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.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry.
When I started this blog nearly two years ago (holy crap! It’s been two years!) I started this series to talk about the strange and peculiar superheroes of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Sure, we’ve covered some weird ones,
and ones who have gone on to have long and illustrious careers,
and some heroes who had a cool idea behind them but either didn’t quite make it or were relegated to a life behind the scenes.
But today…today is different.
This superhero is so obscure, strange, and downright silly that I feel ashamed to have not brought him to your attention sooner. Thankfully, he was brought to my attention by a reddit commentator named “apocoluster” (thank you for that by the way) and this blog is better for it.
Today we’re talking about the one and only…Dr. Hormone.
Origin and Career
The unfortunately named doctor made his first appearance in Dell Comics Popular Comics #54 in August of 1940.
He didn’t even get a text advertisement on the cover, not the most promising start.
He was created a mysterious figure named Bob Bugg.
I have no idea who this person is, no idea what he or she looked like, and no idea if that is an actual name or a pseudonym.
I’m willing to bet the actual creator wanted to keep his or her identity secret out of shame.
Like most Golden Age characters, his origin was quite simple and explained in a single page.
The man was on death’s door and managed to make himself younger again, thus cheating death. I like to think this origin is a metaphor for the actual creation of this character.
So what does this character do with this revolutionary formula? Go into business for himself and make millions? Give it to the world for free out of the goodness of his heart?
This is the early 1940’s and America is soon to be at war. Clearly, the best thing to do is to militarize this miracle formula and sell it as a weapon.
The “we’re a stand in for continental Europe being oppressed by the Nazis but we can’t actually call them Nazis because America isn’t TECHNICALLY at war yet” country this time is the hilariously named Novoslavia, who is offering the princely sum of $25 million to whoever can provide their country with a means to defend them from the encroaching Eurasians.
The Professor decides to play war profiteer and brings his invention to Novoslavia, along with his granddaughter Jane.
Because countries on the brink of war are perfectly safe for little kids.
Sadly, their goods are stolen and they come up against the most evil and wretched enemy of all, incompetent and vindictive bureaucrats.
This takes the form of War Minister Rastinov who immediately throws the Doctor and his daughter into prison. However, Jane manages to secure their release by slipping something into the war minister’s drink.
Remember, if you want to get on someone’s good side, always make sure they make an ass of themselves.
The Novoslovians award Docotor Hormone the prize, and prepare for war using his miracle serum.
What I find hilarious is that the serum brings everyone to the age of 25, even babies.
Meanwhile, former war minister Assinov (not my joke) has defected to the Euraseans and proceeds to launch a full scale invasion of poor Novoslovia.
Another thing I find interesting is how the Eurasians don’t really look like Nazis. Instead they look a lot like the Soviet Army.
The war goes poorly for the Novoslovians and their leader, General Battlesky (groan!) prepares to execute the Doctor and his niece via firing squad.
but Dr. Hormone manages to save the day in the end by spraying all the Eurasians with a special hormone that makes everyone like each other again and stop the fighting.
Assinov isn’t done yet though. He manages to disguise himself as the Doctor and turn everyone into animals using the Doctor’s own hormones.
I’m beginning to think that Doctor Hormone’s credentials might be a bit suspect. Also, ethics are something of a concern.
The war is won when the Novoslovians turn Assinov’s human animal hybrids against Eurasia and thousands of human/rat hybrids sneak in and chew through their army’s ammo and swarms of human/locust hybrids swarm the enemy soldiers.
That…is actually really dark and downright terrifying.
After defeating the vile forces of Eurasia, Dr. Hormone travels back home to America. After a brief run in with new foes of the dreaded Nazians (really?) he comes across…
Hormone manages to save himself with an army of fleas, who manage to smother the flames and drive the clansmen to madness by biting them. In fact, they’re driven so mad that they commit mass suicide.
You sure this isn’t a horror comic?
His last adventure ended on a literal cliffhanger as the Doctor was attempting to stop a Nazian invasion of Texas. Unfortunately, the Klan manages to find him and forces him down a bottomless pit where he and his niece fall through time and reach a mysterious voice that instructs them to wait.
So what happened?
After the good Doctor took a left turn into insanity he never made another appearance. I’m just going to assume he’s still below, waiting for the day where he might rise up and continue the story.
As for why he was cancelled it’s pretty easy to see why. He was never a main attraction and I’m willing to bet that the kids didn’t take too kindly to the name. Plus there’s the fact that the artwork…well it isn’t very good, even for time period.
Also, while we’re on the subject of quality, why doesn’t the man have a costume? I mean sure, I’m willing to bet the creator of this story was probably tired of drawing superhero costumes (assuming he or she was a working artist at the time) but come on! You have a brilliant chemist who has manged to find a way to live forever, invents crazy chemical compounds that turn people into animals, and you’re going to dress him up in a suit!?
In all seriousness I actually do think this guy could make a halfway decent superhero in the modern era. Hell, he’d actually make a kick ass super villain!
Dr. Hormone was the personification of almost everything crazy about the Golden Age of Comics. He was weird, he had an annoying niece as a sidekick, and his adventures were filled with all sorts of insanity that would have gotten any normal person arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.
God, I love comics so much!
Let’s talk about families in comic books.
Sure there are plenty of family figures in comic books.
Heck, there are even a couple of actual families that have proven to be incredibly popular,
but for the most part the purpose of being a family member of a superhero usually means your either an obstacle to the work of a superhero, or you’re dead.
If you’re looking for someone to blame for this trope, blame Batman.
Batman was the first superhero to have a clearly defined origin story and he was the first hero to have his parents tragically killed.
In a way it makes sense for a superhero to not have his/her parents around when things like curfew, homework, and “you’re going out dressed like THAT?!” are a constant roadblocks.
While Batman was the first in the long and proud tradition of orphaned superheroes today’s blog post is about a father and son team who go around and fight crime together.
By which I mean the son does all the heavy lifting and the father sits back, tells his son what to do, and subjects his only child to dangerous experiments.
Today we are talking about Professor Supermind and Son.
Origin and Career
Professor Supermind and his son made their first appearance in the Dell Comics anthology Popular Comics #60 in Febuary of 1941.
I don’t know who created him but apparently he was popular enough to be on the cover for the next couple of issues.
The origin of this superheroic duo is straightforward and simple enough to be described in the first panel of every issue.
The father’s name is Professor Warren, a super scientist who has created two of the greatest inventions mankind has ever witnessed. The first is a television that can view anything in the world which was useful for both spotting where crime and for checking in on what I can only presume are his many ex wives and their new boyfriends.
The second is an “energy builder” which he uses to zap his son with electrical power. Following super hero logic this jolt of energy doesn’t kill him. Instead, it grants him “electric power equal to a thousand horsepower”.
I’m beginning to think that a lot of early comic book creators didn’t really know how science works.
The two men didn’t have much in the way of motivation outside of simply doing the right thing and each of their stories were pretty formulaic for the time. The professor would see a problem going on through his television and send his son to stop it.
One of the better stories in my opinion was when the two fought of, what else, Nazis who were threatening to invade America.
What’s really impressive about this story is the pair’s complete and total disregard for human life since they decide to collapse the tunnel and drown thousands of men unless the Nazis back off.
I mean, I know that they’re Nazis and all, but killing so many people is a bit extreme.
Casual disregard for human life aside, the duo did have something resembling a nemesis outside of the dastardly Germans. Apparently, the Professor had a former pupil who wanted the Professor’s inventions for himself.
The man’s name was Sorel and he was the closest thing the series ever had to a super villain.
Funnily enough, Sorel was actually somewhat capable. He even managed to sneak in to the Professor’s lab and use the power machine on himself.
So what happened?
Despite having a fairly interesting idea and some halfway decent artwork for the time, the father and son team only made twelve appearances.
I don’t know what happened but I can make a pretty good guess. Professor Supermind and his son started out as the cover story and as the first story in each anthology for a couple of issues and then started losing their cover appearances and first story positions to other characters.
It’s safe to say that they just weren’t as popular as Dell Comics hoped.
Looking back it’s pretty easy to see why. Each of the stories were pretty formulaic, the dialogue was wooden, and although the art wasn’t terrible the artist preferred to have the characters stand around and talk rather than act.
Sadly, there is very little chance for these two to make a comeback. Dell Comics was hit pretty hard in the 1950’s and never really recovered. They closed shop in 1972, although their legacy continues with the three superheroes Doctor Solar, Turok, and Magnus Robot Fighter.
Despite the fact that their stories are pretty boring once you get down to it, I do think that Professor Supermind and his son do have some potential. As I stated at the beginning of the article, living biological parents are something of a rarity in comic books so there could be a place for a well written father son team.