For more than a year I’ve been meaning to write about a really interesting Golden Age comics character from the pages of Daredevil Comics, but I keep getting sidetracked. Today I decided it’s high time I introduced you to none other than…The Bronze Terror!

He’s an interesting character, but the backstory that goes along with him is also pretty strange and fascinating. This is one of those stories which has been kicked around so much that most people think it’s apocryphal. But, according to the best sources I can muster, it’s all true.

We’re previously enjoyed a four-part look at Daredevil Battles Hitler in this blog’s virtual pages.

Daredevil Battles Hitler!

Daredevil Battles Hitler! (a.k.a. Daredevil Comics #1)

Published as a “one-shot” with a cover date of July 1941, the book was a rip-roarin’ success (and, in my opinion, may well be the greatest single issue of any comic book in history). The book did so well so quickly that the publisher contacted Charles Biro, the writer and artist behind Daredevil Battles Hitler, in something of a panic. The story goes that the publisher gave Biro the good news/bad news routine. The good news was that the book was so popular that the publisher wanted to give Daredevil his own regular series. The bad news was that the publisher needed the completed book by Monday – and the conversation was taking place on Friday afternoon.

Biro made some quick calls, rounded up a passel of writers and illustrators, and the whole kit’n’kaboodle locked themselves in a set of hotel rooms for the weekend. They not only had to crank out sixty-four pages in just over two days, but they also had to create a bunch of brand-new characters as backup features for the book.

The result was positively amazing. Daredevil Comics #2 was indeed finished by Monday and featured not only existing characters like (the original) Daredevil and arch-villain The Claw (who had been appearing regularly in Silver Streak Comics), but a bunch of new faces too, such as Pat Patriot (discussed at length previously on this blog; she’s one of my favorites), Nightro, The Whirlwind, London, Dash Dillon, and The Pioneer.

If you grab yourself a free, legal digital copy of Daredevil Comics #2 (from our friends at The Digital Comic Museum), you’ll discover another new character about halfway through the book: The Bronze Terror (or is it “Real American #1”? The feature is today referred to by both names interchangeably).

I find The Bronze Terror to be an endlessly fascinating character. In an era when Native Americans were still discriminated against with relative impunity, and frequently depicted in popular media as inarticulate savages, The Bronze Terror stands out as an “Indian hero” who breaks all the stereotypical molds. Writer/artist Dick Briefer went the extra mile and created a really memorable character:

The Bronze Terror

(As always, click the pic to make it big enough to read)

Don’t be fooled by the splash panel. You need to remember that Briefer had two days to not only dream up the character, but also write and draw his first adventure. Briefer might have started out with a “stock” Indian character in the splash panel, but he came up with a far more interesting costume later on; with the tight “weekend deadline”, he likely had no time to go back and redo the first page to match the later panels.

The Bronze Terror

The Bronze Terror

My apologies – in uploading a better scan of page 2, I somehow caused WordPress to “break” my post, hence the  “dummy” image between this line and page 2 of the story.

There’s arguably* some stereotyping on this page, granted, but it helps set up the plot. The last panel on the page is classic, and shows that Briefer had a wicked sense of humor.

*I say “arguably” because it’s pretty well-documented that whites historically in the 1800’s and early twentieth century used alcohol as a tool to help them to “get over” on Native-Americans who weren’t used to drinking.

The Bronze Terror

Briefer makes yet another perceptive social statement in the next-to-last panel. The jury doesn’t even want to deliberate the case – in fact, at least one of them hasn’t even been awake during the trial, but that doesn’t prevent him from voting “guilty”.

The Bronze Terror

We finally get to meet our hero, Jeff Dixon, full-blooded Native-American, athlete, scholar, successful crusading lawyer – and son of the chief who has been falsely accused of murder!

A flaming arrow? That seems a little clichéd – at first glance. But hang in there; this ride’s about to get really interesting…

The Bronze Terror

Jeff dons a warbonnet and fright mask (even his horse has a fright mask!) and goes right at Scar Thornton.

This is where it gets really interesting. Jeff Dixon could easily have tried to spring his father by legal means, and maybe have won – after all, he is a hot-shot lawyer. But Thornton is a crook and has packed the “legal” system with his fellow crooks. So Jeff decides to go one-up on the crooks by becoming a costumed vigilante who seeks justice by extra-legal means.

But why the warbonnet and skull mask? This is what makes the character really appealing. He’s a thoroughly modern man but one who has respect for his heritage and traditions, so he reaches back into tribal lore to find a spirit of justice/vengeance, then patterns himself after that figure from his culture. And he does it without falling into some trite stereotype (like the one from the splash panel); as we’ll see in later issues, The Bronze Terror is one scary guy. (And, let’s not forget, it’s traditional for costumed vigilantes to conceal their identities, and the skull mask does a great job of hiding Jeff’s face.)

That is sooooooo cool. My “inner eight year old” is completely bugging out.

The Bronze Terror

The Bronze Terror clocks Thornton and ties him up. But when everybody wants to lynch the villain, Jeff (who has changed back to his regular identity) steps up, takes charge, and saves the guy. After all, lynching Thornton would be no better than what the community tried to do to Jeff’s dad (the chief) with that kangaroo court, right?

And then we have the obligatory “cool irony” last panel, in which Jeff’s childhood sweetheart Lilly expresses admiration for The Bronze Terror. We can almost picture Jeff winking at the camera, just the way Clark Kent does in many, many Superman cartoons.

While the story does have a few stereotyped elements (Lilly’s hairstyle and dress are a little too “Pocahontas”), by and large the tale treats Native-Americans with a lot of respect. I rather suspect Dick Briefer was making a conscious (although far from heavy-handed) social statement about the treatment of Native-Americans in 1940 America; he does it deftly and, best of all, entertainingly.

This was just a quick six-page “starter story”; Briefer may well have expected to never return to the character. But The Bronze Terror would be back – he (like Pat Patriot, who also debuted in the same issue) would appear in every monthly issue of Daredevil Comics through #11.

He’ll be back in this blog, too. I want to show you just how amazingly cool The Bronze Terror was, and why it makes me sad that he only enjoyed ten brief appearances before disappearing. More to come…

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2012, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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