What’s better than a costumed gimmicky villain who fights a comic book hero?

That’s right! TWO costumed villains!

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

We’ve been considering villains over the course of several blog posts, with a recent emphasis on the foes of MLJ Magazines’ hero The Hangman. MLJ did some innovative things with their mystery man books back in the 1940’s, including the introduction of recurring costumed villains. Not many comic characters had “rogues galleries” at that time (there were some very notable exceptions, such as Captain Marvel and Batman), so the idea of recurring villain characters was something new and different for comic readers.

With Hangman Comics #3, MLJ upped the ante by not only introducing a new costumed villain (The Executioner) for The Hangman to fight, but also by adding a second story in which their newest villain teamed up with a bad guy from the previous issue, namely Captain Swastika. This may not seem like such a big deal today; after all, my generation grew up on books like this one:

…but in the 1940s a villain team-up was a pretty big deal, especially one in which both villains were Axis-themed in a comic which appeared on the racks just a few months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

Geeze, give a guy just off the boat time to get a shower before you try to kill him with a axe, willya?

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

Go, Thelma!! Did I not say just three posts ago in this very blog that Thelma was a great gal to have around in a jam? Go back and check if you want; I’ll wait…

You can tell that this is a story from the early days of superhero adventures because, as anyone today can tell you, incarcerating two arch criminals in the same jail cell is never a good idea.

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

The police apparently didn’t frisk The Executioner very thoroughly, either.

By the way, a real Japanese villain would say “seppuku”, not “hara-kiri”. Regardless of terminology, it’s not a pretty way to go. Have you ever seen a photo of a real suppuku suicide (not some movie special effect, mind you – I mean the real thing)? I have, and I won’t go into any great detail other than to say that the next time you hear the factoid that an adult human has over 24 feet of intestines, believe it.

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

I’ll bet you’ve already guessed where this story’s going…

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

I love that first panel. The “movie and a soda” thing just makes me smile.

Can you see yet where this tale’s heading? I’ll bet you can.

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

How about now?

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

You guessed it! Simon Starr – what a punk.

This being an election year, I feel the need to point out that some people of the 1940’s apparently didn’t trust politicians any more than most of us do today. Just sayin’…

And while we’re on the subject of deception, I’m pretty sure that Thelma’s shriek in the page’s last panel wasn’t genuine (she’s too cool for that); she’s probably just trying to distract the villains. Yeah, that’s it!

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

The Hangman should know by now to never turn his back on that guy! He’s been knocked cold by a thrown axe twice in two stories.

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

I would love to be able to say that The Executioner is about to fall for the oldest trick in the book, but at the time of this story’s publication it was still a relatively new trick (as far as comics were concerned, anyway). Today we’re well acquainted with The Hangman’s technique: when in doubt, pit the bad guys against each other.

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

Just as he’d preyed and fed upon the public trust, our old chum Simon Starr gets what’s coming to him. (Heh. “Chum”. See what I did there?)

Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

And we get a swell violent ending, albeit an ambiguous one (“I left them both dying on the beach” opens the possibility that one or both may survive to plague The Hangman at some future time). And the biggest loose end was wrapped up, e.g. what had happened to Thelma.

This was a fun “villain team up” tale which illustrates how a pair of bad guys can sometimes be greater than the sum of the individuals. Captain Swastika wasn’t much of a villain on his own, but he worked quite nicely as an antagonist in tandem with The Executioner.

Thanks to The Digital Comic Museum for the page scans!

Don’t forget – we’re celebrating Bonus Battle October all month with a new chapter of “Daredevil Battles The Claw” on The Big Blog o’Fun each Tuesday!

Have fun! — Steve

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

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