Sunday, March 7, 2010

Magazine Heroes 1910's - Prototypes - A 'Slight' History of Golden Age Comic Book: Super Heroes: What is a 'Super Hero'?

That's right gentle reader, another venue opened up for writer's to tell adventuresome stories of individuals operating under a different identity than their own before the comic book heroes we're here to discuss!

Cost effective printing, mass advertising and an audience of avid readers (literate if not overly-educated) opened up a booming magazine market at the turn of the last century. Magazines of "true crime" stories, westerns, historical fiction, science fiction and almost any genre you could possibly imagine.

Adventure and mystery books were already established to a young male audience. "Tom Swift" and "The Bobsie Twins" and their series of books were best sellers for an audience of men who looked up to the virtues that these heroes embodied, and offered grand escapism to a grim world.

Advertisers wanted a piece of that market and publishers wanted a place they could inexpensively try out new authors, characters and concepts without the expense of a mass hard cover book run and so they magazine became a place where serialized stories could be brought to the public.

By serializing a "novel" length story, publishers could devote every issue to multiple offerings to show value to the reader. They could also monitor which of these features or authors the readers liked most. The favorite stories being told in parts also promised readers would be back to buy the next issue and advertisers loved that.

Of course features that did well would be reprinted in whole as a book later, published by those self-same publishers, and whole franchises were launched this way, but it was the serialized appearances in those magazines that got them their starts.

Alias "The Night Wind":

"The Night Wind" was a man wrongfully accused of a crime. So to prove his innocence he struck out under the cover of night to catch the real criminals and bring them to justice!

This has two big earmarks of the comic book super hero. Working under another identity than his own is the obvious one. The Night Wind didn't wear a mask or elaborate costume, but the element remains the same.

The other being (and this is an important one) he began by fighting for a single purpose, of proving his own innocence but then in subsequent stories fought for the rights of others when they were against unjustifiable odds.

A champion of the underdog, an earmark of the super hero!

You can read the Night Wind's first adventure here.


Here's a hero from way back that's still popping up even now almost a century later and I'm sure you all now him.

Created by Johnston McCulley in 1919 for "All American Weekly" magazine in the story "The Curse of Capistrano", Zorro (the Spanish word for fox) is in reality Don Diego Vega, the son of a wealthy Spanish nobleman and land owner who lives in the Spanish colony of California. He returns home from his studies abroad to find the Spanish government officials leading corrupt lives and victimizing the native Indian and Mexican populations for their own greedy needs.

Don Diego establishes three mainstays of comic book super hero lore.

1. Again establishing another identity. One who operates under cover of the night, and to mislead anyone who would suspect him, borrows from the Scarlet Pimpernel, borrows the idea of keeping his "civilian" persona, one of a rich, spoiled, ineffectual who remains disinterested in the exploits of his alter-ego.

2. Fights again for the underdog. The common man who up against insurmountable odds (this time the representatives of the government) cannot defend himself.

3. The guise of his heroic self has the name of an animal (the fox) using this tool to give his foes instant recognition to what they're up against. In this case one who is sly and tricky and is probably one step ahead of their clumsiness in capturing him.

Dr. Syn - The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh:

This time a hero based in history. Tales of rebels in colonial America who object to the British Excise Tax and who rebel as a band who sabotage British strongholds under the cover of night and are led by a mysterious figure dressed as a scarecrow.

You'll forgive me, but the only pictures I could find of this guy were pictures from the Walt Disney television adaptation from the 1960's.

Again our hero uses an alter ego, one that can strike fear in the cover of night and fights for the underdog. All things which influence our comic book super heroes.

They did a great job of catching the fancies of readers, and each one had a successful run in numerous books. They just didn't have that visual impact that comic books do.

They were still missing the true formula that made it magical.

Next Up: The Radio Heroes!

See ya then!

No comments:

Search This Blog