Golden Age Showcase: Doctor Nitro

I said this year would be a bit different for this blog series by focusing on some of the more creative villains of the Golden Age of Comics and I intend to keep that promise.

The problem with Golden Age villains is that many of them were never meant to have any serious staying power.  Sure, you’ve got classics such as the Joker,

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and the Red Skull,

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but even these guys were simply reduced to being cackling mad men who were given the simple job of being evil for the sake of being evil and crumpling like wet cardboard once the hero started punching things.

It’s important to remember that during this time comics were built around the heroes and it was simply accepted that the hero always had to win.  I’m not trying to mock the hard working and underpaid writers and artists who created these guys, it’s just that the comic book scene of the 1940’s and 1950’s was a bit different than it was today.

Couple that with the fact that a lot of superheroes at the time weren’t above killing the bad guys,

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and it’s pretty easy to see why creators didn’t really focus on making great bad guys.

So here’s a blog post about an old foe of the Whizzer, Doctor Nitro.

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Origin and Career

The evil doctor made his first appearance in U.S.A Comics #16 in 1945.

He was so obscure and one note that this is the only photo I have been able to find of him.

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If I could describe the Doctor’s motivations in one word it would be generic.  He didn’t have an interesting or compelling backstory, he didn’t have some sort of special mutant ability, and he wasn’t particularly memorable or crazy.

While his motivations may have been generic, his methods certainly weren’t.  The Doctor was an explosives expert (with a name like Nitro that really isn’t surprising) who developed a special explosive that could only be detonated by being exposed to a certain type of ray.

Nitro manages to smuggle this explosive into his prison cell by pretending that it’s hand lotion and manages to escape after detonating a bomb that kills two guards.

After escaping and rejoining his gang, Doctor Nitro planned on becoming rich by blackmailing the wealthy and elite into paying him or he would kill them with the explosive.

The Whizzer witnesses one of Nitro’s henchmen kill a man named Standards and manages to trace the killing back to the Doctor.  While Nitro does manage to douse the Whizzer with his special explosive formula the hero is just too fast for him and manages to round up the evil Doctor and his gang in order to save the day.

Doctor Nitro was last seen in police custody, his current fate is unknown.

How can he be remade/reworked?

The Doctor was only given one appearance in 1945, he didn’t have a career after that.

So instead we’re going to try and remake/rework him for a modern audience and see if he could be a good fit for modern day readers.

Honestly, I think this guy could work, mostly because during my research Doctor Nitro reminded me of this guy.

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That man’s name is Howard Payne.  He was played by Dennis Hopper as the villain of the hit 1994 movie Speed.

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Howard is a retired bomb squad officer from the Atlanta police force who took a group of hostages on board an L.A bus and demanded a ransom of 3.7 million dollars or he would blow up the bus and all the people in it.

Besides sharing similar motives with Howard Payne, Doctor Nitro shares a similar love for explosives and creative ways of blowing things up.

What’s even better is that in the world of comics, Doctor Nitro can still fit in quite well.

Personally, I wouldn’t change the character and motivations at all.  He’s an incredibly talented bomb maker who has a knack for creating explosives that are undetectable and can be utilized in interesting and unorthodox ways.

Granted, there are a couple of comic book characters that utilize new and interesting technology,

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and there are even plenty of super villains that use the power of explosives as their main weapon,

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but I think the best place to put Doctor Nitro would be as a smart, capable, and behind the scenes antagonist to S.H.I.E.L.D.

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If I was writing him, the new Doctor Nitro would be half mad scientist, half bomb maker, and only interested in selling his services and products to the highest bidder.  Perhaps he could have had a previous job as a scientist for S.H.I.E.L.D but decided that they didn’t pay him nearly enough and decided to go freelance.

As for the villain’s tools, I think that he could not only be fun, but also pretty socially relevant.

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It’s no small secret that improvised explosive devices (IED’s) are a favorite and well known tool for terrorists in and around places like the Middle East, but with the new Doctor Nitro and his explosive expertise there is a whole new world of bizarre and interesting ways to challenge our heroes.

For example, if Nitro’s explosive can be disguised as hand lotion, what’s stopping him from creating an edible explosive?  If the charge doesn’t need a detonator to blow up maybe Nitro’s intended target could be killed off after eating a meal laced with explosives and detonated when exposed to a certain type of radiation?  How would S.H.I.E.L.D manage to stop a bomb maker who leaves no trace and doesn’t work with conventional materials?

There are plenty of interesting things that could be done with Doctor Nitro, it would be an absolute shame to waste him.

Hey, thanks for reading!  Just a quick heads up, we also publish a web comic called “The Secret Lives of Villains” ever Tuesday and Thursday and we have our first printed volume available for sale on Amazon!  If you would like to support this blog, and read some pretty awesome comics, please feel free to pick up a copy here.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Patriot

Happy post Super Bowl everyone!

Last night was one of the greatest games I have ever seen and I am so happy that my favorite team won their fifth championship.

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Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the New England Patriots so I would like to apologize for anyone reading this who isn’t a football fan and has to put up with yet another half crazed fan talking about something that’s not that interesting.  As for anyone who was hoping for the Patriots to lose, I’m not sorry in the slightest.

The game was one of the greatest things I have ever seen, so I thought it might be fitting to talk about an old school hero named The Patriot.

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Look, it was either this guy or Sportsmaster and I chose him.

Origin and Career

The Patriot was a second string character created by writer Ray Gill and artist Bill Everett,

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who was also the man who created Namor the Submariner.

The character first appeared in The Human Torch #4 in April of 1941.

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Fun fact: the issue is rather famous for a printing error that stated it was issue #3 instead of #4.

Anyway, the Patriot’s actual name was Jeffery Mace and his first appearance was in a ten page backup story titled “The Yellowshirts turn Yellow!” where the Patriot defeated a group of people looking to subvert the United States war effort by overthrowing the United States government.

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The character proved to be pretty popular for a backup character and would go on to have a successful, if not a bit standard and cliche, career as a secondary character in The Human Torch comics and Marvel Mystery Comics as well.

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I like to think that if Captain America didn’t turn out to be as popular, the Patriot would have been able to become a much more established superhero.  He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t have any special powers or particularly noteworthy stories, but he did his job and was popular enough to have a pretty long and storied career in the 1940’s.

So what happened?

Life tip: if you want to survive through trying times, you have to be able to stand out so people notice you.  The Patriot did not have that chance and as a result died out with the superhero fad in the late 1940’s.

With that being said, his previous popularity gave him something that a lot of his colleagues never had: a second chance.

His first appearance was in The Avengers #97 along with his colleague in arms The Fin (the same guy we talked about last week) as a mental projection of Rick Jones in order to wage war on the Kree and Skrull.

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He wound up joining the retconned superhero group known as The Liberty Legion and was given a much more fleshed out backstory in the 1970’s.

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They gave the man a much more fleshed out backstory that gave him some much deeper connections to the Marvel Universe as a whole.

In the new reality Jeffery Mace was a reporter for the Daily Bugle (Spiderman!) who was inspired by his idol Captain America.

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He even got to BE Captain America for a little bit when Marvel published a “What if?” story where he got to don the uniform of Captain America for a bit in order to explain how the hero could have continued to work after being frozen in ice.

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He was actually the third person to don the costume.  That’s him carrying the previous Captain America stand in, a hero called “The Spirit of ’76”.

Jeffery had a couple of guest appearances after that and was killed off in main continuity in 1983.

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But for some wonderful reason, the Patriot still had some juice left in the tank.

In the modern day Jeffery’s story was retold in a comic book series called Captain America: Patriot that took a closer look at McCarthy era America and superheroes who wear the red, white, and blue.

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His legacy lives on with a kid named Eli Bradley (the son of Isaiah Bradley from the excellent Truth: Red, White, and Black) working with the Young Avengers.

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Also, for the first time in this entire blog, I can say that we have a superhero who actually made it outside of comics and into the movies!

Jeffery Mace made it onto the Marvel tv show Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D and was played by Jason O’Mara.

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I won’t go into any further details for fear of spoiling the show, but I can say that he is one of the good guys and a friend to Coulson.

The Patriot is as big, bright, and as dumb as they come.  He wasn’t meant to be all that interesting, he was written to punch Nazis and fight during the war.  What Marvel created was a patriotic mascot, what they got was one of the best and most sincere attempts to replicate Captain America, one of their greatest icons.

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Comic book showcase: Truth: Red, White, and Black

Today is Martin Luther King day.

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Now, we’ve been writing this blog series for a long time and when an important holiday happens to fall on a Monday, we like to find some sort of superhero and/or comic book that fits within the theme for that holiday.

When it’s the 4th of July we like to do a patriotic superhero,

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when it’s Halloween we like to do a horror themed blog post,

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and for holidays such as Martin Luther King day, we like to talk about black superheroes.

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We’ve briefly talked about the history of black men and women in comic books before, but today I thought we could break tradition and talk about an actual comic book series that was published in 2003 and uses one of the worst events in American history to tell a damn good story.

Today we’re going to talk about Truth: Red, White, and Black.

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Origin and history

WARNING: We are about to discuss a historical event that involves some very questionable ethics, upsetting imagery, and a rather frank discussion of race relations in America.  It may cause some people discomfort but talking about this is necessary in order to make sure something like this never happens again.

Between 1932 and 1972 the United States Public Health Service conducted a long running experiment known as “The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment” where they purposely infected 600 black men in rural Alabama with syphilis in order to study the long term effects of the disease.

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As if that wasn’t bad enough, the people running the study never told these men what was going on.  Instead, all the test subjects were informed that they were simply receiving free healthcare and medical treatment.

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This vile experiment continued until the program was shut down in 1972 after the project was discovered and public outcry grew too strong.

Although the study was shut down and $10 million dollars were paid out in reparations after a class action lawsuit in 1974 it remains one of the darkest chapters in American history.

The Comic

In January of 2003 comic book writer Robert Morales pitched an idea to Marvel’s editor in chief Joe Quesada that told an alternate story behind the serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.

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As many of us know, the true recipe for the super soldier serum was destroyed after creating Captain America, but that didn’t stop the Allies and the Nazis from trying to replicate it and making more super soldiers.

What followed was as series of experiments to see if the formula could be replicated.  In the case of the Allies, they forced a regiment of African Amerian soldiers to act as human guinea pigs for the serum, because people are awful and mid 20th century America didn’t really care about black people.

The results were catastrophic and disturbing.

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...and the horror that ensued, graphic illustration of a moral low-point in human and US history.

However, five test subjects did survive to be sent off to the war and one manged to come home.  His name was Isaiah Bradley and he was the first black Captain America.

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Despite having every right to be pissed off at the people giving him orders, Isaiah did his job and did it well.  He managed to swipe one of Captain America’s spare shields and uniforms and kick a lot of Nazi butt.

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He was even captured by the Nazis but was rescued before he could be dissected and studied.

His country decided to reward his bravery and accomplishments by court marshaling him and throwing him into prison in 1943 because sometimes life just takes a steaming dump on you and there is nothing you can do about it.

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He was later pardoned by President Eisenhower in 1960.

At the end of the series, Steve Rogers managed to find out about the program that created Isaiah and tried to make things better.  Unfortunately, the serum had a debilitating effect on Isaiah’s mind and he suffered Alzheimer’s like symptoms until he had the mental capacity of a child.

The last panel of the series is one of the most heartbreaking and sweetest panels I’ve ever seen.

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Impact of the comic

Within the Marvel Universe, Isaiah Bradley became a symbol and a living legend within the black community.

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Also, he served as a grandfather like figure and inspiration to many of Marvel’s black superheroes.  Even Black Panther gives him a massive amount of respect.

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While he was immensely popular with other black heroes he remained unknown by many white superheroes

Sadly, even after he did his time and served his country the United States government tried to use him and duplicate the experiment.  They wound up creating a clone that was born from a surrogate mother.  The child managed to escape and named himself Josiah X.

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Isaiah also had a grandson named Elijah Bradly who would go on to become the superhero Patriot.

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I’ve talked about race relations in comic books before.  When the industry really started taking off it was not kind to men and women of color.  While I do think things have gotten  better there is still a wide discrepancy between black creators and superheroes and white creators and superheroes in terms of audience and exposure.  But, thankfully things are getting even better and I believe only good things are in store for the future.

Truth: Red, White, and Black is one of the most brutal and uncompromising comic books out there and it is well worth your time and money.  It takes one of the ugliest events in American history and manages to turn it into something that is not only educational but one of the sweetest and most important comic book stories in the past twenty years.

Thank you for reading this article!  Besides weekly blog posts about comic books and superheroes Cambrian Comics also publishes a bi weekly web comic called “The Secret Lives of Villains” and the first volume is up for sale on Amazon here!  If you enjoyed this article please feel free to support us by picking up a copy.  Thanks again!

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Power Scourge

Today we’re talking about a graphic novel currently seeking funding on Kickstarter called Power Scourge.

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The project is created by a company called Visionary Comics and is seeking $30,000 in funding by October 16th.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/470321830/power-scourge-superpowers-gone-wild-graphic-novel/description

Power Scourge is an anthology book detailing a mysterious event called the “Starburst” and the fallout of the event where thousands of people on Earth start mysteriously developing superpowers.

Patient Zero of the superpower plague - Art by Dani Mendoza, Colors by Tom Long.

Nobody knows exactly what’s going on except there is a strange alien device being built in downtown Richmond VA,

An alien superstructure begins taking shape in Richmond, signaling a definitive shift in the crisis. Art by Paris Cullins, Colors by Tom Long.

and the creators of the project are hinting at a strange race of super powered beings known as “The Everlasting” who appear to be playing a much larger role in this strange event than the creators are letting on.

The Chronicler - one of the mysterious Everlasting who bears witness to the Power Scourge! Art by C. Edward Sellner

While the creators of the this project are being frustratingly vague with plot details, I believe this idea is interesting enough to warrant your time, your attention, and your money.

Why I like it

In almost every superhero comic I’ve ever read super powers are limited to a few,

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well…a distinct selection of men and women with special abilities, the right heritage, or incredible luck.

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This makes sense considering that it makes sense to keep your perspective limited and focused from a story telling point of view.  In a world filled with superpowers, what makes superheroes special enough to tell stories about?

Power Scourge takes this idea and flips in on its head.  There are no billionaires who decided to become superheroes, there are no alien devices that chose a specific wearer, and there are no top secret government agencies that have humans deadly enough to go toe to toe with gods and win.  The powers are introduced to our society suddenly, dramatically, and seemingly without reason and it looks like humanity will react in a pretty predictable way.

What starts as a typical day in downtown Atlanta, Georgia quickly escalates into something never before imagined! Art by Dani Mendoza, Colors by Tom Long.

Almost any writer/creator will tell you that chaos and confusion make for the best story set ups and this graphic novel promises a lot of chaos.

The Cosmic Champion SoulStar plays a critical role in Power Scourge - but its not one you would expect! Art by C. Edward Sellner

Why you should donate

First and foremost, this Kickstarter project promises to be the start of something big: a fully functioning comic book universe with plenty of spin offs and a chance to glimpse into a much bigger world that will be developed into other titles.

This project allows anyone who donates to potentially witness a new generation of superheroes and ideas for superhero comics and I think that’s something special.

Also, I mentioned in the beginning that this was an anthology work and here is a sample of some of the writers and artists that are on board with this story and some of their work.

Writer Ron Marz

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Artist Craig Rousseau

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Artist Steve Ellis

and writer Jimmy Palmiotti

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Needless to say, there is an amazing group of very talented writers and artists working on this project and I hope to see a lot more in the future.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/470321830/power-scourge-superpowers-gone-wild-graphic-novel/description

Golden Age Showcase: The Blue Diamond

When you look at the subject of today’s blog post, the Blue Diamond is probably one of the more thought out and coherent Golden Age superheroes we’ve ever talked about.

Despite the fact the he was well put together and could have made it though the 1940’s with more famous Timely heroes like Captain America and Namor the Submariner he appears on this series because he was only able to last through two issues in the 1940’s.  However, the Blue Diamond does have one thing that sets him apart from many of the other heroes we’ve talked about on this blog.  He is one of the best showcases of how to take an old school hero who doesn’t have a whole lot of backstory and character and turn him/her into a fully fleshed out and realized part of a much larger comic book universe.

Origin and Career

The Blue Diamond first appeared in Daring Mystery Comics #7 in April of 1941.

Daring Mystery Comics Vol 1 7

The hero’s real name was Professor Elton Morrow (get it?) and he was an archaeologist.

Professor Morrow was on an expedition to the Antarctic and instead of finding an army of Shaggoths and Elder Things (H.P Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness if you’re interested) he found a giant glowing diamond.

Unfortunately while on the journey home Morrow’s ship was found by a German U boat.  Despite the fact that the United States was technically neutral at this time the Nazis torpedoed the boat and when they discovered Morrow floating in the wreckage clutching the container that held the diamond they shot at him with a machine gun.

Historical side note: it is nearly impossible to overstate just how terrifying German U boats were to the American population at the time.

The Nazis were actually able to attack American shipping in American waters for a time during the war, which explains why a large number of villains in the early war period comic books were U boat captains and enemy submarines.

Anyway, back to the Blue Diamond.

Despite the fact that Professor Morrow had been machine gunned in the middle of the ocean he actually wound up surviving.  It turned out that the diamond had absorbed most of the impacts from the bullets and had fractured into thousands of pieces and most of those pieces had embedded themselves into Professor Morrow, granting him diamond hard skin and immunity from pain and external damage.

Naturally, the heroic minded professor decided to use his powers to become a hero and the Blue Diamond was born.

Professor Morrow would go on to have one more adventure in the 1940’s in the following issue of Daring Mystery Comics.  

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In this issue Professor Morrow was investigating a collection of bodies that appeared to be “Mongolian aboriginals” (he was an archaeologist after all) when suddenly the bodies sprang to life and walked out the door!

Morrow changed into his Blue Diamond costume and followed the ghouls to the basement of the Federal Reserve bank where he literally beats some sense into the helpless zombies.

It turned out that the “ghouls” were actually hypnotized people who were under the influence of the evil Dr. Eric Karlin.

 

Karlin was a master hypnotist who was sent to America by the Nazis in order to steal back German gold that America had confiscated at the beginning of the war.

The wicked doctor also had a habit of throwing his enemies into a vat of acid and displaying their remains in his lab.  The Blue Diamond confronted Dr. Karlin at his hide out and during the fight the hero knocked the villain into that vat of acid, killing him.

The Blue Diamond was horrified at what he had done but felt that his actions were justified because they helped give Dr. Karlin’s victims some peace.

So what happened?

The Blue Diamond got lost in the explosion of comics during and after World War Two.  Daring Mystery Comics was replaced by the Comedy Comics title the following month,

and while Timely would later revive the Daring Mystery line a few years later the Blue Diamond was in the new line up.

However, the Blue Diamond had something that a lot of comic book characters of the time didn’t have: pedigree.

The Blue Diamond had been created by comic book legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two men who were responsible for the creation of Captain America among other famous Marvel heroes.

which meant that even though the Blue Diamond didn’t survive the 1940’s, he was still big enough for other comic book creators to remember him.

The Blue Diamond would be reborn in Marvel Premiere #29 in April of 1976.

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This was the first appearance of a group known as the Liberty Legion, a superhero team that was set in the past of World War Two and was made up of old Timely characters.

It’s worth noting that this book was first published in the 1970’s, which makes the idea of mining older titles and stories for nostalgia dollars nothing new.

In their first adventure the Liberty Legion was tasked with saving another old school superhero team, the Invaders, from the mind control of the Red Skull.

The Blue Diamond went face to face with Namor the Submariner and managed to capture him although he managed to escape.  The Liberty Legion would later face down the brainwashed Invaders and defeat them a couple issues later.

The Blue Diamond would follow up this adventure by teaming up with the Fantastic Four’s “The Thing”, who had traveled back in time and found himself in several adventures with a variety of Marvel’s heroes.

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You’ll notice that the cover of the comic introduces a new character named “Star Dancer”

See? Ballet!

It turned out that Star Dancer and the Blue Diamond were destined to be husband and wife (as if comics weren’t sappy enough) and she saved the Blue Diamond’s life after he suffered from a heart attack while trying to hold back an angry mob that wanted to attack her.

Star Dancer gave The Blue Diamond a new, more durable body made entirely out of diamond and the two left Earth for the stars.

That was his final appearance as a comic book character, although it was later revealed that the diamond that had given Professor Morrow his powers was actually part of a rock called the Lifestone in Thunderbolts #46

While The Blue Diamond didn’t have much of a Golden Age career he is a prime example of how some characters managed to get a second chance further down the road.  He was a hero with a solid origin story, a cool power set, and most importantly his adventures showcased a special kindness and passion for doing good and protecting those around him that transformed him from a decent superhero to a pretty gosh darn good one.

Here’s hoping he’s still wandering the universe as a happy man.

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.

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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.

Golden Age Showcase: Archie the Gruesome

So I’m a big fan of Captain America: Civil War and the comic book series it sprang from.

One of the big themes of the movie and the comic book series is how so many of the superheroes fight on Captain America’s side simply because he’s Captain freaking America.

I mean who wouldn’t want to charge the gates of Hell itself if you knew it was with this guy?

The reason I bring this up is because even back in the 1940’s Captain America was an inspiration to countless other heroes and even ordinary people.  I bring this up because sometimes even ordinary people can rise to do great things if they have the proper motivation and inspiration and that is something that comic books are great at showing.

Unfortunately, the person we’re talking about today is NOT one of those great people but dammit, he deserves some respect for trying.  Ladies and gentlemen: Archie the Gruesome.

Origin and Career

We’ve covered some pretty obscure old timey superheroes in this blog series but I think this guy takes the cake.  Archie the Gruesome had one Golden Age appearance as the cover character in 1942’s Comedy Comics #10.

Nobody really know who wrote him, nobody really knows who drew him, and he was relegated to a single five page origin story in the comic.

Archie was a street sweeper who was inspired to become a costumed hero after seeing his idol, Captain America.

He didn’t have any powers, he wasn’t part of some secret experiment, he wasn’t blessed/cursed by some sort of magic, he didn’t lose his parents in a tragic accident, he just wanted to do good and I’m going to show the same cover picture again because that is the only image I can find of him.

As you can see, his costume is a parody of Captain America’s, he’s using his broom as a weapon (clearly in an attempt to “clean up the streets”), and the way he’s drawn and presented is clearly meant to not be taken seriously.  His opponent was a fellow street sweeper named Big Joe who was Archie’s polar opposite, preferring to turn to a life of crime rather than a life of heroics.

So what happened?

Shockingly, Archie the Gruesome did not go on to wild fame and success and he disappeared after his first appearance.

However, he would go on to have a role in a limited comic book series published by Marvel in 2011 called All Winners Squad: Band of Heroes.

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The comic book series was a World War 2 comic about a group of old school super powered humans who were drafted into the Allied war effort and were placed into a squad known as “Special Unit, Enhanced Humans” but wound up calling themselves “The Crazy Sues”

They were led by Captain America (obviously) and Archie was their medic.

They didn’t give him much to do in the comic.  He was a capable medic, there was actually one point in the book where he was asked to pump a dying soldier full of morphine while another soldier finished him off, and it was widely assumed that he was killed in battle because the comic book series was cancelled after five issues out of the proposed eight were published and that is why we can’t have nice things.

Archie the Gruesome can easily be thought of as a joke character and most of that thinking would be correct.  However, Archie is a special character in comics and deserves way more credit than he gets.  He saw the world around him, he saw his favorite superheroes doing great things, and not only did he think that was awesome, he actively tried to emulate his heroes and make the world a better place.  He had no powers, no gadgets, and no money but he managed to be one of the truest and greatest heroes around.

Golden Age Showcase: The Blazing Skull

Today I’d like to talk about Ghost Rider for no particular reason.

The character is pretty gosh darn awesome, so awesome that when it was decided that Ghost Rider would have a movie he would be played by one of the greatest actors of our time.

And no, I don’t mean in an ironic way.

If there was one thing that made Ghost Rider iconic it would probably be his face.

Sure the biker look and motorcycle are awesome, but there’s something about a skull wreathed in flames that just screams “awesome”.

That being said, Ghost Rider wasn’t the first superhero (or even the first Marvel hero) to adopt this look.  That honor belongs to a Golden Age comic book hero named the Blazing Skull.

Origin and career:

The Blazing Skull first appeared in Mystic Comics #5 which was published in March of 1941.

Nobody knows who wrote or drew the story and it stands to reason nobody expected him to last very long since he was the last story in the book.

Before we delve into the backstory of the Blazing Skull we need to talk about a bit of history.  Today a lot of people are taught that the Second World War began on September 1st, 1939 with Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the United States would remain out of the war until 1941.

However, the war in Asia actually started two years before Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1937 when Japan invaded China in what became known as the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Without going into too many details let’s just say it was a brutal, awful, and often overlooked part of the war that resulted in some of the worst war crimes ever committed and is one of the biggest reasons why relations between Japan and China are frigid to this day.

So what does this have to do with the Blazing Skull?  Well the hero started off as mild mannered reporter Mark Todd, who was sent into China to cover the Sino Japanese War for the west.

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When Mark was forced into  a cave by a Japanese artillery bombardment he was discovered by a race of beings known as “The Skull Men” who have burning skulls instead of faces.

The Skull Men claim that Mark is destined to become a champion for freedom and train the former newsman until be becomes just like them.

In terms of powers the Burning Skull is immune to fire (naturally), has super strength, a healing factor, and can use fire as a long range weapon.

It’s worth mentioning that in his Golden Age appearances The Burning Skull’s origin was never revealed and his origin wouldn’t be hashed out until the 1990’s (we’ll get to that).  He would go on to have a short but respectable Golden Age career appearing in five issues.  In his very first issue he was actually captured by the Nazis, tortured by Hitler himself, and not only survived but insulted the Fuhrer so badly that Adolf was forced to leave the room crying.

He would have one more adventure in Europe where he wound up saving Winston Churchill’s life, and returned to the States where he spent the rest of his days fighting more traditional crooks.  Special mention goes to a Blazing Skull story where he defeated a serial killer named Dr. Fear.

 So what happened?

The Blazing Skull only lasted a year and then disappeared off of the face of the Earth.  However, he must have been memorable enough for someone to think of him because he had something of a resurgence in the comic book boom of the 1990’s.

In Marvel’s 1993 WW2 series The Invaders The Blazing Skull joins the titular superhero group to kick some retro Nazi butt.

This was where his famous origin story was formed and where it was revealed he was a reporter by trade.

He had several adventures with the Invaders, he even helped save Namor the Submariner’s life and helped break up a German spy ring in England.

While not much is known about the Blazing Skull between WW2 and the modern day it was later revealed that the Blazing Skull had been kidnapped by Middle Eastern terrorists and had been tortured for extended periods of time until he was finally rescued and asked to restart his superhero work.

He was recruited into The Defenders who are based out of New Jersey after the Marvel Comic event “Civil War” (hey we actually managed to tie this guy into more familiar stories!) and in his most recent appearance he worked with Howard the Duck as part of a superhero team trying to stop Nazi zombies from attacking other dimensions, only to be ripped apart by zombified goats.

The Blazing Skull may not have had the best beginning but he is a definite case of modern creators taking an idea and making it better.  Plus, he proved that the idea of a hero with a flaming skull for a face is badass and awesome.

Golden Age Showcase: Electro

So last week we decided to take a look at the Phantom Reporter, a hero who only lasted one issue in the 1940’s but found new life in a modern story about Golden Age superheroes called “The Twelve”

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That turned out to be a popular post so let’s take a look at another one of the heroes form this story, one who managed to last a bit longer than one issue and proved to be a major player in the modern comic book series: Electro.

Origin and career:

Electro was created by writer/artist Steve Dhalman and debuted in Marvel Mystery Comics Issue #4 in 1940 as a backup feature to more popular heroes of the time such as the Human Torch and the Sub Mariner.

Electro was a robot created by Professor Philo Zog in the name of helping all of mankind.

Electro was an actual robot, not a human flying around in a robotic suit like Iron Man.  Electro was controlled by a special microphone/telephone created by the professor that could be used to summon the robot and make it do its master’s bidding.

The robot itself was pretty powerful in its own right.  Capable of running at speeds in excess of 100 mph, impervious to most firearms and explosives, and capable of lifting a human being with little to no difficulty

Electro was certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Philo Zog’s creation would have a fairly long and successful life as a back up feature in the Marvel Mystery series, which was one of Timely Comic’s biggest and most successful series at the time.  What’s interesting is that many of these stories weren’t really about Electro the Robot but rather about Philo Zog and a collection of twelve human agents who worked for Zog known as “Secret Operatives”.  Basically an Electro story would go something like this: one of the Secret Operatives would be sent out to investigate a crime or disturbance (this could range anywhere from a kidnapping to preventing a full blown international civil war) stumble on something that was far too big for one man to handle, call in Electro, and the robot would make quick work of whatever criminal/drug dealer/dictator/alien was a threat that day.

Electro’s final Golden Age appearance was in Marvel Mystery #19 where Professor Zog and Electro manage to fend off a crazed mad scientist who invents an invisibility potion.  While Electro was defeated by one of the mad scientist’s servants who was using the potion the robot did go out with a bang after fighting off two gorillas.

So what happened?

The robot and his twelve agents just stopped being published, I guess he just wasn’t popular enough to last.

While the creation of Professor Zog wouldn’t be revived until 2008 the name Electro would live on in Marvel history: first as a Soviet agent who fought Captain America in 1954 when Marvel Comics was known as Atlas Comics

and second as the more well known Spider Man villain who made his first appearance in Amazing Spider Man #9 in 1964.

But we’re here to talk about the Golden Age Electro, the one who appeared in the 2008 series The Twelve.

During WW2 Electro was sent to Europe to fight off the Nazis.  He proved incredibly effective and popular with the soldiers, although the Phantom Reporter commented that it was somewhat “creepy” that a man could be killed by remote control.

The series starts off with twelve Golden Age heroes assaulting a bunker in 1945 Berlin.  However, they were discovered, captured by the Nazis, and placed in suspended animation for further study. However, it was too late and everyone who was tied to the project was either killed or captured leaving the twelve heroes trapped in stasis for years.

In 2007 a construction project uncovered the heroes and they were returned to the United States for reintegration into society.  Unfortunately for Electro he remained deactivated and it turned out that the robot had been controlled by a highly sophisticated device that allowed the user to control the robot with his or her mind.  Unfortunately for Professor Zog the shock of losing his robot was too much for his brain and it was reported that he “died of loneliness”.

During this time Professor Zog’s niece attempted to regain possession of her uncle’s device but couldn’t raise the money to take care of it.

Ms. Zog wound up reaching a deal with another hero from the Twelve called the Blue Blade.

In exchange for using the robot in a show the Blue Blade would give Ms. Zog all the money she would need to reclaim the robot.  However, something went wrong and the robot wound up killing the Blue Blade.

It turned out that the robot had not remained idle all these years.  In an attempt to re connect with his old master Electro’s primitive brain began reaching out in an attempt to find a new mind to connect with.  He wound up discovering the mind of another one of the twelve heroes, a Golden Age hero called Dynamic Man, and wound up basically becoming Dynamic Man’s servant.

Dynamic Man was revealed to be evil and used Electro to slaughter innocent people in cold blood.  However, Dynamic Man was eventually stopped at great cost to the rest of the Twelve and Electro reverted back to being a docile robot.

However, this was not the end of Electro’s career.  It turned out that Electro could only be used by one of the twelve heroes that had been placed in suspended animation.  The United States government wound up reaching an agreement with Zog’s niece where they would pay her to use her uncle’s invention for military use.  His was last seen being operated by another one of the Twelve, a hero called the Laughing Man, and tearing through the Middle East with some heavily upgraded weapons.

If you want to get technical than Electro wasn’t really a hero.  He was simply a tool, an invention created by a well meaning scientist who simply wanted to make the world a better place.  But the story of Electro represents some important themes that can be found in a lot of superhero stories: that power isn’t nearly as important as the choices made by those who use it.

Golden Age Showcase: Patricia Walker

I know we just started looking at Golden Age super villains and I promise we’ll get back to them next week but over the weekend I decided to give some credit to another group that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in the blog series, women.

Like many people who will probably read this article I spent the weekend watching Marvel’s new Netflix show Jessica Jones.

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For those of you who want my opinion on the show I like it.  It’s engaging, brutal, intense, the action is great, the acting is great, it has an amazing supporting cast (LUKE CAGE!!), and David Tenant is one of the most chilling super villains I’ve seen on screen

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However, during one of the episodes something caught my eye about Jessica’s best friend and step sister Trish Walker.

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Without spoiling too much of the show Patsy is a former child star who has her own talk show, plenty of money, and lots of fans.  During an episode one of these fans approaches her with a comic book for her to sign and talks about how she used to have red hair.  That got me curious and a quick Google search revealed that Patsy Walker was actually a Golden Age teen comedy comic book series that was first published in 1944

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which technically puts her in the Golden Age but what’s really interesting is that she would later become the superhero Hellcat.

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So we have a Golden Age comic book character who was originally part of a non superhero franchise donning a cape and mask to fight crime.  What happened?  Let’s find out.

Origin and Career

In order to understand the early days of Trish Walker we have to take a brief looking into post World War 2 comic book history.  After the Allies won the war and America finished kicking Nazi and Japanese butt the American public grew tired of superheroes and as a result many comic book companies either went out of business or started publishing comics in other genres.  Believe it or not there was a time when superhero comics weren’t the biggest sellers.  Instead comic book publishers started moving into other genres like horror

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westerns

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and romance.

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The original Patsy Walker fell into the teen comedy genre of comics, a genre that is nowhere near as popular as it once was but still lives on in one of the most enduring comic book titles the world has ever known

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Back to Miss. Walker, Patsy was first published in 1944 in Miss America Magazine 

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The character and comic was created by Canadian artist and comic book pioneer Ruth Atkinson

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who was one of the first female artists and character creators in a genre that was (and still is) dominated by the guys.

Patsy Walker was created to be very much a “girl character”.

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She lived the American teenage dream with her suburban parents, had a boyfriend Robert Baxter, and a safe non threatening rivalry with another girl named Hedy Wolfe.  They went on dates

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went to the beach

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and engaged in safe, non threatening, hilarious hi jinks.

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And it all sold like hotcakes.  When the Golden Age of comics ended in 1953 and the whole medium was under siege from angry parents who burned comic books due to fears that it caused juvenile delinquency

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Patsy Walker continued to be published and sell until 1965, with several spin off series lasting even longer.  Fun fact: 1961’s Patsy Walker #95 

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was actually one of the first comic books to be published under Timely Comic’s (they changed their name to Atlas Comics in 1951) new banner: Marvel Comics.  So thanks to this teenage girl who did little more than hang out with her friends and go on dates with her boy friend we may not have the Marvel comic book universe we know today.

So what happened?

The 1970’s happened.  By 1971 superheroes had come back in a big way and teenage comedies were on their way out.  Patsy and her rival Heady had made cameo appearances in the Marvel Universe in 1965 so it was established that they knew about heroes like the Hulk, Iron Man, and Spider Man.

Now here’s where it gets weird and kind of brilliant.  It turned out that Patsy Walker had merely been the inspiration for the teenage romance comics which had been drawn in universe by her mother Dorothy Walker

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Dorothy had pushed her daughter into modeling and acting by acting as her agent (for those of you who haven’t watched Jessica Jones this factors heavily into the show) and her exposure to comic books as well as the stories of the heroes around her inspired Patsy to want to be a superhero.

She married her child hood sweetheart Robert Baxter who was assigned to work security for a government subsidized company called the Brand Corporation.  There she met Hank McCoy, also known as the X-man Beast,  and convinced him to help her become a hero.

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She wound up ending her marriage and while tagging along with the Avengers she discovered a discarded superhero costume and named herself Hellcat.

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Now here’s where it gets weird.  After a brief stint on Saturn’s moon Titan as the guest of alien princess Moon Dragon (no really)

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she came back with enhanced abilities and extensive martial arts training.  She joined the superhero team the Defenders, which is like the Avengers but more down to Earth and is currently in the process of being formed in Marvel’s Netflix set of shows, and met Damian Hellstrom.  Damian was part demon and naturally the two hit it off.

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The two were married despite the rather violent objections of her ex husband managed to live happy lives right up until the point where Damian reverted back to being a full fledged demon from Hell and scared his wife so much she went into a vegetative state and her soul was sent to Hell.

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She spent quite a bit of time fighting demons in a hellish gladiatorial arena before she was rescued by the Defenders.  Her character started taking on more supernatural enemies after her salvation including an attempt by the warlock Nicholas Scratch to take over her home town of Centerville (which was home to a corporation that was founded on her old comic book fame and where her old rival Hedey worked)

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and she helped defeat an extra dimensional ruler Dormammu.

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Nowadays she’s still around in the Marvel Universe acting as an adviser, consort, and friend to other heroes.  And of course she shed her occult and mystical adventures to become the best friend and erstwhile sidekick of Jessica Jones on Netflix.

Although she may only have a small part to play in the comics and TV shows now, Patsy Walker exists as one of the most peculiar titles in all of comics.  She has one of the longest and most lasting reputations in the medium and has transitioned from teenage dream girl, to costumed superhero, to occult demon slayer, to live action hero supporting cast.  Aren’t comics great?