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!

New mythologies for comic books: Russian legends and myths.

Last week I wrote an article talking about how most of the comic book industry draws upon four mythologies for most of their divine or god-like characters.  While Greek/Roman, Norse, Japanese, and Christian mythology (I debated throwing in Egyptian mythology but I decided it would make too good of an article so for now let’s just pretend that there aren’t enough Egyptian themed characters out there) are all fun and good there are plenty of other mythic traditions that deserve a lot more attention and would make awesome comic book characters and worlds.

Here’s how this is going to work.  I am going to divide each article into three parts.  The first part will talk about any history the mythological tradition might already have within the tradition of comic books.  Second, I’ll give a brief description of a couple of established heroes, gods, or creatures that would make interesting characters.  And finally, we’ll delve into the hypothetical and explore what a character or comic book series could look like.

With that being said, let’s take a look at Russian mythology and folklore.

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Russia in comics

Now many of you are probably quick to point out that there are plenty of Russian characters in comic books and you’d be mostly right.  There are plenty of famous comic book characters that speak Russian, work/kill for Russia, and live in Russia.  Characters like the Black Widow

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Colossus (my personal favorite)

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and the Crimson Dynamo

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Here’s the thing though.  If you wanted to get technical all of these characters aren’t technically Russian, they’re Soviet.

For anyone who might not know the Soviet Union was a collection of Eastern European and Central Asian nations that shared a common system of government and were all bundled together under the “benevolent” protection of their biggest and most powerful member, Russia.

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Granted they all used the Russian language and currency and they all banded together to use Russian technology and education defend and develop but each member state did have it’s own history and culture before joining the Soviet Union.

What’s interesting is that the Soviets were only around for about 80 years.  It all started with this guy: Vladimir Lenin

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who helped kickstart the Russian Revolution of 1917 which was supposed to look like this

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However, the Revolution was taken over by this guy: Joseph Stalin

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who did a lot of this

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Millions of people died, even more millions starved to death, and pre Soviet Russian culture suffered and was almost completely erased in an attempt to make room for the new and modern Soviet system of thought.  Couple that with some old fashioned Cold War antagonism and paranoia and it’s easy to see why many people, especially in the West, don’t know much about pre Soviet Russia.

I want to talk about the gods, heroes and monsters of pre Soviet Russia: a land of forests, rivers, and the kind of vast isolated landscape that would leave a person feeling very small.

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Thankfully I am not the first person to recognize the amazing stories of pre Soviet Russia for what they are, people like Neil Gaiman have included Russian folklore into their stories since the beginning of their careers.

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If you’re a fan of Mr. Gaiman’s work than you have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to talk about but for the rest of us, let’s delve into the creepy, strange, and wonderful world of Russian folk lore.

Examples and showcases:

Here’s where I showcase certain parts of Russian mythology.  Naturally I can’t go over it all, there’s enough material for an entire book but for now let’s look at three parts: the old gods, great folk heroes, and mythical beasts and beings.

Now before the Soviets came to power Russia was Christian, really REALLY Christian.

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While the Soviets  tried to stamp out the Russian church (it’s making a come back now) there was a time when Russia was ruled by the old gods.

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Not a whole lot is known about these gods (nothing was written down and the Christians were just as happy to destroy the remnants of the old world as the Soviets were) but they do continue to live on through their names.  You have the main god, the god of thunder, Perun

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The god of light, Belobog

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and his much darker companion, Chernobog.  Fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods may recognize Chernobog as “that guy with the hammer” whereas fans of Disney’s Fantasia might recognize him as the guy at the end of the movie that gave you nightmares.

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As I said before though, we don’t know a whole lot about these gods.  This is because around 980 A.D Russia became a Christian nation thanks to this man.

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That’s Vladimir of Kiev, the man who would make Russia Christian and shape it into what it is today (technically he’s Ukrainian but shh!  That part of the world is already in enough trouble as it is).  Let’s make one thing clear, Vladimir was not a nice man.  He used violence and fear to build his empire and it was reported that he had five wives and over 800 concubines, but since he made Russia Christian (by forcing entire populations to baptize themselves in rivers) the Church liked him and made him a saint.

Anyway, Vladimir ruled from the city Kiev which became very wealthy through trade.  Wealth attracts rivals and rivals means war so Vladimir surrounded himself with his knights or bogatyr in Russian.

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These men were romanticized into early Russian superheroes and the epic tales (or byliny in Russian) about their deeds read almost like a Thor comic.

The three men pictured above are three of the most famous bogatyr: Illya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich. and Alyosha Popovich.  Here’s a small taste of their alleged exploits.

  • Illya travels from his hometown to Kiev in order to serve Prince Vladimir.  While Kiev is over 500 miles away he vows to accomplish the journey in six hours and nearly succeeds, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was delayed fighting a supernatural forest bandit.
  • Dobryanya fought a multi headed dragon by himself for three days and nearly drowned in its blood.
  • Alyosha fought the monster Turagin but beating him to death with a staff, cutting him into tiny pieces, and presenting his body to Prince Vladamir.

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It’s worth mentioning that we should probably take these stories with a grain of salt but there is some speculation that these great deeds were metaphors and representations of actual people who fought against some of Russia’s many, many enemies.

Lastly we’re going to talk mythical creatures and beasts.  While the south of Russia is dominated by plains and steppes the north of ancient Russia was covered in dark, deep, and cold forests.

1890 Dark Forest

These were the kinds of places where demons lived and where a Russian peasant would think twice before venturing out into the woods at night.  Naturally places like these were the breeding ground for all sorts of mythical creatures like the child snatching leshii 

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and the seductive and tempting rusalka

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But it would be terrible form not to mention the queen of Russian folklore, the witch that rules them all: Baba Yaga

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She lives in a house that walks on chicken legs, flies around on a mortar and pestle, and in a couple of accounts has no qualms about eating people.  That being said Baba Yaga is an interesting case study.  In some stories she is definitely evil but in other cases she lends her help and powers to the hero of the story.  Basically she’s awesome and more people deserve to know about her.

How to use Russian mythology in comics

This is the part where I offer my own personal opinions on the folklore of the day and how they could be used in a comic book.

I mentioned that these stories would be right at home in a Thor comic and I meant it.  Gods walking among the people, legendary heroes who can kill dragons and travel hundreds of miles in hours, and mystical creatures are Thor’s bread and butter. In fact, inserting Russian folk legends into Thor comics would work really well considering that the Vikings and the Slavic Russians have a long history together.

But let’s say that Marvel doesn’t want to add Russian mythology to Thor, what happens when you try to make a Russian comic book hero stand on its own.  Personally I think that having one of these legendary bogatyr travel forward in time to modern day Russia would make an interesting story.  Something like that could be a “fish out of water” story where the hero attempts to fit into modern Russia while coming to grips with the fact that he is a relic.  The hero would have to cope with the centuries of violence and persecution that Russia has undergone and struggle to be a hero in a society that has all but forgotten him.

As for the mystical elements of Russian folklore I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be a modern story with these elements in them.  One of the most popular types of stories are the stories where a protagonist, usually a young child, travels to a mystical realm where the creatures and gods of ancient Russia exist.  Think of it like Alice in Wonderland only with woodland sprites and witches in chicken feet shacks.

Anyway, that’s a brief description of Russian folklore and how it could be made into an epic comic.  Let me know your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.