Golden Age Showcase: Bulletman

Quickly, when you hear the name “Bulletman”, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

Personally I image some sort of dark, brooding, Punisher type hero who lets his guns do the talking and they aren’t taking “no” for an answer.

Kind of like what you might have found in a lot of comics from the 1990’s.

Image result for image comics overtkill

Side note: the above image is a character named Overtkill.  Yes, that is how you spell his name.

Well, in the 1940’s a company called Fawcett Comics created a character named Bulletman and he looked like this:

Image result for fawcett comics bulletman

Good Lord…that hat!

Origin and Career

Bulletman made his first appearance in Nickel Comics #1 in May of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Nickel Comics #1

He was published by Fawcett Comics and was created by writer/editor Bill Parker and artist John Smalle.

Bill Parker created Fawcett’s most popular character, Captain Marvel.

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Remember this, it will be important later.

As for origins, Bulletman’s civilian identity is Jim Barr.  His story takes a welcome break from the “I’m just going to fight crime because I’m rich and I have nothing better to do” school of thought and takes its cues from the Batman school of crime fighting.  Namely, his parents get killed by criminals so he decides to fight crime at a young age.

Comic Book Cover For Nickel Comics #1

No word on what happened to his mom.

A couple of things are interesting in this origin story.  First, the boy is a scientist and never had any aspirations to be an athlete, so that’s a pretty good deviation from the norm.

Second, he develops a “crime cure” because he believes that crime is a disease that can be treated like malaria or small pox.

Wow, there’s…enough to unpack in that last panel alone to fill an entire book.  So let’s skip over that and save it for arguing in the comments.

Sadly, Jim suffers from the plight that all smart people seem to suffer from in fiction, having his career hampered by idiots and jocks.

Comic Book Cover For Nickel Comics #1

Three things to note here on this page.  First, this is the best scan I could find.  Second, the only one who believes in him is a pretty lady named Susan Kent, who eventually becomes his girlfriend and wife.  Finally, notice how the cop in the second to last panel is openly justifying torture to extract a confession from a criminal using a rubber hose.

Meanwhile the “crime cure” works!  Sort of…

Comic Book Cover For Nickel Comics #1

I mean, it turns him into a superhero so yeah…he gets to cure crime by punching things.

He continues his reckless use of using things without testing them by building a gravity defying helmet and leaping out a window before it can be tested.

Comic Book Cover For Nickel Comics #1

Thankfully the helmet works, even if he looks hilarious in it, and he manages to stop the criminals and save the day.

Bulletman would go on to be one of Fawcett’s most successful heroes, second only to Captain Marvel.  After his career took off (har har) he did something strange and actually didn’t fight Nazis or Nazi spies.  Instead he fought criminals both with his superpowers and as a police scientist.

Of course, just punching people can get boring pretty quickly so in April of 1941 Bulletman appeared in Master Comics #12 and his lady friend Susan Kent wound up discovering his identity.

Comic Book Cover For Master Comics #12

The police chief’s daughter did in a matter of months what Lois Lane couldn’t do in years and in the following issue she confronts him about it.

Comic Book Cover For Master Comics #13

The two wind up reconciling after Susan saves Bulletman’s life by giving herself the same powers and “finding an extra helmet lying around”.

Comic Book Cover For Master Comics #13

And the two became a crime fighting couple to be reckoned with.

So what happened?

By all accounts Bulletman and Bulletgirl should have survived into the modern day.  He was a popular character, he had an interesting backstory, and he was regularly seen with one of the most popular superheroes of the 1940’s.

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And that was the problem.  See, while Fawcett Comics had a huge amount of success with Captain Marvel it turned out that his greatest enemy wasn’t a super villain, but legal action.

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It turned out that DC Comics looked at the hordes of tall white guys with super strength, super speed, flight, and a secret identity and decided that a lot of them were a little too close to their big time money maker: Superman.

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We can debate the truth to this statement all day, but what’s not debatable is the results and in the case National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Comics National Comics won and Fawcett was forced to pay damages and cease publication of Captain Marvel.

It’s worth mentioning that the case made its first initial court appearance in 1941 with the final decision made a decade later, making this one of the longest copyright cases in comic book history.

Fawcett was decimated by the case and ceased publishing comics in 1953, and while they would restart publishing comics in the 60’s, they wound up handing their entire stable of superheroes over to DC comics in 1972.

Bulletman and Bulletgirl made the leap as well and appeared in a new superhero group called “The Squadron of Justice” to defeat the forces of a villain named King Kull.

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They kept the helmets because why the hell not?  They make the costume.

The two would be moved into the All Star Squadron, a DC Comics superhero team that was placed in a universe where World War 2 was still happening.

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The two would go on to have a fairly important supporting role in DC’s SHAZAM! books. He got to meet Green Lantern mentor Abin Sur,

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and at one point, Bulletman was actually accused of being a Nazi collaborator in 1998’s Starman #39 although he was naturally cleared of all charges.

Bulletman and Bulletgirl would also have a kid!  In 1997 they had a kid named Deana who donned her mother’s helmet and became the hero Windshear.

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She dated Captain Marvel for a bit and helped her Dad rescue Marvel from a villain named Chain Lightening.

The group has even inspired copies of their own, although they were all published within DC Comics so there was no court case.  In 2005 Grant Morrison published a book series called Seven Soldiers, which was based on many of the old Fawcett characters.  Bullet girl became “Bulleteer” and she looked like this.

Image result for dc comics bulleteer

So nice to know the phallic helmets didn’t just remain, they got bigger.

In a way I’m upset that Bulletman and Bulletgirl wound up where they are today.  By all accounts they should still be around today since they did hold their own with some of the big name heroes of the Golden Age of Comics and the fact that they were a capable pairing as husband and wife adds an interesting dynamic that you don’t really see with a lot of comic book superheroes.

They were a solid team with a solid story and a solid power set and deserve a place right alongside their famous colleague Captain Marvel.

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Golden Age Showcase: Lance Lewis

I love superhero stories, but every now and then I get tired of men and women with impossible powers and I want to read something else.

When I get tired of reading about superheroes like Superman and Spider Man I like to turn to the science fiction category.  Granted, while superheroes and sci fi do share a lot of similarities, some times it’s nice to just relax with a book about normal human beings using their intelligence, fists, and cool sci fi gadgets to solve all the world’s problems.

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Okay, not that one.

Thankfully, this was something that comic book publishers understood as far back as the 1940’s and the folks at Standard Comics were more than willing to accommodate the need for non superhero stories with strange and fascinating science fiction stories about space men and aliens from the future.

Let’s talk about the detective from the 22nd century: Lance Lewis.

Image result for standard comics lance lewis

Origin and Career

Lance Lewis first appeared in Standard Comics’ Mystery Comics #3 in 1944 during the post war boom in non superhero comics.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Although is first appearance didn’t credit the author or artist, later issues revealed that the character was written by Bob Oskner,

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who had done some early work for Timely Comics and made his name in humor comics but would later find steady work at DC in the 1970’s,

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and was drawn by Graham Ingels, a man who would become famous for his work on EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt.

Image result for graham ingels tales from the crypt.

Anyway, back to Lance Lewis.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Our hero was a detective from the distant future tasked with keeping the solar system free from bandits, brigands, and other criminals.

In his first adventure Lance was tasked with overseeing a race between two space ships that belonged to two rival companies who were vying for a lucrative delivery contract.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Sadly, the race did not go well and Lance was tasked with solving the murder of one of the pilots.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

What’s rather interesting is that this story did present a genuine mystery for the reader, who was left with no idea how a pilot could have been killed in the middle of space without a mark on him or without any apparent sabotage to the ship.

It turned out that the ship was sabotaged by the competition.  The rival company hired a saboteur to drill microscopic holes into the ship’s engine which led to all the air escaping from the ship.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

There are a couple of things that are pretty noteworthy about this comic.  First, the art style is pure “ray gun gothic”, which was an art style that was very popular in early science fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Image result for raygun gothic 1950's

Image result for raygun gothic 1950'sWhat I’m saying here is that the art is awesome and I personally think there should be more of it.

Second, you’ll notice small lines of war time propaganda on the bottom of the page.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Such were the times I guess.

Lance would get a girlfriend named Marna in the following issue after rescuing her from a group of evil blobs from Saturn who were bent on total domination of the Solar System.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics v2 1 (4)

Then he took a three year hiatus and would return as the cover character on Standard’s Startling Comics #44 in March of 1947 to capitalize on the boom of non superhero themed comic books.

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The rest of his appearances were pretty standard “sci fi detective” affairs, where he would solve a case that involved some strange technology or evil alien race with his girlfriend.

His last appearance was in Startling Mystery Comics #53 in September of 1948.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

His last case deserves special mention because it is an honest to goodness clever bit of writing.

Lance and Marna are on Jupiter watching a broadcast of the Planetary Music Festival, a music competition that has a huge cash prize for the winner.  Lance brings Marna’s attention to a little boy who is incredibly skilled with the violin.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

However, Lance is interrupted by his superiors ordering him to investigate a mysterious accident in space where a cargo ship was destroyed, which was strange considering that it wasn’t carrying explosives. Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Things get weirder when Lance finds out that the boy’s manager, an evil looking Mr. Gorman and his associate Namar, placed a stack of greeting cards onto the ship that exploded.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Long story short, it turned out that Mr. Goman and Namar were blackmailing shipping companies into paying protection money and would blow up the ships of people who refused to pay with specially treated cards that were coated with an atomic explosive that was set off when a certain tone was played over the radio.  The person who set the tone off was the boy who was playing the violin.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

The comic has a happy ending, in turned out they boy wasn’t in on the plot and was only playing to support his mother, and the criminals are all brought to justice in one of the best written Golden Age stories I have ever read.

So what happened?

Lance Lewis was actually published by one of Standard Comics’ imprints, Nedor Comics.  Nedor and its sister company Better Publications were folded into Standard Comics in 1949, a few months after Lance Lewis stories stopped being published.  While I can’t say for sure why these stories stopped being published (mostly because everyone involved either isn’t talking or is dead) I’d like to speculate and say that this merging was due to financial troubles at Standard Comics and Lance and company got lost in the shuffle.

That being said, Lance Lewis would have a brief revival in the early 2000’s thanks to one of the greatest modern comic book writers alive today: Alan Moore.

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Alan Moore started a company called America’s Best Comics in 1999.

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One of the series he created was about a “science hero” named Tom Strong,

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The series proved popular enough to warrant a spin off series known as Terra Obscura in 2003.  It was a series about an alternate Earth on the other side of the universe and utilized a lot of the old Standard Comics heroes that had fallen into public domain.

Lance Lewis made an appearance Tom Strong #12 as a time traveling scientist who sent himself back to World War 2 so he could fight in “The last good war”.

He would die three years later when he was killed by a villain named Mystico who needed to obtain the heart of a time traveler.

Lance Lewis was an interesting case study of the Golden Age.  While many people, including myself, dedicate most of our time and effort into studying the old superheroes we tend to forget that there were comic books that told other types of stories as ell.

Lance Lewis may not have had super powers, but he was definitely a hero using his brains, fists, and toys to deal out justice to the criminals of the future.

Image result for lance lewis golden age comics