, which is funny considering that chlorine gas is actually pretty deadly and was banned from use during the Second World War.

She would make her final appearance in Dynamic Comics #3, fulfilling her Nazi kicking quota and disappearing off the face of the Earth for a couple of years.

So what happened?

The heroes that made it out of the Golden Age are some of most iconic and well loved heroes of our time.  They were trend setters and pioneers in the genre that we all know and love.

Lady Satan was not one of those heroes, despite the fact that she would have a pretty good Golden Age career.

Lady Satan was revived after WW2 ended, only instead of fighting Nazis she took after her name sake and adopted a more…mystical theme.

Chesler Productions had taken a huge hit during the war with much of its staff needed for active duty.  While Chesler would continue producing comic books, even doing work for Marvel in the 1970’s, Dynamic Comics was no more and Lady Satan made her second debut in a title called Red Seal Comics in 1946

With that being said, it’s safe to say that Lady Satan was more of a trend follower than a trend setter.  Comic books after World War 2 had taken a turn for the grimmer and darker, preferring horror and crime stories over superheroes.

Lady Satan demonstrated this better than almost any other superhero at the time, with her new adventures she would use black magic to fight and punish occult threats such as warewolves.

Sadly she would only last a couple more issues, no doubt falling prey to the rising tide of distrust and paranoia surrounding comic books in the 1950’s (well, what would you expect with a name like Satan?)

Since then she hasn’t had much of a career.  She’s appeared in a couple of reprints of old issues and while she does have something of a reputation as a bad ass super heroine, she doesn’t quite cut the mustard when compared to the heavy hitting super heroines like Wonder Woman.

It’s worth noting that as far as I can tell she is in the public domain, and she did appear in a low budget action movie called Avenging Force: The Scarab in 2010, so if low budget cheese is your thing feel free to eat your heart out.

Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QlmKRDYwvM

Lady Satan was an interesting idea with a cool costume and a lot of potential for fun stories.  It’s just to bad she doomed to be a trend follower instead of a trend setter.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Blue Blaze

Last week we talked about a robot made entirely of rubber, and he appeared in the anthology title Mystic Comics #1.

I’ve been noticing that a lot of the superheroes that have appeared on this blog series actually got their start on this title so it got me a bit curious, who’s the man on the cover?

He’s clearly a superhero and capable of handling himself in a fight.  It appears that he’s incredibly strong and fearless if he’s able to hold all those monsters at bay and from the bullet striking him in the chest it appears that he’s practically bulletproof.  Also, it seems that he really likes the color blue and sadly, that costume isn’t very original or exciting.

So who is he?

Well, it turns out his name is the Blue Blaze and, bland costume aside, he’s actually pretty interesting.

Origin and Career

The Blue Blaze’s real name was Spencer Keen and while his date of birth isn’t known it’s established that he was a young adult in 1852.

Spencer Keen (Earth-616) 002

His father was Dr. Arthur Keene of Midwest College

who had discovered a mysterious “blue blaze” that had the power to bring dead animals back to life.

Spencer had been visiting his father while on his way to a costume party, where he had chosen to wear the blue suit that would eventually become his superhero outfit.

Unfortunately, they were living in the Midwest of America where tornadoes are incredibly common.

Sadly, this was before advanced early warning systems were in effect and the tornado destroyed most of the town, killing Arthur Keene, most of the town, and shattering the container that contained the Blue Blaze and spilling it on Spencer.

In the wake of the incredible tragedy the town tried to recover.  However, in the confusion of the disaster, nobody bothered to check and see if Spencer was dead.  In a rather horrific twist of fate he was buried alive and remained buried until the 1940’s.

Fortunately for him, the strange substance of the Blue Blaze didn’t just keep him alive, it gave him “strength a thousand fold by means of substrate dermatic rays” (whatever the hell that means) and in 1940 he arose from the grave because he “was made conscious of the slow dominion of evil”.

His subsequent adventures would reflect his rather grisly origin.  His first opponent was a mad scientist named Dr. Drake Maluski

The Doctor’s grand scheme was to reanimate corpses into an army of zombies in order to take over the world, proving that our fascination with zombies is nothing new and will probably never die.

Maluski Zombies

It should be noted that on the spectrum of violence in early Golden Age comic books the Blue Blaze took the “I have no trouble with using lethal force” approach and the evil doctor was killed when his lab exploded.

In his second adventure the Blue Blaze confronted another mad scientist named Karl Barko.

Barko was an inventor and in his story he was attempting to run a protection racket where he would blow up mine shafts filled with people if the mining companies didn’t pay up for his inventions.

While Barko attempted to use gadgets such as “freeze rays” and special explosives to combat the Blue Blaze but was quickly defeated and shipped off to a mental institution.

His third adventure was a battle against another mad scientist called “The Star Gazer”

who was using star rays to create monsters that fought for him.

Star-Monster (Earth-616)

I bring this up because this adventure was the cover story of Mystic Comics #3, and his home to what I think is one of the greatest comic book covers ever.

The Blue Blaze would go on to have one more adventure where he traveled to Eastern Europe in order to stop the Trustees of Hate from provoking a war between the fictional countries of Borsia and Gratzia.

While the Trustees of Hate were headed by the awesomely named “Dr. Vortex”, the Blue Blaze defeated them fairly easily.

So what happened?

His battle with the Trustees of Hate would be his last and Blue Blaze would disappear from comics in August of 1940.

However, the writers must have thought that they should leave a backdoor open in case the Blue Blaze would make a comeback because in his last adventure they make it known that every time he defeats evil he travels back to the grave in order to wait for the next crime to solve.  For some reason there are strange cosmic forces at work that move his body around to “new centers of crime” and when he is needed he will wake up to do battle with the forces of evil again.

To date the Blue Blaze hasn’t had a modern incarnation or revival like some of his other Golden Age companions.  Looking back it is easy to see why, his costume is kind of boring and while he does have a cool origin story and fought some pretty interesting villains it is easy to assume that he simply got lost in the crowd.

Which is a shame because when you consider all the other mythical/demonic/undead heroes and villains Marvel has in their library:

I think the Blue Blaze would fit right in with the right writer and costume change.

Golden Age Showcase: Flexo

Stories about metal creatures created to serve the bidding of their masters is nothing new.  The ancient Greek god Hephaestus had two mechanical assistants to help him in his work.

and Jewish folklore talks about the Golem, a mystical man of clay that can be brought to life whenever the Jewish people are threatened.

But the idea of a living creature made out of inanimate material really took off in the 20th century.  We call them robots.

Today we’re going to talk about one of the lesser known robots of pop culture: Flexo.

No, not that one.  While I love Futurama, the Flexo we’re going to talk about today is a product of the 1940’s and boy is he strange.

Yes, that is a real comic book superhero and yes he does look like the bastard lovechild of Gumby and Iron Man, but despite his strange appearance he was actually a pretty important character in the early days of Timely Comics.

Origin and Career

Flexo the robot first appeared in Mystic Comics #1 in March of 1940.

Mystic Comics Vol 1 1

The character was created by writer Will Harr and artist Jack Binder.

While I couldn’t find a lot of information on Will Harr, Jack Binder was one of the more successful artists during the Golden Age,

who helped create the original Daredevil,

and who was the older brother of Otto Binder,

the man who created little known characters such as the entire Captain Marvel family and Brainiac.

Harr and Binder’s Flexo was created by two brother scientists named Joel and Joshua Williams with the intention of fighting crime and ridding the world of evil.

The robot itself was basically a rubber suit filled with gas and could be controlled remotely by the two men.  Thanks to his stretchy suit and the fact that he wasn’t limited by pesky things like a skeleton the robot could perform some pretty amazing feats.

In his first adventure Flexo was summoned by the Williams brothers after they had been robbed while carrying a dangerous sample of radium.  The group eventually traced the sample to the lab of the evil Dr. Murdo

But since this was a short story, and since this was the 1940’s, Flexo and his creators manage to defeat the Doctor and his goons in short order.

Flexo would go on to have three more stories where he would continue to rescue his creators from various threats such as foreign spies,

and a wicked insurance fraudster named the Iron Duke,

a man who ran a protection racket where he would burn people’s houses down and have them split the money with him, or perish in the flames.  Flexo and the Williams brothers stopped the Iron Duke after he burned down a tenement building with children still in it.

Flexo’s last adventure was also his biggest.  The Williams brothers snuck the robot into the fictitious nation of Teutonia (it should be noted that while the United States wasn’t technically involved in the Second World War at this point it didn’t stop comic book heroes from fighting thinly disguised Nazis) to steal back a formula for a deadly weapon.

So what happened?

Flexo fell victim to the same fate that befell almost everyone we talk about on this blog series, people just lost interest in him after World War 2.

But Flexo actually made a comeback not too long ago, and even helped save the universe as we know it.

This is going to require some explaining.  In the Marvel Universe there are various human led government agencies tasked with protecting Earth from various threats.  Most of us know S.H.I.E.L.D

and while they protect the Earth from most super powered threats there are other organizations such as S.W.O.R.D that protect Earth from alien threats,

and A.R.M.O.R, which protect the world from threats from other dimensions.

 Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response Agency (Earth-616) 02

The reason I bring this up is because in 2012 Marvel ran a series called Marvel Zombies Destroy! where A.R.M.O.R is called upon to stop a Nazi zombie plague from another dimension from destroying our Earth.

It’s a cool idea but I don’t think it was designed to be taken seriously since they tasked this guy with stopping the invasion.

That’s Howard the Duck and to talk about him would take an entire article all to itself but long story short, in order to stop the Nazi zombie menace Howard assembled a team called…The Ducky Dozen.

One of the members of the Ducky Dozen was a new and improved Flexo.

He was upgraded with more autonomy and even gained the ability to speak.

 

The group would travel to the dimension where the zombies had originated and were almost immediately set upon by the zombified remains of some of Marvel’s greatest heroes.

Sadly, Flexo would perish in the final issue of the series.  He was ripped apart by zombie goats and atomized when the surviving members of the team detonated a nuclear bomb to prevent any more zombies from entering other dimensions.

Flexo is an interesting character.  While he only lasted a couple of stories he was a shining example of just how interesting and creative the Golden Age could be and he had the privilege of dying a pretty awesome death.

He is a great hero and a great idea who deserved way more attention and credit than he got.

4th of July Special: My top 5 Superman stories

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

and what better way to celebrate American independence than to look at the greatest American superhero ever created.

Is there anyone in modern fiction that embodies the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way?

Well, technically that last part isn’t exactly honest.  The “American Way” part of the motto wasn’t added until the 1950’s in an attempt to make Superman more politically friendly and “safe” for kids.  The original Superman had no problem threatening politicians and destroying homes in the name of justice and fair treatment.

Still, all things aside, Superman’s commitment to fighting for the little guy does make him an important figure in American pop culture.  He’s been dissected, discussed, and re interpreted countless time throughout the decades and today I would like to talk about five of the most important and/or interesting Superman stories ever told.

I believe that these five stories focus on a major aspect of Superman’s character and attempt to explain who the Man of Steel is and why he is, and must remain, the way he is.  This list is not designed to be an extensive description of the plots of each of these stories and I highly encourage you to check them out on your own.

Note: This list is my opinion and my opinion only.  If I left out your favorite Superman story please feel free to let me know in the comments.

5. Superman: Red Son

Writer: Mark Millar

Artists: Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett

Date published: 2003

A huge part of Superman’s personality and character stems from the fact that he grew up on a small farm in the middle of Kanses, the heartland of America.

His parents raised him the best way they could and gave their adopted son Clark the values and moral compass that made him the hero he became.

“Red Son” asks the question: what if Superman hadn’t landed in Kansas?  What if he had landed in America’s ideological opponent: the Soviet Union?

Without going into too much detail it’s safe to say it doesn’t end very well for America and instead of being instilled with values that promote freedom and individual liberty the new Soviet Superman becomes something akin to a Big Brother figure, watching over the people of the world as an authority figure rather than a benevolent guardian.

4. What’s so funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

Writer: Joe Kelly

Artists: Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo

Date published: 2001

Unlike most titles on the list this is not a stand alone story, rather it’s an arc in the Action Comics title, which is the long running Superman series that started in 1938 and only ended in 2011 (we’ll get to that).

This story is a discussion on one of the biggest questions a lot of readers have about Superman: why doesn’t he just kill his enemies?

Now, some superheroes do kill,

and some superheroes used to kill

but had that part of their character changed due to editorial mandate and the need to keep a running stable of villains.

While Superman has had his fair share of violent streaks, he has remained pretty committed to not killing his enemies for a very long time.  Even though he has the power to wipe out entire solar systems

and many people have pointed out that, by letting the bad guys he captures live, they have gone on to cause even more death and destruction.

Seriously, in order for a villain to present a threat to Superman they either have to have enough power to rack up a body count in the billions or wield enough intelligence and influence to control countless numbers of people.

“What’s so Funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” answered that question and gave a pretty good reason as to why Superman doesn’t just kill his enemies, no matter how much they may deserve it.

The story starts with Superman coming face to face with a group of heroes known as “The Elite”

They are a group of erstwhile heroes who have no qualms about killing the villains they capture, much to the delight of the people of Earth and the dismay of Superman.

Things come to a head and the Elite and Superman wind up fighting each other.

It is very much an ideological battle that asks a whole lot of questions.  What is the purpose of a hero?  What is the proper use of power?  How far should a hero go in order to keep the peace?

All of these questions are answered in a fight that I believe is one of the best fights in comics.  Granted, the story can be a little heavy handed and self serving at times, but the story shows why Superman must remain the way he his, why he is still relevant it today’s society, and gives us a glimpse into the terrifying vision of a Superman who has no problem killing people.

3. All Star Superman

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Frank Quietly

Publication date: 2011

This is the most modern Superman story to appear on the list and one that answers the OTHER big question about Superman: how can you make a man who is literally invulnerable interesting?

Morrison tackles this question by doing something brilliant: he kills Superman.

Basically, an accident near the sun saturates Superman’s cells with radiation and he only has a short while to live before he disintegrates into energy.

The story is about the last days of Superman on Earth as he says goodbye to Louis Lane.

manages to defeat Lex Luthor one last time,

and comes to grips with his own mortality and several of the stranger bits of the Superman mythos.

This is Superman at his most basic essence.  He’s not protecting a cause, he’s not working with any other hero, he’s a God among men and he is doing everything he can to help.

This series is also home to what I consider to be the greatest page in all of comics.

I tear up every time.

2. Action Comics #1

Not only is this the first appearance of the Superman we know and love, it’s the first American superhero comic ever published.

We owe so much to this comic it’s difficult to describe.  Everything from the costume,

to his secret identity,

To his strange origins define so much of what it means to be a modern day superhero.

Granted, there were other masked vigilantes around before Superman and yes, there are plenty of heroes who have gone on to eclipse the Man of Steel in popularity but I think it is important to remember that without this,

there would be none of this.

1. Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross

This isn’t a comic book, it’s a story that ran as a radio serial between June 16th, 1946 to July 1st, 1946 and I believe it is the single most important Superman story ever created.

Post war America had a problem with a group called the Ku Klux Klan.

For anyone who might not know, the Ku Klux Klan (or KKK for short) is a vile hate group that was formed by white men in the American South in order to protect American societ, just as long as that society was white and Protestant Christian.

Unfortunately they are still around and while they used to campaign against the inclusion of black people into American society

they continue to exist today as a force campaigning against immigration and what they perceive as an invasion of America by foreigners.

So why am I talking about this?  Well, in the 1940’s a human rights activist and investigative journalist from Jacksonville Florida named Stetson Kennedy decided to go undercover and investigate the Klan.

He uncovered a whole bunch of the Klan’s secrets from how they ran their meetings, to how they were organized, and even what their secret handshakes looked like.

He actually discovered that beneath the violence and horrific racism the Klan was pretty stupid and after a while he was ready to report his findings to the world.

Unfortunately this was going to be difficult since the Klan was big and Kennedy had no idea if the police of newspaper editors he could share his findings with were members.

So Stetson went to the writes of the popular Superman radio show and together they came up with a 16 part radio drama where Superman fought and defeated “The Clan of the Fiery Cross”.

I won’t talk about the story, you can read a synopsis here and listen to it here if want the original serial complete with ads for Kellog’s Pep, but what I do want to talk about is the real world impact that story had.

The story claimed to expose real Klan codes and practices and in 2005 a book called Freakonomics stated that this single radio serial was the biggest contributor to the decline in Klan membership in the 1940’s.

Whether it’s true or not the fact remains that Superman helped fight and bring down one of the worst and most vile hate groups in American history.

No other hero in popular culture has had that kind of impact on our society and way of life, and that is why this story is the greatest Superman story ever told.  It doesn’t matter how many people like Superman or if people thing he’s too powerful or boring.  What matters is that he is there for us as an example of pure, unadulterated good in the world and worthy of being the champion for the ideals of truth and justice that America was founded on and strives to live up to.

 

Happy July 4th everyone.

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Enough Space for Everybody

Boy, it’s been waaay to long since I’ve done one of these.

For anyone who might not know, I run a blog series where I talk about cool crowdfunded comic books I like and try to help them out for free.  Unfortunately, silly things like work and sleep tend to get in the way so I don’t get to do this as often as I like.

However, today I was feeling especially awake and I decided to browse the projects on Kickstarter and I found this!

The project is a science fiction comic book anthology with a really intriguing twist: it’s a collection of sci fi stories without any military or imperialism themes, tones, or stories.

The project is headed by J.N Monk and needs to raise $30,000 to pay for artists, editing, printing, and shipping.

Kickstarter link:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1638576966/enough-space-for-everyone-else-an-anthology?ref=home_featured

Why I like it

I’ll be honest, when I first read the project description I was a tad confused.

You see, I am a guy who likes comic books and science fiction.  This means that, for most of my life, this is the kind of sci fi I’ve been raised on:

As you can see it’s big, brash, loud, and awesome, but “Enough Space for Everyone” is trying to do science fiction without all the guns, fighting, and violence and that intrigues me.

For me, and I would assume almost everyone else who likes science fiction, the genre is at its best when it creates timeless stories that speak to some particular part of the human condition

By setting stories in the distant future authors allow their stories to become timeless.  After all, we won’t have to worry about a sci fi story being dated because we’ll be long dead by the year 10191

and the wondrous technology that sci fi is known for allows its creator to physically show the reader everything from the meaning of humanity,

To the dangers of our hubris.

The reason why I think conflict is so prevalent in science fiction is because it makes a story easy to understand.

War and violence are one of the few constants in human history and it is something that everyone understands at some level.

Sci fi often uses conflict to set up two opposing sides and use each side to explain the point he/she is trying to make.  One side is good, the other is bad, here’s why, and this is what happens when one side wins.

But if science fiction is a way to explore the human condition, why do we have to always limit ourselves to conflict?  Aren’t there other emotions and ideas that humans have been coping with for thousands of years?  Why can’t science fiction tell those kinds of stories?

The creators of “Enough Space for Everyone” want to write sci fi stories like that and claim that “there is enough space for friendship, for art competitions, for understanding, for magical nights at the theater, for creativity, for vacations, for new beginnings.”

I like this project because I have spent a LOT of time with violent military sci fi and I want to see what stories from other perspectives look like.

Why you should donate

Another interesting thing about science fiction is that a lot of its art tends to rely on a very specific, very detail oriented, very realistic style.

But “Enough Space for Everyone Else” takes a very different approach, preferring to promote artwork that is much less realistic and almost childlike.

I’m not advocating one style of art over another, I’m simply saying that this comic anthology is different from what a lot of people normally associate with science fiction and that’s a good thing.

Which brings me to the biggest reason why I think more people should support this project: it’s different from so many other stories out there.

Whether you like it or not, the past forty years of science fiction has been dominated by two pop culture behemoths,

Almost every work of mainstream science fiction has tried to emulate these two franchises in theme, tone, and visual aesthetic from the idea of a giant galactic war that threatens to tear entire galaxies apart,

to re purposed colonization and exploration stories that used to be about the Wild West but now take place in outer space.

Personally, I think it’s time that science fiction tries to break away from these two narratives and tries something new.  It’s time for a change and “Enough Space for Everyone Else” is a great start.

So if you’re interested in promoting and encouraging science fiction that seeks to bring a new diversity of ideas and stories back to a genre that we all know and love, consider donating to this campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1638576966/enough-space-for-everyone-else-an-anthology?ref=home_featured