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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Image result for magnus robot fighter leeja

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.

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.

SOLAR 1

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

SOLAR 1

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

Solar 17

to energy blasts,

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to size manipulation,

Covers

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,

Spiegle

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.

 

Comic Showcase: Turok, Son of Stone

Happy Columbus Day everyone!

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For our international readers, Columbus Day is a day for Americans to celebrate the first European to discover the continent of North America and helped kickstart a new age of European expansion into the New World that laid the foundation for modern day America.

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However, the truth is a bit more complicated.  Columbus wasn’t the first European to discover North America, that honor belongs to the Leif Erickson and the Vikings.

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Also, Columbus has a REALLY unsavory reputation among the Native American population as a thief, criminal, and as the man who did a lot of terrible things to the native population.

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We would like to avoid talking about Christopher Columbus on this blog so instead we’re going to talk about a comic book starring a Native American.

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Now the history of Native Americans in popular culture runs the gamut from well meaning and respectful to outright offensive but the fact of the matter is that Westerns were really popular in the 1950’s and comic books were nothing if not blatant trend followers.

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Today we’re going to talk about one of the more well known Native American characters in comic books.  Not only was he treated with a surprising amount of respect and dignity, he was one of the greatest examples of the glorious insanity that was so prevalent in the early days of comic books.  Ladies and gentlemen: Turok, Son of Stone.

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Origin and Career

Turok was first published by a company called Dell Comics, which got its start publishing pulp magazines in the 1920’s and moved into comics when they became popular.  They have a long and complicated history that we’re not going to talk about here but long story short, they were best known for publishing non superhero comics and at one point in time they were the most successful comic book company in the world.

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They made their money turning the old pulp characters into comic books and were most successful with licensed properties like Disney characters and popular tv shows.

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Dell also published an anthology series called Four Color Comics and in December of 1954 they published the first appearance of Turok.

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The credits for who created Turok are a bit shady but it is widely believed that he was first drawn by comic book artist Rex Mason (not shown here because I can’t find his picture) and early issues were written by writers Gaylord Dubois, who was well known for his work on The Lone Ranger, 

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and Paul S. Newman, who holds the world record as the most prolific comic book writer with over 4,000 published stories to his name of the course of his fifty year career.

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Sadly, I can’t go into any great detail about the adventures of Turok here because unlike most of the characters we talk about on this blog he’s still under copyright and his comics aren’t available for free (we’ll get to that later) but what I can say is that he was a Native American who fought dinosaurs and was therefore awesome.

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Under the Dell Comics label Turok and his younger brother Andar found themselves stranded in a place known as “The Lost Valley”, a mysterious place in the wild west of New Mexico.

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The Lost Valley was a strange and savage place, a place that time and reason forgot.  There were cavemen, dinosaurs, monsters, and a whole host of other ancient wonders that should have been extinct a long time ago.

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It was up to Turok and Andar to survive, thrive, and try to escape the hidden valley and their adventures were so popular that they kept going from the 1950’s all the way to the 1980’s as one of Dell Comic’s most successful and long lived characters.

So what happened?

Turok’s adventures were popular.  His journey as an actual comic book title was long, confusing, and in many ways even more interesting than then the character himself.  So this is going to be one of the longest and detailed “what happened?” segments this blog has ever seen.

If you look at the top left corner of each of the old Turok covers I’ve published you’ll notice that the company publishing him changes between three logos:

Western,

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Dell,

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and Gold Key.

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See, Western Publishing was a separate comic book publisher and was the studio who created Turok.  However, Western had a deal with the much larger and more successful Dell Comics where they would develop and create series that would be licensed and published by Dell Comics.

This deal would continue from 1956 to 1962 with and published over 27 issues of Turok.  However, in 1962 Western decided to leave Dell Comics and published comic books on their own.  Western went on to create their own publishing imprint, Gold Key comics

Sadly, both Dell and Gold Key suffered during the 1970’s due to decreased demand for comic books.  Dell ceased operations in 1973 and Gold Key ceased operations in 1982.  While Western did publish a few more Turok titles under another imprint called Whitman Publishing, it was no longer interested in comic books because they were making more money with toys, tv shows, and their Golden Books series.

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Western lasted the longest, but they declared bankruptcy and in 1997 they were absorbed into Golden Books Family Entertainment.

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Golden Books didn’t last long and the early 2000’s they were bought by Classic Media,

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which was then bought by Dreamworks Animation,

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which was then bought by NBC Universal in April 2016.

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With all this going on you would think that Turok would have disappeared.

NOPE!

In 1992 a small startup company called Valiant Comics picked up three original Gold Key characters to use in their fledgling comic book universe.

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Those characters were Magnus, Robot Fighter,

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Doctor Solar,

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and Turok.

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These titles, along with original Valiant works such as X-O Manowar, Harbinger, and Rai were incredibly successful.

However, Valiant fell victim to some unfortunate corporate problems that are far too complicated to get into here.  Long story short, Valiant was sold in 1994 to a company called Akklaim Entertainment, who was a video game publisher.

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Akklaim wanted to turn Valiant characters into video games and in 1997 they launched Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.

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The game was a hit and spawned a franchise of five more games.

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Akklaim would go out of business after some terrible business decisions and Valiant would abandon Turok when it made a roaring comeback in 2005.

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Image result for valiant entertainment

Today Turok is no longer a comic book or video game mainstay.  Dark Horse published four new issues of Turok in 2010,

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and Dynamite published twelve new Turok stories in 2013.

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While Turok is no longer a comic book mainstay he is an important part of comic book history.  He had an incredibly long shelf life as a character, his stories of fighting dinosaurs were epic and awesome, and he played an important role as a publishing mainstay in some of the most important comic book publishers of the past fifty years.

Not bad for one of the greatest Native American comic book characters.