Golden Age Showcase: The Laughing Mask

A lot of people tend to think of the “superhero who has no qualms about killing people” as a relatively modern idea and they usually associate this idea with the Punisher.

But as we’ve discussed on this blog before, heroes killing people isn’t really all that new.  The early Batman had no qualms about killing people,

and neither did today’s hero: The Laughing Mask.

Origin and Career

The Laughing Mask first appeared in Daring Comics #2 in November 1939 and was created by William Harr and Maurice Gutwirth.

The hero started off as the idealistic Dennis Burton, an assistant District Attorney for the city of Rapid Falls.  Dennis was disillusioned with the ease that criminals were able to escape justice thanks to an increasingly corrupt legal system.

One day Burton was investigating a train wreck when he learned that the train wheels were being intentionally sabotaged with acid.  Burton was captured but managed to escape and instead of reporting the crime like any reasonable human being would he decided to go a bit overboard, adopt a rather terrifying disguise,

and slaughter every gangster involved in the plot except one who was forced to sign a confession and turn himself in.

Sadly, this disguise would only last one issue and in November of 1940 a new vigilante with the exact same name, equipment, and penchant for violence appeared calling himself Purple Mask.

Dennis Burton would have two more stories, one where he threatened to throw a criminal into a vat of acid,

and another much more tame story where he foiled a bank robbery.

So what happened?

The Laughing/Purple Mask disappeared off the face of the Earth until he reappeared in the 2008 comic book series The Twelve.

Part of a team of twelve heroes that were tasked with assaulting Berlin at the tail end of WW2 the Twelve were subsequently captured and put in stasis.

 

When they were re discovered and thawed out years later the new challenge was for each team member to try and readjust to modern life.  This was a problem for The Laughing Mask because almost as soon as he was thawed out he was arrested for murdering a group of gangsters 60 years earlier.

It was also revealed that the Laughing Mask had executed a group of German prisoners while operating in Germany during the war, demonstrating that he was probably mentall unsound.

However, his arrest probably saved his life because while the Laughing Mask was in jail the rest of the Twelve were engaged in a brutal bit of infighting that resulted in a lot of the heroes dying.

Dennis Burton would later reach a deal with the United States government.  In exchange for a pardon he would operate a robot named Electro, a telepathically controlled robot that belonged to a former teammate of the Twelve, and carry out missions for the government. He was last seen attacking a Middle Eastern drug ring and loving every minute of it.

The Laughing Mask was one of the first examples of how violent and savage the early vigilantes could be.  He was brutal, uncompromising, and wasn’t afraid of taking a life long before modern comic books began writing heroes that were not afraid to kill.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Blue Blade

 

So this little movie came out not too long ago.

For anyone who is curious about what I thought about it, I liked it.  It was funny, well paced, and had a surprising amount of…heart.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the movie was the sword play.

I thought it was nice to know that even in an age where most people would scoff at using swords in favor of guns Hollywood realizes that sometimes audiences just want to see a good old fashioned sword fight (although to be fair, the gun play in Deadpool was also pretty damn cool).

This is in NO way a semi awkward attempt to tie a recent comic book superhero success to the subject of today’s blog post (it totally is though).  See, I love a good sword fight and I especially love old school Hollywood swashbucklers.  Stuff like Errol Flynn movies and the old Zorro films

were things that I grew up with and I still enjoy today.  And since these movies were incredibly popular it would make sense for comic books to try to create their own swashbuckling heroes.  One of these heroes was Timely Comics’ Blue Blade.

Origin and Career

Nobody knows who created the Blue Blade, although judging from the costume and demeanor he was a pretty blatant rip off of Errol Flynn.  His first appearance was in USA Comics #5 dated in 1942.

Where he helped defeat a gang of Japanese spies looking to steal an experimental weapon.

His real name was Roy Chambers.  He was an expert swordsman, acrobat, and had an incredibly well trained horse that was somehow better than a car in 1940’s America.

For some reason the Blue Blade just didn’t catch on (whaaaat?) and he would have remained a forgotten relic of the Golden Age of Comics until the 2008 mini series The Twelve.

So what happened

The Blue Blade had been drafted in 1945 and sent to Europe to fight the Nazis.  Despite his fighting prowess he was viewed as more of a tourist and used his natural flair for entertainment to appear in shows for the troops.

He was pat of the failed Berlin raid that led to a team of twelve superheroes being captured by the Nazis and placed into stasis.

Eventually the heroes were rediscovered, thawed out, and returned to America to readjust to modern life.  While some of the heroes took the news rather hard the Blue Blade was actually rather happy about it.

He thought that their former celebrity status, coupled with the novelty of being relics of the past, would be something he could leverage into a profitable entertainment career and for a little while it worked.

However, audience tastes change with the times and sadly the Blue Blade was unable to find a show that would appeal to modern audiences.

Desperate to find something that would thrust him back into the limelight the Blue Blade attempted to reactivate one of his fellow heroes, the robot Electro.

Unfortunately, the Blue Blade failed to realize that Electro had already been activated and was working under the control of another hero.  In an attempt to keep its master a secret, Electro murdered the Blue Blade.

The Blue Blade was not very good at being a superhero.  He was loud, brash, outspoken, and probably not very well suited at being a hero in the first place (kind of like Deadpool if you want a tenuous connection to the movie) but like Deadpool he was one of the few heroes who realized the profit making potential of being a costumed vigilante (along with other comic book luminaries like Ozymandias, The Heroes for Hire, and Deadpool’s old buddy Cable) and he was a tribute to many of the Hollywood swashbuckling films that were one of the biggest influences on the early days of comic books.

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Electro

So last week we decided to take a look at the Phantom Reporter, a hero who only lasted one issue in the 1940’s but found new life in a modern story about Golden Age superheroes called “The Twelve”

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That turned out to be a popular post so let’s take a look at another one of the heroes form this story, one who managed to last a bit longer than one issue and proved to be a major player in the modern comic book series: Electro.

Origin and career:

Electro was created by writer/artist Steve Dhalman and debuted in Marvel Mystery Comics Issue #4 in 1940 as a backup feature to more popular heroes of the time such as the Human Torch and the Sub Mariner.

Electro was a robot created by Professor Philo Zog in the name of helping all of mankind.

Electro was an actual robot, not a human flying around in a robotic suit like Iron Man.  Electro was controlled by a special microphone/telephone created by the professor that could be used to summon the robot and make it do its master’s bidding.

The robot itself was pretty powerful in its own right.  Capable of running at speeds in excess of 100 mph, impervious to most firearms and explosives, and capable of lifting a human being with little to no difficulty

Electro was certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Philo Zog’s creation would have a fairly long and successful life as a back up feature in the Marvel Mystery series, which was one of Timely Comic’s biggest and most successful series at the time.  What’s interesting is that many of these stories weren’t really about Electro the Robot but rather about Philo Zog and a collection of twelve human agents who worked for Zog known as “Secret Operatives”.  Basically an Electro story would go something like this: one of the Secret Operatives would be sent out to investigate a crime or disturbance (this could range anywhere from a kidnapping to preventing a full blown international civil war) stumble on something that was far too big for one man to handle, call in Electro, and the robot would make quick work of whatever criminal/drug dealer/dictator/alien was a threat that day.

Electro’s final Golden Age appearance was in Marvel Mystery #19 where Professor Zog and Electro manage to fend off a crazed mad scientist who invents an invisibility potion.  While Electro was defeated by one of the mad scientist’s servants who was using the potion the robot did go out with a bang after fighting off two gorillas.

So what happened?

The robot and his twelve agents just stopped being published, I guess he just wasn’t popular enough to last.

While the creation of Professor Zog wouldn’t be revived until 2008 the name Electro would live on in Marvel history: first as a Soviet agent who fought Captain America in 1954 when Marvel Comics was known as Atlas Comics

and second as the more well known Spider Man villain who made his first appearance in Amazing Spider Man #9 in 1964.

But we’re here to talk about the Golden Age Electro, the one who appeared in the 2008 series The Twelve.

During WW2 Electro was sent to Europe to fight off the Nazis.  He proved incredibly effective and popular with the soldiers, although the Phantom Reporter commented that it was somewhat “creepy” that a man could be killed by remote control.

The series starts off with twelve Golden Age heroes assaulting a bunker in 1945 Berlin.  However, they were discovered, captured by the Nazis, and placed in suspended animation for further study. However, it was too late and everyone who was tied to the project was either killed or captured leaving the twelve heroes trapped in stasis for years.

In 2007 a construction project uncovered the heroes and they were returned to the United States for reintegration into society.  Unfortunately for Electro he remained deactivated and it turned out that the robot had been controlled by a highly sophisticated device that allowed the user to control the robot with his or her mind.  Unfortunately for Professor Zog the shock of losing his robot was too much for his brain and it was reported that he “died of loneliness”.

During this time Professor Zog’s niece attempted to regain possession of her uncle’s device but couldn’t raise the money to take care of it.

Ms. Zog wound up reaching a deal with another hero from the Twelve called the Blue Blade.

In exchange for using the robot in a show the Blue Blade would give Ms. Zog all the money she would need to reclaim the robot.  However, something went wrong and the robot wound up killing the Blue Blade.

It turned out that the robot had not remained idle all these years.  In an attempt to re connect with his old master Electro’s primitive brain began reaching out in an attempt to find a new mind to connect with.  He wound up discovering the mind of another one of the twelve heroes, a Golden Age hero called Dynamic Man, and wound up basically becoming Dynamic Man’s servant.

Dynamic Man was revealed to be evil and used Electro to slaughter innocent people in cold blood.  However, Dynamic Man was eventually stopped at great cost to the rest of the Twelve and Electro reverted back to being a docile robot.

However, this was not the end of Electro’s career.  It turned out that Electro could only be used by one of the twelve heroes that had been placed in suspended animation.  The United States government wound up reaching an agreement with Zog’s niece where they would pay her to use her uncle’s invention for military use.  His was last seen being operated by another one of the Twelve, a hero called the Laughing Man, and tearing through the Middle East with some heavily upgraded weapons.

If you want to get technical than Electro wasn’t really a hero.  He was simply a tool, an invention created by a well meaning scientist who simply wanted to make the world a better place.  But the story of Electro represents some important themes that can be found in a lot of superhero stories: that power isn’t nearly as important as the choices made by those who use it.