THE WINGED MAN – From Great Britain’s renowned story papers came the Winged Man. British story papers, like Dime Novels and Pulp Magazines, were text stories peppered with a few illustrations. The Wonder, an Amalgamated Press publication, debuted in 1913 and among its offerings was the tragic tale of the Winged Man, whose first story was titled Twixt Midnight and Dawn (the hero’s favorite time to dispense vigilante justice).
This figure was an interesting blend of Platinum Age heroes like the Man in the Black Cloak and the later Phantom of the Opera, the villain who had made his first appearance in Gaston Leroux’s novel a few years earlier.
The mysterious Winged Man was “a strange genius” whose real name was never revealed. He possessed such inventive brilliance that he created a suit complete with working wings which allowed him to fly.
The Winged Man took to the skies to deal out justice to the modern world’s villains. He operated out of a mysterious underground lair on “the bleak Yorkshire coast.” There he was served by his dwarf butler Ghat.
The flying vigilante’s lonely crusade wound up getting him targeted by the police, who launched a manhunt for the “weird and wonderful being”. World famous detective Danby Druce joined the effort to corral the Winged Man and became obsessed with his quarry.
The aspect of this character’s story that reminds me of the Phantom of the Opera is the way that both the Winged Man AND Danby Druce are in love with the lovely Mary Evanson. Druce first met the young lady when he saved her from her attempted suicide. The love triangle that develops feels like Erik the Phantom (The Winged Man), Christine (Mary Evanson) and the bland Raoul (Danby Druce).
Danby even gets some unearned help from the brilliant scientist Professor Hexmider, who constructs a similar winged suit that allows the detective to battle the enigmatic and intriguing Winged Man in the air.
BATSOWL – Just five years after the world was introduced to the Winged Man, in 1918, another Amalgamated Press publication, this one called Illustrated Chips, gave readers the flying hero Batsowl. This similar character in a winged tech-suit also operated out of an underground lair, in his case located underneath Batsowl Abbey.
Batsowl differed from the Winged Man in many ways. For one thing his flying suit also came with a mask which held a diamond with an electric light behind it on the forehead and, combined with a hand-held flashlight (torch to the Brits), let him illuminate the night.
For another thing, Batsowl had a well developed secret identity. He was really the handsome Desmond Devance, the 20th Earl of Batsowl. Desmond waged his war on evil to try to atone for the actions of his villainous ancestor Alwyn Devance, who murdered a woman by the altar in Batsowl Abbey five hundred years earlier.
Alwyn was the Devance who first invented the flying technology which is the family’s secret, but he also brought upon the Devances a curse from Abbot Anselm in his righteous fury over the murder committed by Alwyn.
As Desmond Devance, this figure pretended to be meek and aristocratically aloof, to help avoid suspicion that he might be the winged avenger of the nighttime sky. He hoped to restore the family honor in order to free his daughter Lady Rosalie Devance from the Curse of Batsowl.