Readers can’t get enough superhero articles! Since I aim to please here is another breakdown of the superheroes from a Golden Age pantheon, in this case from Prize Comics.
Secret Identity: Kenneth Stevens, College Biology Professor
First Appearance: Prize Comics #34 (September 1943)
Origin: Professor Kenneth Stevens was working on a “flight fluid” when he cut his hand in a lab accident. The fluid he was working on spilled into the wound and spread like an infection throughout his body, granting him superpowers. Wearing a colorful costume, he battled crime and Axis supervillains as Airmale. (Yes, Airmale.)
Powers: Airmale was lighter than air and could fly at high speed. He could also simply walk or stand on air when he desired. The hero devised a gravity belt to regulate the pull of gravity on his body so that he could walk around just fine in his civilian identity. Airmale excelled at unarmed combat.
Comment: As if the name Airmale wasn’t campy enough, this figure granted his teenage nephew Bobby Stevens a lesser version of his own power of flight and let him fight at his side as Stampy. No, I’m not kidding.
Secret Identity: None
First Appearance: Prize Comics #7 (December 1940)
Origin: As a baby, this future superhero was the sole survivor of a ship that sank off the northern coast of Alaska. Inuit people recovered him from a floating chunk of ice and presented him to Professor Carlson. As the boy grew to adulthood the professor gave him superpowers and sent him to New York City to fight crime as Doctor Frost.
Powers: Doctor Frost was immune to extreme cold and could shoot cold rays from his hands to freeze opponents or objects. He could also create ice constructs like bridges across water or the air and could wrap himself in layers of ice thick enough to survive explosions. This hero was reasonably good at unarmed combat.
Comment: This fun hero deserves to be rediscovered in a big way. His archenemy was Vulcan, a heat-powered semi-humanoid villain who lived in the Earth’s core and wanted to destroy the surface world. Doctor Frost also took on menaces like gangsters, a mad scientist and his invisible army plus a supervillain called the Leader, decades before the Hulk’s similarly named foe.
Secret Identity: Adam Mann
First Appearance: Headline Comics #16 (November 1945)
Origin: Adam Mann was a former U.S. Army Ranger who was invalided out of the service during World War Two. Shortly after the war ended Mann – in his new career as an atomic scientist – was involved in a lab accident while working with Uranium and gained superpowers. He took to superheroing under the nom de guerre Atomic Man.
Powers: Atomic Man had massive super-strength and a large degree of invulnerability. In addition he could fly and could shoot nuclear energy blasts from his right hand.
Comment: This character was the George S Patton of superheroes, swiftly embracing the battle against Communist totalitarianism now that the Axis Powers had been defeated. Atomic Man also fought super-criminals in the U.S. Adam Mann’s status as a seemingly disabled vet helped deflect suspicions that he was really Atomic Man.
THE BLUE STREAK
Secret Identity: Jim Dare, circus acrobat
First Appearance: Headline Comics #13 (May 1945)
Origin: After the gangster Scareface (yes, Scareface) and his men killed Jim Dare’s younger brother Bob while robbing the Great Dingling Brothers Circus he adopted the costumed identity of the Blue Streak to get revenge.
Powers: The Blue Streak was at the peak of human condition, with agility at least on the level of Olympic gymnasts. He was also an expert at unarmed combat.
Comment: This hero and his sister Kitty Dare remained with the circus which employed them, with the Blue Streak fighting crime between performances.
Secret Identity: Dan Curtis, high school student
First Appearance: Headline Comics #3 (April 1943)
Origin: One day a teen studying how chameleons change their skin color got hit by an electrical transformer which was knocked onto him by a wind storm. He thereby gained an offshoot of chameleon powers by being able to turn invisible. (It’s a comic book. Just go with them on this.) He used this power to fight crime.
Powers: Invisible Boy, as his name would imply, could turn invisible and back again at will. The clothes he was wearing when he was hit by the electrical transformer would turn invisible with him, making them his “costume” of sorts. This hero became more adept at unarmed combat with experience.
He was also a scientific prodigy and used his brilliance in his adventures.
Secret Identity: Madame Feline, circus performer. There is fan speculation that her name was Kitty Keller.
First Appearance: Prize Comics #18 (January 1942)
Origin: In real life you had the male-female gangster duo of Machine Gun Kelly and his wife. In Prize Comics you had the fictional Machine Gun Keller and Tiger Lady. When Keller was killed off in the electric chair, Tiger Lady set out for revenge.
Powers: Tiger Lady had two extraordinarily trained tigers who fought at her side. Her control over the tigers was at superhuman levels.
Comment: Since Prize Comics had literally NO female superheroes I’m having to play fast and loose here. Tiger Lady was a supervillain but just to have a woman in their pantheon I’m presenting this character AS IF she was a crime fighter instead of a criminal.
Secret Identity: None
First Appearance: Treasure Comics #2 (August 1945)
Origin: Unknown. Doctor Styx was a mysterious man possessed of certain supernatural abilities and used them on his own initiative or at the request of clients. This figure most often pitted his powers against the Others, a collection of monstrous forces unleashed by spells and rituals in the ancient Necronicon.
Obviously the Others are pastiches of H.P. Lovecraft’s Old Ones and “the Necronicon” is a take-off on the Necronomicon.
Powers: Doctor Styx could transform into mist or smoke to enter places unsuspected. He also had slightly greater than human strength and wielded assorted spells of his own against his foes. Astral projection and hypnosis were among his abilities. A Seeing Stone was one of the mystical relics he used in his adventures.
Comment: Doctor Styx could communicate with the dead and was often referred to by his foes as being dead himself. His body was as cold as a corpse, for instance.
Secret Identity: Denny Dunsan
First Appearance: Prize Comics #11 (April 1941)
Origin: As a little boy, Denny Dunsan was wounded by the latest incarnation of the Frankenstein Monster, created by a descendant of the original Dr Frankenstein. Denny, a distant relative of the Frankensteins, was kept alive only by the intervention of the monster’s creator, but was lame.
As the boy grew up, experimental treatments by Dr Frankenstein not only restored his mobility but endowed him with super powers. He used those powers on behalf of the Frankenstein family and the U.S. War Department.
Powers: Bulldog had more than human strength, speed and agility. He also had heightened senses, ferocity and tenacity. (“The tenacity of ten bulldogs”) This superhero had a canine sidekick, Spike the bulldog.
Comment: In the Prize Comics universe, the newly-created, “latest” Frankenstein Monster was a roaming, raging monster like Marvel Comics’ much-later character the Hulk. This monster had much, much greater strength than the original creation of the Frankensteins and, also like the Hulk, was sometimes a hero and sometimes a menace.
Bulldog often tangled with Frankenstein (as the monster itself was called in the Prize Comics universe) and at one point rounded up fellow Prize superheroes the Black Owl, Doctor Frost, Green Lama and Yank & Doodle in a huge crossover to take on the creature.
Bulldog’s girlfriend was Joan Knight.
Secret Identity: Jethro Dumont, millionaire
First Appearance: Prize Comics #7 (December 1940)
Origin: Jethro Dumont tired of his life of comfort and spent 10 years in Tibet learning magic from the Lamas. Returning to America afterward, he put the powers he gained to work fighting the forces of evil.
Powers: The Green Lama could fly, had massive super-strength, illusion-casting powers and possessed limited invulnerability. He accessed his powers by chanting “om mani padme om.”
Comment: Though based on the Pulp Magazine character, this comic book Green Lama had much greater powers to go with this adaptation.
Secret Identity: “Power” Nelson/ Gene West
First Appearance: Prize Comics #1 (March 1940)
Origin: Forty-two years in the future, the Earth was being plagued by terrestrial dictators, space monsters and war-like races from far-off planets. A group of scientists selected magnificent physical specimen “Power” Nelson as the guinea pig for an experiment. That experiment endowed Nelson with superpowers. As Futureman he fought to make the world free and safe.
Powers: Futureman possessed incredible super-strength (“the strength of a steam engine”) and a large degree of invulnerability (“the hardness of tempered steel”). He could also fly and possessed a device which translated all languages for him.
Comment: After 8 issues of Futureman fighting a 1982 pastiche of an “Asian” (Axis Japanese with Chinese overtones) empire which ruled the world and combating menaces from outer space, the creative team changed the premise. Now Futureman was back in the early 1940s and was fighting ACTUAL Imperial Japanese and Nazi supervillains as well as master criminals. That was the setting for the hero’s remaining 16 stories.
For the continuity-obsessed, we can pretend that Futureman’s 1982 world was in a timeline in which the Axis Powers WON World War Two. After 8 adventures they found a way to send him back in time to try to prevent the Axis from winning that war.
The futuristic science of the series’ original 1982 setting could be attributed to the Nazis actually having made contact with alien races which helped them in WW2. That would also explain the large number of other planets that routinely interacted with Earth of that “future.”
Anyway, Futureman’s 1982 girlfriend was Zora Doone of the Interplanetary Red Cross. Back in the 1940s the hero went by the secret identity of Gene West, an eyepatch-wearing radio announcer. His love interest was his secretary Lana.
Secret Identity: Barbara Boone
First Appearance: Babe #1 (July 1948)
Origin: Barbara Boone was a mutant whose abilities were activated by drinking Lightning Juice. Popularly called Babe (presumably as a shoutout to Babe Didrickson), this heroine conquered the forces of evil as readily as she conquered the sports world as a pioneer. Babe later became a bounty hunter.
Powers: Babe had greater than human reflexes and agility, plus she was stronger than any three or four men. Under duress, she displayed even greater strength than that. This heroine could run so swiftly she created a slipstream that often dragged several people and objects in her wake. Babe regularly overtook cars and trains.
Comment: Some may argue that Babe was not a superhero proper, but Prize Comics’ scarcity of female characters prompted me to include her. THE Eric Stanton worked on several issues of Babe, so there were always subtle and not so subtle FemDom elements to her stories as she put all the men she went up against in their place.
THE BLACK OWL
Secret Identity: Doug Danville, wealthy playboy. Later, Walt Walters took over the identity.
First Appearance: Doug Danville – Prize Comics #1 (March 1940) … Walt Walters – Prize Comics #34 (September 1943)
Origin: Millionaire playboy Doug Danville, who obviously could not tell black from blue, donned a costume in order to fight crime. For one issue he went by K The Unknown, but the very next issue he changed his nom de guerre to the Black Owl.
Years later, Danville enlisted to fight in World War Two and Walt Walters, the father of the superhero brothers Yank and Doodle, became the new Black Owl.
Powers: The Black Owl was at the peak of human condition and was more agile than an Olympic gymnast. He was also highly skilled at unarmed combat. The second Black Owl used a flying Owl-Ship.
Comment: This hero set the trend for changing your superhero alias AND for having a successor take over your role. His Rogues Gallery of foes included Madame Mystery, the Whistler, Chief Skullface, the Reaper and the Laughing Head.
Ultimately the Walt Walters Black Owl was put out of commission by a villain’s bullet. He retired but his super-powered sons Yank & Doodle continued their career as costumed crimefighters. Those twins had mild super-strength and invulnerability as long as they stayed in close proximity of each other. I’d make Doodle a female twin to add another woman to the Prize Comics pantheon. Or Hell, maybe make BOTH twins female.
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