Dog Devil

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With the much deserved success of the Netflix Daredevil series,  yours truly thought it high time to revisit the Golden Age Daredevil, one of the most popular super-heroes of the era.

While comic-book historians (yes, there’s such a thing) have made much of Daredevil’s unique costume design, brief status as a mute super-hero, splashy first issue as a headliner and epic battle against The Claw, this time I’d like to take a minute to discuss the man who guided the character’s adventures for nine years: Charles Biro.

Without a doubt, Biro was one of the greatest comic-book writers/artists/editors to ever put paper to pen. Not only did he spearhead the original and (arguably) greatest crime comic of all (Crime Does Not Pay), but created/co-created such memorable and popular characters as Airboy, Iron Jaw, Crimebuster, the Little Wise Guys and Mr. Crime among many others.

He also had a special knack for self-promotion that undoubtedly taught a young Stanley Lieber a thing or two about the power of hyperbole. In today’s story alone, both the narrator and Daredevil take time out from the adventure at hand to pump up an upcoming issue’s storyline. The covers of Daredevil Comics, which were usually drawn by Biro, routinely sported the legend “The Greatest Name In Comics.”

And heck … who can disagree with Biro? Daredevil often enjoyed some of the more memorable adventures in Golden Age comics, a contention borne out by “The Human Beast.” The story originally appeared in Daredevil Comics #6 (Lev Gleason, December 1941).  It was written and drawn by Biro.

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Call Him The Streak

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The Silver Streak, a super-speedster who was beaten to the newsstands by All-American Publications’ The Flash by a mere two months, had one of the stranger debuts in Golden Age history, which is really saying something when you consider the era included such oddities as Speed Centaur.

The story begins with the long forgotten Rhoda Publications, which decided to jump into the comic book game by offering a title named after the owner’s beloved Pontiac Silver Streak. Although the book prominently featured one notable creation, Jack Cole’s monstrous Claw, none of the characters in the comic were particularly silver or streaky.

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After two issues, the title was taken over by Lev Gleason Publications, which decided to introduce a Silver Streak character to headline the book.

That “character,” however, turned out to be a souped-up race car rather than a man or woman possessing super-speed. As detailed in Silver Streak Comics #3 (Lev Gleason, March 1940),  the Silver Streak was owned by a mysterious swami whose efforts to win races were continually thwarted by a mad scientist who sent monstrous insects to destroy the car.

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The Golden Age, right?

Undeterred, the swami mesmerizes an unnamed cab driver to guide the Silver Streak to victory. When the car is destroyed yet again by a giant bug – an attack that also kills the hapless cab driver by the way – the swami stops kidding around and unleashes powers that makes one wonder why he messed around with racing cars anyway.

He raises the cab driver from the dead and gives him a rebuilt Silver Streak to gain vengeance. The story ends with the reanimated driver, who now possesses super-strength, foiling part of the mad scientist’s confusing master plan with the promise of further battles to come.

That “origin” story was drawn by Jack Binder, but when the Silver Streak returned in the fourth issue the feature boasted a new creator – Jack Cole – and an entirely new concept. The race car and swami were gone forever, and the cab driver suddenly became a fleet-footed super-hero bound and determined to bring am end to the mad “Doc” and his giant insects.

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Little changed for The Silver Streak from that point forward, other than the addition of the requisite teen sidekick and a super fast pet falcon. The character’s adventures lasted until 1945, about the time the majority of Golden Age super-heroes sped off into the sunset.

The following story originally appeared in Silver Streak Comics #5 (Lev Gleason, June 1940). The story was written and drawn by Cole, who adds a nice essay about the nature of heroism on the opening splash page.

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Real American

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Yours truly hoped to post this story sooner, but that demon Tryptophan has got me in its sway. At any rate, Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to pay tribute to comics’ first Native American super-hero: The Bronze Terror.

Created by Dick Briefer of Frankenstein fame, Jeff Dixon first donned the costume of “Real American No. 1” in Daredevil Comics #2. An attorney who set out to avenge the murder of his father, Dixon differed from most vigilantes of the era by fighting for a cause that put a different spin on the “American way” – namely defending his fellow Apache from the forces of greed and corruption that oppressed the tribe.

(Kind of an uphill battle there, but Briefer  – along with editor Charles Biro and publisher Lev Gleason – is to be commended for thinking so far out of the box. Similarly themed heroes really wouldn’t pop up in comic-books again until the 1970s.)

The Bronze Terror only appeared eight times before fading into obscurity, but Briefer’s creation can still be enjoyed thanks to the enterprising scanners over at the Digital Comic Museum.

From Daredevil Comics #6 (Lev Gleason, December 1941), here’s “The Dam Breaker” by Dick Briefer.

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Beat The Devil

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Don Rico entered the comic-book field in 1939 and enjoyed a long career that branched out into scripting television programs and films, writing more than 60 paperback novels under a variety of pseudonyms, drawing storyboards for Hannah-Barbara and even teaching courses on comic books at UCLA and drawing technique at Cal State Northridge.

His earliest work for such Golden Age publishers as Fox and Lev Gleason were easily as insane as the more celebrated Fletcher Hanks, yet Rico’s name rarely pops up on Internet comics blogs or the even recent spate of deluxe reprint books.

The “problem” – if it can even be classified as such – is that Rico improved his scripting and illustrative skills to the point where his output was routinely slicker and more professional than Hanks, an advance achieved at the cost of losing the inspired lunacy that makes the creator of “Stardust” so appealing to modern readers.

Rico’s work – which included a solid run on the Golden Age Daredevil and the creation of Atlas’ stable of jungle girls (Leopard Girl, Jann Of The Jungle and Lorna The Jungle Girl) – also failed to rise to the level of an Otto Binder or a Jack Cole, leaving his oeuvre betwixt and between the punk-rock thrills of the medium’s primitive origins and the innovations spurred by true comic-book visionaries.

(Although, to be fair, few people to this day equal the likes of a Binder or a Cole …)

If Rico was bothered by this relative lack of notoriety, it never manifested itself in his decades-long career. Like many from his era, he probably didn’t give a second thought to any notions of comic book creators or their creations being remembered decades after their heydays.

In fact, when Rico returned to comics in the early 1960s to script a few stories for Stan Lee (including an Iron Man tale that introduced a future summer blockbuster movie star, The Black Widow), he used a pseudonym so his paperback publisher wouldn’t know the writer-artist was accepting lower-paying comic-book work.

At any rate, here’s a good example of a solid super-hero yarn scripted and scribbled by one of the more dependable comic-book talents of any era, Don Rico.

From Silver Streak Comics #14 (Lev Gleason, Sept. 1941), the Golden Age Daredevil takes on a sinister hypnotist in “Enter The Parson.”

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Serial Mom

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Parents concerned that comic books presented disturbing and subversive imagery to their children would have had their worst fears confirmed if they had seen this pre-Code gem: a typically gory account of serial killer Belle Gunness’ reign of terror in 19th century Indiana.

The colorfully titled “Mrs. Bluebeard” originally appeared in the grandaddy of all true-crime comics, Crime Does Not Pay #44 (Lev Gleason, March 1946). The story was drawn by Jack Alderman.

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The Torture Never Stops

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The Time Bullet’s 13-day countdown to Halloween concludes with a true crime story that makes the guy in Saw look like Bob The Builder! From Crime Does Not Pay #53 (Lev Gleason Publications, July 1947), here’s “The Master Of Murder Castle.”

The art is provided by Fred Guardineer, who obviously had a lot more up his sleeve than Zatara the Magician!

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Well … all’s well that ends well I guess. If you’d like to read this story and other equally demented true crime tales in higher fidelity, be sure to check out Dark Horse’s Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped: The Best of Crime Does Not Pay!

In the meantime, return to the Time Bullet Nov. 2 for an All Soul’s Day special featuring the Duke Of Darkness! Happy Halloween!!

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.

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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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George Tuska, RIP

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George Tuska, a prolific artist known for his powerful renditions of several iconic Marvel characters, has passed away. He was 93.

For my money, Tuska was THE Iron Man artist of the ’70s. His version of the Golden Avenger never attained “flavor-of-the-week” status but left an indelible impression on readers who enjoyed the artist’s exciting action sequences and efficient story-telling abilities.

However, Tuska’s greatest work appeared long before Marvel’s stable of super-heroes came to dominate the comics industry. A prolific Golden Age artist, Tuska’s gritty crime, western and horror tales far outstripped his more widely seen pencils and inks on super-hero comics.

As an example, here’s the rather awesome tale of a criminal who terrorized the Barbary Coast by smashing people’s faces with his rock-hard head. Tuska knocks the story out of the park, alternating brutal violence with a brief – but sterling – sample of his famous “Good Girl” art.

From Crime Does Not Pay #48 (Lev Gleason, 1946), here’s “Butt Riley: King Of The Hoodlums.”

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For more on Tuska’s long career, visit The Comics Reporter.

Doctor Horror

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At one time or another, I’ve posted Don Rico’s “Doctor Horror” one-shot on just about every Internet venue available. It’s simply a story that must be experienced by as many readers as possible.

Why the great affection for a forgotten comic-book tale that was churned out decades ago to fill out the back pages of a mostly forgotten title (Captain Battle) that was briefly published by a nearly forgotten company (Lev Gleason)?

Well … it’s just not every day that you see a comic apparently devote seven of its pages to remaking – and surpassing – the “Night On Bald Mountain” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia.

To be honest, I’m not sure if Rico –  a journeyman writer/artist who enjoyed a long career as a paperback novelist – actually had seen Fantasia but Doctor Horror’s similarity to the demon Chernabog is apparent: Both are creatures of pure evil bent upon corrupting the world, yet meet defeat at the hands of a higher, unseen power.

According to the always infallible Wikipedia, Rico started his artistic career carving wood engravings of Depression-era life for WPA Federal Art Project. His experience in the field surely influenced the style of drawing seen in “Doctor Horror,” as the demons are depicted as static – and oddly malevolent – creatures that probably could have given Fletcher Hanks nightmares.

But don’t listen to me. Judge the story yourself and share your thoughts …

From Captain Battle #2 (Lev Gleason, 1941), here’s “Doctor Horror” by Don Rico.

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