cap original human torch and sub-marinerThis weekend’s light-hearted, escapist superhero blog post will examine the early years of Marvel Comics, which was called Timely Comics back in 1939.

Their first superhero series was titled Marvel Comics, which was changed to Marvel MYSTERY Comics beginning with the second issue.

mar c 1MARVEL COMICS Vol 1 #1 (October 1939)

Title: The Human Torch

Synopsis: A human-looking android is created by scientist Phineas Horton and made known to the public. Bizarrely enough, the android’s body bursts into flames upon contact with the air (it’s the little things, really) so this misnamed Human (Android) Torch is sealed up tight to prevent it from running amok.

1939 human torchThis figure escapes, learns to control its ability to “flame on” and “flame off”, and defeats the crime boss Anthony Sardo and his gang. When Phineas Horton hints at using his android creation to make money, the Torch rebels and flies off to function in the world on his own.

NOTE: Eventually, the Golden Age adventures of this original Human Torch would come to an end. In 1961, the renamed company Marvel Comics returned to doing superhero stories after doing monster, horror and other genres of comic books during the 1950s. Their first new superheroes were the Fantastic Four, and the company revived the superhero name the Human Torch for Johnny Storm, a member of that new team.

angel 1939 picTitle: The Angel

Synopsis: World famous adventurer and private investigator Thomas Halloway is really the costumed superhero called the Angel. New York civic leaders hire the Angel to bring down the six criminal gangs terrorizing the city.

Those gangs’ bosses are known as the Six Big Men, and some of them even try hiring the Angel to crush the gangs of the other five “Big Men” in the ultimate treachery. The Angel shuts down all six gangs, as well as their leaders. The main boss turns out to be Dr. Lang, one of the seemingly honest civic leaders.

sub mariner blueTitle: The Sub-Mariner

NOTE: The first eight pages of this Sub-Mariner story were reprinted from his adventure in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 (April 1939), with that April date making him the very first superhero to appear from the new company. (Aqua-Man would not debut until 1941.) After the eight reprinted pages, additional Sub-Mariner action was presented. Namor had blue skin like his fellow Atlanteans in his first few stories.

Synopsis: Prince Namor of Atlantis is the mutant offspring of the surface human Leonard McKenzie and Lady Fen of Atlantis. The Sub-Mariner was born in 1920, making the character 19 when this first adventure occurred. Tragically, Commander Leonard McKenzie’s research ship experimented with explosives, unintentionally killing several Atlanteans.

The sub-aquatic people fought back, despite Lady Fen’s warning that the surface armies were too numerous. The Atlanteans were defeated, suffering many dead and injured. The undersea race looks to the super-powered Namor (“Avenging Son”), who is stronger than a thousand men, to strike back at the surface world after all these years.

Sub-Mariner, accompanied by his love interest Lady Dorma, strikes several deadly blows against human submarines, planes and lighthouses. Namor then sends Dorma back to Atlantis while he continues exploring the United States. 

masked raiderTitle: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: On a ranch in Cactusville, CA during the late 1800s, Cal Brunder and his hired gunmen try to expand Cal’s ranch by terrorizing neighboring ranchers to get them to sell out to him cheap.

Jim Gardley, one of those innocent ranchers, secretly dons a full-face black mask and, with his pistol, lasso and loyal horse Lightning, battles the Brunder Gang. Calling himself the Masked Raider, our hero defeats the entire gang, then rides off to seek further adventures.

golden age ka zarTitle: Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great

NOTE: Timely Comics’ Golden Age version of Ka-Zar was based in the jungles of Africa, had greater than human strength and a lion sidekick named Zar, unlike his 1960s counterpart who was based in the Savage Land. In the future I will do an in-depth look at all of this original Ka-Zar’s adventures, so I will not be synopsizing the tales featuring him in Marvel Mystery Comics.       

mmc 2MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #2 (December 1939)

Title: Blackie Ross

Hero: Human Torch

Synopsis: Lying low, dressing in normal clothing but with his red Human Torch costume underneath, the android tries to fit in with human beings. At a racetrack, criminal leader Blackie Ross has his underlings in a plane overhead use advanced technology to sabotage Blackie’s rival racecar drivers, letting him win.

It gets so that Ross has his men cause multiple deaths on the track and the Human Torch clashes with the villain, his men and their high-tech machines.

Title: The Mysterious Enchantment

Hero: The Angel 

Synopsis: In Hong Kong, the Angel comes to the aid of a woman named Jane Framan, who is ultimately headed for Tibet in search of the Lost Treasure of Alano. Our hero protects her and her treasure map from the machinations of evil fortune hunter Mr. Lelong (no first name given).

subby underwTitle: Young Prince

Hero: Sub-Mariner

Synopsis: Prince Namor is impressed with New York City as he surreptitiously explores the area. Due to misunderstandings he destroys part of a construction site, clashes with several police officers and is tempted to take a woman as a hostage to use against the surface world.

In the end the police catch up with the woman, and Sub-Mariner slips away. 

ma raTitle: Town of Wanted Men

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: In Nevada, the Masked Raider comes across an entire town of outlaws and thwarts their attempt to rob a train of its cargo of gold.   

Title: Death-Bird Squadron

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: In this second Angel adventure for this issue, readers got a text story about the superhero helping a town in Poland defeat a high-tech Nazi air squadron.

mmc 3MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #3 (January 1940)

Title: The Menace from Mars

Hero: Human Torch

Synopsis: The Human Torch protects a scientist’s daughter from invading aliens who want her father’s formula for his new explosive, Trinitrotoluol. Just one drop of that explosive can destroy a large land mass.

ht aliensThe formula is also sought by Clifton Ritton, an unscrupulous scientist colleague of the father. He wants to steal the formula for the aliens, who will then conquer the Earth and leave him to rule over it. The Torch wins, of course.

Title: The Voodoo Sacrifice

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: In upstate New York, the Angel comes to the rescue of a young woman kidnapped by robed, white Voodoo cultists and taken to the castle (?) of their leader, the Sacred One. Angel survives the castle’s various death traps, overcomes the Sacred One’s hypnotic powers and defeats his cultists. When the villain falls to his death his cult members follow, jumping to their deaths, lemming-like. 

betty dean and Sub MarinerTitle: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner

Hero: Sub-Mariner

NOTE: This story marks the first appearance of Betty Dean, Namor’s Golden Age love interest. In the 1960s and 1970s Marvel Comics would depict the long-lived Sub-Mariner in a “just friends” relationship with the elderly Betty, and she even raises Namor’s young female cousin Namorita for him in honor of their past romance. (Namorita is different from Namora)

Synopsis: The New York authorities have spent weeks staking out various locales in order to try catching Sub-Mariner if he strikes again. They ask female police officer Betty Dean (she will become a reporter in the future) to see if she can lure Namor out by feigning drowning.

The ruse works, but when Sub-Mariner realizes Betty is trying to arrest him he picks her up and flies off with her to an uncharted island in the Atlantic Ocean. This involves him in a clash with a Nazi U-Boat and a Nazi bomber, which are attacking a British passenger ship.

Our hero destroys them both, then, at Betty’s request, he also clears away Nazi underwater mines while destroying German U-Boats that try to stop him. After Sub-Mariner hauls the British ship to safety, Betty explains the ongoing World War that is raging and appeals to Namor’s noble nature, imploring him to help the Allies against the Axis Nations. 

masked raider gunTitle: The Land Grabbers

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: Our hero and his horse Lightning arrive in Mesa Springs, Idaho, where the Masked Raider battles Jed Sirrah and his men. The villains are trying to drive the Barnes family off their land so that they can then claim the gold that the Barneses don’t know lies underground. Sirrah’s corrupt sheriff friend helps the bad guys but the Raider beats them all.     

mmc 4MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #4 (February 1940)

Title: New York Hit by Green Flame

Hero: Human Torch

NOTE: In this story, the authorities provide the Torch with a cover identity – Jim Hammond – which he will use from this point on as his alter ego. 

Synopsis: A mad scientist calling himself Dr. Manyac attacks New York City after his demands for ransom are refused. He unleashes his Green Flame army, underlings in special suits that generate green flame that is icy cold and freezes everything in their path.

green flameThe Human Torch thwarts Dr. Manyac and the Green Flame army and cements his ties to the authorities as an agent using the secret identity Jim Hammond.

butch the giantTitle: Butch the Giant

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: A gangster named Brink recruits into his mob a huge probable mutant that he names Butch. With the incredibly strong giant at their side, the Brink Gang is unstoppable as they go on a crime spree, including bank robberies and mass murder. The Angel dons his costume and clashes with Butch the Giant. After Butch falls from an extreme height to his death, the rest of the Brink Gang is captured by Angel and the cops.

ice palaceTitle: The Sub-Mariner Goes to War

Hero: Sub-Mariner

Synopsis: Prince Namor has agreed to Betty Dean’s request that he help the Allies against the Axis. We join him at the Ice Palace in the Atlantean colony near Antarctica, where he and the Holy One (Emperor Thakorr) have been developing a strategy for the war. Sub-Mariner leads a fleet of Atlantis’ flying submarines against German U-Boats, warships and fighter planes to protect British shipping. Amid heavy casualties, our hero and his Atlantean forces win the battle. 

claim jumpersTitle: The Claim Jumpers

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: The Raider has wandered into Utah, where he comes to the rescue of a few honest gold prospectors against the armed and dangerous evil claim jumpers who targeted them. Naturally our hero wins.

mmc 5MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #5 (March 1940)

Title: The Orton Medical Mission

Hero: Human Torch

Synopsis: During a blizzard, the Human Torch is called upon to help shipments of crucial medical supplies get through to the Orton Medical Mission on an island in Lake Superior. The Torch overcomes the elements and deadly criminals who want to intercept the supplies and demand an exorbitant amount of money for them. 

Title: Adventure of the Overturned Cars

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: Angel interrupts a bank robbery in progress. He overturned the getaway cars of the large gang, saved the female teller they were using as a hostage, and renders all the armed robbers unconscious for the police.

Title: On the Side of the Surface Men

Hero: Sub-Mariner

Synopsis: Prince Namor helps a crippled United States freighter, the Marie, make it to port without sinking. With that done he scours New York City looking for Betty Dean, who still occupies his mind. Sub-Mariner clashes with the authorities when he is caught visiting Betty. She convinces her superiors that Namor comes in peace this time, and he proves it by saving civilians from a flooded subway tunnel and thwarting an attempt to rob the gold and silver reserves under New York City.

Title: Mystery of the Poisoned Arrows 

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: In the wild west town of Fade-Out (state unknown), the Raider takes action when an unknown sniper is killing people from hiding using poison-tipped arrows. All clues point to a local Native American, but the Masked Raider proves that the murder spree is really the work of a man named Grimsey, who was trying to discredit the current sheriff so he and his gang could take over Fade-Out.

mmc 6MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #6 (April 1940)

Title: The Forest Fire Felons

Hero: Human Torch

Synopsis: Two anarchists set a forest on fire in Upstate New York as a distraction while they steal experimental bombs. The Human Torch comes to the area to contain the forest fire and save lives. Meanwhile, the anarchists have obtained the experimental explosives and launch them at the nearest town, destroying buildings and costing lives. The Torch captures the anarchists after putting out the fire.

Title: The Jewel Thieves

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: Angel must reveal his double identity to Mary Edwards, one of his girlfriends, when she gets caught up in his war with a ring of jewel robbers who use a cafe as their cover. By story’s end the hero has exposed the cafe, nabbed the gang’s fence and defeated the dozen or so members of the ring.

Title: The Execution of the Sub-Mariner

Hero: Sub-Mariner

Synopsis: Prince Namor and Betty Dean continue their romance as she is always at his side while he receives assorted public honors for saving the subway riders from the flood and for saving New York City’s gold and silver reserves. Amid the accompanying publicity, there is also angry sentiment that Namor should be put on trial for the damages and loss of life he caused during his attack on the city a while back.

Even though Sub-Mariner prevents gangsters from busting free the criminals that he caught in his previous adventure, a trial is demanded. Betty Dean naively convinces Namor to stand trial, but neither she nor Sub-Mariner suspect that the government is drugging his food while he is in custody. The drugs rob our hero of his incredible strength and power of flight.

Found guilty and sentenced to death, Sub-Mariner is too weak to fight his way free. On the electric chair, the charge restores his powers, and he easily fights his way free and returns to Atlantis, vowing revenge. 

Title: The Border Dictator

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: The Raider arrives in El Pinos, Texas, right on the border with Mexico. Our hero clashes with outlaw king Sam Marvin, who runs rustling, land-grabbing and bank robbing activities in the area. The Black Raider overcomes the entire gang and brings down Sam Marvin in a showdown.   

mmc 7MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #7 (May 1940)

Title: The Arsonists

Hero: Human Torch

Synopsis: The police pull Jim Hammond off of walking a beat and pit him against arsonists who have been setting their own buildings on fire in order to collect on the insurance money. The Human Torch corrals all the gang members and puts out their latest fire, which gets out of control, threatening multiple city blocks. Back at police headquarters, the Torch is told that Sub-Mariner is once again attacking New York City, setting up next issue’s battle between the two.

Title: Master of Men

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: Angel saves a young woman from being killed by two hired assassins. He learns that both the woman and her uncle are being targeted for death by the aunt, who wants them out of the way in order to claim the family inheritance. The Angel saves the uncle, and the aunt charges the police, only to be shot down.

Title: Prince Namor

Hero: Sub-Mariner has been back in Atlantis informing the Holy One (Emperor Thakorr) why he was missing for so long. His strength fully returns and the Holy One gives him permission to lead the entire Atlantean army against New York City if he wants to. Namor declines, saying he will handle this alone. Sub-Mariner arrives back in New York City, where he strikes around the Statue of Liberty, the EL Train and the Empire State Building, swatting aside all forces in his path.

Betty Dean is sent out to reason with Namor, and he stops his attack to talk with her. She fails to convince him to call off his attack and Betty warns him that the police plan to sic the Human Torch on him if he doesn’t stop. Proud and defiant, Sub-Mariner tells Betty that he’ll be back in his own time, and will deal with the Human Torch if he attacks him.

Title: Range War

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: The Raider gets caught up in a range war between the good guys at the Parker Ranch and the bad guys at the Bar-Y Ranch. In his most violent adventure yet, the Masked Raider blows away all the bad guys except their leader, whom he turns over to the good guys to do with what they please. 

mmc 8MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #8 (June 1940)

Title: The Human Torch Meets the Sub-Mariner

Synopsis: Sub-Mariner ventures out from his hideout at the Statue of Liberty and wreaks havoc at the Hudson Tunnel, the Brooklyn Zoo and the George Washington Bridge. The Human Torch finally catches up with Namor at the bridge and the two fight it out. Sub-Mariner is temporarily outdone and retreats, vowing to return soon for a rematch. 

Title: The Search for Sub-Mariner

Hero: Human Torch

Synopsis: This is a “prequel” story to the one above. We follow the Human Torch as he ignores Betty Dean’s pleas to reason with Namor and deals with the aftermath of each of Sub-Mariner’s attacks at the Hudson Tunnel and the Brooklyn Zoo before finally catching up with him at the George Washington Bridge.

Title: The Kidnapping

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: Angel rescues a young lady from a gang that kidnapped her to force her father to sell all his shares of stock in a certain company. He not only frees her but clobbers the gang and leaves them for the cops.

Title: Mexican Pete

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: The Raider tracks down a gang of bank robbers with the help of a witness to their latest caper – Pedro Ortiz aka Mexican Pete. The Masked Raider and Pete save each other’s lives during the battle with the bandits and discover that the haul from this latest robbery was a mere pittance. The robbery was done to help hide embezzlement. 

mmc 9MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol1 #9 (July 1940)

Title: The Battle of the Century

Heroes: Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch

Synopsis: Sub-Mariner wastes no time in striking again and manages to capture the Human Torch. Before he can take him to Atlantis as his prisoner, the Torch escapes. The pair clash a few more times at locations around New York City, ending when Namor entraps the Human Torch in a translite container for this issue’s cliffhanger ending.

Title: The Mad Doctor

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: Angel arrives in the European town of Carlburg, where vampires have supposedly been abducting people. Our hero breaks into a castle overlooking the town and discovers that the vampires are really high-tech thugs employed by an evil scientist. The abducted victims and some captive gorillas are being experimented on by the Mad Scientist. The Angel defeats all the henchmen, frees a beautiful female abductee and causes the mad doctor to blow up along with his castle.

Title: Shep Mason

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: The Raider rounds up a large gang of stagecoach robbers led by Shep Mason. With a little help from Mexican Pete, the entire gang is brought down in the middle of preying on gold shipments.

mmc 10MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #10 (August 1940)

Title: The Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner

Synopsis: The police surround Sub-Mariner and the captured Human Torch. Betty Dean is authorized to negotiate with Prince Namor. The authorities have agreed to let him leave unmolested and guarantee that they will take no action against Atlantis as long as Sub-Mariner leaves New York City alone. Namor agrees, frees the Human Torch and goes back to Atlantis.

Title: Gasoline Racketeers

Hero: Human Torch

Synopsis: While walking his beat in his Jim Hammond identity, our hero comes across a burning gasoline station and finds evidence that it was sabotaged. Soon the Human Torch is caught up in a citywide war between gasoline racketeers. He brings it to a close and corrals the gangsters. 

lutherTitle: The Colleen

Hero: Sub-Mariner

NOTE: This story is the first appearance of Luther Robinson and Lynne Harris, who will clash with Namor multiple times and at one point are even held prisoner in Atlantis after being surgically altered to live underwater. 

Synopsis: Luther Robinson in Maine is outraged by Sub-Mariner’s recent rampage in New York City. He and his fiance Lynne Harris feel something should be done about the threat posed by Atlanteans. They hire the ship Colleen and its crew to launch an attack on Atlantis and ride along to oversee the operation.

When they locate the undersea kingdom, they begin their attack. Sub-Mariner and several flying submarines rise to the ocean surface to battle the Colleen and at one point Namor even captures Lynn Harris. Luther uses torpedoes to stun Sub-Mariner long enough to retrieve Lynne.

angel vs subtTitles: Devils of the Mist

Hero: The Angel

Synopsis: In the Blue Ridge Mountains the Angel is helping a group of hunters track down a race of subterranean monsters who have been abducting women in recent weeks. Angel defeats a group of the monsters and follows one of them to a cave which leads to an entrance to their underground city.

Our hero finds all the missing women about to be sacrificed in a pool of lava to appease the god worshipped by the monsters. He tries to free them but is captured. He and the women are all saved when the party of hunters arrives in the underground city to rescue them.

Title: The Tax Collector

Hero: The Masked Raider

Synopsis: The Raider breaks up a false tax collection scam being run on an old west town named Two Forks.

mmc 11MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #11 (September 1940)

Title: Crime and Other Plagues

Synopsis: The Human Torch gets caught up in a plague spreading throughout New York City and fights the gangsters trying to benefit from the situation.

Title: Death to Atlantis

sub mariner posedownSynopsis: Luther Robinson and Lynne Harris, still obsessed with wiping out all Atlanteans to eliminate their threat to the surface world, have recruited a vast army of mercenary soldiers. They have equipped them with state-of-the-art weaponry and transported them to Antarctica on the Colleen to attack the Atlantean colony there.

Atlantis wins the first battle, and the next day Sub-Mariner and Lady Dorma raid the Colleen and take Lynne Harris to join Luther Robinson as a POW in the undersea colony. After that, Namor blows up the Colleen. Luther and Lynne steal an aircraft and fly off, hoping to reach Argentina.

Title: Pwon Pass

Synopsis: In the town of Pwon Pass, the Masked Raider puts an end to a rash of unsolved burglaries.

Title: Escape from Subterranea

Synopsis: The Angel survives his rematch with the Devils of the Mist and manages to escape their underground lair before it is destroyed by an earthquake and a volcanic eruption.

mmc 12MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS Vol 1 #12 (October 1940)

Title: Who is J.B.?

Synopsis: The Human Torch battles his way through various obstacles to expose New York City’s latest crimelord, known only as J.B. It turns out to be a cunning woman named Jane Bradley.

Title: Political Marriage

Synopsis: Sub-Mariner’s mother Lady Fen naively orders Prince Namor to marry Lynne Harris under the illusion that such a political marriage will bring peace between Atlantis and the surface world. First Sub-Mariner must rescue Lynne and Luther from captivity on a Nazi U-Boat.

Title: The Marsh Hag

Synopsis: The Angel saves a woman named Shirley Smith from a swamp witch who controls a hulking monster as well as vulture creatures. The Marsh Hag dies in quicksand at story’s end.

Title: Grey Gidden

Synopsis: The Masked Raider goes into action on both sides of the Rio Grande to thwart the plot of a renegade Mexican army to seize all of Texas.   

*** Marvel Mystery Comics ran for several more years, but these were its early issues.





Filed under Superheroes


  1. Once again: joyfully MIND-BLOWING amount of cool info! I’ve never heard of any of these! My favorite is Ka-Zar the Great. I look forward to You post about him!!! Thanks for the smile You just gifted! Happy Saturday!!! 💕

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