Golden Age Showcase: The Destroyer

On November 12th, 2018 we lost the Walt Disney of comic books, a master of movie cameos, and one of the few comic book creators that almost every person in the world can name whether they’re a fan of comic books or not: Stan Lee.

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There is no denying that the man’s legacy is immense and the impact he had on comic books as a medium and as a pop culture force was almost immeasurable.

Some cliff notes on his early life.  He was born in 1922 to a Jewish family in New York under the name Stanley Lieber.  “Stan Lee” was originally a pen name that he used when writing comics because he was saving his actual name for when he would start writing novels.

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Stan was around for the very beginning of the comic book industry that we know and love when he first started working for Timely Comics in 1939 after graduating high school.  While his initial duties were small time stuff like filling inkwells.  His first bit of writing work was creating filler text for a Captain America story named “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge”,

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Fun fact: this is the first story where Captain America throws his shield.

From there, Stan wrote a back up feature called “Headline Hunter”,

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and in 1942 Timely Comics launched the first superhero co created by their new upcoming writer and the hero we’re going to talk about today: The Destroyer.

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Ladies and gentlemen, here is the first superhero that Stan Lee ever created.

Origin and Career

Full disclosure, I’ve done a bit of research for this article, and I can’t find a whole lot of images of the Destroyer due to copyright, so there’s going to be a lot of text and not a whole lot of pictures.

The Destroyer made his first appearance in Mystic Comics #6 in August of 1942.

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He was co created by Stan Lee and artist Jack Binder,

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Jack Binder was the older brother of Otto Binder, the man who would develop a healthy portion of the Superman mythos.

The Destroyer’s civilian identity is Kevin Marlow, an investigative journalist who was sent behind enemy lines to record and document Nazi atrocities.

He got a view that was a probably a bit too personal when he was captured, tried as a spy, and sent to a location known as Strohm Prison.  While he was there he was tortured met a Jewish scientist who was forced to work for the Nazis known as Eric Schmitt.

Schmitt had been forced to develop a super soldier serum for the Nazis (yes, it turns out he was a colleague of the scientist who gave Captain America his powers) and was beaten to near death.  Schmitt would wind up giving his heavily guarded sample of the super soldier serum to Marlow, who became incredibly strong and fast and used his abilities to break out of prison.

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Marlow vowed to fight Nazism on his own an donned his black, grey, and red costume to strike fear to the Nazis behind enemy lines.

Of course, his actions did not go entirely unnoticed and the Destroyer’s one man war drew the ire of the Gestapo under the command of Captain Fredrick von Banger.

Naturally, the confrontation didn’t go very well for the Nazis and while The Destroyer was able to overpower the captain, von Banger managed to escape by cheating.

That was The Destroyer’s first appearance and it turned out he was actually pretty popular during the wartime years.  Perhaps the one thing that separated The Destroyer from his other super powered colleagues was his willingness to accept help from other Germans and to accept the idea that the Nazis were more tyrannical despots rather than an entire nation of people.  Case in point, one of his earliest enemies was a psychotic scientist named Herr Scar,

Scar (Earth-616)

who was tasked by the Nazi government to quell German dissenters.  Naturally, with a face and name like that Herr Scar was an evil man who died very quickly.

The Destroyer would continue to experience a fair amount of success during the war.  He made cover appearances in the last four issues of Mystic Comics and would go on to become one of Timely’s most published characters, just behind the heavyweights of Captain America, the Human Torch, and Namor the Submariner.

So what happened?

Kevin Marlow disappeared in the late 1940’s when comic book superheroes were on the decline and comic books were facing a significant backlash and public hatred.

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Timely Comics changed its name to Atlas Comics, and Stan Lee managed to keep going by writing other stories.

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What happened next is mostly hearsay and conjecture, but the story goes that Lee was just about to quit comic books forever until his wife Joan told him to write one last story that he wanted to write.  The result was the creation of a new group of superheroes: The Fantastic Four.

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They’re pretty obscure, you’ve probably never heard of them.

The book was a hit.  Coupled with the rebirth and revitalization of the superhero genre in the 1960’s, comic books became cool again and Atlas changed its name again to Marvel Comics.

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The Destroyer continued to exist, although it was no longer a heavy hitter in the Marvel lineup.  However, in the 1970’s, then Marvel editor in chief Roy Thomas and artist Frank Robbins rebooted the story and made the new Destroyer a British agent named Brian Falsworth, and through a long and convoluted path of events (it’s comics, this happens) Falsworth became the British hero Union Jack.

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All previous continuity was retconned and the previous identity for the Destroyer known as Kevin Marlow was revealed to be a mistake by the FBI.  It was also revealed that Brian Falsworth died in a car crash in 1953.

The Destroyer name would eventually be adopted by Brian’s close friend Roger Aubrey in a 2009 miniseries written by Ed Brubaker.

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A final version of the Destroyer would make an appearance in Marvel’s MAX imprint, which was the place where Marvel created its explicit and mature stories.

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This series was written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and featured an elderly Kevin Marlow in modern times.

Kevin Marlow (Earth-616) from Destroyer Vol 3 4 0001

This version of the Destroyer still had the strength and endurance of the super soldier serum, but unlike Cap he aged.

The story itself followed the Destroyer as he set off to kill his remaining rogues gallery and ensure the safety of his loved ones, by any means necessary.

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So that’s a brief rundown of the Destoryer.  If I had to describe him in one word it would be…standard.  During the 1940’s he was a product of his times.  People wanted bright and colorful heroes to fight their battles for them, and the destroyer delivered.  And while he would go on to become a part of the Marvel Universe and was well remembered by people working in comics, he would never see mainstream success.

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As for Stan Lee?  Well, he went on to help create some of the greatest and most popular heroes of all time,

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become the public face of American comic books, and be well known and loved by millions of fans.

All in all, a pretty good life and a pretty good legacy.

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Thanks for everything Stan, you will be missed.

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Golden Age Showcase: Sun Girl

It’s October folks!

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing, and the weather is getting cooler.

Normally, most forms of entertainment start churning out the horror and scary stuff around this time, and in the near future we won’t be so different.  However, I thought it might be nice to give the sun one last hurrah and talk about a bright and colorful superhero from days of yore.

She’s also a lady so here’s another chance to showcase a hero that didn’t get a whole lot of attention back then.

This is Sun Girl.

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Origin and Career

Sun Girl made her first appearance in her self titled series Sun Girl #1 in August of 1948.

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While the writer of the comic is uncredited, the art was done by a man named Ken Bald.

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Ken Bald was actually one of the more prolific and successful artists of the Golden Age and did a lot of work as a staff artist at Timely Comics where he drew many of Timely’s most popular heroes.  He is also known for his comic strip work, such as a strip based off of the 1970’s tv show Dark Shadows.

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A couple things of note.  First, hooray we actually managed to tie in some horror into an October post!  Second, if the name Dark Shadows isn’t familiar to younger readers all you need to know is that they tried making a modern movie based off it starring Johnny Depp.

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It wasn’t well received.

Anyway, in an age where comic book super heroines were surprisingly independent and capable Sun Girl…was not.  Her civilian name was Mary Mitchell and she started life as the secretary and love interest of the original Human Torch.  When the Human Torch’s original sidekick Toro takes a leave of absence she insisted that she becomes Torch’s sidekick despite having no superpowers.  The Torch is not pleased and responds with stereotypical 1940’s male talk.

But…she knows judo so that fixes everything I guess?  Also, she had a “sun beam” gun that shot bright flashes of light.  Honestly, there were better superheroines out there at this time.

Her lack of powers and crazy weapons didn’t stop her from having something of a career.  After her three issue solo series she appeared in the Human Torch series for three issues,

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and she guest starred in Captain America and Submariner books.

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Thankfully, during her short career she wasn’t entirely useless.  She would often bring a more human and compassionate side to her superhero work and was able to make an impact on the Human Torch’s career.  Perhaps her biggest achievement was helping the Torch prove a wrongfully accused man innocent.

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So what happened?

Toro came back from his leave of absence and Mary went back to being the Human Torch’s secretary.  Then the comic book industry went kaput and Timely Comics re branded to eventually become Marvel Comics and the Human Torch became a character who didn’t need a secretary.

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However, Sun Girl didn’t just fade away into obscurity and become a tiny little footnote in comic book history.  She had enough fans and people who remembered her to bring her into the modern era.  The first appearance of the new and improved Sun Girl was in Superior Spider Man Team Up #1 in June of 2013.

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Right off the bat the new Sun Girl has a more independent and interesting origin.  She’s an engineer named Selah Burke who developed a suit that gives her the ability to fly and two light blasting pistols.  Also, she’s the daughter of Edward Lanksey, an out of work college professor who became a super villain.

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Her next appearance would be as part of the Marvel Comics team called the New Warriors in 2014.

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Sun Girl is an interesting comic book super heroine, but not for the reasons you might expect.  She didn’t have any extraordinary powers, she didn’t have a very long career, and she didn’t have the impact on popular culture that many of her other female colleagues had.  With that being said, she was smart, courageous, always willing to do the right thing, and has one of the most comprehensive and fulfilling post Golden Age careers of any female superhero.

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Golden Age Showcase: Doctor Nitro

I said this year would be a bit different for this blog series by focusing on some of the more creative villains of the Golden Age of Comics and I intend to keep that promise.

The problem with Golden Age villains is that many of them were never meant to have any serious staying power.  Sure, you’ve got classics such as the Joker,

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and the Red Skull,

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but even these guys were simply reduced to being cackling mad men who were given the simple job of being evil for the sake of being evil and crumpling like wet cardboard once the hero started punching things.

It’s important to remember that during this time comics were built around the heroes and it was simply accepted that the hero always had to win.  I’m not trying to mock the hard working and underpaid writers and artists who created these guys, it’s just that the comic book scene of the 1940’s and 1950’s was a bit different than it was today.

Couple that with the fact that a lot of superheroes at the time weren’t above killing the bad guys,

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and it’s pretty easy to see why creators didn’t really focus on making great bad guys.

So here’s a blog post about an old foe of the Whizzer, Doctor Nitro.

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Origin and Career

The evil doctor made his first appearance in U.S.A Comics #16 in 1945.

He was so obscure and one note that this is the only photo I have been able to find of him.

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If I could describe the Doctor’s motivations in one word it would be generic.  He didn’t have an interesting or compelling backstory, he didn’t have some sort of special mutant ability, and he wasn’t particularly memorable or crazy.

While his motivations may have been generic, his methods certainly weren’t.  The Doctor was an explosives expert (with a name like Nitro that really isn’t surprising) who developed a special explosive that could only be detonated by being exposed to a certain type of ray.

Nitro manages to smuggle this explosive into his prison cell by pretending that it’s hand lotion and manages to escape after detonating a bomb that kills two guards.

After escaping and rejoining his gang, Doctor Nitro planned on becoming rich by blackmailing the wealthy and elite into paying him or he would kill them with the explosive.

The Whizzer witnesses one of Nitro’s henchmen kill a man named Standards and manages to trace the killing back to the Doctor.  While Nitro does manage to douse the Whizzer with his special explosive formula the hero is just too fast for him and manages to round up the evil Doctor and his gang in order to save the day.

Doctor Nitro was last seen in police custody, his current fate is unknown.

How can he be remade/reworked?

The Doctor was only given one appearance in 1945, he didn’t have a career after that.

So instead we’re going to try and remake/rework him for a modern audience and see if he could be a good fit for modern day readers.

Honestly, I think this guy could work, mostly because during my research Doctor Nitro reminded me of this guy.

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That man’s name is Howard Payne.  He was played by Dennis Hopper as the villain of the hit 1994 movie Speed.

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Howard is a retired bomb squad officer from the Atlanta police force who took a group of hostages on board an L.A bus and demanded a ransom of 3.7 million dollars or he would blow up the bus and all the people in it.

Besides sharing similar motives with Howard Payne, Doctor Nitro shares a similar love for explosives and creative ways of blowing things up.

What’s even better is that in the world of comics, Doctor Nitro can still fit in quite well.

Personally, I wouldn’t change the character and motivations at all.  He’s an incredibly talented bomb maker who has a knack for creating explosives that are undetectable and can be utilized in interesting and unorthodox ways.

Granted, there are a couple of comic book characters that utilize new and interesting technology,

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and there are even plenty of super villains that use the power of explosives as their main weapon,

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but I think the best place to put Doctor Nitro would be as a smart, capable, and behind the scenes antagonist to S.H.I.E.L.D.

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If I was writing him, the new Doctor Nitro would be half mad scientist, half bomb maker, and only interested in selling his services and products to the highest bidder.  Perhaps he could have had a previous job as a scientist for S.H.I.E.L.D but decided that they didn’t pay him nearly enough and decided to go freelance.

As for the villain’s tools, I think that he could not only be fun, but also pretty socially relevant.

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It’s no small secret that improvised explosive devices (IED’s) are a favorite and well known tool for terrorists in and around places like the Middle East, but with the new Doctor Nitro and his explosive expertise there is a whole new world of bizarre and interesting ways to challenge our heroes.

For example, if Nitro’s explosive can be disguised as hand lotion, what’s stopping him from creating an edible explosive?  If the charge doesn’t need a detonator to blow up maybe Nitro’s intended target could be killed off after eating a meal laced with explosives and detonated when exposed to a certain type of radiation?  How would S.H.I.E.L.D manage to stop a bomb maker who leaves no trace and doesn’t work with conventional materials?

There are plenty of interesting things that could be done with Doctor Nitro, it would be an absolute shame to waste him.

Hey, thanks for reading!  Just a quick heads up, we also publish a web comic called “The Secret Lives of Villains” ever Tuesday and Thursday and we have our first printed volume available for sale on Amazon!  If you would like to support this blog, and read some pretty awesome comics, please feel free to pick up a copy here.

Golden Age Showcase: The Patriot

Happy post Super Bowl everyone!

Last night was one of the greatest games I have ever seen and I am so happy that my favorite team won their fifth championship.

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Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the New England Patriots so I would like to apologize for anyone reading this who isn’t a football fan and has to put up with yet another half crazed fan talking about something that’s not that interesting.  As for anyone who was hoping for the Patriots to lose, I’m not sorry in the slightest.

The game was one of the greatest things I have ever seen, so I thought it might be fitting to talk about an old school hero named The Patriot.

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Look, it was either this guy or Sportsmaster and I chose him.

Origin and Career

The Patriot was a second string character created by writer Ray Gill and artist Bill Everett,

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who was also the man who created Namor the Submariner.

The character first appeared in The Human Torch #4 in April of 1941.

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Fun fact: the issue is rather famous for a printing error that stated it was issue #3 instead of #4.

Anyway, the Patriot’s actual name was Jeffery Mace and his first appearance was in a ten page backup story titled “The Yellowshirts turn Yellow!” where the Patriot defeated a group of people looking to subvert the United States war effort by overthrowing the United States government.

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The character proved to be pretty popular for a backup character and would go on to have a successful, if not a bit standard and cliche, career as a secondary character in The Human Torch comics and Marvel Mystery Comics as well.

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I like to think that if Captain America didn’t turn out to be as popular, the Patriot would have been able to become a much more established superhero.  He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t have any special powers or particularly noteworthy stories, but he did his job and was popular enough to have a pretty long and storied career in the 1940’s.

So what happened?

Life tip: if you want to survive through trying times, you have to be able to stand out so people notice you.  The Patriot did not have that chance and as a result died out with the superhero fad in the late 1940’s.

With that being said, his previous popularity gave him something that a lot of his colleagues never had: a second chance.

His first appearance was in The Avengers #97 along with his colleague in arms The Fin (the same guy we talked about last week) as a mental projection of Rick Jones in order to wage war on the Kree and Skrull.

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He wound up joining the retconned superhero group known as The Liberty Legion and was given a much more fleshed out backstory in the 1970’s.

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They gave the man a much more fleshed out backstory that gave him some much deeper connections to the Marvel Universe as a whole.

In the new reality Jeffery Mace was a reporter for the Daily Bugle (Spiderman!) who was inspired by his idol Captain America.

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He even got to BE Captain America for a little bit when Marvel published a “What if?” story where he got to don the uniform of Captain America for a bit in order to explain how the hero could have continued to work after being frozen in ice.

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He was actually the third person to don the costume.  That’s him carrying the previous Captain America stand in, a hero called “The Spirit of ’76”.

Jeffery had a couple of guest appearances after that and was killed off in main continuity in 1983.

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But for some wonderful reason, the Patriot still had some juice left in the tank.

In the modern day Jeffery’s story was retold in a comic book series called Captain America: Patriot that took a closer look at McCarthy era America and superheroes who wear the red, white, and blue.

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His legacy lives on with a kid named Eli Bradley (the son of Isaiah Bradley from the excellent Truth: Red, White, and Black) working with the Young Avengers.

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Also, for the first time in this entire blog, I can say that we have a superhero who actually made it outside of comics and into the movies!

Jeffery Mace made it onto the Marvel tv show Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D and was played by Jason O’Mara.

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I won’t go into any further details for fear of spoiling the show, but I can say that he is one of the good guys and a friend to Coulson.

The Patriot is as big, bright, and as dumb as they come.  He wasn’t meant to be all that interesting, he was written to punch Nazis and fight during the war.  What Marvel created was a patriotic mascot, what they got was one of the best and most sincere attempts to replicate Captain America, one of their greatest icons.

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Golden Age Showcase: Isbisa

Happy New Years everyone!

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After a week long break to celebrate the holidays we’re back and ready for another year of obscure comic book characters you’ve never heard of!

Now, since it’s a new year I thought it might be fun to do some branching out and try some new things.  So this year I thought I might focus more on the villains of the Golden Age.

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Now, over the course of researching a lot of Golden Age superheroes, I’ve learned that the early comic book scene wasn’t a very big fan of putting a lot of thought into their bad guys.  Usually the hero fought off hoards of gangsters enacting some sort of scheme

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or the Nazis trying to pull off some evil plot.

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Most of the time the villain that the hero would be fighting would often get his/her just comeuppance at the end of the story and be killed off.

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The point is that the bad guys don’t get a whole lot of attention in the Golden Age of Comics, but every now and then there is a villain who proves to be a long lasting and memorable threat.

Anyway, I thought we could start with a villain who managed to give an entire team of some of the most powerful superheroes a run for their money: Isbisa.

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Origin and Career

Isbisa made his first and only Golden Age appearance in All Winners #19 in 1946.

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What’s interesting is that while many of the comic books at this time were anthologies that told a series of short, unrelated stories about a whole cast of super heroes, this book was a complete story where a team of some of Timely’s greatest heroes would work together to defeat Isbisa as a common foe.

The book itself was written by comic book legend, and a man who deserves way more credit than he’s been getting, Bill Finger.

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Bill Finger is the man who is responsible for creating most of the Batman mythos, although for the purposes of this article let’s just say he’s the guy who created the Joker.

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So it’s safe to say Mr. Finger knew how to create a pretty good villain.

Isbisa started out as a humble museum assistant named Simon Meke.

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His goal was simple (as was most of the motivations for villains at the time): world domination, which he planned to accomplish by stealing a nuclear weapon.  In order to do this he adopted the super villain identity of “Isbisa”, which was an acronym for the six “Ages of Man” (Ice Age, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Steel Age, Atomic Age).

Despite his lowly status, and the fact that he probably had no idea how to properly handle and manage a nuke, Meke was a smart man and realized that the superheroes of the All Winners Squad would be his greatest threat.

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He developed a plan to keep the team of Captain America, Bucky, the Sub Mariner, The Whizzer, The Human Torch, Toro, and Miss America busy while he could make off with the bomb.

His plan was actually pretty devious.  It involved hiring a group of gangsters and two small time super villains named “The Calcium Master”

(Drink your milk kids),

and Black Patch

to distract the heroes by committing various crimes while he robbed the place storing the bomb with his own special sleeping gas.

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In typical super villain fashion each of the crimes was committed with a certain theme and with plenty of clues for the heroes to use in order to figure it out.  Also, in typical comic book fashion the heroes were able to come together and save the day, capturing Isbisa and placing him into police custody.

So what happened?

Isbisa’s battle against the All Winners squad was his first and only Golden Age appearance.  However, this was not the last time he would appear to challenge his old foes.

His next appearance was in the 1970’s in Giant Sized Avengers #1 as a flashback.

Giant-Size Avengers Vol 1 1

It turned out that two of the old members of the squad, the Whizzer and Miss America, had left the group after defeating Isbisa and were married.  They wound up joining the CIA and were placed on body guard duty at a nuclear test site.  Unfortunately, during one of the tests they were both exposed to a large amount of radiation and when Miss America gave birth to their first child they discovered that their son was lethally radioactive.

The two were forced to place their son in stasis, but unfortunately their son escaped and became the villain Nuklo.

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Nuklo was eventually defeated and contained, but not before being brought to the attention of Isbisa.

The now released super villain learned about Nuklo’s powers and conspired to use them to give himself nuclear powers.

He disguised himself as a psychiatrist, infiltrated the facility holding Nuklo, and managed to hook both of them up to a device that would transfer Nuklo’s power to himself.  The device worked and when the Whizzer confronted his old nemesis, Ibisia killed him.

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He was defeated by Vision and the Scarlet Witch and sent back to prison.

His final appearance was in a battle with She Hulk.

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Isbisa had managed to escape prison again and was disguised as a physics teacher named Doctor Sandeson.  He discovered a way to move super villains in and out of time and space and used this same energy to rejuvenate himself (it’s worth mentioning that She Hulk comics played fast and loose with things like time and space and breaking the fourth wall).

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She Hulk eventually triumphed and Isbisa managed to escape.  He hasn’t been heard from since.

Isbisa is something of a rarity in Golden Age Comics.  While there were plenty of capable superheroes in the Golden Age, and plenty of them were much deadlier and scarier than Isbisa, there weren’t a whole lot of consistent threats.  Usually a bad guy would last anywhere between a single issue or a couple, but Isbisa did manage to last and plague his mortal enemies for a terrifyingly long amount of time.

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Golden Age Showcase: Thin Man

Confession time.  I’m sitting in an airport terminal in Portland Oregon (long story) and I’ve been so busy that I nearly forgot to write an article this week.

Thankfully I’ve got about two hours to kill before my flight leaves so today we’re going to talk about the first superhero who was able to stretch his body and use it as a super power.

Today we’re going to talk about Thin Man.

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Origin and Career

The Thin Man first appeared in Mystic Comics #4 in June of 1940.

He was created by artist Polish artist Klaus Nordling (I was unable to find a picture) and an unknown writer.

As for origins, Thin Man was the first super hero who was able to stretch and mold his body into various shapes.

What really sets him apart from a various number of heroes is that while Plastic Man got his powers from a lab accident,

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and Reed Richards got his powers from cosmic rays,

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Thin Man got his powers from a group of advanced humans living in a forgotten valley in the Himalayas.

Thin Man’s identity was Bruce Dickenson, a scientist who was exploring the Himalayas and discovered the entrance to a forgotten kingdom called Kalahia.

After he faints, Bruce discovers that the inhabitants of Kalahia have the ability to change their shape and size at will and that for some reason they decided to give him this ability without his knowledge or consent.

What I really love about this story is how they completely disregard world changing revelations such as the existence of aliens on Mars and multiple dimensions and head straight to the crime fighting.

Bruce convinces the elders of Kalahia to allow him to travel back to his home, accompanied by the daughter of one of the elders named Ollala, because this is the Golden Age of comics and you only need three panels to do anything.

As you can see above, Bruce builds a highly advanced propeller driven plane that he uses to murder people, because the casual murder of suspected criminals is totally justified and doesn’t require any explanation.

The rest of the story involves Thin Man and Olalla foiling a group of mobsters who are trying to collect protection money from a taxi driver.

Thin Man uses his advanced technology and his ability to become as thin as a piece of paper to foil the hoodlums and bring the boss to justice.

 

I like to think that if his adventures had continued that plane would have wracked up one hell of a body count.

So what happened?

Sadly, this origin story would be Thin Man’s first and only Golden Age appearance.

However, Thin Man’s career would get a second wind in the 1970’s when he became part of the World War 2 era Marvel team known as the Liberty Legion.

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He’s on the right of the panel in the green and yellow suit.

Long story short, the Liberty Legion fought a lot of Nazis and Nazi related schemes.

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Thin Man would later reveal to Captain America that he lost his family and connection to his powers after Olalla had returned to her home shortly before it had been discovered and destroyed by a Nazi villain named Agent Axis.

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After Agent Axis gloated that he could not be harmed or prosecuted due to his position as a Nazi scientist working for the United States, Thin Man got angry and snapped his neck.  He was arrested by Captain America and sent to prison.

In the 2004 series The New Invaders Thin Man was pardoned by the United States government with the purpose of equipping the new version of his old team with Kalahian technology.

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Unfortunately this turned out to be a ruse by the Red Skull, who was disguised as the Secretary of Defense at the time.

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Thin Man would wind up creating a warship called The Infiltrator which was a massive battleship designed to be able to cloak itself from any scanner and teleport across dimensions.

The ship wound up sacrificing itself to destroy a doomsday device and saving the world from a villain named U Man.

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I don’t know if Thin Man was on board the ship or not when it exploded.

Thin Man is an interesting hero for a number of reason.  First, he was the first superhero who could stretch himself and change his form at will, setting the precedent for other heroes such as Reed Richards and Plastic Man.  Also, he was the ambassador of a new and different world within the Marvel universe, and if they had not been destroyed by the Nazis I’m willing to bet that they would have become an integral part of the Marvel Universe.

Golden Age Showcase: All Negro Comics #1

So this show just came out on Netflix.

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I freaking love it.  The actors are awesome, the soundtrack is phenomenal, and while it’s probably the least “comic booky” of all the shows Marvel puts out, it is a fantastic homage to the 1970’s blaxploitation films that the comic took influence from.

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Luke Cage was a product of the 1970’s, a time when American black culture was really coming into its own, and comic books responded with a whole bunch of new and interesting black characters, including Luke Cage himself.

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (1972)

Black Lightning #1 (1977)

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While black people and culture would come into its own in the late 60’s and early 70’s, black people were actually part of comic book culture from its very beginning.

In a lot of the Golden Age Comics I’ve read over the course of this blog I’ve come across a lot of black characters.  The downside is that the overwhelming majority of these characters were not exactly culturally sensitive.

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However, that didn’t stop black people from looking at the racism and stereotypes prevalent in the early days of the comic book industry and trying to do something about it.

It a time when it was still illegal for a black man to use the same restroom as a white man.

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there were black people who took a look at comic books, this new form of mass entertainment that was capturing the hearts and minds of millions, and said,

“we deserve our own comic books and we’re going to make them ourselves.”

Today we’re going to look at the first comic book created by black people, for black people.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Origin

Despite what you might think by looking at the cover, this comic has a hell of a pedigree behind it.

The idea for the comic came from a man named Orrin C. Evans.

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Mr. Evens was a reporter from Philadelphia.  Not only was he a reporter, he worked for a paper called the Philadelphia Record

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and was the first black reporter to work for a mainstream newspaper.

When the Record went out of business in 1947 he teamed up with several of his former co workers from the newspaper and published All Negro Comics #1 in 1947.

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Evans was a member of the NAACP and a strong advocate for racial equality and it shows in the very first page of the comic, where he explains that the comic was created to educate people about the contributions and accomplishments of black people in America, celebrate those achievements, and “to give American Negroes a reflection of their natural spirit of adventure and a finer appreciation of their African heritage”.

 Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

This was a comic written by black people, drawn by black people, for black people and the stories and artwork are pretty darn good.

It was a 52 page anthology comic that had a bit of everything.  Besides the introductory letter there were prose stories along with a collection of diverse stories from crime mysteries and comedies.  There were even some PSA’s and “crime doesn’t pay” advertisements.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Some of the more notable characters were figures like Ace Harlem, a detective who managed to chase down and capture a pair of thieves who held up a barbecue restaurant and killed its owner.

 Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

the man was intelligent, observant, and capable of dishing out a beating when he needed too.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Another story was a single page comedy featuring a character named “Lil’Eggie” who suffered at the hands of his over bearing wife.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

and then there’s my personal favorite: “Lion Man”

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Lion Man was an American college educated man who was sent to Africa at the behest of the United Nations in an attempt to safeguard a large natural deposit of uranium in order to prevent evil men from seizing it to make a bomb.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

He had a sidekick named Bubba, who was often more trouble than he was worth.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

He tried to be helpful.  After Lion Man stopped the evil Dr. Sangro from seizing the mountain,

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Bubba tries to help by using a machine gun to attack the assailants.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

the plot is foiled, but Dr. Sangro survives to fight another day.

What I really like about this comic is how it portrays the traditional “African savage” with a lot more respect than other comics from the time.  Granted, Lion Man is American and Bubba does fall into a lot of the tropes that belong to annoying, mildly racist sidekicks, but when all is said and done it is probably the fairest and most reasonable portrayal of black men in Africa in the 1940’s.

The comic had good writing, good artwork, and a heartfelt message behind it.  It was a great representation of what black people could do for comics and deserves a place in the history books as the first comic of its kind.

So what happened?

While there were plans for an All Negro Comics #2 but the title was doomed from the start.

For starters the comic was only distributed to segregated African American communities

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which meant that the audience for the comic was sadly limited.

Second, the price for the comic was 15 cents during time when every other comic was selling for 10 cents.

And finally, good ol’ fashioned racism reared its ugly head when everyone from the people selling the newsprint the comic was printed on to the distributors who put the comic on newsstands refused to do business with Evens and his business partners.

All Negro Comics would only last a single issue, even though we don’t know how many comics were sold it’s safe to say it didn’t sell very well.  However, I like to think that this comic represented an important moment in comic book history and the history of race in America.

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For the first time, a group of black people looked at an industry that was overwhelmingly created by and for white children and said “No, we can create comic books and stories that deserve to be told too” and they did.

There’s no way of telling what the impact of All Negro Comics had on the black community at the time, but it’s important to recognize and acknowledge it as a foundation for black people in comics.

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Golden Age Showcase: Princess Pantha

Today I want to talk about Tarzan.

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We may think of Tarzan as quaint and pretty racist today (a white man who finds himself stranded in the jungle and not only survives but thrives and proves himself superior to people who have been living in the same location for centuries? Right.) but back in the 1930’s and 1940’s he was a pop culture juggernaut.

Tarzan got his start in 1912, years before the comic books became the medium they are today.  In their own special way, the Tarzan books were a big part of the main competition that comic books had to face as they came into their own.

I bring this up because like Superman in 1938, the popularity of Tarzan spawned a whole host of imitators.  One of the most important imitators was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

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The idea of taking the “noble savage” trope that Tarzan helped develop and flipping the gender of the protagonist proved popular (and probably quite kinky) and lucrative.

Sheena would go on to become a pop culture icon of her time and would would inspire a whole host of imitators herself, and today we’re going to talk about one of them.

Today I present: Princess Pantha

Image result for princess pantha nedor comics

Origin and Career:

Disclaimer: The following article shows and discusses imagery that displays some pretty strong racist overtones.  This is not done out of malice or anger, these images were products of their time and should be openly viewed and discussed so that we as a culture and a people can acknowledge them and learn from our past, for better or for worst.

Princess Pantha made her first appearance in Thrilling Comics #56 in October of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

While I was unable to find the name of her writer I did find out that she was drawn by comic book artist Art Saaf,

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who would go on to do a lot of work for DC Comics in the 1970’s, including a lot of romance comics,

and one of the most famous stints on Supergirl in the 1970’s.

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It’s pretty clear that Mr. Saaf was really good at drawing beautiful women, and it definitely shows in his early work with Princess Pantha.

Image result for princess pantha art saaf

Anyway, back to her origin.  It turned out that “Princess Pantha” was originally a stage name for the world famous animal trainer of the National Circus.  Looking to improve their act the circus sent Pantha into the heart of Africa in an attempt to find a rare white gorilla the locals called “M’gana”.

While it is pretty cool to have a career woman on an expedition to further her own fortunes, any sort of progressive or forward thinking idealism is quickly squashed in the first couple of pages by the “famous explorer” Dane Hunter, who believes that an “inexperienced kid” shouldn’t be by herself in the wilds of Africa.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

The Princess isn’t exactly the most tolerant type either and her expedition goes south when her party is attacked by natives.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She manages to fend off the locals by playing a recording of a gorilla, which scares the raiding party away.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Unfortunately, she is now stranded in the jungle without much food and no way home.

Dane attempts a rescue but is captured himself.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Thankfully, some time has passed between Patha escaping and Dane being captured, enough time for Pantha to become an expert in jungle survival (in one page no less) and craft a leopard skin bikini.

Pantha rescues Dane by stampeding a herd of wild elephants into the village of the tribe that tried to kill them both.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She rescues him and the issue ends with both of them vowing to find a way back to civilization.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Like I said, this particular story has some pretty racist overtones, but it was popular enough to warrant more adventures and even several cover appearances.

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Sadly, most of her stories didn’t deviate from the formula set by her first appearance, where Pantha and Dane would stumble into a mystery/adventure and have to fight off an army of poorly dressed and horribly stereotypical natives who were greedy, evil, and usually didn’t speak very good English.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #69 - Version 2

You’ll notice that the world “civilization” gets thrown around a lot and it usually winds up referring to western or “white” civilization.

So what happened?

Pantha went on like this for three years until it was dropped in favor of another icon of 1950’s pop culture, the cowboy.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #72 - Version 1

Her final appearance was in Thrilling Comics #72, where once again she confronted and defeated the savage men and beasts of the wild thanks to her “superior” intellect and the benefits of western civilization.

It was probably for the best.

Like many of Standard Comics’ properties she would experience a revival in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  She first appeared in AC Comics Jungle Girls: Wild Side

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displaying all the fabulous 90’s comic tropes of an impossibly large bust on top of an impossibly slim waist with the butt jutting out in the most uncomfortable angle.

She would also have a supporting role in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura series.

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She dated a character named Doc Strange for a bit, but was mostly relegated to the sidelines.

Princess Pantha is a tricky character to talk about.  On one hand she was strong, capable woman who could handle herself in a fight and was able to overcome a lot of presumptions that her male colleagues had about her.  On the other hand, there was some pretty blatant and uncomfortable racism and sexism going on in these comics, ensuring that they would be permanent fixtures of their times and would not be able to to transition into modern popular culture very well.

But hey, leopard skin bikini!

Golden Age Showcase: Lance Lewis

I love superhero stories, but every now and then I get tired of men and women with impossible powers and I want to read something else.

When I get tired of reading about superheroes like Superman and Spider Man I like to turn to the science fiction category.  Granted, while superheroes and sci fi do share a lot of similarities, some times it’s nice to just relax with a book about normal human beings using their intelligence, fists, and cool sci fi gadgets to solve all the world’s problems.

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Okay, not that one.

Thankfully, this was something that comic book publishers understood as far back as the 1940’s and the folks at Standard Comics were more than willing to accommodate the need for non superhero stories with strange and fascinating science fiction stories about space men and aliens from the future.

Let’s talk about the detective from the 22nd century: Lance Lewis.

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Origin and Career

Lance Lewis first appeared in Standard Comics’ Mystery Comics #3 in 1944 during the post war boom in non superhero comics.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Although is first appearance didn’t credit the author or artist, later issues revealed that the character was written by Bob Oskner,

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who had done some early work for Timely Comics and made his name in humor comics but would later find steady work at DC in the 1970’s,

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and was drawn by Graham Ingels, a man who would become famous for his work on EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt.

Image result for graham ingels tales from the crypt.

Anyway, back to Lance Lewis.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Our hero was a detective from the distant future tasked with keeping the solar system free from bandits, brigands, and other criminals.

In his first adventure Lance was tasked with overseeing a race between two space ships that belonged to two rival companies who were vying for a lucrative delivery contract.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Sadly, the race did not go well and Lance was tasked with solving the murder of one of the pilots.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

What’s rather interesting is that this story did present a genuine mystery for the reader, who was left with no idea how a pilot could have been killed in the middle of space without a mark on him or without any apparent sabotage to the ship.

It turned out that the ship was sabotaged by the competition.  The rival company hired a saboteur to drill microscopic holes into the ship’s engine which led to all the air escaping from the ship.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

There are a couple of things that are pretty noteworthy about this comic.  First, the art style is pure “ray gun gothic”, which was an art style that was very popular in early science fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

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Image result for raygun gothic 1950'sWhat I’m saying here is that the art is awesome and I personally think there should be more of it.

Second, you’ll notice small lines of war time propaganda on the bottom of the page.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics #3

Such were the times I guess.

Lance would get a girlfriend named Marna in the following issue after rescuing her from a group of evil blobs from Saturn who were bent on total domination of the Solar System.

Comic Book Cover For Mystery Comics v2 1 (4)

Then he took a three year hiatus and would return as the cover character on Standard’s Startling Comics #44 in March of 1947 to capitalize on the boom of non superhero themed comic books.

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The rest of his appearances were pretty standard “sci fi detective” affairs, where he would solve a case that involved some strange technology or evil alien race with his girlfriend.

His last appearance was in Startling Mystery Comics #53 in September of 1948.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

His last case deserves special mention because it is an honest to goodness clever bit of writing.

Lance and Marna are on Jupiter watching a broadcast of the Planetary Music Festival, a music competition that has a huge cash prize for the winner.  Lance brings Marna’s attention to a little boy who is incredibly skilled with the violin.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

However, Lance is interrupted by his superiors ordering him to investigate a mysterious accident in space where a cargo ship was destroyed, which was strange considering that it wasn’t carrying explosives. Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Things get weirder when Lance finds out that the boy’s manager, an evil looking Mr. Gorman and his associate Namar, placed a stack of greeting cards onto the ship that exploded.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

Long story short, it turned out that Mr. Goman and Namar were blackmailing shipping companies into paying protection money and would blow up the ships of people who refused to pay with specially treated cards that were coated with an atomic explosive that was set off when a certain tone was played over the radio.  The person who set the tone off was the boy who was playing the violin.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #53

The comic has a happy ending, in turned out they boy wasn’t in on the plot and was only playing to support his mother, and the criminals are all brought to justice in one of the best written Golden Age stories I have ever read.

So what happened?

Lance Lewis was actually published by one of Standard Comics’ imprints, Nedor Comics.  Nedor and its sister company Better Publications were folded into Standard Comics in 1949, a few months after Lance Lewis stories stopped being published.  While I can’t say for sure why these stories stopped being published (mostly because everyone involved either isn’t talking or is dead) I’d like to speculate and say that this merging was due to financial troubles at Standard Comics and Lance and company got lost in the shuffle.

That being said, Lance Lewis would have a brief revival in the early 2000’s thanks to one of the greatest modern comic book writers alive today: Alan Moore.

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Alan Moore started a company called America’s Best Comics in 1999.

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One of the series he created was about a “science hero” named Tom Strong,

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The series proved popular enough to warrant a spin off series known as Terra Obscura in 2003.  It was a series about an alternate Earth on the other side of the universe and utilized a lot of the old Standard Comics heroes that had fallen into public domain.

Lance Lewis made an appearance Tom Strong #12 as a time traveling scientist who sent himself back to World War 2 so he could fight in “The last good war”.

He would die three years later when he was killed by a villain named Mystico who needed to obtain the heart of a time traveler.

Lance Lewis was an interesting case study of the Golden Age.  While many people, including myself, dedicate most of our time and effort into studying the old superheroes we tend to forget that there were comic books that told other types of stories as ell.

Lance Lewis may not have had super powers, but he was definitely a hero using his brains, fists, and toys to deal out justice to the criminals of the future.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Blue Diamond

When you look at the subject of today’s blog post, the Blue Diamond is probably one of the more thought out and coherent Golden Age superheroes we’ve ever talked about.

Despite the fact the he was well put together and could have made it though the 1940’s with more famous Timely heroes like Captain America and Namor the Submariner he appears on this series because he was only able to last through two issues in the 1940’s.  However, the Blue Diamond does have one thing that sets him apart from many of the other heroes we’ve talked about on this blog.  He is one of the best showcases of how to take an old school hero who doesn’t have a whole lot of backstory and character and turn him/her into a fully fleshed out and realized part of a much larger comic book universe.

Origin and Career

The Blue Diamond first appeared in Daring Mystery Comics #7 in April of 1941.

Daring Mystery Comics Vol 1 7

The hero’s real name was Professor Elton Morrow (get it?) and he was an archaeologist.

Professor Morrow was on an expedition to the Antarctic and instead of finding an army of Shaggoths and Elder Things (H.P Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness if you’re interested) he found a giant glowing diamond.

Unfortunately while on the journey home Morrow’s ship was found by a German U boat.  Despite the fact that the United States was technically neutral at this time the Nazis torpedoed the boat and when they discovered Morrow floating in the wreckage clutching the container that held the diamond they shot at him with a machine gun.

Historical side note: it is nearly impossible to overstate just how terrifying German U boats were to the American population at the time.

The Nazis were actually able to attack American shipping in American waters for a time during the war, which explains why a large number of villains in the early war period comic books were U boat captains and enemy submarines.

Anyway, back to the Blue Diamond.

Despite the fact that Professor Morrow had been machine gunned in the middle of the ocean he actually wound up surviving.  It turned out that the diamond had absorbed most of the impacts from the bullets and had fractured into thousands of pieces and most of those pieces had embedded themselves into Professor Morrow, granting him diamond hard skin and immunity from pain and external damage.

Naturally, the heroic minded professor decided to use his powers to become a hero and the Blue Diamond was born.

Professor Morrow would go on to have one more adventure in the 1940’s in the following issue of Daring Mystery Comics.  

Daring Mystery Comics Vol 1 8

In this issue Professor Morrow was investigating a collection of bodies that appeared to be “Mongolian aboriginals” (he was an archaeologist after all) when suddenly the bodies sprang to life and walked out the door!

Morrow changed into his Blue Diamond costume and followed the ghouls to the basement of the Federal Reserve bank where he literally beats some sense into the helpless zombies.

It turned out that the “ghouls” were actually hypnotized people who were under the influence of the evil Dr. Eric Karlin.

 

Karlin was a master hypnotist who was sent to America by the Nazis in order to steal back German gold that America had confiscated at the beginning of the war.

The wicked doctor also had a habit of throwing his enemies into a vat of acid and displaying their remains in his lab.  The Blue Diamond confronted Dr. Karlin at his hide out and during the fight the hero knocked the villain into that vat of acid, killing him.

The Blue Diamond was horrified at what he had done but felt that his actions were justified because they helped give Dr. Karlin’s victims some peace.

So what happened?

The Blue Diamond got lost in the explosion of comics during and after World War Two.  Daring Mystery Comics was replaced by the Comedy Comics title the following month,

and while Timely would later revive the Daring Mystery line a few years later the Blue Diamond was in the new line up.

However, the Blue Diamond had something that a lot of comic book characters of the time didn’t have: pedigree.

The Blue Diamond had been created by comic book legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two men who were responsible for the creation of Captain America among other famous Marvel heroes.

which meant that even though the Blue Diamond didn’t survive the 1940’s, he was still big enough for other comic book creators to remember him.

The Blue Diamond would be reborn in Marvel Premiere #29 in April of 1976.

Marvel Premiere Vol 1 29

This was the first appearance of a group known as the Liberty Legion, a superhero team that was set in the past of World War Two and was made up of old Timely characters.

It’s worth noting that this book was first published in the 1970’s, which makes the idea of mining older titles and stories for nostalgia dollars nothing new.

In their first adventure the Liberty Legion was tasked with saving another old school superhero team, the Invaders, from the mind control of the Red Skull.

The Blue Diamond went face to face with Namor the Submariner and managed to capture him although he managed to escape.  The Liberty Legion would later face down the brainwashed Invaders and defeat them a couple issues later.

The Blue Diamond would follow up this adventure by teaming up with the Fantastic Four’s “The Thing”, who had traveled back in time and found himself in several adventures with a variety of Marvel’s heroes.

Marvel Two-In-One Vol 1 79

You’ll notice that the cover of the comic introduces a new character named “Star Dancer”

See? Ballet!

It turned out that Star Dancer and the Blue Diamond were destined to be husband and wife (as if comics weren’t sappy enough) and she saved the Blue Diamond’s life after he suffered from a heart attack while trying to hold back an angry mob that wanted to attack her.

Star Dancer gave The Blue Diamond a new, more durable body made entirely out of diamond and the two left Earth for the stars.

That was his final appearance as a comic book character, although it was later revealed that the diamond that had given Professor Morrow his powers was actually part of a rock called the Lifestone in Thunderbolts #46

While The Blue Diamond didn’t have much of a Golden Age career he is a prime example of how some characters managed to get a second chance further down the road.  He was a hero with a solid origin story, a cool power set, and most importantly his adventures showcased a special kindness and passion for doing good and protecting those around him that transformed him from a decent superhero to a pretty gosh darn good one.

Here’s hoping he’s still wandering the universe as a happy man.