Golden Age Showcase: Stuntman

We all know who Jack Kirby is right?

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Okay, so for anyone who doesn’t know the name all you need to know is that Kirby was the main artist and one of the biggest creative voices behind many of Marvel’s greatest superheroes.  The man had one of the most prolific art careers in comic book history (there are stories out there that said he could draw five to six pages a day) but  was sadly, and unfairly, overshadowed by his more famous counterpart: Stan Lee.

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With such a legendary career you would think that Kirby created nothing but legendary stories.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case as evidenced by today’s hero: Stuntman.

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Origin and Career

Our hero made his first appearance in the self titled Stuntman #1, which was published in April of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

A couple of things to note here.  First, the cover claims that it’s not a comic book.  Instead, it’s a comic novelette which makes me think the comic’s creators were trying to create something a bit classier than the throwaway pulp that made up most of the comic book scene of the 1940’s.  Second, you’ll notice that the book was created by Jack Kirby AND Joe Simon, the creator of Captain America.

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So we have not one, but two of the greatest comic book creators of all time working on single project.  This ought to be good.

The story starts off with a criminal gang trying to shake down a travelling circus, implying that there will be several accidents if management doesn’t pay up.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

Sadly, the criminals succeed in killing the circus’ greatest act: a group of high flying acrobats known as “The Flying Apollos”

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

The only survivor is their young ward Fred who vows revenge and accidentally runs into a movie star/amateur detective named Don Daring.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

What?  Is the origin of an acrobatic superhero who used to work for a circus before his parents were murdered starting to sound a bit familiar to you?  Shut up and focus on the excellent artwork!

Anyway, Fred takes a job as Don’s stuntman in his pictures with the purpose of getting a new job and working with Don in order to solve the case by acting as bait for the killer.  Fred is eventually attacked and decides to don a costume to go after the killer

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

Hmmm, could use more black.

Don discovers that it was a circus manager who was behind the crime all along, but before he can carry out his dastardly deed he is ambushed by the Stuntman and the day is saved.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

The rest of Stuntman’s adventures would have a similar theme to them.  Don would do all of the detective work while Fred would swoop in as the Stuntman to do the fighting.  The two men were a duo, dynamic even, and their adventures all centered around the entertainment industry and the various people looking to fleece audiences and entertainers alike.

For a Golden Age comic the writing and artwork were fantastic.  But then again, that’s what you expect from the minds and talents of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.  Surely the Stuntman would go on to become one of the greatest superheroes of all time.

So what happened?

The Stuntman Comic only lasted three issues and the character would only make nine appearances for a single year.

Honestly, considering the talent behind the character and quality of the artwork and writing, I’m really surprised it only lasted that long.  Maybe it was the post war backlash against superheroes, or maybe it was Harvey Comics’ decision to focus on licensed characters instead of original content.

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but sadly we were deprived of more excellent stories.

However, it’s safe to say that the legacy of the Stuntman superhero lives on in another circus performer who watched his family get murdered before his eyes and eventually wind up fighting crime under the guidance of a rich amateur detective.

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Okay, so maybe Stuntman bears too much of a resemblance to Robin for comfort and maybe if the title had kept going Harvey would have found themselves on the receiving end of a DC lawsuit, but I honestly think that comic book fans and readers missed out on something fantastic with this Golden Age hero created by two of the greatest comic book creators of all time.

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Golden Age Showcase: Unknown Soldier

This Saturday is Veteran’s Day.

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For our non American readers, this is a holiday where America honors those who have served in the armed forces in conflicts past and present.  It’s also an exciting time for this blog because it’s a great time to talk about war comics!

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When looking at the time period, it’s easy to see why war comics became so popular.  America found itself at war and sent thousands of young men and boys to go off and fight in Europe and the Pacific.

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However, America had the advantage of being separated from the conflict by two massive oceans and it’s people didn’t have to come face to face with the true horrors of war.  With that being said, the United States became a military industrial powerhouse during the war and almost the entirety of American culture became obsessed with doing their part for the war effort and protecting the home front.

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Comic books took advantage of this shift in popular culture, and stories about ordinary soldiers fighting against the forces of evil were quite popular during the Golden Age of Comics both during and after the war.  Many of the greatest artists and writers of the Golden Age of Comics made a living writing and drawing war stories which resulted in some of the most complex and interesting stories of the time, along with some absolutely breathtaking artwork.

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The intent and purpose of the war stories that were written during this time was also pretty varied.  War and combat stories ranged from fantastical adventure stories for young boys staring ordinary soldiers fighting in fantastic situations,

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to very thinly veiled propaganda stories promoting American patriotism and fighting spirit.

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It’s worth noting that most of these adventure and propaganda stories were created and published during the Second World War.  After that war was over and the Korean War began a lot of comics became much more realistic and brutal in their depictions of war.

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So there’s a brief rundown of the early history of war comics.  Unfortunately, since most of the early stories have so much talent behind them and were published by the big important publishers of the day, there isn’t a whole lot of material out there for free reading.  However, today’s comic is available in the public domain and is a pretty interesting look at the early days of the war comic genre.

Today we’re going to talk about the thinly veiled propaganda hero The Unknown Soldier.

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Origin and Career

The Unknown Soldier made his first appearance in Our Flag Comics in 1941.  He was published by a company called Ace Comics and was the title character of the series.

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The funny thing is, despite the fact that he was popular enough to appear on the cover of his debut issue, I can’t find any information on who created him or drew his story.

The hero himself has an interesting backstory, mostly because he really doesn’t have one.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

He’s just a super being who appears out of nowhere firing explosive bullets and using his superpowers to defeat injustice and oppressive “gangster nations”.

What makes this kind of interesting is that this has some pretty close ties to real world American military culture.  In Washington D.C you can visit a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery that honors the unnamed American soldiers who died in every war America has ever fought.

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It’s called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and while the comic doesn’t tie the hero to the memorial, I like to think the creators of the story had this monument in mind when they wrote it.

Anyway, in his debut issue the Unknown Soldier helps defeat the Nazi invasion of Britain.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

It’s worth mentioning that in 1941 this was actually a scenario that was terrifyingly plausible.

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However, in this comic the Nazis don’t succeed because of superior tactics or planning, in fact their kind of idiots, but because of English traitors willing to betray their country to the Nazis known as Fifth Columnists.  We actually get to meet one and learn about his motives.  His name is John Jennings and he has made the classic mistake of believing that his country would be better under the rule of Nazism.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

The Nazi war machine starts rolling and crushes everyone in its wake.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Thankfully the Unknown Soldier arrives just in time to murder every Nazi he can lay his hands on.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Naturally, the invasion is turned back but not before the story does something really unique and interesting.  Remember the British fifth columnist John from the beginning?  He has a change of heart when he and his gang of saboteurs attempt to blow up a hospital.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

He actually redeems himself and dies a hero’s death while protecting his mother.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

All while the superhero stands by and does nothing.

So the story isn’t actually about the Unknown Soldier, it’s actually a story of redemption for a man who was once blinded by ideology and hatred and sacrificed himself for a noble cause.

Pretty good stuff for a Golden Age Comic.

After that first adventure the Unknown Soldier continued in a similar capacity.  While the stories were actually about ordinary people doing their part for the war effort, the Unknown Soldier would show up when it was time to knock heads or save someone from dying.

He wasn’t a hero with a secret identity, he was a representation of America’s fighting spirit.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

Also, he got a costume change.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

Despite all the murder done by our hero the creators were quick to make sure that the Nazis were just as bad if not worse.  Case in point, they invade Manhattan and use flamethrowers on civilians.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

So what happened?

Our Flag Comics only lasted five issues, but The Unknown Soldier was popular enough to be moved to another title called Four Favorites where he did pretty much the same thing.

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He lasted for over 16 issues until November of 1945 when he fell into the public domain.

While this Unknown Soldier would fade from the public eye, the idea and name would continue when DC comics published another character called The Unknown Soldier in Our Army at War #168 in 1966.

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The comic was created by DC legends Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, two men who knew how to create a really good war comic.

This version of the Unknown Soldier was a lot more tangible and slightly more realistic.  Instead of a real superhero, the Unknown Soldier was an intelligence operative who was so disfigured that he had to bandage his face.

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He was actually a master of disguise and in his final appearance, he kills Hitler and disguises himself as the dictator to end the war without further loss of life.

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This iteration proved to be a bit more popular and he got a new limited series in 1997 under the Vertigo imprint at DC.

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As for the original Unknown Soldier, he would make a slight comeback in 2008 when Dynamite Entertainment launched their Project Superpowers title to bring many of the Golden Age public domain heroes back into the mainstream.

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He was renamed “Soldier Unknown” to avoid copyright issues with DC.

As a superhero the Unknown Soldier is not a very good one.  He’s bland, he has no backstory or secret identity, and he’s even more overpowered than Superman.  But that’s not really important.  The Unknown Soldier isn’t a hero, he’s a symbol of something much greater than himself, the creators who made him, and any single person.  He is the personification of the fighting spirit that rises up against tyranny and oppression, and while it would be nice to have known his name, it’s important that we know that he did his job so we could live.

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Happy Veteran’s Day everyone.

Comic book showcase: Invaders #32

So Thor: Ragnarok is coming out this weekend.

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I’m really excited for it because I have a soft spot for Marvel’s Thor.  I like his power set, I like that he gives the Marvel Universe a sense of scale and grandeur,

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and I’m a big fan of Norse mythology so his connection to the gods and heroes of the past is greatly appreciated.

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With all that being said, I’m a bit surprised that Thor is such an important part of comic book history and lore.

The Norse god of thunder made his first appearance in Journey into Mystery #83 in 1962, he was created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.

The date of his creation puts him far outside the Golden Age of Comics and into the part of comic book history that saw the rise of Marvel Comics and the Silver Age.

Why did Thor arrive so late?  Well, I’m not so sure, but I’m willing to bet that part of the reason is because the Golden Age of Comics was more interested in Greek and Roman mythology,

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and another was the fact that the Jewish American comic book creators of the 1940’s weren’t too keen on using the Germanic and Norse gods in any of their work, mostly because the Norse gods were being co opted by America’s enemies.

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Now, the Nazis weren’t the first to use Thor and Norse legends to promote their agenda.  Norse mythology was a big part of the rise of German nationalism in the late 19th century, especially in works of art such as Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

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It’s worth noting that Hitler was a huge fan of Wagner and the Nazis would go on to use a lot of Nordic imagery in their propaganda and recruitment efforts.

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So what makes the Thor of Marvel Comics so different?  What would convince two Jewish American comic book creators to take one of the biggest gods in the Norse pantheon and include him in their comic book universe?

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Well, for starters the Thor of Marvel Comics has a few key differences that separate him from his Nordic cousin.  For starters, Kirby gave Thor and the Norse gods a very unique design and background.

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Marvel’s Asgard is still inspired by Vikings in their appearance and mannerisms, but there’s this sort of techno mystic vibe about them that sets them apart from actual history and more into heroic fantasy.

Second, Marvel’s Thor is actually presented as a fully mortal human in his origin story.  In his first appearance, the mighty god of thunder is actually a mild mannered and meek human named Donald Blake who stumbles into a cave and discovers a walking stick that turns him into Thor.

Image result for journey into mystery 83 donald blake

Image result for journey into mystery 83 donald blake

Marvel’s Thor was a human before he was ever a god.  Was this a way for Lee and Kirby to get their revenge against the Nazis by co opting the mythology they had used?  Was it part of a long term plan for the Marvel comic universe?  Was it just there because it sounded and looked cool?  I have no idea, but I’m sure there are smarter and better people out there who know more about this sort of thing than I do.

So we’ve established that Marvel’s Thor is different enough from the Thor of myth to the point where we can consider them to be two separate entities.  However, there must have been someone in the Marvel offices that wasn’t convinced because in 1978 Marvel published Invaders #38.  

For those who don’t know, the Invaders series of books was a way for Marvel to tell more stories using their characters that had been created during the Golden Age and fought during World War 2.

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We can see the classic heroes: The Human Torch, the Submariner, and Captain America, and they’re all doing what they do best and punching Nazis in the face.  But for issue #32…well look at the cover.

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Yes that is Thor, and yes that is Adolf Hitler gloating about how he controls the god of thunder.

The plot of the comic was pretty straight forward.  The Nazis figure out how to access other dimensions and manage to summon Thor to Hitler’s bunker.

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The confused Thor is easily duped by Hitler into believing that the Germans are the victims of the war and that if Thor wants to be a real hero, he needs to go and kill the Russian leader: Josef Stalin.

In the next issue Thor faces off against the Invaders.

Invaders Vol 1 33

However, Hitler makes the classic super villain blunder and begins boasting about how he will use the Norse gods to conquer the world.

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Thor manages to listen in thanks the efforts of Victor von Doom and he finally sees the error of his ways.  The day is saved, good triumphs over evil, and the story ends after two issues.

So there you have it, the time that Thor fought for the Nazis in the comic books.  You could say he was duped and fooled into doing it so you could argue that it really wasn’t his fault.  But considering the relationship that Thor and the rest of Asgard had with German nationalism and the Nazi movement I would argue that these two comics were a necessary part of Thor’s mythology in order to distance himself from any unfortunate comparisons to one of America’s greatest enemies.

Anyway, enjoy Thor: Ragnarok folks!

Crowdfunded comics that deserve more attention: The Death Defying

I think it’s time we revived this blog series…again…probably for a few weeks before I get overwhelmed with other stuff or can’t find anything interesting to write about.

Anyway, since it’s close to Halloween here’s a write up of a comic with horror over tones called The Death Defying.

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The comic is a fictionalized account of real life friends turned enemies Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  According the the description:

“The Death Defying becomes a battle of wills, words, faith, science, fisticuffs, handguns and magic that stretches from the windswept menace of Stull, Kansas to the small apocalypse of Tungaska, Russia. Beliefs will be tested, lives will be threatened and the scariest specter of all is whether or not any of this is real.”

So it looks like we’re in for a twisted mystery thriller with two of the greatest figures of the early 20th century battling it out for the soul of mankind.

The campaign is seeking $8,000 to cover art and printing costs.  At the time of writing it is sitting at $1,580 with eighteen days left to donate.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/xtop/the-death-defying-1?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

I’m a sucker for historical stories, especially if it’s a story about two people as famous and as awesome as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.  I’m pleased to say that the people behind the comic did their research well.  Houdini and Doyle were actually good friends in real life,

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and wound up drifting apart due to their disagreements over spiritualism and the existence of the supernatural.

For anyone who doesn’t know, after the First World War most of Europe and the United States became fascinated with the idea that magic was real and that people could communicate with spirits and the undead.

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This led to the explosion of seances and mystics who claimed they could summon spirits to appear as apparitions in photographs,

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or most famously knock on walls and levitate tables.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the most famous supporters of this idea, even going as far as claiming that fairies existed based on photographic evidence.

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Houdini was the exact opposite and devoted a good portion of his life to disproving spiritualism and exposing many of the so called mystics who used parlor tricks to swindle people out of their money.

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Personally I’d have to side with Houdini on this one.  Sure people are allowed to believe what they want, but this was just after the First World War and the Spanish Flu killed millions of people and I think many of these mediums and spiritualists were scam artists who were able to cheat a large amount of desperate grieving people out of their money.

Anyway, that’s the time the comic sets its story in.  It’s a fascinating time period in human history and the story promises to deal with weighty themes such as science vs. belief and chaos vs. order.

It should be good.

Why you should donate

The creative team behind this story is top notch and professional.  Every one of the people involved in the comic has at least one professional credit to their name and they appear to be passionate about this story, so you know that they will deliver a quality product in a timely manner.

Speaking of quality, the art is fantastic and manages to balance the dark shadows of the occult with the practical and direct lighting of the provable very well.  

What I really like about this page in particular is how it manages to balance the two opposing points of view.  In the world of this story either man could be right in his beliefs and it’s well known that the best and most realistic kind of conflict is the kind where both sides believe they are right.

The first six pages of the comic are on the Kickstarter page for you to check out along with the rewards and bonus artwork.

The Death Defying is a historical occult drama that deals with weighty themes and stars some of the early 20th century’s greatest human beings in an adventure for the ages and a battle for the soul and future of humanity and is definitely worth your time and money.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/xtop/the-death-defying-1?ref=category_newest

 

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Eerie Comics

It’s nearly Halloween, and if I had a better sense of timing and theme I would have done what lots of other comic book journalists and writers do and dedicated the entire month of October to horror comics.

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The horror genre is an incredibly popular genre for comic books with plenty of opportunities for fantastic art with strange and shocking story material that is perfect for grabbing the readers attention and persuading them to buy the book. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if wasn’t for superheroes, horror comics would be the most popular comic book genre today.

We’ve talked about how the post World War II comic book scene saw a boom in horror titles, particularly the rise of EC Comics with their shocking and grotesque morality tales such as Tales from the Crypt.

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But the history behind the horror genre goes back a little farther.  These creepy and horrific stories have their roots in the pulp magazines and penny dreadful novels that were the ancestors of comic books and the first horror comics were simple adaptations of those works.  Many people consider Classic Comics’ The Tale of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde to be the first horror comic published in August of 1943.

But the first standalone horror comic, the one that would lay the ground work for the genre’s explosion of popularity, would come four years later in 1947 and today we’re going to talk about it.  It’s title was Eerie Comics and it was the first standalone horror comic book ever published.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

Origin

Avon Publishing was created in 1941 as part of the American News Company.  It was originally intended to be the publisher of a type of book known as “dime novels” which were cheap, exploitative works that enthralled readers with anything from lurid romance to exciting adventure.

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These were the kinds of magazines that H.P Lovecraft published his stories in.

Naturally, Avon was the right kind of publisher for comic books, although they shied away from superheroes and stuck to the material that kept them in business, which led to the creation of Eerie in 1947.

Despite the inherent cheapness in the publisher and the medium it was created for, the comic actually had some pretty solid talent behind it.  While the writer was a relative unknown named Edward Bellin, the artistic team was amazing.  There was Fred Kida,

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who created a Golden Age superhero named Air Boy and would go on to find steady work in comic strips, particularly in Marvel’s Spider Man comic strip in the 1980’s.

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There was George Roussos,

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who worked for Marvel as an inker and helped Jack Kirby create some of the most iconic stories in Marvel,

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(yes he inked that one)

and the whole thing was overseen and pencilled by comic book legend Joe Kubert.

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While he is famous for his artwork, perhaps Mr. Kubert’s greatest legacy is the school of  comic book art that bears his name.

Anyway, the book itself was an anthology series containing six stories of strange events and horrific consequences for the wicked.  The stories themselves are pretty tame, with such an amazing team of artists on this book it was only natural for the artwork to be gorgeous.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

My personal favorite is the first story called The Eyes of the Tiger.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

It follows a man who tries to get a life insurance policy but is rejected because of his poor health.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

Apparently he wants to leave his policy to his cats, but the best part?  He threatens the doctor with a live tiger.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

The man wakes up in the middle of the night to find himself being chased by a tiger and winds up suffering from a heart attack and dying.

Comic Book Cover For Eerie Comics Issue #1 Avon Periodicals

I love this story for just how absolutely ridiculous it is.  Never mind that a man wants to leave all his money to his tigers, never mind that he hallucinates a tiger attack, the insane part of the story is that it treats an insurance company like they’re the good guys.

So what happened?

For some reason the first issue of Eerie was pulled from newsstands after it was published.  However, as the horror genre continued to gain in popularity the series was brought back in 1951.

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The title ceased publication in August of 1954, probably because of the backlash against comics in the 1950’s.

Eerie would continue life as a science fiction anthology series called Strange Worlds,

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and that lasted until 1955.

While audience’s appetites for lurid and suggestive comic books would wane, Avon would do just fine.  They discontinued their comic book line in the mid 1950’s and spent the rest of the century staying true to form, especially in the romance novel market.  Currently, they’re operating as an imprint of Harper Collins and specialize in romance novels.

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Eerie was a strange little comic.  On one hand, the writing was kind of crappy and it only had one issue for several years before someone decided it was popular enough to be rebooted.  On the other hand, it deserves its place in history as the first original horror comic ever published and the grandfather of all the horror comics that came after it.

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Plus, it’s amazing how something that old can look that good.

Modern film, the Golden Age of Comics, and Wonder Woman

So this little movie is in theaters now.

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I haven’t seen it, although it is currently on my list of films to see, but I have seen the trailer and a good portion of the promotional media for the film.

A quick summary: the movie follows the real life journey and exploits of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman.

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In real life, Marston was a respected psychologist and the inventor of the lie detector,

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he was also engaged in an unconventional relationship with his wife Elizabeth and his partner Olive Byrne.

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As for the exact nature of their relationship, all you have to do is take a look at the comics that Marston wrote to get some idea of what was going on.

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Frankly, I’m glad this became a movie and I would love to see more films like this since the story behind the creation of some of our most beloved superheroes is often just as interesting as the characters themselves.

Personally, I would love to see a movie about the trials and tribulations of Supmerman’s creators Siegel and Shuster,

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and we’re probably getting a Stan Lee film soon.

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but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

There’s a scene in the trailer for Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman where a group of people are burning a pile of comic books.

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While I don’t like seeing anyone burning books this actually got me pretty excited.  This is the first time I’ve seen any movie talk about the decline and fall of the Golden Age of Comics and while it is presented as a backdrop for the story the movie wants to tell, it’s an important time in American pop culture where the nature and effect that art has on our minds and souls was being hotly debated.

So today I’m going to give a brief history of the comic book industry in the late 1940’s and 50’s and in order to do that we have to talk about:

The post war comic industry

After the Allies won the Second World War Americans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated by coming home, starting a family, and giving up on superhero comics.

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Yes, the infamous “superhero fatigue” that so many people say is  coming with this current glut of superhero movies is actually nothing new.

Naturally, the comic book industry reacted to this shift by switching to different genres and trying new things.  Post war America saw a boom in non superhero comics, especially romance,

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humor,

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and horror comics.

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Post war America was actually a pretty good time for comics.  More people were spending money on entertainment, readers were getting older and more mature, and some of the greatest artists of the time were doing some of their best work.

Unfortunately comic books were confronted with a force more powerful than any super villain doomsday device: concerned parents.

You know how concerned parents thought violent video games were turning kids into mass murdering psychopaths?

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Well, it turns out that that isn’t all that new either.  In the 1950’s comic books went through the same process and things would come to a head with,

Backlash, Dr. Wertham, and Seduction of the Innocent

Maybe it was the soldiers coming home from the war trying to process the violence and destruction they saw, maybe it was the Red Scare and the rise of anti Communist sentiment in America, or maybe comic books have a bigger place in our psyche than we think, but for some reason these hearings swept the American people into an anti comic fervor that saw a tremendous backlash against the art form.  This resulted in crazy events like mass comic book burnings as early as 1948,

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but sadly the real destruction would come in the form of a well meaning man in a suit and tie.

Every art form, at some point in its early history, has had a vocal opponent who claims that said art form is destroying our children’s minds and must be censored before it’s too late.

Rap music had Tipper Gore,

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video games had Jack Thompson,

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and comic books had Dr. Fredric Wertham.

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Now, I don’t think Dr. Wertham did what he did because he hated comics or because he was an uneducated hack who was simply making wild accusations because he wanted the attention.  He was actually a highly respected psychologist who did a lot of good work, including providing cheap psychiatric care to under privileged children.

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Unfortunately, he noticed that a lot of the children under his care read a lot of comic books and he started to believe that it wasn’t societal woes or a poor home life that turned kids bad, but violent and disturbing imagery in the media the kids consumed.

Things would come to a head in 1954 when Wertham published his most famous work Seduction of the Innocent

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where he blamed comic books for the rise of “juvenile delinquency” in American youth.

The book was a hit and led to a Congressional hearing on the effects of comic books on children’s minds, and Wertham was the star witness.

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The hearings were incredibly destructive for the comic book industry and effectively brought mass censorship to the medium.  Companies that depended on risque and controversial content to stay afloat, such as the horror and comedy powerhouse EC Comics were the hardest hit and were forced out of business.  The industry underwent a massive contraction and thousands of people lost their jobs as publishers went out of business left and right.

The Fallout

In an attempt to save themselves from excessive censorship the remaining comic book publishers formed an organization known as the Comics Code Authority.  It was an organization that reviewed comics before they could be published and made sure they followed a certain set of rules in order to ensure that they were suitable for children.

The most famous and notable legacy of the Comics Code was the stamp that appeared on the far right corner of almost every comic for the next forty years.

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While the Comics Code didn’t kill the comics industry it did cripple it so badly that it’s still recovering today.  Since comic book writers weren’t allowed to tell complex and morally ambiguous stories if they wanted to get their book published comics became simple and almost boring in their predictable story lines and basic morality tales.  Sure, mature and grown up comics existed, but they could only be found in small press, out of the way places such as the “comix” scene of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

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Eventually cracks in the Comics Code would start to show and historians widely believe that it lost its power after Amazing Spider Man #96 told a story where Spiderman helped a friend who was addicted to drugs and was published without the stamp.

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But if you ask me, the damage had already been done.  The Golden Age of Comics was a time where characters like Wonder Woman could talk about deep and meaningful issues like man’s tendency towards hatred and how women could bring about a more peaceful world, whereas the immediate post Comics Code publishing industry decided to celebrate its newfound freedom by throwing all subtlety out the window and indulging in a lot of violence for violence’s sake.  This,

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is downright childish in comparison to the early issues of Wonder Woman.

Now, I firmly believe that we as a society have gotten better in dealing with art and the effects that it may or may not have on our minds, and I also think that the comic book industry telling better stories today than it did twenty years ago, but it is vitally important that we never forget why heroes like Wonder Woman were created and how important it is that we apply the same passion and thought into our stories today.

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Golden Age Showcase: Sun Girl

It’s October folks!

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing, and the weather is getting cooler.

Normally, most forms of entertainment start churning out the horror and scary stuff around this time, and in the near future we won’t be so different.  However, I thought it might be nice to give the sun one last hurrah and talk about a bright and colorful superhero from days of yore.

She’s also a lady so here’s another chance to showcase a hero that didn’t get a whole lot of attention back then.

This is Sun Girl.

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Origin and Career

Sun Girl made her first appearance in her self titled series Sun Girl #1 in August of 1948.

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While the writer of the comic is uncredited, the art was done by a man named Ken Bald.

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Ken Bald was actually one of the more prolific and successful artists of the Golden Age and did a lot of work as a staff artist at Timely Comics where he drew many of Timely’s most popular heroes.  He is also known for his comic strip work, such as a strip based off of the 1970’s tv show Dark Shadows.

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A couple things of note.  First, hooray we actually managed to tie in some horror into an October post!  Second, if the name Dark Shadows isn’t familiar to younger readers all you need to know is that they tried making a modern movie based off it starring Johnny Depp.

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It wasn’t well received.

Anyway, in an age where comic book super heroines were surprisingly independent and capable Sun Girl…was not.  Her civilian name was Mary Mitchell and she started life as the secretary and love interest of the original Human Torch.  When the Human Torch’s original sidekick Toro takes a leave of absence she insisted that she becomes Torch’s sidekick despite having no superpowers.  The Torch is not pleased and responds with stereotypical 1940’s male talk.

But…she knows judo so that fixes everything I guess?  Also, she had a “sun beam” gun that shot bright flashes of light.  Honestly, there were better superheroines out there at this time.

Her lack of powers and crazy weapons didn’t stop her from having something of a career.  After her three issue solo series she appeared in the Human Torch series for three issues,

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and she guest starred in Captain America and Submariner books.

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Thankfully, during her short career she wasn’t entirely useless.  She would often bring a more human and compassionate side to her superhero work and was able to make an impact on the Human Torch’s career.  Perhaps her biggest achievement was helping the Torch prove a wrongfully accused man innocent.

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So what happened?

Toro came back from his leave of absence and Mary went back to being the Human Torch’s secretary.  Then the comic book industry went kaput and Timely Comics re branded to eventually become Marvel Comics and the Human Torch became a character who didn’t need a secretary.

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However, Sun Girl didn’t just fade away into obscurity and become a tiny little footnote in comic book history.  She had enough fans and people who remembered her to bring her into the modern era.  The first appearance of the new and improved Sun Girl was in Superior Spider Man Team Up #1 in June of 2013.

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Right off the bat the new Sun Girl has a more independent and interesting origin.  She’s an engineer named Selah Burke who developed a suit that gives her the ability to fly and two light blasting pistols.  Also, she’s the daughter of Edward Lanksey, an out of work college professor who became a super villain.

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Her next appearance would be as part of the Marvel Comics team called the New Warriors in 2014.

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Sun Girl is an interesting comic book super heroine, but not for the reasons you might expect.  She didn’t have any extraordinary powers, she didn’t have a very long career, and she didn’t have the impact on popular culture that many of her other female colleagues had.  With that being said, she was smart, courageous, always willing to do the right thing, and has one of the most comprehensive and fulfilling post Golden Age careers of any female superhero.

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Golden Age Showcase: Doll Man

In the entire library of superpowers, the ability to shrink is one of the more esoteric powers.  It doesn’t get used that much, but there are a pretty select core of superheroes who are known for their ability to change their size.

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That’s not to say that it’s a bad superpower.  After all, the Marvel Ant Man movie showed that it wasn’t just useful, it could tell a great story as well.

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Plus, one of my favorite episodes of the Justice League cartoon centered around the Atom destroying an alien hive mind from within using his powers.

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But where did the idea of a shrinking hero come from and who was the first hero to use this power?  Well, the answer can be found in a fairly obscure Golden Age hero from Quality Comics called Doll Man.

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Origin and Career

Doll Man made his first appearance in the Quality Comics’ anthology Feature Comics #27 in December of 1939.

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While the name of creator was given as “William Erwin Maxwell” it was really a pseudonym for Will “I literally wrote the book on comics as an art form” Eisner.

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As for origins, Doll Man goes the scientific route with the heroic scientist Darrel Dane (alliteration for the win) developing a special serum that will allow a human to shrink down to the size of a doll.  Why he wants to do this I have no idea.  Also, his fiancee Martha Roberts is being blackmailed by a man named Falco and she’s keeping this a secret for some reason.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #27

Since this is the early days of comic book science, Darrel must have not gotten the memo on lab safety and self experimentation and decides to test the serum on himself.  This act also makes Darrell one of the first comic book scientists to go crazy after said self experimentation.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #27

I like to think that Eisner wanted to take Doll Man and turn him into a tortured villain driven mad by the result of his experiment, which would have made for a very interesting story.  However, I’m willing to bet that some editor in the Quality Comics offices squashed that idea because in the very next page Darrell is okay and decides to become a superhero.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #27

It’s a good thing that Darrell decided to be a good guy, because he uses his powers to save his fiancee from the blackmailer to end the story.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #27

Doll Man would later become a fixture of Standard Comics and would often appear on the covers as well.

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His stories were all over the place.  In one issue he would be fighting gangsters trying to rob ships on the docks, in the next issue he would be helping rancher friends in a land dispute.  In all of them he would use his size and relative strength to his advantage.

His stories must have made an impact because Doll Man would later become a pretty popular hero.  He appeared in over 200 comic book issues and was even given his own quarterly title.

Comic Book Cover For Doll Man #1

Some fun facts: his fiancee Martha would eventually become a super heroine known as Doll Girl, who had the same powers as her fiancee.

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Also, several of Doll Man’s covers had him tied up and placed in a position of helplessness.

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It’s nothing special, just an interesting idea during a time when male heroes generally didn’t show that kind of weakness.

So what happened?

The Feature Comics title stopped publication in 1950 and Doll Man’s solo issues stopped publication in 1953.  Quality would go out of business three years later and Doll Man wasn’t seen for two decades.

It was probably Will Eisner’s reputation that kept the memory of Doll Man alive because he wasn’t really used that often.  During the middle of the 20th century DC decided to create a “multiverse” for their characters to avoid continuity mix ups.  Doll Man was placed on “Earth X”, a universe where the Nazis won the Second World War, and made an appearance in the comic title Freedom Fighters.

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He’s at the bottom of the page.

He was also a guest character in the All Star Squadron on “Earth-2”, the place where DC put most of its old Golden Age heroes.

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The separation of these two groups would be erased in the DC comic event Crisis on Infinite Earths where the entire DC continuity was streamlined and simplified for new readers.

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The Freedom Fighters would be relaunched in 2006 by writer Jimmy Palmiotti.

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The team got a modern makeover, including Doll Man.  The new hero was named Lester Colt and he was a more hard ass, military minded, “end justifies the means” kind of hero who proves this in the first issue after he disguises himself as an action figure and kills a drug lord in front of his son.

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Darrel Dane still existed, but it was revealed that he was suffering from mental problems due to shrinking so often and was committed to an unnamed mental institution.

Doll Man would have his most recent reworking in 2012.  This time it was part of another company wide reboot event known as “The New 52”.  The hero was a scientist named Dane Maxwell who was the romantic partner and scientist friend of the heroine Phantom Lady.  He was shrunk to the size of an action figure during a lab accident and became her partner in crime fighting as well.

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In many ways Doll Man’s impact on the superhero world was a lot like his power set.  Sure, it was relatively small and often unseen by many fans and readers, but he was the first hero to use the ability to change his size as a superpower which made him a trailblazer for some of the most popular and well known heroes today.

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Golden Age Showcase: Bozo the Iron Man

Have you ever noticed that bookstores tend to put fantasy and science fiction books on the same shelves?

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I mean, I can understand why.  Both genres talk about the human condition using fantastical elements and worlds.  The difference is that while science fiction tends to focus on how technology changes society, fantasy tends to focus on how people change society.  The point is that while they share quite a few similarities, they are just different enough to warrant their separation.

Comic books are interesting because the medium has no trouble combining the two genres together and it’s gotten really good at it.  In fact, it’s gotten so good at it that not only is it possible to combine aspects of fantasy and science fiction together, it’s possible to spawn a billion dollar franchise out of it.

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While the Golden Age of Comics did have a heavy focus on supernatural and fantasy elements, it also had its fair share of science fiction heroes.

One of these heroes was a creature called Bozo the Iron Man and before you laugh at his name and appearance, you may be shocked to learn that he was actually a pretty interesting hero.

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Origin and Career

Bozo the Iron Man made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Smash Comics #1 published on August of 1939.

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While that is Bozo on the cover, he doesn’t fight a gorilla in his story.

He was created and drawn by an editor at Quality Comics called George Brenner,

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Brenner is also known for creating what is arguably the first masked superhero in all of comics in 1936 as well as the hero 711, who is actually one of this site’s favorite heroes.

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The origin of our titular hero actually bucks Golden Age tradition and gives us something that this blog hasn’t really seen: a morally ambiguous and surprisingly deep origin.

The comic starts with a mysterious robot terrorizing the citizens of the unnamed city.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

It turns out that the robot is actually under the control of evil scientist cliche #421 and despite the police trying their best they don’t want to go near the giant killer robot.  In order to put an end to this case the Commissioner calls in a special consultant named Hugh Hazzard, who winds up being the actual main character of the story.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

The comic then goes through the standard motions.  The good guy finds the bad guy, defeats him, and the robot is scrapped.  However, in an interesting twist, Hugh decides to find the robot and use it to fight crime without the knowledge of the police.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

Sure, the design of the robot doesn’t exactly inspire feelings of dread and terror, but the ending of the first issue actually sets up a surprisingly nuanced and interesting premise for a superhero story.  Seriously, in a time where comics weren’t known for a whole lot of creative complexity, the creative team behind Bozo had the main robot hated and feared by those he was trying to protect.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the bottom of a page from the second issue below.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #2

Sure, titles like the X-Men would make the idea of heroes protecting the very people who feared them a comic book staple, but considering that this was being written in 1939 it’s a pretty interesting setup.

Unfortunately, they really didn’t do anything interesting with this setup and the rest of Bozo’s adventures were pretty typical “villain of the week” affairs.

So what happened?

Usually the old Golden Age heroes would either be revived by one of the major comic book companies further down the line or find their way into the works of writers and creators who were fans of the original but sadly, that isn’t the case for Bozo.  This is going to be one of the shortest “What happened?” sections ever written.

Quality Comics folded in 1956 when the comic book market contracted.  They were eventually acquired by DC and many of Quality’s heroes would survive in reprints, but sadly Bozo didn’t make it into any of them.

The only legacy Bozo would have is a brief re imagining by comic book legend Grant Morrison.

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For those who don’t know, Grant Morrison is considered to be one of the great modern wizards of comic books and is responsible for some of the greatest modern comics ever written, including the greatest Superman story of the past 20 years.

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Sadly, Bozo didn’t make it into any of Grant’s works, although another creator by the name of Justin Grey said in an interview that his creation of a robot named “Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard” was inspired by Morrison’s redesign.

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I would go into more detail into Gonzo’s origin but for the casual fans all I am going to say is that he’s nothing like the source material and for the more hardcore fans I’ll say that the Anti Life Equation was involved.

Bozo the Iron Man was a pretty goofy hero with a well thought out backstory and an interesting hook to his character.  Instead of being loved (or at the very least tolerated) by the police and the public at large, he was feared and mistrusted so much that his existence had to be kept a secret.  He was one of the more complex characters of his time and should be remembered as such, even if he looked a bit ridiculous.

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Golden Age Showcase: Stardust the Super Wizard.

You know what I really like about comics?  The scope and scale of the medium.

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Sure, in any artistic medium you can tell big stories, but in comics?  Comics are the new mythology, giving us larger than life characters that serve as brightly colored allegories for the larger world.

The Golden Age of Comics had their myths and legends but let’s be honest with ourselves…they were somewhat limited.

It makes sense I guess.  After all, a lot of people were pressuring creators to churn out new superheroes as quickly as possible and there are only so many ways you can copy heroes like Superman or Batman.  Plus, our country was faced with an actual larger than life event known as World War 2 so those heroes were tasked with winning the war, but surely there had to be some way to inject a little grandiosity into the comic book scene.

Where’s the magic?  Where’s the ridiculousness?  Where’s the cosmic scale of it all?

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Oh, this’ll be interesting.

Origin and Career

Stardust the Super Wizard, a giant space magician with super strength and a tiny head,

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was first published in Fantastic Comics #1 in December of 1939.

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The title was published by Fox Features Syndicate, who published the first Blue Beetle, and created by writer and artist Fletcher Hanks.

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Hanks is also responsible for creating one of the first female characters in comics, a woman named Fantomah.

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Hanks was something of an elder statesman for a comic book industry that was dominated by teenagers.  He specialized in creating supernatural characters who had no qualms about wrecking terrible revenge against their antagonists and Stardust was no exception.

His origins are simple.  He’s a mysterious super being who descends from the stars to wreck terrible retribution on criminals everywhere.  Everyone knows this this due to a strange radio broadcast that tells them everything.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

What’s his backstory?  Where does he come from?  Nobody knows.

What we do know is that his powers are seemingly limitless, and he demonstrates his power against two thugs who are just about to assassinate the President.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

It’s pretty clear that our hero is a giant and has more powers than Superman did at his height.

It’s worth mentioning that Stardust also partakes in one of the hallmarks of the Golden Age of comics: the hero murdering hoards of criminals and evil doers in brutal fashion.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

The first story sets the tone for most of the Stardust stories as the hero defeats a series of increasingly over the top and surprisingly well equipped enemies with unimaginable violence.  While he would only last for 16 issues, each one of them is pretty epic and worth checking out.

It’s worth mentioning that Stardust didn’t just police Earth, he dedicated his life to busting crime all across the solar system from his private star base.

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He had enemies with creative names like Kaos of Venus, the Brain Men of Mars, and Yew Bee.

My personal favorite is the story where our hero faces the evil machinations of an arch criminal named De Structo, who plans to use an oxygen destroying ray to suffocate the political leadership of the United States.

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No I’m not making any of that up.

Stardust captures De Structo and punishes him by removing the villain’s head, keeping it alive, and throwing it to an alien beast known as a “giant headhunter”.

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Funny how the headhunter alien looks suspiciously human.  Also, that is not a good way to go.

So what happened?

As I stated above, Stardust only lasted for 16 issues.  I have no idea why he didn’t last longer and can only assume that people were allergic to fun and epicness.

Thankfully, all was not lost and it turned out that Fletcher Hanks had developed something of a cult following.  All of his Golden Age stories were collected into anthologies and are currently published by Fantagraphics Books.

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Also, it turns out that Stardust is a superhero that has greatly benefited from being in the public domain since he has actually appeared in a lot of other independent projects.

Some of his more notable appearances have been in Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,

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He also had a cameo in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon #141.

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He’s also been used in a genre that we don’t talk a lot about on this blog: table top games.  His name was used as an example of how power corrupts in The Super Villain Handbook by Fainting Goat Games.

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Stardust the Super Wizard may have had a short career in the Golden Age, but it was a career filled with memorable events and villains.  He’s remembered fondly today and his reputation is well deserved.

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