Golden Age Showcase: The Fin

You know who doesn’t get nearly enough respect in the comic book world?  Superheroes who live and work in the water.

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I mean really, we live on a planet that has water covering over 70% of our surface and so many people like to treat genuine and well established heroes like Aquaman and Namor as jokes.

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With that being said, there has been a lot done over the past decade to rectify this.  Aquaman has been getting a lot of attention from the DC higher ups,

Aquaman: Rebirth #1

and despite everything I’ve been saying, Namor has actually been an integral part of the Marvel stories since the beginning as comic’s first anti hero.

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my point is, that there has been a lot of work and effort put in to making characters like these fun and badass and that deserves a lot of respect.

So let’s take the idea that water based heroes can be taken seriously and throw it out the window by taking a look at…the Fin.

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Origin and career

The Fin made his first appearance in Daring Mystery Comics #7 in April of 1941.

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He was created by Massachusetts native and comic book legend Bill Everett.

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The man has a reputation as one of the greats, especially when you consider that his resume includes the creation of Daredevil,

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and Namor the Submariner.

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I guess the guy really liked the ocean.

Back to the Fin,

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the man’s real identity was Peter Noble, a United States naval cadet who found himself in the unfortunate position of being on a sinking submarine,

Peter manages to escape and eventually discovers an underwater cave where he manages to find air, edible plants, and a strange race of creatures calling themselves Neptunians.

Peter fights their ruler, a creature named Ikor, in single combat and realizes that he can breathe underwater because of reasons.

He also becomes their king after killing Ikor with his gun (that somehow manages to work after being underwater for a long time) and the Neptunians begin to worship him as a reincarnation of one of their noble ancestors named “The Fin”.

Peter then asserts his dominance by proclaiming that he is now their king and intends to rule with an iron fist…or just for as long as it takes for him to find a way back home.

The story ends with Peter returning to the sub and fashioning a “slick costume” in order to go off and have an adventure.

Somewhere, a shark is laughing his tail off.

The Fin would have one final Golden Age adventure in the following issue of Daring Mystery Comics where he fought a U-Boat captain calling himself the Barracuda.

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Special mention needs to be given to just how evil the Barracuda is.  He’s got he mustache. the monocle, and has no problem killing women and children.  

Seriously, the Red Skull would be looking at this and go “damn, that’s a bit much”.

Naturally the Fin swoops (swims?) in and saves the day by giving the villain the beating of his life.

He then calls in the Navy and the story ends with the day saved and the villains brought to justice.

So what happened?

The Fin would never have another Golden Age adventure, but not for the reasons you might think.

Normally a lot of these types of characters were cancelled after World War 2 ended due to lack of reader interest, but the Fin was left in the dust BECAUSE of the war.

See, thanks to the fight against the Axis powers, the United States launched a massive campaign to collect material for the war effort.  This meant things like saving metal and paper were given a lot of attention.

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The U.S also implemented a strict rationing system for everything you could imagine from gas to sugar and, most importantly for the comic book industry, paper.

So thanks to rationing and mailing costs Timely Comics had to put a damper on Daring Mystery Comics.  While they did start back up again in 1944 the damage was done and the Fin was no more.

However, like many of his fellow patriots in spandex the Fin would find new life in the later years.

His first post war appearance was in Avengers #97 in 1972 where a likeness of his character, along with a few other Golden Age greats, helped defend Earth during the Kree-Skrull war.

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That was his only appearance for a long time until 2004 where the Fin would become a much more fleshed out and meaningful character in the  All New Invaders series and the unfinished All Winners Squad: Band of Heroes mini series.

He was an ally of the main characters and part of a military team called “The Crazy Sues”, a special group of enhanced humans gathered by the Allies to defeat the Nazis.

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He was not the talkative type.

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Besides his team he also decided to get married to a human/Atlantean hybrid named Nia Noble and assumed his place as the king of Neptunia.

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Despite his background status and small time appearances, the Fin was given a validation of sorts when he appeared in the Marvel Handbook in 2004.

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I’ll be honest, when I was first doing research into the Fin at the start of the article I was a bit skeptic and only wanted to write about him as a joke.  At first glance, I don’t think it’s too hard to see why.

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Looking at him now, with the benefit of research and hindsight, I see him as more of a tragic hero.  Sure he was goofy and had a weird costume, but he was created by a great of the industry and went on to have a fair amount of time in the spotlight.

It’s safe to say that he deserves a place in the pantheon of water themed superheroes.

Golden Age Showcase: The Grim Reaper

Before we begin, I just want to say thank you for two very big milestones.

First, last week’s blog post on Truth: Red, White, and Black was the single most successful blog post we’ve ever had on this site.

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I was absolutely blown away by the audience and the wonderful conversations that the article generated.

Second, yesterday was our two year anniversary as a blog and a website.  I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy, but watching people enjoy everything we’ve worked so hard for has made this little venture worth it.

Anyway, let’s talk about a super hero that killed a whole bunch of Nazis and called himself the Grim Reaper.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #2

Origin and Career

The Grim Reaper first appeared in Standard Comics’ The Fighting Yank #7 in February of 1944.

 Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #7 - Version 1

As you might be able to figure out from the cover, the entire issue had something of a military theme to it, especially since the United States was in the last full year of the war in Europe.

The Grim Reaper was published by Standard Comics and was created by comic book writer and editor Richard E. Hughes.

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The pictures above show Hughes’ many pseudonyms which he used since he was an incredibly prolific comic book creator in a career that spanned the 1940’s to the 1970’s.

It’s worth mentioning that the Grim Reaper is something of an oddity in Golden Age superhero comics.  While many of his fellow heroes started off fighting common criminals and spies, the Grim Reaper was thrust straight into the front lines of the war in Europe and got right down to kicking Nazi butt.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #7 - Version 1

It’s also worth mentioning that Richard Hughes was actually a pretty good writer, because The Grim Reaper’s stories were pretty good.

In his first appearance our hero makes it very clear that he has no qualms about shedding German blood.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #7 - Version 2

Also, he manages to save a concentration camp full of prisoners and captured Allied pilots so the Allied war effort can destroy a Nazi aerodrome.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #7 - Version 2

Apparently, this story was so popular and well received that the Grim Reaper would be given his own title and cover appearances after his first story.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #1

To be perfectly honest, I think that this is one of the greatest Golden Age covers I’ve ever seen.

The Grim Reaper’s new adventures were more of the same deal with him fighting the good fight in Europe and killing Nazis left and right.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #1

What’s really interesting about these stories is just how human and normal they are. The Grim Reaper is actually more of a secondary character and the writer tends to focus on the plight and effort of normal humans actively fighting the Nazis across Europe.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #1

Sure, the first page has a large picture of the hero, but the story itself is about the Greek resistance movement that sprung up to fight the occupying Nazi force.

It’s also worth mentioning that while the first Grim Reaper story falls into the typical tropes of turning the hero’s Nazi enemies into monsters who don’t have a very keen grasp of English and like to talk “in ze stereotypical German akksent!”

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #1

The funny thing is that, during his first main story, the writer goes out of his way to actually humanize some of the Nazis by having a Gestapo officer actually save the Grim Reaper’s life and reveal himself to be a German working against the Nazis.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #1

They would eventually give the Grim Reaper an origin story in his second issue.

It was revealed that the Grim Reaper was actually an American student studying in France named Bill Norris who decided to stay behind in Paris in order to continue his studies.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #2

The Nazis, in a blatant disregard for human rights and the Rules of War, sent Bill to a concentration camp when he tried to protect an old man from being beaten by a group of soldiers.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #2

Sure, the soldiers had every right to arrest Bill for what he did, but you don’t sentence someone to slave labor when they assault your men without weapons.

While in the camp, Bill meets a leader in the French Resistance and manages to escape.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #2

He decides to help the French and dons the Grim Reaper costume to fight the Nazis out of patriotic duty.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #2

The Grim Reaper would go on to have a couple more adventures fighting the Axis powers, but then the war ended.

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The Grim Reaper was too popular to be cancelled, so he decided to go and fight gangsters and common criminals instead.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #8

Honestly, the new stories were nothing special and the Grim Reaper found himself playing second fiddle to other stories and characters that were becoming more and more popular in post war America.

So what happened?

History and bad business happened.

Standard comics went out of business in 1956 as the comic book market dried up and left many of the smaller publishers bankrupt.

The Grim Reaper would have remained forgotten if it wasn’t for the best beard in comics, the incredibly intimidating Alan Moore.

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Moore had created his own publishing company in the early 2000’s called America’s Best Comics 

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and he scooped up many of the Standard Comics’ characters that had slipped into public domain which he used in a spin off series called Tom Strong.

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The Grim Reaper would eventually be killed in the Tom Strong spin off series Terra Obscura.

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In the end The Grim Reaper was a pretty typical flash in the pan Golden Age superhero.  He existed, had a pretty short run, and faded into obscurity quickly and was only remembered by people who were truly interested in this particular time in comics.

With that being said, he was well drawn (for the time), had a pretty sensible backstory, and was surprisingly well written for the time.  Like many real life people who were fighting and dying in Europe and the Pacific during the war, the Grim Reaper did his part to beat back tyranny and evil and that is worth celebrating.

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!

Golden Age Showcase: Spider Queen

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You know what we need to talk about more on this blog?  Female superheroes.

The way I see it, if we’re going to talk about female superheroes we should go all the way with it.  We need something daring, something obscure, something so original and new that it has stood the test of time and has never shared any background or history with any other established character.

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Huh, that’s a woman swinging from a thread, in a strange costume, and calling herself “Spider Queen”.

This sounds familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.

Origin and career

Spider Queen was published by Fox Features Syndicate, the same company that gave us the original Blue Beetle.

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The Spider Queen first appeared as a back up story in a comic book called The Eagle in September of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

The story names a person called Elsa Lesau as the creator.  It would be fantastic if this character was actually created by a woman, but sadly I can’t find any pictures of her.  Also, Elsa may have been a pen name for a writer/artist duo named Louis and Artuo Cazeneuve who were two brothers from Argentina who did a lot of work for Fox and would go on to successful careers as comic book artists.

And this is where I would have a photo of them but alas, Google is a cruel mistress.

It’s worth mentioning that the Golden Age of comics wasn’t very good with things like creators’ rights and giving credit to the people who deserved it so it’s all very up in the air.

Anyway, the Spider Queen was a mild mannered assistant named Sharon Kane.  She worked as an assistant for her husband, a chemist who designed weapons until he was killed by “enemies of the country”.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

While sifting through the stuff in the lab, Sharon uncovers a formula for a super strong, super sticky thread like substance similar to spider silk.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

Once she realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, Sharon takes the formula, crafts her own wrist mounted spray guns that she can use to swing across buildings, and dons a costume to become a “sworn enemy to all wrongdoers”.

Isn’t it amazing how “scientist with a fascination with bugs” is such a common trope, especially in comics?  It’s not like anyone’s turned this idea into anything successful.

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Anyway, over the course of her career The Spider Queen simply contented herself with punching out goons and other small time criminals.  There may have been a budding romance with a detective named Mike O’Bell, but that didn’t pan out because…

So what happened?

She only lasted three issues, and since she was only a backup character she didn’t get a chance to develop as a hero or as a person.

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The character would have been doomed to comic book purgatory if it wasn’t for the folks at Marvel resurrecting her in a 1993 mini series starring a superhero team known as the Invaders.

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In a rather interesting twist, Spider Queen was actually a villain.  In fact she wasn’t just a villain but a Nazi as well.

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To be fair, they give her some justification by explaining that she’s only with the Nazis because they’re fighting the same group of people that killed her husband, but still…nazis.

Plus they gave her costume the 90’s comic book treatment.

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Eh, personally I’m on the fence about it.

So that’s the history of the original Spider Queen, but you’re probably wondering if Spider Queen has any thing to do with Marvel’s flagship hero, Spider man.  After all, I have been dropping subtle hints about it throughout the article.

The answer is yes, Spider Queen and Spiderman did meet.  That being said, it got a bit…weird.

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Long story short, this new Spider Queen was a woman named Adriana Soria who was a failed S.H.I.E.L.D experiment in 1945.

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She has super strength, a sonic scream, and the ability to control people with an “insect gene” which allows her to turn people into spider monsters.  One of her victims is Peter Parker.

We’ll ignore the “spiders are not insects” thing and focus on the fact that Peter actually becomes pregnant while in his spider form, dies, and is reborn as a new Spider Man with organic web shooters instead of mechanical ones.

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ew.

This version of the Spider Queen would come back as a semi regular Spider Man villain in a couple more stories but other than the fact that this new villain was more of a body horror, all powerful lady spider that’s really all you need to know.

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The Spider Queen was an interesting super heroine.  Sure she didn’t have a very long career as a hero, and her time as a villain was both short and very weird, but I like to think she was a real trailblazer.  She was the first super hero to utilize web shooters as a gimmick and would have one of the most interesting transitional careers as a super villain.

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Golden Age Showcase: Lady Satan

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

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

Ladies and Gentlemen: Lady Satan.

Origin and Career

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and she was not afraid to get violent either.

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

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

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

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Age Showcase: Namor the Submariner

Today I would like to talk about the original super hero trinity.

No, not that one.

Back when Marvel Comics was known as Timely Comics the company had their own Trinity of superheroes: Captain America, the robotic Human Torch, and the hero we’re going to talk about today: Namor the Submariner.

Origin and Career

Namor was supposed to premiere in a magazine called Motion Pictures Funny Weekly in April of 1939.

It was supposed to be a giveaway promotional project that would be handed out to movie theater owners.  Unfortunately the idea fell through so Namor’s creator, the legendary Bill Everett,

decided to send the project to another client, Timely Comics.  Timely liked the idea and in December of 1939 they published Namor as a part of their first ever comic book Marvel Comics #1

Fun side note: Bill Everett would later go on to help create the modern day Daredevil for Marvel Comics so…there’s that.

Namor is an important part of comic book history due to the fact that he was the industry’s first anti hero.  In his very first appearance Namor was actually a bad guy who had a short temper and decided to declare war on the surface world of man.

Namor was the child of a human father named Leonard Mckenzie and a princess named Fen who was the daughter of the king of Atlantis.

the man grew up as the heir to the throne of Atlantis and had a rather nasty temper.  Things would come to a head when he battled the Golden Age Human Torch in 1940 while threatening to sink New York under a tidal wave.

In another historical first this was the first fight between superheroes in all of comic books.

Despite his hostility towards the surface world and his seemingly villainous behavior Namor was well received by comic book fans in the 1940’s.

Despite everything Namor did, no matter how cruel or vicious, he did it in the name of protecting his people.  He was viewed as less of a savage villain and more as a noble anti hero and in February of 1940 he made his first cover appearance in Marvel Mystery Comics #3.

I think it’s pretty obvious whose side Namor was on during the Second World War.

From 1941 to 1949 Namor would remain one of the biggest heroes in Timely Comics’ lineup.  He kicked his fair share of Nazi butt during WW2 (it should be noted that during the Golden Age he was much more of a solo act and only during the 1970’s was it revealed that he had worked with Captain America and the Human Torch),

and like all superheroes he suffered from a lack of interest after the war had ended.

However, unlike many superheroes Namor actually survived the 195o’s and experienced something of a revival.  However, his home would be destroyed and his family killed when a villain named Paul Destiny,

used a magical helmet to destroy Atlantis and give Namor amnesia.

So what happened?

Namor was too popular and too important to the Timely Comics Universe to disappear for long.  After Stan Lee revived the superhero genre for the newly named Marvel Comics with his 1961 comic The Fantastic Four,

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the new Human Torch discovered Namor the Submariner living as a homeless man in the middle of New York.

Namor would regain his memory and return to his home of Atlantis, only to discover that it had been destroyed by nuclear testing.  Naturally the man was a bit…upset and attempted to conquer the surface world with a giant worm named Giganto.

Thankfully the Fantastic Four were able to defeat him and it even turned out that Atlantis hadn’t been completely destroyed.

Over the next several decades Namor would continue to play a major role in the Marvel Comics Universe.  Despite the attempts of his people to bring him back as their king Namor would continue to wage war on the surface.  This led him to several team ups with some pretty shady characters like Doctor Doom, Magneto, and the early Hulk.  All of them ended poorly.

In a rather interesting bit of history, Namor’s adventure with the Hulk led him to discovering the frozen body of Captain America, who was being worshiped as a god by a group of Inuit.

Over time the Submariner would abandon his villainous ways and become a true hero, using his vast wealth and power to help create the superhero team The Defenders,

and became heavily involved in the business of superheroics with his self funded company Oracle Inc.

Namor is still going strong as a superhero and is an integral part of the Marvel Comic Book Universe.  He’s so prolific that to describe his entire history would take way more space and time than we have here.

Namor is one of the most fascinating and enduring characters in all of comic books.  As the industry’s first anti hero and literal King of the Seas he is interesting, complex, and a definite force to be reckoned with.

Golden Age Showcase: Mastermind Excello

Today we’re winding down our coverage of J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve with the second to last hero in the story.  He’s the suave, playboy, telekinetic spy catcher for the United States Navy: Mastermind Excello.

 

Origin and career:

Like so many of his Golden Age compatriots Excello only lasted a couple of issues.  His first appearance was in Mystic Comics #3 in April of 1940,

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where he would uncover and defeat a Nazi spy ring.

His character was simple.  His real name was Early Everett and he was a wealthy playboy (because there aren’t enough of those in comic books) who possessed great physical and mental powers which he used to fight for America.

The man was sort of like an American James Bond but with superpowers as well as cool gadgets (this was a time when a pocket transmitter was a big deal).

So what happened?

Sadly “James Bond with superpowers” was as far as they were going to go with the character so it was up to Straczynski to expand the character and give him a more meaningful existence.

Judging from this picture they were off to a very good start.  The character looks badass, although to be fair anyone can look badass when holding a Tommy gun like that.

In The Twelve it is elaborated that Everett’s father is a brilliant scientist, so brilliant that he was actually pen pals with Einstein.  While his father was busy developing a special radioactive bullet for the Allies,

Earl Everett was determined to waste as much time and money as possible the only way a wealthy playboy with no concept of the value of money can.

It should be noted that for some reason Earl seemed to win more often than he lost.  This would later be revealed to stem from latent psychic abilities that wouldn’t be fully realized until a fateful trip to Britain where he was shot in the head by a Nazi spy while saving his father.

However, while the doctors managed to save his life they weren’t able to get all the bullet fragments out.  Several of these highly radioactive fragments would remain in his skull threatening to kill him.

After turning a new leaf Earl Everett decided to work on behalf of the United States government and was given the code name “Mastermind Excello”.

He would use his powers to great effect during the war, even helping the Allies retrieve occult items that the Nazis might have used to win the war.

In 1945 he joined the Twelve on their ill fated assault on Berlin.

They were captured, placed into stasis, and re discovered in 2008.

Like many of his compatriots Mastermind Excello had a difficult time fitting in.  It wasn’t for lack of money, his trust fund from 1940 had amassed millions, but it was more due to the continued noise and interference from this new world that played havoc on his psychic senses.

Excello separated himself from the group for most of the story and bought a house that he was able to soundproof and line with lead, which allowed him to enjoy a quiet peaceful life.  Gradually his future senses returned and he began interacting with his former teammates again.  While he couldn’t see the future clearly he could get glimpses and snippets of what was about to happen, enough to warn his friends and prepare them as best he could for the coming danger.

It would later be revealed that one of their own, the hero Dynamic Man, had turned evil and was ready to embark on a homicidal rampage.  Although Excello didn’t play a direct part in the ensuing fight he did help prepare the Phantom Reporter to take on the Fiery Mask’s powers and was able to help the team cope with the apparent death of Rockman.

After the fight was over Excello used his powers to ensure that The Phantom Reporter and Black Widow became a couple,

it worked.

It was also revealed that the shrapnel in his brain would kill him (kind like Iron Man only in his brain instead of his heart) if he used his powers to much.

Not willing to go quietly Excello decided to continue being a hero and used his vast fortune to purchase a large private investigator firm which he renamed E.X.C enterprises.  The Phantom Reporter and Black Widow were two of his first hires.

Like so many heroes in this series Mastermind Excello had tremendous potential as a hero.  He had the looks, superpowers, and motivation to be an interesting hero but sadly he was a drop in a very large bucket of “one and done” heroes.  Thankfully he was given a better ending and a new purpose on life with The Twelve.

Golden Age Showcase: The Red Skull

So I’ve been doing this blog series on Golden Age superheroes for a while now and you know who hasn’t been getting enough attention?  The villains.

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Now in my defense a lot of the bad guys in the early days of comic books weren’t the super powered titans of terror that we all know and love today.  Instead of dealing with memorable psychopathic madmen who can level an entire city or have a cool costume most of the early comic book heroes dealt with your average corrupt politician or gangster.

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Also, since the Golden Age of Comics took place during WW2 there were Nazis, and since a lot of the people creating these comic books at the time were Jewish there were a lot of heroes to kicked a lot of Nazi butt.

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So since kicking the Third Reich into next week figured so heavily into the early history of comic books I’d thought it would be best to kick off our journey of discovery into the Golden Age villains by taking a look at Marvel’s first super villain and the most iconic comic book Nazi, the one who has been the greatest threat to the Marvel heroes since the 1940’s, the one who even Hitler thought was too evil and vile: The Red Skull.

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Origin and career:

Fun story about the creation of the character.  The Red Skull was created by comic book legends, and the co creators of Captain America: France Herron, Jack Kirby, and Joe Simon.

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 The story goes that the inspiration for the Red Skull came when Joe Simon was eating a hot fudge sundae and thought the melting sundae looked like a skull.

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Simon had the brilliant idea to name his new Nazi super villain…Hot Fudge.  Thankfully he decided that the cherry on top of the sundae looked more intimidating and changed the name of the villain to Red Skull.

Anyway, back to the actual character.  The original Red Skull appeared in the first issue of Timely Comic’s Captain America #1 in March 1941.

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The villain’s actual name was George Maxon, an industrialist who owned the Maxon Aircraft Company and sold airplanes to the U.S military.

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Despite the wealth and success that came with the American government contracts Maxon decided to turn traitor and join the Nazi party.  Hitler personally charged Maxon with undermining the American war effort and promised him control over all American industry if the Nazis won the war.  In order to do this Maxon donned the now famous mask and took on the identity of the Red Skull.

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He also had a hypodermic needle filled with a fast acting poison which he billed as his “touch of death” and used to kill several high ranking members of the American military.

After a string of assassinations and mysterious acts of sabotage the Red Skull would eventually gain the attention of Captain America and his sidekick Bucky.

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However, during their fight Maxon would accidentally roll onto one of his poison needles and was seemingly killed.  Since this is a comic book and death is but a revolving door Maxon would return to enact a terrible revenge on Captain America by attacking New York with a giant drill.  He even managed to capture Cap and Bucky and proceeded to hang them.

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Fortunately for the American war effort you can clearly see in the picture that the actual heroes are not dead.  Instead the Red Skull had kidnapped two impostors and mistakenly thought they were the real Captain America and Bucky (spoiler alert, this is also exactly what happens in the movie Kick Ass).  In a desperate attempt to escape Skull throws a bomb at the two but it fails to kill them and the explosion kills the Red Skull instead.

Despite the death of George Maxon the Red Skull would rise again.  It turned out that Maxon was merely a puppet in a much larger conspiracy and in Captain America #7 published on October 1941 it was revealed that there was another, more sinister Red Skull named Johann Schmidt.  The two would continue their duel until 1949 when this Red Skull was killed battling Captain America in the depths of Hell in Captain America Weird Tales #74.

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So what happened?

Schmidt would eventually become a much more fleshed out character but it took a while.  After the post war decline of superheroes the Red Skull stayed dead for a while.  He would eventually make an appearance in a 1954 issue of Young Man Comics where he and Captain America were both resurrected.

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During the 50’s Schmidt quit the Nazi party and politics in general and decided to become a run of the mill criminal mastermind.  In his next appearance three issues later he was left for dead again.

Schmidt’s Red Skull would make a full comeback in the 60’s as the main enemy of Captain America and the Avengers in Tales of Suspense #66

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Schmidt was also given a backstory where it was revealed that he had begun his career as a supervillain by impressing Hitler so much that he was invited to join the Nazi party in the 1930’s.  His dedication the party and knack for violence and intimidation led to him becoming one of the highest ranking Nazis in all of Germany and so intimidating that he even made Hitler nervous.  Despite his skill and cunning the Nazis still lost the war and the Red Skull suffered an accident that froze him much in the same way as his old nemesis Captain America.

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Since his creation the Red Skull has been one of, if not the greatest, threat to world peace in the Marvel Universe.  However, despite all his skill and ruthlessness he is eternally linked to life and fate of his foe Captain America and usually winds up being beaten by the First Avenger in the end.  He is Marvel’s first and greatest super villain and one of the greatest personifications of hate and lust for power in all of comic books.