It’s a tale so twisted that it will require two blog posts to fully relate its details. It’s a sick little story called “The Human Beast”, the headliner from Daredevil Comics #6 (December 1941).

Before we begin I feel the need to express my admiration for Charles Biro, the man who wrote Daredevil’s adventures. Biro was an extremely talented artist and writer who made Daredevil one of the greatest superhero comics of the 1940’s. I love this guy’s work. So please be aware that when I say that Charles Biro could sometimes be a sick little monkey, I’m saying it in the most respectful way possible.

Let’s face it, Biro positively loved to shock and horrify his readers. Daredevil’s first origin (before being revised by Biro in a later issue) is arguably one of the most gruesome from the Golden Age (a period not especially notable for restraint regardless). Daredevil’s ongoing adventures were populated by an imaginative rogues gallery of colorfully and diversely deformed villains which rivaled Dick Tracy’s pack of bizarre adversaries. And it was nothing unusual for a Daredevil story to contain an appalling death toll of innocent bystanders.

But in Daredevil Comics #6, Charles Biro truly outdid himself with a story that is totally wrong on a variety of levels, thus making it one of the more memorable comic stories of the 1940’s as well as a really fun read.

The story opens with a man buying a newspaper from a corner newsie. As a red coupe races past, the passenger leans out the car’s window with a Thompson submachinegun and ruthlessly guns down both the man and the kid newsie. The kid dies on the scene, but the man is taken to the hospital; we learn that his name is Wolf Carson (I assume Biro was riffing on Wolf Larsen from Jack London’s The Sea Wolf), and a bystander refers to Carson as “Public Hate Number One”.

Carson is so infamous and despised by the average man in the street that many people are anxious to see him die; even though the doctor says he can be saved, Carson himself doesn’t much seem to care whether or not he survives (and, as always, you may click on any of the pictures in this blog post to get an easier-to-read enlarged view):

After some negotiation, the sinister doctor reveals his plan for saving Carson:

The doc tells Carson he’s going to A) kill him and B) stick his brain into another body. And Carson doesn’t even bat an eye: “Make sure I’m good-lookin’, doc!” Gangster/hoodlum types are traditionally portrayed in Golden Age books as being rather dim, but this guy takes the cake.

In the very next panel, we learn that Carson has died. Let’s take a moment here to compare the pacing between Golden Age comics and modern comics: the entire exchange between the doctor and Carson from when they begin the discussion until the panel mentioning Carson’s death is six panels, five devoted to the conversation and one devoted to the outcome, all on a single page, compared to the vaguely similar “lobotomy” exchange between Brainiac and Aquaman in the Justice miniseries (from about five years ago), which required nineteen panels across four pages published in two separate issues for the initial exchange (not counting an additional thirteen panels on two later pages which continue the scene), all of which actually covers less narrative territory than the Daredevil Comics sequence.

Just sayin’.

The story thus far has been pretty bizarre, but Charles Biro commences to pull out all the stops on page four. Carson is buried in “Potter’s Field” (a common slang term for a pauper’s graveyard or a place in which the state buries criminals who die while in custody), but the Doc arrives in the dead of night to dig Carson up. Unfortunately, the doctor is interrupted by the night watchman:

And so the watchman’s final shift ends badly. The doctor, meanwhile, carries Carson’s corpse to a nearby shack; if, for some reason, I ever need brain surgery I believe I will request that the operation be performed in a filthy dilapidated shack under the light of a single bare bulb:

No, “the greatest doctor of all times” would be able to successfully perform this operation blindfolded atop a mound of fresh cowpies using nothing but a single candle, a can opener, a pair of chopsticks, and some velcro. While whistling the 1812 Overture. On roller skates. You, sir, are a mere piker.

BRAIN IN A JAR ALERT!!!!

If your inner eight year old isn’t screaming “SUH-WEET!” at this point, then you have no soul, dear reader.

The operation is, of course, a success. We’re treated to a panel in which the doctor says, “So, you’ve come to! I’ve kept my part of the bargain! Now you can lead me to yours!”

I know what you’re thinking: “Big deal – he stuck Carson’s brain into the night watchman’s body. So what?” Heh. The next sound you hear will be that of the other shoe dropping:

That’s right, kids – Carson’s been double-crossed (just desserts for a career criminal, if you ask me [and 99% of comic book readers who experienced this tale hot off the press in 1941 would agree]). The doctor has implanted Wolf Carson’s brain into the body of – a wolf! C’mon! Golden Age irony! It’s cool!

Seriously, this Charles Biro story is really a decade or so ahead of its time. This is the kind of gruesome visceral (but very funny) “shock” event that would later happen a half-dozen or so times every issue in the legendary EC horror comics of the 1950’s. But in 1941? This was crazy stuff!

Carson does what any red-blooded criminal who suddenly finds himself trapped in a wolf’s body would do:

Correct – he savagely kills the only guy in the world who can reverse the process. Carson’s dimmer than that bare bulb hanging over the operating table. (By the way, check out those eyes in the left-hand panel!)

On the next page the police find the doctor’s corpse and our hero Daredevil finally makes his appearance, checking out the shack for clues:

Meanwhile Carson, looking like a stray German Shepherd, is wandering the cold snowy streets. And whose path do you think he should cross? Bart Hill’s (Daredevil’s) uber-hot girlfriend Tonia Saunders:

Up ’til now, this story’s been pretty bizarre. But Charles Biro is about to ratchet the weirdness way up in a highly successful effort to find a whole new level of sheer unadulterated wrong. We’ll soon learn what happens after Tonia takes the “pup” home. Until then…

Have fun! – Steve

Copyright 2011, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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