Category Archives: Superheroes

LEV GLEASON SUPERHERO PANTHEON

Readers just cannot get enough superhero blog posts, so since it has been two weeks since I last did one of these, here is a look at the Lev Gleason pantheon of superheroes.

Blackout Lev GleasonBLACKOUT

Secret Identity: Basil Brusilof, MD

First Appearance: Captain Battle #1 (June 1941)

Origin: Once, when Dr Brusilof was in the experimental lab of the Belgrave, Yugoslavia hospital where he worked, a Nazi bombing run blew up that lab. Basil gained superpowers from the accident and fought crime and the Axis Nations under the name Blackout.

Powers: Blackout’s body became coal-black from the explosion which gave him his powers. The mysterious black gases/ energies that his body generated gave him massive super-strength, invulnerability and the ability to fly by shooting the gases/ energies from his feet like thrust from rocket engines. Similarly, from his hands he could shoot concussive blasts of those same gases/ energies.

In addition, this hero could see in the dark and his blackened body provided perfect camouflage for night-time attacks on the Nazis.

Comment: This hero should not be confused with the Holyoke superhero called Blackout.

London 2LONDON

Secret Identity: Mark (Marc) Holmes, radio newscaster

First Appearance: Daredevil Comics #2 (August 1941)

Origin: While covering the Blitz, suave newscaster Mark 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 plus criminals.

London 3Powers: 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.

LondonComment: This superhero may SOUND run of the mill, but there’s just something about the name “London” plus the great font for the letter “L” on his forehead that makes him more appealing to me than other “regular guys in a costume” heroes.

On top of that, there’s the wartime morale appeal, especially with his Blitz-referencing catch-phrase “London can take it!”   Continue reading

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GLADIATOR: AN OPERA VERSION OF PHILIP WYLIE’S NOVEL

GladiatorEven though there are signs here and there that audiences are getting fatigued with the oversaturation of superhero adaptations for the big and small screens, there still doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.

What better time for an OPERA version of Philip Wylie’s science fiction novel Gladiator, from 1930? Wylie’s work is often credited with inspiring the creation of Superman and every other superhero that followed.

Long before the overrated and overpraised Alan Moore wrote The Watchmen, this very first look at a superhero presented the figure struggling with the moral issues regarding the use of his superior abilities.

Gladiator 2The central character uses his powers in World War One but afterward must cope with the limits of “super-powers” when it comes to dealing with political corruption and other problems that can’t be solved with violence. Or in which flexing his super-muscles would be counter-productive, maybe even ushering in a dictatorship.

In other words, the same type of stories which today are praised as “innovative” for “deconstructing the superhero mythos” WERE ALREADY EXPLORED IN THIS NOVEL NINETY YEARS AGO! 

As a break from movie and television superhero tales I think an Opera format would be an intriguing and unexpected way of adapting Gladiator. Let’s face it – if it was done for television or movies today it would be criticized as “derivative” (irony of ironies) and “talky.”

Gladiator 4 Man God

Marvel Comics’ 1976 adaptation

That talkyness would slide nicely into a staged opera since, as I often point out in my examinations of 1970s Marvel stories, operas – like many comic books – are filled with lengthy expository monologues, but in song form. (There are countless “senses-shattering” origin stories and villain rants that are sung in operas.) 

Think of this piece as a way of using the familiar superhero formula to encourage more people to “give opera a chance.” I love sharing my enthusiasms and I was very happy with the reception of those blog posts where I wrote about Ancient Greek Comedies to make them seem relevant. I want to try doing the same with operas. Continue reading

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GRAVEYARD SHIFT VOLUME THREE IS NOW AVAILABLE

Graveyard Shift volume 3

You loved the first GRAVEYARD SHIFT story … You shrieked with rapturous delight over GRAVEYARD SHIFT VOLUME TWO … Now prepare yourselves for the THIRD Volume of Jon Malin and Mark Poulton’s “monsters as superheroes” team.

Jon Malin, one of the iconoclastic comic book outlaws pursuing his creative vision free from the toxic corporate influence of the Big Two publishers, teams up once again with Mark “Hawkman” Poulton and new teammate Aaron Alfeche.

Graveyard Shift logo tshirt

This third adventure for Graveyard Shift will feature more of the horrors and spectacle of the previous epics as the team tries to save the entire world from a werewolf infestation. This job is so big that the team must join forces with three NEW heroic supernatural creatures. Continue reading

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HARVEY COMICS SUPERHERO PANTHEON

Though Harvey Comics eventually became better known as the publisher of such comics as Casper the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Witch, Hot Stuff and others, they had a large number of superheroes in the 1940s. Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at some of those heroes.  

Human MeteorTHE HUMAN METEOR

Secret Identity: Duke O’Dowd, cab driver

First Appearance: Champ Comics #6 (April 1940)

Origin: When Duke O’Dowd was serving overseas in the French Foreign Legion he earned the friendship of Wah Le, ruler of a lost, super-scientific city in Tibet. Judging Duke worthy, he gave him a high-tech belt which granted him superpowers. O’Dowd used those powers to fight crime as the Human Meteor.

Powers: The Human Meteor’s belt possessed “radium emanations” which let him fly at incredible speeds and protected him from all metal weaponry, including bullets and shells. The belt also granted him a degree of superhuman strength via its “electric energizer”. Wooden weapons could penetrate the Human Meteor’s protective force field, or “contra-magnetic field” as Wah Le called it. An “explosatom gun” was briefly used by the Human Meteor. 

Comment: Wah Le’s super science included a televox which enabled him to monitor the Human Meteor’s adventures from Tibet as well as give him advice via a wrist television device. This hero’s sidekick was a white shoeshine boy named Toby.

Black OrchidBLACK ORCHID

Secret Identity: Judy Allen, Private Investigator

First Appearance: All-New Short Story Comics #2 (March 1943)

Origin: Private Detective Judy Allen adopted the costumed identity of Black Orchid in order to take on especially dangerous or connected criminals.

Powers: Black Orchid was in peak physical condition and excelled at unarmed combat. She was also more agile than an Olympic gymnast and was a highly skilled criminologist.

Scarlet nemesis and black orchidComment: Judy Allen’s partner at her Private Detective practice was Rocky Ford. In an amusing twist he was secretly the superhero called the Scarlet Nemesis. Ridiculously, even though Black Orchid and the Scarlet Nemesis worked together several times they never figured out that the other costumed figure was their own investigative agency partner. Some “detectives”. 

(If you’re wondering, the Scarlet Nemesis had no super-powers either, but his costume included a forehead light-beam like miners wore. He could use that light to temporarily blind adversaries.) Continue reading

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SUPERHERO PANTHEON OF FOUR STAR PUBLICATIONS

As always in these superhero-crazed times, readers let me hear about it when I go too long without a post like this. Here is Balladeer’s Blog’s look at the neglected superheroes from Four Star Publications.

GrenadeTHE GRENADE

Secret Identity: Bruce Corbet, reporter

First Appearance: Captain Flight Comics #5 (December 1944)

Origin: Nazi agents accidentally killed Daily Star reporter Bruce Corbet’s brother Danny while searching for Bruce’s notes regarding a top secret War Department development. Since the Nazis killed Danny with a hand grenade he adopted the nom de guerre the Grenade and donned a costume to seek revenge.

Powers: The Grenade was in the peak of human condition. He was as agile as an Olympic gymnast and excelled at unarmed combat. In addition he sported hand grenades which he could hurl with deadly accuracy. 

Comment: I’d have added some knock-out grenades or harmless smoke grenades to the explosive grenades this hero carried with him, just for some variety.  A beautiful lounge singer was the Grenade’s love interest in his civilian identity. Continue reading

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THE FIRST TWENTY AVENGERS STORIES FROM THE 1960s

As always, Balladeer’s Blog listens to you readers! You wanted a look at the first twenty Avengers stories similar to my recent look at the first twenty Captain America stories from the 1940s, so here we go:

Avengers 1THE AVENGERS Vol 1 #1 (September 1963)

Title: The Coming of the Avengers

Villain: Loki

Synopsis: Loki sits imprisoned on the Isle of Silence in Asgard. He cannot leave but is determined to get revenge on his archenemy Thor. Sending his astral body to Earth/ Midgard he uses an illusion spell to trick the Hulk into seeming to destroy a railroad line.  

           Rick Jones, just an ordinary teenager back then, is still the Hulk’s friend and wants to round up superheroes to corral the Hulk before the army moves in and possibly kills the green-skinned brute. He and his fellow Ham Radio Operators (LMAO), called the Teen Brigade, send out a radio summons.

           Loki arranges for Thor’s secret identity of Dr Donald Blake to hear the message, but the radio waves are also picked up by Tony Stark/ Iron Man (in his original clunky armor) as well as Ant-Man (Hank Pym, PhD) and his crime-fighting partner the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne).

           While Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp battle the Hulk, Thor suspects Loki’s involvement when an illusory image of the Hulk is used to lure him to the site of the ongoing fight. Thor flies to Asgard and tries to reach the Isle of Silence but must overcome Rock Trolls, Frost Giants and Silent Ones set upon him by Loki. Continue reading

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THE FIRST TWENTY CAPTAIN AMERICA STORIES IN THE 1940s

Balladeer’s Blog’s readers always remind me that they can’t get enough superhero articles, so here we go again. With the Fourth of July Holiday coming up, I figured I’d look at the earliest stories of the Timely Comics (later called Marvel Comics) red, white & blue hero Captain America.

Captain America 1CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS Vol 1 #1 (March 1941)

Story 1: Meet Captain America

Villains: Assorted Nazi saboteurs

Synopsis: Voluntary guinea pig Steve Rogers is subjected to the Top Secret Super-Soldier Treatment and becomes Captain America. With his trusty shield, Cap defeats Nazi saboteurs up and down the East Coast, becoming a media sensation. At Camp Lehigh, army mascot James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes walks in on Private Steve Rogers switching from his uniform to his Captain America costume. Cap agrees to risk the teen’s life by making him his costumed sidekick.

Captain America earlyStory 2: Case Number 2

Villains: Sando and Omar, apparent mutants

Synopsis: Steve Rogers and J.B. Barnes are stationed now at Fort Bix. With the help of FBI Agent Betsy Ross (yes, Betsy Ross) they become involved in the case of stage psychics Sando and Omar. Sando uses psychic powers to cause the mentally challenged Omar to “see” (really produce) visions in a crystal ball depicting disasters occurring, the first night at Fort Bix, the next night at a nearby bridge.

           The disasters really occur, and Captain America, Bucky and Betsy eventually expose Sando as Nazi Agent Sando Von Krantz, a probable mutant who used his psychic powers to fill his stooge Omar’s mind with the disasters shown in the crystal ball. Somehow Omar’s powers caused those disasters to come true. (Hey, it’s a comic book.) Sando and Omar are captured, and Betsy pleads for mercy for the simple-minded Omar.

Story 3: The Soldiers’ Soup Continue reading

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SUPERHERO PANTHEON OF SPARK COMICS

Superheroes still dominate pop culture right now and readers just keep demanding more and more articles about them. Here is a look at the heroes from another defunct comic book company, in this case Spark Publications.

AtomanATOMAN

Secret Identity: Barry Dale, nuclear scientist

First Appearance: Atoman #1 (February 1946)

Origin: While working at the Atomic Institute, scientist Barry Dale was exposed to so much radium and uranium that he absorbed “the power of the atom.” Barry’s powers manifested themselves when agents who wanted to sell America’s nuclear secrets to the highest bidder tried to kill him over his refusal to help them. With his new superpowers he donned a costume and fought the forces of evil as Atoman.

Powers: Atoman possessed massive super-strength, could fly, run at super-speed, was invulnerable and had “atomic vision” (x-ray vision). In addition he could heat his body to such a degree that he could weld objects together with his bare hands.

Comment: This hero boasted that he could “smash mountains, wipe out whole cities” and “travel for thousands of miles in one leap.” He was also convinced he was just the first of many atomic-powered beings which the nuclear age would spawn. I guess to prove he wasn’t just another Superman imitation, Atoman claimed he would “help all people, regardless of race or creed or nationality” instead of fighting for “truth, justice, and”… you know.

Golden LadGOLDEN LAD

Secret Identity: Tommy Preston, student

First Appearance: Golden Lad #1 (July 1945)

Origin: Young Tommy Preston was working in his grandfather’s neighborhood antique shop when he discovered an ancient relic called the Aztec Heart of Gold. Yes. In an antique shop. (WRITER: Hey, Editor, do items like Aztec artifacts wind up in antique shops or in museums? EDITOR: You’re joking, right?  WRITER: Yeah, uh … joking. Who wouldn’t know the answer to that, right? Ha, ha, ha!)

        Anyway, the Aztec Heart of Gold holds the mystic power of “the blood of a thousand martyred Aztecs.” This relic bestowed superpowers on “pure hearted” people who were “devoted to justice.” And so Golden Lad was born!    Continue reading

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SIX-GUN CAESAR AND HIS GUNSLINGERS OF THE ROUNDTABLE

masc graveyard newFrontierado Season is fast approaching! That holiday celebrating the mythic aspects of the Old West falls on the first Friday of August. To help us all start to get in the mood here are some new Frontierado Sagas in the spirit of Tomahawk Tam, the Blackwater Kid and others. (FOR MORE FRONTIERADO ITEMS CLICK HERE )

MASCOT COWBOY 2SIX-GUN CAESAR (Ethan Van Sciver) – The man who would go on to fame as Six-Gun Caesar was born Ethan Van Sciver to a Mormon family from Philadelphia. By the time he was a teenager Ethan was already a skilled gunman and was serving as a Danite, one of the gunslinging “knights” of the Mormon faith.

              Ethan and his fellow Danites safeguarded Mormon pilgrims on their journey to Deseret (later the state of Utah) after the Mormon Wars in Missouri and Illinois drove the persecuted practitioners of that faith westward. After years of experience protecting Mormon wagon trains from outlaws, hostile Native Americans and hooded anti-Mormon mobs, Van Sciver gained even greater prominence during the May 1857 to July 1858 Utah War. Continue reading

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PRIZE COMICS SUPERHERO PANTHEON

Readers can’t get enough superhero articles! Since I aim to please here is another breakdown of the superheroes from a Golden Age pantheon, in this case from Prize Comics.

Airmale pictureAIRMALE

Secret Identity: Kenneth Stevens, College Biology Professor

First Appearance: Prize Comics #34 (September 1943)

Origin: Professor Kenneth Stevens was working on a “flight fluid” when he cut his hand in a lab accident. The fluid he was working on spilled into the wound and spread like an infection throughout his body, granting him superpowers. Wearing a colorful costume, he battled crime and Axis supervillains as Airmale. (Yes, Airmale.)

Airmale and StampyPowers: Airmale was lighter than air and could fly at high speed. He could also simply walk or stand on air when he desired. The hero devised a gravity belt to regulate the pull of gravity on his body so that he could walk around just fine in his civilian identity. Airmale excelled at unarmed combat.

Comment: As if the name Airmale wasn’t campy enough, this figure granted his teenage nephew Bobby Stevens a lesser version of his own power of flight and let him fight at his side as Stampy. No, I’m not kidding.   

Doctor FrostDOCTOR FROST

Secret Identity: None

First Appearance: Prize Comics #7 (December 1940)

Origin: As a baby, this future superhero was the sole survivor of a ship that sank off the northern coast of Alaska. Inuit people recovered him from a floating chunk of ice and presented him to Professor Carlson. As the boy grew to adulthood the professor gave him superpowers and sent him to New York City to fight crime as Doctor Frost.

Doctor Frost picPowers: Doctor Frost was immune to extreme cold and could shoot cold rays from his hands to freeze opponents or objects. He could also create ice constructs like bridges across water or the air and could wrap himself in layers of ice thick enough to survive explosions. This hero was reasonably good at unarmed combat.

Comment: This fun hero deserves to be rediscovered in a big way. His archenemy was Vulcan, a heat-powered semi-humanoid villain who lived in the Earth’s core and wanted to destroy the surface world. Doctor Frost also took on menaces like gangsters, a mad scientist and his invisible army plus a supervillain called the Leader, decades before the Hulk’s similarly named foe. Continue reading

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