Wednesday

OMU: Golden Age -- Part Three

The stories from the “Golden Age” of the Original Marvel Universe, set in the decades surrounding World War II, suggest a disturbing truth, that fighting crime as a superhero is extremely dangerous work. In fact, it would seem that many who took up the call paid for it with their lives, for their careers were brief and they were never heard from again. Taking a closer look at these obscure characters, we often see that they were not really up to the task, and it is little wonder they were ultimately overwhelmed and defeated by the forces of evil they sought to challenge. These are the casualties of the Golden Age, and their careers stand as cautionary tales to would-be superheroes of later generations.

The following is a guide to the casualties of the OMU’s “Golden Age.” Bear in mind that, while some of these characters were brought back in some form or other in comics published in the mid- to late-1990s, these stories are beyond the established OMU canon, and therefore represent alternate versions of the characters. While these alternate versions may have survived to old age, those who lived in the Original Marvel Universe were most assuredly dead by the time the Fantastic Four led the superhero resurgence of the 1960s. The timing of their deaths was usually suggested by the characters’ publication history. Also, some plausible speculations were suggested, either by the stories, the connections between the stories, or by the nature of the characters themselves, as to the “behind-the-scenes” activities, motivations, or ultimate fates of the characters. These speculations are included when relevant, since the Original Marvel Universe is now a closed system. See Part One for further explanation of my rationale.


Casualties of the OMU Golden Age


The Angel

First Appearance: Marvel Comics #1 (November 1939)
Years Active: 1939–1946

Killed on Christmas Day, 1946.

Private detective Thomas Halloway, a true renaissance man, donned a red and blue costume to fight crime as the Angel, a nickname he had earned in his youth when he saved the life of an inmate at the prison where his father was the warden. Halloway’s mother had died in childbirth, and his father had raised the boy at the prison, where he received an unorthodox education. Wishing to fight crime more directly than he could as a gumshoe, Halloway adopted the identity of the Angel and used his fighting skill and wide-ranging knowledge to smash numerous crime syndicates and other menaces to public safety.

After one particular adventure, the Angel came into possession of an enchanted cape, which granted him the ability to fly, although he found the experience unnerving and difficult to master, using it only when absolutely necessary. He battled criminals for seven successful years, all through the dark days of World War II, until his devil-may-care attitude finally cost him his life on Christmas Day in 1946.


The Black Marvel

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #5 (March 1941)
Years Active: 1941–1942

Killed in late spring 1942.

Dan Lyons journeyed to a Blackfoot Indian reservation to take up the mantle of the elderly Indian hero who once saved his father’s life. After passing a battery of tests of strength, stamina, skill, and intelligence, Lyons was awarded the secret of the Black Marvel, which allowed him to reach the pinnacle of human ability. He returned to New York City, designed a black, red, and gold costume for himself, and declared his one-man war against crime. After fighting numerous criminals, mad scientists, unscrupulous businessmen, and Nazi spies, he soon became the chief nemesis of a gang of mobsters calling itself the Order of the Hood. Eventually, the Black Marvel’s luck ran out and he was captured by the Order of the Hood and tortured to death.


The Blazing Skull

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #5 (March 1941)
Years Active: 1939–1942

Killed in late spring 1942.

Newspaper reporter Mark Todd went to China in 1939 to cover the Sino-Japanese War. There, he stumbled upon a mysterious race of “Skull Men,” who granted him superhuman strength and an invulnerability to fire. Sickened by the carnage he had covered as a reporter, Todd renounced his philosophy of pacifism, donned a red costume and flaming skull mask and attacked the Japanese army. His activities eventually widened to include all the Axis powers, which came to fear this uncanny specter. Although immune to flame, Todd unfortunately was not immune to bullets, and met his death while battling the Nazis in the late spring of 1942.


The Blue Blaze

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #1 (March 1940)
Year Active: 1940

Killed in the autumn of 1940.

In the early spring of 1940, two grave robbers were terrified when an eerily-glowing man clawed his way out of a ninety-year-old grave and confronted them. The name on the headstone read “Spencer Keen,” a man thought to have died in a tornado in 1852.

Spencer Keen had been the son of a noted chemist who worked at a midwestern college in the 1840s and 50s. One night in 1852, Keen was on his way to a costume ball at the college. He had donned a tight-fitting blue bodysuit, black leather boots, a studded belt, and a cowl that hid most of his face, inspired by legends of a mysterious avenger in the African jungles known as the Ghost Who Walks. Keen stopped in to see his father, who was working late in his laboratory. His father revealed the nature of the experiments he had been conducting with a mysterious bluish energy, which Keen dubbed “the blue blaze.” The elder Keen claimed that he had used the blue blaze on various animals, and though it seemed to kill them instantly, they would revive months later with vastly increased strength and stamina. Keen worried that his father had gone insane. However, a tornado suddenly tore through campus, destroying the laboratory along with numerous other buildings, and in the chaos, Spencer Keen was bathed in the strange blue energy. Afterwards, with the school and nearby town devastated and nearly all the population killed, Keen was counted among the victims of the storm and quickly buried, still wearing his masquerade costume.

Nearly 90 years later, Keen awoke, finding himself super-strong and basically invulnerable. After escaping from his grave, he found a city had grown up where the town once sat, and the small college had become a major university. Keen soon stumbled across a plot hatched by a half-Japanese, half-Polish scientist, Professor Maluski, to create a race of zombies to take over the world. After defeating Maluski, the bewildered Keen was hailed as a “superhero.” His efforts to explain himself were misinterpreted, and he was dubbed “The Blue Blaze” by reporters. Soon after, Keen battled an insane scientist named Barko, who had developed a freezing ray, and had him committed to an asylum.

Over the summer, the Blue Blaze became a sensation, and many local mobsters came to fear their super-strong, bulletproof foe. One such crime boss, called Dr. Gair, employed a Jewish astrologer and magician known as the Star-Gazer, who seemingly created monsters and death rays to kill the Blue Blaze. However, the Blaze was triumphant and the villains ended up dead, much to Keen’s satisfaction. Later, the Blue Blaze battled a villain calling himself Dr. Vortex, who was intent on fanning the flames of war in Europe. Dr. Vortex proved to be a formidable foe, and their struggle was only ended when both men, locked in hand-to-hand combat, tumbled into a flooded limestone quarry and drowned.


Citizen V

First Appearance: Daring Mystery Comics #8 (January 1942)
Years Active: 1940–1944

Killed in late summer 1944.

In the spring of 1940, British Army Lieutenant John Watkins was on a boat in the English Channel when it came under attack by a Nazi plane, which strafed the boat with machine gun fire. Watkins was hit and fell overboard. When the boat returned to base, it was reported that Watkins was dead.

However, somehow Watkins survived and was found by a French fisherman, who took him home and nursed him back to health. Months later, Watkins returned to England, to the great surprise of his commanding officer. Since he was legally dead, Watkins was recruited to become a special agent to infiltrate Nazi-occupied countries in Europe and inspire the resistance. He agreed, was given a modified uniform and a mask, and adopted the identity of Citizen V—“V” for Victory.

As Citizen V, Watkins returned to France and waged a one-man guerrilla war against the Nazis, leaving his calling card—the letter V displayed in whatever manner presented itself—everywhere he went. Eventually, Citizen V made his way into Germany and later still into Poland, where, at the Warsaw Uprising, the Nazis finally caught up to him, and a bullet to the head ended the career of Citizen V.


The Falcon

First Appearance: Human Torch Comics #2 (Fall 1940)
Year Active: 1940

Killed in the autumn of 1940.

A brilliant young Assistant District Attorney named Carl Burgess, inspired by the heroic antics of the dashing Angel, donned a costume and stalked the night to fight crime as the Falcon. Although a pretty good brawler, Burgess proved no match for the city’s criminal element, and after only a few weeks, was beaten to death by a gang of hoods.


Father Time

First Appearance: Captain America Comics #6 (September 1941)
Years Active: 1941–1942

Killed in late summer 1942.

Larry Scott was the son of a man who had been convicted of murder and was set to be executed in the electric chair in the summer of 1941. Convinced that his father was innocent, Larry Scott did everything he could to prove it and save his father’s life. Unfortunately, his efforts failed and his father was executed on schedule. The experience caused Scott to become unhinged, and he donned a hooded cloak and a mask, took up a scythe, and began killing criminals, vowing to “make time work against criminals instead of the innocent.” Calling himself “Father Time,” Scott terrorized the underworld for nearly a year, before his insanity made him careless and he got himself killed.


The Fin

First Appearance: Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941)
Years Active: 1941–1942

Killed in the spring of 1942.

United States Navy Lieutenant Peter Noble was a member of the crew of an American submarine that sank in the spring of 1941 during a training exercise. Desperate to survive, Noble took an oxygen tank and abandoned the ship as it sank toward the ocean floor. However, rather than being crushed by the water pressure of the deep sea, Noble discovered that his body could withstand it. He soon found that he could breathe underwater as well. Fearing that he was some kind of freak, Noble did not return to the surface world, but instead eventually happened upon the small undersea kingdom of Neptunia. Accepted by the blue-skinned denizens of Neptunia, Noble eventually became their leader.

In early 1942, Noble attacked a Nazi submarine that came too close to Neptunia, and in the ensuing battle, many Neptunians were killed. Therefore, Neptunia declared war on Nazi Germany, and Peter Noble made many daring attacks against the Nazis on both land and sea, making use of an enchanted cutlass he had discovered in an ancient shipwreck. Dubbed “the Fin,” due to his distinctive headgear, Noble was considered a seafaring superhero by the American press, often compared to the Sub-Mariner—much to Namor’s chagrin. However, after only a few months, Noble was killed in combat. The true nature of his superhuman powers was never discovered.


The Silver Scorpion

First Appearance: Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941)
Years Active: 1941–1942

Killed in the spring of 1942.

Betty Barstow, secretary to private detective Dan Hurley, was on her way to a masquerade ball, dressed in a superhero-style costume, when she stumbled upon a crime in process. She encountered a gang of crooks, who were so startled by her appearance that they were easily defeated by her martial-arts skills. Thrilled by the experience, Barstow decided to continue as a costumed crimefighter, and soon came to be known as the Silver Scorpion. She plagued the underworld for about a year, until she ran afoul of a mob boss who discovered her secret identity and had her murdered.


The Thunderer

First Appearance: Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941)
Years Active: 1941–1942

Killed in February 1942.

Inspired by the dashing hero known as the Angel, ham radio operator Jerry Carstairs put on a blue-and-red costume and went out to fight crime as the Thunderer, using a microphone/speaker gimmick to frighten his opponents. Less than ten months later, he slipped off an icy roof and fell to his death.


The Witness

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #7 (December 1941)
Years Active: 1941–1942

Killed in early summer 1942.

The mystery man known only as the Witness declared war on the underworld just as America entered World War II. Originally donning a makeshift costume, he soon abandoned it, and merely wore a mask with his suit and hat, also growing a mustache. A violent man himself, he soon became the obsessive nemesis of an especially violent gang of mobsters called the League of Blood, and they had several brutal battles over the winter and spring of 1942. Ultimately, though, the Witness, for all his strength and fighting skill, was overwhelmed by the League’s superior numbers and gunned down. His body was weighted down with cement and dumped in the river, where it was never found.


The Yankee Clipper

First Mentioned: Uncanny X-Men #215 (March 1987)
Years Active: 1943–1944

Killed in combat in 1944.

The Yankee Clipper was the female member of a team consisting of the Crimson Commando, Stonewall, and Super Sabre, which was brought together in 1943 to supplement the forces of the Invaders and the Liberty Legion, though their exploits were much less celebrated. On a mission during 1944, the Yankee Clipper was killed in combat.


The Robots of the OMU Golden Age


Electro the Robot

First Appearance: Marvel Mystery Comics #4 (February 1940)
Years Active: 1940–1941

Destroyed in late spring 1941.

Professor Philo Zog, an extremely wealthy and brilliant inventor, built a large, powerful robot which he called “Electro.” The robot was bulletproof, and could even withstand small artillery. It could run at over 100 m.p.h. It could leap into the sky and cover huge distances, and was possessed of tremendous strength. The robot could be summoned by means of a wireless transceiver.

Concerned about crime and the degenerating world situation, Professor Zog recruited a dozen men, among them a capable agent named Dick Gardner, to serve as a vanguard against criminals and foreign subversives, using Electro as their main weapon. Zog’s valet, Mr. Burke, and his secretary, Wilkins, helped manage and operate the organization.

For fourteen months, Zog’s organization was wildly successful, and Electro, painted bright red and yellow, was hailed in the press as “the Marvel of the Age.” However, in the late spring of 1941, the Third Reich decided to try to steal the secrets of Electro for their own purposes. In an explosive battle between the Nazi commandos and Gardner’s anti-crime syndicate, the robot was utterly destroyed, Professor Zog was killed, and his laboratory was blown up. The surviving foreign agents were jailed, but most of the members of Gardner’s group were killed. The remaining members decided to disband.


Flexo the Rubber Man

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #2 (April 1940)
Year Active: 1940

Destroyed in the autumn of 1940.

In the spring of 1940, after many years of research and development, scientists Joel Williams and Joshua Williams, brothers, built a robot with a rubber body filled with an experimental gas, which they could operate by remote control. Their creation was dubbed “Flexo the Rubber Man” and he used his great speed, astounding strength, and ability to fly to perform spectacular feats.

Over the summer, the Williams brothers used the unspeaking Flexo mainly as a servant and to assist them with various research projects. However, when an unscrupulous scientist, a Dr. Murdock, tried to create a death-ray machine using stolen radium, Flexo was enlisted to halt the dangerous scheme. Later, Flexo again came to the rescue when a German spy, Karl Damos, stole a torpedo-defense device the Williamses had developed for the Navy. Then Flexo was used to stop a series of arsons committed by a fascist calling himself the “Iron Duke.”

Josh and Joel Williams, being Jewish, were very concerned about the situation in Europe, especially with Hitler and the Nazis having just conquered France, and they discussed using Flexo as a weapon against fascism.

Having come to the attention of the Third Reich, Nazi agents kidnapped the Williams brothers and took them to Germany, along with the formula for a new high-explosive they were working on. Flexo was instrumental in rescuing his creators from the Nazis and returning them to the U.S.

A month or two later, as autumn arrived, the Nazis gained their revenge by having the Williams brothers murdered. Unable to make Flexo work to serve their cause, the Nazis destroyed the robot and burned down the brothers’ laboratory. All their research was lost.


Previous Issue: The Survivors!



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