Golden Age Showcase: The Owl

Let’s talk about Batman.

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

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

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

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Origin and Career

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

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

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

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

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

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

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

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

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

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

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

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

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

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

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

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

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #32

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

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #32

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

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dynamite’s Project Superpowers in 2008,

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

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

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

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or several villains who go by that name,

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

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Crowdfunded comics that deserve more attention: Aldous Spark: Meddler in History and other Unsavory Affairs

Today we’re going to talk about a comic book with one of the longest titles I’ve ever seen: “Aldous Spark: Meddler in History and other Unsavory Affairs”.

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The project is the first book in a series following the adventures of Aldous Spark, an adventurer, magician, master thief, and member of the secretive anarchist Black Moth society that wages a never ending battle against the powers that be.

Aldous is accompanied on his adventures by his apprentice Isaiah,

and over the course of his adventures he meets a whole host of colorful and dangerous individuals such as a drug addled heiress Araceli who has the ability to see the future.

Aldous’ on again, off again rival in crime Marla,

and a mysterious and terrifying order of silent and emotionless religious zealots called the Red Priests.

The comic is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter and seeks to raise $5000 by November 20th, 2016.

Kickstarter link: here

Why I like it:

If you spend any amount of time around me you will find out that I am a rabid fan of history and like a lot of people I am fascinated with Victorian England.

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It’s a wonderful era for story telling filled with tremendous wealth,

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crushing poverty,

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fantastic technological progress,

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exploration,

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and political intrigue that would shape the world for decades to come.

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From what I’ve seen, this Kicstarter project takes a lot of these tropes, ideas, and imagry and turns it into its own special type of story where there is something for everyone.  You’ve got cool looking technology coupled with ancient mystical artifacts,

intrigue and danger,

and all sorts of strange artifacts and codes that look like they could create a fun and engaging mystery that will leave the reader scratching their head and wanting more.

This is Victorian fiction done right and I can’t wait to see what happens.

Why you should donate:

First and foremost, the artwork is fantastic!

I was really drawn into this project for the story and atmosphere but for all you art fiends out there this is some really fantastic stuff.

But there is a deeper, more important reason why I think a lot of other people will like this book.

As I said before, Aldous is a member of the Black Moth Society.  It’s a group of anarchists dedicated to foiling the schemes and machinations of the powerful elite.

The Victorian era was a great time of progress, but it was also a great time of turmoil.

There were the wealthy industrialists,

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bankers,

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and inventors.

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While these men made fortunes and created the world we know today they also created tremendous poverty and squalor,

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and a new brand of imperialism that left most of the world in shambles.

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It was during this time that anarchists rose up and organized themselves against the ruling elite of the time to protest what they saw as unfair treatment and horrific living conditions of many for the needs of a few rich men and women.

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This is the social and ideological divide that Aldous Spark plays around with and as I said before, it’s a tremendous opportunity for a great story.

Any historian worth his/her salt will tell you that history repeats itself, but that’s ridiculous.  After all it’s not like there are modern day wealthy industrialists,

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bankers,

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and inventors,

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who have become fabulously wealthy while a lot of the world lives in crushing poverty.

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Are there differences?  Yes.  Have we learned from the mistakes of the past?  A little bit.  But it doesn’t change the fact that the world we are living in is eerily reminiscent of the Victorian world that Aldous Spark takes place in.  Sometimes in order to fix the problems of the world you need a little bit of chaos and anarchy.  Sometimes you need to be a meddler in history and other unsavory affairs.

Kickstarter link: here

Golden Age Showcase: Camera Comics

Today we’re going to do something different.

I was planning to try and talk about a famous Golden Age comic book villain, but since most of the bad guys were usually one note, thinly veiled Nazis.

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or usually wound up dead after a single issue,

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it was kind of difficult for a villain to really take off.

The thing is, during my research I discovered a comic book villain called “The Mad Arsonist”.

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That’s him in the background holding the vial and looking like a half crazed madman.

The story behind him is simple, he’s a crazy pharmacist who liked to set things on fire and watch them burn.

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While the villain himself was pretty intriguing what I wound up discovering is that the company that published his story, Camera Comics, had a pretty interesting backstory itself.

So today, instead of talking about a single character, we’re going to showcase an entire company and the work they did.  Today we’re going to talk about Camera Comics.

Origin and Titles

In 1935 a man named Tomas Maloney published a magazine called U.S Camera.

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Maloney was an advertising executive and photography enthusiast who dedicated himself to publishing photographic works and promoting photography as an art form.

He would move on to publishing a full size magazine, titled U.S Camera Magazine, in 1938.

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The publication was a success and would eventually reach a peak circulation of over 300,000 copies.

In 1945 the U.S Camera Publishing Corporation looked at the pop culture landscape, noticed that this new fangled “comic book” was really popular with young people, and decided to enter the comic book publishing game themselves.  Their first publication was Camera Comics #1 in October of 1944.

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It’s important to understand that these comics were created as advertisements first and stories second, which is a crying shame because a lot of the work that came out of these comic books was really good.

Camera Comics produced six volumes of work and each volume was usually made of three types of material: ads and real world tutorials, fictional stories, and historical/biographical work.

The first type of material was pretty straightforward.  Since Camera Comics was created to advertise and sell photographic equipment it would make sense that a lot of ads were placed in each publication.

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Also, each issue had two issues talking about certain aspects of the hobby.  These included instructional pages on how to create a dark room,

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to showing how American soldiers set up, took, and developed recon photos for the war effort.

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Naturally, the war effort led to the second type of material that the comic title published: traditional comic book stories.

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A lot of these stories were similar to the traditional wartime superhero stories that were popular throughout the war.  The big difference is that instead of superpowers and bright costumes saving the day, these heroes usually saved the day by using a camera in some capacity.

For example, “The Grey Comet” was a story about an Air Corps (the Air Force didn’t exist until after the war) pilot who managed to stop a German guided missile and somehow managed to complete a reconnaissance run as well.

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Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

This would eventually develop into Camera Comics creating its own characters such as “Kid Click”.

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He was a young kid with a passion for photography and would go around solving small time crimes where his film would always be used as evidence to apprehend he criminals.

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Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

Another character of note was Linda Lens.

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While Kid Click was a pretty blatant gimmick to sell cameras to kids, Linda Lens was surprisingly progressive for comics.  As you can see above she was a capable, independent photographer with her own business which by all accounts was doing well.

What makes it even more interesting is that she wound up becoming a freelance photographer for the U.S Army and was able to appear on the front lines as a combat photographer.

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she actually helped uncover a secret Nazi listening post in a popular officer’s club in Allied occupied France.

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and played an important role in capturing the Nazi spy.

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The third and final type of story that appeared in these books were short biographical comics about famous historical figures that helped develop the art and technical aspects of photography.  These included pioneers such as Matthew B. Brady,

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who was one of the first pioneers of outdoor photography and was one of the first wartime photographers.

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and Edward Maybridge, a man who was one of the first people to showcase how a series of still photographs could be turned into a moving picture.

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All in all, Camera Comics was a fun, engaging, and informative advertisement for photography and I like to think that it was a success in convincing a generation of children to take up a camera as a hobby.

So what happened?

Despite some genuinely good work and sincere thought that went into a lot of these comic books, at the end of the day they were just ads.

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Camera Comics played second fiddle to the much more serious publications that Thomas Maloney was publishing and his other work was  finding great success in the popular culture.  In fact, his U.S Camera Annual: 1945 was lauded by the New York Times as “The best picture book on the War to date”

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Camera Comics was cancelled in 1946 after a nine issue publishing run.

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These comics were far better than they had any right to be.  Even though they were essentially glorified ads there was some genuine heart, passion, and talent that went into publishing these stories and that deserves our recognition and respect.  Whether it was telling fictional stories about characters using their cameras to save the day,

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telling stories about the pioneers of photography,

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or showing kids how they could become better photographers themselves,

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Camera Comics was a publication that set out to make photography better for everyone.

Golden Age Showcase: Scarab

You know what’s awesome?  Ancient Egypt.

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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,

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to the Pharaoh’s of old,

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to the priceless historical artifacts that have been…”liberated” from their homes and placed in museums around the world.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

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.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

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.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

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.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

In the tomb Peter finds a magic ring and POOF!, he’s instantly transformed into our hero.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

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.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

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.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #43

However, Peter was able to convince the Egyptians that siding with the Unite Nations was a good thing.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #43

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.

Comic Book Cover For The Black Terror #20

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.

Comic Book Cover For The Black Terror #20

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eh, close enough.

Golden Age Showcase: Princess Pantha

Today I want to talk about Tarzan.

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We may think of Tarzan as quaint and pretty racist today (a white man who finds himself stranded in the jungle and not only survives but thrives and proves himself superior to people who have been living in the same location for centuries? Right.) but back in the 1930’s and 1940’s he was a pop culture juggernaut.

Tarzan got his start in 1912, years before the comic books became the medium they are today.  In their own special way, the Tarzan books were a big part of the main competition that comic books had to face as they came into their own.

I bring this up because like Superman in 1938, the popularity of Tarzan spawned a whole host of imitators.  One of the most important imitators was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

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The idea of taking the “noble savage” trope that Tarzan helped develop and flipping the gender of the protagonist proved popular (and probably quite kinky) and lucrative.

Sheena would go on to become a pop culture icon of her time and would would inspire a whole host of imitators herself, and today we’re going to talk about one of them.

Today I present: Princess Pantha

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Origin and Career:

Disclaimer: The following article shows and discusses imagery that displays some pretty strong racist overtones.  This is not done out of malice or anger, these images were products of their time and should be openly viewed and discussed so that we as a culture and a people can acknowledge them and learn from our past, for better or for worst.

Princess Pantha made her first appearance in Thrilling Comics #56 in October of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

While I was unable to find the name of her writer I did find out that she was drawn by comic book artist Art Saaf,

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who would go on to do a lot of work for DC Comics in the 1970’s, including a lot of romance comics,

and one of the most famous stints on Supergirl in the 1970’s.

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It’s pretty clear that Mr. Saaf was really good at drawing beautiful women, and it definitely shows in his early work with Princess Pantha.

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Anyway, back to her origin.  It turned out that “Princess Pantha” was originally a stage name for the world famous animal trainer of the National Circus.  Looking to improve their act the circus sent Pantha into the heart of Africa in an attempt to find a rare white gorilla the locals called “M’gana”.

While it is pretty cool to have a career woman on an expedition to further her own fortunes, any sort of progressive or forward thinking idealism is quickly squashed in the first couple of pages by the “famous explorer” Dane Hunter, who believes that an “inexperienced kid” shouldn’t be by herself in the wilds of Africa.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

The Princess isn’t exactly the most tolerant type either and her expedition goes south when her party is attacked by natives.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She manages to fend off the locals by playing a recording of a gorilla, which scares the raiding party away.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Unfortunately, she is now stranded in the jungle without much food and no way home.

Dane attempts a rescue but is captured himself.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Thankfully, some time has passed between Patha escaping and Dane being captured, enough time for Pantha to become an expert in jungle survival (in one page no less) and craft a leopard skin bikini.

Pantha rescues Dane by stampeding a herd of wild elephants into the village of the tribe that tried to kill them both.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She rescues him and the issue ends with both of them vowing to find a way back to civilization.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Like I said, this particular story has some pretty racist overtones, but it was popular enough to warrant more adventures and even several cover appearances.

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Sadly, most of her stories didn’t deviate from the formula set by her first appearance, where Pantha and Dane would stumble into a mystery/adventure and have to fight off an army of poorly dressed and horribly stereotypical natives who were greedy, evil, and usually didn’t speak very good English.

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You’ll notice that the world “civilization” gets thrown around a lot and it usually winds up referring to western or “white” civilization.

So what happened?

Pantha went on like this for three years until it was dropped in favor of another icon of 1950’s pop culture, the cowboy.

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Her final appearance was in Thrilling Comics #72, where once again she confronted and defeated the savage men and beasts of the wild thanks to her “superior” intellect and the benefits of western civilization.

It was probably for the best.

Like many of Standard Comics’ properties she would experience a revival in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  She first appeared in AC Comics Jungle Girls: Wild Side

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displaying all the fabulous 90’s comic tropes of an impossibly large bust on top of an impossibly slim waist with the butt jutting out in the most uncomfortable angle.

She would also have a supporting role in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura series.

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She dated a character named Doc Strange for a bit, but was mostly relegated to the sidelines.

Princess Pantha is a tricky character to talk about.  On one hand she was strong, capable woman who could handle herself in a fight and was able to overcome a lot of presumptions that her male colleagues had about her.  On the other hand, there was some pretty blatant and uncomfortable racism and sexism going on in these comics, ensuring that they would be permanent fixtures of their times and would not be able to to transition into modern popular culture very well.

But hey, leopard skin bikini!

Golden Age Showcase: Lady Satan

I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while, but I just couldn’t find the right time.

But now, I figured we’ve gone long enough on this blog without talking about a lady superhero so let’s talk about one of the more interesting, and quite frankly more terrifying, lady heroes who donned a mask and kicked some ass in the Golden Age of Comics.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Lady Satan.

Origin and Career

I’ve talked time and time again about how this blog was created to showcase the early superheroes who didn’t make it past the 1950’s and Lady Satan is the textbook definition of that kind of heroine.

One of the most interesting things about her is the story behind her creators.  She was part of one of the earliest comic book producers out there, a man who was actually pretty important to the comic book medium: Henry A. Chesler.

 

While Chelser got hist start in advertising he is actually something of an important figure to the comic book medium because he is regarded as being one of the first comic book “packagers” in the business, founding a studio which would develop and produce comic book material to sell to publishers.

One of his first publications was Star Comics first published in 1937.

It was a fun, relatively harmless piece of work for kids and Chesler did well as a comic book packager.  Then everything changed in 1938 with the arrival of Seigel and Shuster’s Action Comics #1

Being the prudent businessman, Chesler seemed determined to ride the superhero hype train and created his own publishing imprint Dynamic Comics in 1941.

A month later Dynamic would publish their second issue, featuring the debut of the heroine of the hour.

Her backstory was a simple one (one of the great hallmarks of the Golden Age is that someone’s backstory didn’t need entire issues, they could tell the entire story in a page or less): she was on a cruise with her husband in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and her ship was sunk by soldiers who aren’t technically Nazis but come pretty darn close.

Unlike many other heroes we’ve talked about on this blog, Lady Satan didn’t waste a single second guarding the homefront from saboteurs and spies, she went straight to Europe and started spying for the forces of democracy.  She wasn’t afraid to use her…feminine wiles to get close to the enemy,

and she was not afraid to get violent either.

Basically, during the war she was the female equivalent of James Bond, only with a much better wardrobe and no chronic alcoholism.

Also, she had a chlorine gun that she could use to incapacitate people, which is funny considering that chlorine gas is actually pretty deadly and was banned from use during the Second World War.

She would make her final appearance in Dynamic Comics #3, fulfilling her Nazi kicking quota and disappearing off the face of the Earth for a couple of years.

So what happened?

The heroes that made it out of the Golden Age are some of most iconic and well loved heroes of our time.  They were trend setters and pioneers in the genre that we all know and love.

Lady Satan was not one of those heroes, despite the fact that she would have a pretty good Golden Age career.

Lady Satan was revived after WW2 ended, only instead of fighting Nazis she took after her name sake and adopted a more…mystical theme.

Chesler Productions had taken a huge hit during the war with much of its staff needed for active duty.  While Chesler would continue producing comic books, even doing work for Marvel in the 1970’s, Dynamic Comics was no more and Lady Satan made her second debut in a title called Red Seal Comics in 1946

With that being said, it’s safe to say that Lady Satan was more of a trend follower than a trend setter.  Comic books after World War 2 had taken a turn for the grimmer and darker, preferring horror and crime stories over superheroes.

Lady Satan demonstrated this better than almost any other superhero at the time, with her new adventures she would use black magic to fight and punish occult threats such as warewolves.

Sadly she would only last a couple more issues, no doubt falling prey to the rising tide of distrust and paranoia surrounding comic books in the 1950’s (well, what would you expect with a name like Satan?)

Since then she hasn’t had much of a career.  She’s appeared in a couple of reprints of old issues and while she does have something of a reputation as a bad ass super heroine, she doesn’t quite cut the mustard when compared to the heavy hitting super heroines like Wonder Woman.

It’s worth noting that as far as I can tell she is in the public domain, and she did appear in a low budget action movie called Avenging Force: The Scarab in 2010, so if low budget cheese is your thing feel free to eat your heart out.

Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QlmKRDYwvM

Lady Satan was an interesting idea with a cool costume and a lot of potential for fun stories.  It’s just to bad she doomed to be a trend follower instead of a trend setter.

Golden Age Showcase: The Blue Blaze

Last week we talked about a robot made entirely of rubber, and he appeared in the anthology title Mystic Comics #1.

I’ve been noticing that a lot of the superheroes that have appeared on this blog series actually got their start on this title so it got me a bit curious, who’s the man on the cover?

He’s clearly a superhero and capable of handling himself in a fight.  It appears that he’s incredibly strong and fearless if he’s able to hold all those monsters at bay and from the bullet striking him in the chest it appears that he’s practically bulletproof.  Also, it seems that he really likes the color blue and sadly, that costume isn’t very original or exciting.

So who is he?

Well, it turns out his name is the Blue Blaze and, bland costume aside, he’s actually pretty interesting.

Origin and Career

The Blue Blaze’s real name was Spencer Keen and while his date of birth isn’t known it’s established that he was a young adult in 1852.

Spencer Keen (Earth-616) 002

His father was Dr. Arthur Keene of Midwest College

who had discovered a mysterious “blue blaze” that had the power to bring dead animals back to life.

Spencer had been visiting his father while on his way to a costume party, where he had chosen to wear the blue suit that would eventually become his superhero outfit.

Unfortunately, they were living in the Midwest of America where tornadoes are incredibly common.

Sadly, this was before advanced early warning systems were in effect and the tornado destroyed most of the town, killing Arthur Keene, most of the town, and shattering the container that contained the Blue Blaze and spilling it on Spencer.

In the wake of the incredible tragedy the town tried to recover.  However, in the confusion of the disaster, nobody bothered to check and see if Spencer was dead.  In a rather horrific twist of fate he was buried alive and remained buried until the 1940’s.

Fortunately for him, the strange substance of the Blue Blaze didn’t just keep him alive, it gave him “strength a thousand fold by means of substrate dermatic rays” (whatever the hell that means) and in 1940 he arose from the grave because he “was made conscious of the slow dominion of evil”.

His subsequent adventures would reflect his rather grisly origin.  His first opponent was a mad scientist named Dr. Drake Maluski

The Doctor’s grand scheme was to reanimate corpses into an army of zombies in order to take over the world, proving that our fascination with zombies is nothing new and will probably never die.

Maluski Zombies

It should be noted that on the spectrum of violence in early Golden Age comic books the Blue Blaze took the “I have no trouble with using lethal force” approach and the evil doctor was killed when his lab exploded.

In his second adventure the Blue Blaze confronted another mad scientist named Karl Barko.

Barko was an inventor and in his story he was attempting to run a protection racket where he would blow up mine shafts filled with people if the mining companies didn’t pay up for his inventions.

While Barko attempted to use gadgets such as “freeze rays” and special explosives to combat the Blue Blaze but was quickly defeated and shipped off to a mental institution.

His third adventure was a battle against another mad scientist called “The Star Gazer”

who was using star rays to create monsters that fought for him.

Star-Monster (Earth-616)

I bring this up because this adventure was the cover story of Mystic Comics #3, and his home to what I think is one of the greatest comic book covers ever.

The Blue Blaze would go on to have one more adventure where he traveled to Eastern Europe in order to stop the Trustees of Hate from provoking a war between the fictional countries of Borsia and Gratzia.

While the Trustees of Hate were headed by the awesomely named “Dr. Vortex”, the Blue Blaze defeated them fairly easily.

So what happened?

His battle with the Trustees of Hate would be his last and Blue Blaze would disappear from comics in August of 1940.

However, the writers must have thought that they should leave a backdoor open in case the Blue Blaze would make a comeback because in his last adventure they make it known that every time he defeats evil he travels back to the grave in order to wait for the next crime to solve.  For some reason there are strange cosmic forces at work that move his body around to “new centers of crime” and when he is needed he will wake up to do battle with the forces of evil again.

To date the Blue Blaze hasn’t had a modern incarnation or revival like some of his other Golden Age companions.  Looking back it is easy to see why, his costume is kind of boring and while he does have a cool origin story and fought some pretty interesting villains it is easy to assume that he simply got lost in the crowd.

Which is a shame because when you consider all the other mythical/demonic/undead heroes and villains Marvel has in their library:

I think the Blue Blaze would fit right in with the right writer and costume change.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Red God

WARNING: SPOILERS!

It’s Game of Thrones time!

Forgive my excitement but I’m something of a fan.

Last season I kicked off this entire website with a massive blog series on the history behind the show.  It was an in depth look at everything from the dragons to the Free Cities and how many parts of the show and books borrow so much influence from actual history.

For season 6 we’re going to take a more measured approach and release one article a week until the end of the season.  This will be more of a reactionary series talking about the historical parallels between things that show up in each episode.

So, without much ado, let’s talk about the Red God R’hllor.

In the show and books there is a god of fire named R’hllor.  He goes by several names such as “The Lord of Light”, “The Heart of Fire”, and “The God of Flame and Shadow”.

He’s a fairly popular god in the eastern continent of Essos and while he isn’t that popular in Westeros his servants have played a pretty big role in politics in that region.

The faith itself is monotheistic, worshiping only one singular divine being, and has a fascination with fire, which can be a good thing when dealing with something like the extreme cold but over the course of the show it’s been shown that the Red God is somewhat…demanding when it comes to sacrifice.

They also have a dualistic view of the world, believing in a single “good” god being opposed by a singe “evil” god, and believe that the world will be saved when a messianic figure named “Azor Ahai” will return to beat back the darkness and bring light to the world.

As for the servants of the Red God, they are known as Red Priests.  These servants of the Red God are often pledged to his service by They can be male or female and have been seen throughout the show preaching,

fighting,

and attempting to convert kings.

They also appear to wield some pretty potent magic

and are a faith that is slowly spreading its influence across the world.

With the blog last year we talked about the similarities between the religion of Westeros and religious history in early Europe.  The Old Gods of Westeros are similar to old Celtic pagan beliefs while the Faith of the Seven bears a striking resemblance to Christianity.

The religion of the Red God is a bit trickier than the other two.  On one hand their fascination with fire and belief in a single divine being bears a striking resemblance to Zoroastrianism, which is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions.

 

The Zoroastrians believe in the existence of a single god named Ahura Mazda, who is the sole creator of the world and the representation of all that is good.  It’s also worth mentioning that fire plays in important role in worship.

The thing is that while the faith of the Red God in Game of Thrones borrows things like monotheism and the fascination with fire from the Zoroastrians it’s place in the history of Game of Thrones and its rapid spread throughout Essos shares similarities with a more modern religion: Islam.

The first and biggest similarity between the two is doctrinal.  When Islam rose to prominence around 600 A.D it firmly believed that there was one God and one God only.  This was expressed in a Muslim belief known as Tawheed which confirmed that God ruled alone and was absolute.

This put Islam at odds with Christianity’s view of the Trinity, which stipulated that there was “One God in three parts”.  This bears a striking resemblance within the Game of Thrones universe to the Red God’s singular rule vs. the Faith of the Seven “one being divided into seven aspects”.

But doctrine isn’t the only thing that makes the faith of the Red God similar to Islam, it the religion’s place in history as well.

The Red God is something of a late comer to the religious scene and Islam was as well.  By the time the Prophet Mohammad received his visions from God, Christianity had been around in the ancient world for over 600 years.  Just like the Red Priests the prophet Mohammad and his followers spread the word of their visions throughout the Eastern Mediterranean through preaching,

fighting,

and engaging in political intrigue by converting kings and nobles.

Just like the Red Priests Islam followed a similar pattern by becoming very popular in the East, while experiencing resistance and outright hostility in the West.

It should be noted that in the show the Red Priests haven’t reached the point of controlling an empire of believers like the early Muslims did.

But I’m sure that if the faith of R’hllor is given enough time they will eventually reach a point where they become one of the most powerful religions in Westeros.

Golden Age Showcase: Mercury

So the Boston Marathon was today.

I know this because I live right by the Marathon starting point, and I spent the last six hours praying to every god above that I didn’t have to deal with the traffic (long story short, I did…it wasn’t fun).  Anyway, spending all that time thinking about running got me thinking about comic book speedsters and provided the inspiration for today’s article.

Anyone with even the the most basic comic book/pop culture knowledge can probably name one speedster.

It’s an incredibly useful power to have and many of these heroes who possess super speed are capable of going toe to toe with opponents who, at least on paper, are even more powerful than they are.

But here’s the thing, I’ve already covered two Golden Age speedsters: the first and original Flash from DC Comics.

and the spectacularly named “Whizzer” from Timely Comics, who got his power from mongoose blood (swear to God, not making that up).

But here’s the thing, the Whizzer was not Timely’s first attempt to imitate the Flash and create a speedster.  That honor goes to the original god of speed himself: Mercury.

Mercury

Origin and Career:

Mercury appeared in Red Raven Comics #1 which was published in August of 1940.

Red Raven Comics Vol 1 1

Mercury’s first and only Golden Age appearance was actually pretty important to the world of comics.  For starters he was created by writer Martin A. Burnsten and the man, the myth, and the perpetual loser of hard earned credit, Jack Kirby.

Mercury was also one of the first instances of Timely Comics using actual mythological gods from history in their comics since Mercury was the Roman name for Hermes, the original speedster from antiquity.

This is a strategy that would pay off big for Marvel in the future.

Anyway, in Timely’s story the Greek god Zeus looked down on Earth and saw it was being ravaged by war.  It’s worth re iterating that this comic was published in 1940.

Zeus deduced that his evil brother Pluto (you may also know him as Hades) was the one responsible for this madness and sent Mercury down to Earth in order to make things right.

Mercury meets his uncle who is posing as the power mad dictator of “Prussialand” (subtle Kirby…really subtle) and when talk fails the god of speed proceeds to wreck Prussialand’s plans despite the best efforts of a Prussialand spy named Thea Shilhausen and does such a good job that Prussialand effectively surrenders and peace talks begin.

The comic ends with peace being restored and Mercury returning to Olympus.

So what happened?

Red Raven Comics would only last one issue.  The very next month it was replaced by a new hero who would go on to become a Timely Comics staple: The Human Torch.

But the idea of having a Greek god in Marvel’s library wouldn’t go away and and over thirty years later it would come roaring back.

See Kirby was a HUGE fan of ancient gods and mythology and it would be a huge influence in his later work.  Probably his most famous example was when he left Marvel in 1971 to work for DC.  The reason?  Well, Kirby had spent the 1960’s creating many of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes with Stan Lee.

Bear in mind, this is just a small sample of what Lee and Kirby created but unfortunately there was some disagreement over who did what and Jack wasn’t too happy with what Marvel was paying him.

When Kirby came to work for DC he created a comic book series called “The Fourth World” which branched off into titles such as “New Gods”.

The Fourth World Saga is a massive heady mix of mythology and modern culture and to talk about it would take an entire book on its own.  Unfortunately, the Fourth World didn’t sell as well as Kirby’s Marvel creations.  However, he was responsible for creating one of DC’s most iconic and dangerous villains in the entire DC universe: Darkseid.

Kirby would return to Marvel in 1976 and it could easily be said that his time at DC had a profound effect on his work.  Marvel let Kirby create a series called The Eternals  and it’s fairly easy to see the similarities between The Eternals and The New Gods.

Like the New Gods, the Eternals were a group of god like beings who possessed incredible powers and long lives.  They fought against groups such as the Deviants

and to go any further would be getting into Marvel’s cosmic history which, like the New Gods, is incredibly complicated and dense and would require much more time to explain here.

One of these Eternals was a being named Makkari.

Makkari 1.jpg

Makkari was an Enternal who had spent quite a lot of time on Earth.  In the series he helped teach writing to the Egyptians, learned philosophy from Plato, witnessed the reign of Vlad the Impaler, and even taught Elvis a few tricks.

But most importantly he was sent to Earth by the Eternal Zuras

under the aliases of Mercury and Hurricane, which was the name of another Marvel speedster from the 1940’s.

In a stroke of genius Kirby had changed his original 1940’s work from a one off tale about a Greek god coming to Earth to thrusting him into the middle of a rich and complex celestial story that still has a tremendous impact in the Marvel Universe today.

Seriously, Kirby was the man!