The History of Comic Books and their Superheroes is part of a four-part series.
- How The Pulps and comic strips laid the groundwork for the introduction of modern-day comic books.
- The Golden Age of Comics and the legendary comic book characters that kicked off the industry
- The Silver Age of Comics and groundbreaking innovations it introduced to the comic book industry
- The Bronze Age of Comics takes comic books into the mainstream.
The Golden Age of Comics
The end of the Pulps era spawned a new epoch in the comic book world – The Golden Age of Comics. The Golden Age of Comics span the years between 1938 and 1956, during which time comic books were first published and became overwhelmingly popular with readers. Many of today’s most popular superheroes were created during the early days of the Golden Age of Comics including Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and the most popular comic book superhero of all time, Superman. In fact, Superman single-handedly launched the new era.
Action Comics #1 – the introduction of an invincible superhero, Superman, kicks off the Golden Age of Comics.
If not for a few sidesteps, Superman could be a bald, vagrant, drunk. That’s the way he was originally developed. But Siegel and Shuster refused to give up on a new superhero character they knew should be famous. Their persistence and ability to adapt, molded the iconic comic book character as we know him today and single-handedly kicked off the Golden Age of Comics.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first met in high school in 1932. Siegel was a writer while Shuster loved to draw. It was a match made in heaven.
Siegel wrote prolifically, penning science fiction stories that he tried to sell to publishers. After being rejected many times, the 18-year-old created his own homemade fanzine, Science Fiction, that he sold to make money during the Great Depression. Shuster often provided artwork for Siegel’s publication.
In 1933, at the age of 19, Siegel wrote a story under the pen name Herbert S. Fine (using the first name of a cousin and his mother’s maiden name), titled, “The Reign of the Superman”. The name “superman” came to Siegel after reading a Tarzan pulp novel in which he was referred to as a “super man”.
The story featured a vagrant named Bill Dunn who gained mind-reading and mind-control powers after being tricked into consuming an experimental drug by an evil scientist. Dunn used his powers for profit, then sank into despair when the drug wore off and he returned to his drab life as a wandering vagrant. The story appeared in Siegel’s Science Fiction #3. Shuster of course, provided the artwork. Today copies of the fanzine are extremely rare, with only a handful of copies known to exist.
The story failed to grab the attention of publishers who said Siegel and Shuster’s stories were not original enough. So Siegel revisited Superman and changed the storyline. In his second pass at the character, Dunn still got his powers from a scientist but now had superhuman strength and bulletproof skin – and he was a crimefighting superhero instead of a villain. They put the character in a comic book called The Superman. Publishers again rejected the concept.
Siegel decided the storyline was fine but the art was the problem, so he replaced Shuster with Leo O’Mealia, who drew Fu Manchu for the Bell Syndicate. Again, the storyline changed. Superman was now a “scientist adventurer” from a time in the future where humans evolved superpowers. Just when the Earth was about to self-destruct, Superman took a time machine to a past era where he could use his powers to fight crime. The story never made it to the publishers. This time Siegel rejected O’Mealia’s art (and as a result, none are thought to exist today).
Siegel search for another artist and settled with Chicago cartoonist Russel Keaton who drew Buck Rogers and Skyroads comic strips. In June 1934, Siegel again revised Superman’s storyline. This time, when Earth was about to self-destruct, he sent his son back to 1935. The young baby was found by a couple named Sam and Molly Kent who took him in, named him Clark Kent, and taught him to use his superpowers for good. The script mentions a “uniform” but does not specify the design in any detail. Since Siegel also rejected Keaton’s artwork, we will never know what the first uniformed Superman looked like.
After rejecting the strips from two different artists, Siegel realized art was not the problem and rejoined efforts with Shuster. After patching things up, the Superman character evolved yet again, this time into an alien from the planet Krypton. Shuster designed the costume with a large “S” on the chest, worn over shorts, and wearing a cape. Siegel rewrote Clark Kent as a journalist who pretended to be weak and timid. He worked with a colleague named Lois Lane who had a crush on Superman but did not recognize that he and her coworker were one and the same person. They began to pitch the story to publishers throughout New York City.
In June 1935, Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson of National Allied Productions offered to publish the Superman story in one of their magazines. When Wheeler-Nicholson was slow to respond to Siegel, he turned down their offer and began negotiating a deal with McClure Newspaper Syndicate instead.
During negotiations with McClure, Siegel and Shuster met Jack Liebowitz of Detective Comics (which would one day be renamed DC Comics) in New York City and since they both badly needed money, accepted work for a new magazine called Action Comics. Since they were in the middle of negotiations with McClure, they did not mention the Superman character they were pitching to another publisher.
After a few weeks of negotiations, the McClure deal fell through and Siegel reluctantly revealed the Superman strips they were working on to Liebowitz. Liebowitz was impressed and offered to accept 13 pages for Action Comics. Siegel and Shuster were paid $10 per page for their work. At the time, it was normal for creators to release the copyright for their original work. As part of the deal, the Superman character was released to Detective Comics.
Action Comics #1 was published in April 1938 (cover dated June 1938) and was a huge success, primarily because of the 13-page Superman feature. In less than a year, Action Comics was almost entirely devoted to Superman stories. In June 1939, a little more than a year later, Superman was spun off into his own comic book. By 1941, animated Superman shorts were being produced. By 1948, Superman had his own movie.
Siegel and Shuster of course, regretted signing away Superman’s copyright. When DC published a Superboy story, a character they had no rights for, Siegel and Shuster sued. The judge ruled in DC’s favor and Siegel and Shuster were promptly fired.
Timely Comics – the predecessor of Marvel Comics
At the onset of the Golden Age of Comics, Superman ruled the comic book world. Other publishers took notice. One publisher, Martin Goodman, had extensive experience publishing pulp magazines and men’s adult magazines (e.g. Stag, For Men Only, and Swank). Noting Superman’s success, he formed Timely Comics in 1939 and published Marvel Comics #1 in October of that year. The first issue featured the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. It sold 80,000 copies, prompting a second printing. The second printing sold ten times more.
The smash success of Marvel #1 led Goodman to focus on the burgeoning comic book industry rather than the pulps. He hired writer Joe Simon, who brought along his friend, artist Jack Kirby. Shortly after, he hired an assistant named Stanley Martin Lieber. Barely two years after the publication was formed, Simon and Kirby left the company. In a pinch, Goodman promoted Stanley Lieber from inkwell filler to temporary editor. In his new role, Lieber began writing under the pen name, Stan Lee. He was 18 years old.
The birth of Captain America
Despite the success of Marvel Comics #1, Timely Comics still could not keep up with the wildly popular Superman character so they created a similar character they named Super American. Recognizing the name was too similar to Superman, they renamed him Captain America instead. Captain America Comics #1 was published in March 1941, one year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The cover showed Captain America punching Adolph Hitler (a common villain in the early years of the Golden Age of Comics) in the face. It sold nearly 1 million copies.
Detective Comics ups their game with a new character
A battle between Detective Comics (DC ) and Timely Comics (Marvel) erupted. Detective Comics and their sister company, All-American Publications/National Allied Publications, were churning out new superheroes each month. In March 1939, Artist Bob Kane and his personal ghostwriter, Bill Finger, wrote a hard-boiled detective story in Detective Comics called “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”. They based the protagonist, an elite businessman with money to burn, on actor Douglas Fairbanks and Sherlock Holmes.
In the story, a police commissioner named Gordon takes the wealthy businessman on a case. At the scene, the businessman excused himself and a masked figure quickly appears in his place. The next day, Commissioner Gordon tells the businessman, Bruce Wayne, about the masked figure. Wayne pretends to not believe the story and then reveals to the reader that he is in fact, the masked character named Batman.
Batman appeared on the cover of Detective Comics #27, and showed the caped crusader swinging on a line. The new hero’s name was revealed as “Bat-Man” (with a hyphen). The issue would become one of the most sought-after comic books in history.
The Batman origin story comes later
After the smashing success of Detective Comics #27, Batman continued appearing as a regular character. His home, Wayne Manor, was introduced in the next issue. One issue later, in Detective Comics #29, his utility belt was first shown. His Batplane was introduced two issues later followed by a litany of bat-themed vehicles. When his origin story was told in Detective Comics #33, the popularity of Batman exploded, nearly reaching the levels of Superman’s acclaim. By issue 35, Batman became the cover feature of Detective Comics and three issues later, his sidekick Robin was introduced.
Interestingly, the use of sidekicks during the Golden Age of Comics stemmed from the introduction of Batman’s Robin. Robin was created so writers could have Batman explain his thoughts, similar to Sherlock Holmes and Watson. During development, Bob Kane wanted to introduce Robin as an orphan but Bill Finger suggested he be the child of circus performers to explain his uncanny agility. The character triggered a slew of Superheroes that had sidekicks.
One year after his introduction, Batman was spun out of Detective Comics into his own self-titled series. Batman #1 was released in the Spring of 1940 and introduced the world to a new villain – the Joker.
The creation of Captain Marvel
Like Marvel’s Captain America, Fawcett Comics created their own version of Superman in 1939, naming him Captain Thunder. He first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (later reprinted as Thrill Comics #1) to little fanfare. After printing, Fawcett Comics found that “Captain Thunder” was already in use and could not be trademarked. In fact, they found that “Flash Comics” nor “Thrill Comics” could be trademarked either. So they renamed the comic book Whiz Comics and changed Captain Thunder’s name to Captain Marvelous.
Whiz Comics #2 hit the stands in late 1939 (cover dated February 1940) and shortened Captain Marvelous’ name to Captain Marvel. He was given a secret identity of Billy Batson, an orphaned boy who discovered he could speak the name of the ancient wizard, Shazam, and transform into the adult superhero, Captain Marvel. The iconic phrase was an acronym created from the six immortal elders who grant Captain Marvel his powers: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.
Kids could easily identify with a young boy who could become an adult superhero by uttering a single word. Captain Marvel became a smash hit selling a half-million copies. By 1941, Captain Marvel had his own series – Captain Marvel Adventures.
Golden Age of Comics battle #1 – Captain Marvel creates a rift between Fawcett and DC
Many of the characters introduced during the Golden Age of Comics are still popular today but none were as popular during the Golden Age as Captain Marvel. In fact, he remained popular for more than a decade, even surpassing Superman in sales. Detective Comics of course, did not take kindly to being dethroned. They struck back via a lawsuit against Fawcett for copyright infringement. In their opinion, Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman.
The case went to trial in 1948 (and again in 1951). The courts ruled in Fawcett’s favor. However, DC appealed the ruling and money-strapped Fawcett was forced to settle rather than going to trial again. As part of the settlement, Captain Marvel was shut down, the staff fired, then rehired at DC where they became a part of the Superman comics creative team. In 1963, one of the former Fawcett artists, Kurt Schaffenberger, got revenge by sneaking an unauthorized cameo of Captain Marvel into Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #42.
Legendary DC writer Gardner Fox creates The Flash
Legendary DC writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert created a new character for All-American Publications that possessed a single superpower – uncanny speed. The Flash appeared alongside Captain Marvel in Flash Comics #1 in January 1940. Boosted by Captain Marvel’s success, the Flash was a hit with readers.
The original Flash character, Jay Garrick, evolved during and after the Golden Age of Comics. In fact, there are at least four different Flash characters – college athlete Jay Garrick, forensic scientist Barry Allen, Barry’s nephew Wally West, and Barry’s grandson, Bart Allen.
Post-war, the public lost interest in the Flash and Flash Comics was cancelled in 1949 with issue #104. In short order, All-American Publications merged into DC and The Flash found a new home where his eventual resurrection would make him one of the most popular characters in DC’s cadre.
Hawkman appears in Flash Comics #1 alongside Captain Marvel and The Flash
Like Captain Marvel and The Flash, Hawkman appeared in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) as Khufu, an ancient Egyptian prince in reincarnated form. Khufu discovered a “ninth metal” that defied the laws of physics and gave him the power to fly. He was introduced as a charter member of the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics #8. But like The Flash, his popularity declined during the 1940’s. He last appeared in 1951, in All Star Comics #57, during the later days of the Golden Age of Comics. Like the Flash, he found a new home at DC when they took over All American Comics and like Flash, he would later reappear during the Silver Age of Comics and gain newfound popularity.
Gardner Fox does it again – the creation of Doctor Fate
Doctor Fate, aka Fate, was created by DC’s Gardner Fox, the author of Flash, Hawkman, and Sandman. With artwork drawn by Howard Sherman, the character first appeared in National Allied Publications’ More Fun Comics #55 in May 1940. The origin story told how Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson) discovered the tomb of an ancient wizard, Nabu, who subsequently trained him in the magic arts.
Doctor Fate was the first to introduce magical elements into comics. He was so well-liked by readers, he became a founding member of the Justice Society of America.
The creation of Green Lantern
Around the time Marvel (Timely Comics) introduced Captain America, DC (All-American Publications) introduced Alan Scott as Green Lantern. He first appeared in All-American Comics #16 in July 1940. The character was a railroad engineer who found a magic lantern after a train wreck. He fashioned the lantern into a magic ring that granted him a wide variety of powers. However, the ring had to be charged from the lantern every 24 hours.
The storyline was complex (by Golden Age of Comics standards) and the Green Lantern’s equalizing vulnerabilities (the ring that had to be frequently charged) was popular with readers. Green Lantern appeared in various comic books until eventually, he was given his own series in which it was revealed that there were multiple Green Lanterns.
The Atom is introduced
Written by Bill O’Connor and Ben Flinton, the original Atom (Al Pratt) first appeared in All-American Publications’ All-American Comics #19 in October 1940.The Atom was unique in several ways. Most importantly, he was a brilliant physicist – who had no superpowers. Only later did he gain a little bit of strength and a unusual “atomic punch” move.
The series would run through several Atom’s during its Golden Age of Comics run. Ray Palmer appeared as The Atom in 1961, Adam Cray followed, and Ryan Choi debuted in 2006. Regardless of the character rotation, the series saw limited success despite being revived several times.
A female superhero is modelled after a psychologist’s polygamous partners.
Psychologist William Moulton Marston held a moderate amount of prestige and fame. After all, he invented the systolic blood pressure test and a machine that was the precursor to the modern polygraph. In 1941, Family Circle magazine published an interview with Marston, conducted by his polygamous partner, Olive Byrne, titled “Don’t Laugh at the Comics”. Marston argued that comic books had missed the opportunity to educate children. Publisher Max Gaines of All-American Publications (later DC) read the article and was impressed. He immediately hired Marston as an educational consultant.
Recognizing that Marston now held a position of influence within the comic book industry, his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, suggested a female superhero would be a good role model for children. Marston took the idea to Gaines who encouraged him to work out the details of a story.
Marston developed the character using elements from his own life. He used his invention of the lie detector machine as the basis for a “lasso of truth”, a rope which forced anyone bound with it to tell the truth. He based much of the character’s personal attributes on his wife Elizabeth and their polyamorous partner, Olive Byrne.
The character’s bracelets are similar to what was worn by Byrne, as was her hair, face, and figure. Her ability to break free from chains but become helplessly bound when her bracelets were held together came from Marston’s fondness for bondage and submission that he frequently practiced with the two women he loved. He called his new comic book character – Wonder Woman. The Golden Age of Comics had their first female superhero.
Wonder Woman made her debut in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941. The story told of a US Army intelligence pilot, Steve Trevor, who crashed on Paradise Island after running out of fuel. Two Amazon women, Diana and Mala, recover him. Diana nurses him to health.
Diana begins to fall in love with Trevor but her mother, Queen Hippolyta, reminds her that men are strictly forbidden on Paradise Island. As a compromise, she sends Wonder Woman back to the United States as a goodwill ambassador where she begins to use her special abilities to fight crime.
Wonder Woman was popular with comic book readers and ultimately became a part of a new superhero team, the Justice League of America.
Super teams (Justice League of America, All-Winner Squad) become all the rage
Often new or popular characters were added to “teams”, creating a superhero team whose combined powers could be used to stop villains. DC introduced the Justice Society of America in the Golden Age of Comics with The Flash, Green Lantern, Hour-Man, and Johnny Thunder in All Star Comics #3 (five issues before Wonder Woman made her first appearance) making it the first team of superheroes to appear in comic books.
The team was slowly expanded to include Doctor Fate, Hourman, The Spectre, Sandman, Sandy Hawkins, Atom, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Johnny Thunder, Thunderbolt, Wildcat, Star-Spangled Kid, S.T.R.I.P.E., Doctor Mid-Nite, Starman, Mister Terrific, Black Canary, Red Tornado, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Robin and Huntress.
Over time, the JSA was reinvented several times. Ultimately the Justice Society of America would be renamed to Justice League of America (March 1960) taking advantage of the popularity of baseball’s National League and American League, before being brought back as JAS in the Bronze Age of Comics.
Timely Comics (Marvel) introduces a superhero team of its own
Timely Comics (soon to be Marvel Comics) followed suit with its All-Winners Squad consisting of Captain America (and his sidekick Bucky), Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch, super-speedster the Whizzer, and Miss America. The new team appeared in All Winners Comics #19 in the Fall of 1946 and featured the superheroes fighting Nazi spy, Isbisa.
Aquaman makes his first appearance in comic books
Aquaman made his first appearance in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941 with the ability to breathe underwater and control fish with his mind. During his early adventures, he often fought Nazis.
He continued appearing in More Fun Comics until issue #106 after which he moved with Superboy and Green Arrow to Adventure Comics in issue #103 (1946). He was featured in Adventure Comics for more than 15 years making him one of the only DC superheroes to appear continuously throughout the Golden Age of Comics.
Green Arrow in introduced in More Fun Comics
Green Arrow and his sidekick Speedy appeared alongside Aquaman in More Fun Comics #73 in November 1941. He was created by Mort Weisinger, creator of Aquaman and Johnny Quick, and drawn by George Papp, the well-known artist for Superboy. Weisinger acknowledged that Green Arrow was based on the characters Robin Hood and Batman.
Modern day readers can easily see the semblance to Robin Hood. But Batman? Like Batman, Green Arrow had a sidekick, drove an Arrow-Plane, fought a clown-like enemy (Bull’s Eye), had an Arrow-Cave secret lair, was summoned by the Arrow Signal, and had an alter ego that was a wealthy playboy millionaire. Despite the obvious duplication of Batman, Green Arrow outlived many other characters that were introduced during the Golden Age of Comics.
Comic book popularity declines – the end of the Golden Age of Comics
By the 1950’s, the popularity of comic books began to decline. Comic book series from DC Comics and Marvel changed to detective stories, war stories, romances, westerns, horror, and other genres in an attempt to retain readers. Alas, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and The Flash were cancelled. The only superhero comics published continuously through the entire 1950s were Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Batman, Detective Comics, Superboy, Superman, Wonder Woman and World’s Finest Comics.
The advent of Television has often been blamed for the demise of the Golden Age of Comics. In reality, the Golden Age of Comics ended mainly due to an unreasonable public paranoia. Regardless of he cause, the changes that resulted served to usher in a new era of comic books – The Silver Age of Comics.
The Reign of the Superman original story
The following is the original text of The Reign of the Superman, the story that introduced Superman as one of the first Golden Age of Comics superheroes.
THE REIGN OF THE SUPERMAN
By Herbert S. Fine
Another Thrilling Story By The Writer of “Snaring The Master”
The bread-line! Its row of downcast, disillusioned men; unlucky creatures who have found that life holds nothing but bitterness for them. The bread-line! Last resort of the starving vagrant.
With a contemptuous sneer on his face, Professor Smalley watched the wretched unfortunates file past him. To him, who had come of rich parents and had never been forced to face the rigors of life, the miserableness of these men seemed deserved. It appeared to him that if they had the slightest ambition at all they could easily lift themselves from their terrible rut.
But while he eyed them with a world of condescension, he was busy scanning their faces, searching for the man he sought. Time and time again he seemed on the point of reaching out and putting a restraining arm on the hand of one of the men. But ever he hesitated at the last moment and allowed the fellow to file past.
At last, however, he gave up his search in despair and resignedly claimed the attention of the raggedly-dressed person who happened to be before him at that moment. “How would you like to have a real meal and a new suit?” he inquired.
The resentment in the vagrant’s face died as he saw that Smalley wore costly apparel. “I’d like nothing better, mister.” Then, suddenly suspicious–“What do you want me to do for you? Nothing crooked, I hope?”
Professor Smalley laughed. “I assure you my intentions are purely humanitarian. But if you doubt……..”
“No, no,” interrupted the man, stepping out of the line. “Indeed I don’t, sir. But who are you?”
The professor introduced himself. “Ernest Smalley, a chemist.”
The down-and-outer bowed in acknowledgement. “Bill Dunn, gentleman of the road, at your service!”
SMALLEY HAD no difficulty inducing Dunn to enter his car. When he drove off, something within him sang exultantly. In a few minutes he would be started upon the experiment which, he was sure, would bring most startling results. For now that he had secured a human subject, Smalley would see at first hand how his chemical would react upon the subject when taken internally.
All unwitting of the professor’s sinister intentions Dunn sat beside him, complimenting himself upon his extraordinary luck.
Some time previous Smalley had secured a fragment of a meteor and upon subjecting to chemical analysis found the presence of what he suspected to be a new element. Upon further investigation he had learned that it exerted a strange influence up on the laboratory animals to whom it was administered. Only a few grains of the precious substance were left. Dunn was going to be the recipient of one half of them, though he was not aware of that.
At length the professor drew up before his house. He hurried into it, followed by Dunn.
Smalley instructed the butler to furnish Dunn with one of the professor’s suits.
When Dunn next met Smalley he seemed a far cry from the ragged stranger who had uneasily entered the house. For the first time in weeks his face was clean shaven. Clean, faultlessly pressed clothes had replaced his frayed garments. There was an air of confidence about him that surprised Smalley.
The professor greeted him with a warm smile. “What a great transformation! It seems impossible that you are the same man!”
Dunn nodded. “Yes, it is possible for me to look respectable. Somehow it’s hard for me to believe that you’re doing this just out of the kindness of your heart. I’ve received too many hard knocks, I guess.”
Smalley’s genial grin vanished and his eyes hardened. Did the man suspect–!
Dunn continued awkwardly. “But I believe I’ve finally come up against what I doubted existed.”
Once more Smalley was smirking.
“You said something about a meal,” hinted Bill Dunn. “I haven’t eaten for several days.”
At once the professor was the perfect host. “Pardon me for my forgetfulness. Be seated, please.”
He hurried from the room, and could Bill have seen the triumphant look upon his face, he would have had cause to worry.
IN A moment Smalley returned, pushing a small stand before him. On the rolling platform was a platter of steaming food. “Help yourself,” he invited.
Dunn lost no time in accepting. He did away with fancy preliminaries and got down to business at once. He ate his food like a famished creature. Convention was forgotten. He swallowed a large sandwich in four gigantic bites.
The professor’s eyes smoldered queerly as Dunn gulped down his coffee. For the great experiment had begun! Smalley’s chemical preparation had been placed in that coffee.
Not much later Dunn leaned back in his chair, a frown upon his face. “Feel dizzy,” he complained. “Must have eaten too much.”
“Perhaps you’d better retire,” advised Smalley solicitously. “I can talk to you in the morning about a position I plan to offer you. One moment, while I summon the butler, I’ll be right back.”
Though his mind whirled under a terrific pressure, Dunn sensed the aura of evil triumph surrounding the professor. It occurred to him for the first time that Smalley might have made him the unwitting subject of some sinister and terrible experiment. As the professor left the room, he was filled with a wild desire to flee. His roving, frantic eyes fastened themselves’ upon a window.
When Smalley returned to the room with the butler, Dunn was not in sight. With a smug satisfaction within him, Smalley concluded that Dunn had collapsed upon the floor. But when he scanned the floor and found no trace of his victim, then searched the room with mounting alarm and horror, he knew positively that something had gone wrong. And when the flapping of the wind-buffeted curtains drew his attention to the open window, he cursed heartily. Dunn had escaped!
SCARCELY REALIZING what he did or where he was bound, Dunn staggered down the streets. As he approached people, they shrank away, believing him to be under the influence of some powerful stimulant. Fate or extremely good luck kept him away from the vigilant eye of officers of the law. Soon Dunn was babbling incoherently and dashing along the streets at full speed, disregarding any who might be in his way. The professor’s residence was situated near a public park. He was soon rushing into its shadows, tearing through the desolate park, like an escaped lunatic. In his blind dash he noted no obstacles. When he crashed unexpectedly into a tree, therefore, he received the full force of the violent contact. He toppled to the ground, dazed and half-conscious.
Suddenly, as he lay there on the ground, a veritable holocaust of confusion burst upon his mind. “I tell you! We’ve got to use a little strategy. Brains is what this gang needs, and brains is what it ain’t got.” “The damn fool; I thought she said she could play bridge.” “I gotta have that dough, Ma. I gotta have it!” “I’ll wait until he turns around and then I’ll let him have it in the back.” “He’s just a kid, Mame. Why don’t you let him alone?” “Listen, you; we don’t stand for welchers in this burg see?” “I wonder what she thinks I am; a sap for her to wipe her dirty shoes on?” “Listen, Chief, get this straight. It was Maretti who did the killin’, not me. I wouldn’t squeal on a pal, but–” “So I tells the umpchay I’m not that kind ova dame. Well, he just looks at me and laughs himself blue in the face. And say, dearie, did I get mad!”
What gibberish was this that darted into his brain like thousands of little light-rays?
“Gentlemen, this is a serious problem that confronts us.” “I’d better watch that guy. He looks bad. Maybe he’s followed me from Chicago.” “To hell with the anarchists!” “I’d starve before I’d go back to that brute.” “I wish he’d keep on his own feet. A helluva nerve he had askin’ a swell dancer like me to fox trot with a palooka like him.” “Look here, punk. You may be the star reporter on this rag but unless you turn in your copy by three o’ clock you’ll be out in the street peddling shoelaces.” “I must not forget to wake up early tomorrow morning.”
Dunn shook his head. He wished that the terrible noise raging within his head would cease. Scarcely had he conceived the desire, before the pestilence disappeared. Abruptly he caught himself wondering what Professor Smalley was thinking at that moment, how he had taken Dunn’s escape.
AT THE same moment a voice within him began to speak, a voice that undoubtedly belonged to none other than–Professor Smalley himself. “He’s gone and the chances are ten to one that I’ll never locate him again. What infernal luck. My precious chemical wasted! I’ll get him somehow. Why did the fool have to run away? How could he have suspected my motive? Perhaps I should inform the police, hire detectives. Tell them he’s a dangerous maniac. Either that or I’ll put some crime upon him, frame him. God knows what may happen to him; he may be transformed to an imbecile, but on the other hand–“
Abruptly the voice ceased speaking. Dunn gasped. Was he going crazy, or, sterner possibility, was he already insane?
And then the solution occurred to him; the monstrous, unbelievable truth. Somehow, some way, Professor Smalley had treated him with some chemical that had reacted upon him in this manner, had sharpened his mind so that he could hear thoughts! But was that all?
The five senses! Were they all influenced?
Sound — Yes!
Touch — (Dunn touched himself. He noted no new sensation.) No!
Scent — No.
Taste — (Dunn raised a pinch of dirt and dropped it into his mouth. He spat it out quickly.) No!
Dunn considered the problem of sight. Was it improved? How could he determine whether it was or not?
He happened to look up into the sky and his roving eyes caught sight of a brilliant red point of light. His interest grew as he regarded it. Within his mind a dry, metallic voice spoke mechanically, unconcernedly: “Mars!”
What was occuring up there, wondered Dunn.
Faster than the speed of light came the answer to that rash thought.
In less time than it takes an eyelid to blink, Dunn was viewing a weird, fascinating scene that was not of Earth.
It seemed to Dunn that he was hovering a short distance above the red, parched surface of the ground in an invisible body. Below him and stretching out from both sides of him to infinite distances was a straight unmarred plain. Except for two objects, and the pale sky, nothing else was in sight. The two objects instantly attracted his interest and attention. Both were–beings! One was a giant tree-like creature, the other a thirty-foot high thin streak of red light.
AS DUNN watched they covered the short distance separating them from each other. Both seemed to flow, rather than to walk across the soil. The moment they came within striking distance, the tree-creature flung out a limb-like tentacle that agily wrapped itself about the red-intelligence. Other limbs flashed out, encircled the red flame and drew it against the tree’s breast. In that instant the two alien monstrosities shook with their mighty efforts to destroy each other.
And Dunn, while still on Earth, was witnessing this incredible scene, this sight which was transpiring 35,000,000 miles from where he lay motionless in the park.
The red intelligence now brought into use ‘a power which it had not used before. Suddenly it expanded. The twig-like tentacles of the tree-monster snapped brittlely under the unexpected attack. Entirely engulfed by its adversary it could be faintly seen within the red body that imprisoned it. Then suddenly it had vanished, was gone.
Where before there had been two creatures there now was but–the red-intelligence.
The Martian sight suddenly disappeared. Once more Dunn, white and trembling at the strangeness of the vision he had glimpsed was in the shadows of the park.
The strain and excitement, the influence of the drug, was too much for Dunn to withstand. Exhausted to his very soul, he dropped off into a troubled sleep.
WHEN THE thing that had been Bill Dunn awoke the next morning, it recorded its surroundings and its clothes unfamiliarly. Memory abruptly flooded back. With a chuckle of sheer amusement, it rose, to its feet and stretched its arms. Then it began to follow the road toward more densely populated districts. As it walked, it spoke to itself.
“Fool! Why did you sleep on the ground when there were thousands of unoccupied beds in the world! Money, obviously, was the reason. You lacked money. How hilarious! Money is the easiest thing that can be secured upon this planet! And you have spent a full year in idle wastefulness when you could have been living the life of a Prince, an existence incomparable in its ease. It is the greatest sin. I must atone for that; I must remedy my financial condition. That will not be difficult.”
A grin of superiority crossed the Superman’s face.
I can do four things that no one else of the planet can emulate. They are intercept interplanetary messages, read the mind of anyone I desire, by sheer mental concentration force ideas into people’s heads, and throw my vision to any spot in the universe.
“Furthermore,” he added, “during the night my mind has assimilated all the knowledge that exists in the universe. I know as much about Pluto as its inhabitants whose information I absorbed. I am a virtual sponge that absorbs every secret ever created. Every science is known to me and the most abtruse questions are mere childsplay to my staggering intellect. I am a veritable God!”
Thoughts of his mental achievements swelled him with confidence. He strode along the road arrogantly, his head erect, aggressive. One might have supposed his pockets were overflowing with banknotes of tremendous denominations rather than the empty air.
He stopped the first man he met and inquired where the nearest public library was located. Upon receiving the information desired, he strode off without word of thanks. It seemed perfectly natural to him that people should do as he directed.
ENTERING THE library, he took the elevator to the third floor and hurried into the Science and Technology Room.
“Professor Einstein’s book on ‘The Expanding Universe,” he instructed an attendant.
The attendant returned with the copy in her hand. “Our only one,” she explained, “but it’s printed in German.”
“What do I care?” snapped the Superman and snatched the book from the astounded attendant’s hand, “I’d be able to read it if it were written in Portugese, Beteguesian, Andromedian, or in the sands of time!”
He seated himself and began to read. A supercilious sneer flashed over his features. Suddenly he roared with laughter and slammed the book down on the table before him, with a mighty bang. “Trash! Bosh!” he cried.
The attendant hurried up. “You will have to be quiet, sir,” she cautioned. “There are others in this room who are concentrating. No disturbance will be tolerated.”
The Superman bared his teeth. “If I had a ray-tube within reach, I’d blast you out of existence!” he hissed.
Quickly the attendant retreated, positive she was confronted by a madman.
The Superman chuckled softly as he read her terrified thoughts.
An elderly gentleman entered the room and sat down beside the Superman. He shot a momentary glance of disdain at the Superman’s dirty, wrinkled suit, made a motion as though to rise and change his seat, then sighed, and apparently changed his mind. He slipped a small magazine_ from his pocket and began to read. The Superman read the following two words upon its cover: SCIENCE FICTION.
Suddenly the gentleman noted the – Superman’s stare. He reddened angrily, seemed on the point of speaking. The Superman read his thoughts: “I will humble this impertinent person by asking a difficult question which shall show him his ignorance. I shall say, ‘My dear fellow, can you quote me the Fitzgerald Contraction’!”
Before the gentleman had an opportunity to put the question, the Superman replied. “The Fitzgerald Contraction,” he stated calmly, “which was looked into by Lorentz and Larnor, has the following equation: L=v/1-V2.”
The elderly man stared unbelievingly. His lips moved, but no words issued forth.
Laughing, the Superman rose to his feet and left the place.
“NOW,” THE Superman informed himself, “I will proceed to collect a large sum of money.”
He approached a drug-store and stood by the scales. A man approached. The Superman stopped him. “What is your name?” he inquired.
“Smith,” replied the puzzled fellow.
“Hello, Smith!” greeted the Superman and slapped him on the back. “Fine weather we’re having these days, don’t you think?”
Smith nodded, puzzled.
“Say, Smith, how about returning the ten dollars you owe me? I’ve waited long enough.”
Smith started to protest, but suddenly it occurred to him that he did owe this stranger ten dollars.
“Who are you?” he asked, “I’ve forgotten your name.”
“I am your grandfather,” the Superman stated, without cracking a smile.
Strangely enough, Smith grinned genially. “Well, darned if you aren’t! What a fool I was to forget! Where have you been?”
“I’ve just returned from a polar bear hunt in South Africa. But how about the ten dollars?”
Two five dollar bills exchanged hands. “I wager I can guess your weight,” the Superman abruptly said.
“Five bucks says you can’t.”
“Fine!” The Superman searched the man’s mind. When Smith had stepped on a scale yesterday, he had registered one hundred and fifty pounds. “You weigh 150 lbs.”
Smith stepped on the scale. One hundred and fifty pounds
The Superman now had fifteen dollars.
When Smith reached home, something snapped within him. For the first time it occurred to him how nonsensically he had acted.
The Superman approached the clerk at the drug-counter.
The clerk thought: “I wonder if he wants some booze, too?”
“I’d like a pint,” the Superman whispered.
“I don’t understand,” the clerk said evasively, cautiously.
Dunn leaned forward. “It’s all right,” he said under his breath. “Smith, the guy who just left, is a close friend of mine. He put me wise.”
The clerk reached under the counter and his hand reappeared with a wrapped bottle. “Ten smackers,” he whispered.
Suddenly an authoritative gleam appeared in the Superman’s eyes. “I got the goods on you!” he exclaimed.
The clerk snatched for the bottle, but the Superman, divining his intention beat him to it. “I’m a Federal Agent,” he hissed. “Come along or–” He winked.
“How much?” inquired the clerk hoarsely.
“One hundred dollars!”
“Robber!” “Come across or to the cooler you go.”
The Superman left the drug-store with one hundred fifteen dollars in his pocket. “A paltry sum,” he told himself. “How can I increase it?”
His forehead furrowed with the intensity of his thoughts. At last he relaxed. “It all depends upon the drug,” he muttered. “If I can give rise to this power, nothing can stand in my way toward universal domination.”
Dunn stopped walking and approached the side of a building. He braced his back against it. And then his face screwed up with the intensity of his concentration. Abruptly he stiffened.
A vision floated before his eyes. It was of a man sitting on a park bench, reading the daily newspaper. The date on the newspaper was March the twenty-first. The day happened to be the twentieth. The Superman was looking twenty-four hours into the future!
Eagerly the Superman focused his attention upon an article.
“GAMBLERS MAKE BIG DOUGH
GOD OF FORTUNE FAVORABLE
Following the race-track, we find that the heavy betters cleaned up when Blue Angel came in first when odds against it were ten to one. The shock was great and the bookies were hit hard.
“Followers of another, but more popular gamble, the stock market, who owned shares of the formerly valueless Colorado Fruits, got a break today, too. When morning came, the brokers found out Colorado Fruits had shot sky-high overnight. A lot of newly rich were created.”
Abruptly the vision vanished.
Dunn had accomplished the impossible. He had looked into the future! It was only within his power to see several hours ahead, but that was enough.
“After all,” the Superman mused. “Time is simply duration, and duration is an illusion of the mind.”
ALONE IN his laboratory sat the chemist, Smalley. In his hand he clutched the latest edition of a newspaper.
His face was white and strained; a light, bordering on madness, flamed in his eyes.
An hour previous he had fired his butler. He wanted to be alone, away from prying eyes.
On the page he so tightly clutched was a picture. The photograph was of Bill Dunn, the man he had administered his drug to.
Under the picture was the following article: “Into the public eye has stepped a mysterious figure, the man who calls himself William Dunn. No one knows from where he has come and he refused to offer any information. But the fact remains that through gambling circles he has amassed a tremendous fortune.
“No one can understand his extraordinary luck. Ever since he appeared, he has been reaping thousands from incredibly fortunate investments. His luck is almost supernatural in its unfailingness.
“The man himself is a queer type. He is exceedingly alert, snaps back answers almost before questions are completed. But he has an overbearing conceit that is almost stifling.
On another page was a short notice which, while it might have been insignificant to anyone, was of great importance in the eyes of Smalley.
“Clyde Kornau of 1131 Grantwood Rd. came to Police Headquarters with a strange story this morning. He says that while sitting in his study yesterday, he suddenly caught himself in the act of writing a check for forty-thousand dollars in favor of William Dunn.
“The police are puzzled. Kornau is too wealthy and powerful a citizen to lie for the sake of cheap publicity. A psychologist informed Kornau that his action had been the unconscious result of reading a great deal about Dunn. Kornau replied that he had never heard of William Dunn.”
Suddenly Smalley leapt to his feet with a bellow of anger and rage. “I’ll tell the whole world the truth about Dunn,” he swore, “and they’ll put him where he can’t do any harm!”
He secured pencil and paper and began to write a long, heated letter. He old how he had taken Dunn from the breadline to make him the noble subject of the greatest experiment of the century. He told of how the chemical had been administered and Dunn’s subsequent vanishing. “And,” he concluded, “unless this creature is snared and shot dead like a beast, he will grow, his powers will strengthen, increase, until he will hold the fate of the world in the palm of his hand!”
When the letter was completed, he placed it in an envelope, addressed it to the City Editor of the largest newspaper, then left the laboratory and mailed it.
Upon returning to his laboratory, Professor Smalley began to think. He began to envy the power of the Superman, as much as he hated the being itself. Visions of world domination rose before his eyes. Why should he not assume the position he had dreaded the Superman would take? The longer he thought, the stronger the temptation grew.
The desire had grown so strong soon that he began to mechanically go about the procedure of preparing the chemical. Then, with a visible shock, he realized what he was doing, he went to work with a will that was almost savage.
Quickly he hurried from tube to vessel, working with the rapidity and recklessness of a maniac. Gradually his task neared completion, and finally he poured a thin liquid into a flask and put it away to cool off.
Several minutes later, when the preparation had cooled sufficiently, he raised the flask and prepared to take the drought that would transform him into a Superman.
At that moment the bell to his home rang.
Ordinarily he would have disregarded it, but some instinct informed him that Dunn had returned.
With an evil leer upon his thin features, Smalley lowered the flask and left the room.
Smalley’s surmise had been correct. The Superman was standing at the entrance when he opened the door. He stepped out and Dunn entered.
The two walked silently to the laboratory, then Smalley spoke for the first time. “Report what has happened to you.”
The Superman did, revealed everything, concealed nothing. He had a motive for telling the entire truth. It was that he had determined to murder the professor before he left the room.
As Dunn related his marvelous experiences one after another, Smalley’s greed grew. He visioned what he would do when he had the same powers.
“Dunn,” he said, when the Superman had finished speaking, “I am going to drink my preparation, now. That means that between the both of us, with our two gigantic brains, we shall rule the universe!”
The Superman read his mind, which spoke as follows: “And after I take the drug I’m going to dispose of my friend here. Only one Superman can exist, and that will be me!”
Thought the Superman. “Now is the time to kill this creature of such abysmal intelligence who seeks to oppose and replace me.”
Smalley made a move to raise the flask which contained the last dose of his chemical. But before he could reach it, Dunn stepped forward and knocked his hand aside.
Instantly the professor leapt for the Superman’s throat. Dunn fell back under the sudden attack, then, with a sudden roar, sprang forward and wrapped his arms about Smalley. The chemist struggled and flung the Superman off his balance. They both crashed to the floor.
Over and over they rolled, first one on top, then the other. It was a battle with an almost inconceivable stake. For to the victor would go the rule of the universe.
Abruptly Professor Smalley tore himself loose from his adversary’s grip, jumped to his feet, and flew toward the table upon which lay the flask…….
THE INTERNATIONAL Conciliatory Council was in session. Gathered in the great hall were the representatives of all the world’s nations, both large and small. This was the greatest Peace Conference of all time. Chairman Warren Mansfield was thundering at the top of his voice “–and as we have gathered here, sit beside each other with no enmity between us, so shall our respective nations be in the future; friendly, brotherly.”
As Mansfield seated himself, thunderous handclapping acclaimed him.
Chinaman and Jap, Frenchman and Englishman, American and Mexican, all smiled genially at each other. They saw that for the first time in the history of the globe, all races were to be joined into one tremendous, everlasting fraternity.
Chairman Mansfield rapped his gavel for silence. “Our first speaker,” he announced, “will be Italy’s messenger of peace, Anthony Ferroti!”
Ferroti rose to his feet and grinned engagingly. “It is with great pleasure that I annouce–” Abruptly his face under went a startling transformation. The amiable smile disappeared. His eyes snapped cruelly. His teeth were revealed in a sneer. “—that Balvania is a hotbed of dirty anarchists!”
The silence in the room was stifling. Every man was thunderstruck.
Balvania’s representative recovered from his astonishment. Angrily he leapt upright and screamed a flow of bitter denunciation. Someone gave him a violent shove and sent him crashing against another individual. In another moment the hall was in an uproar. Dignified old gentlemen were bellowing with rage and clutching at the throats of life-long friends. They who had come to make the final peace settlement were now attacking each other like mad hate-filled wolves.
FORREST ACKERMAN listened patiently to his City Editor.
“The Chief gave me this letter and recommended that I pass it on to you. At first he thought it was just the work of a nut, but in view of how things have been developing lately, he suggested that I pass it on to you, and instruct you to look into the matter. Well, that’s your assignment. Keep your mouth shut about it. If there’s anything to it, we want an exclusive.”
Ackerman accepted the proferred letter and glanced through it. As he read, his interest quickened. He whistled. “Sounds screwy.”
“It’s up to you to discover whether it is or isn’t. Get going!”
As Forrest drove to Professor Smalley’s home, he considered the relationship of this letter to the recent world-stirring events. If what the professor stated was true, it was likely that his Superman was behind the bitterness between nations. What might the Superman’s motives be? Was it simply that his nature demanded he bring evilness and death upon humanity, or more likely, did he hope to gain control of it by first breaking down its strength by pitting it against itself?
He had come to no definite conclusion when he drew up before Smalley’s residence. Leaving his car, he climbed the steps and rang the bell. He waited and no response came. He repeated the act. The same result. Impatiently he put his hand on the doorknob, turning it. The door swung open. For a moment he hesitated, then he entered.
He walked from room to room meeting no one.
And then he entered a laboratory. His first glimpse told him that he had stumbled upon something important. The whole room was in terrible shape. Chairs, tables, cabinets were upset. Glassware was smashed. There were evident signs of a battle. A gasp escaped the reporter as he came upon a large crimson spot on the floor.
Ideas rushed through his mind, some incoherent, others complete. But several were not to be denied. Professor Smalley had been one of the men involved in the struggle. It seemed likely that the other had been Dunn, the Superman, but who had won the battle? Whose blood marked the floor?
A possibility occurred to him. Smalley might have conceived the ambition to rule the world. Perhaps there had been a quarrel and the resulting fight in which one of the two had been killed. Who, then, had been the victor? And whoever the victor might be, was it he who was to blame for the world being on the point of war?
Forrest ran from the house and sprang into his car. In a moment it was started and he was tearing along the streets toward the offices of his paper. But he had scarcely gone several dozen blocks before he behaved uncomprehensibly. Instead of continuing along the thoroughfare that would have taken him directly to his destination, he turned into a side street and after that into another thoroughfare which was directly parallel to the one upon which he had been travelling previously. He was headed in the opposite direction!
Abruptly he forgot the startling discovery he had made. Instead, the impression had come to him that he was following an assignment which was to take him to a certain street-number.
In a few minutes he drew up before a building. He entered it. He was met by a cordial, beaming man who led him into a dusty office. “Mr. Dunn?” Forrest inquired.
“Yes. Be seated.”
Forrest complied. Instantly, bars of metal sprang about him from the chair’s side, grasping his arms, chest, and legs, in an unbreakable grip. At the same moment Forrest realized what had happened. He had been brought here under the power of the Superman’s will.
The Superman had seated himself at his table and was facing the reporter.
“Who are you?” Forrest cried. “Smalley or Dunn?”
The Superman did not answer at once. He seemed lost in concentration. Abruptly he seemed to become aware that Forrest had asked a question. “Smalley or Dunn?” he repeated, puzzled. Memory flowed back. “Ah–yes. Dunn.”
“You killed Smalley?”
“I killed Smalley.”
“And–and what are you going to do with me?”
“I have a little matter to attend to before I dispose of you.” His tone was flat.
Forrest’s mind reeled at this calm declaration of his death.
“I am about to send the armies of the world to total annihiliation against each other.”
And then something snapped within Forrest. He cursed at the inhuman monster, called him every insulting epithet that occurred to him, swore to crush him if he broke loose.
The Superman paid no attention to the screaming, pleading man. He clenched his fists and stared before him. As he concentrated, his face slowly twisted itself into such a visage of hate and cruelty that Forrest was appalled.
The Superman was broadcasting thoughts of hate which would plunge the Earth into a living hell.
In this moment of dread and terror the reporter sent .a silent prayer up to the Creator of the threatened world. He beseeched the Omnipotent One to blot out this blaspheming devil.
Was it true that Forrest saw the look of hate swept from the Superman’s face and terror replace it, or was it mere fancy?
Suddenly the Superman leapt to his feet. The chair he had been sitting upon crashed back. “No!” he cried. “No!”
Forrest saw he was shouting at the empty air.
“That vision! That glimpse into the future! Myself tomorrow–sleeping in the park. Once more just Dunn–Dunn the vagrant, the down-and-outer!” The Superman drew a hand across his eyes. “It’s the drug! It’s influence will be gone in an hour, exhausted! And I can’t duplicate the drug unless I can reach the Dark Planet where lies the needed element. And there is not time enough for that!”
The arrogant, confident figure had departed. Instead, there now stood, a drooping, disillusioned man.
Dunn raised his head and regarded the mute reporter. “I see, now, how wrong I was. If I had worked for the good of humanity, my name would have gone down in history with a blessing–instead of a curse.” He approached the chair and tampered with some mechanism on its side. “In fifteen minutes you will be automatically released and I–” he grinned wryly, “I shall be- back in the bread-line!”