Category Archives: Superheroes

QUALITY COMICS SUPERHERO PANTHEON

mascot sword and gun pic

BALLADEER’S BLOG

Okay, regular readers definitely let me hear it over the way I skipped doing a light-hearted superhero post last weekend. I’m taking a look at the Quality Comics characters as they were in the Golden Age before they got absorbed by the black hole of DC Comics, into which the IPs of other publishers have been mangled to fit their latest “Crisis” nonsense. The days when they had the heroes of each newly acquired company set on an alternate Earth sound much more fun, but I’m not a comic book expert.

the rayTHE RAY

Secret Identity: Happy Terrill

First Appearance: Smash Comics #14 (September 1940) His final Golden Age appearance came in 1943.

Origin: While covering a scientist named Dr Styne as he tested his experimental lighter than air craft, New York Star reporter Happy Terrill rode along but got exposed to solar radiation and struck by lightning. (I hate when that happens!) This freak accident gave him superpowers with which he fought crime as the Ray.

Powers: The Ray could fly, shoot solar energy and electricity from his hands and turn his entire body into energy if needed. He drew power from light so extended periods shut off from all light sources would leave him powerless.

Comment: Like so many other Golden Age superheroes, the Ray was co-created by Will Eisner.   

lady luckLADY LUCK

Secret Identity: Brenda Banks

First Appearance: The Spirit Section (June 1940). Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1950.

Origin: Brenda Banks was the daughter of wealthy mine owner Bickford Banks. Growing bored with her luxurious life as a socialite, she secretly studied all manner of unarmed combat and donned a costume to fight the forces of evil as Lady Luck, in honor of her Irish heritage. Continue reading

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TIGRA: THE EARLY ADVENTURES

TigraPop culture at the moment remains superhero-crazed, and Balladeer’s Blog’s readers always want more articles about them. Here is a look at the early adventures of Tigra the Werewoman from the 1970s.

Before Greer Grant went on to become Tigra, she started out as the Cat, a superheroine whose escapades led to the transformation. Therefore, it will be necessary to start this blog post with the five stories featuring the Cat before she was turned into Tigra.

cat 1THE CAT Vol 1 #1 (November 1972)

Title: Beware the Claws of the Cat

Villain: Malcolm Donalbain

Synopsis: Chicago resident Greer Grant was the lab assistant for her former physics professor Dr Joanne Tumolo, who was working on an experimental method of taking women to their physical and intellectual peak. Having run out of grant money, Tumolo accepted money from eccentric investor and playboy Malcolm Donalbain.

After subjecting both Greer Grant and Donalbain’s underling Shirlee Bryant to the process, Dr Tumolo accidentally discovered that Donalbain planned to combine Joanne’s enhanced females with high-tech cat-suits which would grant them additional abilities. Through mind-controlling collars he would use his army of super-powered Cat Women to take over the United States. Dr Tumolo saw Shirlee Bryant fall to her death while testing the cat-suits, then stole one for proof and fled to tell Greer Grant what she had learned. Continue reading

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X-MEN: THE NEW TEAM’S FIRST TWENTY STORIES

With superheroes continuing to dominate pop culture right now, here’s a look at the first twenty stories of the “All New, All Different” X-Men beginning in 1975. I have a soft spot for superhero stories because reading them as a kid served as a gateway to two of my adult passions – mythology and opera.

new x-men 1GIANT-SIZE X-MEN Vol 1 #1 (May 1975)

Title: Deadly Genesis

Villain: Krakoa

NOTE: This was the very FIRST appearance of the new team of X-Men who replaced the original, blander team launched in 1963. That team’s original series had been canceled and reduced to reprints (reruns).

Synopsis: The story opened with a series of vignettes featuring Professor X traveling the world rounding up a new batch of mutants detected by his invention Cerebro. Three of them had prior history in the Marvel Universe:

*** WOLVERINE (real name unknown at the time), who had fought the Hulk and the Wendigo in Canada. Wolverine willingly joined the X-Men and angrily resigned from Canada’s Department H, which had been sending him on missions up to that point. This would have repercussions down the road.

*** BANSHEE (Sean Cassidy), a sometime foe and sometime ally of the original team of X-Men. This Irishman had also fought Captain America and the Falcon.

*** SUNFIRE (Shiro Yoshida), a Japanese mutant who had fought the original X-Men as well as Sub-Mariner, Iron Man and Captain America.

The rest of the mutants Xavier rounded up were new:

*** STORM (Ororo Munroe), from Africa, where her weather-controlling powers had made her revered as a goddess by an isolated tribe.

*** NIGHTCRAWLER (Kurt Wagner), a German circus performer whose monstrous appearance made him the target of a mutant-hating mob from which Professor X saved him.

*** COLOSSUS (Piotr Rasputin), a Russian teenager working on a Collective Farm in the Soviet Union.

*** THUNDERBIRD (John Proudstar), a Native American mutant from a reservation in the American Southwest.

Once they were all assembled at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the professor introduced them to Cyclops (Scott Summers), the leader of the original X-Men, who briefed them. He had led the original team – Iceman, Angel, Marvel Girl, Polaris and Havok (Beast was joining the Avengers at this point) to investigate a new mutant detected by Cerebro on a Pacific Ocean island called Krakoa. The original team vanished and only Cyclops escaped in their aircraft, but with no memory of what happened there. Continue reading

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SKYWALD HEROES

mascot sword and gun pic

BALLADEER’S BLOG

How much Seventies can you handle? If dialogue like “Think I’ll take the money and just groove for awhile. Man, I can dig it!” appeals to you get ready for some “relevant” “now” and “with-it” comic books! Skywald Publishing tried to make its mark with adult black & white comic books in the 1970s. Some of their horror and sci-fi titles picked up a little momentum but when it came to superheroes, Skywald made the biggest blunder imaginable. They screwed up the copyright, making their superheroes like Hell-Rider and Butterfly public domain.

Their female horror character Lady Satan partially suffered that same fate, but changes to copyright law in 1974 made it so that only her first two issues from 1973 fell into the public domain and from the third story onward she was an owned IP. Anyway, the adventures of Hell-Rider and Butterfly (the first black female superhero) stood out with their toplessness, drug use and references to sex. Otherwise they were mediocre. Here are Skywald’s two public domain superheroes. Solid! … And all that stuff.

Hell-Rider

VICTIM: Hey, stop shooting that flamethrower in my face! WOMAN: That man is the worst nuisance on the beach!

HELL-RIDER

Secret Identity: Brick Reese (“Brick?”)

First Appearance: Hell-Rider #1 (August 1971)

Origin: Brick Reese (“Brick?”) rebelled against his affluent background. After graduating from Harvard Law School he drifted around the country, experimenting with sex and drugs, eventually joining the roguish but “heroic” biker gang called the Wild Bunch (Think the Howling Commandos meet the biker gang craze of the 60s and 70s).

After 6 months of this lifestyle, Brick got drafted and sent to serve in the Vietnam War. When he had just a few weeks left in his tour of duty he was seriously wounded, with his injuries being such that they threatened to paralyze him at any moment for the rest of his life. Rather than live with that forever hanging over his head, Brick volunteered to be a human guinea pig for the experimental drug Q-47. Injections of that drug every day for a month cured Reese but, unknown to anyone but him, also granted him superpowers with which he battled the forces of evil as the superhero Hell-Rider. Continue reading

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IRON FIST: THE EARLY ADVENTURES

Balladeer’s Blog’s readers always make it clear that they feel superhero blog posts make for nice, light diversions over the weekend, so here comes another one. This one takes a look at the early stories of Iron Fist from the 1970s.

iron fist aMARVEL PREMIERE Vol 1 15 (May 1974)

Title: The Fury of Iron Fist

Villain: Shu Hu the One

Comment: In the 1970s “Everybody was Kung Fu fight-iiiiing” and Marvel Comics jumped onto the bandwagon with a series of martial arts characters. By this point in 1974 the company had already introduced Shang-Chi the Master of Kung Fu, the female Avenger called Mantis and the Sons of the Tiger. Now would come Iron Fist, real name Daniel Rand, later modified to Daniel Rand-Kai.

Synopsis: The origin story of Iron Fist is told through flashbacks this issue and the next. This story starts with action and THEN delves into the superhero’s origin, a formula I think works best, but I’m not a comic book expert. In the Himalayan Mountains, in the mystical city called K’un-Lun, Iron Fist is battling four opponents under the watchful eyes of K’un-Lun’s ruler Yu-Ti the August Personage of Jade and his subordinate Dragon Kings.     

NOTE: This K’un-Lun is not THE K’un-Lun from Chinese mythology but it uses the same name and many of the inhabitants go by names corresponding to Chinese gods. Yu-Ti is one of them, Lei Kung the Thunderer is another. This K’un-Lun is an enchanted city that appears on Earth only once every ten years before returning to its pocket dimension home for another ten.

Back to the story – Iron Fist defeats his four opponents and, having survived this Challenge of the Many, now asks Yu-Ti for permission to face the Challenge of the One (Shu Hu). Yu-Ti wants Iron Fist to be sure that is what he desires, so he tells him to contemplate the path that has led him to this Day of Days. Continue reading

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FIRST TWENTY DEFENDERS STORIES FROM THE 1970s

To me there’s nothing like the ORIGINAL historical context in which fictional heroes were introduced, so I’ve examined 1930s, 1940s and 1960s superhero characters, often reviewing their first 20 stories. Here are the first 20 Defenders stories from the 1970s.

Marvel Feature 1MARVEL FEATURE Vol 1 #1 (December 1971)

Title: The Day of the Defenders

Villain: The Omegatron

Defenders Roster: Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange, MD), the Hulk (Bruce Banner, PhD) and the Sub-Mariner (Prince Namor McKenzie)

Comment: The Defenders were originally far different from the mere “street level” heroics that fans of Marvel Television adaptations associate with the team’s name. In 1971 Marvel had just one Avengers team in addition to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. The Defenders often fought to save the entire world or even the entire universe or multiverse.

Doctor Strange and the Hulk had been around since the 1960s. The Sub-Mariner was introduced in 1939 (so BEFORE Aquaman), back when Marvel Comics was called Timely Comics. 

Synopsis: The sorcerer Yandroth, an old one-off foe of Dr Strange, has been spending his years since his defeat at Strange’s hands mastering science as thoroughly as he had previously mastered sorcery. He is on his death bed after having devised a scheme to ensure that the world will be destroyed shortly after he dies.

With typical villain bluster, Yandroth has Dr Strange summoned to his death bed and taunts him about his plans and tells him that in five hours the entire Earth will be destroyed by his creation the Omegatron unleashing every nuclear and biological weapon in the world. Before passing away, the villain reveals that he used BOTH sorcery AND science to create the Omegatron, ensuring that it cannot be defeated by JUST sorcery or JUST science. It will require the proper combination of the two.

Marvel feature 1 splash pageKnowing he has no chance of stopping this menace with his magic alone, Dr Strange mystically summons the Sub-Mariner, Monarch of Atlantis, to his side and explains the situation. Since even Namor’s realm of Atlantis will be destroyed by the Omegatron he allies himself with Stephen.

The Sub-Mariner suggests that Dr Strange also enlist the immensely powerful Silver Surfer to fight beside them. The sorcerer conjures up an image of what the Surfer is up to at that very moment. He and Sub-Mariner see that the Silver Surfer is, for the umpteenth time, trying to penetrate Galactus’ barrier which keeps him banished on Earth. Once again the Surfer fails and plummets back to Earth.

Since the Silver Surfer will need hours to recover from his crash landing back on our planet, Doc and Namor instead summon the Hulk to help them. Our heroes track down the Omegatron to an abandoned lighthouse in the northeastern United States. Continue reading

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DAREDEVIL: THE FIRST TWENTY STORIES FROM THE 1960s

Here’s a look at the first twenty Daredevil stories from the 1960s. These days Daredevil is mostly known for the dark and brooding element that the legendary writer and artist Frank Miller brought to the character, along with that whole Ninja element of DD’s background. 

dd 1DAREDEVIL Vol 1 #1 (April 1964)

Title: The Origin of Daredevil

Villain: The Fixer

Synopsis: At Fogwell’s Gym, a red and yellow costumed figure calling himself Daredevil barges in on the thugs and underlings of the Fixer (Roscoe Sweeney), the criminal behind the fixing of boxing matches at various levels. The hoods don’t want to tell Daredevil where the Fixer is and a huge fight breaks out. Our hero defeats the thugs with his agility, his red billy-club and – as we will learn shortly – his radar senses.

Daredevil has a flashback to his origin: he is really Matt Murdock whose father Battling Jack Murdock was a struggling boxer. To earn enough money to raise his son and send him to college, Battling Jack learned to play the game and throw fights when ordered to by the Fixer. Jack forbade his son to ever fight, which made Matt the object of ridicule by his peers so the younger Murdock trained himself in the martial arts (later retconned to being trained by Ninjas).

One day in his teens Matt heroically shoved a blind man from in front of a crashing toxic waste truck, saving his life but letting himself get hit by that vehicle. The nuclear waste and toxic chemicals in the truck blinded Matt Murdock but also gave him radar senses that more than compensated for the loss of his vision.

NOTE: In a tongue-in-cheek way, the creators of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles always implied that some of the toxic materials from that same truck poured into the sewer, mutating four turtles and a rat. Though they weren’t part of the Marvel Comics universe that Ninja Turtles joke went further still with the way that the evil group the Foot, fought by the TMNT, was an obvious take on the Hand, an evil group opposed by Daredevil.  Continue reading

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FIRST 20 CAPTAIN AMERICA STORIES FROM THE 1960s

Regular readers have let me know they are going through Marvel withdrawal right now because WandaVision just isn’t giving them enough of a fix. Last year I looked at Captain America’s first 20 stories from the 1940s. Now here’s a look at his first 20 solo stories from the 1960s.

tales of suspense 59TALES OF SUSPENSE Vol 1 #59 (November 1964)

Title: Captain America

Villain: Bull

Comment: After being thawed out from his suspended animation in Avengers #4, Captain America had been serving as a member of the team while trying to adjust to the way he had lost twenty years preserved in ice. Now he was getting his first Silver Age solo stories. Jack Kirby was drawing Cap’s stories, just as he had during the 1940s when he co-created the character. 

Synopsis: Alone on monitor duty at Avengers Mansion one night, Captain America was helping to pass the time by looking through old World War Two scrapbooks and memorabilia. He still missed his late partner Bucky. (NOTE: It was not until decades later that Marvel retconned events so that Bucky had survived as the Winter Soldier.)

Elsewhere in New York City, a gangster called Bull and his dozen or so men have learned that it’s Cap’s turn on monitor duty. With the other Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, the Wasp and Giant-Man) elsewhere, Bull and his men decide it’s their best chance to mount a raid on Avengers Mansion and make off with some of the Top Secret tech and national defense secrets in the place. Continue reading

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HILLMAN PERIODICALS SUPERHERO PANTHEON

Balladeer’s Blog’s readers demanded another detailed look at superheroes from a forgotten publishing company. Here are the often neglected heroes of Hillman Periodicals.

Dash Dixon 2DASH DIXON

Secret Identity: None, but he was called Dash Dixon the Man of Might so some sources list him as Man of Might with Dash Dixon given as his secret identity. He was publicly known, however.

First Appearance: Miracle Comics #1 (February 1940)

Origin: When police officer Dash Dixon was guarding a scientist named Doctor Lorenz, he agreed to be a human guinea pig for the doctor’s “Perpetual Life Rays” in his enclosed Perpetual Life Cabinet/ Coffin, in which he was also fed chemicals intravenously. Those rays and chemicals gave Dash superpowers with which he fought crime on special assignments from the Commissioner.

Dash Dixon Man of MightPowers: Dash Dixon, the Man of Might, possessed the strength of fifty men, could leap incredible distances, was invulnerable to harm and could live forever. (Originally he had the strength of just three men but that was changed to fifty. You know comic books.)

Normally the Perpetual Life Rays would wear off after a period of 24 hours but Dr Lorenz provided a pliable metal uniform for this hero to wear. The uniform contained the rays within his body, making his powers permanent.

Comment: Obviously staying in his uniform all the time would present problems that young readers of comic books might be oblivious to. I’d have thrown in the development that Dash was mortally wounded by villains trying to kill Dr Lorenz, who used his Perpetual Life Rays on Dixon to save his life.

The superpowers would be a bonus but in order to stay alive he had to remain in the uniform all the time, allowing for lots of the angst and tragedy that modern superheroes thrive on.  

Black AngelBLACK ANGEL

Secret Identity: Sylvia Manners

First Appearance: Air Fighters Comics #2 (November 1942)

Origin: Wealthy and connected British society woman Sylvia Manners kept a secret underground hangar in her aunt’s castle. (What, you mean your aunt doesn’t own a castle?) When Nazi bombers began wreaking havoc on Great Britain during World War Two she adopted the costumed identity of Black Angel and took to the air to do battle with them.

Powers: Black Angel was in peak human condition and excelled at both armed and unarmed combat. She was also a deadly fighter pilot and commando. This heroine used a handgun and also wielded a blow-pipe that shot poison darts, which she called “silent death.” Continue reading

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THE SPIRIT AND SOME OF HIS GREATEST FOES

Spirit baseSuperheroes rule pop culture right now and as usual Balladeer’s Blog readers have been letting me know it’s been awhile since I ran a blog post on the subject. Will Eisner’s iconic superhero the Spirit – who debuted in June of 1940 – rose from the grave of his secret identity, Private Investigator Denny Colt, after his apparent death when he got saturated in some chemicals of the supervillain Doctor Cobra.

Fan arguments still rage over whether or not the Spirit had any superpowers beyond his initial chemically-induced state of suspended animation which let him survive and rise from his grave days later. I’m of the school of thought that says the Spirit DID have superpowers, largely because I grow bored with alleged “super” heroes who are just regular shlubs who slap on a costume and fight crime. To me that’s more of a Pulp hero.

mascot sword and gun pic

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I don’t think it’s outrageous to attribute paranormal abilities to the Spirit. Just going by Will Eisner’s original stories let’s approach it this way:

GREATER THAN HUMAN STRENGTH – Taking this hero’s origin story at face value with no ret-conning necessary, when Denny Colt came to in his coffin he dug his way to the surface. It would require much more than the strength of a normal human to burst through the coffin lid AND force his way upward through six feet of soil. For all I know The Big Bang Theory guys may have once done a calculation on how much actual strength it would take to accomplish this feat.

EXTRAORDINARY RESILIENCY/ HEALING ABILITY – Early Spirit stories often show his body taking the kind of punishment that no non-powered human being could survive. The villains occasionally point out how impossible it is that the hero just keeps coming after all the damage they inflict on him. And again, taking his 1940 origin at face value his body would have had to have “healed” from the invasive procedures of embalming or similar treatments, before he woke up in his coffin.

Many fans feel that Frank Miller’s 2008 movie The Spirit took that too far by making his durability front and center and more like Wolverine’s notorious Healing Factor. Personally, I’m okay with it.

ROGUES GALLERY  Continue reading

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