The REAL Man Of Steel

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Steel Sterling may well have the craziest origin of any Superman-wannabe in the history of funny books: He doused himself with an experimental chemical and then dove naked into a vat of molten steel!

Instead of suffering a painful, fiery death, Sterling found himself imbued with the strength and invulnerability of steel! (Don’t try this at home, Time Bulleteers!!)

The sight of Sterling diving to his apparent doom was so memorable that the above image – penciled and inked by the legendary Charles Biro, no less – became part of the character’s logo in subsequent appearances!

Despite such colorful beginnings, however, Steel Sterling may have disappeared into the mists of time like other long-dormant Golden Age characters if not for one or two salient facts.

For one thing, Sterling was dubbed “The Man Of Steel” years before a certain Kryptonian adopted the name. Secondly, Sterling eventually established a secret identity of sorts by pretending to be his own twin brother, a gimmick Stan Lee later lifted for the Silver Age Daredevil.

Finally, Steel’s publisher  – MLJ Comics – never really went put of business. The company simply morphed into Archie Comics and focused its efforts on the adventures of a certain red-haired teenager.

Even though MLJ eventually veered far from its more lurid four-color origins, the company still resurrects its crime-fighters from time to time because you never know when readers might take a shine to a brand, spanking “new” super-hero universe. Therefore, it’s very likely that Steel Sterling will rise again from his molten vat, ready to beat down evildoers with his steel-hard fists.

Here’s Steel Sterling’s origin by the character’s creators, writer Abner Sundell and artist Charles Biro. “The Man Of Steel” originally appeared in Zip Comics #1 (MLJ/Archie Comics, February 1940.)

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Daredevil Battles Hitler

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Frank Miller’s Holy Terror – a typically over-the-top and controversial account of a Batman-esque character’s response to a 9-11 level terrorist attack – has been described by the cartoonist as “a piece of propaganda” that was at least partially inspired by the Golden Age comics that prominently featured patriotic super-heroes cheerfully punching out Hitler, Mussolini or Hirohito.

(In fact, critics have decried Miller’s apparent blanket condemnation of Muslims as hateful and prejudiced, much as how contemporary audiences view the World War II depiction of America’s enemies in comic books, films, radio and just about every other form of media from that era.)

As a point of reference, I thought it would be interesting to sample a story from one of the most famous “propaganda” comics of the 1940s: Lev Gleason’s Daredevil Battles Hitler, a title published before America’s entry into the war that clearly reflected the publisher’s personal antipathy toward fascism.

The comic featured Gleason’s breakout character, Daredevil, teaming up with other characters’ in the publisher’s stable in an epic battle against Hitler and the German dictator’s allies – which apparently included Jack Cole’s monstrous Claw.

From Daredevil Battles Hitler #1 (Lev Gleason Publications, July 1941), here’s  - surprisingly enough – “Daredevil Battles Hitler.” The story is believed to be written and drawn by the great Charles Biro.

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This Boy’s Life

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Crimebuster would never fly in the too-cool-for-school world of modern super-heroes.

He battled crime and corruption with little more than his wits and the average strength of an average, if decidedly athletic, teenager. His costume: a hockey uniform and second-hand cape. His sidekick: a chimpanzee.

Yet Crimebuster enjoyed a 14-year run as a Golden Age headliner, mainly because creator Charles Biro (Airboy, Crime Does Not Pay) guessed correctly that his readership would enjoy the two-fisted exploits of “an average boy with the stuff to get along in life.”

It also helped that Biro often threw his protagonist into gruesome adventures that would have given the likes of Dick Grayson pause. The young adventurer dedicated his life to warring against crime after his parents were brutally murdered by a Nazi agent known as Iron Jaw, one of the more bloodthirsty and memorable villains of the Golden Age.

Iron Jaw from Boy Comics #4

The following story – which originally appeared in Boy Comics #7 (Lev Gleason, 1942) – is no less graphic. In fact, many of the murders committed by mystery villain wouldn’t seem out of place decades later in a Friday The 13th slasher flick.  Yet, as Biro himself wrote on the splash page, “This tale may shock you, but it was my intention to make it rough and true to life. I think Crimebuster’s readers like it rough!”

Take that, Wertham.

“The Will Of Roger Spaulding” was written and drawn by Biro.

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