The Secret Lives of Villains #246

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Golden Age Showcase: The Purple Zombie

So we lost one of the greats yesterday: George A. Romero.

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While he did create other films and was a fervent activist throughout his life, the man will always be remembered as the founding father of the zombie movie.

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Fun fact: after he made his first film Night of the Living Dead Romero screwed up some paper work with the copyright office and as a result, the film is now in the public domain.  You can watch it for free and I highly recommend it.

Yes, zombies are a pop culture staple nowadays.  While their time as the dominant force of pop culture has waned, they’re still around making boatloads of money, especially in the comic book world.

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So I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the earliest zombies in comic books, and how different a walking corpse from the 1940’s was from the present day walking corpse.

Today we’re talking about the Purple Zombie.

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Origin and Career

The Purple Zombie made his first appearance in Eastern Publishing’s Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1 in August of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

The character was created by Tarpe Mills, which was a pen name for Golden Age writer and artist June Mills.

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Mrs. Mills was actually the first lady to create a female superhero, a black cat costumed heroine named Miss Fury.

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Let it be said that the early comic book scene wasn’t entirely dominated by male New Yorkers, it was just mostly dominated by them.

When reading the Purple Zombie stories you can actually see a lot of tropes that plague (pun intended) the modern zombie.  He was created by a mad scientist named Dr. Malinsky who was seeking to create an unstoppable army in order to take over the world,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

However, it’s worth mentioning that there is no specific mention of how this zombie was created.

After establishing himself as an evil bastard, Dr. Malinsky realizes that he has the same problem Dr. Frankenstein had, that his creation realizes what it is and isn’t all that fond of his purpose.  The creation bypasses years of therapy and emotional issues by strangling his creator.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

You’ll notice three things that make this guy different.  First, he’s bulletproof and super strong, thus avoiding the trope of zombies that need to be shot in the head and who are only effective in large groups.  Second, he’s surprisingly articulate for a zombie and has no need or desire to consume the brains of the living.  Third, his skin looks more black than purple which…raises a lot of very icky moral questions that are a bit more unsavory today than they would have been seventy years ago.

Nevertheless, this zombie sets out to find the people who backed his creation and remove them from the face of the Earth.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

It’s never mentioned who the backers were working for, but with a name like Otto Von Heim it’s safe to assume they were working for the Nazis.

In a rather interesting twist, this zombie was actually captured and sentenced to death for the murders.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

This is where he gets his purple skin, and his jailers realize that he can’t be killed.

The zombie is released into the care of Malinsky’s former assistant and swears to do nothing bug good from here on out.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

Again, some kind of uncomfortable racial overtones here (it’s worth mentioning that pre Romero zombies were often associated with African or “voodoo” religions) but as origin stories go it’s pretty fleshed out and well done for the Golden Age.

Sadly, the zombie’s brush with organized crime wasn’t over.  Realizing that a large, bulletproof, super strong, nearly unkillable monster could be useful in committing crimes a gangster named Joe Coroza kidnapped the Purple Zombie in an attempt to use him as a weapon.

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His human friend tries to rescue him, but is forced to contend with an army of mechanized skeletons as well as the gangsters.

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However, it turns out that the man who created the moving skeletons was actually a good guy and the Purple Zombie decided to join forces with him and go off to fight in Europe for the forces of democracy.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5

It’s nice to know that the idea of using creatures more often associated with horror to do good is older than a lot of people think.

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The plan is a success and the Zombie and his skeleton pals successfully stop the death ray from killing thousands more.  Their solution…cold blooded murder.

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After successfully defeating the death ray and single handily winning the war (I assume) the heroes find themselves forced to land in a mysterious lab.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

It turns out that the scientist forced them to land there so he could show them their time machine and in the very next page… Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

Jesus, this comic jumps around more than an over caffeinated toddler.

The two find themselves in 64 A.D in the middle of the Roman Empire.

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The Romans do the surprisingly sensible thing and declare these two strangers to be madmen.  They also understand modern English.

Thankfully, lions are no match for the two.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #8

Unfortunately, they now have to contend with the entire city of Rome burning.

Thankfully, they are saved by the actions of their colleagues in the present day who manage to transport them out of danger into the Medieval Ages.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #9

It turns out they’ve landed straight in the middle of the Crusades and wind up meeting King Richard I of England.

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They would have been on good terms if it wasn’t for their sudden transportation to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

Honestly, I don’t know if the author is trying to be educational, or if she’s just name dropping random historical figures who were popular at the time.

They meet up with Sir Francis Drake while he’s bowling,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

(fun side note: the story is that Sir Francis was supposedly bowling when he received news of the Armada so props for possible historical accuracy)

and the two men help him defeat the Spanish Armada until they’re whisked away to the French Revolution.

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I’m beginning to think the scientists controlling the time machine hate our protagonists.

The two suffer through one more trip into prehistoric times,

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and then they’re transported back to the modern day where it is revealed that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually dead to begin with.  He was actually faking his death in order to escape and wound up becoming an unwitting participant in the original experiments.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12

So I guess you could argue that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually a zombie.

Goddammit.

So what happened?

The page above is the last page we would ever see of the Purple Zombie.

We’ve talked about Eastern Publishing before and how it was going through a rather turbulent time in the late 1940’s when it merged with a bunch of other publishers to become Standard Publishing and eventually stopped making comics in the 1950’s.

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But even if Eastern Publishing had survived, I think that the Purple Zombie would have been doomed anyway.  For starters there were companies in the 1940’s who were using zombies and monsters much more effectively and with much better artwork.

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And even if the Purple Zombie had managed to become more popular, it stood no chance against the backlash against comics in the 1950’s that wound up creating the Comics Code.

With that being said I actually like the Purple Zombie.  While he had a pretty average power set and wasn’t technically a zombie, he had a pretty good back story and enough heart and dedication to be a pretty good superhero.

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Golden Age Showcase: Alfred

Happy post Father’s Day everyone!

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For the non American readers of this blog, Father’s day is a holiday where we celebrate our fathers, and if marketing campaigns are to be believed it’s usually with MANLY gifts like ties and power tools.

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Last year I did an article comparing and contrasting two of comics’ greatest deceased father figures: Superman’s dad Jor-El and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben.

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This time I thought it would be time to break out the big guns and celebrate the career and achievements of the greatest living father figure in comic book history: Batman’s butler, Alfred.

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Side note: if you disagree with the above statement please write a well crafted and polite rebuttal in the comments.

Origin and Career

Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth made his first appearance in Batman #16 in April of 1943.

On the cover of the comic it says he was created by artist Bob Kane.

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Although it is much more likely that actual creator was writer, and the man who got royally screwed out of getting the credit that he justly deserves, Bill Finger.

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Artist Jerry Robinson was also heavily involved, since he was busy doing the actual drawing of the issues at this point in Batman’s career.

Jerry Robinson

Alfred made his first appearance on the cover of the issue, and he looked like this:

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The original Alfred was a bit of an idiot.  At this point in the story Batman and Robin had been doing their thing fighting crime in Gotham when Alfred showed up fresh off the boat and claiming that he was fulfilling the wish of his dying father Jarvis in serving the Wayne family as their butler.

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Naturally, Batman and Robin were not very keen on having a near total stranger snooping around the house with their secret identities at stake.

Despite his background as an intelligence officer Alfred was…kind of an idiot.

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I only say “kind of” because he was actually a very good butler.  He did his job, he was loyal to Bruce and Dick, and when it came time to defend the Manor he wound up discovering who he was really working for by pure accident.

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My favorite part of this scene is the dialogue that the two men exchange during the fight.

Of course Alfred reveals what he knows to Batman and Robin and the two gain a new ally in their fight against criminals.

You may notice that the original Alfred doesn’t look a thing like the way we normally picture Alfred.

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For that we can actually thank the silver screen.

See, the idea that comic books could be adapted to the silver screen is nothing new.  In fact, Hollywood was quick to jump on the wave of superhero popularity and started churning out short little movie serials staring the two most popular heroes at the time: Superman and Batman.

In 1943 Columbia Pictures began releasing short Batman serial movies with creative titles such as “Batman and the Electrical Brain”,

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The effects and costumes were…not the best.

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but one of its lasting impacts was hiring actor English character actor William Austin to play the Batman’s butler.

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The serials were so popular that the comics adapted and changed Alfred’s appearance to reflect the show.

So what happened?

Jesus, to describe everything that Alfred has done since his original appearance would take an entire book.

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Wherever Batman has gone, Alfred has followed.  He’s an integral part of the Batman mythos, and I would personally argue that he the most important supporting figure in any Batman story.  And yes, that includes figures like Robin and Batgirl.

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He has fulfilled the role of a caretaker, a guiding moral compass to a whole host of emotionally crippled children and warriors, and most importantly an eternally patient father figure.

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So, in an effort to keep this short, I’m going to break his long and storied career down into some of the more prominent highlights.

In 1964 Alfred was killed in Detective Comics #328 after heroically saving the Dynamic Duo from a falling boulder.

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He would be reborn as a mysterious villain known as “The Outsider” and fought the heroes off panel, usually using other villains as pawns and working behind the scenes.

His identity and appearance would be revealed two years later in Detective Comics #356.

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It…wasn’t the best look for him and I can see why they kept him out of the way.

In terms of backstory, Alfred’s has remained pretty consistent.  The comics have always given him some sort of military and/or intelligence background and in the 1960’s he worked as an intelligence agent during World War 2.  We know this because he had a daughter named Julia with a French co worker.

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In 1985 DC reorganized its comic books with the even “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and reworked the backstories of many of their most famous characters.

Alfred got a few minor tweaks but didn’t change that much.  He was an actor as well as an intelligence agent and instead of introducing himself to a much older Bruce, he became Bruce’s butler and confidant at a young age.

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The new Alfred had some pretty awesome moments as well and a lot of writers love giving him some really badass lines and small fight scenes.

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Seriously, the man’s gone toe to toe with Superman both in quips,

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and with fisticuffs.

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So he’s amazing in the comics but I would have to say that his film and television appearances deserve a special mention as well.

Alfred has appeared in every single movie, television, and cartoon adaptation of Batman since the beginning and has provided a steady stream of employment to classy senior British actors.

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All of them have been fantastic, but special mentions go to the Alfred from Batman: The Animated Series,

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where he was voiced by actor Clive Revill (who was actually the original voice of the Emperor from Star Wars)

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and the gloriously named Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

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Personally my favorite Alfred at the moment has to be the one from The Lego Batman Movie where he was voiced by Voldemort himself, Ray Finnes,

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but if you ask me the best Alfred of them all would have to be the late great Michael Gough from Tim Burton’s Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and the infamous Batman and Robin.

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I would actually go as far as to say that Michael Gough was so good that he actually made Batman and Robin halfway watchable.

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That’s right, I’m defending Batman and Robin, fight me.

Alfred is one of the greatest comic book characters ever created.  He is wise and talented beyond even his considerable years and has been at Bruce’s side through thick and thin.  Not only has he been a faithful and dutiful butler but he has been a kind, patient, and loving father to a boy who needed it most in order to become one of the greatest superheroes of all time.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Italiano

Warning: this article contains content not suitable for children.

Today we’re talking about a comic book project on Kickstarter with big dreams, an ambitious goal, and an interesting take on the gangster epic, one of the more popular genres in popular culture.

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The project is a series of graphic novels created, drawn, and produced by Mike Bloom.

It is currently seeking funding for the debut issue of a planned long form series and is seeking to reach $10,000 by June 30th, 2017.

Here’s the link to the campaign:

Why I like it

The story is simple.  Four crime families are fighting among each other for control of the fictional town of Capitol City.  These families all have colorful leaders such as Mario Italiano.

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So it seems like it’s a pretty stereotypical gangster story but the way it tells its story is so interesting and quirky that I can’t help but be impressed.

You’ll notice that the art style is…different.

I want to say this is Saturday morning cartoon violence cranked up to eleven but…it’s not.  It’s too angry and violent for a kid cartoon but it’s too clean and polished for mature and gritty.

I guess the only word I can use to describe it is…unique.

It’s a rapid fire assault on the senses that makes it bizarre, almost alien, and I love it for that.

Also, the creator claims that this graphic novel series is “The Sopranos meets Rick and Morty”.

I like the Sopranos,

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and I LOVE Rick and Morty,

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and if this comic lives up to its promise than I will be a very happy man.

If there was one correction I would make I would say that the art style reminds me of Invader Zim more than anything.

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It’s probably just me but hey, is being compared to Invader Zim really a bad thing?

Why you should donate

If the art and premise didn’t grab your attention and make you want to donate than I highly recommend checking out the story behind the creation of this comic.

I’m not going to go into the creator’s entire life story here but just to give you a rundown, the man is passionate about this project and has dedicated over fifteen years of his life to making this series a reality.

Heck, before it was a comic it was actually a card game you could play on your phone.

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Now, I don’t normally use the backstory behind the creation of something as a selling point.  Usually I believe that it doesn’t matter how much time you put into something if the end result is going to be garbage.  But this?  This is different.

You can tell that the creator is incredibly passionate about this project, and that he has poured his heart and soul into it, and that is worth our respect and attention.

Italiano is an ambitious project that is the textbook definition of a labor of love.  It’s crazy, violent, bizarre, wholly unique, and is worth your time and money.

Campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1916419692/italiano-the-graphic-novel-series/description

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.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

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.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

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.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

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,

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

and torturing prisoners.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

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.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #3

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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