Golden Age Showcase: Bozo the Iron Man

Have you ever noticed that bookstores tend to put fantasy and science fiction books on the same shelves?

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I mean, I can understand why.  Both genres talk about the human condition using fantastical elements and worlds.  The difference is that while science fiction tends to focus on how technology changes society, fantasy tends to focus on how people change society.  The point is that while they share quite a few similarities, they are just different enough to warrant their separation.

Comic books are interesting because the medium has no trouble combining the two genres together and it’s gotten really good at it.  In fact, it’s gotten so good at it that not only is it possible to combine aspects of fantasy and science fiction together, it’s possible to spawn a billion dollar franchise out of it.

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While the Golden Age of Comics did have a heavy focus on supernatural and fantasy elements, it also had its fair share of science fiction heroes.

One of these heroes was a creature called Bozo the Iron Man and before you laugh at his name and appearance, you may be shocked to learn that he was actually a pretty interesting hero.

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Origin and Career

Bozo the Iron Man made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Smash Comics #1 published on August of 1939.

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While that is Bozo on the cover, he doesn’t fight a gorilla in his story.

He was created and drawn by an editor at Quality Comics called George Brenner,

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Brenner is also known for creating what is arguably the first masked superhero in all of comics in 1936 as well as the hero 711, who is actually one of this site’s favorite heroes.

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The origin of our titular hero actually bucks Golden Age tradition and gives us something that this blog hasn’t really seen: a morally ambiguous and surprisingly deep origin.

The comic starts with a mysterious robot terrorizing the citizens of the unnamed city.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

It turns out that the robot is actually under the control of evil scientist cliche #421 and despite the police trying their best they don’t want to go near the giant killer robot.  In order to put an end to this case the Commissioner calls in a special consultant named Hugh Hazzard, who winds up being the actual main character of the story.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

The comic then goes through the standard motions.  The good guy finds the bad guy, defeats him, and the robot is scrapped.  However, in an interesting twist, Hugh decides to find the robot and use it to fight crime without the knowledge of the police.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

Sure, the design of the robot doesn’t exactly inspire feelings of dread and terror, but the ending of the first issue actually sets up a surprisingly nuanced and interesting premise for a superhero story.  Seriously, in a time where comics weren’t known for a whole lot of creative complexity, the creative team behind Bozo had the main robot hated and feared by those he was trying to protect.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the bottom of a page from the second issue below.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #2

Sure, titles like the X-Men would make the idea of heroes protecting the very people who feared them a comic book staple, but considering that this was being written in 1939 it’s a pretty interesting setup.

Unfortunately, they really didn’t do anything interesting with this setup and the rest of Bozo’s adventures were pretty typical “villain of the week” affairs.

So what happened?

Usually the old Golden Age heroes would either be revived by one of the major comic book companies further down the line or find their way into the works of writers and creators who were fans of the original but sadly, that isn’t the case for Bozo.  This is going to be one of the shortest “What happened?” sections ever written.

Quality Comics folded in 1956 when the comic book market contracted.  They were eventually acquired by DC and many of Quality’s heroes would survive in reprints, but sadly Bozo didn’t make it into any of them.

The only legacy Bozo would have is a brief re imagining by comic book legend Grant Morrison.

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For those who don’t know, Grant Morrison is considered to be one of the great modern wizards of comic books and is responsible for some of the greatest modern comics ever written, including the greatest Superman story of the past 20 years.

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Sadly, Bozo didn’t make it into any of Grant’s works, although another creator by the name of Justin Grey said in an interview that his creation of a robot named “Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard” was inspired by Morrison’s redesign.

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I would go into more detail into Gonzo’s origin but for the casual fans all I am going to say is that he’s nothing like the source material and for the more hardcore fans I’ll say that the Anti Life Equation was involved.

Bozo the Iron Man was a pretty goofy hero with a well thought out backstory and an interesting hook to his character.  Instead of being loved (or at the very least tolerated) by the police and the public at large, he was feared and mistrusted so much that his existence had to be kept a secret.  He was one of the more complex characters of his time and should be remembered as such, even if he looked a bit ridiculous.

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Golden Age Showcase: Atomic Tot

So I just discovered Rick and Morty last night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and kind of dropped the ball in that regard.

Origin and Career

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

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

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

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

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

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

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

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

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

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

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

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

Wheaties would love this guy.

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

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

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

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

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

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #2

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

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #2

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

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

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #2

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

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Golden Age Showcase: Blackhawk

So I saw the Dunkirk movie yesterday.

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I liked it, it was very well directed, and it’s probably the most British movie since Chariots of Fire.

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The movie got me thinking about this blog.  The simple truth of the matter is that this blog deals with heroes that were created in a time when the world needed a bit of escapist fantasy and the comic book industry responded by creating a whole bunch of heroes who could do the fighting for them.

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While there was a time and a place for these types of stories it’s important to remember that the fantastical violence shown in World War 2 era comics was very real for a lot of people and many of those people didn’t make it out alive.

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Now, we’ve covered some of the more “realistic” war comics with characters like Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos,

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but this week I thought it might be fun to talk about another war comic that was actually published during World War 2 with Quality Comics’ fighter squadron/expertly dressed hero Blackhawk.

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Origin and Career

Blackhawk made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Military Comics #1 in August of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Right off the bat the main character made the cover and looks good doing it.

There is some debate as to who created the character in the first place.  While many credit comic book legend Will Eisner with the character’s creation,

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Eisner himself gave most of the credit to artist Charles Cuidera and writer Bob Powell.

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For a time when the United States hadn’t entered the war in Europe, this comic was certainly very much for it.  In the very first page the comic shows the Nazis steamrolling through Poland and introducing the main villain of Captain von Tepp, who is the very definition of a bastard.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Seriously, even kicking puppies seems a bit tame for this guy.

Von Tepp and his Butcher Squadron discover a mysterious black plane that they shoot down.  The Captain makes the unknown pilot’s life even more hellish by destroying a farmhouse with innocent people in it.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

The pilot is revealed to be a man named Blackhawk, who vows revenge against the Nazis and gets his wish a few months later when he confronts Von Tepp and kidnaps him.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Blackhawk takes the Captain back to his island base where they decide to settle their grievances with an honorable duel using airplanes.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Naturally the Nazi cheats by sabotaging Blackhawk’s plane and the two crash to the ground, where the grudge is settled when Blackhawk shoots the Captain.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

In later issues it was revealed that the Blackhawks were actually a squadron of fighter pilots made up of men whose nations had been captured by the Nazis.

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Side note: this actually has a basis in real history.  Feel free to look up the exploits of groups like the Polish 303 Squadron if you want some real life heroics.

In Issue #3 the group would also get a Chinese cook, who was unfortunately named “Chop Chop”.

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…well they can’t all be good.

Sales wise the Blackhawks were a massive hit for Quality Comics.  They were so successful that they received their own comic in 1944.

Blackhawk #9

In 1950 it was revealed that the leader of the Blackhawks was actually an American volunteer fighter pilot who had joined the Polish air force and decided to form the squadron as a way to fight back against the Nazis, even though he and his comrades had no country.

Some of the most talented writers and artists of the Golden Age worked on the Blackhawk title and it was actually so popular that Quality continued to publish the title right up until they went out of business in 1956 with Blackhawk #107 being the last issue.

Blackhawk #107

So what happened?

Quality couldn’t make it past the comic book slump of the 1950’s and sold off the rights to most of their characters to DC comics in 1956.

Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks had been so popular that DC actually decided to continue publishing the title after they bought it,

Blackhawk #108

they even kept most of the original art team on the title ensuring that the only thing that changed with the comic was the logo.

Now that the Blackhawks had new life they wound up being one of the few superhero teams to transition into the Silver Age of Comics.  This time in comic book history saw the squadron face fewer Nazis and more science fiction themed villains and things got a little…weird.

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Also, in 1959 they added a lady to the team as an on and off supporting character.  She was given the rather unimaginative name of Lady Blackhawk.

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She would remain one of the biggest members of the supporting cast and even became a villain named Queen Lady Shark.

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I don’t know what’s funnier, the skis or that hat.

Ironically, the rise of superhero comics in the 1960’s hurt the Blackhawk Squadron and while DC attempted to revamp the group in 1967 by giving them new names and costumes,

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it only lasted 14 issues before the title was cancelled.

The Blackhawks would make a brief comeback in 1976 as a group of mercenaries,

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but they were cancelled again until the 1980’s when they were sent back to their familiar stomping grounds of World War 2.

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The 1980’s series reworked the Blackhawks and gave their older stories a more modern update in terms of storytelling, including a much more dignified appearance and backstory for poor Chop Chop.

In 1988 DC reworked its entire history with the mega event Crisis on Infinite Earths 

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and the Blackhawks made the cut.  They were given another reworking and this time the squadron was led by a man named Janos Prohaska, an actual Polish national who was forced to flee his home after the Soviets kicked him out.

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The Blackhawks continue to be a part of the DC universe.  One of their more noticeable appearances was in the excellent Justice League animated show where they played a major part in the episode “The Savage Time”.

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and in the show Arrow the “Blackhawk Squad Protection Group” made an appearance as the place of employment for John Diggle’s commanding officer Ted Gaynor.

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Also, a group calling themselves the Blackhawks got their own title in DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch,

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but they have yet to show up in DC’s more recent “Rebirth” relaunch.

The Blackhawks are a team with a long and fantastic history.  What I find really fascinating is just how well they were able to survive so much while so many of their contemporaries fell through the cracks, never to be seen again and if it wasn’t for characters like Plastic Man,

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I would go as far as to say that the Blackhawks were the best and most notable comic to ever be published by Quality Comics.

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Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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Origin and Career

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

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She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

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

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

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

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swarms of them.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #58

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

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

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

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

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

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

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

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

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

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

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

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #20

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

The two ladies did not get along very well.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

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

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

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

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

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #21

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

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

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

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Golden Age Showcase: Betty Bates, Lady at Law.

Full disclosure, this is going to be a short article.  That being said, I think today’s comic book heroine is awesome enough on her own and doesn’t need a whole lot of space to show how awesome she is.

Today we’re going to talk about a female heroine who SHOULD have been one of the great female heroes to come out of the 1940’s: Betty Bates, Lady at Law.

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Origin and career

Betty Bates first appeared in Quality Comics’ Hit Comics #4 in October of 1940.

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She was a backup character created by artist and writer Bob Powell,

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whose other credits include characters such as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

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Betty Bates was an interesting character, especially for the 1940’s.  While the era has been criticized for its rampant sexism and misogyny it is the era that gave us classic female super heroines such as Wonder Woman,

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Lady Satan,

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and an early Black Widow.

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With all these super powered ladies flying around it seems difficult for someone as plain as Betty Bates to stand out, but she manages to do that in grand style.

For starters, Betty Bates was a District Attorney, a profession that was almost exclusively reserved for male characters.

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She was almost unnaturally honest, refusing to take bribes and to be coerced into letting criminals go free.

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She was also a capable and talented detective, determined to get to the truth.  She never had a secret identity or costume, never had any colorful gadgets, and while she only fought gangsters and thugs with colorful names, when it came time to throw down and defend herself…

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she could handle herself in a fight.

So what happened?

Her series was published by a company called Quality Comics, a company whose most famous creation was this guy.

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Quality Comics sold off most of its characters in the 1950’s to DC Comics but the company had been suffering for a while.  Betty Bates was lost in the shuffle and after a ten year run her title was cancelled.

Despite her unglamorous end, Betty actually has a pretty impressive legacy.

She outlasted many of her more traditional male superhero counterparts and would continue to have a comfortable position as a back up character in the Hit Comics line for over ten years.  In fact, she still holds the honor of being the longest running non super powered, non main character heroine in comic book history.  Plus, there is only one comic book lawyer who has lasted longer than she has.

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Anyone want to try to explain why we’re not talking about her instead of Wonder Woman as a female comic book icon?

Sadly, she has remained forgotten for most of history and hasn’t been revived or brought back in any modern issues.

Which is a crying shame if you ask me.

How could she be brought back?

Unlike many of the Golden Age heroes we talk about on this blog that might have trouble fitting into a modern setting, Betty’s problems are actually quite the opposite.

There are a seemingly endless number of law procedural shows on television today.

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and Betty Bates could fit into any one of them

Also, we are now living in an age where leading ladies are gaining an increasingly large portion of the spotlight in popular culture.

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and I think Betty could fit right in.

The difficulty rests in finding a leading lady.  Personally, I nominate Haley Atwell.

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But that’s just me.

Golden Age Showcase #2: 711

Today we’re going to talk about one of the more interesting characters that didn’t survive the Golden Age of Comics, not because he was a template for a future superhero like the Blue Beetle or because he was too weird like the Vagabond but because he probably has one of the most interesting origin stories and motivations in all of comics

#711

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Origin and career:

#711 debuted in Police Comics #1 in 1941 and was published by a company named Quality Comics.  He was never given his own series and spent his short career appearing in comics like the one below.

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He was originally known as District Attorney Daniel Dyce.  Now Dyce, in a coincidence that is the kind that could only be found in media like Golden Age Comics, had a friend who looked like an exact duplicate named Jacob Horn who just happened to be in prison.

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Jacob had a wife who was just about to give birth and, desperate to see his newborn child, Jacob convinces Daniel to take his place in prison so he can go be with his family, because that is how the justice system works apparently.  Unfortunately this happens.

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Jacob is killed and Daniel is now stuck in prison.  Desperate to clear his name Daniel forsakes all sane methods he could use to prove his innocence and manages to tunnel out of prison.  Instead of hightailing to Mexico or Canada Dyce decides to go back into prison and use his tunnel to become a costumed crime fighter by night.  He decides to call himself 711 in reference to his prisoner number and adopts a costume that has more similarities to the older pulp characters rather than modern superheroes.

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While he had no special abilities other than being very good at fighting he did have an impressive calling card, a mirrored surface with black bars across it so the recipient could see himself behind bars.

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So what happened?

Prisoner #711 appeared in 15 issues with Quality Comics.  In his final appearance he was killed by a mobster named Oscar Jones.  It’s worth noting that, unlike the Vagabond I talked about last week, he was deemed a decent enough character to be given a definite end and a rather touching send off

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and he was replaced by a nearly identical hero called Destiny

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Business wise Prisoner 711 would never see another issue because his publisher, Quality Comics, was bought by DC comics in 1956.  While some of Quality’s most notable heroes like Plastic Man

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Would become relatively well known superheroes DC comics didn’t have the time for Prisoner 711.  He did make an appearance during a DC Millennium reprint although it was created to showcase Plastic Man’s first appearance.

 Before I go I’d just like to say that while #711’s origin and short lived career may seem a bit odd and fantastical I personally think the idea is a good one.  The idea that a hero has to break out of prison to go fight crime, and can use the prison grapevine for information, is something that I think could make a very intriguing story.  What’s more, if there is anyone out there who is likewise inspired, you could make a very strong case that the #711 concept and story is in the public domain so anyone could potentially use it.