The Secret Lives of Villains #276

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Golden Age Showcase: Doctor Nitro

I said this year would be a bit different for this blog series by focusing on some of the more creative villains of the Golden Age of Comics and I intend to keep that promise.

The problem with Golden Age villains is that many of them were never meant to have any serious staying power.  Sure, you’ve got classics such as the Joker,

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and the Red Skull,

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but even these guys were simply reduced to being cackling mad men who were given the simple job of being evil for the sake of being evil and crumpling like wet cardboard once the hero started punching things.

It’s important to remember that during this time comics were built around the heroes and it was simply accepted that the hero always had to win.  I’m not trying to mock the hard working and underpaid writers and artists who created these guys, it’s just that the comic book scene of the 1940’s and 1950’s was a bit different than it was today.

Couple that with the fact that a lot of superheroes at the time weren’t above killing the bad guys,

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and it’s pretty easy to see why creators didn’t really focus on making great bad guys.

So here’s a blog post about an old foe of the Whizzer, Doctor Nitro.

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Origin and Career

The evil doctor made his first appearance in U.S.A Comics #16 in 1945.

He was so obscure and one note that this is the only photo I have been able to find of him.

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If I could describe the Doctor’s motivations in one word it would be generic.  He didn’t have an interesting or compelling backstory, he didn’t have some sort of special mutant ability, and he wasn’t particularly memorable or crazy.

While his motivations may have been generic, his methods certainly weren’t.  The Doctor was an explosives expert (with a name like Nitro that really isn’t surprising) who developed a special explosive that could only be detonated by being exposed to a certain type of ray.

Nitro manages to smuggle this explosive into his prison cell by pretending that it’s hand lotion and manages to escape after detonating a bomb that kills two guards.

After escaping and rejoining his gang, Doctor Nitro planned on becoming rich by blackmailing the wealthy and elite into paying him or he would kill them with the explosive.

The Whizzer witnesses one of Nitro’s henchmen kill a man named Standards and manages to trace the killing back to the Doctor.  While Nitro does manage to douse the Whizzer with his special explosive formula the hero is just too fast for him and manages to round up the evil Doctor and his gang in order to save the day.

Doctor Nitro was last seen in police custody, his current fate is unknown.

How can he be remade/reworked?

The Doctor was only given one appearance in 1945, he didn’t have a career after that.

So instead we’re going to try and remake/rework him for a modern audience and see if he could be a good fit for modern day readers.

Honestly, I think this guy could work, mostly because during my research Doctor Nitro reminded me of this guy.

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That man’s name is Howard Payne.  He was played by Dennis Hopper as the villain of the hit 1994 movie Speed.

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Howard is a retired bomb squad officer from the Atlanta police force who took a group of hostages on board an L.A bus and demanded a ransom of 3.7 million dollars or he would blow up the bus and all the people in it.

Besides sharing similar motives with Howard Payne, Doctor Nitro shares a similar love for explosives and creative ways of blowing things up.

What’s even better is that in the world of comics, Doctor Nitro can still fit in quite well.

Personally, I wouldn’t change the character and motivations at all.  He’s an incredibly talented bomb maker who has a knack for creating explosives that are undetectable and can be utilized in interesting and unorthodox ways.

Granted, there are a couple of comic book characters that utilize new and interesting technology,

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and there are even plenty of super villains that use the power of explosives as their main weapon,

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but I think the best place to put Doctor Nitro would be as a smart, capable, and behind the scenes antagonist to S.H.I.E.L.D.

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If I was writing him, the new Doctor Nitro would be half mad scientist, half bomb maker, and only interested in selling his services and products to the highest bidder.  Perhaps he could have had a previous job as a scientist for S.H.I.E.L.D but decided that they didn’t pay him nearly enough and decided to go freelance.

As for the villain’s tools, I think that he could not only be fun, but also pretty socially relevant.

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It’s no small secret that improvised explosive devices (IED’s) are a favorite and well known tool for terrorists in and around places like the Middle East, but with the new Doctor Nitro and his explosive expertise there is a whole new world of bizarre and interesting ways to challenge our heroes.

For example, if Nitro’s explosive can be disguised as hand lotion, what’s stopping him from creating an edible explosive?  If the charge doesn’t need a detonator to blow up maybe Nitro’s intended target could be killed off after eating a meal laced with explosives and detonated when exposed to a certain type of radiation?  How would S.H.I.E.L.D manage to stop a bomb maker who leaves no trace and doesn’t work with conventional materials?

There are plenty of interesting things that could be done with Doctor Nitro, it would be an absolute shame to waste him.

Hey, thanks for reading!  Just a quick heads up, we also publish a web comic called “The Secret Lives of Villains” ever Tuesday and Thursday and we have our first printed volume available for sale on Amazon!  If you would like to support this blog, and read some pretty awesome comics, please feel free to pick up a copy here.

Golden Age Showcase: Dynamite Thor

Full disclosure, I discovered this superhero after reading an article for Cracked.com.

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The article was about crazy Golden Age superheroes and the author, a gentleman who goes by the name of Seanbaby, has a pretty cool list of obscure old school heroes.

Anyway, on to the article and if Seanbaby does wind up reading this, I just want to say thank you.

Today we’re going to to talk about the most explosive superhero in all of comics, a man so explosive that his name combines the Norse god of thunder and a highly dangerous explosive: Dynamite Thor.

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Origin and career

Dynamite Thor made is first appearance in Weird Comics #6 September of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Weird Comics #6 - Version 2

He was created and written by a man named Wright Lincoln and is Mr. Lincoln’s only credited superhero.

He was published by Fox Features Syndicate, a company that was famous for two reasons.  First, their owner was an incredibly outspoken and boisterous man named Victor S. Fox.

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Apparently, before he became a comic book publisher he had made a living as the head of a shipping company, was arrested for stock fraud, and a book keeper for the company that would become DC Comics.  Also, he had a penchant for smoking cigars and calling himself “The King of Comics”

The man deserves his own article if we ever decide to do that.

Second, they were the original publishers of the superhero Blue Beetle.

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But back to Dynamite Thor.

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This hero’s actual name is Peter Thor, a wealthy mine owner and apparent explosives expert.

Here is his origin story.

Comic Book Cover For Weird Comics #6 - Version 2

And that’s it.

Say what you want about Golden Age comics, at least they’re damn efficient with setting up their characters.

As you might be able to guess from the name, Dynamite Thor likes to use dynamite…a lot.

Does he need to get someone’s attention?  Dynamite.

Comic Book Cover For Weird Comics #6 - Version 2

Destroy a ship killing and/or stranding countless numbers of people?  Dynamite

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Need to put out a fire?  You guessed it…dynamite.

Comic Book Cover For Weird Comics #6 - Version 2

Believe it or not, this actually isn’t as stupid as it seems, although to be fair it is pretty stupid.  It turns out that you can use explosions to put out fires so…good for the writer I guess.

Dynamite Thor was also seemingly impervious to explosives, something that is a pretty useful skill to have when you chuck dynamite everywhere.  Apparently this meant he was also immune to high G forces because his obsession with dynamite allowed him to do this,

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which is probably the most unfortunate way to fly that I have ever seen.

You would think that this ability to resist explosions would allow him to be practically invulnerable but nope, he was just as injury probe as you and me.

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His supporting cast is nothing really new or creative.

He had a girlfriend named Glenda who he had to keep in the dark about his secret identity for no other reason than that’s what superheroes do,

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and he fought your standard assortment of foreign spies and gangsters.

Really, aside from the obsession with explosives and the high death toll he must have racked up, he was pretty boring.

So what happened?

Absolutely nothing happened, he disappeared from the comic book scene entirely after five pretty standard and kind of boring stories.

Fox Comics would declare bankruptcy in 1950 and its most famous creation, the Blue Beetle, would be bought by Charlton Comics,

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and eventually acquired by DC Comics into the hero we know today.

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How could he be rebooted?

The question here really isn’t “how can he be rebooted?” it’s more “can he be rebooted in such a way to make him interesting?”.

Sure, Dynamite Thor is an explosives expert and he seems to be invulnerable to explosives, but someone with that particular skill set would cause waaaay too much collateral damage to be considered a hero (although that could be an interesting theme to play around with), so he would more than likely be rebooted as a villain.

The problem here is that there are a lot of halfway decent super villains such as DC’s Shrapnel,

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and Marvel’s Nitro,

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who have explosion based powers, which means that Dynamite Thor would probably struggle to stand out.

Maybe he could be a business man who has advanced knowledge of chemistry and physics and uses it to develop better explosives which he uses to commit crimes?  Or maybe he could be a disillusioned military veteran who was in a bomb disposal unit and watched his entire squad die?  The trick isn’t updating his powers, it’s making that update interesting enough for modern readers.

Dynamite Thor was a strange, very obscure hero who lives on in articles like these.  He had a pretty interesting power, used it in hilarious ways, and only lasted a couple of issues before fading into obscurity.  Basically, it’s heroes like these that make the comic book landscape vast enough and interesting enough to keep researching.

Comic book showcase: Doctor Solar

So last week was a success, what other heroes from Gold Key Comics that made their way to other publishers after the company folded can we talk about?

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Oh…that works.

Origin and career

The hero shown above is Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom.  He has the honor of being the first original character created under Gold Key Comics after their parent company split from Dell Publishing in 1962.  He first appeared in his own #1 issue in the summer of 1962.

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He was created by writer Paul Newman and editor Matt Murphy.  While I can’t find any pictures of Matt Murphy I’ve talked about Paul Newman last week.

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The man has the honor of being the most prolific comic book writer in history after publishing over 4,000 comic books over the course of his career and if I ever decide to talk about Silver Age comic books I’m pretty sure his name will definitely be coming up more.

Art responsibilities fell to artist Bob Fujitani.

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Who was a well established comic book artist who had done work on titles such as Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, and even worked on Black Condor for Quality Comics.

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We’ve talked about him on this blog before.

Doctor Solar was definitely a hero for the times.  In the 1960’s the Cold War was in full swing and we came terrifyingly close to ending the world as we knew it in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Solar’s origin was a harsh reminder of the dangerous new times we lived in.  He gained his powers after stopping a catastrophic nuclear meltdown that killed his co worker.

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Despite the fact that the radiation killed Dr. Bently, Solar remained unharmed with the exception of his skin turning green.

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A fun fact: Doctor Solar didn’t get his costume until issue #5, when his title switched artists and he was drawn by Frank Bolle.

The uniform was designed by the Doctor himself,

Frank Bolle

and actually looked pretty good.

Frank Bolle

As for bad guys to fight, Doctor Solar didn’t bother himself with petty bank robbers and villains of the week.  His principal nemesis was a man named Tanek Nuro, a shadowy power broker who never showed his face.

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The man looks like a cross between Kingpin and Lex Luthor and was one of those villains who never directly interfered with the hero, he just manipulated and created threats for the hero to face.

 Frank Bolle

It’s a good thing that Nuro didn’t engage Solar directly because Solar was a hero who could have probably gone toe to toe with Superman at his most powerful if he really wanted to.  The man’s power set was pretty wide ranging.  From super senses

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to energy blasts,

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to size manipulation,

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and the ability to manipulate the environment around him in whatever way he saw fit.

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The man was basically a god, and with this incredible power came the standard problems of what to do with a man who could vaporize you without batting an eyelash.

Since his body was now a giant nuclear battery he no longer needed food, sleep, or air.  However, like any battery he had to recharge himself and if he used up too much of his power he would die.

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So what happened?

Solar reached his peak popularity in 1965 but then the 1970’s happened and Gold Key went out of business.

Solar would have a brief revival in the 1980’s under Gold Key’s successor company, Whitman Comics,

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but he only lasted four issues before the series was cancelled.

Solar took a hiatus in the 1980’s when Whitman went out of business.  He was later revived when Valiant Comics licensed the character and decided to use him in their budding superhero lineup.

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He kept his costume but his origin was tweaked a bit.

The new Doctor Solar’s name was Phil Seleski.  He was a physicist working on an experimental fusion generator that went critical.  Seleski shut down the reactor but was exposed to a lethal dose of radiation that should have killed him but gave him superpowers instead.

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The new Doctor Solar, who just went by the name “Solar” in the Valiant Universe, actually played an important part in the larger story.  After gaining his powers he attempted to use them for good by attempting to destroy the world’s nuclear weapons.

The world’s governments were not partial to Solar’s actions and branded him a criminal.  During their attempt to stop him, Solar lost control of his powers and sucked Earth into a black hole.

Solar then travels back in time and splits into two personalities: Phil Seleski, who remembered everything that happened to Earth when it was destroyed, and Doctor Solar who was a representation of Peter’s childhood hero and believed that Phil was a dangerous criminal.

They meet, they fight, things get weird and very meta.

Eventually everything gets resolved and it is revealed that Seleski didn’t travel back in time, he simply recreated his ideal Earth after it was sucked into the black hole.

It was also revealed that Doctor Solar could split his personalities even further into various forms such as the Destroyer.

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This new Earth would establish the foundation for the Valiant Universe and the new Doctor Solar would play a crucial role.  From fighting evil aliens to defeating a super powered being named Mothergod who just so happened to be a former co worker of his,

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Doctor Solar was an important part of the Valiant Universe.

In the comics he blew himself up in the year 4000 A.D to prevent an alien invasion of Earth.

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Solar would live on when Acclaim bought Valiant.  This time the hero’s identity was twin brother and sister Frank and Helena who were given their powers after Peter left them with a portion of his own strength.

Acclaim Comics would go out of business but in 2004 Solar was picked up by Dark Horse Comics.

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Dark Horse published reprints of Solar’s original adventures until 2008 when they started releasing an original series that lasted eight issues.

In 2013 he was picked up by Dynamite Entertainment and had a twelve issue run from 2014 until February of 2015.

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Doctor Solar is, and remains, a pretty popular comic book character.  Like Turok, he was a product of comic book culture during the 1960’s and while he may not be as well recognized as some of his older superhero rivals such as Superman or Batman, I like to think he holds a special place in the hearts of dedicated comic book fans everywhere.

Speaking of legacies, did you know that Doctor Solar was a major inspiration for Radioactive Man, the superhero spoof that is a mainstay on the popular tv show The Simpsons? 

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As legacies go…that’s not half bad.