As conceived by writer France Heron and artist Jack Kirby, Mr. Scarlet was Fawcett’s answer to Batman, one that was every bit as cold and ruthless as Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original depiction of The Dark Knight.
The tone of the series rapidly softened, however, as the Crimson Crusader (Hey, why not?) adopted a sunnier attitude and picked up a teenage sidekick, the unfortunately named Pinky. Competent, if unexciting, adventures ensured.
Somewhere along the way, though, somebody in the Fawcett bullpen came up with a brilliant idea: What happens when a masked crime fighter succeeds beyond his wildest dreams?
In the case of Mr. Scarlet, a district attorney in his civilian life, the hero finds himself standing in the unemployment line. The character was so good at his work that illegal activities in Gotham City – believe it or not, Scarlet’s hometown was identified as such in Wow Comics # 1 – ground to a screeching halt and the good citizens no longer required the services of criminal law attorneys.
The end result effectively lampooned the concept of millionaire crime-fighters as Mr. Scarlet literally became the “poor man’s Batman.” The remainder of his adventures, which lasted until 1948, found the super-hero struggling to support himself and his ward as he continued battling the threat of the month.
Until Peter Parker came along 14 years later, I’m not sure comics saw a more hard-luck super-hero than Fawcett’s Mr. Scarlet.
From Wow Comics # 21 (Fawcett, January 1944), here’s the excellently titled “Out To Lunch – With Danger.” The art is uncredited, but the story is provided by one of the medium’s greatest writers: Otto Binder.