3 Golden Age Comic Book Heroes Who Got Left There, Part 1
The Golden Age of comics refers to the late '30s to early '50s -- an era when icons like Captain America, Batman, and Superman emerged. It was a time when every problem, especially Hitler, was solved by punching it in its fucking face. And now I want to honor that radness by remembering six heroes who were far too Golden Agey to exist outside of that time. This article is the first of two parts.
Curious readers might be asking, "Besides having dead Nazi all over your fists, what makes a superhero uniquely Golden Agey?" It's tough to explain. After all, curiosity wasn't invented until 1956 as a vegan alternative to punching. So I did my best to narrow down the Golden Age to six distinct traits: Maniacal Awesomeness, Casual Massacre, Animal Punching, Stunning Stupidity, Double Head-Bonking, and Vintage Racism. For more information, please study my official Research Board 'n Fun Time Checklist:
I always include Soren in my headshots so I can appear less handsome.
"Dynamite" Thor, The Explosion Man
In 1940, a group of true maniacs published Weird Comics #1. Wizards and superheroes slaughtered each other in adventures barely coherent enough to establish a plot before everyone except one character was dead. One reason for this was that the protagonists were hardly ever the good guys. There was Sorceress of Zoom, an evil space queen who murdered for a while before the stories simply ended, the Voodoo Man, who was so exactly what that sounds like, and Dr. Mortal, who unleashed monsters for reasons never explained. Weird Comics was read almost exclusively by people frantically searching through the debris in their kidnapper's trunk.
The first and greatest Weird Comics superhero was Thor, God of Thunder, which got a little confusing when, five issues later, they added a second, less amazing Thor to the comic: "Dynamite" Thor, The Explosion Man. He was a combination of all the crappiest parts of Bruce Wayne and Timothy McVeigh, a wealthy miner who used his knowledge of explosives to bomb crime! His adventures were almost too obvious to be called stories. He heard about crime, went to the crime, then blew it up with dynamite. Here's a scene from his first issue:
"Hello, police! I noticed your gunfight! I'm a local white man with bombs! Mind if I take over?"
The thing about Dynamite Thor is that dynamite was more than the solution to all his problems; it was how he did everything. Dynamite was his only verb. He tossed a stick of dynamite at police involved in a shootout just to get their attention, which would probably be my conclusion if you gave me an unlimited research grant to discover the worst possible time to throw dynamite. But throwing dynamite never didn't work! The cops took one look at a man dressed in a dozen sticks of TNT and zero pairs of pants who had just thrown explosives at them, and instantly put him in charge of negotiations. And do you want to guess Dynamite's plan for those negotiations? You're right! It was fucking dynamite!
"Glad I could help, officers! And if you need this for your paperwork, the suspect or suspects' last words were 'WHAM!'"
It cannot be overstated how little Dynamite Thor did other than throw dynamite. Hours after it is born, a mayfly dies knowing nothing but mayfly orgy, and each of those dead insects had a wider variety of interests than Dynamite Thor. The only cliffhanger in a Dynamite Thor adventure is whether he will stop his enemy by bombing an inanimate object near him or by turning him into 5,000 new inanimate objects. Here are two examples from the same issue, and I didn't alter these or change their order in any way:
Even that guy can't believe he's alive.
"And when we get to the station, I'll thank you to be cool about how I blew up a car, quarry, and person with dynamite."
Obviously, Dynamite Thor was the best. But in the short window of time between his first and second appearances, it occurred to the Weird Comics producers that the idea could never last. He's covered in nitroglycerin. What if he bumps into something? What if he goes up against a foe with the ability to stand closer than his only weapon's blast radius? Like so many things, he was an accidentally awesome mistake made by idiot madmen.
But instead of replacing his pages with a man and a boy dressed as flags and never mentioning him again like most Golden Age heroes, they added the perfect superpower to Dynamite Thor. Suddenly, and for unexplained reasons, he became "immune to the effect of explosions." Also, between his first and second appearances, he apparently exploded all the mafia and had moved on to fight Nazis.
Somehow dumber! Somehow more rad! Dynamite! Thor!!!
If you read that gripping intro, you probably noticed the words "he can propel himself thru the air with dynamite." It's true. Dynamite Thor could now fly by dropping bombs. And it is truly terrifying how many bombs it took. Every page was filled with panels of Dynamite Thor traveling like this:
"BOOM! Sorry, fish! BOOM! Sorry, fish! BOOM! Sorry, fish! BOOM! Sorry, fish! BOOM! Ha ha, sorry, fish! BOOM! Sorry, fish!"
As America's leading uncertified dynamite scientist, I can assure you that this is nuts. Look at how close together those explosions are -- this fucking guy is dropping a new bomb every six feet! Even at the speed of human running, that is 300 bombs per minute. If he traveled like this all day, and he does, that's almost more dynamite than you can fit in a belt! Why, he'd barely have any left to throw at the Nazis! I'm sorry, but this dynamite math simply does not work out.
Of the six defining Golden Age traits, Dynamite Thor only achieved three. His series was cancelled after only five issues, so he never got the opportunity to punch an animal or to say anything racist. And since slinging grenades was his only ability, his enemies' heads were splinters and slop long before he was close enough to ram them together.
However, he scored outrageously high in the categories of Maniacal Awesomeness and Casual Massacre. In his five adventures, nearly everything he did turned human bodies to liquid in spectacular ways. As for Stunning Stupidity, he was a superhero who blew up everything, and the men writing him had to sneak in later and add the words "except for himself." This simple but somehow confusing power became even more confusing, since exactly 40 percent of his adventures involved him getting tied to explosives and left to die. This implied Thor was immune to his own dynamite, but not other people's dynamite, which is a series of words so incoherent and stupid that you may have skipped straight to the next sentence. Which, surprise, is just the words ham tits. Don't try to outsmart the Checklist Check-In by jumping around to whatever part you want, reader.
"Dynamite" Thor, The Explosion Man! 3 Golden Ages out of 6!
Kay McKay, Air Hostess
Kay McKay is the perfect example of a Golden Age heroine. Banner Comics wanted a female adventure hero, but without any ill intent, they couldn't conceive of a girl knowing how to do anything. So they made Kay a stewardess. And not just any stewardess. She was a terrible stewardess. Without exception, Kay McKay never got on a plane that didn't crash.
"Thank you for treating the situation with such urgency, Kay."
"Of course, Captain. Here's an update: I'm on fire."
"There's no need to yell, stewardess."
"I'm so sorry, Captain."
Call it bad luck or incompetence, but when you work on a plane and all your shifts end in a fiery jungle wreck, you have to be considered a failure at what you do. The only thing Kay McKay brought to the table was balls. If you were a mid-flight explosion, a gun in her face, or a swarm of poisonous snakes, Kay McKay's response was always the same: "Here are my giant nuts, and you can suck them."
She throws an empty bag at her enemies before fights to show she has no shits to give them.
I was never sure if Kay McKay was a master of danger because she spent so much time dealing with it, or if she was simply too stupid to know what was going on. For instance, jamming a stick into a crocodile's face and casually walking away implies a serious expertise in jungle animal combat. I mean, she isn't even looking back to see if the stick is holding -- she must do shit like that all the time. And yet later that same issue, when she expertly fishes up an electric eel, she has no idea what it might be.
"I ... I didn't think you'd actually do it, Kay. I just thought sarcasm was more polite than mansplaining eels."
This is what made it so hard to read a Kay McKay comic. One minute she was shooting guns out of Nazi hands, and the next she couldn't figure out which electric fish she should touch. Is she an idiot? A clown? A steely-eyed badass? You never knew when you were supposed to be worried for her. Let me show you what I'm talking about. Here's how the momentum can swing in a single page of a Kay McKay comic:
"WHAT A WOMAN!"
First she shoots the gun, and no fingers, from a man's hand while in the window of a moving plane. Amazing! Then she locks the two villains in the baggage compartment. Wait! Kay, are you sure baggage compartments were designed to hold human prisoners? Does that door even lock? Won't they just shove th- never mind, you're the stewardess. Let's assume you know what you're doing and they're taken care of forever!
"SHE HAS A LOT OF NERVE FOR A DAME."
You might have seen this coming, but one panel later, the men get out and punch her unconscious. It turns out baggage room doors are fortified against suitcases, not men with thumbs. Think about what that means. It means the men producing Kay McKay's comic knew how airplane doors worked, but they thought the woman who worked on that airplane and was in charge of that door didn't. It means the gods creating her entire universe were conspiring to make her stupid. But the joke's on them, because the combination of Stupid and Giant Balls has undone the work of gods far more powerful than them. Despite their best efforts, Kay McKay and her bumbling, suicidal bravery beat everything her writers threw at her.
"YOU SONS OF BITCHES BROUGHT A BOMB ON MY FLIGHT!? WELL HERE'S AN IDEA! LET'S BLOW THIS FUCKER UP!"
"I DON'T EVEN KNOW IF YOU'RE THE BAD GUYS, BUT KAY MCKAY, AIR HOSTESS NEVER LOSES AT CHICKEN, BITCHES!!!"
Okay, so maybe giant dogs with human faces rattle her. They went too far! Run, Kay! Run!!!
Kay McKay's career only lasted five issues, but her aggressive habit of diving tits-first into danger generated decades' worth of animal punching and awesomeness. She was nearly everything that made the Golden Age fantastic and absurd. I stole this next line from Donald Trump's cabinet selection committee, but the only thing she could have done to improve was be a little more racist.
Kay McKay, Air Hostess: 5 Golden Ages out of 6!
The Dart's history sounds less like an origin story and more like a test to see if 1940s comic book publishers were even capable of rejecting ideas. It begins in ancient Rome, where the gods give Caius Martius "the secret of darting thru the air" to battle evil. This ends up being a bad dart-secret investment for the gods, because the very first wizard Caius finds beats him and transforms him into a rock. He then stays a rock for 2,200 years. It was a story embarrassing for both the character and the writer, so they didn't spend a lot of time on it. In fact, here's how they told it in its entirety:
"Dang it, that guy was going to teach me how to fly! Wait, does this mean nobody stopped that evil wizard and darkness will reign for 2,200 years? Double dang it!"
Waking up in his new home of the modern Rocket Age, the first thing Caius does is confusedly wander into traffic, where he sees young Ace Barlow's parents get gunned down by criminals. It's a lot for a recently unfrozen ancient man to take in, so maybe we can forgive his decision to immediately take off that little orphan boy's pants and teach him to fight.
"Hope your pelvis likes young lad head, you rat!"
Ace appeared in comics just weeks after the first appearance of Batman's Robin. And while they dress the same and have the same backstory, it's easy to tell them apart. For one, Robin was "The Boy Wonder," and Ace was "The Amazing Boy." And secondly, Robin trained in acrobatics and martial arts, while Ace Barlow battled only with dick headbutts.
"Son, there must be some mistake. I asked for a FEmale prostitOOF!"
The Dart and Ace tried their best to battle crime like an ordinary comic book duo, but could never quite get the details right. For instance, superhero banter. Violently beating a suspect to death without lighthearted jokes can get pretty dark. Ace, as you can see above, had a style of banter that was a little too lighthearted. Telling your opponent you're going to have quite a party while you slam your face into his dong can send a mixed message. As for the Dart, he went the opposite direction. He came from an era in which they decorated malls with crucified blasphemers, so he had no idea where the line was between "cute" and "tasting the sweetness of your enemy's last breath." If he bothered with banter at all, he went with a clinical description of how he was torturing you. The Dart actually beat out black lung to win 1941's Least Funny Way to Die, and his acceptance speech was silently ripping the head off the last desert rat-kangaroo.
"Sorry to drop in, Chuckles! Guess it's time for the FLAMES OF HADES TO RENDER THE FAT FROM YOUR CHILDREN'S CORPSES."
The Dart carried a sword, which sounds a bit severe for a hero, but it's not unheard of. Lots of superheroes used swords for non-murdery purposes. He-Man used his to block lasers, Leonardo used his to cut pizza, and Bibleman used his to probe for early signs of homosinuality. The Dart, however, was the only one who used his like a sword. He carved men in half for crimes ranging anywhere from racketeering to sass to aggravated nothing. To readers, it was ridiculous. To local police, it was a bloody trail of unsolved stabbings.
Three silent panels of brain puncturing was an ordinary story beat for The Dart.
Ace always tried to knock their enemies out rather than kill them -- which was strange, since his brain-damaged combat trainer only knew one moves, and all three of it were head stabs. Whatever the misunderstanding was, Ace never seemed bothered by the decapitations, and The Dart was okay with it if Ace only wanted to lightly cave in a man's genitals. That diversity is part of what made them a great team.
"AND HERE'S THE NEXT- Wait ... Dart, did you? Oh my god, Dart! Dart, what have you done!? We need to get the shit out of here!!" is something you'd never hear Ace Barlow say.
A lot of Dart's brutal slayings were the result of being a fish out of water. He came from a time when sword murder was how you gave your wet nurse a bad Yelp review, but he may have genuinely had no idea swords kill people. It's possible, maybe even likely, that being turned into a rock for 2,200 years was bad for his sanity. For instance, here he is cleaving a man's taint while Ace bashes his head in. And as his colon-spilling corpse tumbles down the stairs, Dart tells it, "THIS WILL ONLY STUN YOU!"
"I COULD BE WRONG! TAINT CLEAVING ISN'T AN EXACT SCIENCE!"
Here he is teaching another man a lesson by slicing off the back of his head:
"OR IT WILL AT LEAST TEACH THE MAID HOW TO MOP UP BRAINS!"
... and a few more examples of The Dart's teaching methods.
So he never quite got the hang of superhero banter, or even what kills human bodies during a fight, but he was especially bad at superhero secret identities. His was a mild-mannered school teacher named Caius Martius Wheeler, which was just his actual name with a "Wheeler" on the end. It was a risky move for two reasons. One, he taught only with sword. And two, he worked with a woman named Miss Tilbury. Miss Tilbury was the classic archetype of the sexy but violently insane grade school teacher. By the first page of every issue, she would somehow find a fistfight with a serial killer or a mob boss. And she never won one of these fights.
This is Miss Tilbury, enjoying her only hobby.
I'm not kidding. This is Miss Tilbury's whole day.
Luckily, The Dart was surrounded by the dumbest police force in history. He worked with a woman who was the only witness in a tremendous number of ongoing murder cases. The lead suspect in those crimes was a man with his same build, height, age, and face. The two also shared the community's only 260 BC Roman accent. And still the police couldn't catch a man who considered "changing into different clothes" to be an escape plan from a sword-killing spree. Also, it's worth noting that Caius' little boy friend was named Ace Barlow, and the mysterious boy who fought crime alongside The Dart went by "ACE FUCKING BARLOW." He announced this constantly.
"Ace Barlow! Tell them it's spelled just like it sounds! But tell it to your dick doctor first!"
To complicate things further, The Dart was stupidly, whimperingly in love with Miss Tilbury. He asked her out every day as Caius Martius Wheeler, and her response was always the same: mocking him for being less manly than The Dart. He stammered and apologized, swallowing the humiliation to protect his secret.
But why? It was a secret he couldn't protect, since he was so obviously The Dart and his sidekick gave it away to anyone too dense to notice. Plus, he had no reason to protect his secret identity, since all his enemies were dead from sword murder. Was it to protect his friends? Because his only friends were Ace Barlow and Miss Tilbury, and it was literally impossible for them to be in any more danger. Miss Tilbury left every room by getting punched through the window, and it was only a matter of time before Ace shattered his head against a belt buckle or a boner. I've never seen a more poorly and pointlessly protected secret, and I live in a world in which John Travolta still pays every blackmailer who has a picture of his toupee sucking off a mustache. Why did The Dart let all his stories end like this!?
He ate her shit so often that "I ... I'm sorry, Miss Tilbury!" was the closest thing Dart had to a catchphrase.
"Fine, harpy beast. On behalf of school teachers everywhere, I'm sorry for not stopping all the crime."
"You're right. I, a school teacher as far as you know, should have helped you raid that gang hideout with our zero weapons and elementary education degrees."
"These ... these are unreasonable expectations of a co-worker you openly despise!!!"
"That Miss Tilbury ... if she only knew I murdered 38 people this morning! Oh, but no one must know my pointless secret!"
It wasn't long before the dialog writers ran out of natural ways for Miss Tilbury to bring up The Dart.
"I get it, Miss Tilbury. I get it."
"GODDAMMIT, I SAID I GOT IT."
During his 15-issue career, The Dart exclusively stabbed white humans to death, so he scored badly in the categories of Animal Punching and Vintage Racism. But he easily made up for it in the category of Casual Massacre. It's like he was trying to wipe out famine and disease by making them statistically irrelevant compared to the world's leading cause of death: fucking with The Dart.
The Dart! 4 Golden Ages out of 6!
We... we're sorry, Miss Tillbury, but you'll have to come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion to the 6 Golden Agiest Comic Heroes! See you then!
One of our most popular episodes from 2016 was when we invited Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark from 'My Favorite Murder' to talk about some of the best true-crime stories out there. So successful, in fact, that we're resurrecting it (get it?) for a part two! Metal Fang, the Strangling Executioner, and the murderer living in the attic just weren't enough. So Jack O'Brien, Dan O'Brien, and the Cracked staff welcome Karen and Georgia back for another creepy hour of serial killers and urban legends that are bound to make you terrified to go outside or talk to a stranger or do anything.
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