With superheroes dominating popular culture right now Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at another odd Golden Age figure: the Zebra.
Secret Identity: John Doyle, Attorney
Origin: John Doyle was framed for murder by corrupt politicians who wanted him out of the way. Just two days before his scheduled execution Doyle escaped from prison, lost the pursuing authorities and set out to clear himself.
Using his striped prison outfit as the basis for a costume, John added a mask, gloves, boots, a cape and a “Z” belt buckle to complete his ensemble. After proving his innocence, John Doyle resolved to continue fighting crime under the nom de guerre Zebra.
First Appearance: Pocket Comics #1 (April 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1946.
Powers: The Zebra was in peak human condition, excelled at unarmed combat and was more agile than an Olympic athlete. As an interesting twist for Golden Age superheroes the Zebra’s specialty was French Kick-Boxing aka Savate.
Those “Zebra Kicks” helped justify this unusual hero’s handle. It was sometimes implied that the Zebra’s legs were in such incredible shape from Kickboxing that he could run faster than most ordinary men, too.
Comment: Created by artist Pierce Rice and an unknown writer working under the alias “Ellery King,” the Zebra was one of the Golden Age superheroes published by Harvey Comics.
CONVICTED OF MURDER
Villain: Political Party Boss “Happy” Mike and his gang of thugs.
Synopsis: Wrongly condemned Lawyer John Doyle escapes from Death Row, dons a colorful costume and sets out to prove his innocence. As the Zebra he proves that Boss Happy Mike is the real murderer while out-fighting Mike’s many armed goons.
The Zebra also saves John Doyle’s girlfriend Mary Sewell when she falls into Happy Mike’s clutches. Typically for comic book stories, Mary cannot tell that the superhero is really her beau John Doyle.
A CRUEL RACKET
Villain: The Undertaker
Synopsis: The Zebra shuts down the protection racket of a villain called the Undertaker, who preys on beggars and street peddlers. When the victims cannot pay up the Undertaker has his gunmen kill them and uses his Mortician’s business to secretly dispose of the corpses.
Our hero saves the District Attorney and his daughter, too, since the Undertaker has them in his sights.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE GALLOWS
Villains: The Stabbers, a mob of Smollville (sic) gangsters.
Synopsis: When John Doyle is legally helpless to prevent the imminent execution of Al Degan, a young man framed for killing the Mayor, he dons his Zebra costume to get the job done.
The Zebra raids underworld hideouts and compiles evidence to prove that Degan was set up by the leader of the criminal gang called the Stabbers. The hero outfights the other members of the Stabbers and hauls their leader off to face Justice. In the thrilling finale the Zebra wins a race against time, saving young Al literally on the gallows.
THE ZEBRA MEETS THE RATTLER
Villain: The Rattler
Synopsis: Outside of the title and the villain I have no information on this 2-page all-text story.
THE ZEBRA BATTLES THE HUMAN FROG
Villain: The Human Frog
Synopsis: The Zebra and J.C. Terry – a friend in the British Secret Service – are attacked by a deadly mutant plant whose tendrils are like tentacles. J.C. is crushed to death but our hero survives and sets out for revenge on the madman behind the killer plant.
At the Botanical Gardens the Zebra finds the likely killer – a man with green skin, webbed hands and a frog-like face. The Human Frog explains his appearance as a “deformity” (more like a genetic mutation, for comic book fans) and he proves he is the man who runs the Botanical Gardens.
Our hero catches him using one of his killer plants on another British agent. The Zebra saves this agent and learns the Human Frog was an enemy spy who wanted revenge on the Secret Service agents who exposed him. Our hero’s final battle with the villain takes place in a huge aquarium filled with small man-eating fish.
THE HIJACKING JACKAL
Villain: The Jackal
Synopsis: The Zebra’s latest foe is the Jackal, masked leader of a gang of black market thugs manipulating the World War Two era OPA system. The Jackal kills a butcher rebelling against the crooked operation, a killing witnessed by Mary Sewell, John Doyle’s girlfriend and secretary. This makes the case personal for our hero.
After a series of battles around the city the Zebra at last corners the Jackal at the city zoo, whose animals often provided the meat the villain’s operation peddled. (Note: This is one of the stories in which John Doyle/ the Zebra is – for no reason – blonde instead of black-haired.)
THE KNAVES OF THE NIGHT
Villains: The Knaves of the Night, an army of machine-gun wielding crooks in Smollville.
Synopsis: The Knaves of the Night abduct attorney John Doyle on his way home after work. The masked leader of the Knaves – a figure called the Magistrate – wants the brilliant Doyle to agree to represent any members of their criminal order who fall into the hands of the law.
John refuses, so he is bound and left to think it over while the Knaves carry out their Master Plan: distracting the police with simultaneous hit and run attacks around the city. With the cops scattered and confused the Knaves will rob their real target – the War Funds Office.
John Doyle escapes captivity, becomes the Zebra and takes down the entire army of Knaves in this first story which features his Savate prowess. The Zebra exposes the masked leader of the Knaves: Judge Richardson, Chief Fundraiser of the War Funds Office.
CLAWS OF MURDER
Villains: Spike and Shorty
Synopsis: When a returned G.I. resists falling back in with his former hoodlum pals Spike and Shorty, the two thugs kill him. The Zebra solves the murder, defeats Spike and Shorty in battle and then turns them over to the cops. All-text story.
Villain: The Buddha
Synopsis: When a supervillain called the Buddha kidnaps the wealthy Baroness de Cort her husband makes a radio appeal for help from the Zebra. Our hero is glad to oblige.
Soon the Zebra clobbers all seven members of the Buddha’s gang, survives an explosive death trap and rescues the kidnapped Baroness. He also defeats the Buddha in combat and exposes him as the Baroness’ crooked husband.
EYES OF DOCTOR HYPNO
Villain: Doctor Hypno
Synopsis: The title villain can mesmerize anyone who looks into his eyes. Dr Hypno is working for the Nazis and uses hypnotized Americans as pawns who involuntarily commit acts of sabotage around the nation.
The sinister doctor enthralls Attorney John Doyle’s secretary Mary Sewell and makes her steal secret rocket shell plans awaiting patent work – this from one of John Doyle’s scientist clients. As the Zebra, John tries to free Mary from Dr Hypno’s control but winds up mesmerized himself.
Needless to say the Zebra breaks himself and Mary free from the doctor’s control in time to prevent the rocket plans from falling into Nazi hands. As a bonus he thwarts Dr Hypno’s plot to sabotage a Smollville munitions plant and defeats Hypno’s gang of thugs.
THE KILLER’S RUSE
Villains: The Rosetti Mob
Synopsis: John Doyle helps a newly-released convict go straight by getting him a job as a Judge’s chauffer. Meanwhile the Zebra helps the ex-con prove he was framed by mob boss Rosetti when Rosetti kidnaps the Judge’s son.
Rosetti threatens to kill the Judge’s child if said jurist does not give lenient treatment to the mob boss’ kid brother Steve. Recently that younger Rosetti was captured with his gang of bank-robbers by the Zebra.
All ends well as the ex-con helps our hero free the kidnapped child, corral Rosetti’s entire mob AND send them all to prison.
SOMEBODY SHOT THE STATE’S WITNESS
Villains: Badger and his gang of racketeers.
Synopsis: The Zebra investigates why a veteran cop let a young hit-man called the Kid get away with gunning down the state’s witness right outside the courthouse where the gangster called Badger was being tried.
While rounding up Badger and his entire army of thugs our hero learns that the veteran cop didn’t shoot the Kid because he realized it was his long lost brother. The cop gives his own life helping the Zebra invade Badger’s mansion and his brother turns state’s witness against Badger to ensure a conviction next time.
THE SHADOW OF THE ELECTRIC CHAIR
Villain: The Leader and his sidekick Doctor Vito
Synopsis: A masked spy-master leads a group of Axis Spies in extorting millions from a variety of America’s wealthiest men. The group kills one of the millionaires for refusing to pay and frames young Tom Spaulding for the murder.
When the boy’s mother seeks out Attorney John Doyle to save Tom from the electric chair he feigns disinterest in the case, upsetting his secretary Mary Sewell. As the Zebra, our hero investigates and exposes first Dr Vito, an Italian physician acting as a spy for Mussolini and second unmasks the Leader.
That man is Flynn Pinkering, a Pinkerton pastiche who pretended to be providing security for the millionaires while actually running the extortion ring for money to support the Axis cause. The Zebra mops up the Leader’s trio of enforcers, too and clears Tom Spaulding.
I’LL SYNOPSIZE MORE OF THE ZEBRA’S STORIES IF THIS POST IS POPULAR ENOUGH.
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE MAIN LIST OF CENTAUR COMICS SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE
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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