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I see dead people (Part 2) – Blue Ribbon Comics #10, March 1941

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A murdered man who returns from the grave as a costumed avenging spirit of justice? That’s too good an idea to not swipe! It’s hardly surprising that a year to the month after Detective Comics introduced The Spectre that a rival company would unveil their own version of such a character. More

Villains: Captain Swastika and The Executioner – Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

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

That’s right! TWO costumed villains! More

Villains: The Executioner – Hangman Comics #3, Summer 1942

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I’ll open today’s blog entry with a warning: this post is potentially NSFW (Not Safe For Workplace). Readers who are squeamish about the sight of violent bloody imagery, or post-modernist readers who are easily offended by the racial caricaturing common to comics and cartoons of the World War II era (but see this blog’s Disclaimer page) should read no further. I’m serious about this – there’s going to be a lot of stuff in today’s post which carries the potential to offend.

I’m presenting this story because it’s interesting on a lot of levels. It’s pretty gruesome, which is fascinating when one considers the fact that the company which published this story went on to become Archie Comics. The tale illustrates how angry Americans were with Japan in the months following Pearl Harbor. It’s a comparatively rare occurance of a costumed “supervillain” in a Golden Age comic story. It also illustrates a key point in our ongoing discussion about what makes a villain “tick” and how to make an otherwise lackluster villain character memorable. On a more visceral level, it’s a rip-roaring adventure story in which the action never stops, one which will make your inner eight year old positively squeal with delight. For all its faults, it’s a cool story.

But it’s also going to piss off a few readers and it’s not a particularly good choice for workplace reading. Remember: you were warned, so don’t come crying to me later. More

The Hangman vs Captain Swastika – Hangman Comics #2 (Spring, 1942)

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The idea of the “supervillain” was relatively unknown during the Golden Age of Comics, at least when you compare the Forties to the medium’s later eras. Today’s readers are well accustomed to a plethora of spandex-clad and armored evildoers; almost every comic book hero or heroine has his or her own “rogues gallery” of foes (most notably Batman, who, in my opinion, has by far the best villain opponents). But back in the 1930’s and 1940’s the idea was used far less than today. Sure, many of Batman’s and Captain Marvel’s foes got their start in the Forties, but they were exceptions. Most costumed heroes battled against gangsters, racketeers, fifth-columnists, and run of the mill crooks, with an occasional mad scientist or hooded/robed “mystery arch criminal” thrown in occasionally to spice things up. The enemies were seldom super-powered like the heroes; even the mad scientists and “mystery villains” tended to rely on some kind of serum or scientific gizmo to provide them with their relatively paltry abilities. It seemed as though everybody who developed extrahuman abilities determined to use them to fight for justice, becoming an example and role model for the everyday adult or child reader (a fact which seemed to elude both Fred Wertham and C. Estes Keefauver when they characterized comics as dangerous “power fantasies” a decade later).

Every so often, though, a comic would come along that surprised the reader by giving the costumed hero a similarly (occasionally garishly) clad nemesis. Such was the case in early 1942 when MLJ Magazines (later to become Archie Comics as we’ve previously discussed) introduced a villain known as Captain Swastika. More

Veronica, there’s blood on my hands… – Pep Comics #1, January 1940

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I read MLJ Magazines’ Pep Comics #1 for the first time the other day, and the contents of this book blew my mindMore