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.