This weekend’s light-hearted and escapist superhero blog post looks at the neglected superheroes of Holyoke Comics.
Secret Identity: Drake Gorden, MD
Origin: While on a passenger ship in the South Seas Dr Drake Gorden was swept overboard during a typhoon. He washed ashore on an uncharted island inhabited only by a monk formerly from Tibet. The monk decreed Doctor Gorden to be worthy of the Egyptian black diamond he guarded. That jewel bestowed super-powers on Gorden, who returned to the U.S. and fought crime as Doctor Diamond.
First Appearance: Cat-Man Comics # 1 (May 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1942.
Powers: The black jewel granted Doctor Diamond the strength of fifty men and an impressive degree of invulnerability.
Comment: This hero’s foes included Najar the android and the mad scientist Doctor Borcia. Doctor Diamond is one of those Golden Age superheroes who had potential but whose career was tantalizingly short. In my opinion heroes with actual super-powers are preferable to that period’s endless array of ordinary people who simply donned a costume and fought crime.
Secret Identity: Katie Conn
Origin: When she was eleven years old Katie’s parents died in a train accident. She was taken in by her criminally-minded uncle who trained her in acrobatics, unarmed combat and cat-burglary. By age twelve the girl was an expert thief until Cat-Man (Holyoke’s most famous original superhero) nabbed Katie’s nefarious uncle and adopted her. (And you thought Batman’s relationship with Robin was questionable.)
The strong-willed girl donned a costume of her own and – calling herself Kitten – was determined to fight crime as Cat-Man’s sidekick. The superhero tried to dissuade Katie but her independence and streetwise nature made that impossible. Deciding she was safer working at his side he accepted her as his partner.
First Appearance: Cat-Man Comics # 1 (May 1941). Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1946.
Powers: Unlike Cat-Man, Kitten had no super-powers. However, she was more agile than an Olympic gymnast and was in peak condition for a female her age. In addition her cat-burglary skills and street-fighting abilities made her a very capable superheroine. In a few stories her gloves were clawed.
Comment: Kitten often teamed up in separate adventures with Mickey Matthews, the boy sidekick of the Holyoke superhero called the Deacon. The pair fought criminals and Nazi supervillains as the Little Leaders.
Secret Identity: Never revealed.
Origin: An unnamed man jumps off a bridge intent on killing himself. A scientist named Dr Rietz saves him from drowning in the river and takes him to his secret laboratory. Since the man clearly wanted to end his own life Rietz has no qualms about using him as a human guinea pig to test his new Mind Ray.
The good doctor subjects the man to a twenty-hour bombardment but is betrayed by his assistant Sango, who wants the Mind Ray for a foreign power. Sango shoots Rietz and escapes. The dying scientist tells the now-conscious mystery man that the Mind Ray gave him “the power to perform miracles.” The man adopts the name Mister Miracle and sets out to fight the forces of evil, beginning with Sango.
First Appearance: Captain Fearless Comics # 1 (August 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came later that year.
Powers: Mister Miracle could teleport, transform into his costume and back into his street clothing at will, could levitate large objects and rearrange molecules in solids, liquids and gasses to make entirely different objects. He could also transform unliving material into various forms of animal or plant life.
Comment: Obviously this superhero should not be confused with the DC Comics hero also called Mr Miracle.
Secret Identity: None was ever provided
Origin: No origin was ever provided, either. From his very first adventure Volton the Electric Man (not “Electrical Man” like in some sources) stood on guard atop fictional Empire City’s Great Empire City Building. When needed he would spring to life and fight crime, Bund members and other forces of evil.
First Appearance: Cat-Man Comics #8 (March 1942). His final Golden Age appearance came later that same year.
Powers: Volton possessed super-strength and super-vision, could fly and could shoot lightning bolts from his hands. In addition he could convert his entire body or just parts of it into a big lightning bolt and stretch like Mr Fantastic or Plastic Man. He could also sense the level of electrical power being used in Empire City.
Volton’s biggest weakness was being hit with a grounded wire. This would cause him to short-circuit and be rendered inert for a time.
Comment: Based on his very nature, Volton was likely an android or an alien life form. He would stand unmoving like the Tin Man until witnessing an event requiring his intervention.
Volton did, however, display the typically sarcastic sense of humor of many 1940s superheroes. He was not averse to casually killing his adversaries.
THE RED CROSS
Secret Identity: Peter Hall, MD
Origin: Doctor Peter Hall was a physician serving in the field with America’s armed forces in World War 2. Outraged at Axis atrocities in the Philippines he vowed to take action but, constrained by his Hippocratic Oath he employed the VERY intellectually dishonest strategy of adopting a second, costumed identity.
Calling himself the Red Cross he took to battling both the Germans and the Japanese – with his physical abilities and with guns. (I’m guessing his motto was “First I’ll INFLICT their wounds, then I’ll HEAL their wounds!”) Not even his closest aide – Nurse Lucy Feller – suspected that the dedicated field surgeon Dr Hall was also the homicidally violent Red Cross. You’d think the big Rx prescription logo on the superhero’s chest might have given her a clue.
First Appearance: Captain Aero Comics # 8 (September, 1942). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1946.
Powers: The Red Cross was in peak physical condition and was exceptionally agile. He was also an expert at unarmed combat and a proficient marksman with whatever guns he took from his opponents in battle. He often used his physician’s expertise in the human anatomy to target vulnerable points on his opponents’ bodies, inflicting maximum damage in the shortest amount of time.
Comment: Part Zorro, part Audie Murphy and part Dr Cox from Scrubs, the Red Cross is a fairly unique costumed figure. The built-in spiritual conflict between a man of healing and a death-dealing warrior in one man was – for obvious reasons – glossed over and ignored in the 1940s. Years ago I would have loved to see what Frank Miller would have done with this character. Set in the Pacific Theater I could envision a limited series fusing elements of Ronin with Miller’s tormented depiction of Daredevil.
And on a lighter note, there’s just something about a superhero who wears jodhpurs, a mask with a red cross on the forehead AND an Rx logo on his chest.
Secret Identity: Linda Masters
Origin: When Linda’s husband was murdered and the police were as clueless as they often are in fiction and real life she determined to take action herself. Putting on a black costume the literal widow Mrs Masters adopted the nom de guerre Black Widow to bring her beloved husband’s killers to justice. Needless to say she decided to continue fighting crime even when her revenge quest was complete.
First Appearance: Cat-Man Comics # 1 (May 1941). Nineteen Forty-One was also her final Golden Age appearance.
Powers: The Black Widow was as strong as a human female could possibly be and was incredibly agile. She was an expert at unarmed combat but was also a deadly shot with her handgun. She had apparent psychic powers which warned her of approaching danger (decades before Spider-Man’s “spider-sense”) and also may have enhanced her uncanny detective skills.
Comment: With her willingness to kill, her black outfit, her detective skills and her origin rooted in a desire for vengeance the Black Widow was an ideal female counterpart to the Golden Age Batman.
Obviously she should not be confused with the Marvel Comics figure called the Black Widow, modern day or Golden Age.
THE DUKE OF DARKNESS
Secret Identity: Danny “Paddy” Sullivan, police officer.
Origin: Heroic police officer Danny Sullivan is killed in the line of duty. He rises from the dead as an avenging
spectre ghost and remains on Earth to continue protecting his city from the forces of evil, both scientific and supernatural.
First Appearance: Triple Threat Comics # 1 (October 1945). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1946.
Powers: The Duke of Darkness could fly, turn invisible, turn intangible and had super-strength. When in solid form battling adversaries he was vulnerable to being rendered unconscious but was in no danger of being killed since he was already dead. He could grow to enormous size but his strength decreased the larger he grew. He could shrink as well, with his strength increasing the smaller he became.
Comment: The Duke of Darkness was an obvious variation on undead superheroes like the Spectre and Mister Justice. He battled foes like Professor Evil, a mad scientist who had likewise returned from the dead and Mr Slumber, a horse-mounted supernatural figure who ruled the realm of nightmares, decades before Doctor Strange’s supervillain called Nightmare.
When the Duke of Darkness wasn’t in action he stayed in an underground cell at police headquarters, kept there by his former police captain, who did not know the Duke was Danny Sullivan. In fact the captain thought the Duke of Darkness was a harmless nutcase better kept off the streets. Naturally, as a ghost, the Duke could leave the cell whenever he wished. A new adaptation of this character would probably have the morgue at police HQ be the Duke’s lair between adventures.
Secret Identity: None was ever revealed.
Origin: Even this enigmatic figure’s origin remained unknown, just like MLJ’s hero the Marvel (qv).
First Appearance: Terrific Comics #1 (January 1944). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1946.
Powers: Mister Nobody could teleport, turn invisible, time-travel, read minds, was immortal and had limited hypnotic powers.
Comment: Long before the Phantom Stranger there was Mister Nobody! Creative teams in the 1940s couldn’t quite get a handle on this promising character, nor decide if his powers were scientific – as in based on science of the far future or an alien race – or supernatural – as in sorcery or Spectre-like powers from “God.”
Sometimes fairly active in the stories featuring him and other times just hovering on the fringes, pulling the strings of evildoers to shepherd them to their doom, Mister Nobody was part superhero and part anthology comic book narrator.
Was he acting on behalf of forces from the future to make sure selected individuals were brought to justice or was he doing “God’s Work” to punish the evil? Hell, sometimes he seemed to be acting like a Cosmic Entrapment Agent or a Deputy Tempter for Satan himself. The mystery probably lends this figure more glamour than he deserves.
Secret Identity: Priscilla Carbon
Origin: When Priscilla Carbon was a child, an African witch doctor gave her a necklace of black pearls. Many years later, Priscilla realized the necklace was magical and could grant her super powers. She adopted the costumed identity of Marvel Maid to battle the forces of evil.
First Appearance: Fat and Slat #2 (Fall 1947). Her final appearance was also 1947.
Powers: Marvel Maid possessed massive super-strength, could fly and was super-fast.
Comment: Marvel Maid debuted in the Comics McCormick feature, which I like to think of as a rotating “pilot show” for new superheroes and superheroines. Her secret identity Priscilla Carbon was a reporter.
Secret Identity: Joe Smith, cab driver
Origin: Alias X was a cabdriver who was forced at gunpoint to be the getaway driver for a gang of murderous bank robbers. After he got the crooks to their destination they knocked him out and left evidence incriminating him in their robbery and the murder. He spent two years in prison before escaping with a group of other prisoners.
Adopting the pseudonym “Joe Smith” (ingenious) he became a cab driver and – in his masked identity of Alias X fought regular criminals as well as super-villains while trying to compile evidence to clear his real identity of the crime of which he was unjustly found guilty. He refused to kill the criminals he faced.
First Appearance: Captain Fearless Comics #1 (August 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1944.
Powers: Alias X was in peak physical condition and was an expert at unarmed combat. He was adept at using his cab driver’s-eye-view of the city to anticipate and/or solve crimes.
Comment: In the debut story of Alias X readers are told he’s been active for a year and is finally taking into his confidence the police commissioner and the publisher of the Gazette newspaper. They agree to covertly help him in his crusade with the understanding that he will tell them his real name once he has cleared himself.
Alias X fought gangsters, supervillains, Nazi saboteurs, U-Boat raiding crews, mad scientists and the occassional supernatural foes like mummies. After subduing his criminal adversaries this hero would leave behind a calling card for the arresting cops reading “With compliments, Alias X.”
Holyoke Comics had two similar characters to Alias X. 1. THE GARGOYLE (1942), aka crime reporter Dan Collins who got framed for murder by some crooks he was investigating and took it on the lam, dressing up as the masked vigilante called the Gargoyle. He wore all-green including a top hat with cape and used his fists, his smarts and two hand-guns to fight crime while trying to clear himself.
2. THE RECKONER (1944-1946) – Cab driver Matty Martin aka Michael Shayne often fought crime as the Reckoner. In top-hat, tails and a black mask he and his boy sidekick Chipper would take on the gangster element but with never any reason provided and no origin story to explain the hero’s background. The Reckoner had no super-powers and would just use his fists and a few kicks here and there to take down “the robber barons of gangdom” as the comic book said. Hey, maybe Alias X just changed superhero names like Hank Pym.
Secret Identity: Vera Nikitina
Origin: While our Russian heroine Vera’s father was off fighting the Nazis she tried to keep the rest of the family alive despite the German army being at large. Wounded while trying to save her captured family Vera was nursed back to health and became Guerilla Girl, fighting the Nazi forces like a Russian Hunterwali.
First Appearance: Blue Beetle #22 (June 1943). Her final Golden Age appearance came the same year.
Powers: Guerilla Girl was in peak physical condition and became extraordinarily skilled at both armed and unarmed combat. In addition she mastered guerilla survival techniques and strategies like a born genius.
Comment: A Soviet version of the Indian heroine Hunterwali would have been an interesting change of pace in a Golden Age heroine so it’s a shame Guerilla Girl never got to fulfill her potential.
After World War Two ended, Guerilla Girl could have continued to thrive in Golden Age comics by fighting the tyranny of her Soviet countrymen.
Secret Identity: Tom Kenny, farm hand
Origin: While working the fields on a farm in the mid-western United States, Tom Kenny was scooped up and carried aloft by a freak cyclone. After several hours of exposure to the elemental windstorm the man finally dropped into a town he did not recognize.
In addition to granting Tom superpowers the mysterious storm caused him to lose much of his memory outside of his first name. He could not recall where he was from or who his relatives were or if he had known anything about the odd cyclone. Adopting the last name Kenny the amnesiac wandered from town to town and city to city trying to learn about his past.
During his quest he would battle any evils that he came across under the superhero name Tornado Tom.
First Appearance: Cyclone Comics #1 (June, 1940). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1941.
Powers: Tornado Tom, the Human Whirlwind, was endowed with incredible super-speed. He stands out from other super-speedsters in comic books in that it was understood from the beginning that super-strength was a necessary side-effect of his super-speed powers.
Tornado Tom had the strength of 12 men, which enabled his body to survive the rigors of moving at super-speeds. This hero’s main weakness was the indoors. Too much time away from the elements would sap his powers but – even if he just opened a window – he would return to full power.
Comment: I like the novelty of a superhero who doesn’t have a particular city as their base of operations and who wanders the country. The added intrigue of his amnesia provided a lot of potential that just never got the chance to be fulfilled in his short run.
That storyline could have yielded many twists, deceptions and surprises about both Tornado Tom AND the mysterious storm that gave him his superpowers.
Secret Identity: Percy Van Norton, playboy millionaire.
Origin: Easygoing playboy Percy Van Norton, having already conquered most sports and many women, was looking for new challenges. He acquired an ancient book of yoga techniques and, by following those techniques and practicing strict ascetism for years he gained extraordinary super-powers.
Van Norton devised a costume, took on the superhero name Strongman and battled the forces of evil while hiding his true nature behind a foppish and hedonistic exterior.
First Appearance: Crash Comics #1 (May 1940). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1941.
Powers: Strongman possessed the strength of one hundred elephants, the speed of a race car and skin as impervious as rhino hide. He carried a long rope with a grappling hook into action with him.
Comment: As Percy Van Norton our hero was pretty clearly fond of threesomes or more since he always traveled with multiple beautiful ladies. As Strongman he often fought entire nations led by pastiches of Stalin and Hitler.
Secret Identity: Craig Williams, FBI Agent
Origin: Federal Agent Craig Williams grew frustrated with the way too many slick criminals and supervillains were able to wriggle free from any legal charges. When faced with such dead-ends in the course of his duties he took to wearing a costume and calling himself the Hood. In that guise he brought down criminals who could not be brought to justice by conventional means.
First Appearance: Cat-Man Comics #5 (December 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1945.
Powers: The Hood could fly via his top secret anti-gravity technology. He was also in peak physical condition with extraordinary skill at unarmed combat and the agility of an acrobat. In his final few Golden Age stories his power of flight was discarded with no explanation given.
Comment: The Hood’s creative teams were pretty slipshod with his secret identity – at times giving his secret identity as Craig Wood, Craig Reynolds or Tom Wood and with a variety of military ranks since World War Two was raging. Obviously the easiest shortcut verisimilitude-wise would be to pretend that Agent Craig Williams was often on undercover assignments using different identities.
The Hood also went through two girlfriends, Betty Lou and Rae. This hero had some of the most colorful supervillains at Holyoke, including Death’s Head, Fire-Eater, Lady Satan, the Red Lash and the Vulture’s Claw.
Secret Identity: None. He was publicly known as Blaze Baylor.
Origin: When firefighter Blaze Baylor’s father Smokey Baylor (Don’t even ask about his mother Backdraft Baylor or his sister Four-Alarm) was murdered in a fire intentionally set by an arsonist he vowed to get revenge.
Outfitting himself with his own ingenious high-tech equipment Blaze brought his father’s killer to justice and then decided to stay in action as a costumed hero battling arsonists and working to save lives at the site of the city’s fires.
First Appearance: Cat-Man Comics #1 (May 1941). His fourth and final Golden Age appearance came late that Fall.
Powers: Blaze Baylor was in top condition and was highly skilled at unarmed combat. He wore a fire-proof and bullet-proof costume which he created as an alloy of impervium and asbestos (which he called Imperbestos).
In addition he wielded a specially-designed staff/billy club which shot a wire with grappling hook, shot fire-extinguishing foam and – oddly enough – was also a flamethrower. Despite this weapon’s shape he called it his “chemical gun.”
Comment: Blaze’s closest ally in the fire department was the fire engine driver named Chuck. If adapting this figure today I would present him as a kind of commercial-themed hero, making millions from selling specialized fire-fighting equipment that gets publicized by his daring heroics. Think of a land-based Red Adair with overtones of Ozymandias … and Evel Knievel.
DIANA THE ARCHER
Secret Identity: War correspondent Diana Archer. (Yet even SHE thinks people are stupid for not figuring out that whole Superman/Clark Kent thing.)
Origin: Unknown beyond the obvious fact that – in her costumed identity – she works for British Intelligence with her role as a newswoman serving as a cover for her superheroics.
First Appearance: Terrific Comics #3 (June 1944). Her final Golden Age appearance came later that same year.
Powers: Diana was in peak physical condition and possessed the maximum strength a human female could possess. In addition she was more agile than an Olympic gymnast and was a champion archer.
Most of Diana’s arrows had normal arrowheads but a few would sport the usual trick-items like grappling hooks, dull edges for concussive impact, miniature explosives, etc, just like those employed by Alias the Spider, the Red Archer and every other bow and arrow-oriented superhero over the decades. However, since it was wartime Diana used her arrows to much deadlier effect.
Comment: Diana’s most active period was spent as a partner with the American superhero/intelligence operative Boomerang (qv) in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War Two. The two were romantically involved.
Given how neglected the China-Burma-India Theater is in WW2 I wish Diana’s adventures had gone on much longer. At any rate she should not be confused with Diana the Huntress, a different Golden Age superheroine.
Secret Identity: Jack Wayne, Berlin Correspondent for the New York Globe.
Origin: When America entered World War 2 on the Allied side Jack Wayne and his editor “Pop” Simms were seized by the Gestapo. Since Jack had been a Flying Ace for the Americans during World War One the Gestapo assumed he and Pop were spies and tortured them for information.
Pop was killed by the torture and Jack, though blinded by his interrogator’s whip, managed to escape. He was rescued by the Underground Society, a secret resistance group led by Dr Dismal who – despite his name – was not a supervillain. Dr Dismal ran his resistance group from a secret base far beneath Gestapo Headquarters and, noting that Jack Wayne’s optic nerves were not entirely dead, devised special glasses and a visor he could wear that allowed him to see in daylight OR at night.
Jack donned a costume and under the nom de guerre Blackout joined Dr Dismal’s band of rebels, terrorizing the Nazis by night.
First Appearance: Cat-Man Comics #10 (May 1942). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1944.
Powers: Blackout was in peak physical condition and had greater agility than an Olympic gymnast. He was also an expert at unarmed combat and was a skilled marksman with his sidearm by day or night. Blackout’s ability to see in complete darkness gave him an incalculable edge in his missions to thwart the Nazis and in outright combat with superior numbers of opponents.
Comment: Blackout’s romantic partner was Helga Muller, whom he rescued from his Gestapo torturer Schwabach in his origin story. A female German fighter-pilot called the Valkyrie was part of his Rogue’s Gallery of villains. Another of his foes was Baroness Brunhilde, a villainess who had an entire half of her face discolored and disfigured in monstrous fashion.
In a much later adventure Blackout went up against the Red Baron’s son, the latest Baron Von Richthofen and claimed to have flown against his father in World War One. He chided the new Baron for not being as honorable an adversary as his father was.
Secret Identity: Joan Wayne, stenographer
Origin: Believe it or not the Golden Age Miss Victory was never given an origin story explaining how she gained her super-powers. She supposedly trained in the circus when she was younger but that would not explain her paranormal abilities.
All that is known is that in Washington, DC, Foreign Trade Committee stenographer Joan Wayne grew tired of the corruption among politicians and government contractors so she donned a colorful costume and a mask to fight crime – and later, German and Japanese supervillains – as Miss Victory. This costumed figure worked for the FBI.
First Appearance: Captain Fearless #1 (August 1941). Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1946.
Powers: Miss Victory possessed massive super-strength and was invulnerable enough to survive explosions unharmed. Those readers obsessed with origins can assume she was a mutant whose powers manifested during her circus days.
Comment: Miss Victory was the first patriotic-themed superheroine, preceding even figures like Pat Patriot. Her Rogue’s Gallery of foes included Mr Axis, Dr Hoshema, the Mad Monster, the Falconer, Crusher and the Maniac of the Opera.
Joan Wayne’s secret identity was shared with her roommate Lucy Graham.
Secret Identity: David Merryweather, Private Investigator
Origin: As a child David Merryweather, his parents and his sister were traveling through the jungles of Burma when bandits attacked, robbed and killed all but David. Left to die, David instead bonded with his mystic totem animal – tigers – and survived. Over the years the boy was educated by Burmese villagers and learned to control the powers that his totem animals had granted him.
As an adult David Merryweather moved back to the United States, where he eventually became a Private Investigator. In order to battle criminals that were beyond the reach of traditional law enforcement he donned a costume and used his super-powers under the name Cat-Man.
First Appearance: Crash Comics #4 (August 1940). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1946.
Powers: Cat-Man had greater than human strength, could leap several times his own height and could see in the dark. His other senses were also enhanced, making him the ultimate urban hunter. In addition Cat-Man possessed incredible agility and speed.
The hero also had the fabled nine lives of a feline and came back to life after being killed in action. He had used up two of those nine lives as of the end of his Golden Age run.
Comment: Cat-Man was Holyoke’s most popular and longest-lasting superhero. He and his eventual sidekick Kitten (Katie Conn) are among the few characters from that company who still have a following here in the 21st Century.
The archenemy of Cat-Man and Kitten was the supervillain Doctor Macabre.
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE MEMBERS OF INFINITE HORIZON CLICK HERE
FOR THE AUSTRALIAN SUPERHERO PANTHEON CLICK HERE
FOR MORE SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE: Superheroes
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