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 what they say…comedy comes in threes.
And I like to think that today’s superhero group took that lesson to heart, even though I’m willing to bet any comedy was unintentional.
Today we’re talking about the rather humorously named Target and the Targeteers.
Origin and Career
This trio of superheroes was published by a company called Novelty Press, which was created in 1940 by Curtis Publishing. If that name isn’t familiar all you need to know is that they publish the Saturday Evening Post. If that name isn’t familiar then you probably recognize this cover.
Novelty Press was created as a comic book imprint in order to take advantage of the comic book craze. They were able to draw a lot of great Golden Age talent such as Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and Basil Wolverton and their two most famous publications were the superhero series Blue Bolt,
and the anthology series Target Comics.
Despite sharing the name of the title, the superhero we’re talking about today didn’t appear until issue #10 in November of 1940.
Yes that is him on the cover and I have to admit I don’t know what’s funnier: the testicular fortitude of a man who is willing to get shot by painting a giant target on his chest or how stupid the gangsters are for not aiming at the knees or face.
The hero was created by artist Dick Briefer under the pseudonym of Dick Hamilton. Briefer’s most famous work was with the Frankenstein character and is widely considered to be the first modern comic book artist to work with horror stories.
Back to Dick’s most famous superhero, Target’s first adventure had him sending an ominous message to criminals everywhere: “Live your life on the straight and narrow or I’ll find you”. He does this by buying up advertising space on nationwide newspapers, radio space, and even hijacking the phone service.
You know how in modern movies the bad guy can mysteriously deliver a message to every computer, television, and phone around the world? It’s nice to know that this particular cliche isn’t so modern.
The Target’s ominous message doesn’t deter a group of gangsters from kidnapping a scientist who is developing a new explosive that other countries want.
The gangsters reach the professor’s house, only to find that the Target is already there.
On the face of it, it would appear that the hero has a very poorly designed costume for dealing with guns, but the comic explains that while the suit protects his chest and arms (thus leaving the face and legs unprotected) the target is there to draw enemy fire to the places where the bullets can’t harm him.
I would commend the comic for attempting to use “Batman psychology” to explain why the hero made the decisions he made but no, in real life that man is dead.
The adventure ends in typical fashion. The bad guys are stopped, the hero saves the day, and the reader is left wondering what’s next.
The next issue not only delves into the Target’s backstory, it also reveals that he has two friends who share a similar death wish by dressing in similar costumes.
The Target’s civilian identity is Niles Reed. He was an athletic prodigy who decided to become a metallurgist had a brother named Bill, who decided to become a lawyer.
Unfortunately, Bill was framed for murder and arrested. In his rage, Niles decided to rescue his brother while disguised as a masked vigilante.
While it’s a bit unclear it would appear that the cops accidentally shot Bill as he was trying to escape with his brother. So in an interesting twist, Niles was responsible for his brother’s death.
Later that evening Niles happens to stumble across two orphaned boys who were in a lot trouble with some gangsters for not paying protection money. The three become friends and decide to dress up like superheroes using the same bulletproof costumes of Niles’ design.
The origin story ended with the reveal that Bill had been framed by a crime boss named Hammerfist, who would become something of a recurring villain for the trio.
I’ll admit, there are some interesting points to this story. The fact that the hero is actually responsible for his brother’s death coupled with him taking in two orphans who share similar tragic stories draw a lot of similarities to more popular heroes like Spider Man and Batman.
The rest of the trio’s adventures were all one shots with a very patriotic bent them. The three did their duty and fought against America’s enemies, both at home and abroad.
The post war years saw a return to form for the trio where they went back to waging war against criminals in the United States.
So what happened?
The trio of crime fighters had a pretty long shelf life for the Golden Age heroes. They lasted until issue #95 of Target Comics where their last adventure had them foiling criminals who were sabotaging advertising signs in order to extort an advertising firm.
Yeah, maybe it was a good thing that they got cancelled.
The trio would disappear for a while until the Target made an appearance in AC Comics’ Men of Mystery series in 1999.
The trio itself made a comeback in Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers series in 2008.
Their backstories remained the same, only this time they all had super speed on top of their indestructible suits.
The Target and the Targeteers embodied everything that worked and didn’t work about the Golden Age of Comics. On one hand they were goofy, wore silly costumes, and relied on some pretty bad science in order to survive and function. On the other hand, they had one of the better origin stories I’ve read, they had a long run, and a lot of the things that made it into their stories such as the use of psychology to fight criminals would be use to great effect in other, more popular comic hero stories.
All in all, they weren’t that bad.