100 Greatest Characters of 30s and 40s, Part II

Last month (Sorry about that folks, I (anacoqui) have been much too busy!), I started a series on the 100 greatest comic book characters of the ‘30s and ‘40s. I’ve been progressing through the list alphabetically because, quite frankly, it’s hard enough to narrow the list down to 100 without trying to rank them in order as well. So here’s the second half of the hot 100, starting with the letter “L.”

51. Lady Luck (Quality, 1940): I’m stretching the definition here a little. Not the definition of a great character. Lady Luck, who was created by Will Eisner and wore a distinctive green costume and veil, certainly qualifies as one of the greats. No, I’m stretching the definition of comic book. Lady Luck served as the Spirit’s back-up feature in his Sunday supplement, something that straddled the line between a comic strip and a comic book. I’m choosing to count it among the latter so that I can include the Lady and the fella later on.

52. Lex Luthor (DC, 1940): Luthor didn’t spring fully formed from the imaginations of Superman creators Shuster and Siegel. There was a prototype for the character early on who wasn’t bald. Plus, he started out as little more than a gang boss in prison gear, not the manipulative mastermind that we’ve come to know. Some characters are born great while others grow into their greatness and Luthor certainly fits the latter category. He’s been recognized as Superman’s greatest foe and as one of the smartest villains in history for decades.

53. Little Dot (Harvey, 1949): As I’ve mentioned time and time again, comic books aren’t all superheroes- even if that’s the association most people draw today. Harvey had a lot of success with their line of humorous kids’ comics. Little Dot, who had a fascination with dots, was one of their headliners. Her tales were funny and cute and I remember enjoying them years later when I was a kid.

54. Lois Lane
(DC, 1938): She’s Clark Kent’s co-worker, Superman’s girlfriend and an unwitting participant in one of comics’ oddest love triangles. Yet she’s so much more than that. She’s an intrepid reporter and a prize-winning journalist. She’s dedicated, hardworking and occasionally hardheaded. She’s an army brat with a chip on her shoulder. And she emerged from the shadow of Superman’s cape to star in her own comic book and to be co-featured in a television series.

55. Mary Marvel (Fawcett, 1942): I shy away from including derivative characters so I surprise even myself by including both Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel. But then, Fawcett didn’t really create derivative characters. Mary became so much more than a female version of Captain Marvel. She brought welcome joy and innocence to the genre as she starred in her own light-hearted adventures.

56. Master Key (Harry “A” Chesler, 1940): Haven’t heard of him? That’s okay. Sometimes cool characters come from unexpected places. Harry “A” Chesler was the man behind many a C-list comic book in the Golden Age but he also uncovered a few diamonds in the mine. Similar to most Golden Age heroes, the Master Key was a wealthy playboy who received superpowers through a scientific experiment gone awry. In this case, he had super-vision. However, unlike other heroes, the Master Key eschewed a costume. He fought crime while smartly dressed in a white hat and tuxedo. And he used his vast resources to travel the globe, finding adventure in every corner of the world.

57. Merry, Girl of 1000 Gimmicks (DC, 1948): She’s not as well known as her brother Sylvester, who became the patriotic hero, the Star-Spangled Kid. But when superheroes waned in the late ‘40s, Merry picked up a thousand toys and trinkets to become the Girl of 1000 Gimmicks. She became the Star-Spangled Kid’s partner before supplanting him in the strip and starring in her own adventures.

58. Miss America (Quality, 1941)
59. Miss America (Marvel, 1943): Two separate heroines wore this moniker and both are worthy of this list. The first is Quality’s patriotic heroine, Joan Dale. Joan received her powers from the Statue of Liberty in a dream, not unlike King Arthur receiving his sword from the Lady of the Lake. She fought evil in the pages of Military Comics and has been revived in recent decades by DC Comics. Marvel created their own Miss America two years later. Madeline Joyce started out as a back-up feature in Marvel Mystery but graduated to her own title in 1944, leading the charge the post-war boom of super-heroines

60. Miss Fury (Marvel, 1941): Like Lady Luck, Miss Fury strode the line between comic strip and comic book, appearing in both formats. Originally named the Black Fury, Miss Fury was created by Tarpe Mills making her own of the few (and likely the first) female comic book character created by a woman. She was wealthy socialite, Marla Drake. She wore a skintight black costume. And like a lot of her contemporaries, she fought crime without the benefit of superpowers.

Side-bar: The line between comic strips and comic books seems set in stone today when collections of strips like Foxtrot or Calvin & Hobbes aren’t even displayed in the same section of a bookstore as Batman. But that wasn’t always the case. Comic books started out by collecting and reprinting comic strips. Some of the most popular books continued to feature comic strip stars for years. Plus, it wasn’t unusual for characters or creators to move back and forth between the two formats. Technically, they don’t count for this list of comic book characters. But, truthfully, they had a huge presence in and influence on the comic books of the time. So I tip my cap to Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Pogo, Prince Valiant, Little Orphan Annie and all the rest.

61. Miss Masque (Nedor, 1946): Marvel wasn’t the only company to enjoy the post-war boom in female heroes. Nedor had already had success with The Woman in Red, who they introduced as one of the first female heroes back in 1940. But in 1946, they perfected the formula with Miss Masque. Diana Adams wore a sporting hat, a black mask and a short red dress. She quickly became one of Nedor’s most popular characters and co-starred in America’s Best Comics with the Black Terror and the Fighting Yank.

62. Mr. Mind (Fawcett, 1943): Good villains are hard to find. In this case quite literally. Mr. Mind is a two-inch worm. He’s an alien of incredible intelligence and, in some stories, telepathic abilities. Captain Marvel heard Mr. Mind’s voice years before he discovered the truth behind this new nemesis. Mr. Mind worked through a cadre of minions to make the Captain’s life miserable and was the mastermind behind one of comics’ first super-villain teams, the Monster Society of Evil.

63. Mr. Mxyzptlk
(DC, 1944): Comic book writers quickly realized that they couldn’t put super strong villains up against Superman. It was no match. So they went the other way. Superman faced a legion of tricksters and jokesters who toyed with his mind and forced him to think his way out of a problem. I could have included the Toyman or the Prankster but the best of the bunch is clearly the multi-dimensional imp, Mr. Mxyzptlk.

64. Moon Girl (EC, 1947): Moon Girl was one of the last superheroes created in the Golden Age. She was a new adventure hero for fledgling EC. However, she couldn’t fight the rising tide of romance comics and was replaced after only a couple of issues. However, championed by historians like Tricia Robbins, Moon Girl has remained a beloved character.

65. Nelvana of the Northern Lights
(Hillborough, 1941): Andy Dingle was inspired to create Nelvana by the native stories of the Inuit (aka
Eskimos). He introduced her at the small Canadian company Hillborough which was eventually bought by the larger publisher Bell. Dingle and his character were part of the
move and Nelvana became one of Canada’s most popular and enduring figures. John Byrne cited her as an influence in his creation of the Alpha Flight character, Snowbird.

66. Patsy and Hedy (Marvel, 1944): Marvel had a minor hit with this comedy duo in the late ‘40s. They were like Betty & Veronica, but out from Archie’s shadow. They were occasional rivals and frequent friends, planning parties and fighting over boys. Their stories are witty and fun. Patsy also enjoyed a second career as the superhero and Avenger, Hellcat, after Marvel brought her back in the 1970s.

67. The Penguin (DC, 1941)
68. The Penguin (Bell, 1943): Once again, there are two characters of the same name but this time, they’re nothing alike. The first Penguin is the famous Batman villain. Oswald Cobblepot baffles Batman with trick umbrellas and other gimmicks. He also occasionally and famously teams up with the Joker. The second Penguin is an obscure Canadian hero by Andy Dingle (who also created Nelvana). The Penguin fought crime in a mask and tuxedo. However, fans never knew his real identity and part of the fun was trying to figure out which character running away from trouble was really the Penguin doubling back in disguise.

69. Phantom Lady (Quality, 1941): Phantom Lady might hold the record for having her adventures recorded by more publishers than any other. She started out at Quality in 1941. When Quality stopped publishing her adventures, Jerry Iger took the feature to Fox where she became infamous for her sexy covers. She appeared at Ajax in the ‘50s, at Charlton in the ‘60s and at AC in the ‘70s. In recent decades, she’s been the property of DC Comics who acquired her rights when they bought the Quality stable in the mid-‘50s.

70. Plastic Man (Quality, 1941): Jack Cole created one of comics’ most enduring characters when he combined comedy and superhero in the plastic personality of Eel O’Brian.

71. Professor Calculus (Casterman, 1944): The absent-minded professor has been a staple of fiction for a long, long time. One of the best examples can be found in
Tintin’s adviser, Professor Calculus. The Professor may be brilliant but he’s easily
distracted, more easily confused and most often a source of consternation to friend and foe alike.

72. Pyroman (Nedor, 1942): Research student Dick Martin found a way to store electric current in his body. He was falsely accused and wrongly convicted of murder. After surviving the electric chair, Martin fought crime as
the superhero Pyroman. Although he wasn’t one of the Nedor’s big three characters, Pyroman was a trailblazer. He was one of the first heroes
to fly and to shoot beams from his hands- abilities that would become prevalent in the atomic age of comics.

73. The Ray
(Quality, 1940): The original Ray appeared in an all-yellow costume with a pointy hat and a star-shaped frill. Hey, at least he wasn’t called The Whizzer. He was able to change into a light ray- a power he gained due to exposure to sunlight and lightning at the same time. He fought crime for Quality Comics and has inspired several legacy characters at DC.

74. Red Skull
(Marvel, 1941)
75. The Riddler (DC, 1948): They’re two of the greatest villains, but they couldn’t be more different. The Red Skull is the face of evil. He’s a Nazi scientist who survived an accident that removed the skin from his head and turned his skull red. He’s relentless and humorless, haunting Captain America and other Marvel heroes for over 70 years. The Riddler is an enigma. He’s a criminal, though he seems more interested in crime as a game- a way to match wits with cops, superheroes and especially Batman.

76. Robin (DC, 1940): The original sidekick, Robin is one of the great characters in comic books. Trained in the circus. Orphaned as a young boy. Taken in as a ward by Batman. Trained to fight crime. Robin led the kind of life that many a young boy could envy. More than that, Robin always seemed to have a smile on his face as he socked the latest crook. Fighting crime was a lark and the reader could appreciate the joy of being a superhero alongside Robin.

Sidebar: DC described Robin as “the character find of 1940” and they were right. Robin is one of the most imitated characters other than Superman himself, inspiring a legion of kid sidekicks. Some deserve their place on this list (Bucky). Others were so integral to the main hero that they were included as part of the same entry (Kitten). But most were simply minor versions of minor heroes. But, for a while, every hero needed a little kid trailing after him. So give a pat on the head to Dan the Dyna-Mite (TNT), Davey (Magno the Magnetic Man), Dusty the Boy Detective (Shield), Pinky (Mr. Scarlet), Roy the Superboy (Wizard), Sandy (Sandman) and Toro (the Human Torch).

77. Sandman (DC, 1939): A lot of different characters have claimed the moniker of the Sandman but the first comic book character to do so was Wesley Dodds. He wore a business suit, a fedora and a gas mask as he fought crime with a gas gun that emitted knockout gas. Later one, he was transformed into a more traditional superhero but it’s the distinctive original look that has persisted over the decades.

78. Scrooge McDuck (Dell, 1947): The Walt Disney empire was built on cartoon serials but one of their most well known characters made his debut in comic books. Carl Barks introduced Donald’s rich uncle in 1947. The world’s richest duck has starred in hundreds of his own comics. He has also joined Donald in movies and on television. Scrooge’s money bin is instantly recognizable and he continues to rank highly on Forbes’ annual list of the richest fictional characters.

79. Senorita Rio
(Fiction House, 1942)
80. Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (Fiction House, 1938): They’re mostly forgotten now but Fiction House was one of the more prominent publishers of the Golden Age. They specialized in adventure anthologies like Jungle, Fight, Planet and Wings. Sheena was one of their biggest characters. A female version of Tarzan, she started in Jumbo Comics before starring in a title of her own. She was also a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, proving as popular with the troops in Britain as with the kids back home. Senorita Rio, though not as well known, was another great character. She was a secret agent and adventurer who used her Hispanic background to infiltrate fascist elements in Central and South America. She stands in the middle of a proud line of adventurers from Zorro to Indiana Jones.

Sidebar: Sheena has always seemed like a character that should have debuted in pulp novels. In the early days, there was a lot of crossover between the two formats. Pulp heroes such as Doc Savage, Green Hornet and the Shadow starred in comic books. Many comic characters were influenced and inspired by these pulp stars. Some were fairly direct copies, such as Marvel’s Angel who was clearly based on The Saint. Others were a little more original. In either case, pulps and comics were as close as cousins in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

81. The Shield (MLJ, 1940): This patriotic hero was one of MLJ’s biggest stars before the company transitioned to teen humor superstar, Archie Andrews. The first Shield was Joe Higgins. The front of his costume looked like a shield. He also wore stars and stripes on his gloves and boots. He eventually picked up a sidekick named Dusty the Boy Detective. The Shield has made periodic appearances whenever Archie has decided to bring back their superheroes.

82. Skyman (Columbia, 1940): Some of the most interesting characters of the Golden Age came from the lesser publishers like Columbia. Skyman wore a blue cape and cowl. He had a red tunic and a yellow symbol that looked like a three-handed clock but which was supposed to be a plane’s steering column. He bridged genres between aerial adventure and superhero and could often be seen swinging out of an airplane on a jump-line.


83. Slam Bradley (DC, 1937): Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are, of course, most associated with Superman but they created several other characters for DC including Doctor Occult and Slam Bradley. Bradley was a hard-boiled detective straight from the pulp novels and film noir movies. His adventures were fast-paced and full of action, which is fitting considering his name.

84. Solomon Grundy (DC, 1944): DC took a name from a children’s nursery rhyme and turned him into one of their most interesting villains. Grundy is a creature of the swamp. He’s big. He’s huge. He’s only partially sentient. And he’s an indefatigable foe for Green Lantern, Batman, Starman and a host of other heroes. He was even name-checked by the Crash Test Dummies in their ‘90s hit, Superman’s Song.

85. The Spirit
(Quality, 1940): Denny Colt is just your average, ordinary gumshoe detective. Except for the fact that everyone thinks he’s dead. And that he wears a mask to keep up the presence. And that he lives in a
cemetery. But the real star of The Spirit was writer/artist Will Eisner. He brought whimsy
and ingenuity to the strip that had never been seen before or, arguably, since.

86. Spy Smasher (Fawcett, 1940): Spy Smasher was one of Fawcett’s original heroes. Debuting in Whiz Comics #2 (there was no #1), he appeared alongside Captain Marvel and Ibis the Invincible before receiving his own title in 1941. After World War II, he changed his name to Crime Smasher and continued his war against evil at home.

87. Starman
(DC, 1941): The first Starman, Ted Knight, harnessed the energy of the stars through a gravity rod that allowed him to fly and shoot energy blasts. He wore a red costume with a yellow
star which, when worn as a T-shirt, elicits a lot of comments about whether or not you support communism (trust me, I speak from experience on this one).

Sidebar: DC is easily the publisher with the most entries on this list. That stands to reason: they are the company behind Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. However, the fame of great heroes rubbed off on lesser characters who appeared in the same titles. Plus, many of those characters continue to be a part of DC’s continuity. today They may be more familiar than other entries, but that’s because of their association and not because of their inherent quality. Even so, they’re worth a nod. Stand up and be counted, Guardian, Johnny Quick, Manhunter, Vigilante and all the rest.

88. Stuntman (Harvey, 1946): When they returned from service in World War II, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby took one last shot at creating a superhero and came up with one of their best. Stuntman was similar to a grown-up Robin. He was a circus performer, trapeze artist and movie stuntman. He had no actual powers but he used his peculiar skills to fight crime. However, the era of superheroes had passed and Simon & Kirby soon transitioned to romance comics like Young Love.

89. Sub-Mariner (Marvel, 1939): Bill Everett created the king of the seven seas for Marvel in 1939. Namor the Sub-Mariner was a royal rogue. He was the king of Atlantis whose objectives didn’t always align with the surface world. His fights with the Human Torch were famous as one of the first comic book crossovers in history. However, he soon recognized that Hitler was a threat to everyone and allied himself with Captain America and the Human Torch against the Nazis. Imperial, officious and arrogant, Namor has been one of Marvel’s most unpredictable characters for 70 years.

90. Superboy (DC, 1945): Does he deserve a separate entry? Sure, why not? The adventures of Superman as a young boy in Smallville proved to be a popular idea. Superboy took over More Fun comics, landed in his own eponymous title and eventually gave rise to the futuristic Legion of Super-Heroes. More recently, he’s starred in a long-lasting television series.

91. Superman
(DC, 1938): The first and greatest superhero. Superman is Kal-El, a young boy sent to Earth in a rocket from a world about to be destroyed. Superman is Clark Kent, the adopted son of American farmers. His alien origin gives him strange abilities on our world: the ability to jump, to fly, to run fast, to stop a speeding bullet, to see through objects and more. He’s the American immigrant. He’s every boy who wished to be great. He’s a true original.

92. Tawky Tawny (Fawcett, 1947): He’s a big talking tiger. That’s it. But by befriending Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel family, Mr. Tawky Tawny earned his place in comic book history. Lots of heroes had comic sidekicks and companions. But few of those companions were as interesting and individual as a big talking tiger.

93. Thomson and Thompson (Casterman, 1934): Herge didn’t invent the bumbling police detective. The Keystone Cops had been running around for years. But Thomson and Thompson are perfect representatives. They think they’re brilliant sleuths while the rest of us recognize them as dupes. They finish each other’s sentences in odd and often contradictory ways. But they sometimes stumble on the right answer after all. They were wonderful additions to the adventures of Tintin.

94. Two-Gun Kid (Marvel, 1948): As I kid, I loved visiting my grandparents’ farm. One reason was that my brother and I could read the ‘50s westerns that my dad and his brothers had read when they were kids. Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid and the Two-Gun Kid were exciting heroes who starred in heart-pounding adventures. The Two-Gun Kid was recognized by his black hat and spotted vest.

95. Uncle Sam (Quality, 1940): The American Icon predated comics by at least a century but in the patriotic fervor of the pre-war period, Quality turned him into a superhero. He was a natural. Uncle Sam pulled up his sleeves and joined the fray, punching German and Japanese soldiers with ruthless efficiency.

96. Vandal Savage (DC, 1943): A superhero without a villain is just a guy in a silly costume. A great super-villain- someone who is worth fighting, someone who needs to be stopped for the sake of the world- is invaluable. Vandal Savage is an immortal, born long before humans settled down and became civilized. He sees other people as tools to be used. And he’s a master tactician, often playing a long game. As a foe for Green Lantern and then as one of the ringleaders of the Injustice Society, Vandal Savage was one of the greatest villains of any age.

97. Venus (Marvel, 1948): As previously mentioned, Marvel created a lot of female characters in the late ‘40s. Venus is arguably the best of them. She’s appeared in a number of different incarnations over the years. Sometimes, she’s actually the goddess Aphrodite. Sometimes, she’s related to the goddess in another way. But, in any incarnation, she’s both beautiful and powerful.

98. The Vision
(Marvel, 1940): Marvel recycled a lot of names from Golden Age characters when building their Silver Age continuity. Few of them were worth remembering. But this Jack Kirby creation stands out. Also known as Aarkus, the Vision was an other-dimensional being. He was a law enforcement officer accidentally stranded on our Earth. He was also able to appear and disappear in a cloud of smoke. His alien appearance was unique for the era.

99. White Streak (Novelty, 1940): The White Streak’s moniker is a bit of a misnomer. He wears red and blue in his earliest appearances and shoots red beams, not white ones, from his eyes. Eventually, Novelty corrected their error and he changes to a white tunic on later covers. But that little inconsistency isn’t what makes this character remarkable. Rather, his powerful eye-beams and robotic like appearance made him a visually interesting character and a prototype for many who follow.

100. Wonder Woman (DC, 1941): She’s the greatest comic book heroine of all-time. Created by William Marston as a model for young girls, Wonder Woman is an interesting amalgam. She’s a foreigner from Paradise Island yet also an American patriot. She’s a super strong adventurer yet also an advocate for peace. She’s genuinely compassionate yet occasionally aloof. Far from being a weakness, these inconsistencies are part of her lasting allure. As Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” Likewise, Wonder Woman is a complex character who has successfully molded herself into a role model and an icon for successive generations of young girls.

Final sidebar: Well, that’s my list. I’m sure yours would be different. Perhaps I chose too many obscure and forgotten heroes for your taste (speaking for myself, I could have picked even more as I have a soft spot for oddballs and unknowns). Maybe you would have preferred fewer superheroes (what can I say, that was by far the most popular genre of the era). Maybe you would have liked more super-villains (you have an evil look about you). In any case, I’d love to hear your disagreements, disputes and suggestions. That’s part of what makes a list like this so much fun.

Views: 7047

Comment by Chris Fluit on June 7, 2012 at 11:10am

Thanks, Jeff.

Comment by James Grant Goldin on June 8, 2012 at 2:27pm

Wow - a labor of love that I'll be revisiting often.  And I never heard of several characters here -- the first Miss America, the heroic Penguin, the Master Key (which is a really terrible name for a hero, although "The Penguin" ain't so hot for a good guy, either), Miss Masque...Maybe I just wasn't paying attention to "All in Color for a Dime," but thanks for not only paving several byroads of Memory Lane but opening some new side streets!

Comment by Chris Fluit on June 9, 2012 at 10:36am

Thanks, James.  That's one of the nicest compliments I've ever received. 

Comment by James Grant Goldin on June 11, 2012 at 1:06pm

Okay, you're so good at finding stuff...and since we do have Master Key with his zapping eyes...have you come across anything on "Olga Mesmer, the Girl with the X-Ray Eyes"?  The only reference I've ever seen is a half-page in Les Daniels' "Wonder Woman" book.  She dates from, I believe, 1937?

Comment by Luke Blanchard on June 13, 2012 at 9:11am

I hope Chris won't mind if I answer. Here's a page on the character. Apparently she appeared in Spicy Mystery Stories.


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