Warning, there are some pretty awful depictions of Japanese people in this article.
We all know who Captain America is right?
The phrase “success spawns imitators” is something that applies to all art, but it is especially true with comic books.
You have an super strong human who fights for truth and justice?
Rip him off to huge success and have the inevitable court case bankrupt your company!
The Superman/Captain Marvel story was one that played out a lot in the 1940’s and Captain America’s shtick of “soldier who goes off to Europe to fight thinly disguised Nazis”,
was one of the most popular setups of the time…for pretty obvious reasons.
Today we’re going to look at a super hero so similar to Captain America that when the creators were deciding a name all they had to do was look at the next letter in the alphabet: Captain Battle.
Origin and Career
Captain Battle was published by a company called Lev Gleason Publications, a company that is most famous for publishing the first true crime comic: Crime Does Not Pay.
Our hero made his first appearance in another title Silver Streak Comics in May of 1941.
The character was created by artist Jack Binder and writer Cal Formes. Of the two, Jack is the only one who had a picture,
Jack is also the more famous of the two, since he helped create another superhero for Lev Gleason Publications called Dardevil. And no, it’s not THE Daredevil.
Like most Golden Age heroes, Captain Battle’s origin story is quick and dealt with in a single page.
He was a kid scientist in the first World War and lost an eye to the conflict. He vowed that a war like that should never happen again (spoilers: that didn’t go so well) and resolves to use his inventions to stop conflicts from happening.
To help him he has inventions such as the “curvoscope”, a telescope that can see anywhere in the world…somehow.
Also, he has the help of a pretty lady secretary, because this is the 1940’s and apparently that was all women were good for.
In his first adventure Captain Battle fights off a race of giant birdmen who are attacking a group of battleships. He uses this opportunity to showcase two of his other inventions: the Luceflyer jet pack and the Dissolvo gun.
Full disclosure, I think “Luceflyer” is probably the coolest name for a jet pack I can think of.
These birdmen who are attacking the ships belong to a villain named “The Black Dragon” and are called “deaglos”. They’re big, strong, and kind of intimidating,
wait no…no, no, no, no. When you fly around and refer to your commander as “your cluckness” you lose all sense of foreboding and terror.
Naturally, Captain Battle swoops in and saves the day. He showcases his Dissolvo gun on some of the birdmen and it is goddamn terrifying.
This isn’t a one and done thing, the Dissolvo gets used pretty often throughout the series when Captain Battle decides to fight actual Nazis.
Call me old fashioned, but I’m willing to bet that using a weapon that dissolves your enemies into goo is a violation of the Geneva Convention and human decency.
The Captain is kidnapped and dragged before the Black Dragon, who attempts to turn the hero into a birdman.
He discovers that the birds fear radio beams and uses this knowledge to kill them all in the final page.
It’s worth mentioning that these creatures used to be humans, a point that the Captain brings up two issues later when he invents a serum that changes them back.
He even picks up a subservient Asian man who helps him rescue all the other men.
Captain Battle proved to be a popular hero, so popular that he wound up getting his own kid sidekick and cover appearances.
Also, he fought Nazi cultist skull unicorns,
no…I am not joking.
This was the sort of stuff that would define Captain Battle’s career. He fought real threats that were portrayed in strange occult ways in order to make them more intimidating and fantastic.
So what happened?
Captain Battle made his last anthology appearance in Silver Streak #21 in 1942 and his final solo appearance in 1943. I guess having a superhero trying to stop WW2 from happening is kind of a bummer when the actual war just got bigger.
Lev Gleason Publications continued, but folded in 1956 after public outcry over excessive comic book violence and changes to the industry led to decreased sales.
While Captain Battle’s publisher went down the tubes the character did manage to live on. While his post Golden Age career wasn’t as big or as flashy as some of his counter parts, he did get a movie.
It was called Captain Battle: Legacy War and…
let’s just say that Marvel probably won’t be banging down the door for the rights to this movie.
Captain Battle did actually make a return to comics in 2009 when Image Comics republished Silver Streak Comics in an effort to showcase what Golden Age comics could be if the creators were allowed more artistic freedom.
It was edited by Image founder Erik Larsen and if you’re reading this Mr. Larsen…I have some ideas you might like.
Captain Battle was a cheesy, over the top, impractical, and mildly racist superhero who was born out of a pretty blatant attempt to rip off more popular superheroes. With that being said, he possessed a unique charm and flagrant disregard for convention and common sense that actually made him a bit endearing and a pretty cool superhero.
You know what they say…comedy comes in threes.
And I like to think that today’s superhero group took that lesson to heart, even though I’m willing to bet any comedy was unintentional.
Today we’re talking about the rather humorously named Target and the Targeteers.
Origin and Career
This trio of superheroes was published by a company called Novelty Press, which was created in 1940 by Curtis Publishing. If that name isn’t familiar all you need to know is that they publish the Saturday Evening Post. If that name isn’t familiar then you probably recognize this cover.
Novelty Press was created as a comic book imprint in order to take advantage of the comic book craze. They were able to draw a lot of great Golden Age talent such as Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and Basil Wolverton and their two most famous publications were the superhero series Blue Bolt,
and the anthology series Target Comics.
Despite sharing the name of the title, the superhero we’re talking about today didn’t appear until issue #10 in November of 1940.
Yes that is him on the cover and I have to admit I don’t know what’s funnier: the testicular fortitude of a man who is willing to get shot by painting a giant target on his chest or how stupid the gangsters are for not aiming at the knees or face.
The hero was created by artist Dick Briefer under the pseudonym of Dick Hamilton. Briefer’s most famous work was with the Frankenstein character and is widely considered to be the first modern comic book artist to work with horror stories.
Back to Dick’s most famous superhero, Target’s first adventure had him sending an ominous message to criminals everywhere: “Live your life on the straight and narrow or I’ll find you”. He does this by buying up advertising space on nationwide newspapers, radio space, and even hijacking the phone service.
You know how in modern movies the bad guy can mysteriously deliver a message to every computer, television, and phone around the world? It’s nice to know that this particular cliche isn’t so modern.
The Target’s ominous message doesn’t deter a group of gangsters from kidnapping a scientist who is developing a new explosive that other countries want.
The gangsters reach the professor’s house, only to find that the Target is already there.
On the face of it, it would appear that the hero has a very poorly designed costume for dealing with guns, but the comic explains that while the suit protects his chest and arms (thus leaving the face and legs unprotected) the target is there to draw enemy fire to the places where the bullets can’t harm him.
I would commend the comic for attempting to use “Batman psychology” to explain why the hero made the decisions he made but no, in real life that man is dead.
The adventure ends in typical fashion. The bad guys are stopped, the hero saves the day, and the reader is left wondering what’s next.
The next issue not only delves into the Target’s backstory, it also reveals that he has two friends who share a similar death wish by dressing in similar costumes.
The Target’s civilian identity is Niles Reed. He was an athletic prodigy who decided to become a metallurgist had a brother named Bill, who decided to become a lawyer.
Unfortunately, Bill was framed for murder and arrested. In his rage, Niles decided to rescue his brother while disguised as a masked vigilante.
While it’s a bit unclear it would appear that the cops accidentally shot Bill as he was trying to escape with his brother. So in an interesting twist, Niles was responsible for his brother’s death.
Later that evening Niles happens to stumble across two orphaned boys who were in a lot trouble with some gangsters for not paying protection money. The three become friends and decide to dress up like superheroes using the same bulletproof costumes of Niles’ design.
The origin story ended with the reveal that Bill had been framed by a crime boss named Hammerfist, who would become something of a recurring villain for the trio.
I’ll admit, there are some interesting points to this story. The fact that the hero is actually responsible for his brother’s death coupled with him taking in two orphans who share similar tragic stories draw a lot of similarities to more popular heroes like Spider Man and Batman.
The rest of the trio’s adventures were all one shots with a very patriotic bent them. The three did their duty and fought against America’s enemies, both at home and abroad.
The post war years saw a return to form for the trio where they went back to waging war against criminals in the United States.
So what happened?
The trio of crime fighters had a pretty long shelf life for the Golden Age heroes. They lasted until issue #95 of Target Comics where their last adventure had them foiling criminals who were sabotaging advertising signs in order to extort an advertising firm.
Yeah, maybe it was a good thing that they got cancelled.
The trio would disappear for a while until the Target made an appearance in AC Comics’ Men of Mystery series in 1999.
The trio itself made a comeback in Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers series in 2008.
Their backstories remained the same, only this time they all had super speed on top of their indestructible suits.
The Target and the Targeteers embodied everything that worked and didn’t work about the Golden Age of Comics. On one hand they were goofy, wore silly costumes, and relied on some pretty bad science in order to survive and function. On the other hand, they had one of the better origin stories I’ve read, they had a long run, and a lot of the things that made it into their stories such as the use of psychology to fight criminals would be use to great effect in other, more popular comic hero stories.
All in all, they weren’t that bad.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry.
When I started this blog nearly two years ago (holy crap! It’s been two years!) I started this series to talk about the strange and peculiar superheroes of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Sure, we’ve covered some weird ones,
and ones who have gone on to have long and illustrious careers,
and some heroes who had a cool idea behind them but either didn’t quite make it or were relegated to a life behind the scenes.
But today…today is different.
This superhero is so obscure, strange, and downright silly that I feel ashamed to have not brought him to your attention sooner. Thankfully, he was brought to my attention by a reddit commentator named “apocoluster” (thank you for that by the way) and this blog is better for it.
Today we’re talking about the one and only…Dr. Hormone.
Origin and Career
The unfortunately named doctor made his first appearance in Dell Comics Popular Comics #54 in August of 1940.
He didn’t even get a text advertisement on the cover, not the most promising start.
He was created a mysterious figure named Bob Bugg.
I have no idea who this person is, no idea what he or she looked like, and no idea if that is an actual name or a pseudonym.
I’m willing to bet the actual creator wanted to keep his or her identity secret out of shame.
Like most Golden Age characters, his origin was quite simple and explained in a single page.
The man was on death’s door and managed to make himself younger again, thus cheating death. I like to think this origin is a metaphor for the actual creation of this character.
So what does this character do with this revolutionary formula? Go into business for himself and make millions? Give it to the world for free out of the goodness of his heart?
This is the early 1940’s and America is soon to be at war. Clearly, the best thing to do is to militarize this miracle formula and sell it as a weapon.
The “we’re a stand in for continental Europe being oppressed by the Nazis but we can’t actually call them Nazis because America isn’t TECHNICALLY at war yet” country this time is the hilariously named Novoslavia, who is offering the princely sum of $25 million to whoever can provide their country with a means to defend them from the encroaching Eurasians.
The Professor decides to play war profiteer and brings his invention to Novoslavia, along with his granddaughter Jane.
Because countries on the brink of war are perfectly safe for little kids.
Sadly, their goods are stolen and they come up against the most evil and wretched enemy of all, incompetent and vindictive bureaucrats.
This takes the form of War Minister Rastinov who immediately throws the Doctor and his daughter into prison. However, Jane manages to secure their release by slipping something into the war minister’s drink.
Remember, if you want to get on someone’s good side, always make sure they make an ass of themselves.
The Novoslovians award Docotor Hormone the prize, and prepare for war using his miracle serum.
What I find hilarious is that the serum brings everyone to the age of 25, even babies.
Meanwhile, former war minister Assinov (not my joke) has defected to the Euraseans and proceeds to launch a full scale invasion of poor Novoslovia.
Another thing I find interesting is how the Eurasians don’t really look like Nazis. Instead they look a lot like the Soviet Army.
The war goes poorly for the Novoslovians and their leader, General Battlesky (groan!) prepares to execute the Doctor and his niece via firing squad.
but Dr. Hormone manages to save the day in the end by spraying all the Eurasians with a special hormone that makes everyone like each other again and stop the fighting.
Assinov isn’t done yet though. He manages to disguise himself as the Doctor and turn everyone into animals using the Doctor’s own hormones.
I’m beginning to think that Doctor Hormone’s credentials might be a bit suspect. Also, ethics are something of a concern.
The war is won when the Novoslovians turn Assinov’s human animal hybrids against Eurasia and thousands of human/rat hybrids sneak in and chew through their army’s ammo and swarms of human/locust hybrids swarm the enemy soldiers.
That…is actually really dark and downright terrifying.
After defeating the vile forces of Eurasia, Dr. Hormone travels back home to America. After a brief run in with new foes of the dreaded Nazians (really?) he comes across…
Hormone manages to save himself with an army of fleas, who manage to smother the flames and drive the clansmen to madness by biting them. In fact, they’re driven so mad that they commit mass suicide.
You sure this isn’t a horror comic?
His last adventure ended on a literal cliffhanger as the Doctor was attempting to stop a Nazian invasion of Texas. Unfortunately, the Klan manages to find him and forces him down a bottomless pit where he and his niece fall through time and reach a mysterious voice that instructs them to wait.
So what happened?
After the good Doctor took a left turn into insanity he never made another appearance. I’m just going to assume he’s still below, waiting for the day where he might rise up and continue the story.
As for why he was cancelled it’s pretty easy to see why. He was never a main attraction and I’m willing to bet that the kids didn’t take too kindly to the name. Plus there’s the fact that the artwork…well it isn’t very good, even for time period.
Also, while we’re on the subject of quality, why doesn’t the man have a costume? I mean sure, I’m willing to bet the creator of this story was probably tired of drawing superhero costumes (assuming he or she was a working artist at the time) but come on! You have a brilliant chemist who has manged to find a way to live forever, invents crazy chemical compounds that turn people into animals, and you’re going to dress him up in a suit!?
In all seriousness I actually do think this guy could make a halfway decent superhero in the modern era. Hell, he’d actually make a kick ass super villain!
Dr. Hormone was the personification of almost everything crazy about the Golden Age of Comics. He was weird, he had an annoying niece as a sidekick, and his adventures were filled with all sorts of insanity that would have gotten any normal person arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.
God, I love comics so much!