Golden Age Showcase: Jill Trent, Science Sleuth.

It’s funny that popular culture doesn’t associate women with the sciences, and it’s especially interesting when you consider that women have been responsible for huge advances in science from early mathematics and astronomy,

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to creating the genre of science fiction,

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to taking us to the moon,

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and basically inventing the whole idea of computer sciences and programming.

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Interestingly enough, the comic book industry had a female science hero to call their own in the 1940’s, and I thought it might be fun to talk about her today.

This is Jill Trent, Science Sleuth.

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Origin and Career

Jill Trent made her first appearance as a back up story in Fighting Yank #6 in 1943.

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She was created by artist Al Camy, a man who had done a lot of work for Standard Comics including work on one of their most popular heroes, the Black Terror.

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The setup for each story followed the standard Golden Age setup with not a lot of attention paid to the backstory and not a lot of effort being put into explaining how Jill makes a living.  She’s just a genius who invents stuff and solves crimes with them.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #9 - Version 2

As you can see from the page above, Jill Trent was a genius inventor and scientist.  Not only did she develop a way to see through walls, she presumably figured out a way to defy gravity as well.

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To help her with her adventures Jill had a friend named Daisy Smythe, who was her confidant and sidekick throughout her adventures.  This were their sleeping arrangements.

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Sure those are double cots placed side to side and it’s no different than what Batman and Robin were doing around this time,

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but let’s face it, your mind already went there didn’t it?

Not only was Jill a genius, but both ladies were actually very capable fighters and had no qualms about defending themselves by any means necessary.

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Also, they weren’t above the use of guns either, especially in one particular adventure when they were fighting off a bunch of goons over a copper bedframe.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #8

Granted, the crooks were trying to get the bed back because it had a large stack of money in it but still, it certainly puts a vicious spin on customer complaints.

Despite being a bit controversial Jill and company were actually reasonably successful.  They appeared in two issues of Fighting Yank and were then moved to a title called Wonder Comics where they appeared in twelve issues.

So what happened?

Her publisher suffered with the rest of the comic book industry in the 1950’s and she was cancelled in 1956.

With that being said, she may have been cancelled but she hasn’t been forgotten.  She’s actually in the public domain and free for anyone to use, although the sources I’ve checked have said to be careful since there still might be some legal issues.

However, legal grey area or not, that hasn’t stopped the independent comics scene from reviving the two heroines.  In 2015 a Kickstarter was launched to give Jill a modern update and it was incredibly successful.

Cover art by Rafael Romeo Magat.

Sadly, I have no idea where you might be able to buy this if you’re interested.  If anyone knows, please post a comment.

Jill Trent isn’t just progressive and potentially subversive, she’s pretty awesome as well.  She throws down like Wonder Woman, she’s dedicated to the pursuit of scientific knowledge like Einstein, and she has the ability to come up with more gadgets than Q from James Bond.

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She would make a genuinely fantastic modern heroine and more people deserve to know about her.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Purple Zombie

So we lost one of the greats yesterday: George A. Romero.

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While he did create other films and was a fervent activist throughout his life, the man will always be remembered as the founding father of the zombie movie.

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Fun fact: after he made his first film Night of the Living Dead Romero screwed up some paper work with the copyright office and as a result, the film is now in the public domain.  You can watch it for free and I highly recommend it.

Yes, zombies are a pop culture staple nowadays.  While their time as the dominant force of pop culture has waned, they’re still around making boatloads of money, especially in the comic book world.

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So I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the earliest zombies in comic books, and how different a walking corpse from the 1940’s was from the present day walking corpse.

Today we’re talking about the Purple Zombie.

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Origin and Career

The Purple Zombie made his first appearance in Eastern Publishing’s Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1 in August of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

The character was created by Tarpe Mills, which was a pen name for Golden Age writer and artist June Mills.

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Mrs. Mills was actually the first lady to create a female superhero, a black cat costumed heroine named Miss Fury.

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Let it be said that the early comic book scene wasn’t entirely dominated by male New Yorkers, it was just mostly dominated by them.

When reading the Purple Zombie stories you can actually see a lot of tropes that plague (pun intended) the modern zombie.  He was created by a mad scientist named Dr. Malinsky who was seeking to create an unstoppable army in order to take over the world,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

However, it’s worth mentioning that there is no specific mention of how this zombie was created.

After establishing himself as an evil bastard, Dr. Malinsky realizes that he has the same problem Dr. Frankenstein had, that his creation realizes what it is and isn’t all that fond of his purpose.  The creation bypasses years of therapy and emotional issues by strangling his creator.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

You’ll notice three things that make this guy different.  First, he’s bulletproof and super strong, thus avoiding the trope of zombies that need to be shot in the head and who are only effective in large groups.  Second, he’s surprisingly articulate for a zombie and has no need or desire to consume the brains of the living.  Third, his skin looks more black than purple which…raises a lot of very icky moral questions that are a bit more unsavory today than they would have been seventy years ago.

Nevertheless, this zombie sets out to find the people who backed his creation and remove them from the face of the Earth.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

It’s never mentioned who the backers were working for, but with a name like Otto Von Heim it’s safe to assume they were working for the Nazis.

In a rather interesting twist, this zombie was actually captured and sentenced to death for the murders.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

This is where he gets his purple skin, and his jailers realize that he can’t be killed.

The zombie is released into the care of Malinsky’s former assistant and swears to do nothing bug good from here on out.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

Again, some kind of uncomfortable racial overtones here (it’s worth mentioning that pre Romero zombies were often associated with African or “voodoo” religions) but as origin stories go it’s pretty fleshed out and well done for the Golden Age.

Sadly, the zombie’s brush with organized crime wasn’t over.  Realizing that a large, bulletproof, super strong, nearly unkillable monster could be useful in committing crimes a gangster named Joe Coroza kidnapped the Purple Zombie in an attempt to use him as a weapon.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

His human friend tries to rescue him, but is forced to contend with an army of mechanized skeletons as well as the gangsters.

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However, it turns out that the man who created the moving skeletons was actually a good guy and the Purple Zombie decided to join forces with him and go off to fight in Europe for the forces of democracy.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5

It’s nice to know that the idea of using creatures more often associated with horror to do good is older than a lot of people think.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5

The plan is a success and the Zombie and his skeleton pals successfully stop the death ray from killing thousands more.  Their solution…cold blooded murder.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

After successfully defeating the death ray and single handily winning the war (I assume) the heroes find themselves forced to land in a mysterious lab.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

It turns out that the scientist forced them to land there so he could show them their time machine and in the very next page… Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

Jesus, this comic jumps around more than an over caffeinated toddler.

The two find themselves in 64 A.D in the middle of the Roman Empire.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #8

The Romans do the surprisingly sensible thing and declare these two strangers to be madmen.  They also understand modern English.

Thankfully, lions are no match for the two.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #8

Unfortunately, they now have to contend with the entire city of Rome burning.

Thankfully, they are saved by the actions of their colleagues in the present day who manage to transport them out of danger into the Medieval Ages.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #9

It turns out they’ve landed straight in the middle of the Crusades and wind up meeting King Richard I of England.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

They would have been on good terms if it wasn’t for their sudden transportation to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

Honestly, I don’t know if the author is trying to be educational, or if she’s just name dropping random historical figures who were popular at the time.

They meet up with Sir Francis Drake while he’s bowling,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

(fun side note: the story is that Sir Francis was supposedly bowling when he received news of the Armada so props for possible historical accuracy)

and the two men help him defeat the Spanish Armada until they’re whisked away to the French Revolution.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #11

I’m beginning to think the scientists controlling the time machine hate our protagonists.

The two suffer through one more trip into prehistoric times,

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and then they’re transported back to the modern day where it is revealed that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually dead to begin with.  He was actually faking his death in order to escape and wound up becoming an unwitting participant in the original experiments.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12

So I guess you could argue that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually a zombie.

Goddammit.

So what happened?

The page above is the last page we would ever see of the Purple Zombie.

We’ve talked about Eastern Publishing before and how it was going through a rather turbulent time in the late 1940’s when it merged with a bunch of other publishers to become Standard Publishing and eventually stopped making comics in the 1950’s.

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But even if Eastern Publishing had survived, I think that the Purple Zombie would have been doomed anyway.  For starters there were companies in the 1940’s who were using zombies and monsters much more effectively and with much better artwork.

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And even if the Purple Zombie had managed to become more popular, it stood no chance against the backlash against comics in the 1950’s that wound up creating the Comics Code.

With that being said I actually like the Purple Zombie.  While he had a pretty average power set and wasn’t technically a zombie, he had a pretty good back story and enough heart and dedication to be a pretty good superhero.

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Golden Age Showcase: Miss Masque

It’s been a while since we had a lady superhero on this blog that didn’t have a huge mainstream movie come out this year.

Let’s see…what femme fatale looks good this week?

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Okay, she looks good.

Today we take a look at the comic book superhero Miss Masque and no, she is not a Carmen Sandiago clone…although that would be pretty kickass.

Origin and Career

Miss Masque made her first appearance in Exciting Comics #51 in September of 1946 and was published by Nedor Comics, a division of the company Standard Comics.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #51

She shared the limelight with her slightly more famous superhero comrade, The Black Terror.

That was the cover of her first issue, this is the double page spread that introduced her to readers:

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #51

I’m not going to lie, as first impressions go that’s a pretty good one.

As for creators, there are no author or artist credits on any of her stories.  However, artists Alex Schomburg and Frank Frazetta have been credited with supplying several covers featuring Miss Masque.  For anyone who might not know, Alex Schomburg was one of the most prolific and dynamic cover artists of the Golden Age of Comics.

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and Frank Frazetta is the reason why we think Conan the Barbarian looks like a chiseled barbarian warlord.

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Anyway, back to Miss Masque.  Her backstory is simple, she’s a socialite named Diana Adams and she moonlights as a superhero, that’s it.  No tragic event, no dead parents (that we know of), and no lab accidents.

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She’s just an ordinary lady with her wits, two pistols, and a lot of time on her hands.

Her first adventure is a simple one.  After her car breaks down she attempts to get help from a greedy old farmer who is currently engaged in a water dispute with his neighbor.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #51

The farmer attempts to fix the problem by hiring a bum to burn his neighbor’s property to the ground but the bum attempts to steal from him, the farmer gets violent, and Diana changes into Miss Masque in order to investigate.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #51

The farmer knocks her out (this kind of happens a lot in the future) and attempts to ditch the evidence by burning his house down.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #51

All pretty standard evil so far, but he tried to kill the dog and that is unforgivable.

Miss Masque escapes and tracks the farmer down, only to have him drown in a cruelly ironic way.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #51

That…is not a good way to go.

Most of her stories followed a similar format.  Her stories would open with a massive double page spread,

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #54

and then she would go on to solve the “case of the week” with little to know continuity between issues.

It’s worth noting that she was a pretty capable superheroine.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #54

She would find a problem that usually involved whoever she was dating at the time, discover some dastardly scheme, and kick all kinds of butt and have the situation wrapped up in a couple of pages.

The artwork is pretty good too.

The formula must have worked because Miss Masque turned out to be pretty popular.  She got a couple of cover appearances,

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and she even became one of Nedor’s top three characters along with the Black Terror and the Fighting Yank.

Comic Book Cover For America's Best Comics #24

It’s worth mentioning that she underwent a costume redesign around 1947 where she showed off a bit more skin.

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Sometimes it’s important to remember that stereotypes about women in comics exist for a reason.

So what happened?

Nedor Comics must have been undergoing the same troubles the entire comic book industry was suffering through in the late 1940’s because they were consolidated into their parent company Standard Comics in 1949, which went under itself in 1956.

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It almost seems like a broken record at this point but Miss Masque most likely suffered the same fate that befell most Golden Age superheroes in the fifties when the comic book industry was gutted by parents and lawmakers worried that comics were corrupting their children.

If I had to make an educated guess she was doomed from the start since her initial publication date of 1946 lines up with the decline of the superhero genre in American comics and it’s pretty safe to assume she was created as an attempt to boost sales.

However Miss Masque, along with most of the Standard Comics’ library of characters, would receive a reboot in the 1990’s when most of them entered the public domain.

She wound up becoming pretty popular at AC Comics, making a couple of cover appearances in their annual issues,

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A team member of groups like Femforce,

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and she even got her own solo series.

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In this new continuity she retained her identity of wealthy socialite Diana Adams only this time her costume is the source of her power and her will to do good, since it’s possessed by a “spirit of justice”.

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I’d also say it was possessed by the spirit of 90’s comic book cheese.

She also appeared in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura series in the early 2000’s,

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where she was engaged in a romantic relationship with another character named Fighting Spirit.

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Most recently Miss Masque was part of Dynamite Comics Project Superpowers series from 2008 to 2010.  In this series she got another costume change where she looks even more like Carmen Sandiago,

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she also suffers from amnesia and has actual superpowers this time.  She can replicate other people’s appearances, although her powers seem to be a bit ill defined.

Dynamite even gave her a spinoff solo series in 2009 which lasted for four issues.

Maybe it’s the red and the artists’ fascination with her legs that makes her so popular.

Miss Masque is one of the best female superheroes to come out of the Golden Age of Comics.  While we tend to look back at that time as a place where men ruled and women were considered to be side props, it’s important to remember that there were people out there who thought much differently and were willing to put a lot of time and effort into creating capable and well written female comic book characters.

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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.

Golden Age Showcase: Scarab

You know what’s awesome?  Ancient Egypt.

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As one of the world’s oldest civilizations Egypt has held a special place in the hearts of historians and pop culture geeks everywhere.  From the great Nile river,

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to the Pharaoh’s of old,

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to the priceless historical artifacts that have been…”liberated” from their homes and placed in museums around the world.

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Egypt has been a place that has captured the imaginations of generations.

It turns out that comic book creators have a healthy interest in ancient Egypt too.  A lot of superheroes are either from Egypt or use ancient Egyptian magic and imagery.

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Today we’re going to look at one of the earliest heroes from the Golden Age of comics who used ancient Egyptian magic, and another uncomfortable case of 1940’s casual racism and stereotypes.

Today we’re talking about the Scarab.

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Origin and Career:

The Scarab first appeared in Startling Comics #34 in July of 1945.  While the writer is unkown the artist was a man named Ken Battefield…who didn’t go on to do very much or become well known.

In the comic the Scarab was actually a well respected archaeologist named Peter Ward who was visiting his uncle in London for a vacation.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

Suddenly, a wounded man stumbles onto his front step and tells Peter to find a scroll in the British Museum that links back to the ancient Egyptian cat god, making this one of the rare occasions where British imperialism was actually helpful.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

Unfortunately, the men who stabbed the messenger are on Peter’s trail, looking for the fantastic treasure that is supposedly buried in the cat’s tomb.

Peter travels to Egypt, reinforcing every uncomfortable stereotype the West had about people from the Middle East.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

and after being stranded in the desert he is fortunate enough to be aided by a mysterious cat who guides him to the tomb’s entrance.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

In the tomb Peter finds a magic ring and POOF!, he’s instantly transformed into our hero.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

The ring gives him a whole host of powers, including the ability to fly and enhanced durability.  This is fortunate because the men who were after him and the treasure catch up to him and try to kill him, only to be foiled by the Scarab.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

This ring apparently gives Peter a soul as well, because he demands that the robbers put everything they stole back and refuses to take any of the treasure for himself.

The Scarab would go on to a fairly long stint as a back up character in another Standard Comics title Exciting Comics and spent the rest of his run solving various archaeology related crimes.  There is one particular instance where Ramon Royale, the man who Peter stopped in his first adventure, was employed by the German government in an attempt to destabilize Egypt and turn it against the United Nations.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #43

However, Peter was able to convince the Egyptians that siding with the Unite Nations was a good thing.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #43

The rest of his adventures would follow a pretty straight formula of the Scarab stopping some threat that was looking to steal archaeological treasure that didn’t belong to them.  This would continue into his last story which appeared in The Black Terror #20 in 1947 where he stopped a gang of four Arab thieves bent on robbing a grave for wealth.

In an interesting twist the Arabs were actually immortals who uncovered an immortality serum in a tomb they had discovered by accident.

Comic Book Cover For The Black Terror #20

The Scarab was able to identify a counter to the potion and the four Arabs killed themselves when they realized they were no longer immortal and were unable to fit in with the real world.

Comic Book Cover For The Black Terror #20

So what happened?

The man never got past back up story material and disappeared in 1947.  It makes sense considering that he just wasn’t that well written and superheroes were going out of style in post war America.

He would disappear off of pop culture radar for a while until Alan Moore picked up a lot of Standard’s superheroes for his Tom Strong series.

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The Scarab would be a bit player for most of Alan Moore’s story until a spin off series to Tom Strong called Terra Obscura.

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The Scarab actually played an important part in the story when he bonded with the ancient Egyptian god Thoth in order to stop the villain Mystico, who had bonded with the god Set and threatened to take over the world.

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The Scarab was an unimportant hero who had an uneventful career and did uneventful things.  Still, despite all the old timey racism and stereotyping, I kind of like him.  He wasn’t the first hero to gain his powers through the mysterious and ancient gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, but he embraced his gimmick with gusto and devoted his life to making sure that the artifacts and treasures of history were safe from thieves.

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Eh, close enough.

Golden Age Showcase: Princess Pantha

Today I want to talk about Tarzan.

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We may think of Tarzan as quaint and pretty racist today (a white man who finds himself stranded in the jungle and not only survives but thrives and proves himself superior to people who have been living in the same location for centuries? Right.) but back in the 1930’s and 1940’s he was a pop culture juggernaut.

Tarzan got his start in 1912, years before the comic books became the medium they are today.  In their own special way, the Tarzan books were a big part of the main competition that comic books had to face as they came into their own.

I bring this up because like Superman in 1938, the popularity of Tarzan spawned a whole host of imitators.  One of the most important imitators was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

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The idea of taking the “noble savage” trope that Tarzan helped develop and flipping the gender of the protagonist proved popular (and probably quite kinky) and lucrative.

Sheena would go on to become a pop culture icon of her time and would would inspire a whole host of imitators herself, and today we’re going to talk about one of them.

Today I present: Princess Pantha

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Origin and Career:

Disclaimer: The following article shows and discusses imagery that displays some pretty strong racist overtones.  This is not done out of malice or anger, these images were products of their time and should be openly viewed and discussed so that we as a culture and a people can acknowledge them and learn from our past, for better or for worst.

Princess Pantha made her first appearance in Thrilling Comics #56 in October of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

While I was unable to find the name of her writer I did find out that she was drawn by comic book artist Art Saaf,

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who would go on to do a lot of work for DC Comics in the 1970’s, including a lot of romance comics,

and one of the most famous stints on Supergirl in the 1970’s.

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It’s pretty clear that Mr. Saaf was really good at drawing beautiful women, and it definitely shows in his early work with Princess Pantha.

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Anyway, back to her origin.  It turned out that “Princess Pantha” was originally a stage name for the world famous animal trainer of the National Circus.  Looking to improve their act the circus sent Pantha into the heart of Africa in an attempt to find a rare white gorilla the locals called “M’gana”.

While it is pretty cool to have a career woman on an expedition to further her own fortunes, any sort of progressive or forward thinking idealism is quickly squashed in the first couple of pages by the “famous explorer” Dane Hunter, who believes that an “inexperienced kid” shouldn’t be by herself in the wilds of Africa.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

The Princess isn’t exactly the most tolerant type either and her expedition goes south when her party is attacked by natives.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She manages to fend off the locals by playing a recording of a gorilla, which scares the raiding party away.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Unfortunately, she is now stranded in the jungle without much food and no way home.

Dane attempts a rescue but is captured himself.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Thankfully, some time has passed between Patha escaping and Dane being captured, enough time for Pantha to become an expert in jungle survival (in one page no less) and craft a leopard skin bikini.

Pantha rescues Dane by stampeding a herd of wild elephants into the village of the tribe that tried to kill them both.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She rescues him and the issue ends with both of them vowing to find a way back to civilization.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Like I said, this particular story has some pretty racist overtones, but it was popular enough to warrant more adventures and even several cover appearances.

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Sadly, most of her stories didn’t deviate from the formula set by her first appearance, where Pantha and Dane would stumble into a mystery/adventure and have to fight off an army of poorly dressed and horribly stereotypical natives who were greedy, evil, and usually didn’t speak very good English.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #69 - Version 2

You’ll notice that the world “civilization” gets thrown around a lot and it usually winds up referring to western or “white” civilization.

So what happened?

Pantha went on like this for three years until it was dropped in favor of another icon of 1950’s pop culture, the cowboy.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #72 - Version 1

Her final appearance was in Thrilling Comics #72, where once again she confronted and defeated the savage men and beasts of the wild thanks to her “superior” intellect and the benefits of western civilization.

It was probably for the best.

Like many of Standard Comics’ properties she would experience a revival in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  She first appeared in AC Comics Jungle Girls: Wild Side

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displaying all the fabulous 90’s comic tropes of an impossibly large bust on top of an impossibly slim waist with the butt jutting out in the most uncomfortable angle.

She would also have a supporting role in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura series.

Image result for america's best comics princess pantha

She dated a character named Doc Strange for a bit, but was mostly relegated to the sidelines.

Princess Pantha is a tricky character to talk about.  On one hand she was strong, capable woman who could handle herself in a fight and was able to overcome a lot of presumptions that her male colleagues had about her.  On the other hand, there was some pretty blatant and uncomfortable racism and sexism going on in these comics, ensuring that they would be permanent fixtures of their times and would not be able to to transition into modern popular culture very well.

But hey, leopard skin bikini!

Golden Age Showcase: The Fighting Yank

Happy Labor Day everyone!

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For our international viewers Labor Day is an American holiday where a lot of working people get the day off in order to relax and for the nation to honor the people working in the shrinking number of manufacturing jobs in this country and no, service workers usually don’t get the day off.

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Sadly there aren’t a whole lot of Golden Age superheroes who worked in factories during the 1940’s, most of them were off actively punching Nazis or saboteurs.

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Still, honoring the men and women who worked in American factories during the Second World War is a pretty patriotic thing,

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so let’s look at one of the most patriotic superheroes to ever come out of the Golden Age.

Meet the Fighting Yank: a hero who bleeds the red, white, and blue so hard he makes Captain America hide his face in shame.

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Origin and Career

The Fighting Yank first appeared in Neodor Comics’ Startling Comics #10 in September of 1941.

He was created by writer Richard E. Hughes,

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and artist John L. Blummer.

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Fun fact: Richard Hughes was a pseudonym for his real name, Leo Rosenbaum.  Hughes would go on to be the editor for the American Comics Group from 1943 to 1967.

The origin story is a doozy, and in order to understand it we have to go all the way back to the American Revolution where a man named Bruce Carter is tasked by George Washington to deliver dispatches through enemy lines.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

sadly the mission fails and Bruce is killed by British spies.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

fast forward a couple of centuries later and Bruce Carter III is being yelled at by his family and fiance for being lazy and day dreaming about his long dead ancestor when he should be doing something.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

In what must have been one heck of a mind trip the ghost of his ancestor comes back to life and tasks the modern Bruce to find his ancestor’s cloak, which will give him incredible power.

It turns out the cloak was hidden in his house all along and after donning it Bruce has the power to bend steel and punch through walls.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

after discovering the extent of his powers the Fighting Yank goes on his first adventure where he manages to save the life of a United States Senator named Walton.

It’s worth mentioning Bruce’s fiancee, Joan, is actually a pretty developed and capable character for a superhero’s girlfriend.  She’s the one that discovers the plot to kidnap the Senator,

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

and she handles herself in a fight while Bruce is busy admiring himself in the mirror.

But perhaps the most impressive feat is that she manages to figure out the Fighting Yank’s identity within seconds of meeting him.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

It turns out that the people who kidnapped the Senator were Nazi agents who sought to undermine America’s war efforts.

The Fighting Yank rescues a man who he thinks is the Senator but turns out to be a Fascist decoy.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

The fake Senator shoots the Fighting Yank, but the hero is saved by the ghost of his ancestor after surviving the wound.

 Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

It turned out that the impostor was actually the real Senator’s twin brother (groan) and the Fighting Yank manages to stop the villains in time before they can do anymore damage.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v4 1 (10)

The Fighting Yank would go on to be one of the most popular characters that the Standard Comics organization would publish.  He was so popular that he was given his own comic book title in September of 1942.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #1

The rest of his adventures were very similar to his first.  The Fighting Yank and his girlfriend would be confronted with some sort of fantastic threat posed by enemy soldiers or saboteurs and they would save the day.

It’s worth mentioning that this comic is a pretty good look into some of the more unsavory aspects of American wartime culture, including some really uncomfortable portrayals of Japanese soldiers and people.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #1

He does get to punch a shark though.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #3

It’s also worth mentioning that there was another hero named the Fighting Yank who was published by Timely Comics during the war as well.

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This version was a slightly more believable character who was a secret agent sent to China in order to fight the Japanese.

He wasn’t nearly as cheesy or as popular as Standard’s version.

So what happened?

Standard Comics reorganized in the late 1940’s and the Fighting Yank disappeared in 1949 after a stint in Nedor Comics’ series America’s Best Comics.

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The hero would be revived in the 1990’s with a publisher called AC Comics reprinting some of his titles.  He would later receive a new costume, which was a homage to Jack Kirby’s hero the Fighting American, in 2001.

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The Fighting Yank would also play a part in Alan Moore’s publishing venture America’s Best Comics where it was revealed that Bruce Cater had a daughter named Carol, who wound up inheriting her father’s powers.

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While Carol received her powers in a way similar to her father she was uncomfortable with the name “Fighting Yank” and decided to call herself “Fighting Spirit”.

The Fighting Yank is pure World War 2 American super cheese.  He was created as wartime propaganda, he helped promote some of the worst stereotypes of Japanese people I’ve ever seen, and he was half a bald eagle short of bleeding red white and blue.

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That being said, it was obvious who he was from the get go and he made no apologies for being one of the most American characters in an industry filled with dozens of heroes wearing the red white and blue.

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Golden Age Showcase: Lance Lewis

I love superhero stories, but every now and then I get tired of men and women with impossible powers and I want to read something else.

When I get tired of reading about superheroes like Superman and Spider Man I like to turn to the science fiction category.  Granted, while superheroes and sci fi do share a lot of similarities, some times it’s nice to just relax with a book about normal human beings using their intelligence, fists, and cool sci fi gadgets to solve all the world’s problems.

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Okay, not that one.

Thankfully, this was something that comic book publishers understood as far back as the 1940’s and the folks at Standard Comics were more than willing to accommodate the need for non superhero stories with strange and fascinating science fiction stories about space men and aliens from the future.

Let’s talk about the detective from the 22nd century: Lance Lewis.

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Origin and Career

Lance Lewis first appeared in Standard Comics’ Mystery Comics #3 in 1944 during the post war boom in non superhero comics.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Although is first appearance didn’t credit the author or artist, later issues revealed that the character was written by Bob Oskner,

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who had done some early work for Timely Comics and made his name in humor comics but would later find steady work at DC in the 1970’s,

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and was drawn by Graham Ingels, a man who would become famous for his work on EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt.

Image result for graham ingels tales from the crypt.

Anyway, back to Lance Lewis.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Our hero was a detective from the distant future tasked with keeping the solar system free from bandits, brigands, and other criminals.

In his first adventure Lance was tasked with overseeing a race between two space ships that belonged to two rival companies who were vying for a lucrative delivery contract.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Sadly, the race did not go well and Lance was tasked with solving the murder of one of the pilots.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

What’s rather interesting is that this story did present a genuine mystery for the reader, who was left with no idea how a pilot could have been killed in the middle of space without a mark on him or without any apparent sabotage to the ship.

It turned out that the ship was sabotaged by the competition.  The rival company hired a saboteur to drill microscopic holes into the ship’s engine which led to all the air escaping from the ship.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

There are a couple of things that are pretty noteworthy about this comic.  First, the art style is pure “ray gun gothic”, which was an art style that was very popular in early science fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

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Image result for raygun gothic 1950'sWhat I’m saying here is that the art is awesome and I personally think there should be more of it.

Second, you’ll notice small lines of war time propaganda on the bottom of the page.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Such were the times I guess.

Lance would get a girlfriend named Marna in the following issue after rescuing her from a group of evil blobs from Saturn who were bent on total domination of the Solar System.

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Then he took a three year hiatus and would return as the cover character on Standard’s Startling Comics #44 in March of 1947 to capitalize on the boom of non superhero themed comic books.

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The rest of his appearances were pretty standard “sci fi detective” affairs, where he would solve a case that involved some strange technology or evil alien race with his girlfriend.

His last appearance was in Startling Mystery Comics #53 in September of 1948.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

His last case deserves special mention because it is an honest to goodness clever bit of writing.

Lance and Marna are on Jupiter watching a broadcast of the Planetary Music Festival, a music competition that has a huge cash prize for the winner.  Lance brings Marna’s attention to a little boy who is incredibly skilled with the violin.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

However, Lance is interrupted by his superiors ordering him to investigate a mysterious accident in space where a cargo ship was destroyed, which was strange considering that it wasn’t carrying explosives. Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Things get weirder when Lance finds out that the boy’s manager, an evil looking Mr. Gorman and his associate Namar, placed a stack of greeting cards onto the ship that exploded.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Long story short, it turned out that Mr. Goman and Namar were blackmailing shipping companies into paying protection money and would blow up the ships of people who refused to pay with specially treated cards that were coated with an atomic explosive that was set off when a certain tone was played over the radio.  The person who set the tone off was the boy who was playing the violin.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

The comic has a happy ending, in turned out they boy wasn’t in on the plot and was only playing to support his mother, and the criminals are all brought to justice in one of the best written Golden Age stories I have ever read.

So what happened?

Lance Lewis was actually published by one of Standard Comics’ imprints, Nedor Comics.  Nedor and its sister company Better Publications were folded into Standard Comics in 1949, a few months after Lance Lewis stories stopped being published.  While I can’t say for sure why these stories stopped being published (mostly because everyone involved either isn’t talking or is dead) I’d like to speculate and say that this merging was due to financial troubles at Standard Comics and Lance and company got lost in the shuffle.

That being said, Lance Lewis would have a brief revival in the early 2000’s thanks to one of the greatest modern comic book writers alive today: Alan Moore.

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Alan Moore started a company called America’s Best Comics in 1999.

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One of the series he created was about a “science hero” named Tom Strong,

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The series proved popular enough to warrant a spin off series known as Terra Obscura in 2003.  It was a series about an alternate Earth on the other side of the universe and utilized a lot of the old Standard Comics heroes that had fallen into public domain.

Lance Lewis made an appearance Tom Strong #12 as a time traveling scientist who sent himself back to World War 2 so he could fight in “The last good war”.

He would die three years later when he was killed by a villain named Mystico who needed to obtain the heart of a time traveler.

Lance Lewis was an interesting case study of the Golden Age.  While many people, including myself, dedicate most of our time and effort into studying the old superheroes we tend to forget that there were comic books that told other types of stories as ell.

Lance Lewis may not have had super powers, but he was definitely a hero using his brains, fists, and toys to deal out justice to the criminals of the future.

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Golden Age Showcase: Mister Future

Today we’re going to dive into the deep end of obscure and interesting Golden Age superheroes.

A lot of people tend to think the comic book industry is overwhelmingly dominated by what is referred to as “The Big Two”.

and today that is certainly true considering that today Marvel and DC account for almost 70% of the comic book retail market.

But that wasn’t always the case, especially in the early days of the comic book industry.  When Action Comics #1 hit the stands in 1938

it was so successful that it spawned a whole host of imitators and rival publishers who realized that there was some serious money to be made.

One of these new competitors was publisher Ned Pines.

While Pines Publishing started out it originally published pulp magazines, cheap disposable text based magazines that told lurid stories about shady and intriguing individuals and were the precursors to the modern comic book.

Pines saw all the money that comic books were making in the 1930’s and in 1939 he started his own comic book imprint called Standard Comics.

Standard Comics would become the parent company for two other comic book publishing titles: Better Publications and Nedor Publishing.

Despite the fact that a lot of people don’t know about Standard Comics they were incredibly proficient during the Golden Age of Comics and today we’re going to talk about one of their first and most successful heroes: Captain Future.

Origin and career

Captain Future originally appeared in what would become one of Standard Comics’ longest running titles: Startling Comics #1.

The hero was created by comic book artist and writer Kin Platt.

and was based off of a pulp magazine character that was also published by Standard Publications.

The comic book Captain Future was originally mild mannered research scientist Dr. Andrew Bryant.  When pressured to create something that could be sold for profit or lose his job Dr. Bryant attempted to “cross infrared light and gamma rays” in an attempt to create a short wave radio signal.  The experiment fails and explodes in his face.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

For some reason the explosion gives him super strength, enhanced senses, flight, and the ability to shoot electricity from his hands instead of killing him.  After foiling a group of robbers attempting to clean out his company’s cash Dr. Bryant decides to become “The Man of Tomorrow” and calls himself Captain Future.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

In his first adventure Captain Future manages to foil a plot by the mysterious “Knights of the Purple Plague” to rob a shipment of gold from a cargo ship.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

What I personally find interesting is how Captain Future doesn’t immediately endear himself to the police, who are actually quite suspicious of him at first and try to charge him with murder.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

The story has a happy ending with Captain Future bringing the Knights of the Purple Plague to justice and even manages a small measure of revenge against the police.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics v1 #1

Captain Future would go on to be the main story in the Startling Comics title for an impressive 40 issues.  Most of them would be similar to his first adventure, where he would use his powers to defeat the “gangsters of the week” who were attempting to steal something or take over the world, pretty standard villain stuff.

What’s interesting was that while Captain Future was nearly invulnerable with his super powers he could lose them if the conditions were right or the villains had the right kind of tech.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #3

Also, Captain Future’s power supply was finite and required Dr. Bryant to charge himself up like a battery in order to become Captain Future.

Author’s Note: You may notice that this article has a lot of complete comic book pages in it.  That is because I discovered a website called Comic Book Plus, which is an archive of a ton of Golden Age comics.  If you would like to read more of Captain Future’s adventures and some of Standard Comic’s other titles feel free to check him out here.

So what happened?

Sadly, Standard Comics didn’t change with the times and went defunct in 1956.

However, many of Standard’s old heroes passed into the public domain (Captain Future is free for anyone to use if any one is interested) and they have found life in other publisher’s work.

Captain Future would have three guest appearances with many of his former colleagues.  First, in 2003’s Sentinels of America #1 published by AC Comics.

Second, in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura which was published in 2004.

And finally, Dynamite Publishing created a title called Project Superpowers which was created specifically to bring many of the more popular Golden Age heroes back into the modern day, including Captain Future.

Captain Future was a real “Man of Tomorrow”.  He had an interesting power set and was just flawed enough to keep readers interested in his stories for years.  It’s safe to say that if it wasn’t for the unfortunate gutting of the superhero industry in the 1950’s, Captain Future could have become a much more famous and recognized character.

This was fun, I think we could definitely do more obscure comic book characters from Standard Comics later.