Just when you think you know something, you find you know nothing. Some folks say that realization’s the first step on the path to true wisdom. If so, I’m becoming a very wise person.

Within the past three or four weeks I’ve read at least three Golden Age comic book stories (including the subject of today’s post) which feature castles located in the United States. I laughed every time I saw one of these tales, because everybody knows we don’t have a surplus of castles in the U.S. In fact, I knew of just one – Berkeley Castle – and that’s only because it’s about a hour from my home and I visited it once when I was a kid.

So as I was reading Lightning Comics from June 1941, I laughed when I saw a castle on a mountain as a key feature of the tale. I remembered a published scenario for the Daredevils 1930’s pulp roleplaying game which also featured a castle on a New Jersey seaside bluff; at the time, my players and I thought that was pretty funny too. And then I had a stray thought…I wonder how many castles are in the U.S.? I stopped reading the comic, looked it up, and discovered that the joke was on me. For a country founded well after the Middle Ages and established on egalitarian, not aristocratic, principles (at least in theory), we have a truly ridiculous number of castles in this country. Some of them aren’t true castles, just towers or big houses with some medieval touches, but a few of them really are castles – and they’re pretty damned impressive at that.

What follows is the story that led me down the path to that little discovery. The castle itself isn’t that big a deal in this story, compared to another of its features: the appearance of not one but two costumed “supervillains”. Golden Age comic book heroes by and large didn’t fight similarly costumed opponents; their foes tended to be gangsters, racketeers, fifth-columnists, and Axis forces. There are some notable exceptions (heroes such as Batman and Captain Marvel had pretty memorable rogues galleries), but most heroes tended to fight run of the mill crooks, especially during the pre-war years. This tale’s hero, Lightning (who appears to be a knockoff of Captain Marvel, referencing lightning bolts and an old wizard mentor who gives the hero his powers), gets a rare “twofer” here in a 1941 story – and a creepy U.S. castle thrown in for good measure. There’s some good art in this one, too.

Right-click a pic and open it in a new tab for a larger view. Thanks to The Digital Comic Museum for the pages!

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

Lightning Comics, Vol. 2 #1 (June 1941)

This story was actually a couple of decades ahead of its time, both in its use of costumed supervillians but also in its use of the “villains team up, then doublecross each other” trope, which became a standard Marvel Comics staple in the 1960’s and lasted well into the 1980’s (for example, it was a main plot element in the first dozen or so issues of The Man Called Nova which I read as a teen in the mid-1970’s).

Have fun! — Steve

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

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