Golden Age Showcase: The Owl

Let’s talk about Batman.

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We all know Batman, we all love Batman.  Why?  Because he’s Batman!

The reason I bring this up is because like his blue Boy Scout friend, the Golden Age Batman was incredibly popular.  And as we all know, with popularity comes a host of imitators, knock offs, and copies just different enough to avoid copyright lawsuits.

Today we’re going to look at one of the more successful Batman imitators and a hero with one of the most bizarre legacies in comic books: The Owl.

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Origin and Career

The Owl was one of the few original characters created by a company called Dell Comics.

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The character was created by comic book artist Frank Tomas and made his first appearance in Crackajack Funnies in July of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

No, I don’t know why they spelled “Crackerjack” wrong.

The hero’s secret identity is Nick Terry, world famous private detective.  In his first adventure he learns about a notorious criminal who has escaped from prison.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

You’ll notice that he’s rich enough to hire a butler, keeps strange hours at night, and has a fiancee named Bella Wayne.

As if we needed any more proof that he was a ripoff of Batman.

With that being said, I will admit that the Owl has one thing on the Caped Crusader.  His costume is much more terrifying.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

In fact, the costume is so terrifying that the adventure ends with the criminal dying from a heart attack out of fear.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

The Owl got a costume redesign the next issue and continued his campaign of fear and intimidation across the city.

It’s worth mentioning that Belle Wayne was no meager damsel in distress either.  She was a fairly competent reporter and actually learned her fiancee’s identity early in the series.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #28

Oh, by the way, the Owl was rich enough to afford his own plane as well.

It’s worth mentioning that Belle actually managed to save the Owl as well.  After being kidnapped and imprisoned by a villain called Pantherman (hey, there are worse names), Belle pops out of nowhere wearing…

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #32

When the Owl asks about the costume her response is pure gold.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #32

The two would continue their adventures for a couple more issues.  While they were popular, the rest of their adventures during the 1940’s were nothing really special.

So what happened?

The Owl and Owl Girl had a pretty good run but Dell Comics stopped publishing new stories for them in 1943.

Despite the character’s popularity, Dell wasn’t the best place for a hero like this.  You see, Dell didn’t spend a lot of time with original characters, they were making too much money off of licensed comic books like Mickey Mouse.

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In fact, they were doing so well that Dell was able to survive the comic book scares of the 1950’s relatively intact and without having to bend to the will of the Comics Code Authority.

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Sadly, internal struggles and split business partnerships meant that Dell folded in 1962 but their successor company, a publisher called Gold Key Comics, continued and even revived the Owl.

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As if the similarities between the Owl and Batman weren’t obvious enough, the entire reason why the Owl was revived was to cash in on the success of a certain tv show.

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Like the Adam West classic, the new Owl comic was campy, silly, and didn’t last very long.

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Since then he has made three appearances in the modern day.  The first in AC Comics’ Men of Mystery in 1999,

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Dynamite’s Project Superpowers in 2008,

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and Dynamite actually gave him his own limited series in 2013.

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So the Owl’s legacy is a successful one.  As a Golden Age hero he’s lasted a lot longer than many of his contemporaries and was just different enough from the crowd to stand apart from the source material he was ripping off.  But, I think it’s safe to say that his greatest legacy are all the other heroes who have adopted the owl as their symbol.

Granted, I’m sure comic book greats like Alan Moore weren’t thinking of this particular hero when they created heroes like Nite Owl,

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or several villains who go by that name,

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but the Owl was the first hero to use that name and that deserves credit and respect.

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Golden Age Showcase: Professor Supermind and Son

Let’s talk about families in comic books.

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Sure there are plenty of family figures in comic books.

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Heck, there are even a couple of actual families that have proven to be incredibly popular,

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but for the most part the purpose of being a family member of a superhero usually means your either an obstacle to the work of a superhero, or you’re dead.

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If you’re looking for someone to blame for this trope, blame Batman.

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Batman was the first superhero to have a clearly defined origin story and he was the first hero to have his parents tragically killed.

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In a way it makes sense for a superhero to not have his/her parents around when things like curfew, homework, and “you’re going out dressed like THAT?!” are a constant roadblocks.

While Batman was the first in the long and proud tradition of orphaned superheroes today’s blog post is about a father and son team who go around and fight crime together.

By which I mean the son does all the heavy lifting and the father sits back, tells his son what to do, and subjects his only child to dangerous experiments.

Today we are talking about Professor Supermind and Son.

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Origin and Career

Professor Supermind and his son made their first appearance in the Dell Comics anthology Popular Comics  #60 in Febuary of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #60

I don’t know who created him but apparently he was popular enough to be on the cover for the next couple of issues.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #64

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #65

The origin of this superheroic duo is straightforward and simple enough to be described in the first panel of every issue.

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The father’s name is Professor Warren, a super scientist who has created two of the greatest inventions mankind has ever witnessed.  The first is a television that can view anything in the world which was useful for both spotting where crime and for checking in on what I can only presume are his many ex wives and their new boyfriends.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #60

The second is an “energy builder” which he uses to zap his son with electrical power.  Following super hero logic this jolt of energy doesn’t kill him.  Instead, it grants him “electric power equal to a thousand horsepower”.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #63

I’m beginning to think that a lot of early comic book creators didn’t really know how science works.

The two men didn’t have much in the way of motivation outside of simply doing the right thing and each of their stories were pretty formulaic for the time.  The professor would see a problem going on through his television and send his son to stop it.

One of the better stories in my opinion was when the two fought of, what else, Nazis who were threatening to invade America.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #65

What’s really impressive about this story is the pair’s complete and total disregard for human life since they decide to collapse the tunnel and drown thousands of men unless the Nazis back off.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #66

I mean, I know that they’re Nazis and all, but killing so many people is a bit extreme.

Casual disregard for human life aside, the duo did have something resembling a nemesis outside of the dastardly Germans.  Apparently, the Professor had a former pupil who wanted the Professor’s inventions for himself.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #67

The man’s name was Sorel and he was the closest thing the series ever had to a super villain.

Funnily enough, Sorel was actually somewhat capable.  He even managed to sneak in to the Professor’s lab and use the power machine on himself.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #68

So what happened?

Despite having a fairly interesting idea and some halfway decent artwork for the time, the father and son team only made twelve appearances.

I don’t know what happened but I can make a pretty good guess.  Professor Supermind and his son started out as the cover story and as the first story in each anthology for a couple of issues and then started losing their cover appearances and first story positions to other characters.

It’s safe to say that they just weren’t as popular as Dell Comics hoped.

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Looking back it’s pretty easy to see why.  Each of the stories were pretty formulaic, the dialogue was wooden, and although the art wasn’t terrible the artist preferred to have the characters stand around and talk rather than act.

Sadly, there is very little chance for these two to make a comeback.  Dell Comics was hit pretty hard in the 1950’s and never really recovered.  They closed shop in 1972, although their legacy continues with the three superheroes Doctor Solar, Turok, and Magnus Robot Fighter.

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Despite the fact that their stories are pretty boring once you get down to it, I do think that Professor Supermind and his son do have some potential.  As I stated at the beginning of the article, living biological parents are something of a rarity in comic books so there could be a place for a well written father son team.

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Comic book showcase: Magnus, Robot Fighter.

So let’s close out the “Gold Key to Valiant Trilogy” (a name I just made up) with the final hero that was published by Gold Key Comics that made its way to Valiant Comics in the 1990’s: Magnus, Robot Fighter.

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Origin and Career

Magnus, Robot Fighter was first published by Gold Key Comics in February of 1963.

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He was created by comic book writer and artist Russ Manning.

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There are a couple things that should be noted about Russ Manning.  First, while Magnus, Robot Fighter was his single greatest creation, he rose to prominence in the comic book world with his work on Tarzan comics.

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You will also notice that his artwork is jaw droppingly amazing.

Magnus, Robot Fighter was a man born in the future society of North Am, a futuristic mega city that spans the entire continent of North America in the year 4000 A.D.

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While humans are nominally in charge of North Am, they have slowly become more and more dependent on a massive robot workforce.  One of their own, a robotic police chief named H-8, hates humanity to the point where he wants to take over North Am and rule over the humans.

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Into this story steps Robot 1-A, who appears to be a much older and wiser robot than his companions.  He raises a boy named Magnus to fight robots with his bare hands and protect humanity from evil robots and humans who seek to use robots for their own wicked plans.

The adventures of Magnus were pretty straight forward.  He would find a robot, or group of robots, that was doing something wrong or detrimental to humanity and beat the ever loving piss out of said evil doers with his bare hands.

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Magnus had a girlfriend who would assist him in his adventures named Leeja Clane.

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She was the daughter of a North Am senator and possessed telepathic powers that she used to help Magnus from time to time.

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Magnus, Robot Fighter was a success and I think there were three reasons why he sold as well as he did.

First, the early sixties were a heyday for some of the greatest science fiction ever written.  The scene was dominated by “The Big Three” of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Issac Asimov.

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One of Asimov’s greatest contributions to the world of science fiction was his work on robotics, specifically one of his most famous books: 1950’s I, Robot.

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In the book he introduced his now famous Three Laws of Robotics,

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This was important to Magnus, Robot Fighter because Robot 1A, Magnus’ teacher and mentor, mentions the Three Laws and believes in them so strongly that it serves as Magnus’ origin.

The second cultural event in the early 1960’s was the introduction of karate to every day Americans.

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American soldiers who had been stationed in Japan and Okinawa had learned karate from Japanese/Okinawan masters and brought it back to the States.

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Since it looked cool and was just exotic enough to impress a lot of Americans it found a home in Hollywood where it was used by Frank Sinatra in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate,

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and by Elvis.

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when you have a comic that combined popular science fiction with a martial art that was used by two of the coolest men to ever walk the Earth, you know you’ve got a hit.

Also, I mentioned at the top of the article that Magnus had been created by a man who made his mark in the comic book industry by drawing Tarzan stories.

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When you put Magnus side by side with Tarzan there are a lot of pretty striking similarities.  They were both raised by non human parents, they fight other worldly threats, and they both have a pretty lady friend they get to save and treat as arm candy.

Magnus was basically a futuristic version of Tarzan, and I’m okay with that.

So what happened?

Magnus may have been a popular Gold Key character (I guess people just really like robots and karate) but he fell victim to a force more powerful than any mindless robotic automaton: low sales figures.

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The series was cancelled when Gold Key started suffering in the 1970’s.

However, the rights were published by Jim Shooter’s Valiant Comics in the late 1980’s along with Turok and Doctor Solar.

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The Valiant version of Magnus was pretty faithful to the Gold Key version, although there was a pretty popular issue where Magnus fought the Predator in 1992.

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After Valiant’s parent company was bought by Acclaim in 1995, Magnus was rebooted two years later in 1997.

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The series was more of a self parody of the original creation and it was not very well received.  Acclaim would close its doors in 1999.  It was not sorely missed.

Magnus was picked up by Dark Horse Comics and his original stories were reprinted in 2002.

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A new original series was announced in 2010 with Jim Shooter writing which lasted four issues until it was cancelled in 2011.

Currently the series is owned by Dynamite Entertainment which bought the rights in 2013 and began publishing a new original series in 2014.

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I have the first volume on my phone.  It’s a good story, the artwork is fantastic, and I would highly recommend it.  In it’s own special way I think it’s come full circle.

Magnus, Robot Fighter was a silly idea with a silly name and only the most basic story lines and motivation.  However, the endearing nature of such a wonderfully simple concept (coupled with the fact that it borrowed heavily from established characters and jumped on the two major bandwagons of karate and 1960’s science fiction), made the comic a classic of the medium and ensured that it would be several times better than it had any right to be.

Next week we’re going to be talking about the little comic book publisher that became one of the great icons of horror but was squashed by the ever rolling tide of history.