It’s a crying shame that for most of Daredevil Comics’ first year the existing page scans are from microfiche instead of paper comics. While we’re certainly blessed to have what’s available (and I’m thrilled to have it!), the comics are sometimes very blurry and hard to read; if clearer scans were available some really cool, but obscure, characters might be better known to today’s readers – and there were plenty of these in Daredevil’s first year.

The Bronze Terror is one such character; we met him in this blog a few posts back. Noted lawyer, college athlete, and all-around good guy Jeff Dixon returns to the Native American reservation where he grew up to fight for the rights of his friends and family. When strictly legal means don’t work, Jeff resorts to good old fashioned extralegal “vigilante justice” in his (really cool) costumed guise as The Bronze Terror. (We’ve previously mentioned that writer/artist Dick Briefer had just two days to create the character and illustrate his first adventure. Briefer happily changed The Bronze Terror’s costume design from the humdrum garb of the splash panel to the really cool “death’s head” mask seen in the splash panel of today’s story below.)

This next is bolded for emphasis, because a couple of people seem to miss this each time: Click the pics for a larger view of each page, so that you can read along.

The Bronze Terror

We learn that Jeff is giving up his lucrative city law practice and is about to set up shop out west, where he can help his people fight exploitation. I shouldn’t have to mention this, but it’s extremely noteworthy that the subject of exploitation of Native Americans is even mentioned in a 1940’s comic book; the fact that it’s the core element which drives the plot of each of The Bronze Terror’s adventures is a mindblower.

I like the (blurry) narration in the last panel, in which the bespectacled Judge Hawks is described as a “corrupt cuss”.

The Bronze Terror

The Judge’s henchmen begin to arrest Native Americans on flimsy trumped-up charges based on outdated, forgotten laws, then put their victims to work on “road gangs” as unpaid labor. Meanwhile, the contracting company is still being charged for labor anyway, and the judge and his top henchman (who we’ll learn is named Dirk Fleming) split the money.

Jeff shows up and sees what’s going on, but overplays his hand when he confronts the judge. He’s tossed in jail for his trouble.

The Bronze Terror

Jeff’s “childhood sweetheart” (and present kinda-sorta girlfriend) Lilly visits him at the jail; Dirk sees her and together with the judge hatches a plot to force her to marry him.

Now that’s admittedly a pretty old trope, done to death in nineteenth century potboilers; a reader would laugh you out of the room today if you tried that in a story. But you need to remember that this tale was published over seventy years ago, only a couple of decades after Edgar Rice Burroughs was in his heyday, practically making a whole career out of the “love interest faces a fate worse than death” trope (in the wake of the movie John Carter, I’m sure a lot of new Burroughs readers are finding this out right about now). So it wasn’t quite a hoary old cliché at the time, but it was getting there.

Meanwhile, Jeff exhibits some resourcefulness in escaping from jail.

Believe it or not, we’re half finished – Briefer had just six pages to tell his “done in one” Bronze Terror story. Present day comics can’t even do a simple conversation in less than six pages. One of these days I’m going to write a post about Golden Age comics’ pacing – but for right now, let’s just find out what happens next:

The Bronze Terror

Pages like this one are the reasons why I read 1940’s comic books.

I really love Jeff’s line in the first panel: “I sort of want to get dressed up for my next step”. It’s a cool line, plus it lets the reader “fill in the blanks”, since there’s no time in a six-page story to show Jeff changing into his Bronze Terror gear.

The third panel is just plain cool. That mask is totally kick-ass and even the Terror’s horse wears a death’s head mask!

The action is great here, too. The Bronze Terror shoots out a tire with an arrow, cleans house on the bogus “guards”, releases his falsely-imprisoned people, then learns of Lilly’s dilemma. There’s another great line here, by the way: “Get out of that truck or you’ll get an arrow through your heads!” Direct, blunt, clear – I loved it. It’s that “inner eight year old” thing again.

The Bronze Terror

Doors are for sissies.

I’m not quite sure what to make of the second panel. Are we seeing Fleming have an actual honest human moment (in his own warped way)? Or is he just blowing smoke, figuratively as well as literally? (Yeah, that’s what you want to do at your wedding – stand at the altar and puff on a Lucky.) I really don’t know why that bit of dialogue was included. But it’s the next-to-last thing we’ll have to hear from him…

Dirk Fleming gets punched good and hard – twice. I’m sure the first punch was for Lilly and the second was strictly personal, straight from The Bronze Terror to teach Fleming not to mess with his girl!

The Bronze Terror

The second panel on this page is pretty funny, what with the judge up in the chandelier, Fleming knocked out cold, and the horse just standing there saying “Hey, whaddya want? I’m a horse.”

Panel three is “Zorro-esque”; it struck me as very “Douglas Fairbanks”. Jeff saves the girl and does it with style – he doesn’t even take the fright mask off when he kisses her. How damn cool is that?

After the wrap-up, we get the coolly ironic “Clark Kent” ending, in which Lilly tries to make Jeff jealous, but he just plays it completely straight. As with the ending of his first appearance an issue earlier, you can practically see Jeff wink at the reader.

The Bronze Terror has become one of my favorite 1940’s costumed heroes – he’s just plain cool. His adventures, although short, are action-packed and completely satisfy my “inner kid”. And Dick Briefer did a really great tightrope walk with this series in which he included a social subtext without overburdening the story. These tales could have been about a really cool Native American hero, but thanks to Briefer’s skill and deft touch in the way he handles the material, they’re stories about a really cool hero — who just happens to be Native American.

And that makes all the difference in the end analysis. It’s great stuff. It’s truly a shame that The Bronze Terror made just ten appearances; he, Pat Patriot, and London were all dropped in Daredevil Comics #12, replaced by The Pirate Prince, Dickie Dean – Boy Inventor, and some minor features. Too bad…

(As always, a big THANK YOU to the Digital Comic Museum for the page scans!)

Have fun! — Steve

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