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. 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 f 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.
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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