Golden Age Showcase: Waku Prince of the Bantu

Did I go and see the Black Panther movie this weekend?  Of course I went to go see the Black Panther movie this weekend!

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It’s a great movie, if you haven’t seen it yet than you need to stop what you’re doing and go watch this movie right now, you can read this article while you’re watching the dozens of previews attached to the movie.

But I’m not here to talk about how this movie is important, other people are doing a better job of that than I can.  While he was the first black character in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first black character to star in his own series.

That was Waku, Prince of the Bantu.

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Origin and Career

Waku made his first appearance in Atlas Comics’ Jungle Tales #1 in September of 1954.

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Yes, the title says “Jungle Action” we’ll get to that.

The character was created by artist Ogden Whitney,

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who worked as a fairly successful artist for several comic book companies and is most famous for co creating a hero named Herbie Popnecker.

It’s pretty clear that the comic is following in the footsteps of the old Tarzan stories, which makes sense because this book came out during a time when comics were moving away from super heroes and into alternate genres such as romance and westerns.

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It was also released at a time when race relations in America weren’t at their best.

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What’s interesting about comics is that black people have actually been part of the comic book landscape since the beginning.  It’s just that the way they’ve been portrayed hasn’t always been…

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well let’s be polite and say “sensitive”.

Waku was the first black character to star in a series of stories as the main lead.  Not only that, but the stories featured a predominately black cast.

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Certainly sounds familiar.

The character was the head of a tribe living in the depths of South Africa, and it is worth mentioning that there is some respect paid to actual history here.  The Bantu Migration was an actual historical event and is widely considered to have played an important role in developing African politics and identity.

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You can read more about it here.

The character’s first adventure has him inheriting the leadership of the tribe from his dying father, who tells him to forswear violence and govern with kindness and wisdom.  This proves problematic when he refuses to participate in ritual combat in order to take his place as king and loses his throne to a greedy and ambitious rival, who tries to sell his people’s services to “white hunters” at great personal profit.  Waku winds up killing this usurper and is about to kill himself in penance for what he’s done when his father appears as an apparition and frees him from his vow.

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The character would go on to appear in seven more issues and in each issue he would fight off some challenger to his throne or threat to his people.  This ranged from wrestling lions,

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to evil shamans capable of raising armies of the dead.

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In all of his appearanc

So what happened?

Jungle Tales lasted seven issues and was later changed to Jan of the Jungle.

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I guess it’s true what they say, sex sells.

Normally changing a title like that hints at some serious problems for the publisher but this time it wasn’t the case.  Atlas Comics re branded in the 60’s as the more familiar Marvel Comics.

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I’m sure they need no introduction.

Marvel rode the coattails of a little known writer who had been working for them since the 30’s and an artist with an incredible work ethic and a penchant for smoking cigars: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

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For the handful of people that don’t know their names, these two men basically invented the entire Marvel Universe that we know and love today.

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And in 1966 they  introduced the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52.

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After a couple of guest spots with the Fantastic Four and Captain America, Black Panther was given his own solo series.  The title of the book?  Jungle Action.

Now, I’m not saying that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used Waku as a direct inspiration for Black Panther, there isn’t any evidence of that and any allegations made would be unfounded and unprofessional.  But it’s worth considering that both characters were kings of African nations and tribes, both of them were capable warriors, and both Lee and Kirby were working for Atlas at the time Waku was being published.

I’d say that is one hell of a coincidence.

Is Waku a better character than Black Panther?  Not really.  Should Waku have been the face of black characters in comics? No.  But Waku was the first black character who was the star of his own stories and he was treated with respect and dignity.

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He was a good man, a capable ruler, and a good starting point for Marvel’s long and storied collection of black comic book characters.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Eye

Last week we talked about a superhero known as “The Hand”.

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Everyone seemed to like it so here’s a write up about another body part that decided to become a superhero.

Yes, there was more than one of these, and this one was actually a bit more successful.

Say hello to The Eye.

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Origin and Career

The Eye made its first appearance in Keen Detective Funnies #12 in December of 1939.

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The book was published by a company called Centaur Publications, one of the earliest comic book publishers in American history and the company that helped Bill Everett get his start in comics.

Bill Everett is the man who helped create Namor the Submariner and Daredevil.

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The character itself was created by a man named Frank Thomas.

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You may not know the man’s face, but I’m willing to bet that if you’re an animator or a Disney fan you know his his name and his work.

The man was one of the original animators on Walt Disney’s creative team when the company was just starting out and helped produce some of the most recognizable classics in modern animation history.  One example?  He animated this scene from Snow White.

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He also helped write a book with a colleague of his named Ollie Johnston called The Illusion of Life,

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a book that remains one of the most important milestones in 2D hand drawn animation to this day.  In fact, the two men were so influential that they were given a cameo appearance in The Incredibles, one of my favorite movies of all time.

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Basically Frank Thomas was a big deal, and The Eye was his contribution to the comic book world.

As for The Eye itself, his first adventure starts with the whitest Afghani family on the face of the planet.

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The old man laments that he was once a prosperous businessman but had his livelihood stolen from him.  Suddenly, a disembodied eye appears in the room.

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Meanwhile, in Kabul we’re introduced to the vain and pompous villain of the story, a man named Herat, who wants the old man dead.

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You know, I can’t help but wonder how differently this story would play out if it was published today.

Anyway, the villain tries to hire two hitmen to take out his rival.  Fortunately The Eye stops them with his ability to travel anywhere and shoot heat blasts out of his…well eye.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Boy, I know red eye flights are a pain…but this is ridiculous.  (wait don’t go…come back!)

The story resolves itself quickly and just in the way you would expect.  The villain is defeated, and justice is served.  The Eye has saved the day and the old man and his daughter are free to return to their business.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The Eye would go on to become something of a regular back up feature in the comic.  The stories weren’t connected, it was more of an anthology tale where The Eye would drop in on a group of criminals committing a crime and use one of his many ill defined powers to save the day.

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He was also given a sidekick, a young attorney named Jack Barrister who would assist The Eye whenever it needed a hand.

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The Eye ran for eight issues in Keen Detective and must have been popular because he was given his own series in November of 1940.

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So what happened?

The Eye may have been popular enough to get his own series, but his publisher wasn’t so lucky.  While Centaur may have been one of the first comic book publishers ever, poor distribution and business sense saw the company go under in 1940.

While the company folded, it did retain something of a legacy.  In 1987 one of his stories was reprinted in a book called Mr. Monster’s Hi Shock Schlock by Michael T. Gilbert.

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And in 1992 a company called Malibu Comics revived a bunch of Malibu characters into a team known as The Protectors,

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and the Eye was cast as a supporting character.

The Eye was a genuinely interesting idea and character for a superhero.  He had an interesting gimmick and he had a legendary creator behind him.  If it wasn’t for his publisher going out of business I’m willing to bet it would have gone on to become a staple of modern comic book superheroes as well.

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It’s a real shame to see an idea like that go to waste.

Golden Age Showcase: The Hand

This one is going to be a short one, but boy is it a weird one.

We’re all familiar with the idea of a giant hand that is used as a metaphor for controlling things.  The hit video game Super Smash Bros. has the “Master Hand” as a final boss,

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Marvel Comics has the super secret group of ninja demons known as “The Hand”,

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and many real life people love to claim that our lives and fortunes are at the whim of the “invisible hand of the market”.

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Yes, the hand is always there.  It’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s completely unknown to we small pathetic creatures.

But did you know that someone tried to take this idea of “The Hand” and turn it into a superhero in the 1940’s?

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Told you this was going to be weird.

Origin and Career

The Hand made his first appearance in Speed Comics #12 in 1941.

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The comic series was the first comic book title published by Harvey Comics, a relative newcomer to the comic book scene and a company that would become famous for licensed titles such as Caspar the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich.

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Fun fact: Speed Comics had been bought from a struggling publisher called Brookwood Publications and was Harvey’s entry point into comic book publishing.  Without this title, Harvey wouldn’t go on to become a major comic book publisher.

The character of The Hand was created by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, two men who would go on to create the Golden Age version of the superhero known as The Atom.

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Unfortunately, both men would wind up joining the armed services in 1942, and while both men survived they did not return to comics after that.

In his first and longest adventure, the Hand doesn’t fight Nazis or stop saboteurs.  Instead, he stops a couple of card sharks from ripping off a casino.

He is introduced with no fanfare, no explanation, and no backstory.  He just appears and warns two men that they better watch themselves.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

The two men ignore the warning and begin to clean out the house.  The Hand warns management, who takes it all in remarkable stride and agrees to let the disembodied hand help him.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

I like to imagine that the hand belongs to some sort of cosmic being that is actually a child and is trying to act all grown up by helping people.

Why not?  It’s more explanation than the comic gives.

The Hand is also a capable fighter…and capable of phasing through walls.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

However, when the criminals attempt to stop The Hand by confessing, The Hand realizes that they will not be arrested or charged for their crimes.  So he brands them on the forehead so the world will know what they’ve done.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

Apparently, The Hand has never heard of hats.  Which kind of makes sense.

On a side note: this comic issue deserves special mention for the story that came directly after this one.  Since most comics at the time were anthologies publishing short stories of only a couple of pages, we got treated to this one.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

A kid taking out a head of state with a rifle and people being okay with it?  Boy the times really were different back then.

Anyway, The Hand would have one more story in the following issue of Speed Comics where he played the patriotic game and helped the F.B.I defeat some foreign spies.

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It was shorter, but had more action.

So The Hand was an established hero with a gimmick and a creative team behind him…

So what happened?

…and that was it, those were the only two issues that featured The Hand as a superhero.

It’s really not that surprising really.  The character was a small backup feature in a series that didn’t last very long and was published by a company that shifted focus away from original characters and into licensed stories.

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Plus, let’s be honest, the two stories that The Hand appeared in weren’t that exciting or good.

The Hand may have been a small time character with boring stories, but that doesn’t mean the concept wasn’t interesting or that he didn’t have any value.  Sure, the creature was a hero and had a sense of agency and purpose, but it always had room for normal people to step in and take over when the time was right.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #13

It appeared that The Hand was some sort of benevolent spirit who helped where he could and allowed normal people to do the right thing, and if that isn’t heroic I don’t know what is.

The Hand had potential, it would be a shame to forget that.

Comic book showcase: Black Lightning

So I just watched the season premiere of CW’s Black Lightning yesterday.

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It’s pretty good.  The effects were great, the character dynamics were well thought out and have a lot of potential, and it pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to dealing with the…well let’s be polite and say “strained” relationship between black Americans and the police.

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By all accounts the CW has another hit on their hands and it looks like Black Lightning is here to stay, so let’s look at his origins and see what’s changed and if the show can learn anything from the comics.

Origin and Career

Black Lightning was created in 1977, a few decades after the Golden Age of Comics and the favorite time period of this blog.  This is going to require a little explanation.

It’s widely believed that the Golden Age of Comics ended in 1956 with the publication of Showcase #4 and the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash.

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This brought along the Silver Age of Comics, a time period that was known for comics that focused on a more sci fi and technological oriented appeal.

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Magic had been replaced by space science and monsters had been replaced by aliens.

This was also the time when Marvel Comics came into the world as the comic book company we all know and love today.  A little known creator named Stan Lee decided to create a super hero family that traveled across time and space to defeat strange and fantastic threats.

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It did pretty well and helped kick off the Marvel Universe that we all know and love today.

However, by the 1970’s things were changing again, and comics were moving out of the high concept science fantasy of the Silver Age.  Times were changing.  There were protests,

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racial violence,

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and there was a general sense of doom and gloom.

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Yes, the 1970’s were a unique and special time that we will never have to live through again.

The great thing about these changing times was that in the comic book industry restrictions on what comic books could be talk about were becoming looser and looser, and in 1970 we entered a time that comic book historians called “The Bronze Age of Comics”.

This was a time where comic books got darker and edgier, talking about issues like drugs,

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not shying away from violence,

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and launching an explosion of black superheroes.  Luke Cage is probably the most famous and successful of these heroes.

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Anyway, DC had a problem in the 1970’s, Marvel was growing too fast and taking away a huge portion of their business.  So DC decided to try and beat Marvel by flooding the market with a slew of new titles.  One of these titles was going to be DC’s first black superhero and they eventually decided to publish….the Black Bomber.

The Black Bomber was supposed to be a white bigot who hated black people, but thanks to an accident he gained the ability to turn into a black superhero when under duress.

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This is the only picture I could find of him.  The only other reference he got in a comic book was a small reference in a Justice League of America comic written by Dwayne McDuffie.

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Yeah, this was probably not a good idea.

So what convinced the editors at DC to change their mind?  Why one of the writers of Luke Cage of course!

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The guy on the right is Tony Isabella, one of the early writers of Luke Cage.  DC had hired Tony to create their first black superhero and in 1977 he partnered with artist Trevor Von Eden,

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to create Black Lightning.

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Black Lightning’s real name is Jefferson Pierce.  He actually grew up in the poorest part of Metropolis known as Suicide Slum.  After becoming a highly successful athlete an scholar he returned home and he used a newly created power belt that helped him shoot bolts of electricity to clean up the streets of drug dealers and gang members.

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Where was Superman in all of this?  Probably saving Earth from aliens but whatever.

Black Lightning did initially play up a lot of stereotypes that were prevalent among the black community in the 1970’s.  His costume and accent were over the top and almost comical but his intentions were good and he proved himself to be a respectable hero in his own right, gaining the trust of Superman and several other figures in the city in his battle against the gang that had made Suicide Slum their home, a group called The 100 and led by a large man known as Tobias Whale.

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Aside from changing the location, the show appears to be pretty loyal to the comics.  Granted, in his early appearances Black Lightning isn’t married and doesn’t have kids, but that would come later.

So what happened?

Unfortunately the individual series for the character only lasted 11 issues.  While DC had high hopes in regaining its market share by flooding the market with new comics, it didn’t work out so well due to rising printing costs, the 1977 blizzard, and an awful economic recession.  A year later the company cancelled 40% of its titles in an event known as the “DC Implosion”.

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Black Lightning survived, although he would only show up in other books for the next couple of years.  In 1983, he joined a group called the Outsiders, a group of superheroes led by Batman and featured mostly new characters like Katana and Geo-Force.

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So yes, the idea that Batman is everything is nothing new.

In 1989 it was revealed that his powers weren’t the result of his power belt, but they were actually derived from a genetic abnormality known as the “Metagene”, a plot point that has been used throughout the DC universe as the source of power for a large number of their heroes.

DC’s first black superhero would get another crack at a solo series in 1995, and they even brought back Tony Isabella to do the writing.

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Unfortunately, history has a nasty way of repeating itself and the series was cancelled after 13 issues.

Black Lightning has continued to exist in the DC universe as a hero making appearances in other books.  At one point, Lex Luthor actually made him Secretary of Education when he was elected President of the United States.

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But let’s not delve too much into the fact that a comic book company had a corrupt businessman elected to the Presidency, that’s just too unrealistic.

He would also get a family and two children to look after.  Their names were Anissa and Jennifer Pierce and they have been a staple of Black Lightning’s identity ever since.

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Even though he’s never had much of a solo career, Black Lightning is a capable and talented hero with a great backstory and plenty of potential.

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He is a teacher, a mentor, and a very capable role model for everyone in the DC universe but most importantly of all…he has the respect and attention of Batman.

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I think this CW show is going to be awesome.

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Golden Age Showcase: Lobo

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day everyone!

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Today is the birthday of one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders and in honor of the day I’m also going to post the video to his famous “I have a Dream” speech, which I highly encourage you to watch since it is one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century.

Fun fact: the man was also a huge Star Trek fan.

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He was such a huge fan that he personally begged Nichelle Nichols to keep her iconic role as Lt. Nyota Uhura on the show.

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Don’t believe me?  The Washington Post can do a better job of explaining it than I can.

Anyway, another tradition that this blog has for Martin Luther King Jr. Day is talking about black representation in the comic book industry.  Today I thought it would be nice to talk about the first black comic book character to star in his own solo comic book series: Lobo.

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Origin and Career

The character made his debut in his own self titled series in December of 1965.

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The comic was published by a company called Dell Comics, which had survived the comic book crash of the 1950’s by publishing Disney licensed comics and grew to become the largest comic book publisher of the 1960’s.

He was created by writer and Dell Comics editor Don Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico.  Both of them were white men from Minneapolis and Brooklyn respectively and thought that having a black cowboy as the main character of a series might be a good sales hook to lure interested readers.

Since the comic was published two years after King’s famous speech and in the middle of the American Civil Rights movement  I can see the logic.

The story itself starts off at the very end of the Civil War, where it is revealed that the main character fought for the Union and is happy to finally be free.

Unfortunately, the unit is attacked by a bunch of Confederate soldiers who haven’t heard that the war is over.  The main character is fed up with the violence and decides to move West to start a new life for himself.  He becomes a cattle drover on a ranch where he is framed for murder and decides to become a vigilante and hunt down other criminals.  His trademark is a gold coin with a wolf’s head on it, which is where he gets his name since “Lobo” is Spanish for wolf.

His name is never revealed and his race is never brought up as a point of contention.  He’s a good and capable man who just happens to be black.

Now, believe it or not, this story does have some basis in historical fact.  There were black soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War,

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many people did move out west in an attempt to start a new life after the war and there were black cowboys such as Nat Love who worked in the West as cattle drivers.

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So we have a publishing company at the height of its power, with a character based in a genre that was doing really well at the time and steeped in historical fact, coupled with a good creative team telling a story about a black man in the middle of one of the most progressive and forward looking eras in American history.

What could possibly go wrong?

So what happened?

The series was cancelled due to poor sales numbers.  Basically, how the industry worked back then was that publishers would print a certain number of copies of a book and sell it to retailers who would mark up the price and sell it to the public.  Any copies that weren’t sold would have their covers cut off and returned to the publisher.

After publishing the first issue of Lobo comic book retailers returned over 90% of the copies that Dell Comics had shipped out.

It’s worth mentioning that this is not the case with comic book distribution today since the distribution industry doesn’t allow returns and is dominated by a singe company called Diamond Distributors,

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but that is another story.

While there is not official explanation for the crappy sales numbers it’s probably safe to assume that a comic book with a gun wielding black man on the cover in 1960’s America probably didn’t go over very well with the majority of the American comic book buying public, who just so happened to be white.
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Still, it was a well written, well drawn character with some serious and well meaning effort behind his creation and while we may never grace the cover of another comic book ever again, his position in the annuls of comic book history is assured as the first African American solo comic book character.

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Golden Age Showcase: Alias X

We’re back!

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After a nice relaxing Christmas break, and a nasty cold, we’re back to deliver more strange and interesting superheroes of the early days of comics.

2017 was a great year for this blog and we look forward to more of the same this year.  In fact, let’s get started with a good one.

Here’s a hero that never made it past 1943, but could actually be a perfect hero for the modern day: Alias X.

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He even has a cool name.

Origin and Career

Alias X made his first appearance in Captain Fearless #1 in August of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

We are definitely going to cover the guy on the cover later.

Alias himself was created by Ray Allen and Al Ulmer, two men who will remain mysterious since I can’t find their pictures.

The cover of the book says that it’s published by a company called Holyoke Publishing, but that isn’t true.  It was actually created by a company called Hellnit Publishing, which was owned by this man: Frank Z. Temerson.

Remember this, it becomes important later.

The character himself was created by Ray Allen and Al Ulmer, two people who are so obscure that I can’t find any photos of them anywhere.

The hero’s story starts in the middle.  A mysterious costumed hero who goes by the name of “X” has been terrorizing the criminal underworld and the police commissioner and a newspaper editor are talking about him.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The hero makes an unexpected appearance and decides to tell the two men his backstory.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

He refuses to give his name, but mentions that he was a small time taxi operator who was charged with the murder of a cop.

The man decides to do the right thing…by escaping prison and bringing those responsible to justice.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

A man on trial for a crime he didn’t commit?  Being forced to answer questions without a lawyer?  Making his escape in order to clear his name?  Yep, sounds like a comic book character to me!

The man doesn’t have any superpowers, but he does use his time in hiding to become a master of disguise.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The comic says his home was only ten miles away from the prison.  He’s either the smartest man in the world or these cops are idiots.

The new hero manages to foil a robbery using his powers of disguise, and tells the commissioner and newspaper editor that if he manages to complete his mission, someday he will reveal who he really is.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The rest of Alias’ adventures would follow a similar pattern where he would find and catch a group of criminals using his powers of disguise.  Sadly, he didn’t have a whole lot of time or enough attention to give him an established super villain, although he did appear in a comic called Captain Aero where he fought a Nazi spy ring.

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Alias X would only have a handful of appearances and ceased to exist after 1942, a much shorter lifespan than his contemporaries.  Why?  Well…

So what happened?

So you remember the start of the article, where I said the character was originally published under Helnit Publishing under the control of Frank Z. Temerson?

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Well, get ready for legal shenanigans because here’s where it gets weird.

Holyoke Publishing wasn’t a book publisher, it was a newspaper business.

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The company decided to enter the comic book business by taking books created by Helnit Publishing, along with the bankrupt Fox Publications, and repackage them under the Holyoke name.

This was how Holyoke became the publisher of the Blue Beetle, a Golden Age hero with a much longer history than Alias X.

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If this sounds sketchy than you’ve got good instincts.  Documentation over who owned what was pretty poor back then and the owner of Fox Publications would wind up suing Holyoke and winning.

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Temerson, being the original owner of Alias X, would also reclaim what he lost and Holyoke would cease publishing comics in 1944.

Alias X is an interesting case as far as Golden Age superheroes go.  Since he was published by a company that had a small audience and a troubled history he didn’t get a whole lot of attention and respect.  Also, unlike most of the heroes we talk about on this blog he fell off the map at the height of popularity for super heroes in American culture.

Could he have survived the post war years?  Would he have gone on to become one of the great heroes of the modern age?

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

Probably not, but I think it would have been interesting to try.

 

Golden Age Showcase: The biggest space opera of early science fiction

I feel compelled to talk about a well known, nostalgic, space opera about a small group of plucky rebels against an all powerful empire that threatens the freedom and safety of the entire galaxy.  It would also help if this space opera has a rabidly loyal fan base and has gone on to influence popular culture for decades

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What, you were expecting something else?

Origin

Before Superman made comic books profitable in 1938 the best way to get sequential stories published was through a newspaper comic strip.  The strips were published and distributed through something called syndication.  This was where a syndication company would hire a creator to create a strip and then distribute it to various newspapers around the country.

One of the biggest names in the industry at the time was King Features Syndication.

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How big is it?  Well, it’s still around today and if you’ve ever picked up the comics section of a newspaper before, I guarantee that you’ve read one of their strips.

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Anyway, in 1934 King Features had a problem.  A rival company had just rolled out a science fiction adventure comic called Buck Rogers to huge commercial success.

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King didn’t want to miss out on this explosion of sci fi popularity, so they turned to a staff artist in their employ named Alex Raymond.

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He was the man who created Flash Gordon and in May of 1934, the first comic strip debuted.

The strip begins with the end of the world.  A giant planet named Mongo is on a collision course with Earth and a half mad scientist named Dr. Zarkov kidnaps a Yale polo player named Flash Gordon and his true love Dale Arden to stop the collision and save Earth.

They manage to stop the collision and save Earth, only to come into contact with Mongo’s evil ruler: the awesomely named Ming the Merciless.

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Impact and legacy

The comic was a huge hit and would go on to inspire dozens of adventures, re imaginings, and become a massive multi media franchise with the release of several movie serials between 1936 and 1940.

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The character remained popular through the 1940’s and 50’s, transcending the backlash that so many comic book characters faced in post war America.  He even got a big budget re imagining several decades later which was a pretty blatant attempt at cashing in on its nostalgic value in 1980 where the main hero was re imagined for modern audiences.

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Because the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Side note: the comic has a website that publishes strips every week.  You can find it here and it’s really worth checking out.

Everything about the character, from the comic to the movies, is deliciously cheesy and over the top.  It’s got strange aliens, grand romance, and the forces of good triumphing over impossible odds.  It was also a massive influence for a lot of film makers and creative types at the time, including a little known film student named George Lucas.

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Lucas would go on to use the Flash Gordon space opera, along with ideas from film legend Akria Kurosawa and a host of others, to create a little film called Star Wars.

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It’s a really obscure movie, you’ve probably never heard of it.

The more you look at it, the more similarities you can find.  Like Flash Gordon, Star Wars has a band of plucky rebels,

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resisting an evil ruler,

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and tells a deeply personal story set against the backdrop of a massive and violent sci fi universe.

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Oh, and both franchises are famous for the sheer amount of merchandise and spin offs they managed to produce.

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Flash Gordon is one of the greatest and most influential science fiction stories of all time.  It’s epic scope and scale, along with it’s amazing story telling and imagination, have ensured its place in the annals of pop culture history and as the direct ancestor of one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.

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Crowd funded comics that deserve more attention: Mighty Mascots

It’s been a while, mostly because of holiday stress and a chaotic work situation, but we’re doing another one of these Kickstarter write ups this week!

Full disclosure: The author of this article does have a personal and professional friendship with the creator of this project and it does include artwork by Frankie B. Washington, the primary artist on a web comic published by this site.  The author has also donated to this project, but no money or favors were exchanged for the writing of this article.

Today we’re going to talk about a Kickstarter project called The Mighty Mascots

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The comic is a superhero story about a collection of food mascots (think the Planter’s Peanut or the Seakist tuna) who are brought to life through a freak 3-D printing accident and are brought together to fight various evil doers.  While the Kickstarter is funding the first creation of the first issue there are plans to turn it into an ongoing series.

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(this drawing was done by Frankie B. Washington)

The project was created by Keith Gleason and at the time of writing the project has $828 of its $1000 goal and has twelve days left to donate.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/914859599/the-mighty-mascots-comic-book-issue-1

Why I like it

As I mentioned at the top of the article, I know the creator of this project personally, and I can say without irony or coercion that Mr. Gleason knows his stuff.

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More specifically, Mr. Gleason is very good at writing lighthearted and humorous stories that feature interesting characters and incredibly unique set ups.

This project is no exception.  Where else are you going to find a bear with clawed boxing gloves,

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fighting next to an anthropomorphic glass of water, sugar, and blue food dye?

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The idea of using food brands as superheroes is an awesome idea.  Sure it’s been done before,

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but I will bet a considerable amount of money that this comic will be better than that abomination.

The art team is also worth mentioning.  As I said before, the comic features work from Frankie B. Washington and the principal artist is a man named Ian Waryanto,

Boxer Bear Unleashed!

who has done work for creators at Image and Marvel.

So it’s a cool idea, put together by a great creative team, and most importantly it’s a fun comic in an industry that has pushed fun and joy aside to focus on dark and brooding drama.

And then of course there’s the nostalgia factor which leads me into…

Why you should donate

If you’re a nostalgia fan, specifically a fan of 80’s and 90’s cartoons that were thinly veiled advertisements for action figures and sugary snacks and beverages, you owe it to yourself to back this project.  Let me explain why using two of the biggest nostalgic cash grabs in today’s market: Transformers and Stranger Things.

We all know that nostalgia is big business, which has led to everything from big budget versions of our favorite toy cartoons,

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to coming of age stories that reassure us that keeping our emotional attachment to the toys we grew up with isn’t just okay, it can actually save the world.

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What’s interesting is that while Hollywood is riding a massive cash wave of nostalgic fervor, it’s not Hollywood’s kind of nostalgia.

The fact of the matter is that most of the people in charge of what kind of movies and shows get made are too old to wax nostalgic about the 1980’s and 90’s.  Let me put it to you this way, do you really think Michael Bay grew up on the Transformers cartoon?

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The answer is no, he was born in 1965 and would have been in his twenties by the time the Transformers cartoon rolled around.

To properly leverage nostalgia into a product that can be profitable and enjoyable to its target audience you have to understand why audiences loved the original product in the first place.  This is usually helped by being part of the generation that grew up on said product and being given the time and freedom to put that feeling into film.

I think that it’s the reason why Stranger Things works so well.  The Duffer Brothers have demonstrated that they understand why people who grew up in the 1980’s loved that time period so much and Netflix has been very generous in leaving creators alone to do their work.

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So what would you rather have: an army of ancient Hollywood executives approving movies based off of nostalgic properties that they have little to no interest in, or a small team of creatives who genuinely care about what they’re working on and who want to put their heart and soul into something that they care about?

If your answer was the second option than go ahead, donate to the comic about cereal and beverage mascots fighting crime and taking names.

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Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/914859599/the-mighty-mascots-comic-book-issue-1

Golden Age Showcase: Minister Blizzard

It’s December, which means for those of us living in the northern climes it usually means a lot of this:

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Sure, it’s not always this dramatic or extreme, but when it snows it generally puts a damper on everyone’s plans.  Not a whole lot of people like the cold, except for the children who get the day off when school is cancelled.  What I’m getting at here is that the ability to control snow and ice makes for a fantastic super villain power.

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Sure, there are plenty of superheroes who can control snow and ice, but if you ask me it makes for a much more…chilling power in the hands of the bad guys.

Some of the greatest bad guys in comic book history are ice themed villains, and two of the greatest are Flash’s Captain Cold,

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and Batman’s Mr. Freeze.

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But while they may be two of the greatest villains around, they weren’t the first ice themed super villains in comics.  That honor belong’s to a Wonder Woman villain named Minister Blizzard.

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Side note: if anyone knows about an ice powered super villain who was published before this guy, please let me know.

Origin and Career

Minister Blizzard made his first appearance in Wonder Woman #29 in May of 1948.

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The script was written by Wonder Woman’s creator: William Moulton Marston and the art was done by early Wonder Woman artist Henry G. Peter.

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The story starts off with a scientist named Professor Chemico (gee, I wonder what he specializes in) traveling to the North Pole to test an invention that can control the climate of a surrounding area.  His intention is to raise the temperature of the North Pole in order to turn it into a warm and fertile place for humans to live.

This is hilarious when you consider that in any modern comic, this man would be a very clear cut villain.

However, despite the comic’s positive spin on global warming, it turns out that the actions of the protagonist will wind up causing a considerable amount of damage because there are already a group of people living in the fictional location of Iceberg Land at the North Pole.

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The people are led by the princess Snowina (groan!) and her Prime Minister is Minister Blizzard.

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At the start his intentions seem pure.  He helps protect his people from the seeming advances of the foreign invaders by capturing and freezing them.  However, it turns out that he’s a bit power hungry and decides to take the Professor’s machine and use it to take over the world.

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He attempts to threaten New York with a giant glacier, but Wonder Woman manages to stop him in time.  He’s captured, returned to the custody of the Ice People, and relations are repaired between the two civilizations.

So what happened?

He only had one appearance in the Golden Age books, but he would actually go on to have a fairly long and decent career in the later years.

His next appearance was in 1966 in Wonder Woman #162 where he tried to repeat his plan to take over New York by freezing it over.

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He even joined a bunch of other ice themed villains in an attempt to freeze and blackmail Ecuador.

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It turned out that the group had been formed to be a distraction for a much larger crime going on.

He would even make a few small modern appearances and this time the writers actually made him into an environmentally minded villain who was hellbent on creating another Ice Age.

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More recently, he has even had the honor of getting the stuffing beaten out of him by Batman in DC’s recent Rebirth series of comics when he tried to stop a billionaire from creating what he called a “fake winter town”.

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Minister Blizzard could be considered a small, one time super villain, but he has certainly gotten around.  As one of the first super villains with the power to control ice and snow he deserves a place in comic book history and a spot in the pantheon of DC comic book villains.

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Golden Age Showcase: Igor the Archer

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.

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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.

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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,

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and this was right after Stalin took over and celebrated by killing even more of his countrymen.

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(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.

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Origin and Career

Igor made his first appearance in EC Comics’ International Comics #1 in the Spring of 1947.

Cover for International Comics (EC, 1947 series) #1

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,

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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,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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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.

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But every now and then they had good guys like Colossus (my personal favorite X-Man),

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and devious antiheroes/double agents like Black Widow.

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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.

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