Balladeer’s Blog’s readers have made it clear they love these light-hearted superhero posts on weekends, so here we go with the first twenty stories of the MLJ character the Shield.
Secret Identity: Doctor Joe Higgins, a chemist.
Origin: On his deathbed Joe’s father Tom revealed to him the secret of a chemical formula he had been working on. That formula could bestow superpowers on a normal human being. As Joe grew older he got his PhD in chemistry, finished his father’s formula and used it on himself, gaining superpowers. He devised a special costume and fought the forces of evil as the Shield, a super-powered operative of the FBI.
First Appearance: Pep Comics #1 (January 1940). His final Golden Age appearance came in late 1945.
Powers: The chemical formula that the Shield rubbed onto his skin followed by bombardment with flouroscopic rays endowed him with massive super-strength plus invulnerability and the ability to leap enormous distances. His name came from an acronym for the areas of the human anatomy affected by his chemical formula: S – Sacrum H – Heart I – Innervation E – Eyes L – Lungs D – Derma. The Shield also wore an indestructible costume which encased his torso like a shield.
Comment: The Shield was America’s first star-spangled superhero, beating Captain America into print by more than a year. He eventually had a youthful sidekick called Dusty and a private detective sweetheart named Betty Warren. His archenemy was the Vulture. His adventures continued until December of 1945. Only J Edgar Hoover knew the Shield’s secret identity. Yes, J Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI, proving that even back then the FBI was a crooked and politically corrupt organization.
PEP COMICS #1 (January 1940)
Title: The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary
Villains: A Stokian spy ring
Synopsis: The Shield is given his first assignment. He must destroy a spy ring from the fictional nation of Stokia after the ring blows up a munitions factory, sabotages commercial shipping and assassinates U.S. military personnel. Our hero defeats all of the villains and survives their explosion of the Hotel Braganza.
NOTE: This is the first time readers see the Shield attach wires from his earpieces to telephone wires so that his enhanced hearing can “bug” the room of his targets.
PEP COMICS #2 (February 1940)
Title: The Disappearing Ships
Villains: The Nordic Military
Synopsis: The Shield is sent to investigate the mysterious disappearances of five oil tankers off the coast of Puerto Rico. The culprits are “Nordic” military agents (America had not yet entered World War Two so they were called Nordic instead of German and did not wear swastikas). The Shield wipes out their planes, submarines and “submarine mother ship”, which housed subs the way an aircraft carrier houses planes. The villains even had a high-tech “paralyzing cannon.”
PEP COMICS #3 (April 1940)
Title: The Mine Planters
Villains: Count Zongarr and his army.
Synopsis: The Shield takes action when an unidentified futuristic plane drops sea mines attached to parachutes in busy New York Harbor. Many ships are destroyed and after another such attack our hero stops the mine-dropping and traces the “Submaplane” as it dives under the sea to the hidden grotto fortress of Count Zongarr.
The Count and his army – consisting of troops from all nations – are trying to provoke the U.S. into entering the war. Zongarr gets rich selling high-tech munitions to both sides and in the end plans to use his army to take over the world when the Allied Nations and the Axis Nations have exhausted their resources. The Shield foils the plan and causes Count Zongarr’s grotto fortress to explode.
PEP COMICS #4 (May 1940)
Title: Target: Pearl Harbor
Villains: “Mosconian” military forces
Synopsis: The nation of Mosconia (based on the Soviet Union, of course) has commandos attack Washington DC but the Shield, aided by fellow MLJ superhero the Wizard, defeats all of them. The Wizard learns that a secret Mosconian base in Hawaii will be used to wipe out the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor.
The Shield travels there and destroys all the bombers the Mosconians unleash on Pearl Harbor. He then finds their secret base and destroys their long-distance artillery and their high-tech electric ray-guns. Finally, he thwarts their plan to make a volcano erupt and kill thousands of innocent civilians.
PEP COMICS #5 (June 1940)
Title: Mosconia Strikes Again
Villains: Mosconian military forces
Synopsis: The Shield had been ordered to stay in Pearl Harbor in case the Mosconians tried another attack. They do, this time via a submarine which uses magnetic rays to drag a cruise ship into crashing on an outcropping volcano. The Shield invades the sub, defeats the crew and uses the sub to rescue all the cruise ship passengers. He threatens the Mosconian sub captain into revealing that his colleagues will strike in Washington DC.
Our hero uses a navy plane to reach California, where his friend the Wizard lets him borrow his Strato-Plane to reach Washington quicker than any other aircraft could. Once there the Shield defeats the remote-controlled tanks the villains are using to try to destroy the White House, the Capitol and the Library of Congress. He also survives the electric booby trap they try on him.
PEP COMICS #6 (July 1940)
Title: The Nicaraguan Canal
Villains: “Asiatic” spies
Synopsis: When a U.S. Senator suddenly abandons his own bill proposing a U.S. canal through Nicaragua to back up the Panama Canal, Joe Higgins investigates. He learns that Asiatic spies (obviously Imperial Japanese but not so named in the story) have kidnapped Senator Warren’s daughter Betty and threatened to kill her if he didn’t scuttle the canal bill. When the Senator is assassinated, Joe becomes the Shield and takes action.
The hero fights some of the spies but is captured when they shoot him with a “vibration bullet” which can paralyze even him. He is taken to the Japanese hideout where they try to find a way to kill the invulnerable hero, and where they reveal their plan to sabotage the Panama Canal and then seize the Philippines. The Shield eventually breaks free, defeats all the spies and rescues the Senator’s daughter, who becomes Joe Higgins’ love interest. The Shield then uses his powers to help the U.S. build a (fictional) canal through Nicaragua.
PEP COMICS #7 (August 1940)
Title: Al Moroni, Gang Boss
Villains: The Moroni Mob
Synopsis: Joe Higgins and Betty Warren (who does not know he’s the Shield) are at a baseball game. A famous player gets blown up when the ball thrown to him turns out to be a bomb. In another state another baseball player gets shot with a bullet which causes his body to burst into flames, burning him alive. Joe and Betty investigate and learn that mob boss Al Moroni killed the ball players for refusing to throw games for him.
Joe becomes the Shield and takes out Moroni’s soldiers, saves the next targeted ball player and then invades Moroni’s HQ. Al subjects the Shield to room after room of deathtraps, like it’s Murderworld and he’s the villain Arcade. The hero survives them all, of course, and takes Moroni to jail.
NOTE: The cover illustration this issue had nothing to do with the actual story.
PEP COMICS #8 (September 1940)
Title: The Hollywood Murders
Villains: A masked gang of jewel smugglers
Synopsis: When movie and radio stars who’ve been caught wearing smuggled jewels start getting killed off before the police can interrogate them, Joe Higgins and Betty Warren travel to the West Coast to investigate. Betty goes undercover as a voice actress to investigate the next apparent victim, radio star Biff Crossley.
After some battles with the gang of masked smugglers behind it all, the gang’s own boss kills them all with mustard gas. The Shield wraps up the case and reveals that Biff Crossley was secretly the masked leader of the gang. When police started closing in, he panicked and started bumping off the stars who bought his smuggled goods and then killed his own gang members. He was always beating his son Gary, too. (C’mon now! Biff Crossley? Bing Crosby? Nooooo doubt about it!)
PEP COMICS #9 (November 1940)
Title: Terror At Stacey’s Department Store
Villains: A protection racket
NOTE: This issue introduces Joe Higgins’ comic relief fellow agent, white guy Ju Ju Watson.
Synopsis: While shopping at Stacey’s Department Store, Betty Warren gets herself, her beau Joe Higgins and his inept new partner Ju Ju Watson caught up in attacks by a protection racket. The criminals are demanding protection money from Nathaniel Stacey, the store’s corporate president. After a shooting and an acid attack on innocent shoppers, Stacey wants to just give in and pay.
Joe, Betty and Ju Ju (Ju Ju?) investigate, with Betty again going undercover. She gets kidnapped by the racketeers and the Shield takes action against the gun and flame-thrower wielding hoods. He captures all the gang members and exposes Nathaniel Stacey as the mastermind behind it all. (So basically a copy of last story’s ending.) Stacey wanted the company’s stock to tumble, then he would buy up all the shares at a low rate and have sole ownership of the store chain.
PEP COMICS #10 (December 1940)
Title: The Fur Capers
Villains: An armed gang of fur robbers.
Synopsis: Joe, Betty and Ju Ju investigate when a gang of fur robbers use TNT to kill a female store detective who was getting close to finding them out. You know the drill by now. Betty goes under cover, Ju Ju screws up everything he tries and somehow neither of them notice that Joe and the Shield are never around at the same time.
After assorted battles, the Shield saves Betty from another death-trap and exposes one of the fur retailers as the head of the armed gang. He would rob his own store along with others to keep suspicion off himself, then get insurance money AND cash for the stolen furs. So that’s three stories in a row with the same type of ending. Sheesh! A story based on the cover drawing would have been much better.
PEP COMICS #11 (January 1941)
Title: Enter, the Vulture
Villain: The Vulture
NOTE: Not only is this issue the first appearance of the Shield’s archenemy the Vulture, but it’s also the first appearance of our hero’s kid sidekick Dusty. Yes, he decided to join the superhero fad of endangering the lives of youngsters … especially by not having them use an alias.
Synopsis: Joe Higgins has been assigned to investigate sabotage at an airplane manufacturer. Ju Ju and Betty go along with him, and at one point during the day a bomb goes off, destroying a plane just as it was approaching takeoff. One of the passengers on board was the father (and sole parent) of a boy named Dusty, who now wants revenge on whoever killed his dad.
Naturally the sabotage has all been the work of the Vulture and his underlings. The green and purple costumed Vulture is a mad scientist who lives in a castle here in America. He has his men place another of his radio-controlled bombs in another plane while the last one is still being cleaned off the runway. Betty catches them and is seized by them but Dusty tries to help her.
The Shield arrives and defeats the Vulture’s men, then starts interrogating one of them. The man agrees to tell everything but the villain, watching all this on a viewscreen, pushes a button, detonating the radio-bomb and killing his underling before he can reveal anything. The Shield survives the explosion, of course. Impressed by Dusty’s fighting ability, he takes him to his secret lab and gives him a costume and mask (but no alias) to fight at his side.
The Vulture learns from one of his many agents that a co-conspirator in his plan has gotten cold feet and wants to cut a deal with the police, so the Vulture kills him before he can. The Shield and Dusty learn that the villain works with the owners of the cargo planes and ships that he blows up. They don’t really have the valuable cargoes listed on the bill of lading, so when the transport craft explode, the Vulture and the owners split the insurance money and fence the valuables which were never really on the planes or ships.
As the Vulture watches on his viewscreens, the Shield prevents the villain from blowing up a cargo train while Dusty stops his goons from blowing up a cargo ship. The Shield traces the Vulture to his castle HQ and uses one of the criminal’s own bombs to blow up the entire castle. Investigators learn that no body is in the wreckage, so the Vulture is still at large.
Comment: It is still up for debate if the Shield also grants Dusty a lesser version of his own powers when he takes the boy to his laboratory. From issue to issue Dusty often seems far stronger than any two or three men put together and can leap incredible distances.
PEP COMICS #12 (February 1941)
Title: Death Rides The Rails
Villains: Dr Wang and his men
NOTE: For the umpteenth time the cover has nothing to do with anything that happens inside the issue.
Synopsis: A costumed Imperial Japanese spy called Dr Wang and his dozens of troops have constructed an underground lair beneath the Washington DC subway system. Dr Wang has added additional tracks that let him detour a subway train into his hideout where he and his armed soldiers force all the captives to wear glass Brain Numbing helmets which turn those wearing them into his mindless thralls. This takes awhile and news of the vanishing train prompts our hero and Dusty to don their costumes and investigate.
They get separated in the labyrinthine subway tunnels and the Shield finds Dr Wang’s HQ just as he is finishing up fitting a Brain Numbing Helmet on each of the passengers. He outfights plenty of Wang’s armed men while also saving another subway train from being captured by the foreign agent. The doctor sneaks up behind the battling Shield and slips a Brain Numbing Helmet on him, enthralling him, too.
The villain sends the captured subway train back to the regular rail line and its passengers depart at the next station, all of them carrying out assorted sabotage suicide bombing missions against American defense sites. The Grant Munitions plant, the Washington Navy Yard and multiple battle ships thus fall to the unwilling saboteurs. Dusty finds Dr Wang’s lair, outfights several of his men, then frees the Shield from mental control when Wang orders the hero to kill Dusty. The duo defeat all of the doctor’s troops and make him free the rest of his thralls before they can carry out their missions. Dr Wang attempts to escape but falls in the way of an oncoming subway train and is run over.
PEP COMICS #13 (March 1941)
Title: The Dread Hand of the Vulture
Villain: The Vulture
NOTE: It’s one of those rare times that the cover drawing reflects the interior story.
Synopsis: The Vulture is back, and as this story opens he is having his armed, costumed soldiers raid a New York museum to steal one … million … dollars worth of items. It is raining, and since the clouds were seeded with the Vulture’s death chemical everyone who gets hit by the rain drops dead. The Shield arrives and, though he is invulnerable to the rain’s effects, Dusty collapses from exposure to them. Our hero gets the boy back to his lab and manages to save his life.
The next day the Vulture seeds more clouds with his death chemical and sends his minions to rob a federal gold shipment. While the Shield lifts huge, long objects to protect innocent bystanders from the deadly rain, Dusty fights the Vulture’s men and Betty tricks the Vulture into thinking she wants to work for him, then double-crosses him and escapes. The Shield manages to break into the Vulture’s plane as it flies along and turns the death chemical hose on him and his soldiers. The Vulture escapes but all his men are captured or killed.
Comment: Neither Betty nor Ju Ju have made a connection between the red-haired kid named Dusty who hangs around with Joe Higgins now and the red-haired boy sidekick Dusty who helps the Shield. Morons!
PEP COMICS #14 (April 1941)
Title: Airborne Buccaneers
Villains: Pirates in a seaplane
Synopsis: When a troop of machine-gun wielding pirates in a seaplane begin preying on cruise ships in the Caribbean the Shield and Dusty stow away on a ship per a tipster’s recommendation. The pirates do attack that ship but our heroes fight them off and prevent them from boarding. They grab Dusty as a hostage to prevent the Shield from stopping their escape.
After refueling and re-arming at their uncharted island base, the criminals attack the ship again, machine-gunning down passengers and threatening to kill Dusty if the Shield fights them. Dusty frees himself and then he and the Shield take on the pirates, who all die in the explosion of their seaplane as they try to escape this time. The ship’s captain turns out to be one of the cruise line captains who are in on it with the pirates.
PEP COMICS #15 (May 1941)
Title: Unholy Alliance
Villains: The Tony Spolito Gang
Synopsis: Despite a lot of potential this story degenerates into a mundane crime story. The Shield stories needed more supervillains to add more excitement. Watching the Shield and Dusty beat up armies of gangsters gets kind of dull.
At any rate, this tale involves a tycoon named Mr Kahn who has a secret alliance with the gangsters led by Tony Spolito. They frame a man named Frank Cliff for attempted murder but the Shield and Dusty set things straight, defeat the gangsters and send Kahn to jail with them.
PEP COMICS #16 (June 1941)
Title: The Face of the Vulture
Villain: The Vulture
Synopsis: The Vulture personally leads his troops in a raid of a defense plant to try stealing Top Secret plans for a brand new robot plane. The armed guards drive them off but the aircraft’s inventor is killed in the attack. Joe Higgins and Ju Ju Watson are assigned to guard the plans since the Vulture is after them. The villain and his men strike again, and though Joe becomes the Shield, he and Dusty fail to stop the Vulture and his army from escaping with the plans.
Next the Shield plans to lure the Vulture into the open by using the actual prototype of the robot plane as bait. The villain is able to override the remote control waves guiding the plane and make it come to his secret airstrip. It turns out Dusty stowed away inside, but he is beaten by the Vulture’s men. The Vulture binds Dusty inside the robot plane then remote controls it to bomb the nearest Army Air Corps base and then crash, killing Dusty, too.
The Shield raids the Vulture’s airstrip and defeats all his troops. The villain blows up the remote control equipment to stop our hero from guiding the plane away from its programmed mission. He captures the Vulture, intercepts the plane, saves the base and frees Dusty before the plane can crash. The Vulture is arrested but will return in the future.
PEP COMICS #17 (July 1941)
Title: Good Boy Gone Bad
Villains: The Blinker Gordon Gang
NOTE: The MLJ superhero called the Hangman makes his first appearance in his own story in this issue.
Synopsis: The Shield and Dusty interrupt a nighttime warehouse robbery being pulled by the Blinker Gordon Gang. (He’s called Blinker because he wears an eyepatch and has only one good eye.) Our heroes recover all the stolen goods but, despite their best efforts, the gang members all get away except for their teen lookout Slats.
Joe Higgins, Betty Warren and Ju Ju Watson come to realize that Slats only took to a life of crime to support his elderly mother, and since this is his first offense Joe pulls strings to get the boy paroled into his custody. He also gets the kid a government job, when Blinker Gordon reenters Slats’ life. He holds his mother hostage to try to force Slats into helping the gang rob a government supply warehouse but the Shield and Dusty capture the gang and Slats stays honest.
PEP COMICS #18 (August 1941)
Title: The Side Show Horrors
Villain: The Vulture
Synopsis: When the Shield and Dusty investigate the murder of a side show tattooed man it leads them into a trap laid by the escaped Vulture. He is using a carnival side show as his hideout and all of the geeks and freaks are his new army of underlings.
When all is said and done, the Shield and Dusty defeat the carnival crooks and capture the Vulture. They also expose his plan – he has been using the traveling carnival as a cover to secret away caches of futuristic weaponry in hidden locations beneath major cities. He has made those weapons for his paymasters in a foreign power. The weaponry would be ready to help them when they invaded the U.S.
PEP COMICS #19 (September 1941)
Title: It Could Happen Here
Villain: Eric Steele
Synopsis: When the sale of Defense Bonds gets a black eye from the public suicide of one of its prime movers, things get worse when his books make it look like he was running the Bond program for his own larcenous gain. Joe Higgins and Ju Ju Watson investigate and suspect that the books were faked and that the Bond Rep was actually murdered. When President Franklin Roosevelt asks the Shield to step in as the new face of the Defense Bonds program he agrees.
While selling Defense Bonds (soon to be War Bonds) to the public, the Shield and Dusty have to contend with agitators provoking mob violence at the Bond Rallies. The Shield and Ju Ju get framed for selling counterfeit Defense Bonds, setting the program back even further. Our heroes learn it is all part of the plan hatched by tycoon Eric Steele. He wants to overthrow the government with his secret army and his secret government agents. He will then ally America with the Axis Powers. Naturally the Shield foils the elaborate plot, defeats the secret army and Steele faces execution.
PEP COMICS #20 (October 1941)
Title: The Return Of Doctor Wang
Villain: Doctor Wang
Synopsis: Doctor Wang survived his last battle with the Shield and is back in action. This time he’s running a joint Japanese and German spy band who pull off the kidnapping of an infant who is the future king of the fictional country of Ruthama. The child was sent with guardians to America to keep him out of the hands of the Axis Powers who were trying to nab him.
Naturally, before Doctor Wang and his men can escape the country with the baby the Shield and Dusty track them down, defeat and capture all of them and recover the baby safe and sound.
NOTE: For the past few months Pep Comics was the highest-selling comic book in America. *** FOR OVER TWENTY MORE MLJ SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE.
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