So last week we talked about a Golden Age Canadian superhero and I thought it might be nice to continue our brief foray into international Golden Age superheroes and talk about a Russian comic book character.
Russia has a long and proud tradition of folklore heroes and fantastic individuals. After all, you don’t wind up becoming the home for invading Vikings and Mongols and not develop a long and violent history.
However, Russia’s contribution to the comic book world has been somewhat limited. This can probably be attributed to two reasons. First, it’s a well known fact that Russia’s greatest contribution to the world’s literary scene is the long and impossibly dense novel.
Second, while America was using its superheroes to fight Nazis in the comics, Russia was in the middle of fighting the Nazis in a war that would have made the Red Skull cringe,
and this was right after Stalin took over and celebrated by killing even more of his countrymen.
(side note: this is the most G rated picture I could find. Reading up on the Soviet purges is not for the faint of heart)
So Russia/the Soviet Union was a little too preoccupied to get in on the new comic book fad, but that didn’t stop the Americans from trying for them.
Today we’re going to talk about an American made Russian hero: Igor the Archer.
Origin and Career
Igor made his first appearance in EC Comics’ International Comics #1 in the Spring of 1947.
As covers go it’s pretty good, not up to the excellent EC Comics standards, but pretty entertaining.
While I can’t imagine the exact logic behind the creation of the character, I can imagine that the idea was tossed around as something exotic for an American audience. After all, we had just finished fighting a war with the Soviet Union and while they were still our friends,
Russian culture and history was just exotic and mysterious enough to be unknown and exciting.
As for the character himself, who created him is something of a mystery. We’re pretty sure that the art was done by Captain Marvel and Superman stalwart Kurt Schaffenberger,
and it’s rumored that the writing was done by comic book legend, creator of Barry Allen as the Flash, and author of almost 4,000 comic books, Gardner Fox.
As for the character himself, well…he’s an archer from a noble family and the only champion of the oppressed who dares to fight back against a corrupt sheriff, I mean czar.
Comparisons to Robin Hood are inevitable. No seriously, they even have an archery competition where the hero manages to split an arrow with another arrow.
The opening story itself is pretty bog standard, evil ruler tries to arrest the good guy and the good guy manages to escape. It’s worth mentioning that he actually does this really cool “arrow ladder” thing to escape that would make Legolas proud.
It’s worth mentioning that the artwork is pretty good and the costumes are fairly historically accurate. That hat that the czar is wearing? That’s modeled after the crown of the early Russian czars.
Also, the idea of a Russian ruler abusing the absolute power he has over the common people is nothing new considering that the Russian czars have a long history of violence against their subjects.
So we have the set up for a long running and successful comic book series starring a character that is just familiar enough to audiences to be welcomed, just exotic enough to be interesting, and created by a writer and artist who were well known and successful for one of the greatest comic book publishers of the Golden Age.
What could possibly go wrong?
So what happened?
Everything went wrong almost immediately.
For starters, America and the Soviet Union went from being people who tolerated each other to passive aggressive neighbors with the capability to end the world at a moment’s notice.
superheroes went the way of the dodo bird and EC Comics switched to publishing highly successful horror comics that got them in so much trouble they had to shut down,
and Gardner Fox would go on to become one of the greatest comic book writers of all time.
The origin story above is the only evidence I could find online of Igor’s existence. Apparently he had more appearances in more modern comics, but I can’t seem to find them.
With all things considered, it’s not very surprising that Igor the Archer didn’t become the next big thing. Comic books would later use the Cold War to turn the Soviet people and culture into a comic book staple. More often than not, they were portrayed as villains.
But every now and then they had good guys like Colossus (my personal favorite X-Man),
and devious antiheroes/double agents like Black Widow.
In many ways, I’m actually kind of sad that Igor the Archer didn’t go on to have a successful career. He was from an interesting time period of history and while his power set and motivation were a bit cliche, I think that with the proper guidance and a very passionate writer and editor, he could have turned into a great hero.