Golden Age Showcase: Thin Man

Confession time.  I’m sitting in an airport terminal in Portland Oregon (long story) and I’ve been so busy that I nearly forgot to write an article this week.

Thankfully I’ve got about two hours to kill before my flight leaves so today we’re going to talk about the first superhero who was able to stretch his body and use it as a super power.

Today we’re going to talk about Thin Man.

Image result for golden age comics thin man

Origin and Career

The Thin Man first appeared in Mystic Comics #4 in June of 1940.

He was created by artist Polish artist Klaus Nordling (I was unable to find a picture) and an unknown writer.

As for origins, Thin Man was the first super hero who was able to stretch and mold his body into various shapes.

What really sets him apart from a various number of heroes is that while Plastic Man got his powers from a lab accident,

Image result for plastic man lab accident

and Reed Richards got his powers from cosmic rays,

Image result for reed richards cosmic rays

Thin Man got his powers from a group of advanced humans living in a forgotten valley in the Himalayas.

Thin Man’s identity was Bruce Dickenson, a scientist who was exploring the Himalayas and discovered the entrance to a forgotten kingdom called Kalahia.

After he faints, Bruce discovers that the inhabitants of Kalahia have the ability to change their shape and size at will and that for some reason they decided to give him this ability without his knowledge or consent.

What I really love about this story is how they completely disregard world changing revelations such as the existence of aliens on Mars and multiple dimensions and head straight to the crime fighting.

Bruce convinces the elders of Kalahia to allow him to travel back to his home, accompanied by the daughter of one of the elders named Ollala, because this is the Golden Age of comics and you only need three panels to do anything.

As you can see above, Bruce builds a highly advanced propeller driven plane that he uses to murder people, because the casual murder of suspected criminals is totally justified and doesn’t require any explanation.

The rest of the story involves Thin Man and Olalla foiling a group of mobsters who are trying to collect protection money from a taxi driver.

Thin Man uses his advanced technology and his ability to become as thin as a piece of paper to foil the hoodlums and bring the boss to justice.

 

I like to think that if his adventures had continued that plane would have wracked up one hell of a body count.

So what happened?

Sadly, this origin story would be Thin Man’s first and only Golden Age appearance.

However, Thin Man’s career would get a second wind in the 1970’s when he became part of the World War 2 era Marvel team known as the Liberty Legion.

Image result for thin man liberty legion

He’s on the right of the panel in the green and yellow suit.

Long story short, the Liberty Legion fought a lot of Nazis and Nazi related schemes.

Image result for liberty legion vs the invaders

Thin Man would later reveal to Captain America that he lost his family and connection to his powers after Olalla had returned to her home shortly before it had been discovered and destroyed by a Nazi villain named Agent Axis.

Image result for marvel agent axis

After Agent Axis gloated that he could not be harmed or prosecuted due to his position as a Nazi scientist working for the United States, Thin Man got angry and snapped his neck.  He was arrested by Captain America and sent to prison.

In the 2004 series The New Invaders Thin Man was pardoned by the United States government with the purpose of equipping the new version of his old team with Kalahian technology.

Image result for thin man new invaders

Unfortunately this turned out to be a ruse by the Red Skull, who was disguised as the Secretary of Defense at the time.

Image result for new invaders red skull

Thin Man would wind up creating a warship called The Infiltrator which was a massive battleship designed to be able to cloak itself from any scanner and teleport across dimensions.

The ship wound up sacrificing itself to destroy a doomsday device and saving the world from a villain named U Man.

Image result for new invaders u man

I don’t know if Thin Man was on board the ship or not when it exploded.

Thin Man is an interesting hero for a number of reason.  First, he was the first superhero who could stretch himself and change his form at will, setting the precedent for other heroes such as Reed Richards and Plastic Man.  Also, he was the ambassador of a new and different world within the Marvel universe, and if they had not been destroyed by the Nazis I’m willing to bet that they would have become an integral part of the Marvel Universe.

Advertisements

Golden Age Showcase: Spider Queen

This blog is brought to you by the Cambrian Comics Patreon page.  If you are feeling generous please click the link above and feel free to donate and help us deliver even more awesome content.

You know what we need to talk about more on this blog?  Female superheroes.

The way I see it, if we’re going to talk about female superheroes we should go all the way with it.  We need something daring, something obscure, something so original and new that it has stood the test of time and has never shared any background or history with any other established character.

Image result for golden age spider queen

Huh, that’s a woman swinging from a thread, in a strange costume, and calling herself “Spider Queen”.

This sounds familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.

Origin and career

Spider Queen was published by Fox Features Syndicate, the same company that gave us the original Blue Beetle.

Image result for fox features comics

The Spider Queen first appeared as a back up story in a comic book called The Eagle in September of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

The story names a person called Elsa Lesau as the creator.  It would be fantastic if this character was actually created by a woman, but sadly I can’t find any pictures of her.  Also, Elsa may have been a pen name for a writer/artist duo named Louis and Artuo Cazeneuve who were two brothers from Argentina who did a lot of work for Fox and would go on to successful careers as comic book artists.

And this is where I would have a photo of them but alas, Google is a cruel mistress.

It’s worth mentioning that the Golden Age of comics wasn’t very good with things like creators’ rights and giving credit to the people who deserved it so it’s all very up in the air.

Anyway, the Spider Queen was a mild mannered assistant named Sharon Kane.  She worked as an assistant for her husband, a chemist who designed weapons until he was killed by “enemies of the country”.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

While sifting through the stuff in the lab, Sharon uncovers a formula for a super strong, super sticky thread like substance similar to spider silk.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

Once she realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, Sharon takes the formula, crafts her own wrist mounted spray guns that she can use to swing across buildings, and dons a costume to become a “sworn enemy to all wrongdoers”.

Isn’t it amazing how “scientist with a fascination with bugs” is such a common trope, especially in comics?  It’s not like anyone’s turned this idea into anything successful.

Image result for spider man

Anyway, over the course of her career The Spider Queen simply contented herself with punching out goons and other small time criminals.  There may have been a budding romance with a detective named Mike O’Bell, but that didn’t pan out because…

So what happened?

She only lasted three issues, and since she was only a backup character she didn’t get a chance to develop as a hero or as a person.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #3

The character would have been doomed to comic book purgatory if it wasn’t for the folks at Marvel resurrecting her in a 1993 mini series starring a superhero team known as the Invaders.

Image result for 1993 marvel comics invaders battle axis

In a rather interesting twist, Spider Queen was actually a villain.  In fact she wasn’t just a villain but a Nazi as well.

 Image result for spider queen nazi

To be fair, they give her some justification by explaining that she’s only with the Nazis because they’re fighting the same group of people that killed her husband, but still…nazis.

Plus they gave her costume the 90’s comic book treatment.

Image result for spider queen nazi

Eh, personally I’m on the fence about it.

So that’s the history of the original Spider Queen, but you’re probably wondering if Spider Queen has any thing to do with Marvel’s flagship hero, Spider man.  After all, I have been dropping subtle hints about it throughout the article.

The answer is yes, Spider Queen and Spiderman did meet.  That being said, it got a bit…weird.

Image result for spider man disassembled comic

Long story short, this new Spider Queen was a woman named Adriana Soria who was a failed S.H.I.E.L.D experiment in 1945.

Image result for spider man spider queen

She has super strength, a sonic scream, and the ability to control people with an “insect gene” which allows her to turn people into spider monsters.  One of her victims is Peter Parker.

We’ll ignore the “spiders are not insects” thing and focus on the fact that Peter actually becomes pregnant while in his spider form, dies, and is reborn as a new Spider Man with organic web shooters instead of mechanical ones.

Image result for spider man spider queen

Image result for spider man spider queen

ew.

This version of the Spider Queen would come back as a semi regular Spider Man villain in a couple more stories but other than the fact that this new villain was more of a body horror, all powerful lady spider that’s really all you need to know.

Image result for spider man spider queen death

The Spider Queen was an interesting super heroine.  Sure she didn’t have a very long career as a hero, and her time as a villain was both short and very weird, but I like to think she was a real trailblazer.  She was the first super hero to utilize web shooters as a gimmick and would have one of the most interesting transitional careers as a super villain.

Image result for spider queen golden age comic

Kickstarter Comics that deserve more attention: Air Pirates vs. the Dragon

Today it’s a pretty simple project.  Instead of a romantic graphic novel or a five part sci fi epic (holy crap, looking back we do a lot of science fiction on this blog) we’re looking at a comic book project that tells an entire story in a single page.

Today we’re looking at Air Pirates vs. the Dragon.

The project is a single large poster detailing a young air pirate’s adventure as she gets swallowed up by a massive dragon and has to escape from the bowels of the beast’s stomach.

The campaign is run by a gentleman named Thane Benson and is looking for $1000 by January 14th, 2017.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1011388152/air-pirates-vs-the-dragon-a-giant-poster-comic?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

When you hear the word “comic” I’m going to bet a lot of you think of this.

Image result for comic books

There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that some of you might also think of this.

Image result for japanese comic books

While the idea of comic books, pictures and words combining to tell a story, has pretty universal appeal the format of comic books has developed according to the needs of the story and the resources available at the time.

For example, did you know that American comic books tend to be 22 pages long so the artist could produce art on a monthly basis?

It’s important to remember that comics don’t need to conform to a single format, and if you’re a fan of Scot McCloud’s Understanding Comics,

Image result for scott mccloud understanding comics

you know that comic books don’t need to stick to a certain format in order to be considered comics.

This is a comic,

this is a comic,

Image result for comic strip

heck, you could even make the argument that this is a comic.

Image result for egyptian wall paintings

The point is that the word “comic” can mean a lot of things and Air Pirates vs. The Dragon thinks so too.

The entire comic is a single poster that tells the a story.  You follow the numbers on the poster and it walks you through an entire story on a single image.

I think that’s really neat, and I think this project could open the doors for a lot of people to play around with the idea of a comic and come up with some really cool ideas.

Also, the artwork is really cool, colorful, and filled with neat little details that make this a fun and engaging “read”, but you already knew that from looking at that artwork.

Why you should donate

Some of the more pessimistic folks who read this article might dismiss this as a silly gimmick and in a way they’re right, but it’s a silly gimmick that works.

Plus, at some of the higher levels you get your pick of some pretty great pinups and other artwork.

Image result for thane benson artwork

Image result for thane benson artwork

Image result for thane benson artwork

It’s some really creative and cool stuff, definitely worth your time and money.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1011388152/air-pirates-vs-the-dragon-a-giant-poster-comic?ref=category_newest

Golden Age Showcase: Anteas the Bouncer

So this weekend I went to Rhode Island Comic Con and had the great pleasure of meeting comic book artist Jim Steranko.

Image result for jim steranko

The man is a living legend, one of the medium’s greatest artists, and about a million times nicer than he has any right to be.

Anyway, while I was talking to him I told him about this blog and what I was trying to do.  I asked him if he knew any obscure Golden Age superheroes that I could write about.  He got a sly smile on his face, took out his pen, wrote a name on a piece of paper, and handed it to me.

He introduced me to the comic book hero Anteas the Bouncer.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #13

Mr. Steranko, if you are reading this I want to thank you from the bottom of my decrepit heart.  You are a king among men and I hope this becomes the greatest article I ever write.

Origin and Career

Anteas the Bouncer first appeared in his own titled comic in 1944.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer [10]

He was published by Fox Feature Syndicate, the company that was most famous for giving us the Blue Beetle.

Image result for golden age blue beetle

Fox was an interesting company.  On one hand they published one of the first blatant Superman ripoffs in comic book history, on the other hand they made crazy heroes like the Anteas the Bouncer.

Image result for anteas the bouncer

Despite his ridiculous name and appearance there was actually quite a bit of thought and talent that went into this guy.

He was written by a man named Robert Kanigher.

Image result for robert kanigher

Not only did Robert write Wonder Woman for over 20 years, he actually wrote the first appearance of the Silver Age Flash: Barry Allen.

Image result for barry allen silver age

Anteas was also drawn by Louis Ferstadt, a man with few known credits but he did do some work on Plastic Man.

Image result for golden age plastic man comic

So the character had a pretty impressive team behind him, but why would they commit to something so ridiculous?

Well, the answer is pretty simple, Anteas is an actual figure from Greek mythology.

Image result for antaeus greek mythology

He’s featured prominently in the Legend of Hercules as the son of Gaia, or Mother Earth. While working on his 11th labor of collecting the golden apples of Hesperides, Hercules is confronted by the giant Anteas.  While Hercules was strong there was a problem.  As long as Anteas’ feet were on the ground he was invincible and even stronger than Hercules himself.  If Anteas hit the ground he would rise again and his strength would be restored.

Image result for antaeus greek mythology

As you might have gathered from the totally not suggestive sculpture above (they’re just wrestling, honest), Hercules defeated Anteas by lifting him up off the ground and crushing him to death.

This particular piece of Greek mythology would inspire Robert Kanigher to create a modern take on the character, and the results were actually quite clever.

It turns out that Anteas’ had a family and they continued to survive thousands of years into the 1940’s and Anteas’ great, great, great (honestly I don’t know how many greats there are to go back that far, let’s just assume a lot) grandson actually shared the power of his ancient ancestor,

Image result for anteas the bouncer

That’s him on the right with the beret and glasses and this is a part of his origin story.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #11

He was driven away from being a superhero when he realizes the trouble his powers cause.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #11

 He became a sculptor who didn’t care much for the world and just wanted to make things.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #11

Unfortunately, he made a sculpture of his famous ancestor so lifelike that it became a living being.  Because that is how this stuff works.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #11

The statue would drag Anteas Jr., yes that was the sculpture’s name, on various adventures and crime fighting forays.  The sculpture possessed immense strength that was tied to the Earth just like his namesake while Anteas Jr., who had similar powers, fulfilled the role of a sidekick.

The adventures of the Bouncer were a mixed bag.  One day he would be fighting standard gangsters and another he would be fighting clowns dressed like Satan

Image result for anteas the bouncer

That being said, there was one particular gimmick to the character that was pretty cool.

The comic encouraged readers to send in letters to the studio along with pictures of themselves for a chance to be in the comic and accompany the Bouncer and Anteas Jr. on their adventures.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer [10]

Think of it like an early version of a Kickstarter reward where being in the comic is offered as a reward tier.  This led to some bizarre meta humor and fourth wall breaks in the comic where the Bouncer would acknowledge the winners and encourage readers to participate and buy the comic.

So what happened?

He’s the immortal spirit of a figure from Greek mythology who lives in a statue and fights crime by bouncing, he was just too perfect for this world.

Sadly the Bouncer and his sculptor sidekick only lasted five issues.  Despite the audience participation gimmick, the talented writing, and halfway decent art, the comic couldn’t sell well enough to stay in print and it was cancelled.  While he made a few appearances in other titles nobody seemed interested in reviving and/or reprinting the character.

The Bouncer was a ridiculous hero with a ridiculous backstory and a ridiculous gimmick.  But despite all of that I like to think there was a genuine passion behind his creation and it looks like everyone involved worked hard on his stories.

In other words, he is the kind of dopey and sincere comic book character that is perfect for this kind of blog.

Image result for anteas the bouncer

If you like this article and want to support more content similar to this, please feel free to donate to our Patreon page here.

Golden Age Comics: Chandu the Magician

If you’re like me you probably went to go see the new Marvel movie this weekend: Dr. Strange.

Image result for dr strange movie

If you haven’t seen it my spoiler free review is this: GO SEE IT NOW!!!

It’s trippy, mind warping, Benedict Cumberbatch is an awesome edition to the Marvel Universe, and it has some of the coolest fight scenes I’ve ever seen.

Image result for dr strange movie fights

Normally I would do a blog post about the history behind Dr. Strange but here’s the thing, the character really doesn’t belong to the Golden Age of Comics.

Dr. Strange was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the creative team behind Marvel’s greatest hero: Spider Man.

Image result for amazing spider man first issue

Dr. Strange premiered in 1963 in the anthology series Strange Tales.  Since the character was a sorcerer and master of magic Ditko used the comic to create some of the coolest and most mind bending artwork ever seen.

Image result for dr. strange comic book art

Sadly, while the art was fantastic, Dr. Strange didn’t really catch on as a solo character in his own series like Iron Man or the Hulk.  While he was popular with college kids who were experimenting with Eastern mysticism and psychedelic stimulants like LSD, the character was more at home as a supporting hero who was useful to other heroes whenever they were confronted with magical threats.

Image result for dr. strange and spider man

Like I said before, Dr. Strange really doesn’t fit the bill for this blog.  However, while researching the character’s history I discovered that Stan Lee took a lot of influence for Dr. Strange from an old radio program called Chandu the Magician.

Image result for chandu the magician radio shows

After looking up Chandu on the internet I decided to write this week’s blog post on this instead.  Sure it’s a radio show turned into a movie series, but it’s got enough comic book elements in it to justify a place here.

Origin

Before there were comic books and comic book movies, there were radio shows and pulp novels.

Image result for old radio shows and pulp novels

Chandu the Magician premiered in 1931 on the Los Angeles station KLR.  The show featured a man named Frank Chandler who was played by radio actor Gayne Whitman

Image result for gayne whitman

Frank was an American who had traveled to India to learn the mystic arts from the yogis.  Such skills included astral projection, hypnosis, and escape artistry.

Image result for chandu the magician

After he had learned everything he could he was sent into the world to fight evil in all its forms with the new identity of Chandu the Magician.

He would have various adventures every week, broadcast in 15 minute adventures, and sponsored by companies such as White King Soap and Beech Nut Gum.  He had several love interests such as the Egyptian princess Nadji who was played by actress Veola Vonn.

Image result for veola vonn

The program was successful and lasted from 1932 to 1935, and was even revived in the late 1940’s.

On top of the radio show, they even made a movie about Chandu in 1932.

Image result

Chandu the Magician stared actor Edmund Lowe as the title character,

Image result for edmund lowe chandu

and horror movie icon and king of over the top epic performances, Bela Lugosi as the villain Roxor.  You probably know him better as Dracula.

Image result for bela lugosi dracula

The movie was 71 minutes of glorious 1930’s cheese filled with magic, sappy romance, and death rays.  If you don’t believe me please watch this clip of Bela giving the best damn evil villain monologue I have ever heard.

The movie was successful enough to spawn sequels and I can assume the studios loved Lugosi because they cast him as Chandu in the sequel.

Image result for chandu returns

So what happened?

Life and society moved on, leaving radio and old heroes like Chandu in the dust.

While I normally feel a pang of regret and nostalgic longing for the heroes that I write about in this blog I’m really not feeling a whole lot for this one.

Sure he was a cool magician and yes the adventures were creative and exotic, and we got one of the best Bela Lugosi performances I’ve ever seen out of it, but the character was definitely a product of his time.  There’s a pretty strong undercurrent of some of the more uncomfortable ideas that permeated American entertainment during the 1930’s.  Everything from blatant racism to casual sexism is on call here.  Granted, a lot of the early comics played with that as well, but I get the feeling that a lot of people won’t be lining up to see the Chandu reboot at the box office.

Still, it was a fun little story and it seemed to have enough of an effect on a young Stan Lee to create Doctor Strange, so it wasn’t all bad.