Marvel Comics rules the superhero roost right now, and with the movie business being what it is that means they pretty much rule blockbuster cinema, too. We have all seen Marvel’s superhero characters dominate the big screen in a way not seen since Cowboy stars of long ago.
Balladeer’s Blog has done plenty of articles about the 1970s comic book serials on which the 21st Century’s Marvel Cinematic Universe was based. I’ve also examined plenty of short-lived World War Two-era superheroes from now defunct comic book companies.
Not only that but regular readers here will remember that I’m an obsessive geek for the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. All that being said, I’m amazed that until yesterday I never knew about the existence of a Marvel Comics (Called Timely Comics in the World War Two Era) superhero who fought in the Spanish Civil War before making a comeback against the Nazis when World War Two broke out. Here’s his complete Golden Age saga.
Secret Identity: Dan Kane, millionaire playboy and yachtsman
Origin: During the Spanish Civil War, American millionaire and sport seaman Dan Kane adopted the costumed identity of Captain Terror to fight against future dictator Francisco Franco and his fascists. After the war ended in a victory for Franco’s side, Kane returned to his public life and let the world speculate on what had happened to his alter ego Captain Terror.
The conduct of Franco’s allies – Hitler and Mussolini – in World War Two ultimately inspired Dan to revive his costumed identity and take on the Nazis at sea and on land. Dan maintained a ruse that he suffered from a weak heart to justify his not serving in the armed forces. This may have invited contempt from many, but it served to preserve the secret that he was really the dashing Captain Terror.
First Appearance: USA Comics #2 (November 1941). His origin story recapped his activities in the Spanish Civil War. His final Golden Age appearance came in May of 1942.
Powers: Captain Terror was in the peak of human condition and was an expert at unarmed and armed combat. He excelled at commando skills and was a masterful skipper with large or small vessels. The ships he used in his crusade as Captain Terror sported a variety of high-tech gadgets and weapons. The Captain himself sometimes sported a pistol in personal combat.
Comment: Pop culture’s most famous fictional American who fought against Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War is no doubt Rick Blaine, the character Humphrey Bogart played in the movie Casablanca. It’s fascinating that all these decades Marvel (Timely) – now a powerhouse in Hollywood – was sitting on a superhero figure whose legend says they participated in that conflict.
USA Comics #2 (November 1941) The Fiends of the Seas
Villain: The Black Claw, sinister Nazi sub captain with a hook hand.
Admiral Leeds, a close friend and confidant of millionaire Dan Kane, complains to the tycoon of the way Nazi subs have been sinking American ships as soon as they leave port with supplies bound for England. However, they have no way of proving it.
Kane uses his weak heart as an excuse for not taking any interest in the World War and has even retired from his former sporting pursuits. Leeds (no first name ever revealed) wishes aloud that the Spanish Civil War’s costumed hero Captain Terror would return to action, since he is desperately needed.
I don’t know if Leeds did this simply as expository dialogue or if he secretly knew Kane was Captain Terror and was subtly trying to jostle him back into the field.
At any rate Captain Terror returns, donning his costume and taking to the high seas to battle the Black Claw, the supposed Nazi behind the sinking of American ships. The Captain thwarts the Black Claw a few times, ultimately killing off him and all his crew while defeating their plans to use magnetic mines to wipe out U.S. shipping in the Gulf of Mexico.
When all is said and done Admiral Leeds excitedly recounts it all to his pal Dan Kane (revoke Leeds’ security clearance IMMEDIATELY) along with the thrilling fact that Captain Terror himself has come out of retirement and is in action again. Dan wonders how excited the Admiral would be if he realized he was having breakfast with THE Captain Terror.
USA Comics #3 (January 1942) The Magic Crystal of Death
Villain: Nazi spies plus the Gargoyle Gypsy, head of a Gypsy Clan.
Dan Kane’s friend Professor John Wolf shows him a process he has perfected which will make Allied planes invisible to the Axis Powers. Wolf’s maid is a Nazi spy and calls in spies to abduct the Professor to obtain the secret of his process.
Captain Terror takes on the German Spy Ring AND their Romany hired-hand, the mad Carlo, the Gargoyle Gypsy. After he initially thwarts the spies they eventually hold the professor captive in his mansion.
Captain Terror kills or captures the Nazis, dethrones Carlo and restores the beautiful Gypsy Queen to her rightful throne.
USA Comics #4 (May 1942) The Torpedoes of Dr Leech (That’s Major Liberty on the cover this time, not Captain Terror.)
Villain: Dr Gustave Leech, Nazi Mad Scientist
Admiral Leeds, obviously the inspiration for the old war poster Loose Lips Sink Ships, tells his old pal Dan Kane that he and his ship are headed to the (fictional) South American country called Arbolivia. Food shipments from that country to England have been repeatedly sunk by Nazi naval scientist Dr Leech and his super-torpedoes.
Kane becomes Captain Terror and takes to sea, secretly following Leeds’ ship to Arbolivia. Once there our hero’s high-tech boat clashes with Dr Leech’s sub at sea, while on land he uses his other skills to wipe out the Nazi spy ring which helps Leech.
Ultimately the Captain frees the duped Delores Madrigo from the Germans’ clutches and from a safe distance blows up Dr Leech’s sub, ending his threat.
And, like so many other promising Golden Age superheroes, the tale of Captain Terror ended after a tragically brief run.
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