Golden Age Showcase: Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross

WARNING: This article contains a frank description of the history and politics of the American hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan. This group has a long and ugly history of racist violence that unfortunately continues today.  Also, this article contains images and descriptions that many people will find offensive.  If this bothers you, it is perfectly okay to not read this article.

Superman is 80 years old today!

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Today I want to talk about one of Superman’s greatest, and most important, stories.  It’s not a comic book, it’s a radio show, and it is one of the most important pieces of superhero media ever produced.

It’s Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross, the story where Superman literally, not figuratively but LITERALLY, helped bring down one of the most vile and awful hate groups in American history.

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Background and History

The KKK was a white nationalist group that was initially founded just after the American Civil War in 1865 by a group of former Confederate soldiers.

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Their goal was to intimidate newly freed black slaves and prevent them from voting and trying to improve their lives.

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The Federal Government cracked down on them, declaring them a paramilitary terrorist organization and forbade them from assembling.

While this version of the group was crippled, they would make a comeback in the 1920’s with the premiere of D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: a fictionalized and highly romanticized account of the original klan.

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Unfortunately, the movie was an incredibly effective recruiting tool and the new version of the klan exploded in popularity.  They adjusted their message slightly, instead of targeting black people they became anti immigrant and for the prohibition of alcohol.

They even managed to become involved in politics.

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By the 1940’s the Klan returned to form, campaigning against equal rights for black people across the American South through violence.

One of the people who saw all these horrible things happen was a man named Stetson Kennedy,

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Kennedy was a writer and activist from Florida who saw what was going around him and decided that he didn’t like the KKK very much.  So he decided to do something about it by infiltrating the organization and finding out as much as he could.

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He discovered that the Klan was less intimidating and had some really stupid customs and rituals, not really surprising considering that it’s a bunch of guys dressed in sheets, and decided to make them look as ridiculous as he could.

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Sadly, there was a problem: how was Stetson going to share his information with the public?  What could he use to reach as many people as possible?

This is where The Adventures of Superman radio show came in.

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The show was produced and syndicated by the New York radio station WOR and starred a man named Bud Collyer as Superman and Joan Alexander as Lois Lane.

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In 1946, Mr. Kennedy approached the radio show and asked them if he could use Superman to share his findings about the Klan with the world.  DC comics was more than happy to oblige since the Second World War was over and Superman couldn’t fight German Nazis anymore.  Now he would fight the American version.

Here’s the first part of the radio special for your listening pleasure.  I skipped the first two minutes of the video because it’s an add for a discontinued breakfast cereal called Kellogg Pep, but it’s still pretty good and I highly recommend tracking down the rest of the series and giving it a listen.

So what was the impact?

The effects of the radio broadcast were immediate and massive.  Within two weeks recruitment into the Klan was down, and by 1948 people were openly mocking its members at their rallies.

Kennedy would go on to share the rest of what he learned about the Klan with the authorities, and even wrote several books which led to arrests and prosecutions for several chapters.

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So the Klan was substantially weakened, thanks to Superman.

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Sadly, while the Klan was substantially weakened it wasn’t killed off completely.  The organization maintains a violent anti immigrant and white nationalist stance and holds rallies to this day,

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and there’s a former low level politician named David Duke who is a member of Klan who has gained an unfortunately large amount of attention.

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It’s worth mentioning that the FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes and hate groups in America over the past couple of years, it’s not a very large rise and can be attributed to a small number of very vocal fringe groups.

A lot of people say that Superman is boring, too powerful, and too much of a goody two shoes to be interesting in the modern world.  But in a world that is filled with some awful people and vile ideologies,

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it’s good to know that we have characters like Superman who stand for what is true and just.

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Here’s to 80 more years.

 

 

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Golden Age Showcase; Nelvana of the Northern Lights

Canada.  From what I’ve heard it’s a pretty nice place.

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As an American I may not know a whole lot about our neighbor to the north aside from hockey, poutine, curling, Celine Dion, hockey, maple syrup, universal healthcare, hockey, Justin Bieber, Molson, and hockey, but I do know that Canada has a respectable place in comic book history as the home of Marvel’s greatest cash cow…I mean greatest bad asses: Wolverine.

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and to all the people complaining about me not bringing up Alpha Flight,

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they came out after Wolverine.  But don’t worry, they factor into this article later.

But Wolverine wasn’t the first Canadian superhero.  Everyone’s favorite hairy man with foot long murder knives in his hands was first published in 1974 and it turns out that Canada had been in the comic book publishing business since the Golden Age.

Today we’re going to talk about Canada’s first true superhero: Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

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Origin and Career

Nelvana of the Northern Lights made her first appearance in Triumph Adventure Comics #1 which was published by Hillborough Studios in August of 1941.

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She was created by Canadian comic artist Adrian Dingle,

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who was inspired by stories told by Canadian painter Frank Johnston.

There are a couple of things to note about this comic.  For starters, the cover is in black and white and you’ve probably never heard of Hillsborough Studios.  That’s because the publisher was created by Dingle and two others to create something resembling what we would call an independent publisher today.  The reason why the comic is in black and white is to cut down on costs, partially because it was a small operation, partially due to the lack of resources thanks to the war effort, and partially due to the fact that the Canadian comic book market wasn’t very large at the time.

Nelvana would turn out to be Dingle’s greatest and most lasting success.

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For starters, she was one of the first comic book heroines ever published.  She wasn’t the first, but she beat out Wonder Woman by three months.  However, she was the first truly Canadian superhero and she was a member and protector of the Inuit people,

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and you could make the argument that this makes her one of the first Native American superheroes ever published (someone correct me in the comments if I’m wrong).

Nelvana is a demigoddess, the child of a human mother and a god named Koliak who was the king of the Northern Lights.

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Her powers were pretty fitting for a demi god.  She could fly, turn herself invisible, travel at the speed of light along the Norther Lights, and could summon a heat ray that could melt through almost anything.

Also, she had a brother named Tanero.

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What makes Tanero interesting is that he couldn’t be seen by white men, he had to turn into a dog whenever they were present.  Thankfully, her brother/household pet proved to be useful as a noble steed Nelvana could ride on.

That’s not weird at all.

In her first seven stories, Nelvana and her brother protected the Inuit people from all kinds of threats from slavers to Nazi agents, thus fulfilling the standard “Golden Age hero kicks Nazi butt” quota.

After seven issues, Dingle took his creation to a company called Bell Features, which allowed Nelvana to add some color to her adventures.

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Her stories took a left turn into crazy awesomeness after that.  Now instead of just Nazis and gangsters, Nelvana fought aliens and mad scientists with death rays.

While her enemies became crazier, Nelvana became a bit more grounded.  She adopted the civilian persona Alana North and gave up a good portion of her mystic origin to become the standard spy smasher super heroine that the real life war effort called for.

Fun side note: did you know that the Nazis actually landed on Canadian soil during the war?  They established a weather station on Newfoundland in 1943 and used it to determine weather patterns in Europe for the rest of the war.

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So it turns out that Alana North would have had an actual job on her hands and that threats of invasion weren’t that far off.

So what happened?

While Nelvana was able to hold her own and become a Canadian symbol during the war, she and her publisher could not survive the glut of American comics that flooded the Canadian market when trade restrictions were lifted after the war.  Nelvana had her last appearance in 1947 and Bell Features ceased publication in 1953.

Thankfully, despite her short history, Nelvana’s story actually gets a happy ending.  While she didn’t last very long, her impact on Canadian identity and culture lives on to this day.

The Canadian animation company Nelvana Limited is named after her.

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They bought the rights to the character in 1971 and currently share said rights with Library and Archives Canada.

And for those of you who are upset that I didn’t talk about the Canadian super team Alpha Flight don’t worry, it turns out that Nelvana is actually the mother of one of the team members: Snowbird.

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But the best part of the story is that reprints of her old stories are actually being published to this very day!  In 2013 comic book historian Hope Nicholson launched a Kickstarter campaign to reprint six of Nelvana’s old stories and bring them to a modern audience.

The campaign made its goal in five days and the project is currently being published through IDW.

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Nelvana of the Northern Lights deserves a special place in comic book history as one of the first, and most powerful super heroines in comic books.  While she got left by the wayside due to the limitations of the Canadian comic book industry, she proved that great superheroes don’t have to be American to be popular.

I like to think she was the Canadian version of Superman, a heroine who inspired thousands of other creatives to imagine and create superheroes of their own.

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Golden Age Showcase: Unknown Soldier

This Saturday is Veteran’s Day.

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For our non American readers, this is a holiday where America honors those who have served in the armed forces in conflicts past and present.  It’s also an exciting time for this blog because it’s a great time to talk about war comics!

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When looking at the time period, it’s easy to see why war comics became so popular.  America found itself at war and sent thousands of young men and boys to go off and fight in Europe and the Pacific.

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However, America had the advantage of being separated from the conflict by two massive oceans and it’s people didn’t have to come face to face with the true horrors of war.  With that being said, the United States became a military industrial powerhouse during the war and almost the entirety of American culture became obsessed with doing their part for the war effort and protecting the home front.

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Comic books took advantage of this shift in popular culture, and stories about ordinary soldiers fighting against the forces of evil were quite popular during the Golden Age of Comics both during and after the war.  Many of the greatest artists and writers of the Golden Age of Comics made a living writing and drawing war stories which resulted in some of the most complex and interesting stories of the time, along with some absolutely breathtaking artwork.

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The intent and purpose of the war stories that were written during this time was also pretty varied.  War and combat stories ranged from fantastical adventure stories for young boys staring ordinary soldiers fighting in fantastic situations,

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to very thinly veiled propaganda stories promoting American patriotism and fighting spirit.

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It’s worth noting that most of these adventure and propaganda stories were created and published during the Second World War.  After that war was over and the Korean War began a lot of comics became much more realistic and brutal in their depictions of war.

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So there’s a brief rundown of the early history of war comics.  Unfortunately, since most of the early stories have so much talent behind them and were published by the big important publishers of the day, there isn’t a whole lot of material out there for free reading.  However, today’s comic is available in the public domain and is a pretty interesting look at the early days of the war comic genre.

Today we’re going to talk about the thinly veiled propaganda hero The Unknown Soldier.

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Origin and Career

The Unknown Soldier made his first appearance in Our Flag Comics in 1941.  He was published by a company called Ace Comics and was the title character of the series.

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The funny thing is, despite the fact that he was popular enough to appear on the cover of his debut issue, I can’t find any information on who created him or drew his story.

The hero himself has an interesting backstory, mostly because he really doesn’t have one.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

He’s just a super being who appears out of nowhere firing explosive bullets and using his superpowers to defeat injustice and oppressive “gangster nations”.

What makes this kind of interesting is that this has some pretty close ties to real world American military culture.  In Washington D.C you can visit a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery that honors the unnamed American soldiers who died in every war America has ever fought.

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It’s called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and while the comic doesn’t tie the hero to the memorial, I like to think the creators of the story had this monument in mind when they wrote it.

Anyway, in his debut issue the Unknown Soldier helps defeat the Nazi invasion of Britain.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

It’s worth mentioning that in 1941 this was actually a scenario that was terrifyingly plausible.

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However, in this comic the Nazis don’t succeed because of superior tactics or planning, in fact their kind of idiots, but because of English traitors willing to betray their country to the Nazis known as Fifth Columnists.  We actually get to meet one and learn about his motives.  His name is John Jennings and he has made the classic mistake of believing that his country would be better under the rule of Nazism.

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The Nazi war machine starts rolling and crushes everyone in its wake.

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Thankfully the Unknown Soldier arrives just in time to murder every Nazi he can lay his hands on.

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Naturally, the invasion is turned back but not before the story does something really unique and interesting.  Remember the British fifth columnist John from the beginning?  He has a change of heart when he and his gang of saboteurs attempt to blow up a hospital.

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He actually redeems himself and dies a hero’s death while protecting his mother.

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Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

All while the superhero stands by and does nothing.

So the story isn’t actually about the Unknown Soldier, it’s actually a story of redemption for a man who was once blinded by ideology and hatred and sacrificed himself for a noble cause.

Pretty good stuff for a Golden Age Comic.

After that first adventure the Unknown Soldier continued in a similar capacity.  While the stories were actually about ordinary people doing their part for the war effort, the Unknown Soldier would show up when it was time to knock heads or save someone from dying.

He wasn’t a hero with a secret identity, he was a representation of America’s fighting spirit.

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Also, he got a costume change.

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Despite all the murder done by our hero the creators were quick to make sure that the Nazis were just as bad if not worse.  Case in point, they invade Manhattan and use flamethrowers on civilians.

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So what happened?

Our Flag Comics only lasted five issues, but The Unknown Soldier was popular enough to be moved to another title called Four Favorites where he did pretty much the same thing.

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He lasted for over 16 issues until November of 1945 when he fell into the public domain.

While this Unknown Soldier would fade from the public eye, the idea and name would continue when DC comics published another character called The Unknown Soldier in Our Army at War #168 in 1966.

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The comic was created by DC legends Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, two men who knew how to create a really good war comic.

This version of the Unknown Soldier was a lot more tangible and slightly more realistic.  Instead of a real superhero, the Unknown Soldier was an intelligence operative who was so disfigured that he had to bandage his face.

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He was actually a master of disguise and in his final appearance, he kills Hitler and disguises himself as the dictator to end the war without further loss of life.

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This iteration proved to be a bit more popular and he got a new limited series in 1997 under the Vertigo imprint at DC.

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As for the original Unknown Soldier, he would make a slight comeback in 2008 when Dynamite Entertainment launched their Project Superpowers title to bring many of the Golden Age public domain heroes back into the mainstream.

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He was renamed “Soldier Unknown” to avoid copyright issues with DC.

As a superhero the Unknown Soldier is not a very good one.  He’s bland, he has no backstory or secret identity, and he’s even more overpowered than Superman.  But that’s not really important.  The Unknown Soldier isn’t a hero, he’s a symbol of something much greater than himself, the creators who made him, and any single person.  He is the personification of the fighting spirit that rises up against tyranny and oppression, and while it would be nice to have known his name, it’s important that we know that he did his job so we could live.

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Happy Veteran’s Day everyone.

Golden Age Showcase: Spy Smasher

Sigh, so we can all agree that these last couple of months have been pretty crappy right?

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I’m not going to go into any great detail on this matter, you can watch the news for that, but I will say that if the heroes that I write about in this blog were alive and around today…I’d think they would be very disappointed.

I thought this would be a good place to put the picture of Captain America punching Hitler, but I thought this one would be more apropos.

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Thank you Superman.

The sad truth is that the reality of the situation is, and always has been, complicated.  While these comic books were created to provide a morale boost to the men and women fighting against fascism,

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fascism had a very real presence in America since it became a thing.

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Yes, those are swastikas next to the American flag and a picture of George Washington.  This is a picture from 1938 at a Nazi rally in New York.  This was a thing right up to the point where we started fighting the Nazis.

One of the things that we’ve been seeing in a lot of these Golden Age comics are superheroes who don’t go off to Europe to fight the Nazis, they find plenty of them here.  While there was a war to fight across the ocean a comic book hero could always find a spy ring, saboteurs, or enemy agents hiding around with plans to disable the war effort.

Maybe the heroes saw that there were other threats that were much closer to home, or maybe they just wanted to save money on air travel.

Either way, let’s dive into some escapism and talk about a hero who held down the home front against the scourge of Nazi spies: the eloquently named Spy Smasher.

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Origin and Career

Spy Smasher was first published by Fawcett Comics and was created by Bill Parker and C.C Beck, the two men who originally created Captain Marvel.

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The hero made his first appearance in Whiz Comics #2 in February of 1940, an issue that was actually the first issue of the Whiz Comics title and has one of the most iconic covers in comic book history.

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The story starts off with a literal bang, someone is sabotaging American military vessels.

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Wait, $20 million dollars for an aircraft carrier?  What a bargain!

Naturally this worries a lot of very powerful men in Washington, and one man decides to share potentially dangerous information with his daughter and fiancee.

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Nazi spies in America?  Preposterous!

Meanwhile, the spies themselves have been busy and decide to steal plans for a mine laying ship, only to be foiled by the timely arrival of the Spy Smasher.  They are led by a fairly creepy individual known as “The Mask”.

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The hero manages to pursue the villains in his Gyrosub.  This is a vehicle that serves as a helicopter, an airplane, speedboat, a submarine, and a completely ridiculous looking vehicle.

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Eat your heart out Batmobile!

Long story short, the hero winds up defeating the spies, even though the main villain escapes.

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The day is saved and the plans are returned.

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In a fairly ballsy move, the creators didn’t reveal the identity of the Spy Smasher in the first issue.  In fact, they didn’t reveal the secret identity of the Spy Smasher for most of his stories.  Sure, it may have been a clever marketing ploy, but even children would have thought it was weird that Spy Smasher and Alan Armstrong were never in the same panel together, and how Alan disappeared whenever there was trouble, or how Spy Smasher had a strange fascination with the woman who was Alan’s fiancee.

Spy Smasher was Alan Armstrong is what I’m trying to say.

It turned out that Spy Smasher’s battles with his arch nemesis the Mask turned him into a pretty popular hero.  He was so popular that he actually had a crossover with Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics #16 where he turned evil and tries to hypnotize the hero into doing his bidding.

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But it’s okay because it turned out that it had all been a ploy by the Mask to hypnotize and brainwash the now dead Mask to do his bidding.

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Spy Smasher continued to have a career after the war, although he did change his name to Crime Smasher to fit with the times.

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So what happened?

Alan Armstrong remained a popular staple of Fawcett Comics, right up to the point where they were forced to stop publishing comics in 1953 after losing a lawsuit to DC Comics that claimed they had ripped off Superman.

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While Captain Marvel would go on to have a pretty successful career (he’s called Shazam! now due to copyright issues) Spy Smasher fell by the wayside.  I guess when there are just no more spies to smash you don’t really have a future.  Why they didn’t decide to use him to hunt Soviet spies is beyond me.

Spy Smasher would go on to have a limited career, barely used but not forgotten.  One of his most notable appearances was in the excellent tv show Justice League Unlimited where he appeared in the opening of the episode “Patriot Act”,

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and in Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey series she introduced a character named Katarina Armstrong, a highly skilled global anti terrorism agent with a costume that was heavily inspired by the original Spy Smasher.

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While she looks like Spy Smasher and has his last name, any potential relationship the two may have had is not revealed.

In many ways Spy Smasher had the same career trajectory that a lot of Golden Age superheroes had.  He was popular in the 1940’s and while he fell by the wayside after the comics industry crashed, he was fondly remembered by those who knew and would go on to be an influence for the superheroes of the future.

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If you ask me it’s a crying shame that nobody uses him any more, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind coming out of retirement to fight a few more Nazi spies on American soil.

Golden Age Showcase: Bulletman

Quickly, when you hear the name “Bulletman”, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

Personally I image some sort of dark, brooding, Punisher type hero who lets his guns do the talking and they aren’t taking “no” for an answer.

Kind of like what you might have found in a lot of comics from the 1990’s.

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Side note: the above image is a character named Overtkill.  Yes, that is how you spell his name.

Well, in the 1940’s a company called Fawcett Comics created a character named Bulletman and he looked like this:

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Good Lord…that hat!

Origin and Career

Bulletman made his first appearance in Nickel Comics #1 in May of 1940.

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He was published by Fawcett Comics and was created by writer/editor Bill Parker and artist John Smalle.

Bill Parker created Fawcett’s most popular character, Captain Marvel.

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Remember this, it will be important later.

As for origins, Bulletman’s civilian identity is Jim Barr.  His story takes a welcome break from the “I’m just going to fight crime because I’m rich and I have nothing better to do” school of thought and takes its cues from the Batman school of crime fighting.  Namely, his parents get killed by criminals so he decides to fight crime at a young age.

Comic Book Cover For Nickel Comics #1

No word on what happened to his mom.

A couple of things are interesting in this origin story.  First, the boy is a scientist and never had any aspirations to be an athlete, so that’s a pretty good deviation from the norm.

Second, he develops a “crime cure” because he believes that crime is a disease that can be treated like malaria or small pox.

Wow, there’s…enough to unpack in that last panel alone to fill an entire book.  So let’s skip over that and save it for arguing in the comments.

Sadly, Jim suffers from the plight that all smart people seem to suffer from in fiction, having his career hampered by idiots and jocks.

Comic Book Cover For Nickel Comics #1

Three things to note here on this page.  First, this is the best scan I could find.  Second, the only one who believes in him is a pretty lady named Susan Kent, who eventually becomes his girlfriend and wife.  Finally, notice how the cop in the second to last panel is openly justifying torture to extract a confession from a criminal using a rubber hose.

Meanwhile the “crime cure” works!  Sort of…

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I mean, it turns him into a superhero so yeah…he gets to cure crime by punching things.

He continues his reckless use of using things without testing them by building a gravity defying helmet and leaping out a window before it can be tested.

Comic Book Cover For Nickel Comics #1

Thankfully the helmet works, even if he looks hilarious in it, and he manages to stop the criminals and save the day.

Bulletman would go on to be one of Fawcett’s most successful heroes, second only to Captain Marvel.  After his career took off (har har) he did something strange and actually didn’t fight Nazis or Nazi spies.  Instead he fought criminals both with his superpowers and as a police scientist.

Of course, just punching people can get boring pretty quickly so in April of 1941 Bulletman appeared in Master Comics #12 and his lady friend Susan Kent wound up discovering his identity.

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The police chief’s daughter did in a matter of months what Lois Lane couldn’t do in years and in the following issue she confronts him about it.

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The two wind up reconciling after Susan saves Bulletman’s life by giving herself the same powers and “finding an extra helmet lying around”.

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And the two became a crime fighting couple to be reckoned with.

So what happened?

By all accounts Bulletman and Bulletgirl should have survived into the modern day.  He was a popular character, he had an interesting backstory, and he was regularly seen with one of the most popular superheroes of the 1940’s.

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And that was the problem.  See, while Fawcett Comics had a huge amount of success with Captain Marvel it turned out that his greatest enemy wasn’t a super villain, but legal action.

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It turned out that DC Comics looked at the hordes of tall white guys with super strength, super speed, flight, and a secret identity and decided that a lot of them were a little too close to their big time money maker: Superman.

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We can debate the truth to this statement all day, but what’s not debatable is the results and in the case National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Comics National Comics won and Fawcett was forced to pay damages and cease publication of Captain Marvel.

It’s worth mentioning that the case made its first initial court appearance in 1941 with the final decision made a decade later, making this one of the longest copyright cases in comic book history.

Fawcett was decimated by the case and ceased publishing comics in 1953, and while they would restart publishing comics in the 60’s, they wound up handing their entire stable of superheroes over to DC comics in 1972.

Bulletman and Bulletgirl made the leap as well and appeared in a new superhero group called “The Squadron of Justice” to defeat the forces of a villain named King Kull.

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They kept the helmets because why the hell not?  They make the costume.

The two would be moved into the All Star Squadron, a DC Comics superhero team that was placed in a universe where World War 2 was still happening.

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The two would go on to have a fairly important supporting role in DC’s SHAZAM! books. He got to meet Green Lantern mentor Abin Sur,

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and at one point, Bulletman was actually accused of being a Nazi collaborator in 1998’s Starman #39 although he was naturally cleared of all charges.

Bulletman and Bulletgirl would also have a kid!  In 1997 they had a kid named Deana who donned her mother’s helmet and became the hero Windshear.

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She dated Captain Marvel for a bit and helped her Dad rescue Marvel from a villain named Chain Lightening.

The group has even inspired copies of their own, although they were all published within DC Comics so there was no court case.  In 2005 Grant Morrison published a book series called Seven Soldiers, which was based on many of the old Fawcett characters.  Bullet girl became “Bulleteer” and she looked like this.

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So nice to know the phallic helmets didn’t just remain, they got bigger.

In a way I’m upset that Bulletman and Bulletgirl wound up where they are today.  By all accounts they should still be around today since they did hold their own with some of the big name heroes of the Golden Age of Comics and the fact that they were a capable pairing as husband and wife adds an interesting dynamic that you don’t really see with a lot of comic book superheroes.

They were a solid team with a solid story and a solid power set and deserve a place right alongside their famous colleague Captain Marvel.

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Golden Age Showcase: Etta Candy

WARNING!  THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS FOUL LANGUAGE USED FOR COMEDIC EFFECT!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Today is the third day in our coverage of the new Wonder Woman movie, which comes out this Friday!

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I am so goddamned pumped for this movie!

Now, while it would probably make sense for us to talk about Wonder Woman this week we’re not going to.  Don’t worry, an in depth discussion of Wonder Woman is coming next week but for now I want to talk about a member of our heroine’s supporting cast.  She’s a redheaded (sometimes blonde) powerhouse who takes no lip from anyone and if this was any other comic book movie she would probably be the focus instead of the heroine.

Today we’re talking about Etta Candy.

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Origin and Career

So remember when I said there would be foul language in this article?  It’s mostly here.

The character was conceived by Wonder Woman’s original creator, William Moulton Marston.

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She made her first appearance in Sensation Comics #2,

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the issue that also gave us Dr. Poison who we talked about last week.

Her backstory is pretty simple.  She was  skinny, scrawny girl who Wonder Woman met in a hospital, waiting to get her appendix removed.  When she was cured she put on a few pounds.

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How do I describe Etta as a character?  Simple.

Etta Candy gives no fucks.

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Etta Candy takes no shit.

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Etta Candy once helped defeat an ENTIRE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMP with nothing but a box of chocolates because she heard there were starving children being held there.

Etta knocks out a Nazi guard as she takes down the power grid.

Etta Candy is amazing.

Some of the more eagle eyed readers might observe that Etta Candy is a rather large women, some might even say she isn’t all that attractive.

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Etta hears your comments and doesn’t give two shits about what you think.  She’s large and damn proud of it.

You will also notice that Etta has something of an…unhealthy obsession with sweets.

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I love how in this universe filled with super humans, monsters, and legitimate gods that walk the Earth, Etta takes it all in stride and treats it just like nothing is out of the ordinary.

She needs no gods or men,

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chocolate is the only god she needs.

Despite her awesomeness, even Etta realized that she can’t take on the entire Nazi war machine alone, so she brought along some help in the form of her sisters from the fictional Beta Lambda sorority of Holliday College.

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Naturally, Etta was their leader.

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The girls proved to be incredibly helpful to Wonder Woman’s mission and kicked all sorts of ass.

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They would have given Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos a run for their money.  Why the Allied war effort even bothered to send regular troops to Europe is completely beyond me.

We even got to learn a bit more about Etta’s life after the war.  It turned out she had a family who lived on a Texas Ranch.  She even had a boyfriend.  His name was Oscar Sweetgulper.

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Are you picturing these two getting it on?  Because that is what I’ve been imagining for the past week.

Naturally, Wonder Woman brought Etta back to her home, where she was adored by her sister Amazons.  Also, she had no trouble going up against the more mythological creatures and villains of the comic series.

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In short (pun not intended) Etta was one of the greatest sidekicks in the early days of comics and remains one of Marston’s most fantastic creations.

So what happened?

You see this man?  The one smoking the pipe?

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That’s Robert Kanigher, a comic book writer who took over writing the Wonder Woman comic from Marston when he died in 1947.

Now, Kanigher is pretty well known and did some cool stuff over his career.  He wrote some of the early Blue Beetle adventures and he wrote what is widely considered to be the first Silver Age comic, which saw the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash.

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However, when Kanigher took over Wonder Woman not only did he barley use Etta, he changed the character to the point where she was no longer the leader of her sorority and she was insecure about her weight.

To make things even worse, she was relegated to the position of idiot secretary in the Wonder Woman tv show, where she was played by actress Beatrice Cohen.

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BOOOOOOOO!!!

POOR FORM!

WHAT THE SHIT DC?!

She became so obscure that I can’t find a picture of her from the 1950’s all the way to the 1980’s.

Thankfully, the writers and creators at DC realized what they had done and managed to bring Wonder Woman’s best friend back from the grave…sort of.

In 1987 artist writer/artist duo Greg Potter and George Perez revamped Wonder Woman for the modern age and brought Etta back.

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She was no longer a large woman, but she was a capable Air Force officer and an aid to Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s former love interest.

I say former, because Etta and Steve wound up getting married.

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She still had reservations about her weight and even developed an eating disorder.

During the New 52 revamp, DC brought Etta back again.  This time she was a black lady who was Steve’s secretary and close personal friend.

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She would also make a comeback in DC’s Rebirth series, where she’s still Steve’s secretary.

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That’s how she’s appeared in the main continuity of DC comics.  Some of it was good, most of it made it seem like DC was embarrassed of the character which is just…a crying shame.

Thankfully there were plenty of spin offs and interpretations of Wonder Woman that brought Etta back into her original role.

For example, here she is in the non continuity of DC’s Earth One timeline.

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and more recently the comic series The Legend of Wonder Woman brought her back to her original Golden Age appearance.

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She will be portrayed by British actress Lucy Davis in the Wonder Woman film,

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and if the trailer is any indication, I think she’ll be amazing at it and do the character justice.

Etta is an amazing character and a good friend to Wonder Woman.  In an industry that gets a lot of flak for not being very friendly to women, especially large women, Etta takes those critiques and smashes them over the head.  All with grace, poise, and a box of chocolates in hand.

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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: Dr. Hormone

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry.

When I started this blog nearly two years ago (holy crap!  It’s been two years!) I started this series to talk about the strange and peculiar superheroes of the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Sure, we’ve covered some weird ones,

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and ones who have gone on to have long and illustrious careers,

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and some heroes who had a cool idea behind them but either didn’t quite make it or were relegated to a life behind the scenes.

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But today…today is different.

This superhero is so obscure, strange, and downright silly that I feel ashamed to have not brought him to your attention sooner.  Thankfully, he was brought to my attention by a reddit commentator named “apocoluster” (thank you for that by the way) and this blog is better for it.

Today we’re talking about the one and only…Dr. Hormone.

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Origin and Career

The unfortunately named doctor made his first appearance in Dell Comics Popular Comics #54 in August of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

He didn’t even get a text advertisement on the cover, not the most promising start.

He was created a mysterious figure named Bob Bugg.

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I have no idea who this person is, no idea what he or she looked like, and no idea if that is an actual name or a pseudonym.

I’m willing to bet the actual creator wanted to keep his or her identity secret out of shame.

Like most Golden Age characters, his origin was quite simple and explained in a single page.

 Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

The man was on death’s door and managed to make himself younger again, thus cheating death.  I like to think this origin is a metaphor for the actual creation of this character.

So what does this character do with this revolutionary formula?  Go into business for himself and make millions?  Give it to the world for free out of the goodness of his heart?

NOPE!

This is the early 1940’s and America is soon to be at war.  Clearly, the best thing to do is to militarize this miracle formula and sell it as a weapon.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

The “we’re a stand in for continental Europe being oppressed by the Nazis but we can’t actually call them Nazis because America isn’t TECHNICALLY at war yet” country this time is the hilariously named Novoslavia, who is offering the princely sum of $25 million to whoever can provide their country with a means to defend them from the encroaching Eurasians.

The Professor decides to play war profiteer and brings his invention to Novoslavia, along with his granddaughter Jane.

Because countries on the brink of war are perfectly safe for little kids.

Sadly, their goods are stolen and they come up against the most evil and wretched enemy of all, incompetent and vindictive bureaucrats.

This takes the form of War Minister Rastinov who immediately throws the Doctor and his daughter into prison.  However, Jane manages to secure their release by slipping something into the war minister’s drink.

 Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

Remember, if you want to get on someone’s good side, always make sure they make an ass of themselves.

The Novoslovians award Docotor Hormone the prize, and prepare for war using his miracle serum.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

What I find hilarious is that the serum brings everyone to the age of 25, even babies.

Meanwhile, former war minister Assinov (not my joke) has defected to the Euraseans and proceeds to launch a full scale invasion of poor Novoslovia.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

Another thing I find interesting is how the Eurasians don’t really look like Nazis.  Instead they look a lot like the Soviet Army.

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The war goes poorly for the Novoslovians and their leader, General Battlesky (groan!) prepares to execute the Doctor and his niece via firing squad.

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but Dr. Hormone manages to save the day in the end by spraying all the Eurasians with a special hormone that makes everyone like each other again and stop the fighting.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #55

Assinov isn’t done yet though.  He manages to disguise himself as the Doctor and turn everyone into animals using the Doctor’s own hormones.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #56

I’m beginning to think that Doctor Hormone’s credentials might be a bit suspect.  Also, ethics are something of a concern.

The war is won when the Novoslovians turn Assinov’s human animal hybrids against Eurasia and thousands of human/rat hybrids sneak in and chew through their army’s ammo and swarms of human/locust hybrids swarm the enemy soldiers.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #57 - Version 1

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #57 - Version 1

That…is actually really dark and downright terrifying.

After defeating the vile forces of Eurasia, Dr. Hormone travels back home to America.  After a brief run in with new foes of the dreaded Nazians (really?) he comes across…

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #59

the KKK.

Hormone manages to save himself with an army of fleas, who manage to smother the flames and drive the clansmen to madness by biting them.  In fact, they’re driven so mad that they commit mass suicide.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #59

You sure this isn’t a horror comic?

His last adventure ended on a literal cliffhanger as the Doctor was attempting to stop a Nazian invasion of Texas.  Unfortunately, the Klan manages to find him and forces him down a bottomless pit where he and his niece fall through time and reach a mysterious voice that instructs them to wait.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #60

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #60

and…that’s it.

So what happened?

After the good Doctor took a left turn into insanity he never made another appearance.   I’m just going to assume he’s still below, waiting for the day where he might rise up and continue the story.

As for why he was cancelled it’s pretty easy to see why.  He was never a main attraction and I’m willing to bet that the kids didn’t take too kindly to the name.  Plus there’s the fact that the artwork…well it isn’t very good, even for time period.

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Also, while we’re on the subject of quality, why doesn’t the man have a costume?  I mean sure, I’m willing to bet the creator of this story was probably tired of drawing superhero costumes (assuming he or she was a working artist at the time) but come on!  You have a brilliant chemist who has manged to find a way to live forever, invents crazy chemical compounds that turn people into animals, and you’re going to dress him up in a suit!?

Poor form!

In all seriousness I actually do think this guy could make a halfway decent superhero in the modern era.  Hell, he’d actually make a kick ass super villain!

Dr. Hormone was the personification of almost everything crazy about the Golden Age of Comics.  He was weird, he had an annoying niece as a sidekick, and his adventures were filled with all sorts of insanity that would have gotten any normal person arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.

God, I love comics so much!

Golden Age Showcase: Professor Supermind and Son

Let’s talk about families in comic books.

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Sure there are plenty of family figures in comic books.

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Heck, there are even a couple of actual families that have proven to be incredibly popular,

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but for the most part the purpose of being a family member of a superhero usually means your either an obstacle to the work of a superhero, or you’re dead.

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If you’re looking for someone to blame for this trope, blame Batman.

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Batman was the first superhero to have a clearly defined origin story and he was the first hero to have his parents tragically killed.

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In a way it makes sense for a superhero to not have his/her parents around when things like curfew, homework, and “you’re going out dressed like THAT?!” are a constant roadblocks.

While Batman was the first in the long and proud tradition of orphaned superheroes today’s blog post is about a father and son team who go around and fight crime together.

By which I mean the son does all the heavy lifting and the father sits back, tells his son what to do, and subjects his only child to dangerous experiments.

Today we are talking about Professor Supermind and Son.

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Origin and Career

Professor Supermind and his son made their first appearance in the Dell Comics anthology Popular Comics  #60 in Febuary of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #60

I don’t know who created him but apparently he was popular enough to be on the cover for the next couple of issues.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #64

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #65

The origin of this superheroic duo is straightforward and simple enough to be described in the first panel of every issue.

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The father’s name is Professor Warren, a super scientist who has created two of the greatest inventions mankind has ever witnessed.  The first is a television that can view anything in the world which was useful for both spotting where crime and for checking in on what I can only presume are his many ex wives and their new boyfriends.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #60

The second is an “energy builder” which he uses to zap his son with electrical power.  Following super hero logic this jolt of energy doesn’t kill him.  Instead, it grants him “electric power equal to a thousand horsepower”.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #63

I’m beginning to think that a lot of early comic book creators didn’t really know how science works.

The two men didn’t have much in the way of motivation outside of simply doing the right thing and each of their stories were pretty formulaic for the time.  The professor would see a problem going on through his television and send his son to stop it.

One of the better stories in my opinion was when the two fought of, what else, Nazis who were threatening to invade America.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #65

What’s really impressive about this story is the pair’s complete and total disregard for human life since they decide to collapse the tunnel and drown thousands of men unless the Nazis back off.

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I mean, I know that they’re Nazis and all, but killing so many people is a bit extreme.

Casual disregard for human life aside, the duo did have something resembling a nemesis outside of the dastardly Germans.  Apparently, the Professor had a former pupil who wanted the Professor’s inventions for himself.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #67

The man’s name was Sorel and he was the closest thing the series ever had to a super villain.

Funnily enough, Sorel was actually somewhat capable.  He even managed to sneak in to the Professor’s lab and use the power machine on himself.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #68

So what happened?

Despite having a fairly interesting idea and some halfway decent artwork for the time, the father and son team only made twelve appearances.

I don’t know what happened but I can make a pretty good guess.  Professor Supermind and his son started out as the cover story and as the first story in each anthology for a couple of issues and then started losing their cover appearances and first story positions to other characters.

It’s safe to say that they just weren’t as popular as Dell Comics hoped.

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Looking back it’s pretty easy to see why.  Each of the stories were pretty formulaic, the dialogue was wooden, and although the art wasn’t terrible the artist preferred to have the characters stand around and talk rather than act.

Sadly, there is very little chance for these two to make a comeback.  Dell Comics was hit pretty hard in the 1950’s and never really recovered.  They closed shop in 1972, although their legacy continues with the three superheroes Doctor Solar, Turok, and Magnus Robot Fighter.

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Despite the fact that their stories are pretty boring once you get down to it, I do think that Professor Supermind and his son do have some potential.  As I stated at the beginning of the article, living biological parents are something of a rarity in comic books so there could be a place for a well written father son team.

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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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