Let’s talk about families in comic books.
Sure there are plenty of family figures in comic books.
Heck, there are even a couple of actual families that have proven to be incredibly popular,
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.
If you’re looking for someone to blame for this trope, blame Batman.
Batman was the first superhero to have a clearly defined origin story and he was the first hero to have his parents tragically killed.
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.
Origin and Career
Professor Supermind and his son made their first appearance in the Dell Comics anthology Popular Comics #60 in Febuary of 1941.
I don’t know who created him but apparently he was popular enough to be on the cover for the next couple of issues.
The origin of this superheroic duo is straightforward and simple enough to be described in the first panel of every issue.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s take a bite into the comic book industry’s version of vanilla ice cream and talk about Batman.
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.
Yes, it seems pretty cliche to talk about how awesome Batman’s villains are but we all know that Poison Ivy is awesome,
Mister Freeze is tragic and deep,
and the Joker needs no introduction.
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.
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.
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.
Origin and Career
The Mad Monk made his first appearance in Detective Comics #31 in September of 1939.
He beat out the Joker by 8 months.
The character was created by Bob Kane and Garner Fox.
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,
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
reworked the original 1939 story into a modern origin for the Mad Monk in the 1980’s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy New Years everyone!
After a week long break to celebrate the holidays we’re back and ready for another year of obscure comic book characters you’ve never heard of!
Now, since it’s a new year I thought it might be fun to do some branching out and try some new things. So this year I thought I might focus more on the villains of the Golden Age.
Now, over the course of researching a lot of Golden Age superheroes, I’ve learned that the early comic book scene wasn’t a very big fan of putting a lot of thought into their bad guys. Usually the hero fought off hoards of gangsters enacting some sort of scheme
or the Nazis trying to pull off some evil plot.
Most of the time the villain that the hero would be fighting would often get his/her just comeuppance at the end of the story and be killed off.
The point is that the bad guys don’t get a whole lot of attention in the Golden Age of Comics, but every now and then there is a villain who proves to be a long lasting and memorable threat.
Anyway, I thought we could start with a villain who managed to give an entire team of some of the most powerful superheroes a run for their money: Isbisa.
Origin and Career
Isbisa made his first and only Golden Age appearance in All Winners #19 in 1946.
What’s interesting is that while many of the comic books at this time were anthologies that told a series of short, unrelated stories about a whole cast of super heroes, this book was a complete story where a team of some of Timely’s greatest heroes would work together to defeat Isbisa as a common foe.
The book itself was written by comic book legend, and a man who deserves way more credit than he’s been getting, Bill Finger.
Bill Finger is the man who is responsible for creating most of the Batman mythos, although for the purposes of this article let’s just say he’s the guy who created the Joker.
So it’s safe to say Mr. Finger knew how to create a pretty good villain.
Isbisa started out as a humble museum assistant named Simon Meke.
His goal was simple (as was most of the motivations for villains at the time): world domination, which he planned to accomplish by stealing a nuclear weapon. In order to do this he adopted the super villain identity of “Isbisa”, which was an acronym for the six “Ages of Man” (Ice Age, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Steel Age, Atomic Age).
Despite his lowly status, and the fact that he probably had no idea how to properly handle and manage a nuke, Meke was a smart man and realized that the superheroes of the All Winners Squad would be his greatest threat.
He developed a plan to keep the team of Captain America, Bucky, the Sub Mariner, The Whizzer, The Human Torch, Toro, and Miss America busy while he could make off with the bomb.
His plan was actually pretty devious. It involved hiring a group of gangsters and two small time super villains named “The Calcium Master”
(Drink your milk kids),
and Black Patch
to distract the heroes by committing various crimes while he robbed the place storing the bomb with his own special sleeping gas.
In typical super villain fashion each of the crimes was committed with a certain theme and with plenty of clues for the heroes to use in order to figure it out. Also, in typical comic book fashion the heroes were able to come together and save the day, capturing Isbisa and placing him into police custody.
So what happened?
Isbisa’s battle against the All Winners squad was his first and only Golden Age appearance. However, this was not the last time he would appear to challenge his old foes.
His next appearance was in the 1970’s in Giant Sized Avengers #1 as a flashback.
It turned out that two of the old members of the squad, the Whizzer and Miss America, had left the group after defeating Isbisa and were married. They wound up joining the CIA and were placed on body guard duty at a nuclear test site. Unfortunately, during one of the tests they were both exposed to a large amount of radiation and when Miss America gave birth to their first child they discovered that their son was lethally radioactive.
The two were forced to place their son in stasis, but unfortunately their son escaped and became the villain Nuklo.
Nuklo was eventually defeated and contained, but not before being brought to the attention of Isbisa.
The now released super villain learned about Nuklo’s powers and conspired to use them to give himself nuclear powers.
He disguised himself as a psychiatrist, infiltrated the facility holding Nuklo, and managed to hook both of them up to a device that would transfer Nuklo’s power to himself. The device worked and when the Whizzer confronted his old nemesis, Ibisia killed him.
He was defeated by Vision and the Scarlet Witch and sent back to prison.
His final appearance was in a battle with She Hulk.
Isbisa had managed to escape prison again and was disguised as a physics teacher named Doctor Sandeson. He discovered a way to move super villains in and out of time and space and used this same energy to rejuvenate himself (it’s worth mentioning that She Hulk comics played fast and loose with things like time and space and breaking the fourth wall).
She Hulk eventually triumphed and Isbisa managed to escape. He hasn’t been heard from since.
Isbisa is something of a rarity in Golden Age Comics. While there were plenty of capable superheroes in the Golden Age, and plenty of them were much deadlier and scarier than Isbisa, there weren’t a whole lot of consistent threats. Usually a bad guy would last anywhere between a single issue or a couple, but Isbisa did manage to last and plague his mortal enemies for a terrifyingly long amount of time.
Happy Holidays everyone!
Since it is the week before Christmas, and since we plan on taking Christmas week off from the blog, I thought it would be nice to talk about one of the most powerful superheroes in all of comic books.
He’s big, he’s red, he knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, and he’s listed as one of the most powerful mutants in the entire X-Men franchise…it’s SANTA CLAUS!
Origin and Career
Unlike most of the characters we talk about on this blog, this guy has had a long and illustrious career, and he didn’t even start off in comic books.
If you want to learn about the history of Santa, there are a couple of things you have to understand. For starters, many people use the names “Santa Claus”, “St. Nick”, “Kris Kringle”, and “Father Christmas” interchangeably.
All those names are actually talking about different people throughout history.
The Santa Claus that we know was made popular in the 1930’s as a figure who was used to sell Coca Cola. This was where we get the idea of a jolly man dressed in red with a big white beard and a red nose.
But that image was based off of an earlier drawing by famed political cartoonist Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1881, who drew an incredibly popular illustration of the famous poem “A Night Before Christmas”.
This is where we get the idea of Santa with his reindeer and his fascination with giving out toys.
But THAT image was taken from old European Dutch traditions about a jolly old man named “Sinterklaas”, a jolly old man who travels around on Christmas dressed in red and giving out candy to good little boys and girls.
This is where we get the idea of Santa and his elves, since this version of Santa was accompanied by two beings called “Zwarte Piet” who help Santa hand out candy to the children.
It’s worth mentioning that this version of Santa has his origins with the Norse god Wotan, who would ride around on his eight legged horse Sleipnir around this time of year.
It’s also worth mentioning that “Santa” and “Father Christmas” are actually two different people because Father Christmas looks like this.
He’s still a pre Christian figure, just a bit different from the tradition of Santa.
But the real origin of Santa comes from the early Christian St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas was originally Nicholas, a 4th century Christian bishop of Myra in what is now known as Turkey.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition he is the patron saint of children, the falsely accused, repentant thieves, barrel makers, and a whole bunch of cities and nations that are too numerous to count. He’s a pretty popular saint.
The legend goes that the bishop had a friend who had the bad luck of only having daughters. Back then, the family of the bride was required to provide a payment to the family of the groom called a dowry as a sign of good faith and friendship.
Unfortunately, if the bride couldn’t provide a dowry the bride couldn’t be married, and the life of an unmarried woman back then was a very difficult one.
When Nicholas heard this he decided to do something about it and late one night he baked a bunch of gold coins into a loaf of bread, climbed up to the chimney of his friend’s house, and threw the loaf down the chimney.
and that is where we get the origin of Santa sending presents via chimney.
So what happened?
Oh, Santa Claus is still around, giving gifts and spreading good cheer.
In fact, he has been so good at it that during WW2, Adolf Hitler had Santa captured in an effort to strike at the morale of America.
Thankfully, Roosevelt had Captain America and Nick Fury of the Howling Commandos rescue Santa.
It was later revealed that Santa is actually the most powerful mutant/superhero ever created. His abilities are widely varied from longevity, to super speed, to the ability to manipulate his size in order to fit down a chimney of any size.
Santa has appeared in several adventures with famous Marvel and DC superheroes,
but it’s worth mentioning that he hasn’t always been a source of good cheer over the years.
Probably the best example of this was when he sold his entire gift making operation to Hydra because he was fed up with all the anger and lack of faith, although it did give us this.
Despite all the misadventures and silly stories, Santa has remained a force for good in comic books and the world in general His friendliness, kindness, and generosity have inspired people to live better lives and to be kind to each other during the Christmas season,
something that is sorely needed in times like these.
Merry Christmas everyone, and see you all next year.