The Secret Lives of Villains #247

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Golden Age Showcase: Target and the Targeteers

 

You know what they say…comedy comes in threes.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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and the anthology series Target Comics.

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Despite sharing the name of the title, the superhero we’re talking about today didn’t appear until issue #10 in November of 1940.

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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. Image result for golden age dick brieferBriefer’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.

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 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.

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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.

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The gangsters reach the professor’s house, only to find that the Target is already there.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The trio itself made a comeback in Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers series in 2008.

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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.

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From the Golden Age into the Silver Age

Happy Holidays everybody.  After a fairly long hiatus we’re back!  Ready to talk about all the crazy and glorious moments and characters that make up the history of comic books.  Now since we’re at the end of the holiday season and into a new year is there a comic book character can we talk about that incorporates both Christmas and New Year’s into his/her mythology? Is there any super hero or super villain we can talk abou…Calendar Man, we’re going to talk about Calendar Man.

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Now the Calendar Man is an…odd super villain to say the least.  First and foremost he is absolutely NOT a Golden Age villain.  His first appearance was in Detective Comics #259 in September of 1958 and he looked like this.

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He was a gimmick villain, someone who committed crimes based around a certain theme or strange line of reasoning and in his case Calendar Man committed crimes based around the seasons of the year.  You’ll notice that I’m not talking that much about his backstory or motivation.  That’s because Calendar Man only had one appearance in the 1950’s and wouldn’t appear in another comic book issue until 1979.

So why are we talking about this one off gimmicky comic book villain that disappeared for over 20 years after his first appearance?  Because Calendar Man is actually a pretty good case study into the history of comic book superheroes after their Golden Age debut.

Calendar Man first appeared in 1958 and it’s important to understand that comic books, and comic book superheroes in particular, did not do well in the 1950’s.  After the Second World War ended and the various heroes were done kicking Nazi butt

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superheroes began to fade from the public image they had previously enjoyed.  Instead people turned towards more mature and grown up comic book subjects and comic book companies obliged with an outpouring of other comic book genres like Westerns

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crime and noir comics

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and horror titles.

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In a move that will probably surprise nobody reading this, the parents of the children reading these titles weren’t all too thrilled to have their precious innocent children risk being corrupted by such filth (certainly puts a lot of more modern talk about how things like video games and rap music is corrupting our youth today doesn’t it?) and things came to a head in 1954 with the Senate subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held a hearing on whether or not comic books were responsible for an apparent rise in delinquent behavior in American children.  You can read the full text of the hearing here.

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The hearings, coupled with the publication of the now infamous book Seduction of the Innocent by child psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham,

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who just so happened to be the star witness in the Committee hearings, led to a slew of bad press for the comic book industry.

This led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority.  The CCA was an industry created organization that was designed as the main censorship body for comic books for the following decades.  Rules dictating how much blood could be shown, how the main characters could behave, and what was considered to be “in good taste” were strictly enforced through CCA approved stamps.

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Any comic book not carrying this stamp wouldn’t be able to find a distributor and therefore wouldn’t sell.

So what does all this have to do with Calendar Man.  Well as I said before, the 1950’s weren’t a very good time for superheroes.  A lot of the early superheroes were morally dubious, emotionally complex, and even had no qualms about killing people.  All of this went out the window with the advent of the Comics Code Authority.  Superman survived, he even became the first super hero with a live action tv show,

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but he became an incredibly watered down version of his former self.  Instead of taking care of criminals as a pretty violent vigilante

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There was…this

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Batman was the same way too.  While the early Batman had few qualms about killing people

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The Batman of the 1950’s became this…

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(kinda puts the Adam West Batman into perspective now doesn’t it?).  While Batman and Superman were hit with some pretty dramatic changes in the 50’s it’s only because they were the ones that were able to really survive.  Dozens of hero titles were abandoned because they either didn’t sell well enough or were far too violent and dark for the Comic Code Authority.

Back to Calendar Man.  If the new wave of censorship hit heroes hard it was even worse for the villains.  Not only were the bad guys unable to kill people or enact some sort of crazy scheme that could destroy half the city, they were now forced to always loose by the end of the comic.  This led to a stream of strange and often pathetic bad guys during this time period.  Some of them…kind of worked like Bat Mite who was introduced in 1959

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And the late 1950’s saw the introduction of most of the Flash’s current Rogues Gallery, so there was that.

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But you have a lot of very safe, non threatening bad guys who use some sort of gimmick as their trademark and wind up committing crimes that really aren’t that serious, and a villain like Calendar Man is a perfect example of this.

The Calendar Man would appear in the 1970’s looking like this.

He was reworked from committing crimes based around a season to basing crimes around the days of the week (his real life name was Julian Gregory Day, a play on the Julian and Gregorian calendars) and here’s just a taste of some of the costumes he used throughout his career.

like I said, he was a gimmick.  However, all that would change in the 1990’s.  Up until the 1990’s the old Comics Code had slowly been waning in power and publishers started paying less attention to it.  This would result in all the glorious sex, violence, and drug use pouring back into the medium and culminated in 1986 with the publication of two of the greatest comic book stories ever told: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns

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and Alan Moore’s Watchmen

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Quick note: there is much more to the death of the Comics Code Authority than these two books but for the sake of time I’m using these two titles to show the return of the “dark” comic book to mainstream media.

So again, what does this have to do with Calendar Man?  Well the boom of mature material in comics during the 1980’s left the floodgates open for more dark re imaginings in the 1990’s, and boy did the industry deliver.  Although Calendar Man was still treated as a joke during the early 90’s, he was part of a team of second string super villains called the Misfits in 1992,

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Everything about the character would change in the 1996 limited series The Long Halloween.

Calendar Man went from a flashy, non threatening, and pretty pointless character to looking like this

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It’s a pretty marked difference.  Going from a lighthearted gag character that nobody took very seriously to a full blown psychopathic mastermind the Calendar Man became an integral part in one of the definitive Batman stories of the 90’s.  This marked a revival for the villain.  In one of his most recent he had an appearance in the Arkham game series

Calendar Man is a strange case in comic book history.  He got his start as a one off super villain that probably wasn’t expected to go very far.  He had a strange power set, a strange gimmick, and an even stranger costume.  However, due to the changing nature of the industry, especially into the more modern era, he was re invented and turned into a capable villain who could hold his own against some of Batman’s lesser villains.  He’s an interesting case study and the perfect bad guy to kick off the new year.

 

 

Cambrian Comic’s Friday Showcase: “It Couldn’t Have Been the Pay: A Life of Teaching and Learning Public Schools” by Irving Rothstein

Today we begin another blog series that I find incredibly exciting.  Part of Cambrian Comic’s mission is to explore and share a wide variety of ideas, stories, and points of view.  Starting today, every Friday will be a time to share and explore something that someone else has made.  It could be a comic, a film, or in this case an excerpt from a book.  

For our inaugural post we are pleased to present an excerpt from 

It Couldn’t have been the Pay: A Life of Teaching and Learning in Public Schools

a memoir by Irving Rothstein.  It’s a strange and funny little story about a professor teaching a science fiction writing class and learning about a strange local legend in the city of San Francisco.  The way I see it, this story is proof that the core of the science fiction genre isn’t rooted in grim and gritty visions of the future but rather a strange and almost playful fascination with the weird and impossible.  But enough from me, sit back, relax, and enjoy this excerpt from a wonderful book.

Anachronisms, Epiphanies and Aliens 

“Strange is only what you don’t understand.”

– Kenny Miller, Old Friend

In 1998 El Niño is kicking up a fuss in the Pacific and California is being inundated. The city approves an 80-foot Coca Cola bottle in the Giant’s new ballpark and state officials are investigating whether or not Kaiser Permanente’s refusal to cover the cost of Viagra violates a state law. The human genome project is in full gear and the kids are all walking around with cell phones. No one is ever out of touch.

To the English teachers at Lowell, Science Fiction and Fantasy—as I teach it—is a non-academic course, but it is a great take-off platform for connecting disciplines. Time machines allow us to travel back and forth in time to explore how the past influenced the present. We explore ecology and human values through stories about robots, androids, cloning and other forms of human engineering. We deal with value systems as we examine possible, probable and preferable worlds. We discuss and debate economic systems and above all the necessity to change as futuristic technology creates an ever-changing world both in fiction and in fact. The UFOs, space aliens and the various characters around San Francisco make it real.

It is May when a book by Robert Heinlein, Stranger in A Strange Land, prompts Anthony to kick off a story. Anthony is a slender Latino surfer dude. “Space aliens? I see one all the time. This dude

wrapped in aluminum foil is always hanging out on the beach where we surf.” Anthony pauses and hums the theme of Twilight Zone.

Tanya, a blonde Russian immigrant who makes her own clothes and looks like a model in Vogue, chimes in. “I see him near the end of California Street. He wears an aluminum suit and a weird aluminum helmet with an antenna.”

Their anecdotes make me curious. I ask, “Is there any relation between him and that house out there with aluminum foil on the windows? I pass that house on my way out here.”

Fong, a self-confessed video game nut perks right up. “I’ve never seen the house but I’ve seen that dingy dude. He’s tall and thin with a white beard and tanned face. He’s got those light blue eyes, kinda like those white Husky dogs. He looks like Gandalf the Gray, a wizard in an aluminum suit.”

Anthony says, “He’d scare the sh—uh, the stuff outa’ you if he didn’t have that smile.”

Tanya laughs and adds, “He’s really got a great smile and walks quickly for an old man. Do you really think he lives in that house?”

I’m really curious now. I say, “I really don’t know this guy you’re talking about. Fill me in some more.”

Anthony responds immediately. “We call him Aluminum Man, and he hangs down at the beach. One time he even came in to surf with us, but he never took off that aluminum helmet. He’s hella good on the board.”

“Did he tell you why he wears the helmet?” I ask.

Tanya laughs. “He’s an alien! The helmet shields him from space rays and messages that tell him what to do. Like that funny guy on Third Rock from the Sun.

Fong picks up on the description. Aluminum man tells people he was born here, the son of a space

alien father and an earth mother. He says his father went back to a planet on some distant galaxy, I forget the name he gives it, and left him here to soak up earth culture. He says his pop is trying to reach him and beam him up to his planet but he doesn’t want to go. The helmet protects him from the beam ray.

The discussion goes on and on. Is there intelligent life on other worlds? What would they be like? Are there people with ESP? Would creatures on alien worlds look human, and could they make babies with humans?

A cell phone rings and Tanya is apologetic. “I’m sorry you guys. I forgot to turn it off.” Her face is red as she fumbles for the phone and the buzzer.

Hamid, an East Indian born in Guatemala, riffs away. “Maybe he’s related to the same aliens that invented the cell phone and planted it on earth. They can monitor our conversations and learn all about us.”

Hamid stops and wiggles his little finger. “He’d be redundant, an anachronism. Who would need a human spy if you had technology? He’s probably afraid they’ll terminate him.”

Sylvia, who is from Mexico, loses no opportunity to tease her friend Tanya. “I hope they don’t monitor Tanya when she calls me. They’ll think that all we think about are clothes and guys.”

Everybody laughs, including Tanya, at the period buzzer. To be continued tomorrow.

For me this story doesn’t end at the bell.

It is about four o’clock after school as I drive along Great Highway at Ocean Beach. The day is beautiful. The wind is blowing and the sun makes reflecting beacons as it bounces off the waves.

I think about how my wife won’t be home until seven as my car climbs up Geary Boulevard. Suddenly I get the urge to pull into the parking lot just below Sutro Park. Don’t ask me why. It is one of

those impulses. It’s as if I’m supposed to do it.

I park and climb out of my old, dented Subaru and hike across the boulevard. Between the Cliff House and Louie’s Restaurant there’s a rutty asphalt path leading down a steep hill between some manzanita trees and baby pines to where the Sutro Baths used to be. I’m thinking about the day’s discussion, space aliens, UFOs and aluminum foil when suddenly a friendly voice slips into my reverie.

“Nice day isn’t it?”

I must be dreaming. The guy walking beside me has pale blue eyes and is covered from head to foot in shiny aluminum foil. He is tall, slender, tanned, with a white beard, about my age and wearing an aluminum foil jacket, pants and helmet. The helmet has two antennae coming out above his eyebrows. The kids described him and his rap to a T.

I flash him a friendly smile and he falls into stride with me as if we are old buddies. We talk about the weather, the water, the 49ers and the history of the Sutro Baths. He tells me how the aluminum keeps out the tractor rays from his space alien father who planted him in his earth mother’s womb.

In minutes we are sitting on the wall staring out at the Pacific and he’s confiding to me he’s going to stay right here on earth. He can do more good here than on his father’s planet because here he just feels more comfortable. It is about five now and the sun is hanging lower on the horizon. I see a freighter riding low in the water as it approaches the entrance to the bay and wonder where it’s been and what stuff it’s bringing.

“Besides,” he smiles, “I love to surf and there are no waves on my father’s planet.” Then, as if on cue, the wind picks up and whips the tops of the waves into white-capped riders that spin themselves up against the shore and explode into light spraying on the jagged rocks and over the both of us.

There is the sudden sound of laughter behind us and he and I spin around to see three kids chasing

after a rubber ball across the broken cement where in the 50s people still warmed themselves at the baths. Thirty or 40 yards behind them a man and woman come into view. They are two walking as one in a loving embrace. They stare tenderly into one another’s eyes and glide toward the wall where we are sitting. The woman is slender and tall, wearing jeans and a red sweatshirt. The man is a few inches taller than she is, his hair neatly combed and lacquered into place

Abruptly the man reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a cell phone. He flips it open and begins talking to an unseen somebody. The girl tenses in his arms. Her jaw tightens as she reaches up and yanks the phone from his hand and runs purposely to the wall and, like a quarterback in the last seconds of a close game, spirals the phone up and over the rocks. The phone hits the water and surfs to the break of a small wave and sinks.

Time stops. The man looks back at her in surprise and anger. I’m thinking, Better do the right thing buddy. Your whole romance is riding on this one.

He breaks into a laugh. He shouts against the wind, “I’m sorry.” He really looks contrite as he opens his arms and walks toward her. I think they’ve been through this one before. She meets him halfway and they hug and kiss. The scene is sweet and schmaltzy.

I turn to my left and the Aluminum Man is gone. I look around the whole area but he’s nowhere to be seen. As I hike back up the hill toward the street I keep looking back. Wow, that was strange, I think as I drive home past the house with aluminum foil on the windows.

The next day at school I tell the kids about my adventure. They don’t seem too surprised. Anthony tells me, “That’s just where he usually hangs out.”

Hamid laughs and goes theatrical. “I told you. It was the cell phone. He had an epiphany when he saw it in the air. He ripped off the suit thinking they don’t need him anymore and then they beamed him

up.”

The class breaks into laughter. We get a great deal of smileage out of the story as we discuss epiphanies, anachronisms and aliens, the space kind.

Irving Rothstein began his teaching career in 1963 and taught mainly in the San Francisco Public School District until he retired in 2002. This excerpt is from his memoir, It Couldn’t Have Been the Pay: A Life of Teaching and Learning in Public Schools, published by Rocín in 2015. His writing has appeared in Tai Chi Magazine and the anthology Why I Teach. He is a lifelong member of the California Federation of Teachers. He still teaches Tai Chi and is an active member in San Francisco’s Jewish Community.