Golden Age Showcase: The Destroyer

On November 12th, 2018 we lost the Walt Disney of comic books, a master of movie cameos, and one of the few comic book creators that almost every person in the world can name whether they’re a fan of comic books or not: Stan Lee.

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There is no denying that the man’s legacy is immense and the impact he had on comic books as a medium and as a pop culture force was almost immeasurable.

Some cliff notes on his early life.  He was born in 1922 to a Jewish family in New York under the name Stanley Lieber.  “Stan Lee” was originally a pen name that he used when writing comics because he was saving his actual name for when he would start writing novels.

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Stan was around for the very beginning of the comic book industry that we know and love when he first started working for Timely Comics in 1939 after graduating high school.  While his initial duties were small time stuff like filling inkwells.  His first bit of writing work was creating filler text for a Captain America story named “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge”,

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Fun fact: this is the first story where Captain America throws his shield.

From there, Stan wrote a back up feature called “Headline Hunter”,

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and in 1942 Timely Comics launched the first superhero co created by their new upcoming writer and the hero we’re going to talk about today: The Destroyer.

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Ladies and gentlemen, here is the first superhero that Stan Lee ever created.

Origin and Career

Full disclosure, I’ve done a bit of research for this article, and I can’t find a whole lot of images of the Destroyer due to copyright, so there’s going to be a lot of text and not a whole lot of pictures.

The Destroyer made his first appearance in Mystic Comics #6 in August of 1942.

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He was co created by Stan Lee and artist Jack Binder,

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Jack Binder was the older brother of Otto Binder, the man who would develop a healthy portion of the Superman mythos.

The Destroyer’s civilian identity is Kevin Marlow, an investigative journalist who was sent behind enemy lines to record and document Nazi atrocities.

He got a view that was a probably a bit too personal when he was captured, tried as a spy, and sent to a location known as Strohm Prison.  While he was there he was tortured met a Jewish scientist who was forced to work for the Nazis known as Eric Schmitt.

Schmitt had been forced to develop a super soldier serum for the Nazis (yes, it turns out he was a colleague of the scientist who gave Captain America his powers) and was beaten to near death.  Schmitt would wind up giving his heavily guarded sample of the super soldier serum to Marlow, who became incredibly strong and fast and used his abilities to break out of prison.

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Marlow vowed to fight Nazism on his own an donned his black, grey, and red costume to strike fear to the Nazis behind enemy lines.

Of course, his actions did not go entirely unnoticed and the Destroyer’s one man war drew the ire of the Gestapo under the command of Captain Fredrick von Banger.

Naturally, the confrontation didn’t go very well for the Nazis and while The Destroyer was able to overpower the captain, von Banger managed to escape by cheating.

That was The Destroyer’s first appearance and it turned out he was actually pretty popular during the wartime years.  Perhaps the one thing that separated The Destroyer from his other super powered colleagues was his willingness to accept help from other Germans and to accept the idea that the Nazis were more tyrannical despots rather than an entire nation of people.  Case in point, one of his earliest enemies was a psychotic scientist named Herr Scar,

Scar (Earth-616)

who was tasked by the Nazi government to quell German dissenters.  Naturally, with a face and name like that Herr Scar was an evil man who died very quickly.

The Destroyer would continue to experience a fair amount of success during the war.  He made cover appearances in the last four issues of Mystic Comics and would go on to become one of Timely’s most published characters, just behind the heavyweights of Captain America, the Human Torch, and Namor the Submariner.

So what happened?

Kevin Marlow disappeared in the late 1940’s when comic book superheroes were on the decline and comic books were facing a significant backlash and public hatred.

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Timely Comics changed its name to Atlas Comics, and Stan Lee managed to keep going by writing other stories.

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What happened next is mostly hearsay and conjecture, but the story goes that Lee was just about to quit comic books forever until his wife Joan told him to write one last story that he wanted to write.  The result was the creation of a new group of superheroes: The Fantastic Four.

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They’re pretty obscure, you’ve probably never heard of them.

The book was a hit.  Coupled with the rebirth and revitalization of the superhero genre in the 1960’s, comic books became cool again and Atlas changed its name again to Marvel Comics.

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The Destroyer continued to exist, although it was no longer a heavy hitter in the Marvel lineup.  However, in the 1970’s, then Marvel editor in chief Roy Thomas and artist Frank Robbins rebooted the story and made the new Destroyer a British agent named Brian Falsworth, and through a long and convoluted path of events (it’s comics, this happens) Falsworth became the British hero Union Jack.

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All previous continuity was retconned and the previous identity for the Destroyer known as Kevin Marlow was revealed to be a mistake by the FBI.  It was also revealed that Brian Falsworth died in a car crash in 1953.

The Destroyer name would eventually be adopted by Brian’s close friend Roger Aubrey in a 2009 miniseries written by Ed Brubaker.

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A final version of the Destroyer would make an appearance in Marvel’s MAX imprint, which was the place where Marvel created its explicit and mature stories.

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This series was written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and featured an elderly Kevin Marlow in modern times.

Kevin Marlow (Earth-616) from Destroyer Vol 3 4 0001

This version of the Destroyer still had the strength and endurance of the super soldier serum, but unlike Cap he aged.

The story itself followed the Destroyer as he set off to kill his remaining rogues gallery and ensure the safety of his loved ones, by any means necessary.

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So that’s a brief rundown of the Destoryer.  If I had to describe him in one word it would be…standard.  During the 1940’s he was a product of his times.  People wanted bright and colorful heroes to fight their battles for them, and the destroyer delivered.  And while he would go on to become a part of the Marvel Universe and was well remembered by people working in comics, he would never see mainstream success.

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As for Stan Lee?  Well, he went on to help create some of the greatest and most popular heroes of all time,

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become the public face of American comic books, and be well known and loved by millions of fans.

All in all, a pretty good life and a pretty good legacy.

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Thanks for everything Stan, you will be missed.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Olive and the Underworld Vol. 2

Today we’re talking about a comic book Kickstarter project entitled Olive and the Underworld Vol. 2 Part 1.

This is the second book in a series about a girl named Olive.

Olive is an orphan and finds herself bouncing around foster homes due to her…unique views on life and death.

Naturally, her school and social life isn’t much better.

However, her self imposed hellscape is turned on its head when she and several of he classmates die in a bus crash and are sent to Purgatory.  While her classmates are desperate to move on to the afterlife, Olive discovers that she loves Purgatory.

The second volume picks up where the first book left off and follows Olive’s quest to stay in Purgatory, despite the powers that be insisting that it’s supposed to be temporary.

At the time of writing the project has reached $1,833 of its $2,995 goal and has fifteen days left in its campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1058532910/olive-and-the-underworld-volume-2-part-1

Full disclosure: I actually wrote about the Kickstarter for the first volume of the series a few years ago.  I received no money for that article or this one, but the creators were unbelievably nice and decided to use a quote from my article on the front page of the book’s website and on the back of the first book’s cover.  Also, I got to read the first volume and I can assure you that it’s awesome and well worth your time and money.

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You can read the quote, and buy the first volume, here.

Why I like it.

I like this book for the same reason I liked the first book, it takes a very old and well established story and turns it on its head.

I’m a big fan of ancient history.  More specifically, I’m a big fan of ancient Greek and Norse mythology.

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Now, all three of these cultures may be from different locations, different time periods, and have different cultural norms but their mythologies have certain things in common.  For example, they all have a deity who presides over the after life.  The Norse have Hel,

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The Greeks have Hades.

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Now, this is to be expected.  Death is one of humanity’s universal constants and it would make sense for cultures to develop their own ideas of what happens after we die.  However, the similarities can get a bit spooky.  More specifically both cultures have stories about heroes to travel to the afterlife while they are still alive.

The Greeks have heroes such as Orpheus, who charmed Hades into returning the soul of his wife with his music.

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The Norse have Hermod, a son of Odin who traveled to Hel to beg for the life of Baldur after he had been killed by Loki.

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So Olive’s journey to the afterlife puts her in pretty unique and interesting company,

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but there is one major difference.  In every other story about travelling to the afterlife, the heroes come back.  The land of the dead is a place you’re supposed to be uncomfortable around and a place where you don’t want to stay.  Olive doesn’t just want to stay in Purgatory, she’s genuinely happy to be there.

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I can’ think of a single instance where the hero of a story wants to stay dead, so that makes Olive and the Underworld one of the most unique and interesting stories I’ve ever seen…and I love it.

Why you should donate

Because if our ancestors could create eternal stories about death and the afterlife, why can’t we?

Myths and legends aren’t just stories, they were a way to process emotions and events that human beings could have never understood otherwise.

Stories like the Illiad weren’t just stories about people fighting each other, they were peppered with morals and lessons on how to act and what is proper way to behave in certain situations.  Heroes like Achilles weren’t just bloodthirsty maniacs, they were scholars and noble warriors who embodied traits and emotions that the ancient Greeks thought were important.

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We may think we have grown out of our understanding of the world has progressed, but we still have fantastic beings who embody certain virtues and use their actions to demonstrate proper behavior.

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Myths and legends are still talk about important stuff, they’ve just changed their appearance and what’s important to adapt over the past several thousand years.

We’re in the process of creating a new mythology and Olive and the Underworld is a story that brings a new and different approach to how we view death to this new understanding.  It’s a fun, friendly, and important book and well worth your time and money.

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Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1058532910/olive-and-the-underworld-volume-2-part-1

Golden Age Showcase: Hydroman/Adam West tribute.

So before we begin talking about the ridiculous old school hero of the week I feel obligated to bring up the passing of the great Adam West.

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The man was a fantastic actor, a great human being, and for the longest time he WAS Batman.

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The reason I created this blog was to showcase some of the crazier and goofier aspects of the early comic book industry.  Granted, many of these heroes were blatant cash grabs and lazy copies of other popular heroes but there was a crazy energy to those early comic books that was so captivating that it demands your attention and respect.

I bring this up because the 1960’s Batman show was one of the first attempts to bring that crazy energy to mainstream audiences and holy crap did it succeed.

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Sure the show was campy, sure the show was goofy, sure the show is the antithesis of everything that modern comic book audiences think Batman should be, but underneath the camp and celebrity appearances was a show that had razor sharp wit and writing, awesomely cheesy effects and fight scenes, and acting so gloriously hammy that you could put it between two slices of bread and make a sandwich.

Hell, the show won a freaking Emmy and is the reason why the Riddler is my favorite Batman villain!

If you want to check it out for yourself the show is available on Blu Ray, the Batman movie is on Netflix, and you can read the modern take on the show in the DC comics series Batman ’66

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Okay, so that’s enough mainstream acceptability for one week.  Let’s dive right back into another crazy Golden Age hero.

Hydroman seems nice.

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Origin and Career

Hyrdo Man was one of the first characters created by Eastern Color Printing in 1940.

What’s interesting is that Eastern Color Printing was a well established publisher by the 1940’s.  In fact, they were the first company to produce what we would call a comic book in 1933,

In an attempt to cash in on the Superman craze of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s Eastern created the title Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics.  This was cover of the first issue published in August of 1940.

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Yes, that is actually how it was spelled and yes, Hydro Man was their main hero deemed worthy to be placed on the cover of the title.

The hero was created by comic book creator Bill Everett,

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who co created Marvel’s Daredevil,

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and Timely Comics’ Namor the Sub Mariner.

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The origin story for Hydro Man combines elements from Everett’s two most famous heroes: water and chemical spills.

The story begins when an unassuming scientist named Harry Thurston accidentally spills a harmless mixture of water, alcohol, and “a little sulfuric acid” onto his hand.

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Why did he do this?  Because he wanted to see what happened.

At this point I have to ask.  Where would superheroes be without a near casual disregard for lab safety and basic human caution?  Nowhere, that’s where.

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly since this is a comic) the explosion doesn’t kill Harry.  Instead it turns his hand into a waterfall.

So what does he do?  Does he call the hospital?  The police?  The Nobel Committee?

Nope!  He calls his best friend Bob Blake.

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

In another stunning display of stupidity, another man named Tom trips, and spills the same chemical all over Bob.

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

Thankfully Tom has a gallon of a counteractive chemical (somehow) and manages to return Bob to human form.

Naturally the men decide to abandon all safety and common sense and decide to inject the chemical directly into Bob’s veins.  Then they decide to dress Bob up in a costume, give him weapons, and go and fight off a group known as “The Oriental Invaders”.

Oh right, did you know about the Oriental Invaders?  They mentioned it in a couple of panels.

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

Bob’s girlfriend has a point, he is a nut.

It turns out  that the Oriental Invaders are a real threat to our country and way of life.  Complete with ridiculous costumes and almost all of the offensive stereotypes that 1940’s America can muster towards Asians.

Thankfully, Hydro Man is there to over compensate like a true American hero and responds by drowning one of them.

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In the next issue he gets a see through suit made out of a fictional bulletproof material similar to cellophane in order to go after this mysterious enemy organization.

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It should be noted that while Pearl Harbor was still over a year away from pushing America into the war, it was still a time where comic book publishers could get away with calling Asians “a Mongrel Race”.

He was able to find out more information by spying on the guys in charge by dissolving himself into a glass of water.

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All silliness and casual racism aside, that’s actually pretty clever.

The rest of his adventures were pretty similar.  He fought against so called “Fifth Column” enemies, secret agents who were working for the Nazis and Japanese in the United States in an attempt to sabotage and otherwise subvert the war effort.

He would later get a kid sidekick in 1942 named “Rainbow Boy”,

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Sweet Jesus that costume is terrible.

Rainbow Boy could transform himself into a rainbow, create brilliant flashes that disoriented enemies, and could travel at the speed of light.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #14

Seriously, that costume is just the worst.

So what happened?

Hydro Man and Rainbow Boy were actually one of the most successful comic book superheroes of the 1940’s.  If he had continued we probably would have gotten to see a gritty reboot (although we did get a Spider Man villain named Hydro Man in the 1980’s)

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Unfortunately, our hero fell victim to forces outside his control when his publisher got butchered in the 1950’s with the rise of the Comics Code.

Eastern Color Publishing would hobble on until the 1970’s until they stopped creating original work and existed by printing books from other companies.  They finally closed their doors in 2002 when they couldn’t keep up with advances in modern printing technology.

The Golden Age Hydro Man would go on to have a single modern day appearance in Dynamite’s Project Superpowers series in 2008.

That’s him on the far top left of the drawing.  His name was shortened to “Hydro” in order to avoid a copyright lawsuit with Marvel.

Hydro Man was a popular hero of the 1940’s and it’s easy to see why.  Despite the ridiculous appearance he had a pretty cool power set and a halfway decent artistic team that did their damnedest to keep his stories and powers interesting.

He’s actually available in the public domain, so if anyone wanted to use him in a story, there would be nothing stopping you.

Golden Age Showcase: The Grim Reaper

Before we begin, I just want to say thank you for two very big milestones.

First, last week’s blog post on Truth: Red, White, and Black was the single most successful blog post we’ve ever had on this site.

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I was absolutely blown away by the audience and the wonderful conversations that the article generated.

Second, yesterday was our two year anniversary as a blog and a website.  I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy, but watching people enjoy everything we’ve worked so hard for has made this little venture worth it.

Anyway, let’s talk about a super hero that killed a whole bunch of Nazis and called himself the Grim Reaper.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #2

Origin and Career

The Grim Reaper first appeared in Standard Comics’ The Fighting Yank #7 in February of 1944.

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As you might be able to figure out from the cover, the entire issue had something of a military theme to it, especially since the United States was in the last full year of the war in Europe.

The Grim Reaper was published by Standard Comics and was created by comic book writer and editor Richard E. Hughes.

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The pictures above show Hughes’ many pseudonyms which he used since he was an incredibly prolific comic book creator in a career that spanned the 1940’s to the 1970’s.

It’s worth mentioning that the Grim Reaper is something of an oddity in Golden Age superhero comics.  While many of his fellow heroes started off fighting common criminals and spies, the Grim Reaper was thrust straight into the front lines of the war in Europe and got right down to kicking Nazi butt.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #7 - Version 1

It’s also worth mentioning that Richard Hughes was actually a pretty good writer, because The Grim Reaper’s stories were pretty good.

In his first appearance our hero makes it very clear that he has no qualms about shedding German blood.

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Also, he manages to save a concentration camp full of prisoners and captured Allied pilots so the Allied war effort can destroy a Nazi aerodrome.

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Apparently, this story was so popular and well received that the Grim Reaper would be given his own title and cover appearances after his first story.

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To be perfectly honest, I think that this is one of the greatest Golden Age covers I’ve ever seen.

The Grim Reaper’s new adventures were more of the same deal with him fighting the good fight in Europe and killing Nazis left and right.

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What’s really interesting about these stories is just how human and normal they are. The Grim Reaper is actually more of a secondary character and the writer tends to focus on the plight and effort of normal humans actively fighting the Nazis across Europe.

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Sure, the first page has a large picture of the hero, but the story itself is about the Greek resistance movement that sprung up to fight the occupying Nazi force.

It’s also worth mentioning that while the first Grim Reaper story falls into the typical tropes of turning the hero’s Nazi enemies into monsters who don’t have a very keen grasp of English and like to talk “in ze stereotypical German akksent!”

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The funny thing is that, during his first main story, the writer goes out of his way to actually humanize some of the Nazis by having a Gestapo officer actually save the Grim Reaper’s life and reveal himself to be a German working against the Nazis.

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They would eventually give the Grim Reaper an origin story in his second issue.

It was revealed that the Grim Reaper was actually an American student studying in France named Bill Norris who decided to stay behind in Paris in order to continue his studies.

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The Nazis, in a blatant disregard for human rights and the Rules of War, sent Bill to a concentration camp when he tried to protect an old man from being beaten by a group of soldiers.

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Sure, the soldiers had every right to arrest Bill for what he did, but you don’t sentence someone to slave labor when they assault your men without weapons.

While in the camp, Bill meets a leader in the French Resistance and manages to escape.

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He decides to help the French and dons the Grim Reaper costume to fight the Nazis out of patriotic duty.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #2

The Grim Reaper would go on to have a couple more adventures fighting the Axis powers, but then the war ended.

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The Grim Reaper was too popular to be cancelled, so he decided to go and fight gangsters and common criminals instead.

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Honestly, the new stories were nothing special and the Grim Reaper found himself playing second fiddle to other stories and characters that were becoming more and more popular in post war America.

So what happened?

History and bad business happened.

Standard comics went out of business in 1956 as the comic book market dried up and left many of the smaller publishers bankrupt.

The Grim Reaper would have remained forgotten if it wasn’t for the best beard in comics, the incredibly intimidating Alan Moore.

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Moore had created his own publishing company in the early 2000’s called America’s Best Comics 

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and he scooped up many of the Standard Comics’ characters that had slipped into public domain which he used in a spin off series called Tom Strong.

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The Grim Reaper would eventually be killed in the Tom Strong spin off series Terra Obscura.

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In the end The Grim Reaper was a pretty typical flash in the pan Golden Age superhero.  He existed, had a pretty short run, and faded into obscurity quickly and was only remembered by people who were truly interested in this particular time in comics.

With that being said, he was well drawn (for the time), had a pretty sensible backstory, and was surprisingly well written for the time.  Like many real life people who were fighting and dying in Europe and the Pacific during the war, the Grim Reaper did his part to beat back tyranny and evil and that is worth celebrating.