These Superheroes Have Power, Staying Power

Longevity may be the most underappreciated superpower. Characters like Superman, Batman and the Sub-Mariner were introduced during the first heyday of comic books in the late 1930s and have had decades of adventures. Other characters were introduced, but fell into obscurity. Here are some heroes — who are tiny or spooky or strong or sleuthy — who may not all be household names but have stood the test of time.

June 1939

Adventure Comics No. 40

The Sandman (Wesley Dodds) was created by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman. He first appeared in New York World’s Fair Comics No. 1, released shortly before this issue. His trademark suit, fedora, gas mask and gun, whose smoky emissions induce criminals to sleep, are on full display on this cover. Sandman would eventually join the Justice Society of America, the forerunner of the Justice League, in 1940. He also starred in the series Sandman Mystery Theater (1993-1998), which featured noir-inspired adventures about him and his partner Dian Belmont.

November 1939

Pep Comics No. 1

The Shield, published by MLJ Comics (the forerunner of Archie), was comics’ first patriotic hero. Captain America arrived a year later — and caused some friction. MLJ sent a cease-and-desist letter to Timely Comics (the company that would become Marvel) upon the premiere of Captain America No. 1, “forcing the creation of Cap’s famous round shield to replace the triangular one deemed ‘derivative’ of the Shield,” Mark Waid, a veteran comic book writer and editor, said in an interview. The character (known as Joe Higgins out of costume) was created by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick and began a heroic lineage that extends to Victoria Adams, who assumed the identity in 2015 and starred in her own series from Archie Comics.

December 1939

Mystery Men Comics No. 7

Dan Garrett, who was secretly the Blue Beetle, made his debut in Mystery Men Comics No. 1 in June 1939, but did not grace the cover until this issue. Blue Beetle’s creator is believed to be Charles Nicholas Wojtkowski, who often signed his work as Charles Nicholas — a pseudonym shared by Charles, Chuck Cuidera and Jack Kirby. (There were many reasons for the use of pseudonyms in those early days, Paul Levitz, a former president of DC Comics, said in an interview. Some creators were hiding religious or ethnic identities, while some publishers wanted to give the illusion of having multiple artists.) In 1966, the Blue Beetle’s alter ego Garrett was replaced by Ted Kord. In 2005, Jaime Reyes took over as the Blue Beetle and has made a big splash. Reyes, a Mexican-American teenager, has starred in three comic series and was featured in TV’s “Smallville” and the “Batman: The Brave and Bold” and “Young Justice” animated series.

December 1939

Feature Comics No. 28

This diminutive hero Doll Man, who premiered in November’s Feature Comics No. 27, has a gigantic pedigree. He was created by Will Eisner, a founding father of the American graphic novel, though the story has been credited to William Erwin Maxwell. Doll Man, who makes his first cover appearance here, is Darrell Dane, a chemist who invents a way to shrink himself. His girlfriend, Martha Roberts, joins the fight as Doll Girl in 1951. Other characters used the name Doll Man in 2006 and 2012, and today there is a Doll Woman — a member of the Freedom Fighters, heroes living in a world where Germany won World War II.

December 1939

More Fun Comics No. 52

“Policeman Jim Corrigan, a.k.a. the Spectre, was, next to Superman, the most noteworthy character cocreated by Jerry Siegel,” Waid said. (Siegel worked with Bernard Baily on the ghostly Spectre.) The character comes into existence after Corrigan is abducted and murdered. A voice from above tells him that he will remain earthbound battling crime “until all vestiges of it are gone!!” The Spectre is still around today and recently visited Batman in Gotham City.

George Gustines is a senior editor. He began writing about the comic book industry in 2002. @georgegustines Facebook

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