A while back, I came across this cartoon on deviantart. It features the Justice League with Wonder Woman pointing her sword at the male heroes saying: “If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants.” and each the males wearing an old costume of hers. It exemplifies the modern/present day trope that male heroes get to wear costumes that are modest, while women’s costumes are skimpy. However, it wasn’t always so. Let’s take a look at a few fellows from the golden age that were not afraid to bare a little flesh here and there…
Atomic Man first appeared on the scene in Prize Comics #16 in 1945. Once a scientist, Adam Mann was caught in a laboratory accident and was granted super powers by an isotope named: “Uranium-235”. These powers were flight, super strength, and the ability to blast energy from his right hand. He wore a lead glove over his right hand to neutralize his powers when they weren’t in use. One super power he definately did not possess was fashion sense. Dressed like a Roman soldier including helmet and leather skirt he was certainly not a modest chap.
Bird Man flew onto the scene in 1940 wearing nothing but a posing strap and a set of steel wings in Weird Comics #1 by Fox Features. Not much was revealed about him in the four adventures he had except that he was said to be the descendant of an ancient Native American God who granted him the ability to fly, and the eagerness of a bird of prey. In his arsenal he had a bow and quiver and a hunting knife.
Black Condor is perhaps one of the better known heroes who weren’t very modest in their attire given he was a member of the 1970s super team The Freedom Fighters by Roy Thomas. First appearing in 1940 in Crack Comics #1, the Black Condor was Richard Grey Jr. who was orphaned in Mongolia when his parents were killed in a coup. Young Richard was found and raised by giant black condor birds indigenous to the area. Somehow he learned to fly by studying the birds that had adopted him. Upon adulthood, he met a kindly monk who encouraged Richard to use his abilities for the betterment of mankind. Taking the monk’s advise to heart, Grey took on the costumed identity of Black Condor.
Captain Fight breezed his way into crimefighting in Fight Comics #16 in 1941 by Fiction House. A high school athletics coach, Jeff Crocket was a champion acrobrat and boxer who adopted a very skimpy costume that would probably necessitate one being a champion boxer. Though masked, one of Jeff’s students recognized him as being Captain Fight and became his teen sidekick. Though possessing no real super powers, one might argue his sheer gall wearing that costume was on a superhuman level.
Captain Future was another daredevil with a skimpy costume. Debuting in Startling Comics #1 by Nedor Publications in 1940, Captain Future was in reality Andrew Bryant. An employee at an electric company, Andrew was caught in an accident of an experiment he was conducting on combining infrared and gamma rays. The radiation of the accident granted him super powers. Now able to read minds, fly, project energy, commit acts of great strength and tune into radio and TV broadcasts with his mind, Bryant took on the costumed identity of Captain Future. With the help of his girlfriend, a private detective, he fought tyranny and crime (though not fashion crimes apparently).
Doll Man was another member of Roy Thomas’ Freedom Fighters, so is also one of the better known exhibitionist heroes on this list. The diminutive daredevil first appeared in Feature Comics #27 in 1939. Having discovered a formula that could shrink himself to six inches in height, chemist, Darrell Dane became Doll Man. Since he still retained his natural strength of a six foot man, Doll Man earned the nickname “The Mighty Mite”. He was often helped by his girlfriend Martha Roberts, a german sheppard named Elmo, and his trusty model plane (AKA “The Doll Plane”).
Dr. Diamond was daring do-gooder whose virtue did not include modesty. First flashing into action in Cat-Man Comics #1, Dr. Diamond was in reality Dr. Drake Gorden. Having survived the sinking of the freighter he was on, Gorden finds himself on an uncharted island that was home to a Tibetan monk. For some reason the monk desides Gorden should inherit a magical black diamond that grants the bearer the strength of fifty men. Upon returning to civilization, Drake adopts a costume, and goes from being known as Dr. Gorden to Dr. Diamond. One assumes by the skimpiness of his costume, the diamond also gave him an immunity to the cold.
Fire-Eater flamed his way into comics in Choice Comics #1 in 1941. Having had only two adventures, not much is known about this fiery flasher other than he was once a circus performer named Mike O’Malley who used his unique skills to become a costumed crimefighter. His girlfriend Louise was a nurse who helped him on occasion. The powers he was shown to have in his two appearances were: the ability to eat and breathe fire, as well as put out flames on command.
Great Defender first appeared on the scene in 1941 in Hit Comics #18. Pharmacy assistant Stormy Foster who worked for an elderly fellow named Dr. Vaughan at “Vaughan’s Cut Rate Drugs”. Stormy was a mild-mannered fellow until he stumpled across a vitamin that gave him superhuman strength. Given new courage by this great power, Stormy donned a patriotic costume that resembled something the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders might wear and went about fighting crime. Great Defender’s powers included: endurance, strength and speed though the formula didn’t seem to last for consistant amounts of time.
The Human Meteor made his daring debut in Harvey Comics’ Champion Comics #6 in 1940. Duke O’Dowd was a once a member of the Foreign Legion in a land called Bavakuria where he met a Tibetan Monk who gave Duke a magic belt (very generous those Tibetan monks). After leaving service in the Legion, O’Dowd returned to his civilian life as a taxi driver. Seeing crime around him, Duke creates a costume for himself and uses the magic belt to fight the forces of evil. The belt’s magic powers include bestowing its wearer with super speed, super strength, and the ability to stop metal from harming men. Much like the golden age Green Lantern, The Human Meteor’s belt was vulnerable to wood.
The Liberator found his way into comics in 1941 in Exciting Comics #15 published by Nedor. Chemistry Professor Nelson Drew discovered an ancient Egyptian formula named “Lamesis” that endowed Drew with temporary super powers. These powers included superhuman speed, strength, invulnerability, and the capacity to hold his breath long periods of time. Since the transformation occurred rapidly, it was painful to Drew since it was altering his bones and muscles. Since the transformations were only temporary, they could wear off at incovenient times. One assumes Duke chose the name “Liberator” because he found it liberating running around half-naked.
Magno made his shocking debut in Quality Comics’ Smash Comics #13 in 1940. Tom Dalton had an industrial accident in his job as a lineman for an electric company. Tom was shocked by 10,000 volts of direct current and lay near death, but a co-worker decided to try to revive him with another 10,000 volts. For some mysterious reason, not only did it revive Dalton, but granted him super powers. He did what any sensible person would do – he fashion a skimpy costume and used his newfound powers of magnetism and electrical discharge to become a crimefighter. Magno did have his limits, and had to recharge his energy through electrical current.
Phantasmo, last and certainly wearing least, first flashed comics in 1940 in Dell Comics’ The Funnies #45. After spending twenty-five years in Tibet studying mystic secrets from Grand High Lamas (as one does) an unnamed man returned to America and adopted the name Phil Anson. Using those great magics he’d learned from the masters in Tibet, Anson created another identity for himself – that of Phantasmo. Phantasmo, the astral projection could do many wonderous things, everything from the ability to grow to virtually any size, to flight, to super strength. Since Anson’s body was vulnerable to attack while astral projecting, he paid a bellhop in the hotel he lived in to watch over his body. Given that sometimes his costume as Phantasmo was nothing more that a red ribbon wrapped around his shoulder, waist, legs and ankles, it’s a fair bet that he enjoyed people watching him.
It’s said that time gives us perspective, but I would argue that time also fades our memories and that that perspective is not always an accurate one. The 1940s are thought to be a rather modest era nowadays, but historical photos show us men bathing nude at public pools with women watching on. Something that seems strange to us in present day, but back then it seemed perfectly natural. So when we hear something has “never been done” (like male heroes in skimpy costume) we should try to remember that our views on the past are limited to what we’ve experienced.