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”.

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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.

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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.

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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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Golden Age Showcase: The Mad Monk

Let’s take a bite into the comic book industry’s version of vanilla ice cream and talk about Batman.

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Batman is one of the most popular superheroes in the world for a reason.  He’s got a great design, he’s got a cool story, he’s got tonnes of history, but most importantly…he has great villains.

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Yes, it seems pretty cliche to talk about how awesome Batman’s villains are but we all know that Poison Ivy is awesome,

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Mister Freeze is tragic and deep,

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and the Joker needs no introduction.

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But how does Batman manage to have so many great villains?

Easy, because he doesn’t kill them.

Batman’s aversion to killing criminals (even if the justice system he’s sworn to protect would have put the Joker to death a long time ago) and distaste at using guns is well documented.  With that being said, we’ve talked about how the Batman of the Golden Age wasn’t above using guns, or even killing criminals.

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The Golden Age Batman was a much darker and violent superhero than a lot of modern iterations and as a result, he either needed equally dark and violent villains or a small army’s worth of disposable henchmen.

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Today we’re going to talk about one of Batman’s first adversaries, a creature of the night who wasn’t just violent and unquestionably evil, but one of Batman’s first important villains: The Mad Monk.

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Origin and Career

The Mad Monk made his first appearance in Detective Comics #31 in September of 1939.

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He beat out the Joker by 8 months.

The character was created by Bob Kane and Garner Fox.

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Kane is the man who is widely credited with the creation of Batman (while he did play a part, a lion’s share of the credit does go to Bill Finger) and Fox is the man who helped create little known DC heroes like the Flash, Dr. Fate, and Hawkman.

The Mad Monk is special because he was the main villain for one of the first multi part stories in Batman’s career.  While the first super villain to face Batman in a multi issue series was the imaginatively named Dr. Death,

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The Mad Monk was a bigger, and much more mystical and terrifying, threat.

The Monk’s real name was Niccolai Tepes, a homage to historical crazy person and real life inspiration for the actual Dracula: Vlad Tepes aka “Vlad the Impaler”.

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The Mad Monk was a literal vampire complete with the need to drink blood, the ability to turn into a wolf, the ability to hypnotize people into a trance, and an assistant named Dala.

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While it is unknown why the Monk wants to kill Batman it is made apparent that the Monk does know his secret identity as Bruce Wayne when he kidnaps Bruce’s girl friend Julie Madison.

The Monk and Dala hypnotize her and use her to lure Batman into a trap in Paris where he has to fight a giant gorilla.

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After defeating the beast, Batman is captured and is trapped in a net dangling over a pit of snakes.  Because this is a comic book and nobody just wants to shoot their captured adversary.

Fun fact: This is the first time Batman ever uses the Batarang in comics.

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After escaping, Batman tracks the Monk to Transylvania (because of course) and confronts the villain in his mountain castle.  The Monk puts up a good fight by transforming into a wolf but Batman manages to knock the wolves out and escape.

The comic ends with Batman shooting The Mad Monk and Dala as they lie in their coffins.

If you ask me, this was a brilliant display of common sense.  While I think the idea for the Mad Monk is cool, I certainly wouldn’t want an immortal blood sucking creature  roaming the streets of Gotham or anywhere else in the world.

So what happened?

The Monk remained dead for a long time, probably because he was just two scary and dark for the censorship police known as the Comics Code Authority.

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But, like the vampires that he took his inspiration from, he would arise from the grave many years later.  In 1986 Gerry Conway, the co creator of the Punisher and the man who killed Gwen Stacy,

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reworked the original 1939 story into a modern origin for the Mad Monk in the 1980’s.

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In the new version the Mad Monk was a former plantation owner who owned slaves in post Civil War America.  He and his sister Dala were attacked by their slaves and turned into the undead in a voodoo ritual.

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Personally, I preferred the earlier version better.

The Mad Monk manged to turn Batman into a vampire but was eventually defeated by a wandering priest named Father Green.

The character would be given another fresh coat of paint in 2006 when a six issue mini series was published by DC Comics entitled Batman and the Mad Monk.

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It was pretty good.

The Mad Monk is a villain that has been mostly forgotten to history.  While he was a pretty one note character who didn’t have much staying power, and while he has been overshadowed by much more complex and interesting villains, he deserves a lot more attention and respect.

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He was one of Batman’s first true challenges and paved the way for the rogue gallery that keeps us coming back to Batman comics again and again.

Golden Age Showcase: Doiby Dickles

Let’s talk about sidekicks.

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The sidekick’s job is to watch the main hero’s back and help in any way possible.  Sometimes this means providing support and help from afar and sometimes it means getting their hands dirty and joining the hero in his/her adventures.

More often than not, comic book publishers use sidekicks as a way to fill a need in the comic that the hero can’t fill.  In the case of Robin the Boy Wonder, it was a way for DC Comics to make one of their most popular heroes more kid friendly and accessible in a time where comic book superheroes were facing a lot of scrutiny.

Over the course of comic book history there have been plenty of other sidekicks.  Some have worked,

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and some have not.

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Today we’re talking about a Golden Age super sidekick that belongs in the “did not work” category, although if you ask me it’s a crying shame.

Today we’re going to talk about Doiby Dickles.

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Origin and Career

The Green Lantern of the 1940’s was radically different from the Green Lantern we know today.

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Instead of being an interstellar cop who got his powers from an advanced piece of alien technology, the Golden Age Green Lantern was a railroad engineer named Alan Scott who used a ring powered by magic.

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When popular heroes like Batman and Superman experienced a sales boost by adopting sidekicks, National Comics turned to legendary comic book creator Bill Finger to create a sidekick for Alan.

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I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Bill Finger wasn’t just a big name for the Green Lantern, he also helped create a huge chunk of the Batman mythos we know and love today.

Doiby made his first appearance in All American Comics #27 in June of 1941.

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The man was a Brooklyn taxi driver who drove Alan Scott around as needed.

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He spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent, always wore a derby hat, and wasn’t afraid to get into a fight when he needed to.

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He had something of a temper as well and could swing a wrench with enough power to make him a force to be reckoned with.

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Also, he was incredibly attached to his cab, who he named “Goitrude”.

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In short, Doiby Dickles was an ill tempered, foul mouthed cab driver who was quick in a fight and wanted to do everything he could to help.

He was magnificent.

So what happened?

The Golden Age of superheroes ended and the ensuing Silver Age took more of a science fiction bent.

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This included a dramatic revamping of the Green Lantern series which shifted from the magic wielder Alan Scott to the galactic space cop Hal Jordan that we know and love today.

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Sadly, this meant that the new age of comics didn’t have time and room for a hard talking fast punching maniac like Doiby,

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so DC decided to ship him off into space and marry an alien princess named Ramia from the planet Myrg after saving her from a forced marriage to a man named Prince Peril.

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Doiby and Ramia would return to Myrg where Doiby would become it’s king.  The people of Myrg would go on to adopt Brooklyn accents and recreate the baseball field where the Brooklyn Dodgers played.

God, the Silver Age was weird.

While Doiby was no longer a member of the main supporting cast he did manage the odd guest appearance where he actually helped the Green Lanterns defeat Sinestro.

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Sadly, Goitrude was destroyed in the battle.  It’s one of the most heartbreaking deaths in all of comics.

While that was the extent of his Silver Age career, Doiby was nowhere near done as a character.  He would continue to have revival after unlikely revival, even into the modern age.

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He made an appearance with a superhero group known as “Old Justice”.

It was a joke group of old superheroes who made it their mission to keep the younger generation of superheroes in check and make sure they didn’t mess things up too much,

Naturally they became a thorn in the side of the more famous “Young Justice” superhero team, although in the end they did manage to put aside their differences and let the young ones do their jobs.

If you want to read more stories with Doiby in them, I recommend the Young Justice “Sins of Youth” story line.

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Doiby’s next adventure would be with Young Justice again, when they agreed to help him travel back to Myrg and defeat an alien race known as the Slag by playing a game of baseball.

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It’s worth mentioning that the team was only able to win by blatantly cheating.

Sadly, the baseball game was the last major appearance for Doiby Dickles.  The rest of his appearances are guest spots and flashbacks with Alan Scott.

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So, according to DC continuity, Doiby is still out there on an alien planet and is enjoying a long and happy life with an alien queen while ruling a race of Brooklyn accented extra terrestrials.

Shine on you crazy bastard, you deserve it.

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Golden Age Showcase: Invisible Hood

If you hang out in the social circles that I do the conversation inevitably turns into a debate about superheroes.

“Who would win in a fight?”

“What’s your favorite story arc/series?”

“How is Hollywood butchering our favorite superheroes THIS time?”

Another question that almost always comes up is “if given the chance, what superpower would you have?”.

Now, a lot of people give answers like strength and flight, but one of the most overlooked answers (pun intended by the way) is invisibility.

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The ability to not be seen is one of the most useful powers out there and many writers and artists have created characters that have been able to use the power with great effect.

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But let’s take a look at one of the earliest modern superheroes to use this power, and a man who fights crime in a full bodied robe: the Invisible Hood.

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Origin and Career

The Invisible Hood made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Smash Comics in August of 1939.

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He was created by comic book artist and writer Arthur Pinajian, an Armenian author and writer who went by the pen name “Art Goodman”.

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Fun fact: Pinajian didn’t just do comic books.  He was a pretty successful painter as well and his current collection of work is valued at $30 million.

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But back to the Invisible Hood,

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the hero’s first adventure was a four page story where former private detective Kent Thurston receives a tip about a gang of hoodlums who are trying to sell some stolen jewels.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

Kent becomes the Invisible Hood, gets the jewels back, manages to knock out several people with a “gas gun” (gotta keep it kid friendly), and literally pulls the rug out from underneath the criminals to save the day.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

I have to say, that HAS to be one of the least efficient costumes to fight crime in.

You’ll notice that there isn’t a whole lot of invisibility associated with a hero called “The Invisible Hood”.  Well, our hero had the same thought in his next adventure, when he magically learns that there has been a professor named Hans Van Dorn working on a chemical that has the ability to turn things invisible.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #2

Boy do I love plot convenience!

Kent tracks the gang to the Professor’s room where the old man is more than willing to help.  Kent gets doused with the mysterious chemical and becomes truly invisible.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #2

Boy do I love the total disregard for human safety and proper testing!

The Invisible Hood would go on to have over 30 appearances like this.  They were pretty standard adventures where he would confront various criminals and thwart their schemes.

So what happened?

Quality Comics was bought out by DC in 1956 and any momentum that the Invisible Hood had built was lost, which is a crying shame because he would have been a perfect fit for the zany science fiction adventures of the Silver Age of comics.

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Unlike our last superhero, the Invisible Hood did not go on to have a better career in the modern era.  He didn’t have a better back story, he didn’t have a whole mini series dedicated to his adventures, and he didn’t become a foundation for anything big in the DC universe.

But he did matter enough to be used in later comic books.

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His first post Golden Age appearance was in a DC comic book series called “The Freedom Fighters”.

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The group was created in the 1970’s as a way to give old Quality Comics characters their own team and series.  The Invisible Hood appeared with the group in a retelling of the group’s origin and, through a bunch of inter dimensional tomfoolery that DC is famous for, went to a parallel dimension in order to fight Nazis.

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He was eventually given another reboot in the modern era in Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.

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Where it was revealed that the original Invisible Hood had died in 1974 and the current incarnation was his great great grandson who was also named Kent Thurston.

The modern version of Kent died as well in his first appearance.  He was killed by a traitor to the group before he retired from superhero work.

A rather sad but fitting end for a hero like that.

Golden Age Showcase: John Steele

I’ll be honest folks.  Today’s hero showcase barely qualifies as a Golden Age superhero.  In fact, if you look at his only comic book appearance he barely qualifies as a superhero in general.

But this is a blog dedicated to the obscure and silly aspects of the early days of the comic book industry and they don’t get much more obscure than this character’s single appearance in a superhero anthology title surrounded by much more popular and successful heroes.

With that being said, while today’s hero didn’t make much of a splash in the 1940’s, he was reworked in the modern era to become one of the most important characters in the thriving Marvel Universe.

Today we’re talking about the superbly named John Steele.

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ORIGIN AND CAREER

John Steele made his first and only Golden Age appearance in Daring Mystery Comics #1 in January of 1940.

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He was created by legendary artist Dan Barry,

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Who was one of the premier artists of his time and one of the main creators and practitioners of an art style known as “New York slick”.

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I could try to list all of the stories and characters that used this particular style of art, but all you need to know is that this was the dominant art styles of the time and would only be replaced by the legendary Jack Kirby’s career at the new Marvel Comics.

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Barry created John Steele as a soldier fighting in World War 1, which just goes to show you that even though the United States wasn’t officially at war with Germany yet there were plenty of people who were happy enough to dig up the violence of the past to get a head start on the violence of the future.

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The story was pretty straightforward.  Steele gets trapped behind enemy lines, discovers an Allied spy who needs to get back to headquarters, and the two make their way back home.

Pretty straightforward, pretty direct, kind of boring.

So what happened?

John Steele would have faded into the deepest, darkest pit of obscurity if it wasn’t for comic book creator Ed Brubaker turning him into one of the most important characters in the entire Marvel Universe.

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In Mr. Brubaker’s limited series The Marvels Project it was revealed that John Steele was actually a superhuman with increased strength, durability, and longevity.

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Apparantly, this small time obscure character from a single story in the 1940’s, was America’s first super soldier.

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While that’s pretty cool it gets even better.  Brubaker’s story explains that, during the First World War, Steele was actually captured by the Germans and placed in suspended animation for years.

The Germans discoverd his mysterious powers and were determined to duplicate them for their own uses.

One of these scientists was Abraham Erskine, the man who developed the serum that gave Captain America his powers.

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It’s a pretty bold claim to make, and Brubaker would go on to give Steele one hell of a story to go with it.

In 1940, the laboratory holding Steele was destroyed in a bombing and Steele was brought out of suspended animation.

Being a red blooded American with a penchant for war and a hatred of all things German he did what all comic book superheroes do best: kill Nazis.

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He teamed up with Nick Fury and several other World War 2 superhero teams to fight the Red Skull, but refused to come home with his countrymen due to his anger at the atrocities committed by the Red Skull and his understandable desire to not be experimented on.

He continued to act behind enemy lines and actually uncovered an Axis plot that would have prevented the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but sadly his fellow superheroes could only lessen the damage.  He disappeared after the invasion of Normandy three years later.

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He would make his final appearance in the Secret Avengers comic books, this time as a member of a mysterious organization known as the Shadow Council,

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Where it was revealed that he had actually been alive for an unkown amount of time and had fought in the American Civil War.

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Being a super soldier working for an evil organization John inevitably came into contact with Captain America.  

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The two developed something of a fierce rivalry until Captain America captured him and managed to convince him to switch sides and spy on the Shadow Council on the inside.

Unfortunately, the Shadow Council learned about Steele’s new alliance and had him tortured and killed.  His last act was to warn the Avengers about the Council’s plans and he wound up dying as a hero.

Hey everyone!  If you enjoyed this article you might enjoy some of the other stuff we do.  Besides weekly articles like this we publish a bi weekly web comic about a family of super villains known as “The Secret Lives of Villains”.  We even have a book out and you can support us by picking up a copy here.

Golden Age Showcase: Powerhouse Pepper

When many people hear the word “comics” they tend to think of superheroes.

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There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that comics can (and have been) so much more.

Now I will grant that I have probably not been doing a very good job in dispelling this stereotype, after all this blog has primarily talked about superheroes, but I like to think of this blog as a way to educate and inform people about parts of comic book history that are a bit obscure and totally crazy.

With that being said, let’s take a look at a character who isn’t really a superhero, but enjoyed a tremendous amount of success during the Golden Age of Comics: Powerhouse Pepper.

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Origin and Career

Powerhouse Pepper made his first appearance in Timely Comics’ Joker Comics #1 in April of 1942.

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I’m not going to lie, after looking at superheroes punching out Nazis for the past couple of weeks, this is a welcome relief.

The character was created by comic book legend, and a man with the kind of name that belongs in a funny comic, Basil Wolverton.

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Basil is considered to be one of the great humor artists ever, and was dubbed the “Michelangelo of Mad Magazine” by the New York Times in 2009.

While he is famous for creating the character “Lena the Hyena”,

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and for developing an iconic art style that didn’t just work for humor, but for horror as well,

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his signature creation was the dimwitted, super strong boxer with a heart of gold and a penchant for the ladies: Powerhouse Pepper.

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The character made his mark in a long series of 6-8 page stories that jumped around from titles such as Joker Comics,

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To Gay Comics,

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and even managed to get his own title for a little bit.

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As mentioned above, the man was a boxer and a very good one at that.  While he wasn’t really a superhero, he certainly appeared to have superpowers, up to and including super strength and durability.

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The man was a lovable and dimwitted oaf, unconcerned with petty things like money or fame.

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He did have a soft spot for the ladies and did his level best to be as polite and chivalrous as possible, even if it meant taking on opponents three times his size.

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I would say he’s a Popeye ripoff, but what really sets him apart from everyone’s favorite spinach eating sailor is his penchant for rhyming and alliteration in his dialogue.

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These stories are absolutely hilarious and Basil Wolverton’s creation deserves to go down in history as one of the greatest humor characters ever created.

So what happened?

Sadly, while Powerhouse has an impressive pedigree and the kind of history that should have made him into a timeless classic, the character’s exposure to modern day comic book audiences has been somewhat limited.

While you can find reprints of Basil Wolverton’s work, and there is a great website you can visit and view many of his appearances, Marvel has not bothered to reprint or promote any of the old Powerhouse Pepper stories.

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If you ask me, it’s a crying shame because from what I’ve been able to read, these stories are hilarious and still hold up today.

Hello everyone.  Normally this is the part of the article where I would ask you to support us on Patreon or donate to a Kickstarter.  We don’t have those but instead we have a printed edition of our bi weekly web comic “The Secret Lives of Villains” available on for purchase on Amazon here.

President’s Day special: Uncle Sam

Happy President’s Day everyone!

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For our non American readers, President’s Day is an American holiday held on the third Monday of every month.  It was originally made a legal holiday in order to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,

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but depending on what state you live in it can either celebrate one of them, both, or every President who has been elected into office.

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Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the position of President of the United States of America is probably not the most popular position of leadership in the world right now,

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but let me make my position on the matter perfectly clear.

While it is important to realize that the position of President of the United States is a difficult one, and that we should honor the people who sacrifice their time and health to the job, the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day the President is an elected official who can, and should, only do so much.

At the end of the day the problems that we face as a society can only be solved when ordinary people come together to fix them and take action.  Solutions are almost never the work of one great individual, but rather a collection of ordinary people.

Sadly, the slow and tedious work of millions is difficult to comprehend.  So in order to make sense of it all we do two things.  We celebrate the lives and achievements of a few men and women and we craft symbols and signs that we can rally around.

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That is part of the reason why I like superheroes so much.  They’re colorful, larger than life, and an easy way for people to relate to things and events that are much bigger than themselves.

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In an increasingly complex and chaotic world, they are the walking solutions to many of our problems.

So let’s take a look at a Golden Age superhero who wasn’t just a superhero who represented the millions of men and women who fought in WW2, but a walking symbol of America as well: Uncle Sam.

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Origin and Career

Uncle Sam became the personification of the American people and government during the War of 1812, although you probably recognize him more from his World War 1 recruitment poster.

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According to legend, the character of Uncle Sam was based off of the real life Samuel Wilson, who was a meat packer from New York and a fervent American patriot.

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Uncle Sam is up there with the bald eagle, baseball, and the flag as great American symbols and since he has such a violent history and is often associated with war it only makes sense that when America decided to get involved during World War 2, they co opt the ever loving crap out of him.

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Naturally he found a home in comic books and in July of 1940, Quality Comics published National Comics #1 hit the stands with Uncle Sam leading the charge against the Axis.

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I don’t know what I like more, the fact that Uncle Sam’s hat hasn’t blown away in the wind, or that they have a LITTLE KID RUNNING ACROSS AN AIRPLANE WING ATTACKING A FULLY GROWN MAN ARMED WITH A PISTOL!

Boy, child safety laws were pretty lax back then.

Like every hero, Uncle Sam needed an origin story.  It turned out that the folks at National Comics were content to keep him as a vague symbol of American government and way of life, only this time he was going to get his hands dirty and join the fight against crime and injustice.  It turned out that Uncle Sam was the spirit of a fallen soldier from the American Revolution and continued to appear whenever his country needed him to fight.

With any other company or creator this probably would have turned into a silly little farce, but this version of Uncle Sam was written by Will Eisner.

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If you don’t know who Will Eisner is, all you need to understand is that the comic book industry’s version of the Oscars is named after him.

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Anyway, this version of Uncle Sam did his patriotic duty and fought off, what else, the forces of evil and tyranny that just so happened to look like the Nazis.

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His superpowers were whatever the story needed and he had a kid sidekick named Buddy Smith who accompanied Uncle Sam on his many dangerous adventures.

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So what happened?

He spent 45 issues beating the enemies of America, and freedom loving people everywhere, to a pulp.

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Then Quality Comics went belly up in 1956 and was bought out by DC.

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DC’s Uncle Sam would go on to be a pretty big supporting character in the DC universe.  He became the leader of the Freedom Fighters, a group of old Quality Comics characters that were brought together in a Justice League type of arrangement.

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His origin was retooled a bit.  Now he was a spiritual entity that was summoned by the Founding Fathers in an occult ritual that bound the “Spirit of America” to the body of a dying patriot.

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He’s had a steady presence in the DC universe ever since the 1970’s.

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In 1997 DC’s greatest imprint, Vertigo Comics, gave Uncle Sam a two issue mini series written by Steve Darnell and drawn by Alex Ross.

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My hat is off to Vertigo for taking a pretty goofy character and treating him with respect and giving him a meaningful story.

He appeared in the DC event comic Blackest Night.

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and was dramatically revamped as a mortal black man in the New 52 reboot.

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Uncle Sam is an interesting character.  On one hand he’s goofy, colorful, and the kind of un ironic display of patriotism that would make a lot of people cringe.  On the other hand he’s a symbol of a violent and destructive superpower that has a nasty habit of sticking its nose in business that it has no right to be in.

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Personally, I’m more inclined towards the first interpretation.  Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that the man is pure Americana and I can’t think of a better symbol of the effort and determination of the American people.

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Sure, you can call me corny and cheesy but you know what?  I’m okay with that.

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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: The Patriot

Happy post Super Bowl everyone!

Last night was one of the greatest games I have ever seen and I am so happy that my favorite team won their fifth championship.

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Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the New England Patriots so I would like to apologize for anyone reading this who isn’t a football fan and has to put up with yet another half crazed fan talking about something that’s not that interesting.  As for anyone who was hoping for the Patriots to lose, I’m not sorry in the slightest.

The game was one of the greatest things I have ever seen, so I thought it might be fitting to talk about an old school hero named The Patriot.

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Look, it was either this guy or Sportsmaster and I chose him.

Origin and Career

The Patriot was a second string character created by writer Ray Gill and artist Bill Everett,

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who was also the man who created Namor the Submariner.

The character first appeared in The Human Torch #4 in April of 1941.

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Fun fact: the issue is rather famous for a printing error that stated it was issue #3 instead of #4.

Anyway, the Patriot’s actual name was Jeffery Mace and his first appearance was in a ten page backup story titled “The Yellowshirts turn Yellow!” where the Patriot defeated a group of people looking to subvert the United States war effort by overthrowing the United States government.

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The character proved to be pretty popular for a backup character and would go on to have a successful, if not a bit standard and cliche, career as a secondary character in The Human Torch comics and Marvel Mystery Comics as well.

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I like to think that if Captain America didn’t turn out to be as popular, the Patriot would have been able to become a much more established superhero.  He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t have any special powers or particularly noteworthy stories, but he did his job and was popular enough to have a pretty long and storied career in the 1940’s.

So what happened?

Life tip: if you want to survive through trying times, you have to be able to stand out so people notice you.  The Patriot did not have that chance and as a result died out with the superhero fad in the late 1940’s.

With that being said, his previous popularity gave him something that a lot of his colleagues never had: a second chance.

His first appearance was in The Avengers #97 along with his colleague in arms The Fin (the same guy we talked about last week) as a mental projection of Rick Jones in order to wage war on the Kree and Skrull.

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He wound up joining the retconned superhero group known as The Liberty Legion and was given a much more fleshed out backstory in the 1970’s.

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They gave the man a much more fleshed out backstory that gave him some much deeper connections to the Marvel Universe as a whole.

In the new reality Jeffery Mace was a reporter for the Daily Bugle (Spiderman!) who was inspired by his idol Captain America.

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He even got to BE Captain America for a little bit when Marvel published a “What if?” story where he got to don the uniform of Captain America for a bit in order to explain how the hero could have continued to work after being frozen in ice.

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He was actually the third person to don the costume.  That’s him carrying the previous Captain America stand in, a hero called “The Spirit of ’76”.

Jeffery had a couple of guest appearances after that and was killed off in main continuity in 1983.

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But for some wonderful reason, the Patriot still had some juice left in the tank.

In the modern day Jeffery’s story was retold in a comic book series called Captain America: Patriot that took a closer look at McCarthy era America and superheroes who wear the red, white, and blue.

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His legacy lives on with a kid named Eli Bradley (the son of Isaiah Bradley from the excellent Truth: Red, White, and Black) working with the Young Avengers.

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Also, for the first time in this entire blog, I can say that we have a superhero who actually made it outside of comics and into the movies!

Jeffery Mace made it onto the Marvel tv show Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D and was played by Jason O’Mara.

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I won’t go into any further details for fear of spoiling the show, but I can say that he is one of the good guys and a friend to Coulson.

The Patriot is as big, bright, and as dumb as they come.  He wasn’t meant to be all that interesting, he was written to punch Nazis and fight during the war.  What Marvel created was a patriotic mascot, what they got was one of the best and most sincere attempts to replicate Captain America, one of their greatest icons.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Fin

You know who doesn’t get nearly enough respect in the comic book world?  Superheroes who live and work in the water.

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I mean really, we live on a planet that has water covering over 70% of our surface and so many people like to treat genuine and well established heroes like Aquaman and Namor as jokes.

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With that being said, there has been a lot done over the past decade to rectify this.  Aquaman has been getting a lot of attention from the DC higher ups,

Aquaman: Rebirth #1

and despite everything I’ve been saying, Namor has actually been an integral part of the Marvel stories since the beginning as comic’s first anti hero.

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my point is, that there has been a lot of work and effort put in to making characters like these fun and badass and that deserves a lot of respect.

So let’s take the idea that water based heroes can be taken seriously and throw it out the window by taking a look at…the Fin.

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Origin and career

The Fin made his first appearance in Daring Mystery Comics #7 in April of 1941.

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He was created by Massachusetts native and comic book legend Bill Everett.

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The man has a reputation as one of the greats, especially when you consider that his resume includes the creation of Daredevil,

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and Namor the Submariner.

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I guess the guy really liked the ocean.

Back to the Fin,

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the man’s real identity was Peter Noble, a United States naval cadet who found himself in the unfortunate position of being on a sinking submarine,

Peter manages to escape and eventually discovers an underwater cave where he manages to find air, edible plants, and a strange race of creatures calling themselves Neptunians.

Peter fights their ruler, a creature named Ikor, in single combat and realizes that he can breathe underwater because of reasons.

He also becomes their king after killing Ikor with his gun (that somehow manages to work after being underwater for a long time) and the Neptunians begin to worship him as a reincarnation of one of their noble ancestors named “The Fin”.

Peter then asserts his dominance by proclaiming that he is now their king and intends to rule with an iron fist…or just for as long as it takes for him to find a way back home.

The story ends with Peter returning to the sub and fashioning a “slick costume” in order to go off and have an adventure.

Somewhere, a shark is laughing his tail off.

The Fin would have one final Golden Age adventure in the following issue of Daring Mystery Comics where he fought a U-Boat captain calling himself the Barracuda.

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Special mention needs to be given to just how evil the Barracuda is.  He’s got he mustache. the monocle, and has no problem killing women and children.  

Seriously, the Red Skull would be looking at this and go “damn, that’s a bit much”.

Naturally the Fin swoops (swims?) in and saves the day by giving the villain the beating of his life.

He then calls in the Navy and the story ends with the day saved and the villains brought to justice.

So what happened?

The Fin would never have another Golden Age adventure, but not for the reasons you might think.

Normally a lot of these types of characters were cancelled after World War 2 ended due to lack of reader interest, but the Fin was left in the dust BECAUSE of the war.

See, thanks to the fight against the Axis powers, the United States launched a massive campaign to collect material for the war effort.  This meant things like saving metal and paper were given a lot of attention.

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The U.S also implemented a strict rationing system for everything you could imagine from gas to sugar and, most importantly for the comic book industry, paper.

So thanks to rationing and mailing costs Timely Comics had to put a damper on Daring Mystery Comics.  While they did start back up again in 1944 the damage was done and the Fin was no more.

However, like many of his fellow patriots in spandex the Fin would find new life in the later years.

His first post war appearance was in Avengers #97 in 1972 where a likeness of his character, along with a few other Golden Age greats, helped defend Earth during the Kree-Skrull war.

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That was his only appearance for a long time until 2004 where the Fin would become a much more fleshed out and meaningful character in the  All New Invaders series and the unfinished All Winners Squad: Band of Heroes mini series.

He was an ally of the main characters and part of a military team called “The Crazy Sues”, a special group of enhanced humans gathered by the Allies to defeat the Nazis.

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He was not the talkative type.

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Besides his team he also decided to get married to a human/Atlantean hybrid named Nia Noble and assumed his place as the king of Neptunia.

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Despite his background status and small time appearances, the Fin was given a validation of sorts when he appeared in the Marvel Handbook in 2004.

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I’ll be honest, when I was first doing research into the Fin at the start of the article I was a bit skeptic and only wanted to write about him as a joke.  At first glance, I don’t think it’s too hard to see why.

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Looking at him now, with the benefit of research and hindsight, I see him as more of a tragic hero.  Sure he was goofy and had a weird costume, but he was created by a great of the industry and went on to have a fair amount of time in the spotlight.

It’s safe to say that he deserves a place in the pantheon of water themed superheroes.