With superheroes continuing to flood movies, television and streaming media, Balladeer’s Blog takes another look at a neglected pantheon of heroes.
Secret Identity: Drake Stevens
Origin: Drake Stevens’ father, Ornithology Professor Claude Stevens, was murdered and when the police were getting nowhere Drake donned a costume equipped with various technical gimmicks and set out to bring the killers to justice.
As always happens in comic books Drake decided to continue fighting crime under his new nom de guerre Air Man.
First Appearance: Keen Detective Funnies #23 (August 1940). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1941.
Powers: Air Man’s costume boasted feathers filled with an experimental anti-gravity gas as well as a jet-pack. In addition to that he sported guns plus a Chemical Belt loaded with egg-shaped explosives. On top of that Air Man was highly skilled at unarmed combat and had Olympic-level gymnastic abilities.
Comment: Air Man was one of those Golden Age superheroes who didn’t hesitate to kill off his adversaries when the situation called for it.
Secret Identity: Lucille Martin, novelist
Origin: Returning from a trip to China on board a luxury liner, Lucille Martin was given a priceless statue by a Chinese woman named Lotus. She was told to guard the statue from some men who were pursuing Lotus and by way of payment the Chinese woman also gave her a blue ring.
When the men pursuing Lotus killed her, Ms Martin accidentally discovered that the ring gave her super-powers. She donned a costume, called herself the Blue Lady and brought Lotus’ murderers to justice as the start of a crime-fighting career.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #24 (October, 1941). Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1942.
Powers: Accidentally breaking the blue-bird shaped gem on the Oriental ring released a gas which bestowed upon the Blue Lady the strength of ten men, invulnerability and the ability to teleport via blue mists. She could also generate those blue mists to hide in and to disorient her opponents. In turn, other gasses were the Blue Lady’s weakness.
Comment: The Blue Lady kept her superheroine identity a secret even from her fiancee Larry Grant.
Secret Identity: Treve N. Thorndyke
Origin: Scientist Treve N. Thorndyke invented a weapon he called an Atom Gun. He decided to don a costume and fight crime using his invention. The hero’s costume had a big belt buckle on which his initials T.N.T. were displayed.
Due to a misunderstanding on his first adventure, a kidnapping, the authorities mistakenly believed T.N.T. was a criminal, too, giving him a Green Hornet brand of misunderstood, outlaw hero appeal.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #21 (March, 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came the same year.
Powers: T.N.T. was ambidextrous and was an expert shot with his Atom Gun. That gun could disintegrate matter, both organic and inorganic. The weapon’s ray-blasts would cause whatever it hit to burst apart but if T.N.T. fired it into the air in front of him it would create a temporary force-field by solidifying the air. This served to protect him from bullets and other weapons.
In addition, this hero was in the peak of human condition and excelled at unarmed combat. T.N.T. also displayed Olympic level agility.
Comment: Oddly enough, Centaur Comics also had a character called TNT Todd, Ace G-Man. (See right)
That figure was an FBI Chemist who was accidentally exposed to experimental purple gas during a mishap in his laboratory.
The accident gave TNT Todd telescopic vision, the power to fly and to shoot disintegrator beams from his hands. Donning bullet-proof armor he fought crime and enemy agents for the FBI.
MAGICIAN FROM MARS
Secret Identity: Jane Gem (Full Martian name Jane 6EM35)
Origin: Jane Gem was the hybrid offspring of the human female Jane Faro and the Martian male Jarl 6EM35. As a child Jane was accidentally exposed to “cathode radiation” which is deadly to Martians but has no effect on humans. Jane’s hybrid nature resulted in the radiation bestowing super-powers on her.
Escaping the clutches of her evil Martian Aunt Vanza, Jane Gem made her way to the Earth and, using the name the Magician From Mars protected the Earth from all manner of cosmic menaces.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #7 (November, 1939). Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1940.
Powers: Magician From Mars possessed super-strength, super-speed and could nullify gravity. In addition she could manipulate matter like the Molecule Man does and could alter her facial appearance at will.
Comment: Magician From Mars’ archenemy was the Hood, who was always out to conquer the entire universe and who turned out to secretly be her evil Aunt Vanza!
Secret Identity: Jack Knapp, scientist
Origin: One day a chemical concoction of Jack’s exploded, enveloping him in blue flames that he later realized had granted him superpowers.
First Appearance: Wham Comics #2 (December, 1940) . His final Golden Age appearance came in very early 1941.
Powers: Blue Fire could envelop himself in blue flames at will. In his flaming form he could melt objects and shoot blue fire from his hands. He could also become intangible in that form, allowing him to pass through objects or allowing bullets or other solid weapons to pass harmlessly through him.
Comment: Blue Fire’s archenemy was the supervillain called Frost, the agent of a foreign government. Frost had icy powers much like the Blue Fire’s flame-related abilities.
KING OF DARKNESS
Secret Identity: Bruce King, radio engineer.
Origin: Bruce King’s experiments with ultra-short radio waves led him to some incredible discoveries. Utilizing his finds he built what he called a Black-Zero Transmitter, donned a costume and took to the skies to fight crime with his new inventions.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #24 (October 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1942.
Powers: The King of Darkness’ Black-Zero Transmitter enveloped him in a field of darkness – which he called “a queer pillar of darkness.” This field/ pillar which surrounded the King of Darkness enabled him to fly by negating gravity and to shoot black rays from his hands.
Those rays could neutralize light, thus creating total darkness or could neutralize heat, thus creating temperatures near absolute zero. Such cold made even steel brittle enough to be easily broken. Alternately, the King of Darkness could extend his Black-Zero field at will to encompass the villains he was fighting.
This hero’s costume protected him from the cold within his Black-Zero Field and special lenses in his mask enabled him to see in total darkness.
Comment: Since the nom de guerre “King of Darkness” is a bit unwieldy and sounds more like a supervillain a modern revival of this figure could instead call him Black Zero, which has a pretty cool ring to it.
To help preserve the tie to the Golden Age stories his full billing could be “Black Zero, the King of Darkness.”
Also, instead of the awkward approach of having this superhero CARRY the Black-Zero Transmitter like a briefcase I would change it to a small black pack that he wears strapped to his back, like Deathlok’s charger.
Police Sgt Burke learned that the King of Darkness was really Bruce King but kept the hero’s identity a secret and covertly helped him in his adventures.
The romantic interest for this superhero was actress Gloria Glamour, who was saved from the Red Gang by the King of Darkness. The Red Gang had invented special goggles and special suits that enabled them to see even when surrounded by the King’s Black-Zero field and made them immune to the intense cold of that field.
Secret Identity: None.
Origin: Ritty (no last name was ever given) and her boyfriend – later called Minimidget – were shrunk down to a height of 6 inches by the mad scientist Dr Barmell. He then hypnotized them and used them to kill three of his rivals.
After Barmell was killed in the destruction of his own lab, Ritty and Minimidget were permanently stuck in their shrunken state. The organization which brought down Dr Barmell recruited the pair to be agents fighting the forces of evil from then on.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #5 (September, 1939). Her and Minimidget’s final Golden Age appearance came in 1941.
Powers: Ritty had the usual abilities associated with such small-sized super-beings. She was also in excellent physical condition. And as usual with such small super-figures her exact strength level seemed to change according to the demands of the story.
Ritty and her boyfriend would use tiny drugged needles as swords and would travel in high-tech versions of children’s toys, like small airplanes, cars and ships.
Comment: Since Ritty and Minimidget were one of those male-female pairs that had the exact same powers and origin I gave her this listing to make up for how few superheroines Centaur Comics had. In any revival SHE could simply be called Minimidget and the male could be left out entirely, or left dead in the mouse trap in the origin story.
For trivia buffs, Ritty and her beau were the very first superheroes who shrank down in size.
FANTOMAN (Originally called the Fantom of the Fair)
Secret Identity: Never revealed.
Origin: When a more than 1,000 year-old ape-like man called Ticonda was dredged up in the Arctic and thawed back to life he was taken to be displayed at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Also thawed out was Fantoman, who had fought Ticonda 1,000 years earlier and had become frozen like the ape-man.
While displayed in a cage at the World’s Fair, Ticonda caught a glimpse of Fantoman, who had secretly trailed his old foe to see what was done with him. Enraged, the ape-like man broke out of the cage and went on a rampage. Fantoman defeated Ticonda, then began using the World’s Fair site as his secret headquarters for fighting the forces of evil. (Hence his original superhero name the Fantom of the Fair)
First Appearance: Amazing Mystery Funnies Volume 2, #7 (July, 1939). His final Golden Age appearance came in very late 1940.
Powers: Fantoman possessed more than normal human strength and one time even punched a hole through a brick wall. He was extremely agile and skilled at unarmed combat. In addition he possessed ninja-level stealth abilities and prowled the grounds of the World’s Fair like the Phantom of the Opera did with the Paris Opera House.
Fantoman also had psychic abilities that let him erase selected memories from other human beings. This likely accounted for how he was able to follow Ticonda to New York and for how he was able to surreptitiously build his maze of secret passageways at the World’s Fair site. And for how he was able to build his secret underground headquarters there without notice.
No explanation was given for the source of Fantoman’s advanced technology, like his lair’s visi-screens and the motorboat he used when traveling his subterranean river.
Comment: After the Fair’s run Fantoman continued using the site as his base of operations. He often traveled around New York in civilian clothing but never adopted a secret identity.
There was a potentially intriguing backstory to Fantoman. Was he from another planet and got stranded on Earth a thousand years ago? Was he from the far future of Earth and got stuck in the past on an expedition to capture an example of the ape-like beings represented by Ticonda? Was he from a super-advanced Lost Civilization from Earth’s distant past? Unfortunately we’ll never know.
Secret Identity: Howard Hall, scientist
Origin: Wealthy young scientist Howard Hall found both science and his life of luxury to be ultimately unfulfilling. Immersing himself in the secrets of Eastern Mysticism he discovered he had a real knack for one particular Dark Art: endowing his shadow with life, solidity and super-strength.
Calling himself Nightshade, Hall costumed himself in a white tuxedo and white hat with a pair of large sunglasses serving as a mask. He used his new abilities to fight crime and other forces of evil.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #24 (October, 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1942.
Powers: Nightshade could bring his shadow to life and operate it remotely. The shadow could stretch, become solid and possessed more than human strength.
In addition the shadow was immune to almost any harm. Nightshade could speak and hear remotely through the shadow as well.
Comment: In my opinion Nightshade’s powers are so odd and impractical that he would have made a better supervillain than superhero. He seems quirky and weird enough to fit right in with the Rogue’s Gallery of Will Eisner’s classic hero the Spirit.
But, I have a real soft spot for figures who wear that “fancy duds and hat” look. And the sunglasses in lieu of a mask does give Nightshade a certain something.
Secret Identity: Ann Star
Origin: When Ann Star was a child she and her mother lived in Alaska. Once during a blizzard the foolhardy child got lost and chanced upon the cavern hideaway of an alien humanoid who was hundreds of years old.
During the two days she was stuck in the cave with the being, he bestowed super-powers on her, returned her to her mother and then died. Ann grew up with her super-powers just like Superman.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #24 (October, 1941). Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1942.
Powers: Super Ann possessed incredible – possibly Superman-level – strength and invulnerability but also the agility of a ballerina.
Comment: Super Ann and the superhero Mighty Man were involved in a tentative romance but Centaur Comics went out of business before that romance could blossom.
Since Ann Star obviously didn’t care about maintaining a secret identity a modern revival of her character could use the superhero name Super Star or Superstar to get away from the silliness of “Super Ann.”
It is not known if there was any connection between the Alaskan alien Ann encountered and Fantoman due to the former being’s untimely death.
Secret Identity: No other name was used but Mighty Man.
Origin: Mighty Man was discovered as an infant by pioneers in the American West of the 1800s. He was the only survivor of a super-powered race of giants in a hidden valley called (appropriately enough) the Valley of the Giants.
As he grew to adulthood he became a superhero and fought the forces of evil well into the 20th Century.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #5 (September, 1939). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1941.
Powers: Mighty Man could grow to enormous size or shrink down to doll size but retained the same incredible super-strength no matter what size he was temporarily assuming.
In addition he could remain normal-sized but have his arm or arms or legs grow to much larger and longer size, still possessing his enormous strength.
Comment: Mighty Man is a nice combination of Giant-Man, Ant-Man and limb-stretching figures like Mr Fantastic, Plastic Man, etc.
Secret Identity: Ralph Payne, FBI Agent
Origin: When Ralph Payne became disgusted with the way some federal-level criminals and enemy agents could skate around the law he took to wearing a red costume and fighting crime with his deadly skill with a bow and arrow.
First Appearance: Funny Pages Volume 2, #10 (September 1938). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1941.
Powers: The Arrow was in the peak of human condition and was excellent at unarmed combat. He often wore a bullet-proof garment under his costume. He possessed uncanny skill with his bow and arrow. The arrows he shot were mostly sharpened arrows, but some were made of extremely hard metals and could pierce substances ordinary arrows could not.
Comment: Many would follow, but the Arrow was the very first comic book superhero to use a bow and arrows as his gimmick. This hero never hesitated to kill, which was why he favored traditional arrows over gimmick arrows.
THE MASKED MARVEL
Secret Identity: None was ever revealed.
Origin: None was ever provided.
First Appearance: Keen Detective Funnies #7 (March, 1939). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1941.
Powers: This enigmatic hero was mostly a user of technology. He operated out of a mountaintop headquarters with a glass dome. The Masked Marvel used a variety of observation devices to scout out the need for him to take action.
He wielded a variety of high-tech energy and/or gas guns, flew in a craft that doubled as a submarine and had more than human strength. He also seemed to have a degree of invulnerability. Based on form his strength was presumably chemically enhanced and his invulnerability may have resided in the special makeup of his costume, not his actual person.
The Masked Marvel also had three green-masked assistants code-named ZL, ZR and ZY. The three were former FBI Agents and ZL actually died in action in one of the stories.
Comment: The Masked Marvel was the only Centaur Comics superhero to get a Republic Serial. The serial was released in 1943 and, in a nod to the way no secret identity had ever been given for the Masked Marvel in the comic books his eponymous serial used an appropriate gimmick.
Instead of the well-worn procedure of the secret identity of the serial’s VILLAIN being concealed until the final episode the question in The Masked Marvel was which of the many possible male cast members would turn out to be the hero. A reveal was made in the final chapter but was not canonical for the comic book hero’s saga.
Secret Identity: John Aman
Origin: Orphaned while accompanying his parents on an expedition in 1914, the child John Aman was taken in by the Tibetan Council of Seven. He was trained in all of their secrets and gained incredible super-powers during his years under their tutelage. When he turned 25 Aman was permitted to return to America to fight the forces of evil as Amazing-Man.
First Appearance: Amazing-Man (September 1939). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1942.
Powers: Amazing-Man’s rigorous training by the Council of Seven endowed him with Superman-level strength, super-speed, levitation powers and either invulnerability or super-healing. (The stories were a bit inconsistent.)
The hero could also disappear in a green mist, and in fact was sometimes called the Green Mist.
Comment: The Great Question, a renegade member of the Council of Seven, imbued Amazing-Man with some of his own evil during the young man’s training. The villain followed Amazing-Man to America and became his arch-enemy since their powers were almost perfectly matched.
In one Amazing-Man adventure he “gave in to the Dark Side” that the Great Question had brought out in him but by story’s end our hero had fought his way back to the Light Side.
Amazing-Man’s original sidekick was his girlfriend Zona Henderson, a Private Investigator. Later he joined the superhero fad of endangering the lives of children by having her little brother Tommy gain some super-powers and fight at his side as Amazing Kid.
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE MEMBERS OF INFINITE HORIZON CLICK HERE
FOR THE AUSTRALIAN SUPERHERO PANTHEON CLICK HERE
FOR MORE SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE: Superheroes
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