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Hourman


Shy and meek young chemist Rex Tyler creates the Miraclo pill, which gives a person enhanced strength, speed, resilience and stamina, as well as making his personality alter to aggressive and outgoing, and becomes the first drug-addict superhero, Hourman.  It is not acknowledged in his original run that he is a drug addict, but it is difficult not to see this in the series, and the change from the Miraclo pill to Miraclo ray towards the end of the run seems to indicate that DC felt the character needed some cleaning up.

Rex is never given any background, or relatives, or girlfriend.  At first his supporting cast is limited to his boss at Bannerman Laboratories, Mr. Bannerman.  Bannerman criticizes Rex for being so introverted in the early stories, and in the first couple we see that Rex’s personality alters when he takes Miraclo, and that after it wears off he crashes, and reverts to his old persona.  This appears to stop happening after a while, and Rex becomes more Hourman-ish even without Miraclo, which is likely why by Adventure Comics 65 he has become Bannerman’s chief assistant.

The Miraclo pill gives Rex his enhanced abilities for one hour, and the first story includes insets counting down how much longer his powers will last.  This clever device to build suspense is not used again until issue 70, but becomes standard for the last year of the run.

Bernard Bailey gave Rex a memorable, if simple, costume.  Black tights and top, cape and hood, with red highlights.  The hood hangs loosely down over the face, with holes over the eyes.  Even as a child I wondered about the practicality of this; how the hood stayed in position while he ran, rather than flopping back and exposing his face, and how he managed to see if he turned his head and his eyes no longer lined up with the holes.  Again, in the final year this seems to be acknowledged, as Rex’s hood is replaced by a form-fitting cowl.

Around his neck, Rex wears an hourglass on a cord.  This timer fairly obviously is of use for him to determine how much longer the Miraclo will last, although at no point is it ever used that way in the original run.

In his first two stories, Rex places ads in newspapers, offering to help those in need, and answers a wife’s request to stop her husband from being part of a jewel robbery at the Beaux Arts Ball in the debut appearance.  In Adventure 55 we learn that Rex is based in a city called Cosmos, which is a very odd name for a city, but this has never been referred to again.

Rex faces off against a number of mad scientists, as well as kidnappers, gamblers, thieves, and the like, but never gets any recurring villains.  For that matter, he never gets any really good villains either.  Dr. Togg, who creates nasty dog/vulture hybrids called Gombezis in Adventure Comics 57, returns decades down the road, but aside from the unusual name for his unusual creations, there is little noteworthy about him in his only golden age story.

Rex pops his Miraclo pill quite casually in his first few adventures, but then we stop seeing him do this, it is merely referred to, and I think it is not a coincidence that the pill popping panels disappear in the stories that give him a gaggle of kid sidekicks.  The only two times we see him take Miraclo after his first 8 stories are in issues 63 and 67, neither of which feature the Minutemen of America.

Adventure Comics 54 introduces Jimmy Martin, a HAM radio operator and fan of Hourman, who gets other kids who are amateur radio operators to form a gang to assist Hourman.  The very logo of the series changes to reflect this becoming “Hourman and Minute Man Martin of the Minutemen of America.”  Jimmy is the most important of this group at first, although visually the boy with the turtleneck sweater covering most of his face, and a giant cap covering much of what little is left, is the notable one.  In All-Star 2 this boy is finally named, Thorndyke, and he is established as Jimmy’s younger brother.  Many of the stories deal with other Minutemen, who get into trouble, or the family members do, or they witness a crime, which winds up bringing Hourman into the tale, but none of these kids are featured in more than one story.

In issues 72 and 73 Jimmy becomes an actual sidekick for Hourman, wearing an identical costume, though in issue 73 he lacks the cowl, and just wears a domino mask.  In Adventure 74 we learn that Jimmy and his mother have left on a trip, from which they never return, and Thorndyke becomes his sidekick instead, though never wearing a costume like Jimmy’s.  Issue 75 informs us that Thorndyke’s last name is Tomkins, which is very unusual if he is the younger brother of Jimmy Martin, so perhaps there is more going on here, with the mother taking off with one of her sons and leaving the other behind.  Did Jimmy and Thorndyke have different fathers?  As well,  in issue 75 Thorndyke is aware that Rex is Hourman, though in none of the earlier stories did any of the Minutemen know his identity.

From this point to the end of the run the series is called “Hourman and Thorndyke.”  None of the Minutemen appear again, and Rex has replaced the Miraclo Pill with the Miraclo Ray (or Miraclo Machine in issue 82).  Having it be a ray that gives the powers, rather than a pill, was likely done so that Rex and Thorndyke could get powered up together, rather than having the hero give a child a drug.

Hourman’s series ends in Adventure Comics 83, and Rex does not return until a JLA/JSA crossover in the Silver Age.  Thorndyke does not return until the late 90s, in Young Justice.

 

 

Hourman:  Adventure Comics 48 – 83  (Mar 40 – Feb 43)

New York World’s Fair  1940

All-Star Comics 2  (Fall 40)

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The Spectre


The Spectre was the first dead hero.  When he was alive he was hard-edged cop Jim Corrigan, who shared a room in a boarding house with his partner in the force, Wayne Grant, while romancing wealthy socialite Clarice Winston, to the dismay of her parents.  Jim is trying to bring down mobster “Gat” Benson, and gets a tip from stoolie Louie Snipe that turns out to be a set-up.  Benson’s men capture Jim and Clarice, and put Jim in a barrel of cement, tossing him into the river.

Jim dies, but his soul is called by God (not named or shown, but the clouds and beam of light that accompany the all-powerful being kind of make it obvious).  Jim is to remain on Earth battling crime, and his astral, ghostly form emerges from the barrel and the river.  Jim saves Clarice and takes vengeance on his killers, turning one into a skeleton.

As the Spectre he is virtually omnipotent himself.  He can read minds, fly, turn invisible and intangible, grow to great heights or shrink.  He can travel through space, or to other realms, transform people into things (like ice, and then they melt).  He can inhabit inanimate objects, making the move and speak, and can even take on the form of other people.

But Jim is dead, and this stresses him out.  He moves out of the boarding house, and calls off his engagement to Clarice.  Wayne remains his partner on the force, though he appears less often as the series goes on, making his final appearance in More Fun 64.  Clarice refuses to give up on Jim, and keeps trying to patch things up, though her appearances are sporadic as well.

My favourite moment in his two-part origin story is the panel in which he sews his Spectre costume.  As the Spectre, he wears a white body stocking, covering him from head to toe, and a long dark green cloak with a hood, with matching gloves and boots, and shorts.  Aside from this one panel, it really does not seem like the Spectre wears a white thing under his cape.  He is a ghost after all, and it feels like his white body is simply his ghostly form.  At first, Jim turns into the Spectre, though in later stories the Spectre will emerge from him – sometimes both will happen over the course of the same tale.  But never again do we get to see him put a costume on.

The Spectre was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Bailey, and Bailey would stick with the series until it ended.  Siegel’s name continues popping up in the credits, and no other writer is ever credited, but not all stories are ascribed to him.

The Spectre’s stories take place in Cliffland, for the most part, though issue 61 refers to Centre City, and 82 to Gotham Town.  As Cliffland is mentioned before, between, and after these two stories, I believe those are both names of suburbs, or sections of the city.

The Spectre stories are at their most intense at the outset.  They have the feeling of a horror series, not a hero one, and the Spectre’s appearance is threatening.  He thinks nothing of killing bad guys, in horrific ways, and will fly them into space simply to scare them and make them reveal information.

In his first two years, the Spectre faces his most powerful foes.  Zor is a master magician who rivals the Spectre in power.  He faces the Spectre in issues 55 and 57 of More Fun, and their battles see them changing size, and paralyzing each other, temporarily.  The godly voice informs the Spectre of Zor’s vulnerability to ectobane, and the Spectre manages to imprison Zor in a coffin made of it.  Zor returns in the late 90s.

Xnon wears a costume almost identical to that of the Spectre, though in dark purple, and uses advanced alien science to steal an entire train, and create a giant image of the Spectre so that he will get the blame.  The Spectre cannot best Xnon, and the godly voice gives him the Ring of Life, which enables the Spectre to seal Xnon in a meteor.  I really enjoy Bailey’s art throughout the Spectre series, but the meteor is a very childish five pointed yellow star, and the worst illustration of the run.

The Ring of Life gives the Spectre the edge in what few battles he finds difficult.  The character was already so powerful, and this really would prove to be too much.  He uses it in More Fun 63, which came out a few months after All-Star 2, but I believe the order of the stories should be reversed, as the Spectre loses the Ring in All-Star, as he battles the three-eyed High Priest of Brztal, Kulak, who causes the “whispering death,” that drives people into murderous frenzies.  The Spectre does not sacrifice the Ring, he simply loses it as they chase each other through mystical dimensions and throw comets at each other.  Kulak, and the Ring of Life, return in All-Star Squadron in the 80s.

Bandar makes three appearances fighting the Spectre, though he only gets named in the last one, and it is not clear if that is his real name anyway.  He, like Xnon, wears a purple costume almost identical to the Spectre, and seems to be a force of pure evil, from some other dimension.  He debuts in More Fun 63, returns in 64 as a living shadow, and then in 70, leading the Crimson Circle Mystical Society, killing those who attempt to leave his cult.

Issue 73 is the last of the “classic” Spectre stories, as he deals with a mystical volcano that appears in the centre of Cliffland.  The final panel of that story introduces Percival Popp, the Super-Cop, and the Spectre series begins its decline.

At first, the only really bad thing about Percival Popp is his name.  He is an amateur detective who has become a fan of Jim Corrigan, and hides in the trunk of his car to meet him.  Jim wants nothing to do with the geeky, bespectacled man, but Popp does prove himself a competent detective.

In issue 75, the godly voice allows Jim to return to life, but retain his powers.  Jim being alive is never mentioned again, and makes little sense as far as retaining his powers goes, but the whole purpose is to allow him to reconcile with Clarice, so that she can more easily appear in the stories.

The look of the Spectre changes at this time as well.  Not a huge difference, the costume remains the same, but the cowl now has a bit of a peak to it, making his face clearer, and the cloak is usually over his shoulders and behind his back, instead of being draped around him, making the Spectre appear less ghostly, and more of a hero.  He still likes flying bad guys into space to scare them, but no longer kills them, and tends to simply beat them up.

As the series trudges forward, Percival becomes more and more important in the tales, and more and more incompetent as well.  In More Fun 90 Jim enlists in the army, and leaves the invisible ghostly form of the Spectre behind to hang out with Percival.  The Spectre is basically reduced to Percival Popp’s guardian angel.  These stories are not really bad, and Bailey’s art remains enjoyable, but the series has moved just so far away from the frightening and violent early days.

The Spectre makes his last appearance in More Fun 101.  He does not return until the 60s, in a JLA/JSA crossover.  Percival Popp makes a surprisingly good return in the Ostrander/Mandrake series in the 90, and Clarice returns in that book as well.

 

The Spectre:  More Fun  52 – 101  (Feb 40 – Jan/Feb 45)

All-Star Comics  1-2  (Summer – Fall 40)

Johnny Thunder


Despite being arguably the most powerful character in the DC Universe, Johnny Thunder’s strip was much more of a comedy series than a super-hero one. His origin story is elaborate to the point of absurdity, as he is kidnapped as an infant and brought to the Pacific island of Badhnesia, where he is given a magic belt to wear for seven years, after an arcane ceremony in a native temple.  Still a child, he sails away from the island and is picked up by a passing freighter, whose captain just happens to bring him onto a streetcar being operated by Johnny’s father, who recognizes his long-missing son.  The end result of all of this is that when Johnny says the magic words “cei-u” (which sounds like “say you” in English), a magic Thunderbolt appears, and makes any wish Johnny has come true.

The series tends towards slapstick, and there are as many tales with no villains as with them.  Often, Johnny misadventures simply play out without having to solve a crime.  Johnny’s honesty and earnestness keep the reader on his side, while his gullibility, and lack of sense, make his use of the Thunderbolt far less omnipowerful than it could be.  I should also mention that for much of the first year the series itself is called Johnny Thunderbolt, though the character is never called this.

The earliest stories are the most fun, as Johnny has no idea that he even has this power.  Throughout his run he is constantly in search of work, hoping to impress Daisy Darling, and one day marry her.  Johnny lives at home on Long Island with his parents.

At first the Thunderbolt is not even seen.  Johnny makes wishes, often unwise, and they just come true, like saying “well, blow me down” and having the person then do that.

While unaware of his powers, Johnny gets and loses a job in a department store, becomes a professional boxer, and then a G-Man.  It only only after he gets fired from that in Flash Comics 7, after helping a foreign spy escape, that we begin to really see and hear the Thunderbolt.  Even still, its progression from a bolt of pink lightning to an anthropomorphic being with a distinct face, three little bolts as “hair”, a human looking upper body and lightning tail takes a very long time.  Each issue the Thunderbolt gets a little more human-ish looking, reaching its final form in Flash Comics 21.

By All-Star 2 Johnny realizes that the things he says come true, but still has no idea that he has to utter “cei-u” first.  He attempts to protect Daisy’s father from mobsters out to destroy the building he is constructing, succeeding only by fluke.  He realizes he can order the Thunderbolt to do specific things, rather than have it act on whims, in Flash Comics 11, and then spends a few issues as a fireman before getting fired from that job for the chaos he (actually the Thunderbolt) causes.

In World’s Finest 2, which pre-dates the attack on Pearl Harbour, Johnny joins the army, but again the Thunderbolt creates such mayhem that he gets kicked out.

Flash Comics 21 introduces Peachy Pet, a hideous looking obnoxious orphan child that Johnny adopts.  Peachy really takes the series into slapstick territory, pretty much taking the lead in the next few stories.  In issue after issue she causes massive damage, which Johnny consistently gets blamed for. On the plus side, she is a wonderful skewed version of the orphan sidekick boys that had become a must for super-heroes, but even still, she overpowers the stories.  Considering that the all-powerful Thunderbolt didn’t even do that, it’s really saying something.  This is also the issue in which Johnny knows that his magic words are “cei-u.”  There was no moment shown when he figured it out, but really, it had been almost two years, even a boy as dense as Johnny would clue in by now.

In these stories Johnny often forgets that he has the Thunderbolt, until Peachy reminds him towards the end of the tale.  Issues 23- 26 see him get into massive debt to Mrs. Ethelmere Van Der Vander, who has the ability to approve or decline his adoption of Peachy, but this entire plotline simply gets dropped with no resolution.

Johnny and Peachy head to Brazil for issues 26 and 27, and Peachy now has a dog, Snuffles, whose thoughts can be read.  This really seemed unnecessary, Johnny was getting lost amid all the comedic additions to his series, but the dog was apparently left behind in Brazil, as we don’t see it again.

In issue 32, following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Johnny joins the navy.  I had hoped that would reduce Peachy’s role in the series, but she stows away on his ship, and after being discovered becomes the crew’s mascot.  There is definitely more action and less slapstick in the navy stories, which last until Johnny gets an honourable discharge in issue 53.  Peachy usually gets the credit, though Thunderbolt does the work, as they capture Nazi subs and spies.  Johnny is simply treated like dirt by the rest of the crew, and by Peachy, and even by the Thunderbolt.

In issue 42 the Thunderbolt returns to Badhnesia, finding it under Japanese occupation, and brings Johnny along to help oust them.  The Thunderbolt will occasionally obey Peachy as well, particularly if Johnny is not around, or unconscious.

The final two stories of the period are billed “Johnny Thunder and Peachy Pet,” but this is inaccurate, as Peachy gets to go solo in the adventures.  Needless to say, these take the series back to its slapstick days.

 

Johnny Thunder continues in the Late Golden Age

 

Johnny Thunder:  Flash Comics 1 – 55

New York World’s Fair 1940

All-Star 2  (Fall 40)

World’s Best 1  (Spring 41)

World’s Finest 2 – 3  (Summer – Fall 41)

Hawkman


The Hawkman series begins with a long flashback prompted when Carter Hall examines a crystal knife amid his ancient weapons collection.  Carter sees himself as a young Egyptian prince, Khufu, who has fallen prey to the machinations of Hath-Set, a priest of Anubis.  Hath-Set uses the knife to kill Khufu and his lover, Shiera.

Carter wakes from his reverie, and crafts himself a costume with a hawk mask and large wings, which are held on by straps across his bare chest.  The wings are made of “ninth metal,” which he also learned about in a dream, another secret of the ancient Egyptians, which allows him to fly.  The subway system is mysteriously burning, and in investigating it Carter finds not only Shiera Sanders, the reincarnation of his former lover, but also the evil Dr. Hastor, a reincarnation of Hath-Set.  Dr. Hastor appears to die at the end of the story, but he returns in the 80s.

Hawkman encounters the god Poseidon in an underwater adventure in Flash Comics 9, and Poseidon gives him the ability to breathe underwater, but it appears this was a temporary power, as Hawkman clearly does not have this ability in later issue.  On the other hand, after getting severely wounded in issue 23, he is saved and tended to by hawks in the hidden valley, and taught the language of birds.  He uses this to his great advantage, both for information, and also to train a bird army that he calls upon when needed.

Big Red is the hawk that becomes somewhat of a sidekick, but that role is largely filled by Shiera.

Shiera’s appearances are sporadic at first, and often she gets kidnapped and has to be rescued.  We learn that she is an archeologist in Flash Comics 16, as she heads to a dig on Mongolia and gets captured by a horde of Mongol warriors.  Her aunt and uncle appear in issue 25, searching for a rejuvenation formula.  Despite being captured so often, Shiera is no wimp.  In issue 20 she attempts to prove her equality to Hawkman by going after a mad bomber on her own, using a rope to swing from rooftop to rooftop.

In Flash Comics 24, December 41, Carter makes Shiera a matching costume, though with a red bra, for a costume ball.  Shiera jumps on the chance to try it out, and offers to help a young couple that have fallen prey to a phony accident scam.  She doesn’t fare very well, getting caught again, and Hawkman does the heavy work himself.  In her next outing she gets shot by hoods who mistake her for Hawkman, but she never gives up, and becomes more or less equal partners with Hawkman by the end of the era.  Interestingly, for a very long time she refers to her costume as her “Hawkman” costume, and its not until issue 30 that she is called Hawkgirl.  Her costumed debut also precedes the first appearance of Wonder Woman by two weeks,  making her DC’s first superwoman.

At first she cannot speak to the birds, but somewhere along the way she does learn their language, and even gets her own bird sidekick, Kitty Hawk, though this bird only appears in Flash Comics 37.

Sheldon Moldoff does the art on much of the run, coming on with issue 4, and sticking around until late 42.  The stories after this are signed by him, but clearly are not his art.  That being said, many of the later 1942 stories look partly like his work, but also partly not.  Perhaps he was getting sloppy, even by 1941 we stop seeing the fabulously rendered mythical cities high in the hills and tribesmen of different nationalities in full dress.

There are no villains who make more than one appearance during this era, but a few of them return in much later times.  Alexander the Great debuts in Flash Comics 2, a wanna-be world conqueror with a giant bulbous bald head, he invites Hawkman to a sumptuous dinner and explains all his plans before the two fight it out. Nyola is an Aztec priestess of the god Yumm-Chac, who seeks out perfect young women to sacrifice to her god in All-Star Comics 2.  Like Dr. Hastor, Alexander the Great and Nyola would have to wait until the 80s to be seen again, all of them returning in the pages of All-Star Squadron.

Satana the Tiger Girl puts human brains into the bodies of animals, who act as her slaves, in Flash Comics 13.  She next appears in 2009.

There are many fascinating one-shot villains, who easily could have returned, as Hawkman tends to fight talking alligators, fake mummies, or talking killer plants more often than simple robbers or murderers.  Father Time appears in issue 33, a mad scientist with a mountain castle as his base, he develops untraceable poisons and melting metals, but dresses as the character he names himself for, with a large scythe that he uses in his battle with Hawkman.  The Human Dynamo is scientist Danford March, who gains the ability to shoot electricity from his body after an experiment goes wrong (because his cleaning lady spilled water on the machine).  His powers drive him mad, but his sanity is restored at the end of the story as his powers get drained.

The Hummingbird is noted ornithologist Hester Morgan.  Greed prompts her to develop a pair of wings that allow her to fly and a magnesium flare gun to blind those she is robbing.  Carter uncovers her identity in Flash 52, and tries to reform her.  Shiera gets jealous of the attention she is receiving from Carter, and as Hawkgirl threatens her, insisting that she is still a criminal.  This stresses Hester out so much that she does return to crime, but even after catching her a second time, Hawkman lets her go free again.

Hawkman’s use of ancient weapons in battle is tied to Carter’s collection, but in no story in this period is Carter called an archeologist.  He is independently wealthy, and in one story is credited as the inventor of a new gun.  He is shown to live in Hall Manor, a large estate, but in other stories clearly is inhabiting a high-rise.  Flash Comics 9 has him operating in New York City, issue 37 says Gotham City, and its Keystone City in issue 49.

I prefer to see these not as continuity errors, but reflecting his ultra-rich status.  Carter has his family estate, but also apartments in a number of different cities, which he and Shiera travel to.  I mean, really, if your power is to fly, why wouldn’t you travel a lot?

Hawkman continues in the Late Golden Age

 

Hawkman:  Flash Comics 1 – 55  (Jan 40 – July 44)

All-Star Comics 1 – 2  (Summer – Fall 40)

Flash


The Flash debuted as the cover feature in the first issues of Flash Comics,  but he was only one of five new characters in that book.  His popularity lead to him getting his own comic, but as Flash Comics already existed, he wound up with the awkwardly titled All-Flash as his solo book.

Jay Garrick was a college student working on a hard water experiment.  He was not the most diligent student, he took a smoke break and unwittingly knocked some of the chemical apparatus over.  The fumes overpowered him, and he passed out, waking in a hospital bed.  Jay discovered that he had gained a speeded-up nervous system as a result of the accident, and in the first issue saves his girlfriend Joan and her father, a retired army major, from Sieur Satan and the Faultless Four.

Jay wore a red shirt with a lightning bolt on it, blue pants, and winged shoes and a winged helmet, making him look like a modern version of Mercury (or the FTD florist).

The series was written by Gardner Fox, and the stories are fairly serious and straightforward, but the art by E.E. Hibbard was critical to the success of the series, adding an almost slapstick feel to it.  There are so many panels of characters with stunned and disbelieving expressions as Flash runs around chaotically.

Aside from running quickly, the Flash can spin so fast he becomes effectively invisible.  Somehow this does not create a breeze, as he stands right next to people while spinning, and they have no idea he is there.  His speed is never clocked precisely, but in issue 9 he runs 2000 miles in 3 hours.  In issue 24 he gets captured and chained up, but rubs his chains together with such speed that the metal melts.

Joan Williams appears in every story, his girlfriend and confidant, aware of his identity from the beginning.  Neither she nor Jay really get developed much though.  We never see her father again after the first issue, and never learn anything about Jay’s life before the accident.  Jay graduates from university, and gets a job at Chemical Research Incorporated, but we never see him at work, or anyone else from the laboratory.  Joan gets a job as Defense Coordination Secretary in Flash 25, investigating gangland influence in the munitions industry, but only for that one story.

In All-Flash 5 he gets sidekicks, in a way.  Winky, Blinky and Noddy are three somewhat shady wanna-be inventors, who accidentally create things that work: a personality-switching ray in All-Flash 6’s “The Ray That Changed Men’s Souls,” and an invisibility vitamin in All-Flash 12’s “Tumble In to Trouble.”  Blinky hypnotizes himself into gaining super-strength in All-Flash 13’s “The Muscleman, the Djinn, and the Flash.”  Most of their appearances, as you may have guessed, were in the pages of All-Flash.  Unlike the Superman and Batman solo books, All-Flash tended to run full-length stories, rather than having four shorter ones, and Winky, Blinky and Noddy helped expand the stories out to their desired length.

The gambler Deuces Wilde would also become a minor supporting character in the Flash series, again appearing in All-Flash, issues 10 and 14.  Deuces Wilde is the only positive portrayal of a gambler I have come across in 1940s stories so far.

The Justice Society of America make an appearance in the first issue of All-Flash, rewarding him with his own book, as Johnny Thunder excitedly points out that he will be taking the Flash’s spot on the team.  The rule at this time was that Justice Society members had to move to honourary membership when they got their own series, but Green Lantern, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, the Sandman, the Spectre, the Atom and Hourman all rejoice at the Flash’s success.

Four of the Flash’s major villains also debut in this era.

The Monocle appears in All-Flash 1, a criminal with upper-class pretensions, he has his men steal jewels that he uses in his “garden of gems.”  He does have the wit to use a strobe light against the Flash, making it easier for his goons to see the hero, though it doesn’t help much overall.  The Monocle does not return until the 1980s.

The Shade debuts in Flash Comics 33’s “The Man Who Commanded the Night.”  He wears all black, with a top hat and black glasses, though in this story he has long white hair.  He had created a machine that spreads darkness throughout the city, a blackness that absorbs all light, but arms his men with special guns that shoot a reflective dust so they can see.

Rag Doll is a circus contortionist who turns to crime in Flash Comics 36, “The Tale of the Treasure Hunt.”  As with the Shade, there is no hint of the character development that would come later, these are just simple, straightforward bad guys.

The Thinker makes two appearances in the era, and even has his true name, Clifford DeVoe, revealed at the end of his first story, All-Flash 12’s “Tumble in to Trouble.”  In this story he has spent ten years working out crimes in elaborate detail, accounting for all possible scenarios, at least until the Flash shows up and messes up his schemes.

He returns in All-Flash 14’s “The Man Who Unleashed the Past,” which is easily my favourite story from this era.  It opens with Winky, Blinky and Noddy at the offices of DC Comics, discovering that All-Flash 14 has not been finished, and taking over the writing and drawing of the series.  The Thinker cons them into believing they have created a machine that pulls creatures from the past into the present, but that’s inconsequential compared to characters escaping situation by breaking panel boundaries, Winky,Blinky and Noddy asking Gardner Fox and  E.E. Hibbard for help in catching the Thinker, and editor Sheldon Mayer freaking out over where the story is going.  Doiby Dickles almost helps them fight the bad guys until Green Lantern pops in points out that they are in the wrong comic.

Those who know the Barry Allen Flash may see some foreshadowing here of the use of editor Julius Schwartz in stories from the 60s and 70s, and there are a number of elements that would return in much later stories – alternate dimensional versions of the Flash and his friends and foes, as well as time travel, but none of it is dealt with very seriously.  Jay Garrick always has a big smile and a cheerful insouciance when fighting crime.

The Flash continues in the Late Golden Age

 

A few of the Flash’s major foes appeared in this early part of his run.  The Monocle, The Shade, Rag Doll

 

Flash:  Flash Comics 1 – 55  (Jan 40 – July 44)

All-Star Comics 1 – 2  (Summer – Fall 40)

All-Flash 1 – 15  (Summer 41 – Summer 44)

Comic Cavalcade  1 – 7  (Winter 42 – Summer 44)

Gary Concord, Ultra-Man (Early Golden Age)


Following the two part backstory, Gary Concord, Ultra-Man, tries to find his father’s formula for the suspended animation foam with the help of his chief advisor, named Guppy.  Guppy is not the sort of name I associate with a chief advisor, but it’s 2240 A.D. after all.

Stella Tor, the daughter of the tyrannical leader of an undefined European country, tries to romance Gary, but he has none of it.  Still, she gets wind of his father’s lab in the badlands, and they race there.  Gary finds the formula as Stella bombs the lab with poison, but the foam neutralizes the toxins.  Stella dies in the battle, and her father uses her death as a pretext to invade United America, launching assaults all down the east coast, presumably from the arctic to Argentina.

Gary has lots and lots of foam made, and at the same time develops an atomic ray that melts metal.  He had Tor’s homeland, and all the troops on the flanks, foamed into passivity, and then leads the aerial war against Tor.  These panels are really very good, if chaotic.  Guppy sacrifices himself, and Gary convinces one of Tor’s generals, Alec, to switch sides (and become his new sidekick.)  The atomic ray wipes out Tor’s forces, and Tor is sent to an asylum.

This storyline ran until All-American 13, with an epilogue of sorts in 14, that sees Tor in disguise, operating a machine that uses rays to create poison gas.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it does introduce Carlota Zambezi.  She is effectively written, a red herring to decoy us from suspecting Dr. Stark, who turns out to be Tor.  Carlota becomes Gary’s Chief of Science at the end of the story.

In issues 15 and 16 Gary deals with Dr. Marman’s monstrous creations, that are described much like clones, but look like robots.  Marman has fallen under the control of Gardo, from an underwater city of finned apes.  They steal a big Uranium X power plant, which Marman ultimately blows up to stop Gardo.

Issue 16 also introduces Ginger Jones, the flighty daughter of a senator, who has a huge and unrequited crush on Gary.

Not much is made of the Ultra-Man idea up to this point, but in his final issues, we are told about his “untiring energy and superior mental powers,” and when diplomacy does not get him what he wants, he removes his costume, saying “it’s time for Ultra-Man!” and then goes and beats people up.

Gary’s next appearance is in the first issue of All-Star Comics, and it, and the final serial that runs from All-American 17 – 19 are both extremely isolationist and anti-war.  In both cases nations in Europe have gone to war, and the stories make it clear that the war is having a devastating effect on United America’s economy.  With exports decreased, factories are closing, people are out of work, and poverty is leading to an increase in street crime.  The tale in All-Star makes the bold statement that both sides in the European war are to blame.

This story would have been on the newstands as Germany was invading and occupying France, and I doubt its message went over well.  In fact, I suspect the political slant of these tales is part of the reason the series ended.

Again, in both stories the wars turn out to be caused not by the nations themselves, they are being manipulated into it by evil corporations.  In the All-Star story the main goal of the war in Europe is to depress the economy of United America so much that the powers behind the war can buy up their uranium mines at low prices.

The thing I liked best about this series, aside from the funky art deco futurism of the art, is the wordplay for future inventions.  Elasteel is wonderfully self-explanatory, but my favourite is destroynamite.

Gary Concord, Ultra-Man is not seen again until a Legion of Super-Heroes Annual in the 90s.

Gary Concord, Ultra Man:  All-American 10 – 19  (Jan – Oct 40)

All-Star 1  (Summer 40)

Biff Bronson (Early Golden Age)


Biff Bronson‘s series plays out much the way it had begun.  Decent art on passable stories, but virtually no characterization of the lead.  In his final appearance Biff defines himself as a “freelancer,” but if this means he is a private detective it’s the only indication of that.  He is just a guy, quick with his fists, who winds up in the midst of a lot of criminal activity.

Dan Druff fares no better in the sidekick position.  We see in More Fun 57 that they share a home, though whether it’s a house or apartment is not clear.  Dan’s mother appears briefly in issue 55, and Biff’s Uncle  Jim is in 64.  Uncle Jim lives in Connecticut, and that’s about his only distinguishing trait.

Most of the stories only run one issue, but there is a three-part story, running from More Fun 53 – 55 that pits Biff and Dan against The Wizard, a little old mad scientist who has built an army of “thousands” of robots (we don’t actually see that many) with which he intends to conquer the US.  Biff figures out how to disable the robots, knocking their brain batteries out, and guts one to wear its “body” and infiltrate the Wizard’s base to blow up their power supply.  He succeeds, but the Wizard uses a paralysis gun on him, and Biff is paralyzed from the waist down, trapped near the bomb he has rigged.  Dan saves the day, coming to rescue Biff in another hollowed out robot body.

There is also a two-part story, in More Fun 60 and 61, with Dr. Zabkin, who has developed serums that turn ordinary people into sideshow freaks, who he then sells through his associate Kapek.  Biff almost gets turned into one himself before turning the tables on Zabkin, who gets thoroughly trounced by his victims after their normal bodies are restored.

There is not much else to say about the character or the series.  Biff exposes the chief of police as the mastermind behind a protection scam in issue 66, and stops the assassination of a government minister from Bulovia in 67, his final story.  The FBI offer him a place in their organization, but Biff insists he wants to stay freelance.

But then we see no more of him.  Odd, isn’t it?  Did the FBI not take kindly to being rebuffed?  Was their offer not actually a choice?  Will we ever know the ultimate fate of freelance freelancer Biff Bronson?

Since I am going to close it on that note, probably not.

Biff Bronson:  More Fun Comics 51 – 67 (Jan 40 – May 41)

All-Star Comics 1  (Summer 40)

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