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.
Happy President’s Day everyone!
For our non American readers, President’s Day is an American holiday held on the third Monday of every month. It was originally made a legal holiday in order to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,
but depending on what state you live in it can either celebrate one of them, both, or every President who has been elected into office.
Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the position of President of the United States of America is probably not the most popular position of leadership in the world right now,
but let me make my position on the matter perfectly clear.
While it is important to realize that the position of President of the United States is a difficult one, and that we should honor the people who sacrifice their time and health to the job, the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day the President is an elected official who can, and should, only do so much.
At the end of the day the problems that we face as a society can only be solved when ordinary people come together to fix them and take action. Solutions are almost never the work of one great individual, but rather a collection of ordinary people.
Sadly, the slow and tedious work of millions is difficult to comprehend. So in order to make sense of it all we do two things. We celebrate the lives and achievements of a few men and women and we craft symbols and signs that we can rally around.
That is part of the reason why I like superheroes so much. They’re colorful, larger than life, and an easy way for people to relate to things and events that are much bigger than themselves.
In an increasingly complex and chaotic world, they are the walking solutions to many of our problems.
So let’s take a look at a Golden Age superhero who wasn’t just a superhero who represented the millions of men and women who fought in WW2, but a walking symbol of America as well: Uncle Sam.
Origin and Career
Uncle Sam became the personification of the American people and government during the War of 1812, although you probably recognize him more from his World War 1 recruitment poster.
According to legend, the character of Uncle Sam was based off of the real life Samuel Wilson, who was a meat packer from New York and a fervent American patriot.
Uncle Sam is up there with the bald eagle, baseball, and the flag as great American symbols and since he has such a violent history and is often associated with war it only makes sense that when America decided to get involved during World War 2, they co opt the ever loving crap out of him.
Naturally he found a home in comic books and in July of 1940, Quality Comics published National Comics #1 hit the stands with Uncle Sam leading the charge against the Axis.
I don’t know what I like more, the fact that Uncle Sam’s hat hasn’t blown away in the wind, or that they have a LITTLE KID RUNNING ACROSS AN AIRPLANE WING ATTACKING A FULLY GROWN MAN ARMED WITH A PISTOL!
Boy, child safety laws were pretty lax back then.
Like every hero, Uncle Sam needed an origin story. It turned out that the folks at National Comics were content to keep him as a vague symbol of American government and way of life, only this time he was going to get his hands dirty and join the fight against crime and injustice. It turned out that Uncle Sam was the spirit of a fallen soldier from the American Revolution and continued to appear whenever his country needed him to fight.
With any other company or creator this probably would have turned into a silly little farce, but this version of Uncle Sam was written by Will Eisner.
If you don’t know who Will Eisner is, all you need to understand is that the comic book industry’s version of the Oscars is named after him.
Anyway, this version of Uncle Sam did his patriotic duty and fought off, what else, the forces of evil and tyranny that just so happened to look like the Nazis.
His superpowers were whatever the story needed and he had a kid sidekick named Buddy Smith who accompanied Uncle Sam on his many dangerous adventures.
So what happened?
He spent 45 issues beating the enemies of America, and freedom loving people everywhere, to a pulp.
Then Quality Comics went belly up in 1956 and was bought out by DC.
DC’s Uncle Sam would go on to be a pretty big supporting character in the DC universe. He became the leader of the Freedom Fighters, a group of old Quality Comics characters that were brought together in a Justice League type of arrangement.
His origin was retooled a bit. Now he was a spiritual entity that was summoned by the Founding Fathers in an occult ritual that bound the “Spirit of America” to the body of a dying patriot.
He’s had a steady presence in the DC universe ever since the 1970’s.
In 1997 DC’s greatest imprint, Vertigo Comics, gave Uncle Sam a two issue mini series written by Steve Darnell and drawn by Alex Ross.
My hat is off to Vertigo for taking a pretty goofy character and treating him with respect and giving him a meaningful story.
He appeared in the DC event comic Blackest Night.
and was dramatically revamped as a mortal black man in the New 52 reboot.
Uncle Sam is an interesting character. On one hand he’s goofy, colorful, and the kind of un ironic display of patriotism that would make a lot of people cringe. On the other hand he’s a symbol of a violent and destructive superpower that has a nasty habit of sticking its nose in business that it has no right to be in.
Personally, I’m more inclined towards the first interpretation. Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that the man is pure Americana and I can’t think of a better symbol of the effort and determination of the American people.
Sure, you can call me corny and cheesy but you know what? I’m okay with that.