Warning, there are some pretty awful depictions of Japanese people in this article.
We all know who Captain America is right?
The phrase “success spawns imitators” is something that applies to all art, but it is especially true with comic books.
You have an super strong human who fights for truth and justice?
Rip him off to huge success and have the inevitable court case bankrupt your company!
The Superman/Captain Marvel story was one that played out a lot in the 1940’s and Captain America’s shtick of “soldier who goes off to Europe to fight thinly disguised Nazis”,
was one of the most popular setups of the time…for pretty obvious reasons.
Today we’re going to look at a super hero so similar to Captain America that when the creators were deciding a name all they had to do was look at the next letter in the alphabet: Captain Battle.
Origin and Career
Captain Battle was published by a company called Lev Gleason Publications, a company that is most famous for publishing the first true crime comic: Crime Does Not Pay.
Our hero made his first appearance in another title Silver Streak Comics in May of 1941.
The character was created by artist Jack Binder and writer Cal Formes. Of the two, Jack is the only one who had a picture,
Jack is also the more famous of the two, since he helped create another superhero for Lev Gleason Publications called Dardevil. And no, it’s not THE Daredevil.
Like most Golden Age heroes, Captain Battle’s origin story is quick and dealt with in a single page.
He was a kid scientist in the first World War and lost an eye to the conflict. He vowed that a war like that should never happen again (spoilers: that didn’t go so well) and resolves to use his inventions to stop conflicts from happening.
To help him he has inventions such as the “curvoscope”, a telescope that can see anywhere in the world…somehow.
Also, he has the help of a pretty lady secretary, because this is the 1940’s and apparently that was all women were good for.
In his first adventure Captain Battle fights off a race of giant birdmen who are attacking a group of battleships. He uses this opportunity to showcase two of his other inventions: the Luceflyer jet pack and the Dissolvo gun.
Full disclosure, I think “Luceflyer” is probably the coolest name for a jet pack I can think of.
These birdmen who are attacking the ships belong to a villain named “The Black Dragon” and are called “deaglos”. They’re big, strong, and kind of intimidating,
wait no…no, no, no, no. When you fly around and refer to your commander as “your cluckness” you lose all sense of foreboding and terror.
Naturally, Captain Battle swoops in and saves the day. He showcases his Dissolvo gun on some of the birdmen and it is goddamn terrifying.
This isn’t a one and done thing, the Dissolvo gets used pretty often throughout the series when Captain Battle decides to fight actual Nazis.
Call me old fashioned, but I’m willing to bet that using a weapon that dissolves your enemies into goo is a violation of the Geneva Convention and human decency.
The Captain is kidnapped and dragged before the Black Dragon, who attempts to turn the hero into a birdman.
He discovers that the birds fear radio beams and uses this knowledge to kill them all in the final page.
It’s worth mentioning that these creatures used to be humans, a point that the Captain brings up two issues later when he invents a serum that changes them back.
He even picks up a subservient Asian man who helps him rescue all the other men.
Captain Battle proved to be a popular hero, so popular that he wound up getting his own kid sidekick and cover appearances.
Also, he fought Nazi cultist skull unicorns,
no…I am not joking.
This was the sort of stuff that would define Captain Battle’s career. He fought real threats that were portrayed in strange occult ways in order to make them more intimidating and fantastic.
So what happened?
Captain Battle made his last anthology appearance in Silver Streak #21 in 1942 and his final solo appearance in 1943. I guess having a superhero trying to stop WW2 from happening is kind of a bummer when the actual war just got bigger.
Lev Gleason Publications continued, but folded in 1956 after public outcry over excessive comic book violence and changes to the industry led to decreased sales.
While Captain Battle’s publisher went down the tubes the character did manage to live on. While his post Golden Age career wasn’t as big or as flashy as some of his counter parts, he did get a movie.
It was called Captain Battle: Legacy War and…
let’s just say that Marvel probably won’t be banging down the door for the rights to this movie.
Captain Battle did actually make a return to comics in 2009 when Image Comics republished Silver Streak Comics in an effort to showcase what Golden Age comics could be if the creators were allowed more artistic freedom.
It was edited by Image founder Erik Larsen and if you’re reading this Mr. Larsen…I have some ideas you might like.
Captain Battle was a cheesy, over the top, impractical, and mildly racist superhero who was born out of a pretty blatant attempt to rip off more popular superheroes. With that being said, he possessed a unique charm and flagrant disregard for convention and common sense that actually made him a bit endearing and a pretty cool superhero.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry.
When I started this blog nearly two years ago (holy crap! It’s been two years!) I started this series to talk about the strange and peculiar superheroes of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Sure, we’ve covered some weird ones,
and ones who have gone on to have long and illustrious careers,
and some heroes who had a cool idea behind them but either didn’t quite make it or were relegated to a life behind the scenes.
But today…today is different.
This superhero is so obscure, strange, and downright silly that I feel ashamed to have not brought him to your attention sooner. Thankfully, he was brought to my attention by a reddit commentator named “apocoluster” (thank you for that by the way) and this blog is better for it.
Today we’re talking about the one and only…Dr. Hormone.
Origin and Career
The unfortunately named doctor made his first appearance in Dell Comics Popular Comics #54 in August of 1940.
He didn’t even get a text advertisement on the cover, not the most promising start.
He was created a mysterious figure named Bob Bugg.
I have no idea who this person is, no idea what he or she looked like, and no idea if that is an actual name or a pseudonym.
I’m willing to bet the actual creator wanted to keep his or her identity secret out of shame.
Like most Golden Age characters, his origin was quite simple and explained in a single page.
The man was on death’s door and managed to make himself younger again, thus cheating death. I like to think this origin is a metaphor for the actual creation of this character.
So what does this character do with this revolutionary formula? Go into business for himself and make millions? Give it to the world for free out of the goodness of his heart?
This is the early 1940’s and America is soon to be at war. Clearly, the best thing to do is to militarize this miracle formula and sell it as a weapon.
The “we’re a stand in for continental Europe being oppressed by the Nazis but we can’t actually call them Nazis because America isn’t TECHNICALLY at war yet” country this time is the hilariously named Novoslavia, who is offering the princely sum of $25 million to whoever can provide their country with a means to defend them from the encroaching Eurasians.
The Professor decides to play war profiteer and brings his invention to Novoslavia, along with his granddaughter Jane.
Because countries on the brink of war are perfectly safe for little kids.
Sadly, their goods are stolen and they come up against the most evil and wretched enemy of all, incompetent and vindictive bureaucrats.
This takes the form of War Minister Rastinov who immediately throws the Doctor and his daughter into prison. However, Jane manages to secure their release by slipping something into the war minister’s drink.
Remember, if you want to get on someone’s good side, always make sure they make an ass of themselves.
The Novoslovians award Docotor Hormone the prize, and prepare for war using his miracle serum.
What I find hilarious is that the serum brings everyone to the age of 25, even babies.
Meanwhile, former war minister Assinov (not my joke) has defected to the Euraseans and proceeds to launch a full scale invasion of poor Novoslovia.
Another thing I find interesting is how the Eurasians don’t really look like Nazis. Instead they look a lot like the Soviet Army.
The war goes poorly for the Novoslovians and their leader, General Battlesky (groan!) prepares to execute the Doctor and his niece via firing squad.
but Dr. Hormone manages to save the day in the end by spraying all the Eurasians with a special hormone that makes everyone like each other again and stop the fighting.
Assinov isn’t done yet though. He manages to disguise himself as the Doctor and turn everyone into animals using the Doctor’s own hormones.
I’m beginning to think that Doctor Hormone’s credentials might be a bit suspect. Also, ethics are something of a concern.
The war is won when the Novoslovians turn Assinov’s human animal hybrids against Eurasia and thousands of human/rat hybrids sneak in and chew through their army’s ammo and swarms of human/locust hybrids swarm the enemy soldiers.
That…is actually really dark and downright terrifying.
After defeating the vile forces of Eurasia, Dr. Hormone travels back home to America. After a brief run in with new foes of the dreaded Nazians (really?) he comes across…
Hormone manages to save himself with an army of fleas, who manage to smother the flames and drive the clansmen to madness by biting them. In fact, they’re driven so mad that they commit mass suicide.
You sure this isn’t a horror comic?
His last adventure ended on a literal cliffhanger as the Doctor was attempting to stop a Nazian invasion of Texas. Unfortunately, the Klan manages to find him and forces him down a bottomless pit where he and his niece fall through time and reach a mysterious voice that instructs them to wait.
So what happened?
After the good Doctor took a left turn into insanity he never made another appearance. I’m just going to assume he’s still below, waiting for the day where he might rise up and continue the story.
As for why he was cancelled it’s pretty easy to see why. He was never a main attraction and I’m willing to bet that the kids didn’t take too kindly to the name. Plus there’s the fact that the artwork…well it isn’t very good, even for time period.
Also, while we’re on the subject of quality, why doesn’t the man have a costume? I mean sure, I’m willing to bet the creator of this story was probably tired of drawing superhero costumes (assuming he or she was a working artist at the time) but come on! You have a brilliant chemist who has manged to find a way to live forever, invents crazy chemical compounds that turn people into animals, and you’re going to dress him up in a suit!?
In all seriousness I actually do think this guy could make a halfway decent superhero in the modern era. Hell, he’d actually make a kick ass super villain!
Dr. Hormone was the personification of almost everything crazy about the Golden Age of Comics. He was weird, he had an annoying niece as a sidekick, and his adventures were filled with all sorts of insanity that would have gotten any normal person arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.
God, I love comics so much!
Happy President’s Day everyone!
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,
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So what happened?
He spent 45 issues beating the enemies of America, and freedom loving people everywhere, to a pulp.
Then Quality Comics went belly up in 1956 and was bought out by DC.
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.
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.
He’s had a steady presence in the DC universe ever since the 1970’s.
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.
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.
and was dramatically revamped as a mortal black man in the New 52 reboot.
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.
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.
Sure, you can call me corny and cheesy but you know what? I’m okay with that.