Golden Age Showcase: Dr. Hormone

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry.

When I started this blog nearly two years ago (holy crap!  It’s been two years!) I started this series to talk about the strange and peculiar superheroes of the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Sure, we’ve covered some weird ones,

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and ones who have gone on to have long and illustrious careers,

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and some heroes who had a cool idea behind them but either didn’t quite make it or were relegated to a life behind the scenes.

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But today…today is different.

This superhero is so obscure, strange, and downright silly that I feel ashamed to have not brought him to your attention sooner.  Thankfully, he was brought to my attention by a reddit commentator named “apocoluster” (thank you for that by the way) and this blog is better for it.

Today we’re talking about the one and only…Dr. Hormone.

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Origin and Career

The unfortunately named doctor made his first appearance in Dell Comics Popular Comics #54 in August of 1940.

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He didn’t even get a text advertisement on the cover, not the most promising start.

He was created a mysterious figure named Bob Bugg.

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I have no idea who this person is, no idea what he or she looked like, and no idea if that is an actual name or a pseudonym.

I’m willing to bet the actual creator wanted to keep his or her identity secret out of shame.

Like most Golden Age characters, his origin was quite simple and explained in a single page.

 Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

The man was on death’s door and managed to make himself younger again, thus cheating death.  I like to think this origin is a metaphor for the actual creation of this character.

So what does this character do with this revolutionary formula?  Go into business for himself and make millions?  Give it to the world for free out of the goodness of his heart?

NOPE!

This is the early 1940’s and America is soon to be at war.  Clearly, the best thing to do is to militarize this miracle formula and sell it as a weapon.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

The “we’re a stand in for continental Europe being oppressed by the Nazis but we can’t actually call them Nazis because America isn’t TECHNICALLY at war yet” country this time is the hilariously named Novoslavia, who is offering the princely sum of $25 million to whoever can provide their country with a means to defend them from the encroaching Eurasians.

The Professor decides to play war profiteer and brings his invention to Novoslavia, along with his granddaughter Jane.

Because countries on the brink of war are perfectly safe for little kids.

Sadly, their goods are stolen and they come up against the most evil and wretched enemy of all, incompetent and vindictive bureaucrats.

This takes the form of War Minister Rastinov who immediately throws the Doctor and his daughter into prison.  However, Jane manages to secure their release by slipping something into the war minister’s drink.

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Remember, if you want to get on someone’s good side, always make sure they make an ass of themselves.

The Novoslovians award Docotor Hormone the prize, and prepare for war using his miracle serum.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

What I find hilarious is that the serum brings everyone to the age of 25, even babies.

Meanwhile, former war minister Assinov (not my joke) has defected to the Euraseans and proceeds to launch a full scale invasion of poor Novoslovia.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #54 - Version 2

Another thing I find interesting is how the Eurasians don’t really look like Nazis.  Instead they look a lot like the Soviet Army.

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The war goes poorly for the Novoslovians and their leader, General Battlesky (groan!) prepares to execute the Doctor and his niece via firing squad.

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but Dr. Hormone manages to save the day in the end by spraying all the Eurasians with a special hormone that makes everyone like each other again and stop the fighting.

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Assinov isn’t done yet though.  He manages to disguise himself as the Doctor and turn everyone into animals using the Doctor’s own hormones.

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I’m beginning to think that Doctor Hormone’s credentials might be a bit suspect.  Also, ethics are something of a concern.

The war is won when the Novoslovians turn Assinov’s human animal hybrids against Eurasia and thousands of human/rat hybrids sneak in and chew through their army’s ammo and swarms of human/locust hybrids swarm the enemy soldiers.

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #57 - Version 1

Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #57 - Version 1

That…is actually really dark and downright terrifying.

After defeating the vile forces of Eurasia, Dr. Hormone travels back home to America.  After a brief run in with new foes of the dreaded Nazians (really?) he comes across…

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the KKK.

Hormone manages to save himself with an army of fleas, who manage to smother the flames and drive the clansmen to madness by biting them.  In fact, they’re driven so mad that they commit mass suicide.

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You sure this isn’t a horror comic?

His last adventure ended on a literal cliffhanger as the Doctor was attempting to stop a Nazian invasion of Texas.  Unfortunately, the Klan manages to find him and forces him down a bottomless pit where he and his niece fall through time and reach a mysterious voice that instructs them to wait.

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Comic Book Cover For Popular Comics #60

and…that’s it.

So what happened?

After the good Doctor took a left turn into insanity he never made another appearance.   I’m just going to assume he’s still below, waiting for the day where he might rise up and continue the story.

As for why he was cancelled it’s pretty easy to see why.  He was never a main attraction and I’m willing to bet that the kids didn’t take too kindly to the name.  Plus there’s the fact that the artwork…well it isn’t very good, even for time period.

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Also, while we’re on the subject of quality, why doesn’t the man have a costume?  I mean sure, I’m willing to bet the creator of this story was probably tired of drawing superhero costumes (assuming he or she was a working artist at the time) but come on!  You have a brilliant chemist who has manged to find a way to live forever, invents crazy chemical compounds that turn people into animals, and you’re going to dress him up in a suit!?

Poor form!

In all seriousness I actually do think this guy could make a halfway decent superhero in the modern era.  Hell, he’d actually make a kick ass super villain!

Dr. Hormone was the personification of almost everything crazy about the Golden Age of Comics.  He was weird, he had an annoying niece as a sidekick, and his adventures were filled with all sorts of insanity that would have gotten any normal person arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.

God, I love comics so much!

Golden Age Showcase: John Steele

I’ll be honest folks.  Today’s hero showcase barely qualifies as a Golden Age superhero.  In fact, if you look at his only comic book appearance he barely qualifies as a superhero in general.

But this is a blog dedicated to the obscure and silly aspects of the early days of the comic book industry and they don’t get much more obscure than this character’s single appearance in a superhero anthology title surrounded by much more popular and successful heroes.

With that being said, while today’s hero didn’t make much of a splash in the 1940’s, he was reworked in the modern era to become one of the most important characters in the thriving Marvel Universe.

Today we’re talking about the superbly named John Steele.

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ORIGIN AND CAREER

John Steele made his first and only Golden Age appearance in Daring Mystery Comics #1 in January of 1940.

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He was created by legendary artist Dan Barry,

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Who was one of the premier artists of his time and one of the main creators and practitioners of an art style known as “New York slick”.

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I could try to list all of the stories and characters that used this particular style of art, but all you need to know is that this was the dominant art styles of the time and would only be replaced by the legendary Jack Kirby’s career at the new Marvel Comics.

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Barry created John Steele as a soldier fighting in World War 1, which just goes to show you that even though the United States wasn’t officially at war with Germany yet there were plenty of people who were happy enough to dig up the violence of the past to get a head start on the violence of the future.

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The story was pretty straightforward.  Steele gets trapped behind enemy lines, discovers an Allied spy who needs to get back to headquarters, and the two make their way back home.

Pretty straightforward, pretty direct, kind of boring.

So what happened?

John Steele would have faded into the deepest, darkest pit of obscurity if it wasn’t for comic book creator Ed Brubaker turning him into one of the most important characters in the entire Marvel Universe.

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In Mr. Brubaker’s limited series The Marvels Project it was revealed that John Steele was actually a superhuman with increased strength, durability, and longevity.

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Apparantly, this small time obscure character from a single story in the 1940’s, was America’s first super soldier.

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While that’s pretty cool it gets even better.  Brubaker’s story explains that, during the First World War, Steele was actually captured by the Germans and placed in suspended animation for years.

The Germans discoverd his mysterious powers and were determined to duplicate them for their own uses.

One of these scientists was Abraham Erskine, the man who developed the serum that gave Captain America his powers.

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It’s a pretty bold claim to make, and Brubaker would go on to give Steele one hell of a story to go with it.

In 1940, the laboratory holding Steele was destroyed in a bombing and Steele was brought out of suspended animation.

Being a red blooded American with a penchant for war and a hatred of all things German he did what all comic book superheroes do best: kill Nazis.

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He teamed up with Nick Fury and several other World War 2 superhero teams to fight the Red Skull, but refused to come home with his countrymen due to his anger at the atrocities committed by the Red Skull and his understandable desire to not be experimented on.

He continued to act behind enemy lines and actually uncovered an Axis plot that would have prevented the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but sadly his fellow superheroes could only lessen the damage.  He disappeared after the invasion of Normandy three years later.

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He would make his final appearance in the Secret Avengers comic books, this time as a member of a mysterious organization known as the Shadow Council,

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Where it was revealed that he had actually been alive for an unkown amount of time and had fought in the American Civil War.

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Being a super soldier working for an evil organization John inevitably came into contact with Captain America.  

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The two developed something of a fierce rivalry until Captain America captured him and managed to convince him to switch sides and spy on the Shadow Council on the inside.

Unfortunately, the Shadow Council learned about Steele’s new alliance and had him tortured and killed.  His last act was to warn the Avengers about the Council’s plans and he wound up dying as a hero.

Hey everyone!  If you enjoyed this article you might enjoy some of the other stuff we do.  Besides weekly articles like this we publish a bi weekly web comic about a family of super villains known as “The Secret Lives of Villains”.  We even have a book out and you can support us by picking up a copy here.

Golden Age Showcase: The Fin

You know who doesn’t get nearly enough respect in the comic book world?  Superheroes who live and work in the water.

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I mean really, we live on a planet that has water covering over 70% of our surface and so many people like to treat genuine and well established heroes like Aquaman and Namor as jokes.

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With that being said, there has been a lot done over the past decade to rectify this.  Aquaman has been getting a lot of attention from the DC higher ups,

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and despite everything I’ve been saying, Namor has actually been an integral part of the Marvel stories since the beginning as comic’s first anti hero.

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my point is, that there has been a lot of work and effort put in to making characters like these fun and badass and that deserves a lot of respect.

So let’s take the idea that water based heroes can be taken seriously and throw it out the window by taking a look at…the Fin.

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Origin and career

The Fin made his first appearance in Daring Mystery Comics #7 in April of 1941.

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He was created by Massachusetts native and comic book legend Bill Everett.

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The man has a reputation as one of the greats, especially when you consider that his resume includes the creation of Daredevil,

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and Namor the Submariner.

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I guess the guy really liked the ocean.

Back to the Fin,

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the man’s real identity was Peter Noble, a United States naval cadet who found himself in the unfortunate position of being on a sinking submarine,

Peter manages to escape and eventually discovers an underwater cave where he manages to find air, edible plants, and a strange race of creatures calling themselves Neptunians.

Peter fights their ruler, a creature named Ikor, in single combat and realizes that he can breathe underwater because of reasons.

He also becomes their king after killing Ikor with his gun (that somehow manages to work after being underwater for a long time) and the Neptunians begin to worship him as a reincarnation of one of their noble ancestors named “The Fin”.

Peter then asserts his dominance by proclaiming that he is now their king and intends to rule with an iron fist…or just for as long as it takes for him to find a way back home.

The story ends with Peter returning to the sub and fashioning a “slick costume” in order to go off and have an adventure.

Somewhere, a shark is laughing his tail off.

The Fin would have one final Golden Age adventure in the following issue of Daring Mystery Comics where he fought a U-Boat captain calling himself the Barracuda.

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Special mention needs to be given to just how evil the Barracuda is.  He’s got he mustache. the monocle, and has no problem killing women and children.  

Seriously, the Red Skull would be looking at this and go “damn, that’s a bit much”.

Naturally the Fin swoops (swims?) in and saves the day by giving the villain the beating of his life.

He then calls in the Navy and the story ends with the day saved and the villains brought to justice.

So what happened?

The Fin would never have another Golden Age adventure, but not for the reasons you might think.

Normally a lot of these types of characters were cancelled after World War 2 ended due to lack of reader interest, but the Fin was left in the dust BECAUSE of the war.

See, thanks to the fight against the Axis powers, the United States launched a massive campaign to collect material for the war effort.  This meant things like saving metal and paper were given a lot of attention.

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The U.S also implemented a strict rationing system for everything you could imagine from gas to sugar and, most importantly for the comic book industry, paper.

So thanks to rationing and mailing costs Timely Comics had to put a damper on Daring Mystery Comics.  While they did start back up again in 1944 the damage was done and the Fin was no more.

However, like many of his fellow patriots in spandex the Fin would find new life in the later years.

His first post war appearance was in Avengers #97 in 1972 where a likeness of his character, along with a few other Golden Age greats, helped defend Earth during the Kree-Skrull war.

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That was his only appearance for a long time until 2004 where the Fin would become a much more fleshed out and meaningful character in the  All New Invaders series and the unfinished All Winners Squad: Band of Heroes mini series.

He was an ally of the main characters and part of a military team called “The Crazy Sues”, a special group of enhanced humans gathered by the Allies to defeat the Nazis.

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He was not the talkative type.

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Besides his team he also decided to get married to a human/Atlantean hybrid named Nia Noble and assumed his place as the king of Neptunia.

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Despite his background status and small time appearances, the Fin was given a validation of sorts when he appeared in the Marvel Handbook in 2004.

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I’ll be honest, when I was first doing research into the Fin at the start of the article I was a bit skeptic and only wanted to write about him as a joke.  At first glance, I don’t think it’s too hard to see why.

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Looking at him now, with the benefit of research and hindsight, I see him as more of a tragic hero.  Sure he was goofy and had a weird costume, but he was created by a great of the industry and went on to have a fair amount of time in the spotlight.

It’s safe to say that he deserves a place in the pantheon of water themed superheroes.

Golden Age Showcase: The Human Top

We’ve covered a lot of stupid on this blog post from insect controlling lawyers to bird politicians but today we’re going to talk about a hero that beats them all when in comes to sheer lunacy.  I present, the Human Top.

Origin and career

While he may not look like much, the Human Top’s career started off with a literal bang.  He first appeared in Red Raven Comics #1 in August of 1940.  His story was written by comic book writer and artist Dick Briefer.

Interestingly enough, this issue also held the first appearance of another super hero we’ve talked about on this blog: Mercury.

The Human Top was originally named Bruce Bravelle, a man who volunteered as a human guinea pig for one Dr. Davis.

The good Doctor was attempting to find a way for humans to feed off of electricity (Golden Age science was weird) and naturally the experiment went wrong when Bruce was accidentally struck by lightening.

Since this is a superhero comic, the wrath of God doesn’t kill Bruce but gives him the ability to spin up to speeds of 250 miles per hour.

What’s really interesting about this Human Top is that his powers weren’t based off of something like the Speed Force or divine intervention.  His ability to spin comes from opposing electrical currents which he can create by either crossing his wrists or by getting shocked from an outside electrical source.  While I don’t think the writer had a really keen grasp on how electricity works it is interesting to see a Golden Age hero who’s powers were based purely off of science instead of magic.

Professor Davis dubbed Bruce “The Top” and suggested that he go out and fight crime, since that’s all the motivation a super hero needed back in the 1940’s.

In his first adventure the Human Top foiled a bank robbery when it was revealed that the bank’s president, a man named Horace Vanderveer,

attempted to frame the Human Top and escape with the money.  Fortunately, the Human Top stopped the greedy bank president and the day was saved.

The hero would go on to have one more adventure in March of 1942, published in Tough Kid Squad Comics.

It is worth mentioning that the Human Top would also get a costume redesign for his second appearance.

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In his final adventure the Human Top would defeat a masked train robber named the Red Terror.

The Red Terror had a gang of armed goons, a couple of pet lions, and a rocket powered zeppelin which he used as a getaway vehicle after orchestrating a series of train wrecks.  However, the Human Top stopped him and he was sent plummeting to his death at the end of the story.

So what happened?

Bruce Bravelle would never have another comic book story.  However, he is still treated as mainstream cannon in the Marvel comic book universe and while Bruce is no more the name and idea behind the Human Top would continue.

The first reiteration of the name would be used by a super villain calling himself “The Human Top” and would appear in Tales to Astonish #50 in 1963.

He was a mutant named Darren Cross and he was an Antman villain.  He would later re name himself Whirlwind and he was successful enough to appear in other media as well, including his most recent appearance in the excellent Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon.

But the Human Top would be reborn yet again in 1978 as part of Marvel’s Kid Commandos team that was published under the Invaders title.

His name was David Mitchell and he worked with Toro, the sidekick of the Golden Age Human Torch (who was a cyborg instead of a boy) and Bucky Barnes himself.

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They fought Nazis, as almost all Golden Age superheroes fighting in World War 2 were required to do.

The Human Top is one of the more ridiculous ideas to come out of the Golden Age of comics.  The idea that spinning in circles really fast is a super power is less of a cool idea and more something to make you giggle as you imagine the hero/villain having to stop and vomit from the motion sickness.  However, while the super powers of the Human Top may seem a bit ridiculous, it is important to recognize the creative passion and drive behind heroes like these and admire them for the silly and amazing creations they are.

Golden Age Showcase #3: Miss Victory

Quickly, without thinking name the first patriotic superhero.  This is what you were thinking right?

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Yes if the Golden Age of superheroes is known for one thing it’s the fact that most of it took place during a little world event known as World War 2.  America’s superheroes rose the occasion and so many of them took on Hitler and the other Axis powers that if they had all been real then we would have won the war in no time.

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But believe it or not there was another patriotic hero, one who wasn’t afraid to buck tradition or assumed gender roles that the 1940’s had placed on American culture, one who used her incredible strength and invulnerability to not only help America beat back the Axis powers but to open a unholy beat down on American officials who she deemed corrupt and incapable of doing their jobs: Miss Victory.

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Origin and career:

Miss Victory debuted as a side story in Captain Fearless #1 in August, 1941.  In keeping with wartime comic tradition it shows someone beating Nazis to pulp.

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It should be noted that she predates Wonder Woman by about four months making her one of the first super heroines in comics, although not the first.   In terms of origin Miss Victory doesn’t have one, she just appears in the comic and it is simply assumed she has super strength and invulnerability (hey, it was a simpler time back than).

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Her real name was Joan Wayne, a stenographer (fancy word for someone who writes down conversations) working for the government.  However, instead of simply contenting herself with beating back Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo she decided that it wasn’t enough and turned her attention towards corrupt and deceitful American politicians and law makers (corruption and lies in American government? THAT’S never a problem)  and holy hell was she dedicated to her work.

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Yes Miss Victory wasn’t just a Nazi hunter, she was also a champion of social justice.  As a quick side note, social commentary is another thing that the Golden Age of superheroes was known for.  Superman’s first appearance had him save a man from Death Row, stop a wife beater, and tackle political corruption, it’s just that it quickly took a back seat to Nazi punching.

So what happened?

Miss Victory continued to star in her own short stories in the back of Captain Fearless comics until the comic was discontinued in 1946.  Post war America had little use for patriotic themed heroes and her publisher, Helnit Publishing, had been bought by Holyoke Publishing (it should be noted that Holyoke was no shrinking violet publishing house.  They are responsible for the creation of the Blue Beetle and one of their original artists, Carmine Infantino, was instrumental in creating the modern day Flash) and she was cut to save money.

However, Miss Victory had a much longer career than most of the Golden Age gems we’ve talked about and she would eventually have something even rarer: a resurrection.

In 1984 writer Bill Black and artist Mark Heike resurrected Miss Victory and gave her a new team, the Femforce, which was one of the first all female superhero groups ever created.  The comic was published by AC comics, a company that was founded in 1969 and made a name for itself bringing Golden Age superheroes into the modern era.  Her look was updated.

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and she was given a back story.  In this version she was still alive for WW2 but secretly developed a serum called V-47 to help boost the strength and endurance of American troops.  Sadly, it only worked for her but thanks to the serum she now had super strength, invulnerability, and radically slowed aging which explains why someone who is over 70 years old can look like that.

Now you may be wondering where this particular title went.  The answer is that it’s still going.  AC Comics is still around and you can actually purchase recent Femforce comics on their website.  It just goes to show that when you have a staunch defender of liberty and freedom like Miss Victory it’s almost impossible to make it go away.