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Posts tagged ‘MLJ Comics’

Steel Sterling

Steel Sterling is the name adopted by John Sterling after he covers himself with a chemical concoction and dives into a vat of molten steel.  It does not change his appearance in any way, but gives him the “resistance, magnetism and strength of steel.”  He did this to avenge his father’s murder by gangsters, though he never actually gets around to doing that.

His powers endow him with great speed, though exactly how is never explained.  They also allow him to fly.  He does this by rubbing his hair, which causes a magnetic attraction to phone wires.  And that lets him fly.  Yup.  His most entertaining power is to send and receive short wave messages by rubbing his tongue on his teeth.  The panels depicting this usually show him with his tongue sticking out and bolts of electricity shooting out of his mouth.

I have made the visuals sound awful, which is unfair.  Irv Novick provides the art on the series, and though it is not that impressive at the start, over its run it becomes very bold and dynamic.  It never looks like Novick’s later work, but it is certainly above par.

Steel spends his first five stories fighting the Black Knight, who always appears to die at the end.  Guess the fifth death was real.  By this point, he had gained a supporting cast: Dora Cummings, the daughter of a scientist and his romantic interest, Officer Clancy, an overweight cop, and Looney (Alec Ben Lunar) who is basically comic relief.

Zip Comics 9 – 13 are the best issues of the run.  They deal with two criminals from a circus, Twisto, a rubber man, and Inferno, a fire eater who can breathe fire.  Twisto is the dominant, and more malevolent of the two, while Inferno winds up changing sides, and even willingly goes to prison to pay his debt to society in issue 12, after helping Steel take down the Rattler, a murderous mob boss.  Steel winds up in prison himself in issue 13, to uncover who is behind a series of escapes, and Inferno helps him find the corrupt guards allowing it to happen.

Amid this, Steel sheds his “secret identity.”  He has been pretending that Steel Sterling is the brother (presumably identical twin) of John Sterling, and Dora never figures out this is a lie.  As part of his plans against Twisto, he allows him to think he has succeeded in killing John.  He reveals the truth to Dora, but leaves his John  identity dead.

Steel and pals head to Hawaii for a story that would have been released shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, in issue 22.  Of course it does not reflect these events, but does lead Steel to China in the next issue, facing off against the Japanese.  After a trip to Alaska in issue 24, in which he does an impressive job repairing a cable car line by himself, and a journey to ancient Greece caused by touching a victory cup in issue 25, Zip Comics 26 features a story about the bombing of Pearl Harbour, putting Steel right in the middle of the action.

The series then becomes very World War 2 oriented.  Looney becomes a lieutenant in the army, and Dora gets relegated to the sidelines.  She makes only one final appearance, in Zip 29, complaining about how Steel is always busy fighting the Axis instead of taking her out on dates.  Boo-hoo.

Steel fights Baron Gestapo, Der Hyena, the Werewolf of France the Creeper, and a host of other Nazi villains, while travelling to Czechoslovakia, France, Lisbon, North Africa and of course Germany.

The series shifts back to homegrown crimes with issue 39, and the last few issues see Steel pitted against Amazons, elves, living shadows and zombies.

Steel Sterling returns at some point, probably the Mighty Crusaders series in the 60s.



Steel Sterling:  Zip Comics 1 – 47  (Feb 40 – Summer 44)

Jackpot Comics:  1 – 9  (Spring 41 – Spring 43)

The Comet

The Comet was created  by Jack Cole for MLJ Comics, and has the distinction of being the first superhero to get killed.  I may also add that he was the first superhero with a really garishly ugly costume.

John Dickering is a scientist who discovers a gas 50 times lighter than air, and decides that injecting himself with it is a good idea.  It enables him to jump great heights and distances, effectively flying, and also causes beams to emit from his eyes, making anything he stares at explode.  He wears a visor at all times to prevent destroying anything he looks at.  Curiously, the beams have no effect on plate glass.

He wears an outift that covers his entire body, except for his face.  It’s bright red all the way up to the arrow pointing at his face, but with black sleeves and shoulders, covered and yellow stars and crescent moons.

He is a fairly intense hero, who thinks nothing of using his eye beams to kill bad guys.  This works against him, as he gets captured and hypnotized by Zadar in Pep Comics 3, who sends him out to commit thefts and murders.  The Comet kills Zadar at the end of the story, but is wanted for the murders he committed while under hypnosis.  Through the rest of his series the police are chasing him, and even though he gets credited with catching bad guys and stopping foreign agents, his name never gets cleared.

In Pep Comics 5 he meets reporter Thelma Gordon.  She writes for the Daily Journal, or is it the Daily Star? (Pep 9). No, it’s the Daily Blast (issue 11).  Sorry, the Daily Blare (12).  No, I was right before, the Daily Blast (Pep 15).

Thelma believes his story about the hypnosis, and encourages John to modify his gas injections, so that he can pass as a normal person.  We see him out of costume for the first time in Pep Comics 6, though he has to wear special glasses to negate his eye beams.

The stories themselves are nothing special, and the art seems to get worse with each issue.  It is clear that Jack Cole only did the first story, and there is a wonderful use of the roof of a house as a panel border in the first story.

Although the Comet was the first superhero to die, this does not technically occur in his own series, which ends in Pep Comics 16.  Pep 17  begins the Hangman series, and the Comet’s death occurs in that, so will be discussed in my entry on that character.

The Comet (a different incarnation) returns as part of DC’s Impact line in the early 90s.


The Comet:  Pep Comics 1 – 16  (Jan 40 – June 41)

The Shield

MLJ’s hero The Shield was the first supehero to dress in an American flag, predating Captain America by over a year.  He was FBI man Joe Higgins, and his identity was known only to J. Edgar Hoover, who appears in many of the stories, sending him on his missions.  The artist who created the character was Irv Novick, though there is nothing about the art that resembles his later work.  A variety of artists would work on the series, which ran in Pep Comics, as well as Shield-Wizard, which he shared with the other hero, but the only one to shine on it was Jack Kirby, and even then only his earliest issues reflect his talent.

At the beginning, the Shield’s powers are ill-defined, but part of the costume.  This changed in the first issue of Shield-Wizard, in which we learn that Joe’s father was a scientist killed by foreign agents to prevent him from developing his Shield serum.  This boosted the powers of the Sacrum, Heart, Innervation, Eyes, Lungs and Derma.  Joe’s costume resembled the badge-style of American shield, with red and white stripes running vertically down the torso, and a blue band with horizontal stars along the upper chest.  A blue mask and tights complete his outfit.

It would take a while for the Shield to get a supporting cast.  His girlfriend Betty was the first recurring character.  She would eventually become a private investigator, in Shield-Wizard 4, but not much was ever done with her, and of course she never figured out Joe was the Shield.

JuJu Watson became his sidekick in the extended origin story in Shield-Wizard 1, joining the FBI at the same time, and becoming buddies, though again unaware of his identity.  JuJu appeared older than Joe, and definitely not as intelligent.  He would also get a girlfriend, Mamie, in Shield-Wizard 3.

At the beginning, the Shield fought mostly foreign spies of fictional countries.  The Wizard appears in Pep Comics 4, a story that falls between the Shield’s two appearances in his series in Top-Notch.  The Wizard just gives the Shield some information on the Mosconians, setting up the story in which they both battle them.

The Shield gets two recurring villains in these early days, both foreign agents, Dr. Wang and the Vulture.   The Vulture has unexplained green skin and pointy ears.  It may be a mask or make-up, but no one ever questions it.

In Pep Comics 11 the Shield adopts an orphan boy, Dusty, and trains and costumes him as his sidekick, Dusty.  Neither Betty, JuJu nor Mamie ever figure out that Dusty is really Dusty.  Sigh.

With Pep Comics 27, and Shield-Wizard 7, Jack Kirby takes control of the art, and the series just takes off.  OK, well, it doesn’t get amazing, but it ceases to become a chore to read.  Kirby’s art improves with each issue at first, and it is fascinating to see him develop his style.  The Shield and Dusty are pitted against wonderfully grotesque German agents, The Strangler and The Hun.  The Hun even gets an entire story in Shield-Wizard 8 on his origin, which parallels that of the Shield.  Amidst this, the Shield’s powers simply wear off in Pep Comics 29, and he cannot get them back.  He bemoans this for a number of issues, but does not let it stop him.  This makes the stories in which he battles, defeats and kills the Hun more effective, as the Hun is actually more powerful than the Shield.

The Hun story was clearly popular enough that the Son of the Hun (not called that, but I couldn’t resist) appears in Shield-Wizard 10.

By Pep Comics 30 the supporting cast aside from Dusty was basically dropped.  Even J. Edgar Hoover had stopped appearing.  But after the first few power packed Kirby issues, the stories turned back to crime tales, lots of haunted houses that turn out to be hoodlum hideouts.

As the series continues to the end of this era, there are some stories that clearly are not Kirby, but many that look sort of like him, but also not.  I am not sure if this is Novick back on the series and trying to duplicate Kirby, or some of his rushed work before he went off into the army, or if the work itself is part Kirby, part someone else.

The Shield continues in the Late Golden Age.




The Shield:  Pep Comics 1 – 49  (Jan 40 – July 44)

Shield-Wizard  1 – 13  (Summer 40 – Spring 44)

The Wizard (Early Golden Age)

The first year of The Wizard’s stories are by far the best.  Not that they are great, the art is mediocre and the stories jingoistic, but after the first year it would just get worse.  How this character spun off into a shared book I have no idea.

The Wizard, Blaine Whitney, is credited at first solely with his brain powers, which we see largely in terms of his inventions, as well as a pill he has devised to give him added strength and stamina.  In Top-Notch 4 he uses hypnosis to control a villain’s mind, but we don’t see that trick again. He also has visions of things that are happening, or about to happen.  For a very long time these are explained as his “photographic” mind reasoning out what is occurring, even though there are instances where this clearly is not the case – for example, in Shield-Wizard 13, when he is reading a book, and gets a vision of Roy in trouble.  It is not until 1943, in Shield-Wizard11, that he is finally credited with clairvoyance.

In his first year he battles an onslaught of foreign agents and troops, usually called in by his brother, Grover, of Naval Intelligence, and leaves behind a piece of paper with the phrase “Our country right or wrong” on it, which seems a little extreme for a hero.  Shouldn’t they be above such mindless acquiesance?

There is a delightful slough of inventions in this period, though, often accompanied by cut-away diagrams.  The Wizard creates a vibra-ray gun, a dynomagno saw ray, a contra-gravity flask, a neutronic vacuum ray, a strato-amphibian plane and an aerochute in a matter of months.  It’s entirely possible these do not work as well as they might.  We never see them used a second time, and the neutronic vacuum ray stops engines exactly the same way the vibra-ray did two issues earlier.

He also meets fellow MLJ star The Shield twice in this year, a brief meet and greet in Top-Notch 5, followed by an actual team up against the forces of Mosconia in issue 7.  Shortly after this they begin sharing a book, Shield-Wizard, but never team up in its pages.

Top-Notch 5 also introduces Blaine’s fiancee, Jane Barlow, who has more interest in the Wizard than in Blaine.  We learn that she is journalist in Top-Notch 11, though the paper is called the Daily Record in this issue, but the Daily Chronicle from issue 19 on, and that Blaine is the owner of the paper, though this is rarely mentioned again.

In issue 6 Blaine changes from his suit into more generic blue tights, with a red cape and shorts, still with his red domino mask.

The first two issues of his Shield-Wizard series are devoted to his ancestry.  The first issue details the earliest Whitney settlers, and trhe one who was burned at the stake in Salem as a witch for the things he invented, and then goes on to show how they helped Washington win the Revolutionary War, with issue 2 covering his ancestors actions during the War of 1812.

In issue 8 it all goes wrong, as he finds a 12 year old shoeshine boy, Roy, and brings him home to train.  He gives Roy a pair of blue shorts,a red and white striped shirt and a little blue kerchief and mask, and starts taking him out to fight crime as Roy the Super-Boy.  Grover had made his final appearance in issue 7, and no longer will the Wizard deal with foreign foes, now he becomes a crime fighter.  Sadly, he will also stop inventing cool weapons, preferring to fight it out alongside Roy.

Even worse is the addition of Oscar the Ostrich, who does little other than provide chaotic “comedy” in issues 22, 24 and Shield-Wizard 5.

In Top-Notch 25 Blaine and Jane head to the altar, but she is kidnapped by a jilted ex-boyfriend.  The Wizard saves her, and they head back to the church at the end of the story, but Jane hears a news bulletin about an explosion at the waterfront and runs off.  It seems they just give up on getting married after this, as Jane sticks around until the end of the series, but they clearly are not married in any of the later stories.

There is one genuinely good story in this run, a very powerful one that was written after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.  In Top-Notch 27, the Wizard’s final appearance in that book, he reminisces about Randolph Blake, a long-time friend who went too much into the party world, got framed for murder and believed himself guilty because he had passed out.  After the Wizard proved his innocence, he could not go back to his former life, and chose to join the army.  He was stationed at Pearl Harbour, and died in the attack.

About the only other thing I can say about this series is that the Wizard does get two stories without Roy before his run ends, in Shield-Wizards 9 and 13.


The Wizard returns in some revival of the MLJ heroes, probably the 60s Mighty Crusaders series.  I hope Roy gets left behind.  If Oscar the Ostrich returns I will regret ever having read the MLJs



The Wizard:  Top-Notch Comics 2 – 27  (Jan 40 – May 42)

Shield-Wizard  1 – 13  (Summer 40 – Winter 43)

The Wizard

This post is shameful.  The Wizard was the first of the MLJ line of heroes, debuting in Top-Notch Comics1.  I have not read it.  I have not found any issues of Top-Notch.  I am looking, believe you me.

I could wiki him, and pretend I got the information from reading his series, but aside from being cheating, as I saw with Blue Beetle, a first appearance can be very different than a second one.

So this entry is a place-holder for the character, and when I do finally get to read Top-Notch 1, I will write it up here.

MLJ, by the way, created a line of heroes in the 1940s that bounced around over the years with a number of revivals.  DC has twice attempted to use them as part of their line since acquiring them, but neither attempt really caught on.  MLJ continues to this day, but has changed its name to that of its most successful and longest running series, Archie Comics.

Leaving the rest of that, but now I have read the first issue of Top-Notch Comics, which is almost entirely background on the character.

Blaine Whitney is the great-great-grandson of one of George Washington’s aides, and we get almost two solid pages detailing various ancestors who fought in the various wars the US was part of.  Blaine himself was a child prodigy, inventing a liquid that could melt metal when he was only a teenager, and also devising a super-fast car, which can go 300 miles an hour, and which he still drives.

Blaine is considered to have “the greatest brain power on earth,” by which they mean he is really really smart.  Not telekinetic or anything though.

Blaine lives in a posh Park Avenue apartment with his butler Jeeves, and pretends to just be a society playboy, but undertakes missions in conjunction with his brother, Grover, who is the Chief of Naval Intelligence.

As The Wizard Blaine wears a blue suit with a white cape and red mask.  The costume, along with the name The Wizard, certainly makes one expect something along the lines of Zatara, rather than an inventor.


The Wizard continues in the Early Golden Age, and I sure hope I have read some of his stories by the time I reach him.

The Wizard: Top-Notch Comics 1  (Dec 39)

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