Category Archives: Superheroes

GHOST RIDER: THE MOST HALLOWEENISH COVERS

Halloween Month hurls toward its conclusion with another seasonal post. The Marvel Comics juggernaut is THE power in pop culture these days so here is another look at one of their horror characters from their 1970s heyday.

spotlight 5MARVEL SPOTLIGHT Vol 1 #5 (August 1972)

Title: Ghost Rider

Villain: Satan

Comment: Ah, the sweet simplicity of the original Ghost Rider stories! Daredevil biker Johnny Blaze makes a deal with the devil: Johnny’s soul in exchange for Satan curing the cancer in the body of Blaze’s mentor “Crash” Simpson.

We all know how deals with the devil go, and Satan cures Simpson’s cancer but the aging daredevil motorcyclist dies in an accident during his next show. When Satan comes to claim Johnny’s soul, Blaze’s true love Roxanne Simpson (Crash’s daughter) interferes and negates the infernal contract.

The stymied devil can’t take Johnny to Hell but can inflict a kind of “Hell in nightly installments” on him by cursing him to become a monstrous fiery-skulled figure every night from then on.

NOTE: Convoluted additions about soul-reaping or about Johnny’s Ghost Rider form really being a specific demon named Zarathos, or past Ghost Riders did not come along til years later. The first Ghost Rider movie should have kept it simple like this and started adding the complications beginning with the second film. Continue reading

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EARLY BLADE THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

Blade black & whiteAs Halloween Month continues here’s a look at the very early years of  the Marvel Comics horror character Blade the Vampire Slayer, who debuted in 1973. In retrospect I prefer the original “look” for this dynamic figure: the long coat, the bandolier of six teakwood knives and the green-hued “photo-optic visor” aka goggles aka biker shades. I’ve never liked swords for vampire slaying so the wooden knives used by Blade back then appeal to me more.

We’ll skip over the stories about Eric Dickersonalleged legal fights with the original creator of Blade, fights that eventually necessitated the changes in Blade’s look and trademark weaponry. Suffice it to say that the 1970s Blade strikes me as an “Indiana Jones of horror” with a vintage Pulp Magazine vibe. And football player Eric Dickerson would have made a perfect cinematic Blade if a movie had been done in the early 1980s, right after Raiders of the Lost Ark. With Pam Grier as Safron Caulder and Oliver Reed as Deacon Frost.

Drac 10TOMB OF DRACULA Vol 1 #10 (July 1973)

Title: His Name Is … Blade

Comment: The very first appearance of the original Blade came in the 10th issue of Tomb of Dracula, along with Ghost Rider one of Marvel’s longest lasting horror comics of the 1970s. The title villain/ antihero was THE Dracula from Bram Stoker’s novel.

Blade made his badass debut by saving innocent British victims from three vampires who served Dracula. After killing the trio, Blade trailed Drac himself to a luxury liner loaded with the wealthy and the powerful. The vampire king planned to use the partying passengers as a blood supply AND as a cadre of Renfields to further his plans.

Eric Dickerson 2Our vampire slayer arrived in time to save all but a few of the “beautiful people” from Dracula.

After a battle royal between Blade and Drac, the Count escaped while Blade evacuated the surviving passengers to save them from explosives planted on the ship by one of Dracula’s thralls.    Continue reading

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THE SUPERHERO PANTHEON OF GREAT PUBLICATIONS

Superhero cosplay has begun to rival and even exceed monster cosplay at Halloween time. Here’s another forgotten pantheon of superheroes.

Fire Eater 2FIRE-EATER

Secret Identity: Mike O’Malley

First Appearance: Choice Comics #1 (December 1941)

Origin: Circus performer Mike O’Malley devised special pills that gave him superpowers then set out to fight crime as the superhero called Fire-Eater.

Fire EaterPowers: Fire-Eater, as his name would imply, could “eat” and suck in large flames as well as blow fire-blasts from his mouth. He was also impervious to fire and was skilled at unarmed combat.

Comment: This hero performed his circus tricks AND fought crime under his masked identity. As Mike O’Malley he kept a low profile and had a girlfriend named Louise Peters, the Head Nurse at State Hospital.

Madame StrangeMADAME STRANGE

Secret Identity: Never revealed

First Appearance: Great Comics #1 (November 1941)

Origin: Scientifically developed to fight spies and other forces of evil, Madame Strange went on missions to safeguard America.

She often traveled under the guise of a reporter.

Madame Strange 2Powers: Madame Strange was strong enough to rip iron bars out of a jail cell’s window, was bullet-proof and could run at greater than human speed. She was also an expert at unarmed combat and was skilled with a riding crop AND at knife-throwing. In addition this superheroine had her own personal plane from which she could drop bombs.

Comment: In her very first story Madame Strange was already a well-known figure. She stopped a ring of Imperial Japanese agents from sabotaging Pearl Harbor, eerily prescient since this would have been written just a few months before the real-life attack on that naval station. Continue reading

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THE FIRST TWENTY X-MEN STORIES FROM THE 1960s

Here’s another blog post for this superhero-hungry world:

Xmen 1THE X-MEN Vol 1 #1 (September 1963)

Title: X-Men

Villain: Magneto 

Synopsis: In Upstate New York, at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, a covert institution for mutants, Professor X (Charles Xavier, PhD) gives his five students a classical education in addition to secretly training them on the use of their mutant powers.

Magneto, a powerful mutant villain, uses his massive magnetic powers to seize Cape Citadel military base in the U.S. He issues public threats to Homo Sapiens about the growing numbers of mutants, or Homo Superior, being born each year.

Assuming normal humans will hound them to extinction out of fear, he is pre-emptively declaring war on humanity in the name of mutant kind, with the seizure of Cape Citadel the opening action of that war.

NOTE: Despite later retcons to Magneto’s personality, in these early appearances his thoughts make it clear he is just using his claims of “protecting” mutants as the excuse to realize his ambition to take over the world.

Professor X, saddened that humanity’s First Contact with the mutants among them is a hostile encounter, sends his X-Men to drive Magneto out of Cape Citadel. Continue reading

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NOVELTY PRESS SUPERHERO PANTHEON

You demanded more superheroes, you got ’em! Here is Balladeer’s Blog’s look at the neglected figures from Novelty Press.

TWISTER

Secret Identity: Bob Sanders

First Appearance: Blue Bolt Comics Vol 2 #1 (June 1941)

Origin: After getting carried up into the funnel of a tornado which killed his parents, teenager Bob Sanders learned he had somehow (you know comic books) acquired tornado powers. He donned a costume and fought crime as the superhero called Twister.

Twister 2Powers: Twister could spin around so quickly that he could generate, control and become part of a tornado strong enough to send cars and trucks flying. By punching villains while spinning around he could k-o them through walls. In addition, by breathing in a lungful of air, this hero could exhale it as gale force winds.

Somehow, Twister’s powers enabled him to construct and use a Cyclone Gun which shot intensely powerful bursts of air.   

Comment: At one point a Twister story tried justifying this hero’s powers by saying he was a direct descendant of Odysseus. But all Odysseus did was temporarily control the winds in a bag as a gift from the god Aeolus. Why didn’t they say Twister was descended from Aeolus instead?

White StreakWHITE STREAK

Secret Identity: Manowar/ Dan Sanders

First Appearance: Target Comics #1 (February 1940)

Origin: Manowar, called White Streak by the media, was an android left behind by the lost civilization of Utopia thousands of years ago. The Utopians destroyed themselves with war so they left their super-powered android in suspended animation to come to the aid of the next civilization if war caused by greed again threatened destruction.

White Streak picWhen the South American dictator Don Ruizen of Bolita went to war with his neighboring countries over oil, the Utopian robot Manowar activated itself in the volcano where it was hidden. After defeating the armies of the warmongering Don Ruizen, the android moved to America, from then on battling the forces of evil as White Streak.

Powers: White Streak had superhuman strength, invulnerability, the power of flight and could shoot rays of white energy from his eyes. That last ability prompted the press to give him his nom de guerre.

Comment: This android superhero was programmed to blend in with human beings and adopt the language and customs around him. He accomplished this so well he often used the secret identity Dan Sanders, FBI Agent.      Continue reading

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LONDON: NEGLECTED SUPERHERO FROM WORLD WAR TWO

This blog post was requested by several readers of Balladeer’s Blog. They loved the concept of Jerry Robinson’s Golden Age character from Lev Gleason’s publications and wanted to know more about him, so here is a look at ALL the stories in his sadly brief run. 

London picLONDON

Origin: While covering the Blitz during World War Two, suave newscaster Marc Holmes decided that his fellow Brits needed extra inspiration to maintain their spirit of defiance against the Nazis. He adopted the costumed identity of London and battled Axis Agents.

Powers: London was in the peak of human condition and excelled at unarmed combat. He also possessed the agility of an Olympic gymnast. In addition, this hero was a crack shot with the handgun he carried.

Daredevil 2STORY ONE – Daredevil Comics #2 (August 1941)

Title: London

Synopsis: Despite this being the very first published adventure of the superhero called London, the story establishes that he is already well-known from his escapades during the actual Blitz, September 1940 to May 1941. In his secret identity of Marc Holmes, our main character plugs his alter ego’s heroics during his nightly radio broadcasts.

mascot sword and gun picMeanwhile, Dian, a fictional niece of Winston Churchill escapes a Concentration Camp in Nazi-occupied Holland with a dissident educator named Franz. When the pair arrive in the city of London their escape is covered by Marc Holmes, an old friend of the niece and of Churchill.

Under cover of a blackout during a Luftwaffe bombing raid, Churchill himself is kidnapped by the treacherous Franz and some fellow spies. Our hero London battles and captures a few of the spies but three of them get away with the Prime Minister still their captive. Continue reading

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THE FIRST TWENTY HULK STORIES FROM THE 1960s

I could never do enough superhero posts to keep up with the demand! Here is another one combining my Top Twenty for 2020 theme – the first 20 Incredible Hulk stories from the 1960s.

Hulk 1THE INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #1 (May 1962)

Title: The Hulk

Villain: The Gargoyle (Yuri Topolov)

Synopsis: In the desert far outside Desert Base in the American Southwest, Dr Bruce Banner’s creation – the first Gamma Radiation Bomb – is being tested. General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross keeps leaning on Bruce to hurry with his preparations while his daughter, Bruce’s girlfriend Betty Ross, tries to calm him down. 

mascot sword and gun picShortly before the bomb can be set off, Banner sees through his binoculars that a teenager (Rick Jones) has driven into the dangerous area on a dare. He tells his assistant Igor Drenkov to halt the countdown but Drenkov, a Soviet Agent, spitefully decides not to. Bruce gets Rick Jones to a bunker just in time but is caught in the Gamma Bomb’s explosion himself.

Rick gets Banner back to Desert Base where they pretend Bruce also got to the bunker in time since Bruce doesn’t trust others to study the Gamma Radiation’s effect on him. That night Dr Banner transforms into a huge, hate-filled gray (yes, gray) monster. Continue reading

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FICTION HOUSE SUPERHERO PANTHEON

Another post for this superhero-crazed world. It’s a look at another forgotten pantheon of heroes.

LIGHTNING

Secret Identity: Jeff Larkin

First Appearance: Jumbo Comics #14 (April 1940)

Origin: Jeff Larkin, the son of an American Army General, secretly invented a belt which, when activated, gave its wearer super powers. He donned a costume and fought the forces of evil as the superhero called Lightning.

Powers: Lightning’s power belt enabled him to fly and to shoot lightning bolts from his hands. It also granted him a degree of super-strength.

Comment: When the U.S. entered World War Two Fred Larkin enlisted in a unit under his father’s command, but kept his identity as Lightning a secret.  

COMMANDO RANGER

Secret Identity: Never revealed but created by Jock Lawrence, which would have been a great name for him.

First Appearance: Rangers Comics #13

Origin: Prior to becoming Commando Ranger in 1943 this man had been an Olympic boxer, had climbed Mount Everest, had helped against the plague in the Congo and had served as a fighter pilot in another nation’s armed forces before the U.S. entered World War Two.

He then spent two years studying under the Lamas in Tibet, mastering their disciplines. Returning to the war, he was assigned to serve as a masked and costumed operative against the Nazis on mainland Europe. This assignment was given to him by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

Powers: Commando Ranger had perfect bodily control, could endure incredible levels of pain and was honed to the peak of physical condition. He had mastered all methods of unarmed combat and was an expert with guns, explosives and especially his winged knife.

Comment: Commando Ranger’s calling cards bore the sign of the winged dagger, the same logo on his costume. This hero’s love interest was a mysterious French woman who led the French Underground unit called La Bastille.    Continue reading

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THE FIRST TWENTY THOR STORIES FROM THE 1960s

The world cannot get enough superhero articles. Readers demanded another one so here is a look at the first 20 stories of the Marvel Comics version of Thor.

Thor 1JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY Vol 1 #83 (August 1962)

Title: Thor The Mighty and the Stone Men

Villains: Kronans (Stone Men)

Synopsis: Brilliant and famous doctor and surgeon, Donald Blake MD, has traveled to Norway on vacation. While he is there an alien race of Stone Men called the Kronans, using Saturn as a staging post, invade the Earth.

The lame (as in limping with a cane) Doctor Blake hides in a nearby cave where he finds a hidden chamber containing an alternate walking stick. An inscription on the cavern wall indicates that the stick can bestow the power of the Norse thunder god Thor.

When Blake fails to move rocks which have fallen across the cave entrance by using the walking stick as a lever, he lashes out in frustration, striking the bottom of the stick against the rocks. This triggers his transformation into Thor while the enchanted walking stick becomes Thor’s legendary hammer Mjolnir.

NOTE: As Thor’s adventures went along, Marvel Comics ultimately decided that Donald Blake really WAS the ancient Norse god Thor, but that his father Odin had wiped his memory and forced him to live as the lame Donald Blake to teach the cocky god humility. The lesson apparently learned, we’re told Odin made Blake take this Norway vacation so he could find the cane/ Mjolnir and return to being Thor in order to save Earth from the Stone Men. 

Back to the story, as Thor, our hero easily removed all the rocks blocking the cave entrance and watched as Earth fighter jets were driven off by the Kronan spaceships, whose force fields protected them from all the Earthlings’ missiles and bombs. Continue reading

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THE FIRST TWENTY IRON MAN STORIES FROM THE 1960s

Robert Downey Jr as Iron ManBalladeer’s Blog continues its Top Twenty Lists for 2020 while simultaneously providing another item for this superhero-hungry world. It’s the first 20 Iron Man stories, beginning in 1963.

Iron Man 1TALES OF SUSPENSE Vol 1 #39 (March 1963)

Title: Iron Man Is Born

Villains: Wong Chu and his Red Guerillas

Synopsis: Tony Stark is living the dream. He’s a multi-millionaire, women consider him very handsome and he has all the inventive genius of a new Thomas Edison but without the litigiousness. He has multiplied the fortune he inherited from his parents many times over through the value of his tech and weapons creations instead of through the ruthless big business savvy shown by his late father.

After Tony demonstrates his latest inventions for the Defense Department to an audience of Generals he is flown to Vietnam to watch his devices in action in the field. This will help him refine them for the front-line troops.

While accompanying a squad of soldiers through the jungle, Stark accidentally triggers a Viet Cong booby trap and the subsequent explosion kills his soldier escorts. Tony himself is left with a piece of shrapnel lodged dangerously near his heart and inching closer by the day.

Wong Chu, the North Vietnamese Warlord, is holding the injured millionaire captive in the village he rules with an iron fist. Wong Chu knows that Tony Stark has only days to live but lies to him and tells him he will set him free if he devises a high-tech weapon for him and his VC forces. Continue reading

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