The Secret Lives of Villains #223

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Golden Age Showcase: Doctor Poison

Today we continue our feeble contribution to the marketing campaign of the new Wonder Woman movie by talking about one of the villains of the movie: Doctor Poison.

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Now, it’s widely accepted that the Ancient Greek god of war, Ares, is going to make an appearance as well and will probably be the actual main villain of the movie,

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(and before you go complaining about spoilers, understand that he’s credited in the movie’s Wikipedia page so it isn’t exactly a secret) and this makes sense.  After all, Ares is probably Wonder Woman’s greatest and most powerful foe from a comic viewpoint and a moral viewpoint (we’ll cover that later) but today I want to talk about Doctor Poison.

Why?  Because it’s my blog and because her Golden Age comic debut was a bit…well…

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terrifying.

Origin and Career

Dr. Poison made her first appearance in Sensation Comics #2 in February of 1942.

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This was one of the earliest issues of Wonder Woman which makes Dr. Poison one of her first true villains.

Fun fact: this was also the first appearance of Etta Candy, a long standing Wonder Woman side kick of the Golden Age and character in the new movie.

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Dr. Poison was created by Wonder Woman’s creator: William Moulton Marston,

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and artist Harry G. Peter.

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Marston in particular has a very interesting backstory, but we’ll get to that later.

In her first appearance, Dr. Poison’s role was very straight forward.  She was working for the Nazis and was tasked with disrupting the Allied war effort through her knowledge of poisons and toxins.

Since this is a superhero story, which practically requires the villain to kidnap someone, she manages to hold off Wonder Woman by kidnapping her “friend” Steve Trevor.

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Her plan was to dose Allied soldiers with a chemical she called “Reverso”, a chemical compound which messed with people’s minds and forced them to do the opposite of what they were ordered to do.

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It’s a very comic book style plot but who knows?  Maybe it could have worked.

By now I’m sure you’re noticing something peculiar.  I’ve been calling Dr. Poison “she” and “her” while all the pictures suggest that it’s a man under those robes.  Well, after Wonder Woman foils her plot (because of course) it is revealed that “he” is actually a woman named Princess Maru.

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She did manage to escape (because again, of course) and she would make two more appearances in the 1940’s.  First in 1943 where she tried (and failed) to help the Japanese by developing a gas that would clog up the engines of the Allied planes.

Her final Golden Age appearance was in 1948.  After the war was over Wonder Woman imprisoned a whole bunch of her villains on an Amazonian prison called “Transformation Island”.  In Marston’s last book, he had several of the bad guys escape and form a group known as Villainy Inc.

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So what happened?

Doctor Poison was the polar opposite of Wonder Woman in every way.  While Wonder Woman sought to bring justice to man’s world, Doctor Poison sought to bring tyranny.

While Wonder Woman embraced her feminine side and challenged the men around her to accept her as a woman, Doctor Poison actively suppressed it and attempted to use her disguise to convince the men around her she was worth keeping.

While Wonder Woman believed in honorable combat, Doctor Poison believed in using cheap and underhanded tricks to win the day.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that the two should have gone one to become long standing rivals.  Sort of like Lex Luthor and Superman or Batman and the Joker.

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Sadly, this was not the case.

The well known backlash against comics in the 1950’s hit Wonder Woman hard, especially given her…well let’s just say some of her early stuff wasn’t really for kids.

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Like I said, we’ll get to that.

Dr. Poison wouldn’t make another appearance until December 1999 in Wonder Woman #151.  The new villain was actually the granddaughter of the original Dr. Poison and…

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yeah…yeah that’s terrifying.

In an interesting twist, she revealed that her grandmother had actually been killed when she was doused with Reverso and discovered that the drug made her younger and younger until she was just a baby.

The new and revived Dr. Poison also joined the new and revived Villainy Inc.

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‘before moving on and joining another group, the Secret Society of Super Villains.

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While this might have worked out DC Comics had other plans.

When the company launched a massive reboot of their comic universe known as “The New 52”.

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Dr. Poison was brought along.

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She lost the costume and the Japanese heritage and became a Russian biological and chemical weapons expert with a grudge against the United States.

If you ask me this was a poor move.  She went from intimidating and creepy bad guy to stereotypical comic book scientist with a grudge and that seems like just a waste.

Thankfully, DC seemed to get the idea that the entire New 52 universe was a bad idea and rebooted their universe again with an event called “Rebirth”.

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Once again, Dr. Poison was brought along for the ride.

This time the writers brought back the Asian heritage and her original name, only this time she was a soldier in charge of an organization called Poison and went around infecting people with a rage inducing bio weapon known as “The Maru Virus”.

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Sure, it’s a step in the right direction, but someday comic book creators are going to have to come face to face with the fact that sometimes readers actually LIKE crazy backstories and weird costumes.

So that’s an abridged history of Dr. Poison, one of the main villains for Wonder Woman in the new movie that’s coming out soon.  Honestly, I think this is a good move.  She’s got a great set of of skills, she’s intimidating and can provide a great challenge for our hero, and she’s intimidating as all hell.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Owl

Let’s talk about Batman.

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We all know Batman, we all love Batman.  Why?  Because he’s Batman!

The reason I bring this up is because like his blue Boy Scout friend, the Golden Age Batman was incredibly popular.  And as we all know, with popularity comes a host of imitators, knock offs, and copies just different enough to avoid copyright lawsuits.

Today we’re going to look at one of the more successful Batman imitators and a hero with one of the most bizarre legacies in comic books: The Owl.

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Origin and Career

The Owl was one of the few original characters created by a company called Dell Comics.

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The character was created by comic book artist Frank Tomas and made his first appearance in Crackajack Funnies in July of 1940.

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No, I don’t know why they spelled “Crackerjack” wrong.

The hero’s secret identity is Nick Terry, world famous private detective.  In his first adventure he learns about a notorious criminal who has escaped from prison.

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You’ll notice that he’s rich enough to hire a butler, keeps strange hours at night, and has a fiancee named Bella Wayne.

As if we needed any more proof that he was a ripoff of Batman.

With that being said, I will admit that the Owl has one thing on the Caped Crusader.  His costume is much more terrifying.

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In fact, the costume is so terrifying that the adventure ends with the criminal dying from a heart attack out of fear.

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The Owl got a costume redesign the next issue and continued his campaign of fear and intimidation across the city.

It’s worth mentioning that Belle Wayne was no meager damsel in distress either.  She was a fairly competent reporter and actually learned her fiancee’s identity early in the series.

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Oh, by the way, the Owl was rich enough to afford his own plane as well.

It’s worth mentioning that Belle actually managed to save the Owl as well.  After being kidnapped and imprisoned by a villain called Pantherman (hey, there are worse names), Belle pops out of nowhere wearing…

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When the Owl asks about the costume her response is pure gold.

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The two would continue their adventures for a couple more issues.  While they were popular, the rest of their adventures during the 1940’s were nothing really special.

So what happened?

The Owl and Owl Girl had a pretty good run but Dell Comics stopped publishing new stories for them in 1943.

Despite the character’s popularity, Dell wasn’t the best place for a hero like this.  You see, Dell didn’t spend a lot of time with original characters, they were making too much money off of licensed comic books like Mickey Mouse.

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In fact, they were doing so well that Dell was able to survive the comic book scares of the 1950’s relatively intact and without having to bend to the will of the Comics Code Authority.

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Sadly, internal struggles and split business partnerships meant that Dell folded in 1962 but their successor company, a publisher called Gold Key Comics, continued and even revived the Owl.

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As if the similarities between the Owl and Batman weren’t obvious enough, the entire reason why the Owl was revived was to cash in on the success of a certain tv show.

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Like the Adam West classic, the new Owl comic was campy, silly, and didn’t last very long.

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Since then he has made three appearances in the modern day.  The first in AC Comics’ Men of Mystery in 1999,

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Dynamite’s Project Superpowers in 2008,

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and Dynamite actually gave him his own limited series in 2013.

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So the Owl’s legacy is a successful one.  As a Golden Age hero he’s lasted a lot longer than many of his contemporaries and was just different enough from the crowd to stand apart from the source material he was ripping off.  But, I think it’s safe to say that his greatest legacy are all the other heroes who have adopted the owl as their symbol.

Granted, I’m sure comic book greats like Alan Moore weren’t thinking of this particular hero when they created heroes like Nite Owl,

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or several villains who go by that name,

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but the Owl was the first hero to use that name and that deserves credit and respect.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Green Turtle

WARNING: This article contains offensive portrayals of Black and Asian people and discussion of legitimate war crimes committed by the Japanese Army in China.  You have been warned.

Today I want to talk about diversity in comics.

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Yes, I know this is probably the last subject that anyone wants to talk about, and I’ll admit that I’m a bit late to the party on this one (for the record no…I don’t think diversity is killing Marvel’s sales, it’s event fatigue and constant relaunches), but this is a blog series on the Golden Age of Comics and while there were a fair share of non white characters in early comic books,

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they weren’t exactly…acceptable for modern audiences, or any audiences for that matter.

With that being said, if there was one specific group of people who were blatantly targeted during the Golden Age of Comics, it was the Japanese.

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This sort of propaganda was quite prevalent during the 1940’s and I’m sure people made excuses for it like “there’s a war on”,

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and “they attacked us first”,

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but calling an entire country of people animals,

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and unfairly imprisoning thousands of American citizens because they were suspected of being saboteurs,

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is just wrong.

The funny thing is, during the Golden Age of Comics there were a small number of Asian American artists working in the industry, and one of them even created a superhero that actually portrayed the Japanese with a small semblance of humanity.

Today were going to talk about the first Asian American superhero: The Green Turtle.

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Origin and Career

The Green Turtle made his first appearance on the cover of Blazing Comics #1 in June of 1944.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

You’ll notice a couple of things about the cover such as the shadow figure with the eyes, the fact that the Japanese soldier being strangled has actual eyes instead of slants, and that the hero’s face isn’t showing.  All of that is there for a reason and I’ll explain it later.

The character was created by Asian American artist Chu F. Hing.

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Hing was born in Hawai’i, studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and was part of a small group of Asian American artists who were working in American comicbooks at the time.

The comic itself was an anthology title and was published by a small collection of publishers known as Rural Home.  The specific company that published Blazing Comics was called Croydon Publishing.

The comic takes place entirely in the Pacific, and the Green Turtle exclusively fights Japanese soldiers and leaders.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

What’s really interesting is that all of the action takes place in Japanese held China.  The Japanese soldiers attack Chinese civilians, the entire supporting cast is Chinese, and America is never threatened or even mentioned in the comic.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

While the Green Turtle had no actual superpowers, he did have a cool looking jet called “The Turtle Plane”.

The man swoops in and saves the day by machine gunning a bunch of Japanese soldiers, rescuing a boy and his mother, and roasting two more soldiers with his jet engines.

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Holy crap!  He actually cares for the civilians and actively tries not to kill them!

So, the Green Turtle works in China, protects the Chinese people, and lives in a mountain in Tibet.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

So did that mean that the Green Turtle was a Chinese superhero?

Well…did you notice that in those pages above you never saw the hero’s face?  That’s something of a common theme throughout the comic.

It’s widely believed that Hing was locked in a battle with his editor over the ethnicity of the Green Turtle.  In all likelihood, Hing wanted to make him Chinese but his editor was resistant due to the infamous “Yellow Peril” that produced many of the offensive stereotypes that permeate our culture.

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So while the Green Turtle spoke English and had pink skin, as opposed to yellowish orange like the Asian characters,

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

Hing subverted this by never showing his face in the comic, even when they slapped an image of his face on the cover of the next issue.

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The kid on the cover was the Turtle’s sidekick and the same kid he rescued in the first issue.  His name was “Burma Boy” because if you wanted any amount of success in the Golden Age of Comics you needed a kid sidekick with a wacky name.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the Green Turtle’s origin story and what is that weird shadow with a face?  Sadly, the comic never gave an origin story or an explanation for the shadow.

Something that makes this comic especially noteworthy is Hing’s portrayal of the Japanese.  Unlike many Japanese soldiers in other American comics Hing wrote and drew like…humans.

Which is especially hilarious when, in the VERY NEXT STORY IN THE ANTHOLOGY, there is an American soldier who manages to convince Japanese soldiers that he is one of them by smearing mud on his face.

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However, It is worth mentioning that while Hing’s portrayal of the Japanese was substantially less racist that his American contemporaries, they were still portrayed as monsters.  While Hing’s Japanese spoke perfect English and had visible eyeballs, they weren’t above bayoneting women and children,

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and torturing prisoners.

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This could be chalked up to war time paranoia and Hing’s Chinese heritage, since Japanese soldiers had a well documented history of brutal and horrific war crimes in China.

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(side note: why the Japanese committed these crimes is a discussion for another day.  All that I will say on the matter is that many of the Imperial Japanese military officers responsible for these crimes were tried and punished, many Japanese officials have apologized for them, and it still remains a very sensitive and painful memory for a lot of people to this day.)

So what happened?

The Green Turtle disappeared off of the face of the Earth after issue #5.  I can’t say exactly what happened, but my research showed that Croydon only published 10 books from 1944-1946, and I am speaking from personal experience when I say that the publishing industry is not kind to small time publishers.

The Green Turtle would remain obscure for decade until 2014, when American cartoonist Gene Luen Yang and Malaysian born artist Sonny Liew created a six issue mini series that told the origin story of the Green Turtle called The Shadow Hero.

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It definitively makes the character Asian and gives an explanation for the shadow and why his skin is pink.

I actually remember reading it in 2014, long before I decided to start this blog.  It’s a really good story and I highly recommend it.

The Green Turtle was definitely a special case for the Golden Age of Comics.  In an industry dominated by white men and white superheroes here was an Asian creator doing his absolute best to create an Asian hero in a time where it wasn’t socially acceptable.  It would be understandable to think that Chu Hing was upset and angry about this, but I don’t think that was the case.

At the start of Blazing Comics #3, Hing has some Chinese characters on the left side of the first panel.

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It’s an old Chinese saying “Four oceans, one family”, which could be interpreted as the author stating that even though China and America are worlds apart in culture and distance they’re still brothers in arms and a common cause.

That…is remarkably open for a comic book coming out of the 1940’s and is something that deserves our attention and respect.

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