So I just discovered Rick and Morty last night.
It’s a good show, a bit dark, bleak, and incredibly pessimistic.
I bring this up because it provides a direct contrast with my love of superheroes.
Yes they’re bright, colorful, and probably have no place in modern society but that’s not the point.
Superheroes are supposed to be titans of morality and/or walking metaphors that can solve all their problems by punching them or blasting them with energy rays. Sure, sometimes they may a bit more complicated and complex, but in the end that’s what they are.
Superheroes did the right thing, ate their vegetables, said their prayers, and told little Timmy that doing the right thing came first, no matter what. They were uncomplicated lessons in morality for kids in an uncertain and dangerous time and that is something that the Golden Age of Comics did better than almost anyone else.
So let’s talk about a superhero named Atomic Tot, who was a superhero that was unquestionably for the kids,
and kind of dropped the ball in that regard.
Origin and Career
Atomic Tot made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ All Humor Comics #1 in September of 1946.
That joke on the cover of the issue? That’s as good as they would get.
He was created by comic book writer and artist, Ernie Hart. While I can’t find a picture of him, I can tell you that his most famous creation was the famous Super Rabbit for Quality Comics.
Pssh, the idea of talking anthropomorphic animals is so lame. Who could possibly make any money off of that?
Anyway, before Atomic Tot got his name he was originally known as “Mitymite”, the weakling son of a poor peasant living in a land being terrorized by an evil giant.
Yes the captions are in rhyme, to explain why I don’t have time.
Mitymite grows up wishing to meet this princess, but is blocked by the wicked giant. Humiliated, he swears revenge.
So what does he do? Does he subject himself to strange experiments? Find a magical artifact? Nope! He eats his cereal and works out.
Wheaties would love this guy.
Naturally he defeats the giant, by tossing him out a window…presumably to his death.
However, it turns out the princess isn’t all she cracks up to be and Mitymite acts like a total dick and abandons her.
It’s worth mentioning that he looks like he’s only six year old.
Mitymite was given a modern update in the very next issue. His new name was Atomic Tot and he got an alter ego of Tom Tot.
His second adventure saw him stopping an evil scientist that was kidnapping children and turning them into monkeys. Why? To sell them to the zoo of course.
How does he do that and wouldn’t it make more sense to sell them to laboratories as test specimens? I don’t know and the comic doesn’t care.
It’s worth mentioning that Atomic Tot could be incredibly cruel to his enemies. He even threatened to turn the scientist into a monkey if he didn’t help return the kids.
Atomic Tot would go on to have five more stories just like this one. There really isn’t anything else to say.
So what happened?
For some strange reason, Atomic Tot did not survive past the 1940’s.
Why he didn’t last long is a real mystery.
For some bizarre reason, Atomic Tot wasn’t fondly remembered enough to get a reworking in modern comics either, although he did make an appearance in an anthology title called Not Forgotten which was successfully funded through Kickstarter a few months ago.
The anthology has a website, it’s pretty interesting stuff and worth checking out.
Atomic Tot is a superhero boiled down to its most basic essence. There is no complicated backstory, no surprising plot twist about his parents, not horrifying life event that inspired him to become a superhero. He’s just a kid who has the ability to do great things and decides to use his talents for good.
Huh, come to think of it…that is pretty boring. Maybe all this straight laced morality isn’t quite for me than.
Well, last week was fun but I think it’s time for a return to form. Let’s talk about an obscure comic book hero from an obscure comic book publisher who had more of an impact on the world of comics than he had any right to have.
Today we’re talking about the aptly named Amazing Man.
Origin and Career
Amazing Man was one of the greatest and most noteworthy heroes to come out of a small publisher called Centaur Publishing, mostly because he was created by comic book super creator Bill Everett.
Centaur was a spin off company created by two former employees of National Allied Publications, the company that would eventually become DC Comics.
They were actually one of the first comic book publishing companies in American history and in 1939 they debuted Amazing Man in the creatively named Amazing Man Comics #5.
Now, I’ve seen some covers created by some of the greatest comic book talent and while this one isn’t as colorful or as action packed as most of them, it certainly does a hell of a lot to pique my interest.
In traditional Golden Age fashion, his backstory is explained in one page. When he was a baby he was adopted by a group of monks and trained to be their instrument.
I love how they call him an “ultra man” and how a group of Tibetan monks look so pale and white.
The monks put him through a battery of tests,
I honestly don’t know which one I think is more awesome.
Almost as a side note, one of the monks injects him with a serum that turns him into a green mist.
Why? How? Who cares!
He goes out into the world and stops his first crime by uncovering a conspiracy by a greedy railroad president to wreck his trains but not before our hero uses his unexplained powers of telepathy to boost a moving train over a washed out bridge.
It’s like the movie Speed, only with trains instead of buses.
It’s presumed that the President of the railroad company did it for insurance money, but the reason is never given and the story ends with the criminal committing suicide rather than being captured.
There was an interesting plot point revealed early on that actually managed to separate the Amazing Man from the competition. Early in the series it was revealed that one of the monks from The Amazing Man’s home turned out to be evil.
The monk’s name was “The Great Question” and he had the ability to control Amazing Man telepathically,
What’s really interesting is that Everett didn’t shy away from violence, showing people getting beaten and even shot.
The battle between Amazing Man and the Great Question would become the defining conflict of the series until it was cancelled in 1942. Most of the adventures were pretty run of the mill, if it weren’t for the glorious covers that were featured on almost all of the issues.
So what happened?
One of the defining traits of comic book publishers during the Golden Age was that, with the exception of Marvel and Detective Comics, a lot of them wound up either going out of business or folded into other publications.
Centaur Publications is a rather unique story because it’s shelf life was even shorter than most of its competitors.
Thanks to a bad distribution deal the company went out of business in 1942, they didn’t even get to see the end of the war.
Someone must have remembered them, because in 1992 a good portion of their characters were revived by another comic book publisher called Malibu Comics.
Amazing Man was part of the revival and he found himself part of a superhero group known as the Protectors,
complete with all the trappings and glorious excess that was a hallmark of superheroes in the 1990’s.
In a sad twist of fate, Malibu Comics would suffer the same fate as Centaur. They fell victim to the skulduggery surrounding the comic book industry of the 1990’s and were bought out by Marvel in 1994.
Amazing Man would make another appearance in Dynamite’s Project Superpowers title,
but what’s really interesting is how his legacy managed to live on in Marvel Comics itself.
John Aman would make an appearance in the Invincible Iron Fist #12 in 2008.
Marvel kept the name, the ability to change into a glowing green mist, and his mystical connections to Tibetan culture by having him become the “Prince of Orphans” and being charged with hunting down a character named Orson Randall, the man who was the Iron Fist superhero before Danny Rand took over.
Long story short, Orson and Aman are originally enemies but wind up fighting for the same side when Aman learns that his employers lied to him about their plans for their city and Earth.
The Prince of Orphans would also make appearances in Secret Avengers,
the Marvel event comic Fear Itself, where he had to fight a possessed Iron Fist in order to save the universe, and most recently as an antagonist in the 2012 Defenders series.
So what we have here is a revamped Golden Age superhero with ties to Tibetan mysticism, who is a brilliant martial artist who can turn himself into a green mist, and who winds up being a sort of assassin for the same mystical city that created Iron Fist. Now, I don’t want to put thoughts in anyone’s head, but don’t you think a guy with a cool power set would be perfect for a certain set of shows on a tiny little network like say…Netflix?
All I’m saying is that there’s a lot of history to go back on here, and while I haven’t gotten around to watching the Iron Fist show on Netflix, everything I’ve heard tells me that they could use something a bit more…amazing.
So I saw the Dunkirk movie yesterday.
I liked it, it was very well directed, and it’s probably the most British movie since Chariots of Fire.
The movie got me thinking about this blog. The simple truth of the matter is that this blog deals with heroes that were created in a time when the world needed a bit of escapist fantasy and the comic book industry responded by creating a whole bunch of heroes who could do the fighting for them.
While there was a time and a place for these types of stories it’s important to remember that the fantastical violence shown in World War 2 era comics was very real for a lot of people and many of those people didn’t make it out alive.
Now, we’ve covered some of the more “realistic” war comics with characters like Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos,
but this week I thought it might be fun to talk about another war comic that was actually published during World War 2 with Quality Comics’ fighter squadron/expertly dressed hero Blackhawk.
Origin and Career
Blackhawk made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Military Comics #1 in August of 1941.
Right off the bat the main character made the cover and looks good doing it.
There is some debate as to who created the character in the first place. While many credit comic book legend Will Eisner with the character’s creation,
Eisner himself gave most of the credit to artist Charles Cuidera and writer Bob Powell.
For a time when the United States hadn’t entered the war in Europe, this comic was certainly very much for it. In the very first page the comic shows the Nazis steamrolling through Poland and introducing the main villain of Captain von Tepp, who is the very definition of a bastard.
Seriously, even kicking puppies seems a bit tame for this guy.
Von Tepp and his Butcher Squadron discover a mysterious black plane that they shoot down. The Captain makes the unknown pilot’s life even more hellish by destroying a farmhouse with innocent people in it.
The pilot is revealed to be a man named Blackhawk, who vows revenge against the Nazis and gets his wish a few months later when he confronts Von Tepp and kidnaps him.
Blackhawk takes the Captain back to his island base where they decide to settle their grievances with an honorable duel using airplanes.
Naturally the Nazi cheats by sabotaging Blackhawk’s plane and the two crash to the ground, where the grudge is settled when Blackhawk shoots the Captain.
In later issues it was revealed that the Blackhawks were actually a squadron of fighter pilots made up of men whose nations had been captured by the Nazis.
Side note: this actually has a basis in real history. Feel free to look up the exploits of groups like the Polish 303 Squadron if you want some real life heroics.
In Issue #3 the group would also get a Chinese cook, who was unfortunately named “Chop Chop”.
…well they can’t all be good.
Sales wise the Blackhawks were a massive hit for Quality Comics. They were so successful that they received their own comic in 1944.
In 1950 it was revealed that the leader of the Blackhawks was actually an American volunteer fighter pilot who had joined the Polish air force and decided to form the squadron as a way to fight back against the Nazis, even though he and his comrades had no country.
Some of the most talented writers and artists of the Golden Age worked on the Blackhawk title and it was actually so popular that Quality continued to publish the title right up until they went out of business in 1956 with Blackhawk #107 being the last issue.
So what happened?
Quality couldn’t make it past the comic book slump of the 1950’s and sold off the rights to most of their characters to DC comics in 1956.
Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks had been so popular that DC actually decided to continue publishing the title after they bought it,
they even kept most of the original art team on the title ensuring that the only thing that changed with the comic was the logo.
Now that the Blackhawks had new life they wound up being one of the few superhero teams to transition into the Silver Age of Comics. This time in comic book history saw the squadron face fewer Nazis and more science fiction themed villains and things got a little…weird.
Also, in 1959 they added a lady to the team as an on and off supporting character. She was given the rather unimaginative name of Lady Blackhawk.
She would remain one of the biggest members of the supporting cast and even became a villain named Queen Lady Shark.
I don’t know what’s funnier, the skis or that hat.
Ironically, the rise of superhero comics in the 1960’s hurt the Blackhawk Squadron and while DC attempted to revamp the group in 1967 by giving them new names and costumes,
it only lasted 14 issues before the title was cancelled.
The Blackhawks would make a brief comeback in 1976 as a group of mercenaries,
but they were cancelled again until the 1980’s when they were sent back to their familiar stomping grounds of World War 2.
The 1980’s series reworked the Blackhawks and gave their older stories a more modern update in terms of storytelling, including a much more dignified appearance and backstory for poor Chop Chop.
In 1988 DC reworked its entire history with the mega event Crisis on Infinite Earths
and the Blackhawks made the cut. They were given another reworking and this time the squadron was led by a man named Janos Prohaska, an actual Polish national who was forced to flee his home after the Soviets kicked him out.
The Blackhawks continue to be a part of the DC universe. One of their more noticeable appearances was in the excellent Justice League animated show where they played a major part in the episode “The Savage Time”.
and in the show Arrow the “Blackhawk Squad Protection Group” made an appearance as the place of employment for John Diggle’s commanding officer Ted Gaynor.
Also, a group calling themselves the Blackhawks got their own title in DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch,
but they have yet to show up in DC’s more recent “Rebirth” relaunch.
The Blackhawks are a team with a long and fantastic history. What I find really fascinating is just how well they were able to survive so much while so many of their contemporaries fell through the cracks, never to be seen again and if it wasn’t for characters like Plastic Man,
I would go as far as to say that the Blackhawks were the best and most notable comic to ever be published by Quality Comics.