Tag Archives: Comic Books

MARVEL COMICS’ 1940s SUPERHEROES

AwsBalladeer’s Blog takes a look at those often forgotten Marvel Comics characters from the Golden Age, when the company was known as Timely Comics. Unlike Captain America, Bucky, Sub-Mariner, etc these figures never became big hits in the Silver or Bronze Ages. But Marvel did try retconning some of them to fit in with the modern day.

blonde phantomBLONDE PHANTOM

Created By: Stan Lee, Charles Nicholas and Syd Shores

Secret Identity: Louise Grant

First Appearance: All-Select Comics #11 (September 1946) Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1949.

Origin: Wanting to fight crime and foreign spies without endangering the lives of people close to her, Louise Grant, secretary for private investigator and former OSS man Mark Mason, donned a costume and fought the forces of evil as the Blonde Phantom.

Powers: The Blonde Phantom was in peak human condition and was more agile than an Olympic gymnast. She was a master of unarmed combat and was also incredibly proficient with her .45 handgun. In addition, this heroine was an expert investigator.

Comment: For a time, the Blonde Phantom was assigned to missions by a figure calling itself Father Time (no relation to the 1940s superhero of that name). That mysterious figure had Grim Reaper qualities and sicced the Blonde Phantom on evildoers whose deaths he had ordained.

Louise Grant’s boss Mark Mason had the hots for the Blonde Phantom but overlooked his secretary Louise, who downplayed her beauty in her secret identity.

blazing skullTHE BLAZING SKULL

Created By: Bob Davis

Secret Identity: Mark Todd

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #5 (March 1941) His final Golden Age appearance came in May of 1942.

Origin: Reporter Mark Todd was covering the war between China and the Imperial Japanese invasion forces before the U.S. entered World War Two. Taking shelter from a Japanese bombing, Todd entered a cave which was the entrance to the subterranean lair of the Skull Men, a mystic race of skull and flame-headed humanoids who kept their existence unknown to the world. The Skull-Men taught Mark Todd some of their secrets, which granted him superpowers with which he fought the forces of evil as the Blazing Skull.

Powers: The Blazing Skull was strong enough to lift 10 tons, could make his head appear to be nothing but a skull surrounded by flames and was immune to fire and heat. He could completely control flames and also possessed a healing factor which let him recover from almost any injury.

Comment: This figure was one of the Golden Age superheroes conjured up by a godlike Rick Jones to battle the Kree soldiers of Ronan the Accuser during the Kree-Skrull War in 1972. Continue reading

15 Comments

Filed under 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

14 Comments

Filed under Superheroes

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

23 Comments

Filed under Superheroes

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

20 Comments

Filed under Superheroes

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

24 Comments

Filed under Superheroes

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

17 Comments

Filed under Superheroes

SUPERHEROES FROM PELICAN PUBLISHING

Green GiantSuperheroes dominate pop culture these days and Balladeer’s Blog’s readers always let me know about it when they feel I’ve gone too long without an article about them.

In honor of the shortest day of the year today here is a look at the shortest run of superheroes ever. Remember how Atlas/ Seaboard was publishing for less than a full year? Well Pelican Publishing’s superheroes came and went in ONE MONTH.

Green Giant coverTHE GREEN GIANT

Secret Identity: Mr Brentwood, a stock broker. No first name was given.

First and Last Appearance: Green Giant Comics #1 (1940 – the month is not known)

Origin: Unknown.

Powers: The Green Giant wore a high-tech “gravity-defying” device in his belt, a device which enabled him to grow to hundreds of feet in size and to fly. He was also bullet-proof and possessed massive super-strength.

Green Giant first page

“WHEN I THINK ABOUT FIGHTING CRIME I TOUCH MYSELF.”

Comment: In his only adventure, Mr Brentwood was advised by his firm’s partner named John Preston (how did HE rate a first name) that criminals were dealing in counterfeit stocks.

Our hero donned his costume and corralled all the members of the crime ring, even swimming after a departing ship to capture the ringleader Sam “Smiley” Gleason. (Okay, Gleason was just rubbing it in to our poor hero by having a first name, last name AND a nickname.) Continue reading

22 Comments

Filed under Superheroes

EARLY BLADE THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1973-1983)

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

45 Comments

Filed under Halloween Season, Superheroes

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

23 Comments

Filed under 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

26 Comments

Filed under Superheroes