Golden Age Showcase: The Destroyer

On November 12th, 2018 we lost the Walt Disney of comic books, a master of movie cameos, and one of the few comic book creators that almost every person in the world can name whether they’re a fan of comic books or not: Stan Lee.

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There is no denying that the man’s legacy is immense and the impact he had on comic books as a medium and as a pop culture force was almost immeasurable.

Some cliff notes on his early life.  He was born in 1922 to a Jewish family in New York under the name Stanley Lieber.  “Stan Lee” was originally a pen name that he used when writing comics because he was saving his actual name for when he would start writing novels.

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Stan was around for the very beginning of the comic book industry that we know and love when he first started working for Timely Comics in 1939 after graduating high school.  While his initial duties were small time stuff like filling inkwells.  His first bit of writing work was creating filler text for a Captain America story named “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge”,

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Fun fact: this is the first story where Captain America throws his shield.

From there, Stan wrote a back up feature called “Headline Hunter”,

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and in 1942 Timely Comics launched the first superhero co created by their new upcoming writer and the hero we’re going to talk about today: The Destroyer.

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Ladies and gentlemen, here is the first superhero that Stan Lee ever created.

Origin and Career

Full disclosure, I’ve done a bit of research for this article, and I can’t find a whole lot of images of the Destroyer due to copyright, so there’s going to be a lot of text and not a whole lot of pictures.

The Destroyer made his first appearance in Mystic Comics #6 in August of 1942.

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He was co created by Stan Lee and artist Jack Binder,

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Jack Binder was the older brother of Otto Binder, the man who would develop a healthy portion of the Superman mythos.

The Destroyer’s civilian identity is Kevin Marlow, an investigative journalist who was sent behind enemy lines to record and document Nazi atrocities.

He got a view that was a probably a bit too personal when he was captured, tried as a spy, and sent to a location known as Strohm Prison.  While he was there he was tortured met a Jewish scientist who was forced to work for the Nazis known as Eric Schmitt.

Schmitt had been forced to develop a super soldier serum for the Nazis (yes, it turns out he was a colleague of the scientist who gave Captain America his powers) and was beaten to near death.  Schmitt would wind up giving his heavily guarded sample of the super soldier serum to Marlow, who became incredibly strong and fast and used his abilities to break out of prison.

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Marlow vowed to fight Nazism on his own an donned his black, grey, and red costume to strike fear to the Nazis behind enemy lines.

Of course, his actions did not go entirely unnoticed and the Destroyer’s one man war drew the ire of the Gestapo under the command of Captain Fredrick von Banger.

Naturally, the confrontation didn’t go very well for the Nazis and while The Destroyer was able to overpower the captain, von Banger managed to escape by cheating.

That was The Destroyer’s first appearance and it turned out he was actually pretty popular during the wartime years.  Perhaps the one thing that separated The Destroyer from his other super powered colleagues was his willingness to accept help from other Germans and to accept the idea that the Nazis were more tyrannical despots rather than an entire nation of people.  Case in point, one of his earliest enemies was a psychotic scientist named Herr Scar,

Scar (Earth-616)

who was tasked by the Nazi government to quell German dissenters.  Naturally, with a face and name like that Herr Scar was an evil man who died very quickly.

The Destroyer would continue to experience a fair amount of success during the war.  He made cover appearances in the last four issues of Mystic Comics and would go on to become one of Timely’s most published characters, just behind the heavyweights of Captain America, the Human Torch, and Namor the Submariner.

So what happened?

Kevin Marlow disappeared in the late 1940’s when comic book superheroes were on the decline and comic books were facing a significant backlash and public hatred.

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Timely Comics changed its name to Atlas Comics, and Stan Lee managed to keep going by writing other stories.

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What happened next is mostly hearsay and conjecture, but the story goes that Lee was just about to quit comic books forever until his wife Joan told him to write one last story that he wanted to write.  The result was the creation of a new group of superheroes: The Fantastic Four.

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They’re pretty obscure, you’ve probably never heard of them.

The book was a hit.  Coupled with the rebirth and revitalization of the superhero genre in the 1960’s, comic books became cool again and Atlas changed its name again to Marvel Comics.

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The Destroyer continued to exist, although it was no longer a heavy hitter in the Marvel lineup.  However, in the 1970’s, then Marvel editor in chief Roy Thomas and artist Frank Robbins rebooted the story and made the new Destroyer a British agent named Brian Falsworth, and through a long and convoluted path of events (it’s comics, this happens) Falsworth became the British hero Union Jack.

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All previous continuity was retconned and the previous identity for the Destroyer known as Kevin Marlow was revealed to be a mistake by the FBI.  It was also revealed that Brian Falsworth died in a car crash in 1953.

The Destroyer name would eventually be adopted by Brian’s close friend Roger Aubrey in a 2009 miniseries written by Ed Brubaker.

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A final version of the Destroyer would make an appearance in Marvel’s MAX imprint, which was the place where Marvel created its explicit and mature stories.

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This series was written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and featured an elderly Kevin Marlow in modern times.

Kevin Marlow (Earth-616) from Destroyer Vol 3 4 0001

This version of the Destroyer still had the strength and endurance of the super soldier serum, but unlike Cap he aged.

The story itself followed the Destroyer as he set off to kill his remaining rogues gallery and ensure the safety of his loved ones, by any means necessary.

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So that’s a brief rundown of the Destoryer.  If I had to describe him in one word it would be…standard.  During the 1940’s he was a product of his times.  People wanted bright and colorful heroes to fight their battles for them, and the destroyer delivered.  And while he would go on to become a part of the Marvel Universe and was well remembered by people working in comics, he would never see mainstream success.

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As for Stan Lee?  Well, he went on to help create some of the greatest and most popular heroes of all time,

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become the public face of American comic books, and be well known and loved by millions of fans.

All in all, a pretty good life and a pretty good legacy.

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Thanks for everything Stan, you will be missed.

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Comic book showcase: Steve Ditko’s career and contribution to comics

So we lost one of the greats this week, legendary comic book writer and artist Steve Ditko.

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Ditko was an interesting character in his own right.  In an industry that thrives on creators being in direct contact with their fans through things like letter pages,

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and comic conventions,

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Ditko was a recluse who rarely made appearances and almost never gave interviews.

So how did Steve Ditko become such an icon in the comic book community, despite choosing to adopt a public persona that many would have considered career suicide?  Well, let’s take a brief look at his career and some of his more famous creations.

Ditko was part of the great revitalization of comic books in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This time period was known as the Silver Age of Comics and was known for its focus on science fiction aesthetic and themes,

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and for a little known writer named Stan Lee and a cigar chomping artist known as Jack Kirby creating the juggernaut known as Marvel Comics.

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This was also a time when many of the heroes that we know and love today were either created, such as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four,

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or received a make over that would define them for the next fifty years such as Carmine Infantino’s re interpretation of The Flash.

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So where was Ditko in all of this?

Well, he got his start drawing for a small company called Charleton Comics after serving in the Army after World War 2, but moved to Atlas Comics in the mid 1950’s after recovering from a bout of tuberculosis.

Ditko would frequently collaborate with Stan Lee in creating short stories for Atlas publications such as Strange Tales,

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These stories were a huge success, and in 1962 Lee was given permission to create a story about a teenage superhero with spider themed powers.  Lee’s first choice for an artist on the project was…Jack Kirby.

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Kirby was an industry veteran and a very good artist, but in interviews Lee recalled that he didn’t like the way Kirby drew Spider Man.  It was good but it was just too heroic.

So Lee turned to Ditko and together they would go on to create one of the most iconic and popular superheroes ever: Spider Man.

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The hero would debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 on August 10th, 1962.  While the interior artwork was done by Ditko, the cover was drawn by Kirby.

Lee and Ditko’s creation was a massive hit and helped usher in a new era of superheroes who weren’t gods or paragons of virtue, they were creatures with fantastic powers and very human emotions and problems.  Spider Man may have had amazing powers, but he always suffered because of it.  Everything from the death of his Uncle Ben,

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to the death of Gwen Stacy,

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was his fault.

But if you ask me, one of the most iconic moments in the early Spider Man comics was a scene where he’s trapped under rubble, buried alive by the Green Goblin and he has to get himself out.

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Ditko helped make superheroes vulnerable, twisting Spider Man’s body into brutal and uncomfortable poses that made the reader feel the effort and pain he was going through.  It’s fantastic stuff.

A few years later Lee and Ditko would go on to create Dr. Strange, who debuted in Strange Tales #110 in July of 1963.

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Strange allowed Ditko to unleash some of the most surreal and fantastic artwork ever seen as the human Dr. Strange battled creatures of the mind who wielded black magic.

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It’s worth remembering this was the 1960’s, a time when counter culture and New Age religions were starting to make their way into pop culture.  It’s also worth remembering that Dr. Strange became really popular with college kids at the time.

Unfortunately, Steve’s relationship with Marvel and Stan Lee wouldn’t last.  See, Marvel Comics in the 1960’s pioneered a style of comic creation known as “The Marvel Method”.  Long story short, what would happen is that the writer would send an artist a rough idea of a story, the artist would draw the story as they interpreted it, and then the writer would write out the dialogue afterwards.

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It was a great way for a writer like Lee to produce a metric crap ton of work while maintaining his public image, but it wasn’t without problems.  Sadly, there is a lot of debate to this day over who created what at Marvel and whether or not Stan Lee deserves the level of credit and respect he is enjoying in popular culture while artists like Kirby and Ditko were relatively sidelined in the public eye.

But that’s a debate for another day.  What we do know is that Ditko was frustrated with Marvel and Lee enough to leave them and go work for his old collaborator Charlton Comics.

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While Charlton didn’t pay as much as Marvel, they did allow their creators more freedom in their work.  Ditko thrived at Charlton, helping to create some of their most iconic heroes such as Captain Atom,

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and The Question.

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The Question was probably Ditko’s most personal work.  He was a big fan of Ayn Rand and objectivism, the idea that morality must be realized through individuals seeking to act in their own self interest.  The Question was Ditko’s way to express his personal philosophy to the world, something that hadn’t really been done in a medium that was originally more concerned with simple stories for children.

The Question was uncharacteristically brutal for the time period.  There was a scene where he let a pair of criminals get swept away in a sewer than save them.

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Ditko also did some work for DC in the 1970’s creating heroes like Hawk and Dove and Shade the Changing Man along with a whole host of others.

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During the 1980’s and 90’s Ditko would become even more reclusive, working for small presses and often taking bigger work simply for the paycheck.  He would eventually retire from mainstream comics in 1998, although he did work with former Charlton editor Robin Snyder in publishing bits of solo work.

While Steve Ditko became more and more of a recluse, his work and characters continued to have a lasting effect on comics and popular culture.  While Spiderman is his most famous work,

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and Doctor Strange is currently enjoying higher status thanks to the Marvel movies,

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I think a lot of his work at Charlton and DC comics deserves special mention.

In 1983, most of the Charlton characters were bought by DC comics when Charlton was suffering financially.  They were approached by Alan Moore, who wanted to write a 12 issue series that was a dark and gritty deconstruction of the superhero genre called Watchmen and he wanted to use Charlton characters to do it.  Two of them were Ditko creations, The Question and Captain Atom.  When DC said no, Moore used the idea of The Question to create his own character: Rorschach.

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and the idea of Captain Atom to create Dr. Manhattan.

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Most of the Charlton characters would go on to have successful careers in the DC universe on their own accords.  I can specifically remember the Justice League cartoon making fantastic use of The Question in its later seasons.

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So, how do we process the legacy of Steve Ditko?  He helped elevate the medium of comic books by introducing deeper and more meaningful themes and ideas into his work, he stood by his beliefs and preferred to let his work speak for him, and he helped to create two of the most iconic superheroes in modern history.

All in all, as far as legacies go, his position as one of the greatest comic book creators of all time is well deserved.

Thank you Mr. Ditko, you will be missed.

Golden Age Showcase: Mister Mind and the Monster Society of Evil

So the Justice League movie came out this weekend.

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I haven’t seen it, I probably will despite the negative reviews, and I think I’ll use this opportunity to talk about super hero team ups.

The idea of superheroes teaming up to fight evil together is nothing new in comics.  The very first time it happened was in All Star Comics #3 in 1940 when the Justice Society of America was formed.

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Super hero team ups like this can happen for a couple of reasons.  In the case of the JSA above and the original Luke Cage and Iron Fist books,

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it was a successful attempt at saving the characters from poor sales numbers.  In the case of the modern day Avengers,

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It was a reward for the fans for watching the movies and making the MCU into the most successful franchise of all time.

But it’s not just superheroes that have been brought together, the bad guys get their team ups too.

While one of the most famous examples has to be DC’s Suicide Squad,

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today I want to talk about the first super villain team up in comic book history: The Monster Society of Evil.

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Origin and Career

The Monster Society of Evil was a collection of super villains that were published by Fawcett Comics: the original creators of Captain Marvel.

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Captain Marvel was an interesting hero, mostly because for a brief period of history he was actually more popular than Superman.

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But we’re not here to talk about Captain Marvel, we’re here to talk about the bad guys and the devious mastermind that brought them together.

The Monster Society of Evil made its first appearance in Captain Marvel Adventures #22 in March of 1943.

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The story was drawn by the original Captain Marvel artist C.C Beck,

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and written by one of the most prolific Captain Marvel and Superman writers of all time: Otto Binder.

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The comic starts off with the mysterious and intimidating Mister Mind intercepting a broadcast about an Indian Princess who has a set of jewels that she wishes to donate to the Allied war effort.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

For starters, props to the villain for having a moon base and second, it’s amazing how just on the nose a bad guy named “Captain Nazi” can be.

Why is Mister Mind helping someone like Captain Nazi?  Because it’s evil of course!

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

It turns out that there’s more to the princess’ jewels than  meets the eye, and that Captain Nazi is very good at disguises,

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

even if his henchmen are idiots.

Captain Marvel manages to track down Captain Nazi, only to find that it was all a trap set up by Mister Mind.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

While the hero is able to take the villains out one by one, both sides manage to track down a second pearl and the villains make their getaway through the power of teamwork.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

The race to retrieve the pearls would go on for several issues, with Captain Marvel taki.  Interestingly, the mastermind behind the whole operation would continue to remain hidden for two more issues until Captain Marvel finally decides to take the fight to Mister Mind’s moon base.

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It’s a pretty awesome story, with Captain Marvel fighting robots,

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and squid men.

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The Captain decides to search as his alter ego, Billy Batson.  After brushing off an insignificant little worm he’s confronted by a giant of a man who appears to be the real Mister Mind.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

Our hero manages to defeat the villain with an epic headbutt!

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But it turns out that the giant wasn’t Mister Mind at all!

Not to worry though, they reveal the true identity of Mister Mind in the next issue.  You know that worm Batson brushed off of his shoulder?  Yep…that’s the criminal mastermind!

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Oh yes, that’s certainly the face of a criminal mastermind and genius.

Despite his small stature and lack of long range vision, Mister Mind is a capable villain with the ability to hypnotize creatures and humans to do his bidding.  So naturally he teams up with Hitler.

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Mister Mind turns out to be a very slippery nemesis for Captain Marvel and the two would continue their game of cat and mouse (worm and human just doesn’t have the same ring to it) for over twenty issues and ended in Captain Marvel Adventures #46 when he’s captured, tried, and executed via electric chair…

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somehow.

And that was the end of Mister Mind in the Golden Age of Comics, one of the smallest and most devious villains in all of comic books.

So what happened?

Sure the evil worm may have been killed, but we all know that death is but a revolving door in comics so he could have made a comeback.

Unfortunately that wouldn’t happen.  Fawcett stopped making comics in 1953 and DC wound up suing Fawcett for copyright infringement in one of the longest court cases in comic book history.

In 1972 DC Comics began publishing their own Captain Marvel stories under the title of SHAZAM! due to Marvel Comics snapping up the copyright to the name.

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Mister Mind would be reborn as a DC super villain in the second issue of the series where it was revealed that he had survived the electrocution and hypnotized a taxidermist into creating a fake corpse.

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The villainous worm would reform the Society of Evil to include some of the most powerful and deadly villains in the Captain Marvel franchise.

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This would continue until DC reset its entire universe in 1986 with the Crisis on Infinite Earths event and everything was reset.

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Mister Mind would wind up returning to the DC universe in the limited event series The Power of SHAZAM!, only this time he became a tad more…intimidating.

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This version of the villain was a member of a species from Venus and almost destroyed the Earth in a nuclear holocaust.

The worm would continue to be a nemesis of the Captain Marvel series and DC heroes as a whole.  His most recent appearance was in the company’s New 52 reboot, although the Society of Evil didn’t make an appearance.

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He has yet to appear in any recent DC comics.

Mister Mind is one of the most interesting comic book villains to ever come out of the Golden Age of Comics.  He was smart, capable, and evil to the core but needed to manipulate others to do his dirty work for him.  Outside of stalwarts like Lex Luthor and the Joker, Mister Mind has one of the longest and most successful careers of any comic book super villain and I would be very interested in seeing if DC decides to do anything with him in the future.

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Golden Age Showcase: Sun Girl

It’s October folks!

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing, and the weather is getting cooler.

Normally, most forms of entertainment start churning out the horror and scary stuff around this time, and in the near future we won’t be so different.  However, I thought it might be nice to give the sun one last hurrah and talk about a bright and colorful superhero from days of yore.

She’s also a lady so here’s another chance to showcase a hero that didn’t get a whole lot of attention back then.

This is Sun Girl.

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Origin and Career

Sun Girl made her first appearance in her self titled series Sun Girl #1 in August of 1948.

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While the writer of the comic is uncredited, the art was done by a man named Ken Bald.

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Ken Bald was actually one of the more prolific and successful artists of the Golden Age and did a lot of work as a staff artist at Timely Comics where he drew many of Timely’s most popular heroes.  He is also known for his comic strip work, such as a strip based off of the 1970’s tv show Dark Shadows.

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A couple things of note.  First, hooray we actually managed to tie in some horror into an October post!  Second, if the name Dark Shadows isn’t familiar to younger readers all you need to know is that they tried making a modern movie based off it starring Johnny Depp.

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It wasn’t well received.

Anyway, in an age where comic book super heroines were surprisingly independent and capable Sun Girl…was not.  Her civilian name was Mary Mitchell and she started life as the secretary and love interest of the original Human Torch.  When the Human Torch’s original sidekick Toro takes a leave of absence she insisted that she becomes Torch’s sidekick despite having no superpowers.  The Torch is not pleased and responds with stereotypical 1940’s male talk.

But…she knows judo so that fixes everything I guess?  Also, she had a “sun beam” gun that shot bright flashes of light.  Honestly, there were better superheroines out there at this time.

Her lack of powers and crazy weapons didn’t stop her from having something of a career.  After her three issue solo series she appeared in the Human Torch series for three issues,

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and she guest starred in Captain America and Submariner books.

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Thankfully, during her short career she wasn’t entirely useless.  She would often bring a more human and compassionate side to her superhero work and was able to make an impact on the Human Torch’s career.  Perhaps her biggest achievement was helping the Torch prove a wrongfully accused man innocent.

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So what happened?

Toro came back from his leave of absence and Mary went back to being the Human Torch’s secretary.  Then the comic book industry went kaput and Timely Comics re branded to eventually become Marvel Comics and the Human Torch became a character who didn’t need a secretary.

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However, Sun Girl didn’t just fade away into obscurity and become a tiny little footnote in comic book history.  She had enough fans and people who remembered her to bring her into the modern era.  The first appearance of the new and improved Sun Girl was in Superior Spider Man Team Up #1 in June of 2013.

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Right off the bat the new Sun Girl has a more independent and interesting origin.  She’s an engineer named Selah Burke who developed a suit that gives her the ability to fly and two light blasting pistols.  Also, she’s the daughter of Edward Lanksey, an out of work college professor who became a super villain.

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Her next appearance would be as part of the Marvel Comics team called the New Warriors in 2014.

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Sun Girl is an interesting comic book super heroine, but not for the reasons you might expect.  She didn’t have any extraordinary powers, she didn’t have a very long career, and she didn’t have the impact on popular culture that many of her other female colleagues had.  With that being said, she was smart, courageous, always willing to do the right thing, and has one of the most comprehensive and fulfilling post Golden Age careers of any female superhero.

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Golden Age Showcase: Atomic Tot

So I just discovered Rick and Morty last night.

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It’s a good show, a bit dark, bleak, and incredibly pessimistic.

I bring this up because it provides a direct contrast with my love of superheroes.

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Yes they’re bright, colorful, and probably have no place in modern society but that’s not the point.

Superheroes are supposed to be titans of morality and/or walking metaphors that can solve all their problems by punching them or blasting them with energy rays.  Sure, sometimes they may a bit more complicated and complex, but in the end that’s what they are.

Superheroes did the right thing, ate their vegetables, said their prayers, and told little Timmy that doing the right thing came first, no matter what.  They were uncomplicated lessons in morality for kids in an uncertain and dangerous time and that is something that the Golden Age of Comics did better than almost anyone else.

So let’s talk about a superhero named Atomic Tot, who was a superhero that was unquestionably for the kids,

Tom Tot undergoes his amazing transformation. Artist: probably Ernie Hart.

and kind of dropped the ball in that regard.

Origin and Career

Atomic Tot made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ All Humor Comics #1 in September of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

That joke on the cover of the issue?  That’s as good as they would get.

He was created by comic book writer and artist, Ernie Hart.  While I can’t find a picture of him, I can tell you that his most famous creation was the famous Super Rabbit for Quality Comics.

Pssh, the idea of talking anthropomorphic animals is so lame.  Who could possibly make any money off of that?

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Anyway, before Atomic Tot got his name he was originally known as “Mitymite”, the weakling son of a poor peasant living in a land being terrorized by an evil giant.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

Yes the captions are in rhyme, to explain why I don’t have time.

Mitymite grows up wishing to meet this princess, but is blocked by the wicked giant.  Humiliated, he swears revenge.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

So what does he do?  Does he subject himself to strange experiments?  Find a magical artifact?  Nope!  He eats his cereal and works out.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

Wheaties would love this guy.

Naturally he defeats the giant, by tossing him out a window…presumably to his death.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

However, it turns out the princess isn’t all she cracks up to be and Mitymite acts like a total dick and abandons her.

It’s worth mentioning that he looks like he’s only six year old.

Mitymite was given a modern update in the very next issue.  His new name was Atomic Tot and he got an alter ego of Tom Tot.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #2

His second adventure saw him stopping an evil scientist that was kidnapping children and turning them into monkeys.  Why?  To sell them to the zoo of course.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #2

How does he do that and wouldn’t it make more sense to sell them to laboratories as test specimens?  I don’t know and the comic doesn’t care.

It’s worth mentioning that Atomic Tot could be incredibly cruel to his enemies.  He even threatened to turn the scientist into a monkey if he didn’t help return the kids.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #2

Atomic Tot would go on to have five more stories just like this one.  There really isn’t anything else to say.

So what happened?

For some strange reason, Atomic Tot did not survive past the 1940’s.

Why he didn’t last long is a real mystery.

For some bizarre reason, Atomic Tot wasn’t fondly remembered enough to get a reworking in modern comics either, although he did make an appearance in an anthology title called Not Forgotten which was successfully funded through Kickstarter a few months ago.

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The anthology has a website, it’s pretty interesting stuff and worth checking out.

Atomic Tot is a superhero boiled down to its most basic essence.  There is no complicated backstory, no surprising plot twist about his parents, not horrifying life event that inspired him to become a superhero.  He’s just a kid who has the ability to do great things and decides to use his talents for good.

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Huh, come to think of it…that is pretty boring.  Maybe all this straight laced morality isn’t quite for me than.

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Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

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It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.

You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.

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And what’s not to like about him?  He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

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But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s.  One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.

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Origin and Career

Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.

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She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

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While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.

As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.

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How did she get her powers?  Not mentioned.  Why did she decide to fight crime?  The comic didn’t seem to care.  What was her power?  She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,

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swarms of them.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #58

You sure this is a superhero comic?  Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.

Her enemies weren’t that special.  She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs.  What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her.  First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.

The story was simple.  Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.

One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.

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Nazis controlling giant spiders?  NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS!  PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!

Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books?  That was pretty unique for the time.

I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #20

She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.

The two ladies did not get along very well.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.

The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #21

but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over.  The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.

So what happened?

Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy.  She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.

It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set.  Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.

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While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.

For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale?  Black Widow.

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Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.

Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,

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(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.

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Golden Age Showcase: Captain Battle

Warning, there are some pretty awful depictions of Japanese people in this article.  

 

We all know who Captain America is right?

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Good.

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?

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Rip him off to huge success and have the inevitable court case bankrupt your company!

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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”,

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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.

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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.

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Our hero made his first appearance in another title Silver Streak Comics in May of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #10

The character was created by artist Jack Binder and writer Cal Formes.  Of the two, Jack is the only one who had a picture,

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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.

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Like most Golden Age heroes, Captain Battle’s origin story is quick and dealt with in a single page.

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #10

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.

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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.

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #10

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,

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #10

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.

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #10

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.

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #10

He discovers that the birds fear radio beams and uses this knowledge to kill them all in the final page.

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #10

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.

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He even picks up a subservient Asian man who helps him rescue all the other men.

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #12

Captain Battle proved to be a popular hero, so popular that he wound up getting his own kid sidekick and cover appearances.

Comic Book Cover For Silver Streak Comics #13

Also, he fought Nazi cultist skull unicorns,

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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.

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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.

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Golden Age Showcase: Target and the Targeteers

 

You know what they say…comedy comes in threes.

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And I like to think that today’s superhero group took that lesson to heart, even though I’m willing to bet any comedy was unintentional.

Today we’re talking about the rather humorously named Target and the Targeteers.

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Origin and Career

This trio of superheroes was published by a company called Novelty Press, which was created in 1940 by Curtis Publishing.  If that name isn’t familiar all you need to know is that they publish the Saturday Evening Post.  If that name isn’t familiar then you probably recognize this cover.

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Novelty Press was created as a comic book imprint in order to take advantage of the comic book craze.  They were able to draw a lot of great Golden Age talent such as Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and Basil Wolverton and their two most famous publications were the superhero series Blue Bolt,

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and the anthology series Target Comics.

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Despite sharing the name of the title, the superhero we’re talking about today didn’t appear until issue #10 in November of 1940.

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Yes that is him on the cover and I have to admit I don’t know what’s funnier: the testicular fortitude of a man who is willing to get shot by painting a giant target on his chest or how stupid the gangsters are for not aiming at the knees or face.

The hero was created by artist Dick Briefer under the pseudonym of Dick Hamilton. Image result for golden age dick brieferBriefer’s most famous work was with the Frankenstein character and is widely considered to be the first modern comic book artist to work with horror stories.

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 Back to Dick’s most famous superhero, Target’s first adventure had him sending an ominous message to criminals everywhere: “Live your life on the straight and narrow or I’ll find you”.  He does this by buying up advertising space on nationwide newspapers, radio space, and even hijacking the phone service.

Comic Book Cover For Target Comics v1 10 [10]

You know how in modern movies the bad guy can mysteriously deliver a message to every computer, television, and phone around the world?  It’s nice to know that this particular cliche isn’t so modern.

The Target’s ominous message doesn’t deter a group of gangsters from kidnapping a scientist who is developing a new explosive that other countries want.

Comic Book Cover For Target Comics v1 10 [10]

The gangsters reach the professor’s house, only to find that the Target is already there.

Comic Book Cover For Target Comics v1 10 [10]

On the face of it, it would appear that the hero has a very poorly designed costume for dealing with guns, but the comic explains that while the suit protects his chest and arms (thus leaving the face and legs unprotected) the target is there to draw enemy fire to the places where the bullets can’t harm him.

Comic Book Cover For Target Comics v1 10 [10]

I would commend the comic for attempting to use “Batman psychology” to explain why the hero made the decisions he made but no, in real life that man is dead.

The adventure ends in typical fashion.  The bad guys are stopped, the hero saves the day, and the reader is left wondering what’s next.

Comic Book Cover For Target Comics v1 10 [10]

The next issue not only delves into the Target’s backstory, it also reveals that he has two friends who share a similar death wish by dressing in similar costumes.

The Target’s civilian identity is Niles Reed.  He was an athletic prodigy who decided to become a metallurgist had a brother named Bill, who decided to become a lawyer.

Unfortunately, Bill was framed for murder and arrested.  In his rage, Niles decided to rescue his brother while disguised as a masked vigilante.

Comic Book Cover For Target Comics v1 11 [11]

While it’s a bit unclear it would appear that the cops accidentally shot Bill as he was trying to escape with his brother.  So in an interesting twist, Niles was responsible for his brother’s death.

Comic Book Cover For Target Comics v1 11 [11]

Later that evening Niles happens to stumble across two orphaned boys who were in a lot trouble with some gangsters for not paying protection money.  The three become friends and decide to dress up like superheroes using the same bulletproof costumes of Niles’ design.

Comic Book Cover For Target Comics v1 11 [11]

The origin story ended with the reveal that Bill had been framed by a crime boss named Hammerfist, who would become something of a recurring villain for the trio.

I’ll admit, there are some interesting points to this story.  The fact that the hero is actually responsible for his brother’s death coupled with him taking in two orphans who share similar tragic stories draw a lot of similarities to more popular heroes like Spider Man and Batman.

The rest of the trio’s adventures were all one shots with a very patriotic bent them.  The three did their duty and fought against America’s enemies, both at home and abroad.

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The post war years saw a return to form for the trio where they went back to waging war against criminals in the United States.

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So what happened?

The trio of crime fighters had a pretty long shelf life for the Golden Age heroes.  They lasted until issue #95 of Target Comics where their last adventure had them foiling criminals who were sabotaging advertising signs in order to extort an advertising firm.

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Yeah, maybe it was a good thing that they got cancelled.

The trio would disappear for a while until the Target made an appearance in AC Comics’ Men of Mystery series in 1999.

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The trio itself made a comeback in Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers series in 2008.

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Their backstories remained the same, only this time they all had super speed on top of their indestructible suits.

The Target and the Targeteers embodied everything that worked and didn’t work about the Golden Age of Comics.  On one hand they were goofy, wore silly costumes, and relied on some pretty bad science in order to survive and function.  On the other hand, they had one of the better origin stories I’ve read, they had a long run, and a lot of the things that made it into their stories such as the use of psychology to fight criminals would be use to great effect in other, more popular comic hero stories.

All in all, they weren’t that bad.

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Golden Age Showcase: John Steele

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

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

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

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

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ORIGIN AND CAREER

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

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He was created by legendary artist Dan Barry,

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

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

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

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

Pretty straightforward, pretty direct, kind of boring.

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Golden Age Showcase: Powerhouse Pepper

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

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

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

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

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Origin and Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To Gay Comics,

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what happened?

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

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

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

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