Warning, there are some pretty awful depictions of Japanese people in this article.
We all know who Captain America is right?
The phrase “success spawns imitators” is something that applies to all art, but it is especially true with comic books.
You have an super strong human who fights for truth and justice?
Rip him off to huge success and have the inevitable court case bankrupt your company!
The Superman/Captain Marvel story was one that played out a lot in the 1940’s and Captain America’s shtick of “soldier who goes off to Europe to fight thinly disguised Nazis”,
was one of the most popular setups of the time…for pretty obvious reasons.
Today we’re going to look at a super hero so similar to Captain America that when the creators were deciding a name all they had to do was look at the next letter in the alphabet: Captain Battle.
Origin and Career
Captain Battle was published by a company called Lev Gleason Publications, a company that is most famous for publishing the first true crime comic: Crime Does Not Pay.
Our hero made his first appearance in another title Silver Streak Comics in May of 1941.
The character was created by artist Jack Binder and writer Cal Formes. Of the two, Jack is the only one who had a picture,
Jack is also the more famous of the two, since he helped create another superhero for Lev Gleason Publications called Dardevil. And no, it’s not THE Daredevil.
Like most Golden Age heroes, Captain Battle’s origin story is quick and dealt with in a single page.
He was a kid scientist in the first World War and lost an eye to the conflict. He vowed that a war like that should never happen again (spoilers: that didn’t go so well) and resolves to use his inventions to stop conflicts from happening.
To help him he has inventions such as the “curvoscope”, a telescope that can see anywhere in the world…somehow.
Also, he has the help of a pretty lady secretary, because this is the 1940’s and apparently that was all women were good for.
In his first adventure Captain Battle fights off a race of giant birdmen who are attacking a group of battleships. He uses this opportunity to showcase two of his other inventions: the Luceflyer jet pack and the Dissolvo gun.
Full disclosure, I think “Luceflyer” is probably the coolest name for a jet pack I can think of.
These birdmen who are attacking the ships belong to a villain named “The Black Dragon” and are called “deaglos”. They’re big, strong, and kind of intimidating,
wait no…no, no, no, no. When you fly around and refer to your commander as “your cluckness” you lose all sense of foreboding and terror.
Naturally, Captain Battle swoops in and saves the day. He showcases his Dissolvo gun on some of the birdmen and it is goddamn terrifying.
This isn’t a one and done thing, the Dissolvo gets used pretty often throughout the series when Captain Battle decides to fight actual Nazis.
Call me old fashioned, but I’m willing to bet that using a weapon that dissolves your enemies into goo is a violation of the Geneva Convention and human decency.
The Captain is kidnapped and dragged before the Black Dragon, who attempts to turn the hero into a birdman.
He discovers that the birds fear radio beams and uses this knowledge to kill them all in the final page.
It’s worth mentioning that these creatures used to be humans, a point that the Captain brings up two issues later when he invents a serum that changes them back.
He even picks up a subservient Asian man who helps him rescue all the other men.
Captain Battle proved to be a popular hero, so popular that he wound up getting his own kid sidekick and cover appearances.
Also, he fought Nazi cultist skull unicorns,
no…I am not joking.
This was the sort of stuff that would define Captain Battle’s career. He fought real threats that were portrayed in strange occult ways in order to make them more intimidating and fantastic.
So what happened?
Captain Battle made his last anthology appearance in Silver Streak #21 in 1942 and his final solo appearance in 1943. I guess having a superhero trying to stop WW2 from happening is kind of a bummer when the actual war just got bigger.
Lev Gleason Publications continued, but folded in 1956 after public outcry over excessive comic book violence and changes to the industry led to decreased sales.
While Captain Battle’s publisher went down the tubes the character did manage to live on. While his post Golden Age career wasn’t as big or as flashy as some of his counter parts, he did get a movie.
It was called Captain Battle: Legacy War and…
let’s just say that Marvel probably won’t be banging down the door for the rights to this movie.
Captain Battle did actually make a return to comics in 2009 when Image Comics republished Silver Streak Comics in an effort to showcase what Golden Age comics could be if the creators were allowed more artistic freedom.
It was edited by Image founder Erik Larsen and if you’re reading this Mr. Larsen…I have some ideas you might like.
Captain Battle was a cheesy, over the top, impractical, and mildly racist superhero who was born out of a pretty blatant attempt to rip off more popular superheroes. With that being said, he possessed a unique charm and flagrant disregard for convention and common sense that actually made him a bit endearing and a pretty cool superhero.
You know who doesn’t get nearly enough respect in the comic book world? Superheroes who live and work in the water.
I mean really, we live on a planet that has water covering over 70% of our surface and so many people like to treat genuine and well established heroes like Aquaman and Namor as jokes.
With that being said, there has been a lot done over the past decade to rectify this. Aquaman has been getting a lot of attention from the DC higher ups,
and despite everything I’ve been saying, Namor has actually been an integral part of the Marvel stories since the beginning as comic’s first anti hero.
my point is, that there has been a lot of work and effort put in to making characters like these fun and badass and that deserves a lot of respect.
So let’s take the idea that water based heroes can be taken seriously and throw it out the window by taking a look at…the Fin.
Origin and career
The Fin made his first appearance in Daring Mystery Comics #7 in April of 1941.
He was created by Massachusetts native and comic book legend Bill Everett.
The man has a reputation as one of the greats, especially when you consider that his resume includes the creation of Daredevil,
and Namor the Submariner.
I guess the guy really liked the ocean.
Back to the Fin,
the man’s real identity was Peter Noble, a United States naval cadet who found himself in the unfortunate position of being on a sinking submarine,
Peter manages to escape and eventually discovers an underwater cave where he manages to find air, edible plants, and a strange race of creatures calling themselves Neptunians.
Peter fights their ruler, a creature named Ikor, in single combat and realizes that he can breathe underwater because of reasons.
He also becomes their king after killing Ikor with his gun (that somehow manages to work after being underwater for a long time) and the Neptunians begin to worship him as a reincarnation of one of their noble ancestors named “The Fin”.
Peter then asserts his dominance by proclaiming that he is now their king and intends to rule with an iron fist…or just for as long as it takes for him to find a way back home.
The story ends with Peter returning to the sub and fashioning a “slick costume” in order to go off and have an adventure.
Somewhere, a shark is laughing his tail off.
The Fin would have one final Golden Age adventure in the following issue of Daring Mystery Comics where he fought a U-Boat captain calling himself the Barracuda.
Special mention needs to be given to just how evil the Barracuda is. He’s got he mustache. the monocle, and has no problem killing women and children.
Seriously, the Red Skull would be looking at this and go “damn, that’s a bit much”.
Naturally the Fin swoops (swims?) in and saves the day by giving the villain the beating of his life.
He then calls in the Navy and the story ends with the day saved and the villains brought to justice.
So what happened?
The Fin would never have another Golden Age adventure, but not for the reasons you might think.
Normally a lot of these types of characters were cancelled after World War 2 ended due to lack of reader interest, but the Fin was left in the dust BECAUSE of the war.
See, thanks to the fight against the Axis powers, the United States launched a massive campaign to collect material for the war effort. This meant things like saving metal and paper were given a lot of attention.
The U.S also implemented a strict rationing system for everything you could imagine from gas to sugar and, most importantly for the comic book industry, paper.
So thanks to rationing and mailing costs Timely Comics had to put a damper on Daring Mystery Comics. While they did start back up again in 1944 the damage was done and the Fin was no more.
However, like many of his fellow patriots in spandex the Fin would find new life in the later years.
His first post war appearance was in Avengers #97 in 1972 where a likeness of his character, along with a few other Golden Age greats, helped defend Earth during the Kree-Skrull war.
That was his only appearance for a long time until 2004 where the Fin would become a much more fleshed out and meaningful character in the All New Invaders series and the unfinished All Winners Squad: Band of Heroes mini series.
He was an ally of the main characters and part of a military team called “The Crazy Sues”, a special group of enhanced humans gathered by the Allies to defeat the Nazis.
He was not the talkative type.
Besides his team he also decided to get married to a human/Atlantean hybrid named Nia Noble and assumed his place as the king of Neptunia.
Despite his background status and small time appearances, the Fin was given a validation of sorts when he appeared in the Marvel Handbook in 2004.
I’ll be honest, when I was first doing research into the Fin at the start of the article I was a bit skeptic and only wanted to write about him as a joke. At first glance, I don’t think it’s too hard to see why.
Looking at him now, with the benefit of research and hindsight, I see him as more of a tragic hero. Sure he was goofy and had a weird costume, but he was created by a great of the industry and went on to have a fair amount of time in the spotlight.
It’s safe to say that he deserves a place in the pantheon of water themed superheroes.
Happy Holidays everybody. After a fairly long hiatus we’re back! Ready to talk about all the crazy and glorious moments and characters that make up the history of comic books. Now since we’re at the end of the holiday season and into a new year is there a comic book character can we talk about that incorporates both Christmas and New Year’s into his/her mythology? Is there any super hero or super villain we can talk abou…Calendar Man, we’re going to talk about Calendar Man.
Now the Calendar Man is an…odd super villain to say the least. First and foremost he is absolutely NOT a Golden Age villain. His first appearance was in Detective Comics #259 in September of 1958 and he looked like this.
He was a gimmick villain, someone who committed crimes based around a certain theme or strange line of reasoning and in his case Calendar Man committed crimes based around the seasons of the year. You’ll notice that I’m not talking that much about his backstory or motivation. That’s because Calendar Man only had one appearance in the 1950’s and wouldn’t appear in another comic book issue until 1979.
So why are we talking about this one off gimmicky comic book villain that disappeared for over 20 years after his first appearance? Because Calendar Man is actually a pretty good case study into the history of comic book superheroes after their Golden Age debut.
Calendar Man first appeared in 1958 and it’s important to understand that comic books, and comic book superheroes in particular, did not do well in the 1950’s. After the Second World War ended and the various heroes were done kicking Nazi butt
superheroes began to fade from the public image they had previously enjoyed. Instead people turned towards more mature and grown up comic book subjects and comic book companies obliged with an outpouring of other comic book genres like Westerns
crime and noir comics
and horror titles.
In a move that will probably surprise nobody reading this, the parents of the children reading these titles weren’t all too thrilled to have their precious innocent children risk being corrupted by such filth (certainly puts a lot of more modern talk about how things like video games and rap music is corrupting our youth today doesn’t it?) and things came to a head in 1954 with the Senate subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held a hearing on whether or not comic books were responsible for an apparent rise in delinquent behavior in American children. You can read the full text of the hearing here.
The hearings, coupled with the publication of the now infamous book Seduction of the Innocent by child psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham,
who just so happened to be the star witness in the Committee hearings, led to a slew of bad press for the comic book industry.
This led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. The CCA was an industry created organization that was designed as the main censorship body for comic books for the following decades. Rules dictating how much blood could be shown, how the main characters could behave, and what was considered to be “in good taste” were strictly enforced through CCA approved stamps.
Any comic book not carrying this stamp wouldn’t be able to find a distributor and therefore wouldn’t sell.
So what does all this have to do with Calendar Man. Well as I said before, the 1950’s weren’t a very good time for superheroes. A lot of the early superheroes were morally dubious, emotionally complex, and even had no qualms about killing people. All of this went out the window with the advent of the Comics Code Authority. Superman survived, he even became the first super hero with a live action tv show,
but he became an incredibly watered down version of his former self. Instead of taking care of criminals as a pretty violent vigilante
Batman was the same way too. While the early Batman had few qualms about killing people
The Batman of the 1950’s became this…
(kinda puts the Adam West Batman into perspective now doesn’t it?). While Batman and Superman were hit with some pretty dramatic changes in the 50’s it’s only because they were the ones that were able to really survive. Dozens of hero titles were abandoned because they either didn’t sell well enough or were far too violent and dark for the Comic Code Authority.
Back to Calendar Man. If the new wave of censorship hit heroes hard it was even worse for the villains. Not only were the bad guys unable to kill people or enact some sort of crazy scheme that could destroy half the city, they were now forced to always loose by the end of the comic. This led to a stream of strange and often pathetic bad guys during this time period. Some of them…kind of worked like Bat Mite who was introduced in 1959
And the late 1950’s saw the introduction of most of the Flash’s current Rogues Gallery, so there was that.
But you have a lot of very safe, non threatening bad guys who use some sort of gimmick as their trademark and wind up committing crimes that really aren’t that serious, and a villain like Calendar Man is a perfect example of this.
The Calendar Man would appear in the 1970’s looking like this.
He was reworked from committing crimes based around a season to basing crimes around the days of the week (his real life name was Julian Gregory Day, a play on the Julian and Gregorian calendars) and here’s just a taste of some of the costumes he used throughout his career.
like I said, he was a gimmick. However, all that would change in the 1990’s. Up until the 1990’s the old Comics Code had slowly been waning in power and publishers started paying less attention to it. This would result in all the glorious sex, violence, and drug use pouring back into the medium and culminated in 1986 with the publication of two of the greatest comic book stories ever told: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns
and Alan Moore’s Watchmen
Quick note: there is much more to the death of the Comics Code Authority than these two books but for the sake of time I’m using these two titles to show the return of the “dark” comic book to mainstream media.
So again, what does this have to do with Calendar Man? Well the boom of mature material in comics during the 1980’s left the floodgates open for more dark re imaginings in the 1990’s, and boy did the industry deliver. Although Calendar Man was still treated as a joke during the early 90’s, he was part of a team of second string super villains called the Misfits in 1992,
Everything about the character would change in the 1996 limited series The Long Halloween.
Calendar Man went from a flashy, non threatening, and pretty pointless character to looking like this
It’s a pretty marked difference. Going from a lighthearted gag character that nobody took very seriously to a full blown psychopathic mastermind the Calendar Man became an integral part in one of the definitive Batman stories of the 90’s. This marked a revival for the villain. In one of his most recent he had an appearance in the Arkham game series
Calendar Man is a strange case in comic book history. He got his start as a one off super villain that probably wasn’t expected to go very far. He had a strange power set, a strange gimmick, and an even stranger costume. However, due to the changing nature of the industry, especially into the more modern era, he was re invented and turned into a capable villain who could hold his own against some of Batman’s lesser villains. He’s an interesting case study and the perfect bad guy to kick off the new year.
The Golden Age of Comic Books was a period in comic book history that saw the American comic book come into its own as an art form and saw the introduction of what we would today call “superheroes”. Although the exact start date can be debated most people agree that the Golden Age began with the publication of Action Comics #1 in June 1938, an anthology series featuring a strange new creation by two men named Jerry Seigel and Joel Shuster simply named “Superman”
This superhero able to move “faster than a speeding bullet” became immensely popular and helped kick off the Golden Age of Comics and a boom in superhero titles. Some of these new superheroes would go on to become industry giants.
Some would start out as the creation of one comic book company and would later be either sold off, bought, or merged with one of the industry giants to become future comic book mega stars.
And others would continue to survive as important characters but either undergo drastic changes to their character in later years or continue to survive without the iconic pop culture status of their peers.
But there were other superheroes, a lot of them actually, who didn’t survive past the Golden Age. Whether it was because they didn’t have the staying power to survive the over saturation of the market (like I said, there were A LOT of superheroes) or because they fell victim to the forces of censorship and the Comics Code Authority (this is an article for another day but for now all you have to know is that the Comics Code Authority was a set of rules and censors that was put in place to “protect” children from obscene and violent images that could turn them into delinquents) there were hundreds of superheroes that had their own comic book series that simply vanished off the face of the earth.
This series is dedicated to those superheroes, the obscure and crazy heroes that only lasted a few issues and were probably created in a haze of some massive drinking binge or some other illicit substance. So let’s start this series off with a little known “hero” created by Timely Comics (the company that would later become Marvel Comics in the 60’s) known only as
Origin and career:
The Vagabond was first introduced in the anthology series USA comics #2 in 1941. This is the cover.
Despite the awesome insanity that must have gone into the conception of the comic and the character (“Hey Bob! I have this great idea for a comic where we have a guy dressed up as a clown and he’s part of a comic where Hitler invades New York!” “BRILLIANT”) his backstory is surprisingly straightforward. The Vagabond is the costumed identity of a police officer named Pat Murphy (there is a debate on whether or not he’s actually an FBI agent by the name of Walter Carstairs but we’ll go with this for now). Fed up with the rise of crime in his home city of Middleton Pat decides that he needs to fight crime by hiding his face.
The Vagabond has no superpowers other than his fists. Basically he’s Batman, only instead of a rich playboy he’s a cop and instead of a dark and imposing bat he’s a hobo. Although to be fair, when you’re a criminal facing off against this
not even the Batman can match the sheer terror this face can inspire.
Despite his somewhat normal origin, the Vagabond’s short career was the kind of mad filled fever dream that can only be created when a writer is desperate to meet a deadline and sniffed a gallon of ether to meet his deadline (this probably didn’t happen but hey, writers are a crazy bunch). While he didn’t do much other than beat up some goons in a bar his costume and identity demanded that he speak with a mock upper class accent and use words like “tally ho” and “yoinks” in his everyday speech. Also, and I swear I am not making this up, in an attempt to protect his every day identity, he began to refer himself as “Chauncey Throttlebottom the Third”. It is at this moment I’d like to re stress that this is from the same company that would later become Marvel Comics, a company that produced some of the greatest heroes the world has ever seen, and one of their first heroes went by the name “Throttlebottom”.
So what happened?
The Vagabond lasted only three issues, I guess the idea of a crime fighting bum just didn’t catch on too well, even with a name like “Throttlebottem” (will I ever get tired of saying that name? NOPE!). It is believed that Patrick had difficulty maintaining two separate identities and eventually adopted the hobo persona on a full time basis, exploring one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of being a costumed hero. He did manage to make a guest appearance in a later issue of the Avengers where he helped fight back an army of Nazis (clowns fighting Nazis? AAAAHHH!!) but for the most part he was simply too good for this world and faded into obscurity.
So that’s the first issue of our Golden Age showcase. If you enjoyed this post please let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or Twitter (@CambrianComics) and if you have any requests or want to learn more about a particular Golden Age super hero do not hesitate to ask.