Golden Age Showcase: The Blazing Skull

Today I’d like to talk about Ghost Rider for no particular reason.

The character is pretty gosh darn awesome, so awesome that when it was decided that Ghost Rider would have a movie he would be played by one of the greatest actors of our time.

And no, I don’t mean in an ironic way.

If there was one thing that made Ghost Rider iconic it would probably be his face.

Sure the biker look and motorcycle are awesome, but there’s something about a skull wreathed in flames that just screams “awesome”.

That being said, Ghost Rider wasn’t the first superhero (or even the first Marvel hero) to adopt this look.  That honor belongs to a Golden Age comic book hero named the Blazing Skull.

Origin and career:

The Blazing Skull first appeared in Mystic Comics #5 which was published in March of 1941.

Nobody knows who wrote or drew the story and it stands to reason nobody expected him to last very long since he was the last story in the book.

Before we delve into the backstory of the Blazing Skull we need to talk about a bit of history.  Today a lot of people are taught that the Second World War began on September 1st, 1939 with Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the United States would remain out of the war until 1941.

However, the war in Asia actually started two years before Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1937 when Japan invaded China in what became known as the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Without going into too many details let’s just say it was a brutal, awful, and often overlooked part of the war that resulted in some of the worst war crimes ever committed and is one of the biggest reasons why relations between Japan and China are frigid to this day.

So what does this have to do with the Blazing Skull?  Well the hero started off as mild mannered reporter Mark Todd, who was sent into China to cover the Sino Japanese War for the west.

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When Mark was forced into  a cave by a Japanese artillery bombardment he was discovered by a race of beings known as “The Skull Men” who have burning skulls instead of faces.

The Skull Men claim that Mark is destined to become a champion for freedom and train the former newsman until be becomes just like them.

In terms of powers the Burning Skull is immune to fire (naturally), has super strength, a healing factor, and can use fire as a long range weapon.

It’s worth mentioning that in his Golden Age appearances The Burning Skull’s origin was never revealed and his origin wouldn’t be hashed out until the 1990’s (we’ll get to that).  He would go on to have a short but respectable Golden Age career appearing in five issues.  In his very first issue he was actually captured by the Nazis, tortured by Hitler himself, and not only survived but insulted the Fuhrer so badly that Adolf was forced to leave the room crying.

He would have one more adventure in Europe where he wound up saving Winston Churchill’s life, and returned to the States where he spent the rest of his days fighting more traditional crooks.  Special mention goes to a Blazing Skull story where he defeated a serial killer named Dr. Fear.

 So what happened?

The Blazing Skull only lasted a year and then disappeared off of the face of the Earth.  However, he must have been memorable enough for someone to think of him because he had something of a resurgence in the comic book boom of the 1990’s.

In Marvel’s 1993 WW2 series The Invaders The Blazing Skull joins the titular superhero group to kick some retro Nazi butt.

This was where his famous origin story was formed and where it was revealed he was a reporter by trade.

He had several adventures with the Invaders, he even helped save Namor the Submariner’s life and helped break up a German spy ring in England.

While not much is known about the Blazing Skull between WW2 and the modern day it was later revealed that the Blazing Skull had been kidnapped by Middle Eastern terrorists and had been tortured for extended periods of time until he was finally rescued and asked to restart his superhero work.

He was recruited into The Defenders who are based out of New Jersey after the Marvel Comic event “Civil War” (hey we actually managed to tie this guy into more familiar stories!) and in his most recent appearance he worked with Howard the Duck as part of a superhero team trying to stop Nazi zombies from attacking other dimensions, only to be ripped apart by zombified goats.

The Blazing Skull may not have had the best beginning but he is a definite case of modern creators taking an idea and making it better.  Plus, he proved that the idea of a hero with a flaming skull for a face is badass and awesome.

Golden Comics Showcase #4: Ghost Rider

Today we’re going to talk about Ghost Rider.

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No not that one, this one.

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As I have stated time and time again the Golden Age of comics was a bit…weird and it may seem difficult to believe now but there once was a time when superheroes were not the reason kids bought comic books.

After the Allies punched Hitler’s dream of a thousand year empire for real the superhero comics fell by the wayside.  Post WW2 was filled with all sorts of different genres like romance,

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Supernatural and horror stories,

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and Westerns.

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There was a time when Westerns, with all their stories about lone gunmen bringing justice to the wild frontier and some questionable stereotypes of American natives and Chinese, ruled the comic book world.  In fact, Timely Comics, the company that would later become Marvel Comics, survived the post war years by producing Westerns, some of which were worked on by Stan Lee himself.  Into this post war Western boom rode the Ghost Rider.

Origin and Career

The Ghost Rider was originally conceived as a Western vigilante lawman named Rex Fury aka “The Calico Kid”.  He had a standard pulp and superhero origin where he decided to adopt a colorful costume to fulfill the kind of justice he believed the system couldn’t deliver.  He would ride a black horse called Ebony and travel the West disguised as a bumbling salesman in order to fool criminals.

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He was assisted by a Chinese migrant worker named Sing Song (yeah, stereotypes and lack of cultural sensitivity was another hallmark of the Golden Age) who helped Rex after the Calico Kid saved him from being framed for murder.

However, Rex Fury was being published just as the comic industry was changing from vigilantes and outlaws to more mature books so Rex was given a new origin and costume.  After Rex is attacked by a white bandit named Bart Lasher who disguises his crew as a group of blood thirsty Indians (like I said…not very culturally sensitive) and throws the hero and his sidekick into a swirling abyss known as the Devil’s Sink.  Rex and Sing Song survive and Rex decides to adopt a more supernatural guise to terrify criminals and the superstitious.  By covering his clothing and cape in phosphorous he is able to appear as a glowing white spectre known as “The Ghost Rider”

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You can read his origin story here, although I should warn you it is not for those who are easily offended at traditional stereotypes of Asians and Native Americans.

After adopting this new persona the Ghost Rider began his new career as a vigilante that terrified would be criminals as a ghost like creature.  Due to the growing popularity of horror comics in the early 1950’s the Ghost Rider’s enemies became more supernatural as well, from criminals impersonating monsters including such as the Harpy and Frankenstein’s monster.

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But by 1952 he was fighting actual supernatural threats such as a dragon.

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So what happened?

1954 happened.  That was the year a child psychologist named Fredric Wertham published a book that is infamous to the comic book industry, Seduction of the Innocent.

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Wertham was concerned that comics filled with violent images and supernatural stories were corrupting the youth of America and would lead to misbehavior and juvenile delinquency (a popular form of media coming under fire because of fears that it might turn children into savage little psychopaths?  THAT’S new!).  There was a Congressional hearing were Wertham testified.

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And rather have Congress and a mob of angry parents put them out of business the comic book companies got together and created the Comics Code Authority, an organization that would monitor every comic ever published and censor images or themes that were deemed too risque.  One of its most enduring legacies was the CCA stamp which you can find on a lot of older comics.

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Despite their best intentions the Comics Code was devastating to the industry.  Crime comics were heavily censored (you couldn’t show a crime being committed and the criminal had to  always lose in the end) and horror and sexually themed comics were outright banned.  This led to a lot of companies going out of business with only the big titles like Superman and Batman holding the kind of numbers that allowed them to survive.

Sadly the Ghost Rider was one of the many characters to fall victim to the new era of comics and his title was ended in 1954.  The good news is that he is currently in the public domain so if anyone wants to resurrect the character they are more than welcome to.