My first article on Golden Age Marvel Comics gives an introduction to the big players in Timely Comics. I talk about The Human Torch, The Sub-Mariner, and The Angel, who all first appeared in Marvel Comics #1 (1939). Captain America and Bucky didn’t make their first appearance until Captain America Comics #1 published in 1941 (more on their origins here). The two-year gap between 1939 and 1941, though, saw some more familiar names, among forgettable characters like Terry Vance.
Taking a brief glance at the roster of Golden Age heroes, one could easily err, thinking Timely only published hits. I The Timely Comics Watchamacallit, though, am unfamiliar with brief glances. Only in-depth investigations will do. I watched Electro, The Falcon, The Black Widow, and The Vision appear in Golden Age Marvel Comics. And, they’re vastly different from their counterparts featured in MCU movies or in Silver, Bronze, or Modern Age comics. Read on, True Believers, all will become clear.
Spider-Man fans are likely to have the most fleshed-out idea of the Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age version(s) of Electro. For those who don’t know him, Spidey’s Electro is a variably powerful villain who can absorb and manipulate electricity. Electro puts the webhead through his paces, but generally falls when Spider-Man puts on insulated boots and gloves. The Electro featured in Golden Age Marvel Comics is another thing, accent on thing, altogether.
Electro, the Marvel of the Age, first appeared in Marvel Mystery Comics #4, cover date February 1940. Created by Steve Dahlman, Electro is a super-powerful robot invented by Professor Zog in an effort to heal the world. Zog recruits a team of young men to operate his “wonder robot” remotely. The nigh-indestructible automaton, with Zog and company at the helm, bests aliens, mobsters, and foreign despots.
Beyond simply having a familiar name, though, Electro shares a number of similarities with one of Marvel Comics and the MCU’s best known heroes, the Invincible Iron Man created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck. Both characters sport red and gold armour, although Iron Man’s first appearances showed him in silver and then gold duds, and both are products of mechanical ingenuity rather than inborn super-powers.
The key difference between the two ideas is that Electro is piloted remotely, whereas Iron Man is operated by someone inside the armour (generally Tony Stark). The obvious narrative benefit of putting someone inside the armour is the added opportunity for dramatic tension: the armour’s occupant may be injured or killed where the robot could always be rebuilt.
That’s right, The Falcon was fighting crime before Captain America. Unlike the Silver, Bronze, and Modern age Falcon who eventually donned Cap’s uniform, though, the Falcon in Golden Age Marvel comics didn’t fly or have a falcon for a sidekick. Instead, The Falcon is Carl Burgess, a ” … brilliant young assistant district attorney … ” who makes his first appearance on the cover of Daring Mystery Comics #5 (cover date June 1940). More like his Golden Age contemporary Batman than his Silver Age counterpart, the Golden Age Falcon uses his fists, his wits, and sometimes a .45 to outsmart murderers and thieves.
Appearing for the first time in Mystic Comics #4 (cover date August 1940) is the Golden Age Black Widow. Arguably as dissimilar to her Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age counterpart as Electro is to its, the Golden Age Black Widow is essentially a servant of Satan.
Claire Voyant, a popular medium, performs a public séance but disturbs her guests, the Wagner family, when her sitting room floods with red light. Old Mrs. Wagner says she came for a séance not a lesson in witchcraft. Voyant becomes enraged and lays the curse of Satan on the entire family. After his mother and sister die in a car crash on their way home from the ill-fated séance, young James Wagner, goaded on by Satan, swears vengeance on Voyant.
Vengeance, in James’s mind at least, is a dish best served piping hot. He returns that night to Voyant’s home and shoots her in the heart. As Voyant dies, she swears vengeance upon James. James runs out of the house when Satan himself appears and takes Voyant with him to Hell.
After Satan gives Claire the nickel tour of the realm of eternal damnation, he transforms her into the Black Widow. The Black Widow’s first act is to take vengeance on James Wagner. Employing Wagner’s philosophy of serving up hot vengeance, she meets him on a dock, and, killing him in the process, brands an image of a black widow into his forehead. Reconvening in Hell, Satan tells the Black Widow to prowl the earth in search of sinners to bring to Hell.
Finally, the Golden Age Vision first appeared in Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (cover date November 1940). Where the Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age Vision is a “synthezoid,” The Golden Age Vision is an entity from a “supernatural” dimension. The Golden Age Vision, who also goes by the name “Aarkus,” enters our world by way of Professor Enoch Mason’s “dimension smasher”. Even with the dimensional barrier smashed, though, Aarkus cannot enter or exit our world without the presence of smoke.
Professor Mason, we find out, took loans from mobsters in order to build his dimension smasher. The mobsters insist that Mason pay what he owes them or suffer the consequences. The Vision, like his Golden Age contemporaries, has no time for mobsters. He starts his crime-fighting career, when a mobster lights his cigarette, by murdering two of the gang (freezing one to death and making the other lose control of his car), and hogtying the rest for the police.
His otherworldly origins aside, the Golden Age Vision with his sometimes colloquial vernacular and passionate notions of justice seems more “human” than his Silver Age synthezoid counterpart. The Modern Age and MCU adaptations of The Vision, though, eventually develop into better humans than most.
Well, True Believers, I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to Timely Comics’ familiar names with unfamiliar faces. Don’t forget to check out my articles on the Golden Age Civil War, the dawn of the Marvel Universe, and the top ten Timely Comics B-Listers and sidekicks!