Thanks to Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and a cast of thousands over at the Nu52, owl-themed super-characters are experiencing their biggest surge in comic-book popularity since Nite-Owl admitted that life is best experienced while wearing spandex.
Of course, owls didn’t always provide handy comic-book totems for nefarious cults and critically acclaimed deconstructions of super-heroic tropes. One of Daredevil’s early arch-villains patterned himself after the bird of prey while Golden-Age publisher Crestwood drafted The Black Owl to serve as its answer to Batman from 1940-47.
And nobody can forget long-time Justice League foe (and, much like The Black Owl, an analogue of the Caped Crusader) Owlman …
One of the more notable members of this august group was The Owl, who was just about the only all-original super-hero published by Dell Comics in the 1940s.
(Although the company published one of the earliest all-original comic-books, The Funnies, in 1929, by the 1940s Dell specialized in producing the adventures of such licensed properties as Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters. The Owl – along with Walt Kelly’s Pogo and a few other funny animal features – were rare exceptions to this rule.)
The Owl was created by Frank Thomas, the man responsible for The Eye. Despite the main character’s fantastic appearance, Thomas grounded the strip in reality – or as close to reality as you’d find in a early ‘40s Golden Age comic.
The Owl, like many Golden Age super-heroes, was a law enforcement officer frustrated by red tape. Although he possessed a few gadget a la Batman, the Owl steered away from the larger-than-life super villains found in other books and concentrated his efforts on garden-variety crooks and saboteurs.
Thomas’ artistic style, reminiscent of Roy Crane, fit in well with the reprinted newspaper strips that surrounded The Owl in the two Dell publications the character called home: Crackajack Funnies and Popular Comics. The cartoonist also broke a few super-heroic tropes along the way, such allowing The Owl to revealing his secret I.D. to the Lois Lane stand-in.
The Owl faded into obscurity by 1943, but the character was revived in the mid-60s by Dell in a campy series that unsuccessfully attempted to exploit the success of the Adam West Batman show. The character re-emerged again a few years later in a cross-over with Doctor Spektor that hinted the crime-fighter was immortal.
Nothing came of that revival either, but a good Batman analogue is hard to keep down and The Owl returned once again in Alex Ross’ Project Superpowers.
“The Murder Of Whitney Morgan” originally appeared in Crackajack Funnies #28 (Dell, October 1940). The story is by Frank Thomas.