Tag Archives: superheroes

FAWCETT SUPERHEROES

For this weekend’s light-hearted look at vintage superheroes Balladeer’s Blog will examine the characters of Fawcett Comics. They were another company whose heroes wound up absorbed into the DC black hole and mangled to fit in the new continuity of whatever “Crisis” DC is up to these days.  

mr scarletMISTER SCARLET

Secret Identity: Brian Butler

First Appearance: Wow Comics #1 (December 1940) His final Golden Age appearance came in 1948.

Origin: District Attorney Brian Butler grew disillusioned with how many criminals could slip through loopholes in the legal system. To fight crime more efficiently he donned a costume and took to the nighttime streets as Mister Scarlet.

Powers: Mister Scarlet could fly, was an expert at unarmed combat and was as agile as an acrobat. He also used a ray-gun which shot non-fatal energy blasts. Comically enough, no explanation was ever provided for this hero’s ability to fly or how he got his ray-gun.

Comment: This Fawcett hero had a very imaginative Rogues Gallery of supervillains, many of whom would periodically team up against him as the Death Battalion. Brian Butler’s secretary Cherry Wade knew about his dual identity. Mister Scarlet joined the superhero fad for endangering youngsters by taking on a costumed teen sidekick called Pinky.

mary marvelMARY MARVEL

Secret Identity: Mary Bromfield (really Batson)

First Appearance: Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 1942) Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1954.

Origin: One day Mary Bromfield learned that her wealthy parents weren’t her real parents. She had been adopted and separated from her twin brother Billy Batson. When she and Billy were reunited, she learned that, like him, if she said S.H.A.Z.A.M. she would transform into a superhero like him per the same magic spell.

Powers: Mary Marvel had massive super-strength, super-speed and could fly. She had a large degree of invulnerability and advanced intelligence.

Comment: In Mary’s case S.H.A.Z.A.M. stood for the grace of Selena, the strength of Hippolyta, the skill of Ariadne, the speed of Zephyrus, the beauty of Aurora and the wisdom of Minerva. Her arch-enemy was Georgia Sivana, the mad scientist daughter of Captain Marvel’s archenemy Doctor Sivana. Continue reading

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THE SHIELD: HIS FIRST TWENTY STORIES

Balladeer’s Blog’s readers have made it clear they love these light-hearted superhero posts on weekends, so here we go with the first twenty stories of the MLJ character the Shield. 

ShieldTHE SHIELD

Secret Identity: Doctor Joe Higgins, a chemist.

Origin: On his deathbed Joe’s father Tom revealed to him the secret of a chemical formula he had been working on. That formula could bestow superpowers on a normal human being. As Joe grew older he got his PhD in chemistry, finished his father’s formula and used it on himself, gaining superpowers. He devised a special costume and fought the forces of evil as the Shield, a super-powered operative of the FBI. 

First Appearance: Pep Comics #1 (January 1940). His final Golden Age appearance came in late 1945. 

shield picPowers: The chemical formula that the Shield rubbed onto his skin followed by bombardment with flouroscopic rays endowed him with massive super-strength plus invulnerability and the ability to leap enormous distances. His name came from an acronym for the areas of the human anatomy affected by his chemical formula: S – Sacrum H – Heart I – Innervation E – Eyes L – Lungs D – Derma. The Shield also wore an indestructible costume which encased his torso like a shield.

Comment: The Shield was America’s first star-spangled superhero, beating Captain America into print by more than a year. He eventually had a youthful sidekick called Dusty and a private detective sweetheart named Betty Warren. His archenemy was the Vulture. His adventures continued until December of 1945. Only J Edgar Hoover knew the Shield’s secret identity. Yes, J Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI, proving that even back then the FBI was a crooked and politically corrupt organization.

pep 1PEP COMICS #1 (January 1940)

Title: The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary

Villains: A Stokian spy ring

Synopsis: The Shield is given his first assignment. He must destroy a spy ring from the fictional nation of Stokia after the ring blows up a munitions factory, sabotages commercial shipping and assassinates U.S. military personnel. Our hero defeats all of the villains and survives their explosion of the Hotel Braganza. 

NOTE: This is the first time readers see the Shield attach wires from his earpieces to telephone wires so that his enhanced hearing can “bug” the room of his targets. Continue reading

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THE CLOCK: THE FIRST TWENTY STORIES FROM THE 1930s

Clock chaseBefore Batman, before Captain America and even before Superman himself, came the Clock, written and drawn by George E Brenner. The Clock was the first masked crimefighter in comic books, debuting in 1936, while the much more popular Batman didn’t come along until 1939. I’m not pointing that out to diss Batman, but to point out what a shame it is that the Clock seems to have been forgotten by most of the world. The figure is pretty much the middle character between Pulp heroes like the Shadow and the Moon Man and comic book superheroes. The Clock’s influence on Will Eisner’s iconic character the Spirit is obvious.

clock and pugTHE CLOCK

Secret Identity: Brian O’Brien

First Appearance: Funny Pages Vol 1 #6 (November 1936) His final Golden Age appearance came in 1944.

Origin: Brian O’Brien was born into the wealthy O’Brien family of New York City. The adventurous youth loved flying in early biplanes and served in World War One as a fighter pilot. After the war he went to college where he became an All-American Fullback, then moved on to Law School. Following graduation he was a fixture on the High Society polo scene while eventually becoming a District Attorney.

O’Brien gained a reputation as a crusading anti-crime figure but ultimately the extensive corruption in New York City politics and law enforcement frustrated any true attempts at reform. He retired from his D.A. career and, while seemingly returning to his carefree socialite life, secretly adopted the masked identity of the Clock to fight crime through bypassing the city’s systemic corruption. At first only his father knew about his dual identity.

clock fightPowers: The Clock was the prototype for the countless non-powered costumed crimefighters to come. He was in peak physical condition and was a master of unarmed combat. He possessed the agility of an Olympic gymnast and was a marksman with the handgun he carried into action with him. In addition he was a master detective and investigator whose knowledge of the law helped him compile evidence against his foes. 

              This hero’s mask had white eyeholes which allowed him to see in the dark and its fabric would filter out the effects of the knockout gas and teargas his tie-pin could shoot at opponents. The Clock’s cane was a durable weapon in combat plus it featured a few gadgets, like being able to fire its round top at opponents with the force of a bullet. His hat sported a metal lining to help minimize damage from blows to the head and he sometimes wore body armor under his suit and tie. Clock time-bombs which filled entire rooms with knockout gas or tear gas were on occasion employed by this figure.

              O’Brien called himself the Clock just to fit his Pulp-style calling cards which said “The CLOCK has struck” and similar phrases. In later years he would have sidekicks like Pug, an ex-boxer and Butch, a tomboyish teenage girl.        

clock pics1. FUNNY PAGES Vol 1 #6 (November 1936) – #9 (March 1937)

Title: The Clock Strikes

Villains: The Slick Martin Gang 

Synopsis: The Clock handles his first case, tracking down a gang of three bank robbers, outfighting and capturing them all and leaving his calling card identifying himself as the Clock. He also phones Police Captain Kane and tells him where to find the bound and unconscious Slick Martin and Butch.

              In the edgy ending, our hero turns Killer Katz, the gang member who shot a man dead during the gang’s most recent robbery, over to a vengeful mob led by the brother of the slain man. They beat him to death and the newspapers are all speculating on who the Clock may be. We get our first glimpse of our hero’s fairly plush secret office as he writes down the details of this case.    Continue reading

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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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