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 #2: 711

Today we’re going to talk about one of the more interesting characters that didn’t survive the Golden Age of Comics, not because he was a template for a future superhero like the Blue Beetle or because he was too weird like the Vagabond but because he probably has one of the most interesting origin stories and motivations in all of comics

#711

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Origin and career:

#711 debuted in Police Comics #1 in 1941 and was published by a company named Quality Comics.  He was never given his own series and spent his short career appearing in comics like the one below.

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He was originally known as District Attorney Daniel Dyce.  Now Dyce, in a coincidence that is the kind that could only be found in media like Golden Age Comics, had a friend who looked like an exact duplicate named Jacob Horn who just happened to be in prison.

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Jacob had a wife who was just about to give birth and, desperate to see his newborn child, Jacob convinces Daniel to take his place in prison so he can go be with his family, because that is how the justice system works apparently.  Unfortunately this happens.

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Jacob is killed and Daniel is now stuck in prison.  Desperate to clear his name Daniel forsakes all sane methods he could use to prove his innocence and manages to tunnel out of prison.  Instead of hightailing to Mexico or Canada Dyce decides to go back into prison and use his tunnel to become a costumed crime fighter by night.  He decides to call himself 711 in reference to his prisoner number and adopts a costume that has more similarities to the older pulp characters rather than modern superheroes.

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While he had no special abilities other than being very good at fighting he did have an impressive calling card, a mirrored surface with black bars across it so the recipient could see himself behind bars.

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So what happened?

Prisoner #711 appeared in 15 issues with Quality Comics.  In his final appearance he was killed by a mobster named Oscar Jones.  It’s worth noting that, unlike the Vagabond I talked about last week, he was deemed a decent enough character to be given a definite end and a rather touching send off

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and he was replaced by a nearly identical hero called Destiny

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Business wise Prisoner 711 would never see another issue because his publisher, Quality Comics, was bought by DC comics in 1956.  While some of Quality’s most notable heroes like Plastic Man

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Would become relatively well known superheroes DC comics didn’t have the time for Prisoner 711.  He did make an appearance during a DC Millennium reprint although it was created to showcase Plastic Man’s first appearance.

 Before I go I’d just like to say that while #711’s origin and short lived career may seem a bit odd and fantastical I personally think the idea is a good one.  The idea that a hero has to break out of prison to go fight crime, and can use the prison grapevine for information, is something that I think could make a very intriguing story.  What’s more, if there is anyone out there who is likewise inspired, you could make a very strong case that the #711 concept and story is in the public domain so anyone could potentially use it.