Golden Age Showcase: Mastermind Excello

Today we’re winding down our coverage of J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve with the second to last hero in the story.  He’s the suave, playboy, telekinetic spy catcher for the United States Navy: Mastermind Excello.

 

Origin and career:

Like so many of his Golden Age compatriots Excello only lasted a couple of issues.  His first appearance was in Mystic Comics #3 in April of 1940,

Mystic Comics Vol 1 2

where he would uncover and defeat a Nazi spy ring.

His character was simple.  His real name was Early Everett and he was a wealthy playboy (because there aren’t enough of those in comic books) who possessed great physical and mental powers which he used to fight for America.

The man was sort of like an American James Bond but with superpowers as well as cool gadgets (this was a time when a pocket transmitter was a big deal).

So what happened?

Sadly “James Bond with superpowers” was as far as they were going to go with the character so it was up to Straczynski to expand the character and give him a more meaningful existence.

Judging from this picture they were off to a very good start.  The character looks badass, although to be fair anyone can look badass when holding a Tommy gun like that.

In The Twelve it is elaborated that Everett’s father is a brilliant scientist, so brilliant that he was actually pen pals with Einstein.  While his father was busy developing a special radioactive bullet for the Allies,

Earl Everett was determined to waste as much time and money as possible the only way a wealthy playboy with no concept of the value of money can.

It should be noted that for some reason Earl seemed to win more often than he lost.  This would later be revealed to stem from latent psychic abilities that wouldn’t be fully realized until a fateful trip to Britain where he was shot in the head by a Nazi spy while saving his father.

However, while the doctors managed to save his life they weren’t able to get all the bullet fragments out.  Several of these highly radioactive fragments would remain in his skull threatening to kill him.

After turning a new leaf Earl Everett decided to work on behalf of the United States government and was given the code name “Mastermind Excello”.

He would use his powers to great effect during the war, even helping the Allies retrieve occult items that the Nazis might have used to win the war.

In 1945 he joined the Twelve on their ill fated assault on Berlin.

They were captured, placed into stasis, and re discovered in 2008.

Like many of his compatriots Mastermind Excello had a difficult time fitting in.  It wasn’t for lack of money, his trust fund from 1940 had amassed millions, but it was more due to the continued noise and interference from this new world that played havoc on his psychic senses.

Excello separated himself from the group for most of the story and bought a house that he was able to soundproof and line with lead, which allowed him to enjoy a quiet peaceful life.  Gradually his future senses returned and he began interacting with his former teammates again.  While he couldn’t see the future clearly he could get glimpses and snippets of what was about to happen, enough to warn his friends and prepare them as best he could for the coming danger.

It would later be revealed that one of their own, the hero Dynamic Man, had turned evil and was ready to embark on a homicidal rampage.  Although Excello didn’t play a direct part in the ensuing fight he did help prepare the Phantom Reporter to take on the Fiery Mask’s powers and was able to help the team cope with the apparent death of Rockman.

After the fight was over Excello used his powers to ensure that The Phantom Reporter and Black Widow became a couple,

it worked.

It was also revealed that the shrapnel in his brain would kill him (kind like Iron Man only in his brain instead of his heart) if he used his powers to much.

Not willing to go quietly Excello decided to continue being a hero and used his vast fortune to purchase a large private investigator firm which he renamed E.X.C enterprises.  The Phantom Reporter and Black Widow were two of his first hires.

Like so many heroes in this series Mastermind Excello had tremendous potential as a hero.  He had the looks, superpowers, and motivation to be an interesting hero but sadly he was a drop in a very large bucket of “one and done” heroes.  Thankfully he was given a better ending and a new purpose on life with The Twelve.

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Golden Age Showcase: Mister E

Continuing on our series discussing the previous lives and careers of The Twelve we’re going to look at the one of the basic and standard superhero archetypes of the 1940’s: Mister E (good Lord even writing that just makes me want to groan).

 

Origin and Career

Mister E debuted in February of 1940, along with his future teammate The Laughing Mask, in Daring Mystery Comics #2.

 

I’m going to level with you, almost everything about Mister E is boring.

His origin story?  He’s a rich athlete named Victor Jay who decides to fight crime.

His motivations?  He’s bored.

His costume?  You can find the same design on half a dozen pulp and super heroes of the time.

It’s a small wonder he only lasted one issue.  That being said the villain he faced was pretty cool.

That is a picture of the Vampire, a mad scientist who was the mortal enemy of Mister E (it’s never explained why) who had developed a drug that would cause his victim’ heart to explode.  Mister E would stop the Vampire from taking over an oil company run by a man named J.P Snead.  At the end of the comic Mister E captured the Vampire, who promptly escaped, allowing the hero to wonder if the Vampire and himself would meet again, gearing up for a re match that would never occur.

So what happened?

Like many previous superheroes on this list Mister E would only last one issue until he was revived in 2007 for J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve.

Like his fellow super heroes Mister E spent time in Europe fighting the Nazis and was captured after a failed assault on Berlin.  It’s interesting to note that since Mister E didn’t have super powers he was viewed more as a tourist rather than a super hero,

and his revulsion at the Witnesses’ description of the crimes committed at Auschwitz seemed to reinforce that idea.

Like everyone else he was placed in cryogenic storage and wasn’t discovered until 2007 and while he would play a pretty passive part in the main story Mister E would have one of the most heartbreaking and emotional side stories in the entire comic.

One of the great things about The Twelve is Straczynski’s ability to create great characters to tell a great story and make a point.  In the case of Mister E this was a moment where Straczynski’s talents were put to exceptional use.

It turned out that Victor Jay wasn’t Mister E’s real name, it was Victor J. Goldstein.  He was Jewish but decided to hide the fact in order to fit in and be accepted into modern high society.

For anyone who is a fan of Golden Age comic books this is something that is incredibly jarring.  Not only does Straczynski use a medium of story telling where its heroes are supposed to stand above petty racism like this but it is especially shocking when you consider that so many of the early comic book creators were Jewish.

Siegel and Shuster

Joe Simon

even Stan Lee was the son of Jewish immigrants (his real name was Stanley Lieber before he had it changed)

Mister E would attempt reconnect with his now 68 year old son, who disowned his father by claiming he was a coward for not owning up to his heritage.

However, at the end of the comic Mister E would later learn that his wife had passed away and he vowed to never be a superhero due to the extreme emotional and mental cost it placed on him and his family.

While Mister E wasn’t much of a super hero and didn’t get to save the day he was put to fantastic use as a commentary on 1940’s America and the culture that spawned the industry we all know and love.

Golden Age Showcase: The Fiery Mask

Today we’re going to talk about another member of the 2007 Marvel Comics series The Twelve called the Fiery Mask.

What’s interesting is that out of all the twelve Golden Age heroes that were in the comic book series the Fiery Mask is a hero with one of the longest and most interesting Golden Age careers out there.  He had pedigree and he had some pretty interesting Golden Age stories.  Let’s take a look.

Origin and Career

The Fiery Mask debuted in the Timely Comics book series Daring Mystery Comics #1 in January of 1940.

Daring Mystery Comics Vol 1 1

That’s him on the cover of the book, so he already had much more exposure than most of the heroes we’ve talked about on this blog.  This makes sense considering that the hero was actually created by comic book legend Joe Simon,

who helped create a little known superhero named Captain America (you’ve probably never heard of him, he’s really obscure).

His origin story was titled The Fantastic Thriller of the Walking Corpses.

Jack Castle was a doctor who worked with the police and one day he was called in to investigate a strange case where corpses were coming back to life thanks to a mysterious beam of light.

So right off the bat we have zombies and weird science fiction, a good start.

Jack investigates this strange phenomenon until he is eventually kidnapped by the zombies and dragged before their leader.  Side note: it should be noted here that at this time in pop culture history a zombie was a creature who was a mindless slave to a single person, not the brain hungry hoards we know and love today.

The leader of the zombie hoards was a twenty foot tall monster of a man who simply called himself “The Zombie Master”

who was using the ray to turn the city’s homeless population into a zombie slave army.

Unfortunately for the Zombie Master the ray didn’t work on Jack and in his rage the villain cranked up the power causing a massive explosion that killed him and gave Jack super strength and the ability to control fire.  Naturally being the noble spirit that most superheroes of the Golden Age were Jack Castle decided to use his powers to become a superhero.

So after a pretty awesome origin story The Fiery Mask’s next appearance was in The Human Torch Comics #2.  Here he faced the villainous Dr. Simon Sendach, a scientist obsessed with creating artificial organs to transplant into humans.

He had even had success in creating an artificial stomach that could sustain the human body on a diet of blood.  However it had the side effect of turning the recipient of the device into a bloodthirsty maniac similar to a vampire.

Again, awesome.

The Fiery Mask would go on to have two more solo adventures where he would fight an evil scientist named Dork

who sought to take over the world by creating a strange blob like creature that ate human flesh.

and in his final battle he fought a demonically possessed baby,

and traveled to Hell where he fought and beat a demon who was committing a string of gruesome murders in out world.

So what happened?

Sadly the Fiery Mask was much to awesome to last for very long.  I guess the flame that burns brightest burns half as long (pun very much intended).

The hero would fade into obscurity until 2007 when he was featured as an important character in J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve.

Like the rest of his teammates the Fiery Mask was captured by the Nazis and placed in stasis, only to be forgotten until they were rediscovered in 2007 and returned to the United States where they were slowly reintroduced to society.

The Fiery Mask wouldn’t play much of a role in the beginning of the series.  Around the middle of the series it was revealed that his origin story was simply made up.  Instead of gaining his powers from the science of the Zombie Master he had actually been granted the ability to control fire by a man who had been killed by a mob hit.

To that I say…BOOO! BOOO!  They had the gall to change one of the coolest and cheesiest Golden Age origin stories to a man gaining his powers thanks to  a simple set of circumstances?!  Poor form Mr. Straczynski!  Poor form!

Sadly this new revelation, that the Fiery Mask’s powers could be transferred to other human beings, would prove to be integral to the plot of the story.  At the very end of the series all the heroes confront each other over the death of the Blue Blade at the hands of Electro.  The Phantom Reporter reveals that it was one of their own who committed the crime: The Dynamic Man.  Fiery Mask attempts to keep the peace.

But he fails and the Dynamic Man is revealed to be a half crazed android who attacks the group.

Dynamic Man manged to crush the Fiery Mask’s windpipe but just before the Mask died he managed to transfer his powers to the Phantom Reporter.

Who then proceeded to use his new gifts to end the fight and destroy Dynamic Man for good.

The Fiery Mask had one of the longest lasting Golden Age careers ever enjoyed by his colleagues from The Twelve.  Granted, that may not be saying much but the stories he was a part of were some of the strangest and most interesting stories in an age where strange characters and events ruled comic book.

It’s just a crying shame they all turned out to be lies.

Golden Age Showcase: Rockman

While the Space Race turned the imaginations and attention of the American public towards the stars science fiction writers have been just as interested in what possibly lay below our feet as well as above our heads.  Some of the more famous examples include Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth,

the reptilian Silurians who live under the Earth’s crust from Dr. Who,

and the gloriously cheesy yet surprisingly touching 1951 movie Superman and the Mole Men.

Why do I bring these two examples up?  Because they all ascribe to the idea that there is an entire world living underneath our feet just like today’s Golden Age superhero: Rockman.

Origin and Career

Rockman first appeared in USA Comics #1 in August of 1941.

The name that is credited in the first page of his origin is Charles Nicholas, which was an in house pseudonym for several artists including the legendary Jack Kirby but the majority of Rockman’s stories were written and drawn by Basil Wolverton

Basil wolverton.jpg

and one of Rockman’s stories was signed by Stan Lee himself.

Rockman was actually a member of the mysterious underground kingdom of Abysmia, a kingdom under the surface of North America and allegedly founded by the first white settlers of the continent.  Rockman is the leader of the Abysmians and realizes that in order to protect his kingdom he must ascend to the surface because the vibrations he was reading told him that the surface dwellers were at war.

Rockman1stAppearanceAbysian Meeting.jpg

Once he got the surface Rockman used is incredible strength, speed, and ability to withstand incredible pressure and lack of oxygen to do what all Golden Age heroes did best: beating the crap out of Nazi and Japanese caricatures.  His first menace was to fight and defeat the nefarious Zombo, a man who was capable of hypnotizing other people to do his bidding and was running around the Pacific sinking ships.

Rockman2ndAppearance.jpg

His third adventure (which was actually written by Stan Lee) had him defeat an army of pixies who also lived underground,

Rockman3rdAppearance.jpg

and his final adventure had him facing off and defeating the villainous Le Barbe who made the grave mistake of trying to take over all the gold mines in Alaska.

Rockman4thAppearance.jpg

So what happened?

Despite the fact that Rockman had some top tier talent behind him he only lasted four issues, probably falling victim to the same issues of lack of interest that the majority of his Golden Age compatriots suffered.

There was also the problem with Rockman being a bit…bland.  Sure he was a king with a secret kingdom and sure he had advanced technology and gadgets, and sure he had a cool idea behind him but there just wasn’t a whole lot of nuance to the character.  He was the kind of hero that was fun for a couple of stories but not much after that.

Rockman would later be revived in the 2007-2008 comic book mini series The Twelve where a lot of that would change.

The new Rockman got a face lift from artist Chris Weston where he looked a lot more intimidating.

He even got to keep some of his gadgets like the Digger Car.

However, all the gadgets in the world couldn’t save Rockman and the rest of the group when they were captured and placed into stasis by Nazi scientists only to be discovered over sixty years later.

We’ve been covering the Twelve for a while now and one of the things that has fascinated me the most about the series is how Michael J. Straczynski turns the story into a deeply poignant tale about recovering lost identity and re discovering your place in a world that has moved on.  For some members of the twelve this works out perfectly.

However, Rockman was one of the hardest hit by the change.

Even though the group was moved to a mansion in upstate New York Rockman spent most of his time in the cellar beating his fists against the ground in a vain attempt to contact his long lost kingdom of Abyssia.

However, it turned out that Abyssia may have not been a real place and that Rockman was actually suffering from something much darker than homesickness.

While it was never confirmed in the series proper it was strong hinted that Rockman wasn’t actually a being from an ancient kingdom but a former miner by the name of Daniel Rose.

 

According to a woman named Danielle Rose, a woman who claimed that Daniel was her great uncle,

everything about Rockman from the equipment he used to the kingdom of Abyssia, was a coping mechanism designed by Daniel to cope with the loss of his family and friends to a mining accident.

Daniel had been a coal miner in West Virginia where he had attempted to form a union but when a local boss threatened to hurt his family Daniel and the miners fought back, causing a horrific accident that somehow released a mutagen gas that gave Daniel super strength.  Since he was the only survivor Daniel was wracked with guilt and spent the rest of his days pining for his lost kingdom and not remembering the family he once had.

While he never discovered his true identity and never found is old home Rockman died a hero, protecting his colleagues trapped in the mansion after another of the heroes named Dynamic Man attempted to kill them by lighting the house on fire.

Rockman is an interesting case in the study of Golden Age superheroes.  On one hand he is presented as a king, ruler of his own lands and a steadfast warrior who fought to protect his people and the world above him but on the other hand he is presented as a mentally scared and unbalanced man who was given superpowers and used them to cope with the death of his family.  It’s actually kind of funny, on one hand he’s like Aquaman and on the other he’s like Batman.

Golden Age Showcase: The Witness

You know who we haven’t talked about very much on this blog series?  Stan Lee.

It’s no small secret that the man is a comic book legend.  Although his first written work was with Captain America in the 1941 with the story Captain America foils the Traitor’s Revenge (fun side note this was the first story that had Captain America throwing his shield)

His most impressive creative period was the 1960’s, where he created some of the most iconic characters of all time and secured his place as a legend of comic books.

But the man’s impressive body of work didn’t just spring out of a vacuum.  The man started working in the comic book business at the very beginning in 1939 back when his name was Stanley Lieber (he used Stan Lee as a pseudonym and would later have it legally changed) and would eventually rise through the ranks to become the man he is today.

So why am I talking about this here?  Because in 1941 Timely Comics an unknown writer by the name of S.T Anley had a story published about a new super hero called “The Witness”

The name was a pretty cheesy pseudonym for Stan Lee but even though the Witness wasn’t the first hero that Lee would create for Timely (oh we’ll definitely be getting to those), he was definitely one of the most interesting.

Origin and Career

The Witness first appeared in Mystic Comics #7 in December 1941.

He was a Jewish kid who grew up to join the Chicago Police as a detective until he accidentally shot an innocent man in the line of duty.  He was tried and sent to prison, something that only seems to happen in fiction nowadays, for two years and when he got out life wasn’t much better.

In another interesting twist the poor man attempted to commit suicide but was saved by a mysterious voice who told him it wasn’t his time.  He would later become the costumed hero The Witness.

Twelve005.jpg

His power set was actually pretty interesting because while he didn’t have super strength of flight he did have a strange ability to tell who was going to be the victim of a crime before it happened.  He would then find the future victim, observe them, and then decide if they deserved to be saved or whether he would simply be a witness to the crime.

In his first appearance he brought down a group of assassins called the League of Blood and their evil leader Mr. Natas (groan) who the Witness sent hurdling to his death.  He also discovered that a humble pawn shop owner named Booie Dawdly was actually a highly accomplished mobster and jewel thief known as the Imp.

 

His final adventure involved him breaking up a gambling ring on a ship.

So what happened?

Like so many superheroes of the time The Witness only had two stories in the 1940’s and would have been doomed to obscurity if it wasn’t for his revival in the 2007 series The Twelve.

In the series the Witness was sent to Europe to fight in WW2 where he witnessed the horrible events that happened at Auschwitz.  While the events must have had a terrible impact on the psyche of a Jewish American hero he didn’t allow it to faze him as he joined his comrades for an assault on Berlin.

However, the Twelve were captured and placed in suspended animation by Nazi scientists where they would remain until 2007 when they were rediscovered.

The Witness actually took the change of scenery pretty well.  However, his powers prevented him from enjoying his new life and he was called to a diner to witness a death.  It turned out the man who was doomed to die was actually a prison guard from Auschwitz and the hero watches as the man was run over by a truck.

He was also called to witness the death of his teammates after it was revealed that Dynamic Man had actually gone crazy and started killing his former teammates.  His story arc ended with him surviving the destruction and disappearing off the face of the Earth. It turned out he had recruited by Nick Fury in order to work for SHIELD as an operative who punished anyone who had committed a crime.

The Witness was a strange hero.  On one hand he was actively punishing those who he knew were guilty but on the other hand he was doomed to remain a passive observer in the lives and deaths of random people he had never known.  Regardless, the Witness was one of the most interesting heroes to come out of the Golden Age and a definite sign of Stan Lee’s budding genius.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Laughing Mask

A lot of people tend to think of the “superhero who has no qualms about killing people” as a relatively modern idea and they usually associate this idea with the Punisher.

But as we’ve discussed on this blog before, heroes killing people isn’t really all that new.  The early Batman had no qualms about killing people,

and neither did today’s hero: The Laughing Mask.

Origin and Career

The Laughing Mask first appeared in Daring Comics #2 in November 1939 and was created by William Harr and Maurice Gutwirth.

The hero started off as the idealistic Dennis Burton, an assistant District Attorney for the city of Rapid Falls.  Dennis was disillusioned with the ease that criminals were able to escape justice thanks to an increasingly corrupt legal system.

One day Burton was investigating a train wreck when he learned that the train wheels were being intentionally sabotaged with acid.  Burton was captured but managed to escape and instead of reporting the crime like any reasonable human being would he decided to go a bit overboard, adopt a rather terrifying disguise,

and slaughter every gangster involved in the plot except one who was forced to sign a confession and turn himself in.

Sadly, this disguise would only last one issue and in November of 1940 a new vigilante with the exact same name, equipment, and penchant for violence appeared calling himself Purple Mask.

Dennis Burton would have two more stories, one where he threatened to throw a criminal into a vat of acid,

and another much more tame story where he foiled a bank robbery.

So what happened?

The Laughing/Purple Mask disappeared off the face of the Earth until he reappeared in the 2008 comic book series The Twelve.

Part of a team of twelve heroes that were tasked with assaulting Berlin at the tail end of WW2 the Twelve were subsequently captured and put in stasis.

 

When they were re discovered and thawed out years later the new challenge was for each team member to try and readjust to modern life.  This was a problem for The Laughing Mask because almost as soon as he was thawed out he was arrested for murdering a group of gangsters 60 years earlier.

It was also revealed that the Laughing Mask had executed a group of German prisoners while operating in Germany during the war, demonstrating that he was probably mentall unsound.

However, his arrest probably saved his life because while the Laughing Mask was in jail the rest of the Twelve were engaged in a brutal bit of infighting that resulted in a lot of the heroes dying.

Dennis Burton would later reach a deal with the United States government.  In exchange for a pardon he would operate a robot named Electro, a telepathically controlled robot that belonged to a former teammate of the Twelve, and carry out missions for the government. He was last seen attacking a Middle Eastern drug ring and loving every minute of it.

The Laughing Mask was one of the first examples of how violent and savage the early vigilantes could be.  He was brutal, uncompromising, and wasn’t afraid of taking a life long before modern comic books began writing heroes that were not afraid to kill.

Golden Age Showcase: The Black Widow

Today we’re going to talk about the Black Widow.

No, not that one.

The current, and perhaps more famous Black Widow as a product of the 1960’s and was one of the deadliest Russian spies the world had ever known before she decided to turn traitor and work for the United States.

The Black Widow we’re going to talk about today was a bit more…terrifying.

Origin and Career

The Golden Age Black Widow first appeared in Mystic Comics #4 in August of 1940.

She was created by comic book writer George Kapitan and artist Henry Sahle and was billed as the “strangest, most terrifying creature in action picture magazines”.  Judging from some of her pictures

it looks like they weren’t that far off.

The Black Widow started life as the psychic medium Claire Voyant (really Timely?  Really?) who was hired by the Wagler family for a seance in order to try to contact their dead father.  Unfortunately, Claire was possessed by Satan (because of course) who foretold that the family would all perish in a fiery death.

The prophecy turned out to be a fast acting one, as the Wagler family was killed in a brutal car accident after leaving from the seance.  However, the son James managed to survive and blamed Claire for his family’s death.

While this was probably the machinations of Satan, James paid the demon no heed and gunned Claire down.

Satan used this opportunity to collect Claire’s soul and turn her into one of his agents.

She would be tasked with acting as the Devil’s agent on Earth, collecting souls that were deemed evil enough to belong to the Prince of Darkness.

In order to fulfill her evil work Claire was given the gift of immortality (although this might not be true), immunity to most mortal weapons, and the ability to kill with a touch much like a Black Widow spider.

I’m not going to lie, I think this is awesome.

Sadly, like most characters we talk about on this blog, she only lasted a couple of stories.  That man in the frilly costume she’s killing?  That was her second victim, a notorious crime boss named Garvey Lang.  She would appear in three more stories where she targeted several villains and doomed them to an eternity in Hell, although there was one recorded instance where she helped heal one of the victims of a man she was charged with sending to Hell.  After that, shedisappeared off the face of the Earth for almost fifty years.

So what happened?

The Black Widow would find new life in Michael J. Straczynski’s 2008 mini series The Twelve, only this time with a revamped origin story.

This time around she gained her powers in 1928, after swearing her soul to Satan in exchange for the ability to avenge the death of her murdered sister.

In 1945 she joined a group of Golden Age heroes in storming Berlin at the tail end of the war.

She’s the one lifting the tank.

However, the raid went bust and the heroes were captured and put into suspended animation where they remained until they were rediscovered in 2008.

After waking up The Black Widow realized that her deal with Satan still applied and she would still be required to kill evildoers and deliver their souls to Hell.  Her first victim was a man named Simon Dexter, who she ripped limb from limb.

However, her reawakening wasn’t all bad.  She befriended several patrons at a goth themed bar

although that didn’t last very long and she wound up developing romantic feelings for one of her colleagues, the Phantom Reporter.

Sadly many of her friends wound up perishing when it was revealed that one of their own had turned evil but thankfully, the Black Widow would get a happy ending.

She wound up realizing that she and the Phantom Reporter were in love,

and became private investigators for Exec Enterprises, a private investigation firm headed by another one of their colleagues: Mastermind Excello.

A happy ending for one of the most troubled anti heroines in all of comics.

Golden Age Showcase: The Blue Blade

 

So this little movie came out not too long ago.

For anyone who is curious about what I thought about it, I liked it.  It was funny, well paced, and had a surprising amount of…heart.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the movie was the sword play.

I thought it was nice to know that even in an age where most people would scoff at using swords in favor of guns Hollywood realizes that sometimes audiences just want to see a good old fashioned sword fight (although to be fair, the gun play in Deadpool was also pretty damn cool).

This is in NO way a semi awkward attempt to tie a recent comic book superhero success to the subject of today’s blog post (it totally is though).  See, I love a good sword fight and I especially love old school Hollywood swashbucklers.  Stuff like Errol Flynn movies and the old Zorro films

were things that I grew up with and I still enjoy today.  And since these movies were incredibly popular it would make sense for comic books to try to create their own swashbuckling heroes.  One of these heroes was Timely Comics’ Blue Blade.

Origin and Career

Nobody knows who created the Blue Blade, although judging from the costume and demeanor he was a pretty blatant rip off of Errol Flynn.  His first appearance was in USA Comics #5 dated in 1942.

Where he helped defeat a gang of Japanese spies looking to steal an experimental weapon.

His real name was Roy Chambers.  He was an expert swordsman, acrobat, and had an incredibly well trained horse that was somehow better than a car in 1940’s America.

For some reason the Blue Blade just didn’t catch on (whaaaat?) and he would have remained a forgotten relic of the Golden Age of Comics until the 2008 mini series The Twelve.

So what happened

The Blue Blade had been drafted in 1945 and sent to Europe to fight the Nazis.  Despite his fighting prowess he was viewed as more of a tourist and used his natural flair for entertainment to appear in shows for the troops.

He was pat of the failed Berlin raid that led to a team of twelve superheroes being captured by the Nazis and placed into stasis.

Eventually the heroes were rediscovered, thawed out, and returned to America to readjust to modern life.  While some of the heroes took the news rather hard the Blue Blade was actually rather happy about it.

He thought that their former celebrity status, coupled with the novelty of being relics of the past, would be something he could leverage into a profitable entertainment career and for a little while it worked.

However, audience tastes change with the times and sadly the Blue Blade was unable to find a show that would appeal to modern audiences.

Desperate to find something that would thrust him back into the limelight the Blue Blade attempted to reactivate one of his fellow heroes, the robot Electro.

Unfortunately, the Blue Blade failed to realize that Electro had already been activated and was working under the control of another hero.  In an attempt to keep its master a secret, Electro murdered the Blue Blade.

The Blue Blade was not very good at being a superhero.  He was loud, brash, outspoken, and probably not very well suited at being a hero in the first place (kind of like Deadpool if you want a tenuous connection to the movie) but like Deadpool he was one of the few heroes who realized the profit making potential of being a costumed vigilante (along with other comic book luminaries like Ozymandias, The Heroes for Hire, and Deadpool’s old buddy Cable) and he was a tribute to many of the Hollywood swashbuckling films that were one of the biggest influences on the early days of comic books.

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Electro

So last week we decided to take a look at the Phantom Reporter, a hero who only lasted one issue in the 1940’s but found new life in a modern story about Golden Age superheroes called “The Twelve”

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That turned out to be a popular post so let’s take a look at another one of the heroes form this story, one who managed to last a bit longer than one issue and proved to be a major player in the modern comic book series: Electro.

Origin and career:

Electro was created by writer/artist Steve Dhalman and debuted in Marvel Mystery Comics Issue #4 in 1940 as a backup feature to more popular heroes of the time such as the Human Torch and the Sub Mariner.

Electro was a robot created by Professor Philo Zog in the name of helping all of mankind.

Electro was an actual robot, not a human flying around in a robotic suit like Iron Man.  Electro was controlled by a special microphone/telephone created by the professor that could be used to summon the robot and make it do its master’s bidding.

The robot itself was pretty powerful in its own right.  Capable of running at speeds in excess of 100 mph, impervious to most firearms and explosives, and capable of lifting a human being with little to no difficulty

Electro was certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Philo Zog’s creation would have a fairly long and successful life as a back up feature in the Marvel Mystery series, which was one of Timely Comic’s biggest and most successful series at the time.  What’s interesting is that many of these stories weren’t really about Electro the Robot but rather about Philo Zog and a collection of twelve human agents who worked for Zog known as “Secret Operatives”.  Basically an Electro story would go something like this: one of the Secret Operatives would be sent out to investigate a crime or disturbance (this could range anywhere from a kidnapping to preventing a full blown international civil war) stumble on something that was far too big for one man to handle, call in Electro, and the robot would make quick work of whatever criminal/drug dealer/dictator/alien was a threat that day.

Electro’s final Golden Age appearance was in Marvel Mystery #19 where Professor Zog and Electro manage to fend off a crazed mad scientist who invents an invisibility potion.  While Electro was defeated by one of the mad scientist’s servants who was using the potion the robot did go out with a bang after fighting off two gorillas.

So what happened?

The robot and his twelve agents just stopped being published, I guess he just wasn’t popular enough to last.

While the creation of Professor Zog wouldn’t be revived until 2008 the name Electro would live on in Marvel history: first as a Soviet agent who fought Captain America in 1954 when Marvel Comics was known as Atlas Comics

and second as the more well known Spider Man villain who made his first appearance in Amazing Spider Man #9 in 1964.

But we’re here to talk about the Golden Age Electro, the one who appeared in the 2008 series The Twelve.

During WW2 Electro was sent to Europe to fight off the Nazis.  He proved incredibly effective and popular with the soldiers, although the Phantom Reporter commented that it was somewhat “creepy” that a man could be killed by remote control.

The series starts off with twelve Golden Age heroes assaulting a bunker in 1945 Berlin.  However, they were discovered, captured by the Nazis, and placed in suspended animation for further study. However, it was too late and everyone who was tied to the project was either killed or captured leaving the twelve heroes trapped in stasis for years.

In 2007 a construction project uncovered the heroes and they were returned to the United States for reintegration into society.  Unfortunately for Electro he remained deactivated and it turned out that the robot had been controlled by a highly sophisticated device that allowed the user to control the robot with his or her mind.  Unfortunately for Professor Zog the shock of losing his robot was too much for his brain and it was reported that he “died of loneliness”.

During this time Professor Zog’s niece attempted to regain possession of her uncle’s device but couldn’t raise the money to take care of it.

Ms. Zog wound up reaching a deal with another hero from the Twelve called the Blue Blade.

In exchange for using the robot in a show the Blue Blade would give Ms. Zog all the money she would need to reclaim the robot.  However, something went wrong and the robot wound up killing the Blue Blade.

It turned out that the robot had not remained idle all these years.  In an attempt to re connect with his old master Electro’s primitive brain began reaching out in an attempt to find a new mind to connect with.  He wound up discovering the mind of another one of the twelve heroes, a Golden Age hero called Dynamic Man, and wound up basically becoming Dynamic Man’s servant.

Dynamic Man was revealed to be evil and used Electro to slaughter innocent people in cold blood.  However, Dynamic Man was eventually stopped at great cost to the rest of the Twelve and Electro reverted back to being a docile robot.

However, this was not the end of Electro’s career.  It turned out that Electro could only be used by one of the twelve heroes that had been placed in suspended animation.  The United States government wound up reaching an agreement with Zog’s niece where they would pay her to use her uncle’s invention for military use.  His was last seen being operated by another one of the Twelve, a hero called the Laughing Man, and tearing through the Middle East with some heavily upgraded weapons.

If you want to get technical than Electro wasn’t really a hero.  He was simply a tool, an invention created by a well meaning scientist who simply wanted to make the world a better place.  But the story of Electro represents some important themes that can be found in a lot of superhero stories: that power isn’t nearly as important as the choices made by those who use it.

Golden Age Showcase: The Phantom Reporter

So I was perusing the Marvel comics library on Comixology (because I live miles away from any sort of comic book store and I like having comics on my phone) and I came across this.

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The Twelve was a limited comic book series published by Marvel Comics in 2008.  The series was written by J. Michael Straczynski who is known for writing some brilliant stuff

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as well as some really bad stuff.

The Twelve was a comic book series about some of the earliest Marvel comic book heroes from the early 1940’s, a time when Marvel Comics was originally known as Timely Comics.

The series followed a collection of 12 heroes who were tricked into being frozen in stasis while fighting the Nazis at the tail end of World War 2 and follows them after they were re discovered, thawed out, and attempted to acclimate back into modern society.

A series about old Golden Age heroes attempting to fit in with modern society that AREN’T named Captain America?

This is going to keep me busy for months!

Origin and Career

Let’s start with one of the weakest members of the team and the one with the shortest Golden Age career: The Phantom Reporter.

First appearing in Daring Mystery Comics #3

Daring Mystery Comics Vol 1 3

The Phantom Reporter appeared in his first, and only, solo appearance.  That being said his only solo adventure is a pretty good one.

The Phantom Reporter’s actual name is Dick Jones.  In terms of backstory he decided to become a morally upright hero after his father died during World War 1.  Over the course of his early life be became an All American football player, boxer, and fencer.  After college he decided to become a reporter (surprise!) and decided to adopt the identity of a costumed vigilante in order to right the wrongs he couldn’t fix through his reporting work.

In his solo story “Murder on the East Side”, Dick Jones discovers that a corrupt Parks Commissioner and two newspaper barons are attempting to scare off residents living in the East Side of the city (it’s not clear exactly which one) through a series of murders and home invasions in order to buy the land for cheap and turn it into profitable park land.  Dick brings the robbers to justice by alternating between his civilian reporter identity and the Phantom Reporter and beating everyone involved into submission.

So what happened?

The Phantom Reporter made only one Golden Age appearance during the 40’s.  Everything else was fleshed out in The Twelve.

When WW2 broke out the Phantom Reporter spent some time combating Nazi spies but by 1945 he found himself in Germany fighting alongside some of Timely’s other more powerful heroes from WW2.

During his tour of duty the Phantom Reporter became a war journalist for the superheroes as well as actively fighting in the war itself.

Although he was a capable combatant he was viewed as more of a tourist by many of his super powered peers.  However, he did prove his worth as a journalist by reporting on important events such as the Nazi war crimes at Auschwitz and even managed to save Captain America’s life after the Captain was buried under a pile of rubble.

 

His adventures came to an end when he joined a group of twelve other superheroes on April 25, 1945 for an assault on an S.S bunker in Berlin.  The bunker turned out to be a trap and the twelve heroes were gassed and placed in suspended animation for future study.  However, the Nazis were beaten back by the Soviets and the project was abandoned with every Nazi involved either captured or killed in action.

The heroes would remain in suspended animation until the 21st century when they were discovered buried under a construction project.  The United States government decided to thaw them out and attempted to re introduce them into society gradually, not much unlike another famous Marvel hero who had to be thawed out and re introduced to society.

In the case of the Twelve the Phantom Reporter was the first one to figure out something was wrong by noticing that none of the nurses wore garters or that some of them had multiple ear piercings.

Out of all the twelve heroes who were thawed out the Phantom Reporter was one of the best at re acclimating to the modern world.  After taking a job as a reporter at the Daily Bugle

The Phantom Reporter became grounded enough to be able to observe many of his former co workers.  I won’t go into tremendous detail about what happens because I want to save it for future articles (plus if you’re interested yourself I highly suggest reading the series) but here are the Phantom Reporter’s main bullet points.

  • Dick Jones develops romantic feelings for one of his female team mates, a super powered psychic medium who turned out to be Satan’s assassin, who’s name was Black Widow (no not that one and yes we will be getting to her)

  • He then proceeds to solve the murder of one of his colleagues named Blue Blade and discovers that the crime was committed by another former team mate named Dynamic Man.

  • After a tremendous brawl with Dynamic Man the Phantom Reporter finally becomes a hero with actual super powers after his team mate The Fiery Mask is killed.

The battle with Dynamic Man is the key point of the entire comic book series and we will be approaching it from different points of view.  After the brawl is over and the remaining twelve heroes have saved the day the Phantom Reporter re unites with his lady crush Black Widow and the two finally realize that they love each other.

At the end of the comic the two are private detectives and working together to make the world a better place.

While the Phantom Reporter only lasted one issue in the 1940’s he did get one hell of a send off in the modern day.  Not only was he a capable detective and reporter but his unwavering determination to doing the right thing and doing good for the world wound up paying off in the end.  He got a happy ending, he got the girl, and he even got actual super powers.

Next week: Another one of the Twelve whose story didn’t end so well.