After nearly a century of supers, some of our favorite supers have naturally fallen out of copyright… Welcome to Ten Things: Ten Public Domain Character Relaunches!
Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with An Amateur Comics Historian and the VERY complex world of trademark, copyright and the legendary public domain, Presents:
TEN THINGS: TEN PUBLIC DOMAIN CHARACTER RELAUNCHES!
An orphan trained in the mountains of Tibet to reach peak physical and mental perfection, John Aman was one of Centaur Comics’ biggest stars circa 1939. Centaur barely made it into the 1940s, but Amazing-Man proved memorable, inspiring not only a member of the All-Star Squadron, but Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, whose origins where nearly identical to Aman’s. That origin was once again adapted in 1974 for Daniel “Iron Fist” Rand.
… becomes THE PRINCE OF ORPHANS
That shared origin is certainly why Brubaker, Fraction and Aja chose to bring him back in the pages of ‘Immortal Iron Fist’, keeping much of John Aman’s backstory as another of the Immortal Weapons. Even the ability to disappear into a cloud of green mist is adapted from Golden Age Amazing-Man, who fell into public domain after Centaur’s demise.
9) CHARLTON COMICS’ YELLOWJACKET…
Writer Vince Harley Became a costumed adventurer by accident, while investigating crimes to spice up his next story with “The Perfect Crime.” After being captured by thugs and covered with bees in the hopes of killing him, Vince discovers that the insects wouldn’t sting him, instead following his commands. One of the earliest characters published by what would become Charlton Comics, Vince made a few appearances circa 1944 before disappearing.
… becomes MULTIVERSITY YELLOWJACKET
That Charlton Comics connection brought Vince to DC Comics (which acquired Charlton’s publishing rights in the 80s, notably Captain Atom and Blue Beetle) as part of ‘Multiversity.’ On Earth-4, a book which draws on both the Action Heroes and the Watchmen characters that they inspired, Vince Harley was one of the earliest costumed mystery men, dying in a tragic accident. His son later became the President of the United States.
8) HILLMAN COMICS’ AIRBOY…
Hillman Comics stable of superheroes tended to be aviators with one gimmick or another (an armored suit, a sexy accent, a wolf pelt on their head), but Davy Nelson is perhaps the most famous. A mere teenager when he created his special flapping aircraft, Birdy, Davy had a long career wherein he actually aged in something close to real-time, punching evil through the early 1950s.
… becomes ECLIPSE COMICS’ AIRBOY
By the 1980s, Hillman’s books were gone and their characters in the public domain, leading Eclipse Comics to revive the character. This new Airboy was Davy Nelson’s son, also named Davy, who took up the role after his father’s assassination, working with his father’s old allies and even saving the universe once. Despite that big crossover, Eclipse Airboy was a more down-to-Earth series, with a focus on weapons, spy craft and paramilitary trappings.
7) THE BLACK TERROR…
A milquetoasty pharmacist by trade, Bob Benton accidentally created a tonic that gave him superhuman powers, which he used to protect the innocent and bust the heads of the guilty. Bob eventually got a sidekick (called Tim) and took his show on the road, fighting spies and enemies of liberty in the European theatre of World War II.
… becomes THE TERROR
The Black Terror may be the most revived of Golden Agers, with no fewer than eight versions of him that I know of (including one in Project Superpowers that insists on making him a pirate for reasons unclear.) At AC Comics, Bob “The Black Terror” Benton became Mark “The Terror” Benton, a retired superhero who returned to the caped life after the death of his wife. The reasons for the change are unclear, as are the reasons why he became a villain called The Terrorist in later issues.
6) ACE COMICS’ DR. NEMESIS…
After repeatedly bandaging the wounds of crime victims, Dr. James Bradley takes to the streets to stop the bleeding at the source. Using the tools of the trade, including a needle full of sodium pentothal, Bradley punched crime circa 1941 before passing into the public domain.
… becomes X-MAN DOCTOR NEMESIS
Enter Roy Thomas! As a connoisseur of Golden Age heroes, Thomas revived Dr. Nemesis (and fellow Golden Agers Strong Man, The Spider Queen, The Human Meteor and Volton) as a one-shot villain in an Invaders miniseries set in the 1940s. Once part of Marvel Comics’ stables, he naturally popped up again, using his knowledge of physiology to remain vital well into the 21st Century, revealing himself to be a mutant, and becoming an member of the X-Men. As far as I know, he was last seen on Krakoa, the mutant island homeland.
5) QUALITY COMICS’ CAPTAIN TRIUMPH…
Another of the Quality Comics stable of heroes, Lance Gallant gained super-powers when his twin brother Michael died and returned as a ghost. When he touches his birthmark, Michael possesses his form, giving him mighty powers and one of the coolest simple costumes in comic book history. Lance disappeared when his home title, Crack Comics, was canceled.
… becomes NEXT ISSUE PROJECT CAPTAIN TRIUMPH
Enter Erik Larsen! As part of the Next Issue Project, a combine where Larsen and other creators pick up where classic comic left off, Captain Triumph was the cover star of a sixty-third issue of Crack in 2011, appearing with several other Quality characters, such as The Red Torpedo, Spitfire and The Spider. Given that DC Comics claims ownership of those characters (and, indeed, recently revived Captain Triumph in the pages of Harley Quinn) it was not only an interesting project, but a gutsy one.
4) DOC STRANGE…
A character who is somewhat unique in that both his real name (Hugo Strange) and his superhero alias have become difficult to use thanks to copyright issues, Doc created his own super-powered serum, Alosun. One of the characters of the publishing firm known various as Standard Comics, Better Comics and Nedor Publishing, Hugo was originally known as Doctor Strange, disappearing from stands in 1948.
… becomes TOM STRANGE
Along with many of his Nedor comrades, Doc Strong reappeared in the pages of America’s Best Comics in the late 1990s, under the pen of Alan Moore. Now with the first name Tom, he was revealed to be an alternate universe counterpart of Tom Strong, living on a world he dubbed Terra Obscura. Tom and his revived stablemates starred in a pair of miniseries set on their world before Alan Moore’s problems with DC Comics brought the ABC line to a halt.
3) BLUE BEETLE…
A policeman who joined up to avenge a murdered father, Dan Garret appeared in the comics of Fox Features starting in 1939, moving to Holyoke Comics for a bit, then the property was sold to Charlton Comics, where his adventures led to some major revamps and the debut of Ted Kord, a new Blue Beetle. Highly popular in his day, Blue Beetle had his own regular comic strip and a radio serial but fell out of favor in the 1950s.
… becomes “BIG BLUE”
As part of the Quality Stable, Blue Beetle was sold to DC Comics, where Ted Kord joined the Justice League, and was eventually replaced by Jaime Reyes. But when hordes of Golden Age supers in the public domain were revived as part of Project Superpowers, Blue Beetle and his partner Sparky were part of the army, with some careful writing around trademarks involved, eventually becoming a character called Scarab. It’s a complicated situation, but much of the renaming and revamping in that series is.
2) LEV GLEASON COMICS’ DAREDEVIL…
A very successful character in the earliest days of comics, Bart Hill’s costume is well-remembered, inspiring both Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt (making his second cameo in a list he doesn’t appear on) and the 3-D Man at Marvel Comics. Daredevil watched his parents die and was branded with a boomerang-shaped scar, leading him to become expert with that weapon and take after crime, which does not pay.
… becomes SAVAGE DRAGON DAREDEVIL
Unlike many revived Golden Agers, Bart Hill has played a large and important role upon his revival at Image Comics, appearing in the pages of Savage Dragon as love interest to Dragon’s step-sister, Battle Girl. His return came after it was revealed that the hero Solarman had trapped a number of Golden Age heroes to use as a source for his own powers. Daredevil has also appeared in the pages of Dynamite Comics as The Death Defying ‘Devil, with the iconic costume unchanged.
1) THE GREEN TURTLE…
Intended by his creator, Chu Hing, to be the first Chinese superhero, and as such, hid the character’s face in nearly every panel in which he appeared. The editorial team either didn’t agree or didn’t know, as shown in this cover image, one of the few to show the Turtle’s overtly Caucasian face. The Green Turtle made only a handful of appearances circa 1944 before vanishing, but as far as I’m concerned, he is officially an Asian character.
… becomes THE SHADOW HERO
I’m not the only one who feels that way, either, as writer Gene Luen Yang revived the hero in 2014, clarifying his origins and powers, including quantifying the shadowy turtle that appeared in the original series as an actual spirit that gives him powers. This Green Turtle is also clearly Chinese, as his creator intended.
Thanks to Faithful Spoilerite Jason Meunier for this week’s topic, Ten Public Domain Character Relaunches. Feel free to follow along @MightyKingCobra on Twitter to suggest your own or check out the full Twitter archive here! As with any set of like items, these aren’t meant to be hard and fast or absolutely complete, if only because more and more properties will be entering the public domain each year, depending on how Disney feels at any given time. Either way, the comments section is below for just such an emergency, but, as always: Please, no wagering!