Comics are weird, especially in the Golden Age. Whether it be the absurd soap opera-esque plotlines or the ludicrous powers, there is no denying there is a certain tongue-in-cheek approach to enjoying comics. While some of the most iconic characters came from the Golden Age of comics, there were also some duds.
The industry was in its infancy and was trying to run before it could even walk. So let’s take a dive into the comic archives to find those special Golden Age characters. The characters that you just want to pat on the head and say “You tried hard, but that was just stupid.”
Some of them may have survived the Golden Age and even be appearing in some modern comics, but it doesn’t stop their lunacy.
1. Bozo The Iron Man
We start with the Armored Avenger Ton-. Oh, not that Iron Man. That Iron Man isn’t even in the Golden Age. Instead, this one actually started as a villain. Created by Dr. Von Thorp for the purpose of taking over the world. Because why else would you create an ever-smiling tin can with a propeller for a hat? He is sent on a crime spree and the police in an act of desperation call upon Hugh Hazzard.
Hugh manages to reprogram Bozo and takes out Von Thorp. He then uses Bozo to help him fight crime. Overtime Hugh would discover more about how Bozo worked. He could fly up to 400 miles an hour via the propeller, withstand any amount of water pressure, run at 70 miles per hour, and had the strength of 1000 men. Because stopping at 100 would make him seem like a weakling.
Hugh was never consistent with how he controlled Bozo. In some issues, he would use the same remote control that Dr. Von Thorp used. In other issues, he would get inside Bozo, much like the Iron Man we all know and love. And perhaps the most absurd way he controlled him was by hanging onto Bozo’s back and going along for the ride. Bozo also had the peculiar quirk of calling criminals birds and babies.
It is worth noting that Bozo was bought up by DC along with the rest of the Quality Comics characters in 1956.
2. Red Rube
We have reached one of the many clones of Captain Marvel (Shazam). Billy Batson and his wacky but heartwarming adventures were so popular in the Golden Age, that his comic became the highest selling comic of the time. Usurping Superman as the king of comics. So it’s only natural that several smaller companies would attempt to copy the success, no matter how blatant it was.
This brings us to Red Rube, who holds the award for the laziest secret identity, Rueben Rueben. The name problem only gets worse because his ancestors, who he gets his powers from, are also named Rueben Rueben. All of them! I guess not having the internet to look up baby names, made the Rueben family just recycle the name for convenience sake.
Rueben ran away from his orphanage and took refuge in an old castle. Because that’s always a good idea. The castle turns out to be haunted by his ancestors because the plot has to happen. They imbue him with what they possessed when they were alive: wisdom, strength, invulnerability, courage, and speed. All he had to do was shout “Hey, Rube” and he would gain these abilities along with growing up to be an adult. See what I mean by blatant?
It’s no secret that Jerry Sigel and Joe Shuster were screwed by DC and had Superman taken from them. Many of their collaborations afterward were an attempt to copy the success of Superman but with them maintaining the rights to the character. And that is the circumstances that brought us this weird but interesting character, Funnyman.
Larry Davis was a TV comedian who was persuaded by his manager/wife, June, to do a stunt for publicity. They would stage a crime with their friend Happy, Larry would show up dressed as a clown and stop the fake crime. In accordance with most fiction, this does not go according to plan. Larry ends up stopping a real criminal performing a real crime.
After this Larry decides that he enjoys fighting crime and will continue doing it. He fought crime with an assortment of gadgets and practical jokes. He even had his own “Trixcycle” and a sort of Batmobile called the “Jet Jallopy”. Not only was this thing equipped with several tools of the trade such as a water hose and bullet-proof glass, but it was also an intelligent machine.
Interestingly, during the 90’s actor/comedian Richard Belzer attempted to get a Funnyman movie made. I wonder how the superhero movie landscape would have changed if this character was adapted.
4. Dynamite Thor
I will admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for good old Dynamite Thor. I ran my university’s comic book society for two years and each session had a section called Obscure Character of the Week. This section often featured Golden Age characters that had been forgotten. Dynamite Thor was one of them and was perceived as so ridiculous, that he became legendary in the society. To the point that we put a quote from one of his comics on our society t-shirts.
Peter Thor is immune to explosives. I’ll wait as you clean up that water you just spilled. You heard me right, Peter Thor knew the inner workings of explosives so much that he figured out how to become immune to that big boom they all do. He is not invulnerable, a few punches, a bullet from a gun, etc. can take him out. So if you ever need to deal with him, never tie him to a chair with a bomb slowly ticking away just so you can gloat, because it won’t affect him.
Dynamite Thor could fly, however, it was a hazard to others or at least you would assume it would be. He would detonate a series of explosives to propel him upwards into the air and then fling him in any direction he wanted. You would think that a superhero would at least think about the civilians. This is worse than the Man of Steel controversy and it is was 73 years prior. On top of this lunacy, he was equipped with a “neutron shield” which what it does is never explained, but it designed for him to use whenever he runs out of explosives.
Random Comics History Aside
If you think Dynamite Thor is one of the dumbest things to come out of comics, you have to blame the publisher. Fox Feature Syndicate was well known for printing cheap and poorly written stories back in the Golden Age. To quote famed comic artist Jim Steranko: “Fox Publications was the poverty row of comic books.” They did, however, give us the original Blue Beetle, Dan Garret, whose costume and powers would change radically from issue to issue.
5. The Firefly
No, you will not see Batman in this character’s comics. That Firefly doesn’t appear until near the end of the Golden Age. Instead, you will see one of the most ludicrous attempts to have a character be a superhero without powers. So in a way, it’s sort of is a Batman comic. Apologies to all the Batman fans who like it when he is written to be able to do anything on the mere whim of the writer.
Harley Hudson wanted to be a crime fighter since he was a young lad. So he studied many different forms of combat and science. After becoming an entomologist and chemist, he discovered that ants could coordinate their muscles which would amplify their strength. Because if it works on an insect totally means it will work on a human, right?
So he trained himself to coordinate his muscles to give himself super-strength. He became strong enough to break chains, lift up a tree, and stay underwater for a long period of time. In addition to this, he had a glider called the “Fireflier”, which was big enough to carry two people. He would later even to develop the ability to glow. I guess someone finally realized that having him gain powers from ants but calling himself Firefly was a bit silly unless he had something to connect himself to his namesake.
6. Kangaroo Man And Bingo
Have you ever watched the film Sky High? Remember how the sidekicks were so much more interesting than the supposed superheroes? Well, this character or should I say characters have the same issue.
Kangaroo Man is really Jack Brian an all-American explorer who toured Australia. While there he discovered Bingo, who is his sidekick. You are going to want to sit down for this one. Bingo is a highly intelligent kangaroo. Not only does he have human-level intelligence, but he can understand all human speech, and is even able to operate a motorcycle. How cool is that? And don’t think he was born this way. Jack taught him how to do this stuff.
As you do in the 40’s, Kangaroo Man and Bingo go off to fight the Nazis. One of the most ludicrous moments of these comics is when Bingo’s tail is run over by a German tank. Bingo doesn’t even notice it and keeps on moving. So is he invulnerable too? Man, I really need to get me a Kangaroo.
7. Dart and Ace, The Amazing Boy
The man out of time trope is quite common in comics. So is the superhero that gets their powers bestowed on them by some sort of deity. What if I told you there was a Golden Age character that was both, a sort of amalgam of Captain America and Wonder Woman. But, you know, not as cool as that sounds.
Caius Martius was a vigilante in ancient Rome that was bestowed the power of “Darting thru the air” by the Roman gods; which is an absurdly long way of saying he can fly. Maybe the tagline of this comic should have been “You will not believe a man can fly… because he darts!” He takes on a sorcerer who curses him to be a block of stone.
His stone body winds up in an American museum in the 1940’s. Here he awakens and must come to terms with the fact that he has been asleep for over 2000 years. It doesn’t take him very long though. He decides to become a vigilante again and even gains a sidekick called Ace the Amazing Boy. Ace had sworn vengeance on criminals after witnessing his parent’s death in a drive-by shooting.
It’s worth mentioning that Dynamite Entertainment revived this character in their Project Superpowers comic.
8. Just ‘N’ Right
If you thought Red Rube had a horrible secret identity, just wait until you hear Just ‘N’ Right’s. On his 26th birthday, lumberjack Justin Wright is contacted by a law office. He was an orphan and never knew his parents, but apparently, he has an inheritance.
He receives his parents’ home and finds out they were killed by criminals. In the house, he finds a special scarf. The scarf can be seen through on one side, but on the other is opaque. So what is a man to do with some dead parents and a cheater’s blindfold? Go fight crime of course!
Just ‘N’ Right would leave criminals for the police to pick up by leaving stickers on their foreheads. The sticker was off the scales of justice because Just ‘N’ Right wears a blindfold and justice is blind. Do you get it? Talk about taking symbolism and smashing it with a hammer.
The way he got the attention of the police is one of the craziest things I have seen. He hurls evidence and a letter tied to a brick through the police chief’s window. Not only is he guilty of vigilantism but also of public property damage. I’m starting to agree with J. Jonah Jameson, this man’s a menace!
9. The Comet
For the most part superhero’s powers tend to correlate with each other. The most vanilla combination in the world is super-strength and flight. The trope came from Superman, despite him not flying at the beginning of the Golden Age, but there is a reason it is used so much. The two powers complement each other. Well, what if there was a character that just had two powers thrown in for no other reason besides it looks cool. Look no further than The Comet.
John Dickering is a chemist that discovers a special gas that is lighter than Hydrogen. So what is a learned man of science to do with this knowledge? Inject himself with it so he can fly of course! As per the trope of a scientist experimenting on themselves, it must have a side effect. He would fire beams from his eyes, whenever he crossed them. My only advice, don’t go into a photo booth with him.
He figures out that the beams or “dissolvo-vision” as he calls it, don’t affect glass. So he wears goggles made of glass to keep the beams under control. Hmm, sounds familiar to someone, I just can’t put my finger on who? Maybe a creature from the Odyssey? Anyway, John would later die and inspire his brother, Bob, to become The Hangman.
Interestingly, both DC and Archie Comics have attempted to reboot the character. The most recent attempt was in 2010.
10. Speed Centaur
What is in a name? Superman’s name tells you he is a man that is super. The Question’s name says that he/she is curious. But what if the name of a superhero was so literal that it is perhaps unintentionally genius.
Speed Centaur was a centaur that was born in the Arctic Circle but is the sole survivor of his people. Taken in by a trapper, he was trained to hate crime. When the trapper dies, Speed Centaur goes to The City of Rackets in order to fight crime. How? You might ask. Well, he is eight times as strong as the ordinary human, can fly, and as his name would suggest has super-speed.
The best thing about him though was his secret identity. He couldn’t exactly be Speed mild-mannered centaur reporter. Instead, he uses a horse mask he had to pretend to be a real horse. Let that sink in for a minute. He needs to give Red Rube and Just ‘N’ Right a lesson on how to do a secret identity!
Golden Age Characters Are Crazy But Fun
Yes, these Golden Age characters are crazy and ridiculous. But you know what, who cares? What is great about comics as a storytelling medium, is that anything is impossible. It is only limited by the writer and artists imaginations.
I’m sure if he wasn’t well remembered that if I told you about the sole survivor of an alien race raised in Kansas to be the best of humanity, you would roll your eyes. Often times crazy and good can be the same thing. So laugh at these attempts to be both, and enjoy them for what they are.