The first two issues of Silver Streak Comics (published at the time by Your Guide Publications, later known as Lev Gleason) didn’t contain a character named “Silver Streak”; that came later, in issue #3 (March 1940) to be precise. Silver Streak has one of the most bizarre and convoluted origins of any comic character published in any era. The writer threw everything except the kitchen sink at this one…

The story begins at a speedway in which a car called the Silver Streak crashes. The driver has been killed mid-race by a giant insect stinger. The owners of the car (one of whom is some kind of strange Eastern mystic) try to find a new driver, but all of the professional racers refuse to get anywhere near the car. Finally an amateur driver answers the owners’ ad and agrees to drive for them. But before he starts a race, the mystic decides it would be a good idea to hypnotize the new recruit:

Hang on — it gets more bizarre as we go. During the race the car is attacked by a giant insect:

The freakish (yet colorful!) creature wrecks the car. The new driver appears to have died, and is even buried. But the mystic and an assistant dig him up:

As it turns out, the driver isn’t dead but is instead in a very deep trance. The driver awakens and, uh, bugs out, easily knocking aside the swami and the assistant:

The “programming” the driver received earlier (the second panel of the first illustration above) has affected him, making him believe that he has super-powers. In a bizarre case of “mind over matter”, the (still unnamed) driver does indeed really have super-powers now, though the extent of his abilities are as yet undefined (this lack of a precise definition is part of what makes Silver Streak’s origin so quirky).

The driver returns to the garage and steals the newest version of the Silver Streak race car (remember this, we’ll come back to it later), saying “It will aid me in my crusade against the fly!” We learn in the next panel that the huge insect is the creation of “an insane professor of zoology, Dr. Katan”. The evil doctor has, in the meantime, apparently (and somewhat inexplicably) graduated from the pointless vandalizing of race cars to bigger crimes like extortion; he sends the mayor a letter demanding twenty million dollars to prevent the city’s destruction at the hands (claws?) of the giant fly.

The panel shown above is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, this is the first time we see the driver referred to as “Silver Streak” (for a split-second I thought, “The car knows about his plans??” the first time I read this story). The second is the interesting “cut to the chase” depicted in this panel – just how did Silver Streak happen to “learn of the fly’s plans” anyway? Is the fly doing the planning or is it Dr. Katan? Perhaps the writers have dubbed Dr. Katan “The Fly” as a kind of supervillain nickname? Many questions, no answers anywhere in sight.

A page or so later, the huge fly (who is obviously smarter than we’ve previous assumed) swoops down and grabs the money bags containing the city’s ransom. Silver Streak roars up in the Silver Streak (are you keeping this straight?) and makes a prodigious leap:

He grabs the fly’s legs and hangs on. The fly swoops too low, which allows Silver Streak to get his own feet on the ground; planting himself, he “hurls the fly into space”. We’re not quite sure how the Streak gets the ransom back, but he later engages in some vandalism of his own: he hurls the recovered money bags through the window of the mayor’s office (a window which is, unfortunately, closed at the time). The tale ends with Dr. Katan planning to develop a replacement super-insect.

We’re actually left with quite a few questions at the end of the story. What is Silver Streak’s real name? (We’re never told in issue #3.) What are his powers? (We’ve seen him make a “super-jump” and fling a giant monster “into space”; whether this means “outer space” or just a distance long enough to squash the big bug on impact is unclear.) Who was the mysterious swami, and why is he so interested in motor sports?

It’s all just so weird, weird, weird.

By the next issue (Silver Streak #4, May 1940), our mystery man now has a costume and a heroic reputation — ladies from a nearby orphanage show up at his home (!) to ask him to demonstrate his “marvelous speed” for the children. Apparently his leaping talents and strength abilities are a by-product of his super-speed. But if that’s the case, why did he need to steal a race car in issue #3? Couldn’t he have just run to wherever he was headed?

Silver Streak now has a uniform in issue #4

His nemesis, Doctor Katan, is now just known as “the Doc”. In the course of eleven pages Silver Streak kills another of the giant insects (once again by flinging it), saves a real tomato named Eleene from the clutches of “the Doc”, returns to the Doc’s lair to kill a passel of giant bugs, runs down the outside vertical wall of a skyscraper (using special suction cup boots), dodges a bunch of bullets by using his lightning-like speed and agility, saves a farm kid from being run over by the bad guys’ car, flips the crooks’ speeding car over an embankment (knocking them out), just hangs around by the roadside with their unconscious forms until some motorcycle cops just happen along, then changes his mind and hand-delivers the thugs to the police station anyway.

But dark clouds loom on Silver Streak’s horizon:

You can practically hear the “bum-BUM-bummmmmm…”

This has to be one of the strangest, most convoluted origins in comic book history, and you definitely get the impression that the plot wasn’t terribly well thought out before the writing started; it seems almost as though the writer just made it all up as he went along. Silver Streak begins as a “generic strong man” kind of character, but by his second appearance has suddenly developed super-speed. Why the change?

To find the answer, we need look no further than a couple of comic books off to the side of Silver Streak Comics on the drug store spinner rack. A company called All-American Comics (now known, after multiple interim name changes, as DC Comics) was having monster sales success with a “speedster” character named The Flash, introduced in Flash Comics #1, cover dated January 1940. Silver Streak’s creators apparently decided to jump on the “fleet of foot” bandwagon, ditched the whole “cool car” concept from issue #3, and by issue #4 (which, you’ll recall, is cover dated May 1940, some months after Flash Comics’ debut) made the character a costumed speedster whose other powers are a (unexplained) by-product of his speed abilities.

Silver Streak, though not nearly as successful as the Golden Age Flash (who still appears today in DC’s Justice Society titles) did hang around for a couple of years. He received a kid sidekick in issue #11, teamed up with the Golden Age Daredevil for one memorable issue in summer 1941, and lasted until issue 19 of Silver Streak Comics’ twenty-one issue run. He later popped up once in an issue of Captain Battle in late 1942 and again in 1946 in the one and only issue of Dime Comics. After this he lay dormant until 2008, when he appeared as a character (with a much cooler costume) in issue #2 of Death-Defying ‘Devil, a spinoff from Project Superpowers:

‘Devil, by the way, is another Lev Gleason character who we’ll meet in this blog very soon. Until then…

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2010, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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