So we lost one of the greats yesterday: George A. Romero.
While he did create other films and was a fervent activist throughout his life, the man will always be remembered as the founding father of the zombie movie.
Fun fact: after he made his first film Night of the Living Dead Romero screwed up some paper work with the copyright office and as a result, the film is now in the public domain. You can watch it for free and I highly recommend it.
Yes, zombies are a pop culture staple nowadays. While their time as the dominant force of pop culture has waned, they’re still around making boatloads of money, especially in the comic book world.
So I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the earliest zombies in comic books, and how different a walking corpse from the 1940’s was from the present day walking corpse.
Today we’re talking about the Purple Zombie.
Origin and Career
The Purple Zombie made his first appearance in Eastern Publishing’s Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1 in August of 1940.
The character was created by Tarpe Mills, which was a pen name for Golden Age writer and artist June Mills.
Mrs. Mills was actually the first lady to create a female superhero, a black cat costumed heroine named Miss Fury.
Let it be said that the early comic book scene wasn’t entirely dominated by male New Yorkers, it was just mostly dominated by them.
When reading the Purple Zombie stories you can actually see a lot of tropes that plague (pun intended) the modern zombie. He was created by a mad scientist named Dr. Malinsky who was seeking to create an unstoppable army in order to take over the world,
However, it’s worth mentioning that there is no specific mention of how this zombie was created.
After establishing himself as an evil bastard, Dr. Malinsky realizes that he has the same problem Dr. Frankenstein had, that his creation realizes what it is and isn’t all that fond of his purpose. The creation bypasses years of therapy and emotional issues by strangling his creator.
You’ll notice three things that make this guy different. First, he’s bulletproof and super strong, thus avoiding the trope of zombies that need to be shot in the head and who are only effective in large groups. Second, he’s surprisingly articulate for a zombie and has no need or desire to consume the brains of the living. Third, his skin looks more black than purple which…raises a lot of very icky moral questions that are a bit more unsavory today than they would have been seventy years ago.
Nevertheless, this zombie sets out to find the people who backed his creation and remove them from the face of the Earth.
It’s never mentioned who the backers were working for, but with a name like Otto Von Heim it’s safe to assume they were working for the Nazis.
In a rather interesting twist, this zombie was actually captured and sentenced to death for the murders.
This is where he gets his purple skin, and his jailers realize that he can’t be killed.
The zombie is released into the care of Malinsky’s former assistant and swears to do nothing bug good from here on out.
Again, some kind of uncomfortable racial overtones here (it’s worth mentioning that pre Romero zombies were often associated with African or “voodoo” religions) but as origin stories go it’s pretty fleshed out and well done for the Golden Age.
Sadly, the zombie’s brush with organized crime wasn’t over. Realizing that a large, bulletproof, super strong, nearly unkillable monster could be useful in committing crimes a gangster named Joe Coroza kidnapped the Purple Zombie in an attempt to use him as a weapon.
His human friend tries to rescue him, but is forced to contend with an army of mechanized skeletons as well as the gangsters.
However, it turns out that the man who created the moving skeletons was actually a good guy and the Purple Zombie decided to join forces with him and go off to fight in Europe for the forces of democracy.
It’s nice to know that the idea of using creatures more often associated with horror to do good is older than a lot of people think.
The plan is a success and the Zombie and his skeleton pals successfully stop the death ray from killing thousands more. Their solution…cold blooded murder.
After successfully defeating the death ray and single handily winning the war (I assume) the heroes find themselves forced to land in a mysterious lab.
It turns out that the scientist forced them to land there so he could show them their time machine and in the very next page…
Jesus, this comic jumps around more than an over caffeinated toddler.
The two find themselves in 64 A.D in the middle of the Roman Empire.
The Romans do the surprisingly sensible thing and declare these two strangers to be madmen. They also understand modern English.
Thankfully, lions are no match for the two.
Unfortunately, they now have to contend with the entire city of Rome burning.
Thankfully, they are saved by the actions of their colleagues in the present day who manage to transport them out of danger into the Medieval Ages.
It turns out they’ve landed straight in the middle of the Crusades and wind up meeting King Richard I of England.
They would have been on good terms if it wasn’t for their sudden transportation to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.
Honestly, I don’t know if the author is trying to be educational, or if she’s just name dropping random historical figures who were popular at the time.
They meet up with Sir Francis Drake while he’s bowling,
(fun side note: the story is that Sir Francis was supposedly bowling when he received news of the Armada so props for possible historical accuracy)
and the two men help him defeat the Spanish Armada until they’re whisked away to the French Revolution.
I’m beginning to think the scientists controlling the time machine hate our protagonists.
The two suffer through one more trip into prehistoric times,
and then they’re transported back to the modern day where it is revealed that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually dead to begin with. He was actually faking his death in order to escape and wound up becoming an unwitting participant in the original experiments.
So I guess you could argue that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually a zombie.
So what happened?
The page above is the last page we would ever see of the Purple Zombie.
We’ve talked about Eastern Publishing before and how it was going through a rather turbulent time in the late 1940’s when it merged with a bunch of other publishers to become Standard Publishing and eventually stopped making comics in the 1950’s.
But even if Eastern Publishing had survived, I think that the Purple Zombie would have been doomed anyway. For starters there were companies in the 1940’s who were using zombies and monsters much more effectively and with much better artwork.
And even if the Purple Zombie had managed to become more popular, it stood no chance against the backlash against comics in the 1950’s that wound up creating the Comics Code.
With that being said I actually like the Purple Zombie. While he had a pretty average power set and wasn’t technically a zombie, he had a pretty good back story and enough heart and dedication to be a pretty good superhero.
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.
You know what’s awesome? Ancient Egypt.
As one of the world’s oldest civilizations Egypt has held a special place in the hearts of historians and pop culture geeks everywhere. From the great Nile river,
to the Pharaoh’s of old,
to the priceless historical artifacts that have been…”liberated” from their homes and placed in museums around the world.
Egypt has been a place that has captured the imaginations of generations.
It turns out that comic book creators have a healthy interest in ancient Egypt too. A lot of superheroes are either from Egypt or use ancient Egyptian magic and imagery.
Today we’re going to look at one of the earliest heroes from the Golden Age of comics who used ancient Egyptian magic, and another uncomfortable case of 1940’s casual racism and stereotypes.
Today we’re talking about the Scarab.
Origin and Career:
The Scarab first appeared in Startling Comics #34 in July of 1945. While the writer is unkown the artist was a man named Ken Battefield…who didn’t go on to do very much or become well known.
In the comic the Scarab was actually a well respected archaeologist named Peter Ward who was visiting his uncle in London for a vacation.
Suddenly, a wounded man stumbles onto his front step and tells Peter to find a scroll in the British Museum that links back to the ancient Egyptian cat god, making this one of the rare occasions where British imperialism was actually helpful.
Unfortunately, the men who stabbed the messenger are on Peter’s trail, looking for the fantastic treasure that is supposedly buried in the cat’s tomb.
Peter travels to Egypt, reinforcing every uncomfortable stereotype the West had about people from the Middle East.
and after being stranded in the desert he is fortunate enough to be aided by a mysterious cat who guides him to the tomb’s entrance.
In the tomb Peter finds a magic ring and POOF!, he’s instantly transformed into our hero.
The ring gives him a whole host of powers, including the ability to fly and enhanced durability. This is fortunate because the men who were after him and the treasure catch up to him and try to kill him, only to be foiled by the Scarab.
This ring apparently gives Peter a soul as well, because he demands that the robbers put everything they stole back and refuses to take any of the treasure for himself.
The Scarab would go on to a fairly long stint as a back up character in another Standard Comics title Exciting Comics and spent the rest of his run solving various archaeology related crimes. There is one particular instance where Ramon Royale, the man who Peter stopped in his first adventure, was employed by the German government in an attempt to destabilize Egypt and turn it against the United Nations.
However, Peter was able to convince the Egyptians that siding with the Unite Nations was a good thing.
The rest of his adventures would follow a pretty straight formula of the Scarab stopping some threat that was looking to steal archaeological treasure that didn’t belong to them. This would continue into his last story which appeared in The Black Terror #20 in 1947 where he stopped a gang of four Arab thieves bent on robbing a grave for wealth.
In an interesting twist the Arabs were actually immortals who uncovered an immortality serum in a tomb they had discovered by accident.
The Scarab was able to identify a counter to the potion and the four Arabs killed themselves when they realized they were no longer immortal and were unable to fit in with the real world.
So what happened?
The man never got past back up story material and disappeared in 1947. It makes sense considering that he just wasn’t that well written and superheroes were going out of style in post war America.
He would disappear off of pop culture radar for a while until Alan Moore picked up a lot of Standard’s superheroes for his Tom Strong series.
The Scarab would be a bit player for most of Alan Moore’s story until a spin off series to Tom Strong called Terra Obscura.
The Scarab actually played an important part in the story when he bonded with the ancient Egyptian god Thoth in order to stop the villain Mystico, who had bonded with the god Set and threatened to take over the world.
The Scarab was an unimportant hero who had an uneventful career and did uneventful things. Still, despite all the old timey racism and stereotyping, I kind of like him. He wasn’t the first hero to gain his powers through the mysterious and ancient gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, but he embraced his gimmick with gusto and devoted his life to making sure that the artifacts and treasures of history were safe from thieves.
Eh, close enough.