Superheroes continue to dominate pop culture right now and Balladeer’s Blog’s readers let me hear it when I go too long without a superhero blog post. Here is my look at the Fox Features Syndicate heroes from the Golden Age.
Secret Identity: Jim Andrews, electrical scientist
First Appearance: Science Comics #1 (February 1940)
Origin: Jim Andrews risked his life to contain a potentially deadly accident at the electrical lab where he worked, inadvertently gaining superpowers from the incident. He donned a costume and fought the forces of evil as Dynamo.
Powers: Dynamo could use his electrical powers to shoot electric rays from his hands, to fly, to surround himself with a force field and to magnify his own strength.
Comment: In his very first appearance this hero went by the nom de guerre Electro, but in his remaining 24 adventures called himself Dynamo instead.
Secret Identity: George Davis, big-game hunter
First Appearance: Wonderworld Comics #21 (January 1941)
Origin: George Davis’ career as a big-game hunter had brought him wealth and fame. Having met all the challenges of hunting members of the animal kingdom he decided to go after the most dangerous game of all: human criminals. To that end he donned a costume and took on supervillains and Nazi agents.
Powers: The Black Lion was at the peak of human condition and had the agility of an Olympic gymnast. He was also an expert at unarmed combat and could outfight multiple opponents at once. His totem animal the lion gave him superhuman healing ability.
Comment: This hero’s archenemy was the eyepatch-wearing Nazi called Blitz. The Black Lion joined the superhero fad of endangering youngsters by allowing his teenage nephew Larry Davis to become his sidekick, Cub.
Secret Identity: Linda Dale
First Appearance: Wonderworld Comics #3 (July 1939)
Origin: Linda Dale’s boyfriend Gary Preston was the superhero called the Flame. Once, when he was injured in battle with his foe the Octopus, he gave Linda a serum which granted her the same mystical flame powers he had gained through being tutored by Lamas in Tibet.
Powers: Flame Girl could control fire and heat. She could make her body hot enough to melt bullets fired at her and could shoot flames from her hands. She could also merge with any flames anywhere or even teleport into a fire of any size, emerging genie-like from a flame as small as a match lighting a cigarette.
Needless to say, water was her weakness.
Comment: As always with male and female superteams who have the exact same powers and similar origins I am listing just the woman to add some variety to the list and make up for the comparative scarcity of Golden Age superheroines.
Secret Identity: Caius Martius Wheeler, teacher of ancient Roman history
First Appearance: Weird Comics #5 (August 1940)
Origin: In ancient Rome, the gladiator Caius Martius proved so capable of outfighting animals and other gladiators that the gods granted him the ability to fly and set him against criminals of the era.
Eventually the gladiator clashed with the sorceror Marius, who turned him to stone and trapped him in suspended animation. In 1940 Caius at last emerged from the enchantment and found himself part of a display in an American museum. He adopted the secret identity of teacher Caius Martius Wheeler and fought modern-day villains.
Powers: The Dart could fly at super-speed and used this ability in conjunction with his incredible fighting skill. This hero wielded a sword in combat. (I’d have revised it so that he used ALL the weaponry of gladiators.)
Comment: Wheeler adopted Ace Barlow, whose parents were killed by gangsters in a drive-by shooting. The Dart granted the teen the power of flight so he could fight at his side as Amazing Boy.
Secret Identity: None. His real name was Lu-Nar.
First Appearance: Wonderworld Comics #48 (August 1941)
Origin: Lu-Nar was from the Moon and was somehow affected by World War 2 fighting or weapons experiments (you know comics) that caused his space-craft to crash on Earth, stranding him. The alien had superpowers by Earth standards and began fighting the forces of evil.
Powers: Lu-Nar had incredible super-strength and a large measure of invulnerability.
Comment: Lu-Nar had an adult body but the mind of a child, even speaking in simplistic phrases like “Bad mans steal bracelet!” and “Me catch them!” To me he seemed like a partial inspiration for the 1970s Marvel character Wun-Darr. His mentor about life on our planet was cab driver Beansie Mulligan.
Secret Identity: Shannon Kane, technician
First Appearance: The Eagle #2 (September 1941)
Origin: When foreign agents killed Shannon Kane’s government scientist husband, Dr Harry Kane, she used some of his Top Secret inventions to get revenge. Afterward, she continued to fight the forces of evil as Spider Queen.
Powers: Spider Queen was as strong as a human female can be and was highly skilled in unarmed combat. She wore spider-web bracelets of her own design to shoot webbing invented by her husband. The sticky fluid which those bracelets shot could entrap her opponents in temporary strong-as-steel webs and could also let her swing around the city long before Spider-Man.
Comment: Police Detective Mike O’Bell tried romancing both Spider Queen AND Shannon Kane. Would that make him a two-timer?
Secret Identity: Gary Kennedy, dead policeman
First Appearance: Mystery Men # 27 (October 1941).
Origin: When police officer Gary Kennedy and his brother were shot to death by Silky Weaver and his subordinate gangsters, Gary died swearing by Heaven above to avenge his and his brother’s deaths. He returned from the grave several nights later and made good on his vow.
Afterward, the newly-christened Wraith continued to rise from his grave to deal out justice to evildoers on behalf of their dead victims, whose souls begged him to take action.
Powers: The Wraith possessed the ghostly powers of invisibility and intangibility. He could also fly and when he willed himself into solid form he had the strength of two men. In addition, the Wraith could invade and commandeer/ “possess” the bodies of other people whenever he chose – long before the DC Comics character Dead Man.
The activities of this hero were limited, time-wise. He could not rise from his grave until Midnight and had to return to that grave by dawn or else be destroyed by the sunlight. This provided fodder for frequent last-minute desperation heroics.
Comment: Obviously the Wraith was very similar to the DC Comics character the Spectre, right down to being a slain police officer. Creator Paul Develin did, however, at least reverse the Spectre’s green and white coloring for this new hero. And instead of a cape and cowl, the Wraith wore two long, white, Isadora Duncan scarves.
THE PURPLE TIGRESS
Secret Identity: Anita “Ann” Morgan, millionaire
First Appearance: All Good Comics #1 (January 1944)
Origin: Unknown. The Purple Tigress was already an established crime-fighter in her first appearance.
Powers: The mysterious Purple Tigress seemed to have greater strength than a normal human woman and was extraordinarily agile. She was very skilled at unarmed combat. She also had “cat-like” eyes which could see in the dark and possibly had hypnotic properties as well. Fans speculate that those vaguely mystical eyes may have prevented onlookers from realizing that the Purple Tigress was Ann Morgan even though she wore no mask.
Comment: This heroine made only two appearances – the second not until 1947 – and her secrets were never revealed. There is fan speculation that her namesake may really have been Purple Tigress butterflies rather than jungle felines.
In her second story the Purple Tigress fought the Flasher … a famous jewel thief. (How slang changes!)
Secret Identity: None
First Appearance: Weird Comics #1 (April 1940)
Origin: Bird Man was the descendant of a Native American deity who roamed the modern-day American Southwest protecting his people and fighting the forces of evil.
Powers: This hero had greater than human strength, could fly with his steely wings, had supernatural eyesight and wielded a bow and arrows as well as a knife against his foes.
Comment: Bird Man fought human villains and monsters like giant lizards.
Secret Identity: Mary Brinker
First Appearance: Crimes by Women #7 (June 1947)
Origin: Madam Muscle was a probable mutant who possessed extraordinary strength from her childhood years onward.
Powers: By the time Mary was an adult she got a job in a carnival as a strongwoman called Madam Muscle and could out-wrestle multiple male opponents at once. In addition she had limited invulnerability to bullets.
Comment: The naive and trusting Mary was robbed and then tricked into a life of crime by a criminal called Ratt. She took down Ratt and his gang during a fight over her share of the loot. She survived a few bullet wounds from the gang but died in a hail of bullets from the police when she attacked them.
I’m listing Madam Muscle with these heroes because she could have been Fox Features’ Wonder Woman if she had been handled better.
Secret Identity: Randy Ronald, former fighter pilot
First Appearance: Blue Beetle #42 (July 1946)
Origin: Major Randy Ronald was an African-American fighter pilot in World War II. Shot down by the Nazis, he was given up for dead. The truth is he was experimented upon by them, causing his face to be disfigured, but gaining superpowers from the procedures. Resurfacing in America after the war, he took to hiding his mutilated face beneath a bronze mask of normal facial features and fighting crime as the Bronze Man.
Powers: This hero had a degree of super-strength, limited invulnerability and could fly.
Comment: Creator A.C. Hollingsworth intended for the Bronze Man to be an openly African-American superhero, just as the Green Turtle was intended to be openly Chinese. Wary of poor sales due to prejudice, Fox Features Syndicate kept it so that Randy Ronald’s race could never be made out through his disfigurement whenever he was without his mask, just like the Green Turtle’s Asian features were always obscured in his much-longer lasting comic book.
Secret Identity: Nurse Marga (surname unknown)
First Appearance: Science Comics #1 (February 1940)
Origin: A nurse was captured by a mad scientist named Doctor Von Dor and subjected to biochemical injections and an “electrofuse generator” with which techniques he planned to create a race of panther-women to serve him. Marga foiled his plans, instead using her newfound superpowers to defeat Von Dor.
Powers: The Panther Woman had more than human strength, speed and agility. She also possessed heightened senses and could see in the dark. In addition, her fingernails and toenails transformed into steely claws which she could use in combat.
Later, the supervillain Professor Meier tried turning Panther Woman into one of his winged monsters but succeeded only in increasing her super-strength to the degree that she could bend the steel bars of her cage to escape.
Comment: A side-effect of this heroine’s abilities was a fiery feline temper which she had to struggle to keep in check. As Marga she had blonde hair, but as Panther Woman her hair was dark colored.
Secret Identity: Fred Carson, radio engineer
First Appearance: Wonder Comics #1 (May 1939)
Origin: While traveling in Tibet, Fred Carson was given a mystic ring by a Tibetan priest. He was told to use the superpowers endowed by the ring to fight for humanity and justice. Returning to America, Carson adopted the costumed identity of Wonder Man.
Powers: This hero had Superman-level strength, could leap for miles like the Hulk, and was largely invulnerable.
Comment: Wonder Man is notorious for being the first superhero whose creators were sued by DC Comics as a ripoff of Superman. The suit was so successful that Wonder Man only made one appearance, during which he used his powers to feed the hungry and prevent a mad dictator from starting a war.
Secret Identity: None
First Appearance: Fantastic Comics #1 (December 1939)
Origin: Unknown. From his first Golden Age appearance in 1939 to his last in 1941 Stardust was simply a well-known hero protecting the entire universe like a one-man Green Lantern Corps.
Powers: Stardust could fly at many times the speed of light, shoot a variety of deadly energy beams, convert matter on a molecular level, plus control gravity and the weather. He could breathe in any planet’s atmosphere AND in the vacuum of space. He was utterly invulnerable and could even fly into the hearts of suns. Interstellar teleportation, shape-shifting, telepathy and telekinesis were also among his abilities.
Comment: From his base inside a privately owned star Stardust had equipment which let him monitor crime on dozens of planets. When fighting the forces of evil on Earth he tended to take on enemies of the United States. He even formed what he called “The Sixth Column” consisting of teen sidekicks that he endowed with superpowers.
This hero is remembered for the bizarrely draconian punishments he dished out and was like a science fiction version of the equally over-powered Spectre at DC. Stardust and Fantomah were the Big Two creations of Fletcher Hanks, the Ed Wood/ Neil Breen of Golden Age comic books.
Secret Identity: Bill, Ted or Grant Powers
First Appearance: Science Comics # 1 (February 1940)
Origin: Wealthy scientist Bill Powers (who was also called Ted in a few stories and Grant in one) created an anti-gravity fluid which enabled him to fight crime and, later, Axis supervillains, as the high-flying Eagle.
Powers: The Eagle could fly thanks to the way he had soaked his cape in his secret anti-gravity fluid. His costume was made from a special alloy/ fiber which gave him a certain amount of protection from bullets and enhanced his strength to a slight degree. The Eagle was also highly skilled at unarmed combat.
Comment: This hero joined the fad of endangering youngsters by having a teen sidekick fight at his side with his own anti-gravity costume. That sidekick was alternately called Buddy, Wonder Boy and Young Eagle. The Eagle’s girlfriend was Sally Caldwell.
The Eagle was one of those Golden Age superheroes who was fine with sometimes killing his foes.
Secret Identity: Sandra Knight, Washington D.C. socialite
First Appearance: With Fox Features – Phantom Lady #13 (August 1947), With Quality Comics – Police Comics #1 (August 1941)
Origin: Washington D.C. socialite Sandra Knight’s father was Senator Henry Knight. One day Sandra surreptitiously saved her father from an assassination attempt and, loving the adventure, decided to fight crime as the costumed Phantom Lady. She appropriated a Top Secret device called a Black Lantern to use as a weapon in her one-woman crusade.
Powers: Phantom Lady was as strong as a human female can be and was incredibly skilled at unarmed combat. She wielded a Black Lantern/ Darklight, which would cast beams of darkness to disorient her opponents. When used on herself, the Darklight would make her temporarily invisible. Family friend Professor Davis invented the Darklight.
Comment: Phantom Lady sometimes wore a domino mask alternated with a yellow “curtain” mask. Her fiancee was Don Borden, an agent with the State Department’s counter-intelligence division.
THE GREEN MASK
Secret Identity: Michael Selby (later Shelby), independently wealthy detective
First Appearance: Mystery Men Comics #1 (August 1939)
Origin: Michael Selby’s Congressman father was shot to death by the evil organization called the Grim Circle. Michael was seriously wounded in the same attack and would have died if not for family friend Professor Lascomb. The professor strapped Michael to his lab table and subjected him to his experimental Vita-Rays.
Michael not only survived but gained superpowers with which he fought crime as the Green Mask.
Powers: The Green Mask possessed massive super-strength, limited invulnerability and the power of flight. For a very brief period he also used a Paralyzer Gun which would temporarily immobilize opponents.
Comment: This hero’s girlfriend was named Olivia Tracey and his chauffer was known only as Mr Peters. “News” Blake was the Green Mask’s reporter pal who often wrote glowing stories of the hero’s escapades.
When youngster Don Tracy was nearly killed in an explosion intended to off the Green Mask, our hero saved the teen’s life by using Vita-Rays on him. Tracy recovered, gained a lesser version of the Green Mask’s powers and became Domino, the hero’s sidekick.
The Green Mask was one of Fox Features’ longest -lasting superheroes, running until 1946 with 73-82 adventures. For 9 issues the comic book featured the adventures of his supposed son, Johnny Green. (Was he illegitimate?)
The Johnny Green version of the Green Mask was an odd fictional creation. A child, he seemed vaguely aware that his father was THE Green Mask, and had obviously inherited superpowers from him. When Johnny would become angry over witnessing “crime and injustice” he would involuntarily transform into an adult, costume-wearing Green Mask and take action.
Adding to the weirdness is that Johnny’s costume would come and go with the transformation, which was sometimes triggered Shazam-style by Johnny saying “Wowie!” At times this youngster seemed aware that he became the Green Mask (or Green Mask, Junior if you prefer), at others he was completely unaware of his own heroics and “blacked out” during the transformation, dismissing his adventures as mere dreams.
Further muddying the waters was the fact that in two issues Johnny’s father was said to be Walter Green, who was publicly known as the Green Mask, having won a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics in the Pacific. (?) Hey, you know comic book writing!
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