Air Wave | Origin Stories | Tales
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
Air Wave is a hero in the tradition of Batman: a non-super-powered crime fighter with a mask, costume, secret identity and technological devices used to fight crime. However, Air Wave's devices are so high tech that they sometimes give him the flavor of a true super-hero. The devices, and the abilities that they give Air Wave, function almost as his "powers" in the super-hero sense.
Air Wave's mascot was a parrot named Static, who went with him everywhere, and whose abilities helped him with his cases. This reminds one of Dr. Mid-Nite's pet owl. Static was always uttering transformed versions of popular phrases and clichés. These were often clever twists on these common sayings. In "Air Wave Joins the Underworld" (#93, November 1944), these are referred to as Static's "tangled proverbs".
Air Wave was known by such catch phrases as "The Wizard of Wireless" and "The Magician of Radio". He appeared in Detective Comics from #60 (February 1942) through #137 (July 1948).
The artist who co-created Air Wave, is listed in this article as Lee Harris. He used many other names, including Harris Levey. See the Wikipedia.
Air Wave's technological powers in this first story include:
THE SPLASH: COMPANIONS. Static is compared in the splash panel's narration to the human "companions" or "pals" of other crime fighters, such as Robin who works with Batman. This is partly accurate: Static does indeed become the constant companion of Air Wave. However, one can point out differences between Static and companions like Robin:
BIGG CITY. The narration says the events are taking place in "Bigg City" (page 1). The book Green Lantern History: An Unauthorised Guide to the DC Comic Book Series Green Lantern (2015) by Dr. Darran Jordan has interesting comments on Air Wave. It points out that this tale is the only mention of Bigg City: most other tales give no name to Air Wave's home city. This book also discusses the Air Wave tale "Who Rubbed Out the Editor?", whose splash panel says is set in "an office high up in downtown Gotham". The book takes this to mean Gotham City, the famous home of Batman. I am not so sure about this: maybe it simply means that the tale takes place in New York City, one of whose nicknames is "Gotham".
ART. The splash has a beautiful, geometric depiction of a radio microphone. The microphone incorporates the "Air Wave" title in a stylish manner, making it part of the microphone.
The Adventure of the Shooting Spooks (#66, August 1942). Writer: Murray Boltinoff? Art: Lee Harris. A gang dressed like ghosts shoots and kills Larry Jordan's boss District Attorney Cole, and Larry is accused of the murder. This is the last story featuring Cole, a series character in the early tales. SPOILER. At the end, Larry Jordan is himself promoted to District Attorney, a job he will hold throughout the rest of the Air Wave series. This promotion completes the establishment of core plot premises in the Air Wave tales.
Cole is shown owning a huge mansion (page 1). District Attorneys are often depicted in this era as wealthy members of the upper class. The mansion is in a traditional, conventional style - suggesting that the District Attorney is a traditional, conventional member of the wealthy.
Earlier that year the Green Arrow tale "Doom Over Gayland" (More Fun Comics #77, March 1942) had shown a gang costumed as devils. Please see my list of Costume Parties and other unusually costumed characters in comic books.
The ghost costumes have odd-shaped heads: something like a teardrop, or an apostrophe, with a curling tag on top.
This tale is most interesting for showing Air Wave's technological devices:
Air Wave's costume has jagged, zig-zag ends on its arm sleeves and leggings. These are unusual. Perhaps they echo the jagged lightning symbol on his chest. The jagged ends are green, like the rest of the costume, and they set off his jet black gloves and shoes. (The shoes have slight edges of green.) The art gives us close-up's of both. The front of his mask is also black, contrasting with its green top and sides. The mask too has jagged ends at its bottom, over Air Wave's face. The mask's green side also has zig-zags along its base.
The art emphasizes Air Wave's huge musculature, especially his chest, arms and legs.
A big fight is depicted using abstract art. We see a series of concentric, colored circles (page 5). Such art was often used in comic books to depict time travel or travel between dimensions. Here it is employed for a non-science-fiction purpose. A similar abstract art fight will appear two issues later in "Who Rubbed Out the Editor?" (p2). That fight has a spiral in its center.
The splash shows Air Wave battling a bad guy in the courtroom. This never actually takes place in the story. The splash is not "symbolic": it shows an event which is possible and realistic. But it is not part of the tale's events, either. It does symbolize Air Wave going after the crooks to influence the outcome of the court trial: to that degree it is symbolic.
Who Rubbed Out the Editor? (1942). Writer: Murray Boltinoff. Art: Lee Harris. Air Wave investigates a series of murders blamed on comic book heroes. This tale has numerous self-reflective aspects:
The self-reflexive aspects of "Who Rubbed Out the Editor?" anticipate the literary movement Postmodernism. Both "Who Rubbed Out the Editor?" and Postmodernism look at:
Other comic book series looked reflexively at the comic book industry:
Rogues Along the River (#82, December 1943). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: George Roussos. Air Wave investigates a crime taking place on the local river. This is a routine story. It does take advantage of its aquatic setting to introduce many river and boat elements, which have some charm. It has some wry humorous dialogue from Air Wave in the last panel. Mainly, however, this tale will be remembered as the story in which Air Wave's pet parrot Static offers this warning: "Beware the Tides of March!"
The Hard-Working Hoodlum (1944). Art: George Roussos. An ex-con tries to do everything right as a burglar.
Air Wave runs fast along telephone wires, both in this tale and elsewhere. This resembles a bit the way Jerry Siegel's earlier character, the Spectre, could travel fast within the wires.
George Roussos' work is somewhat similar to that of George Papp. Both artists create outlines of what they are depicting, somewhat schematic and sketchy geometrical patterns. In both, the patterns are vivid, dramatic, and geometrically striking. The creation of mood is key to the success of many Air Wave tales. They are simple stories, ones that evoke nocturnal visions.
The Ride of the Valkyries (1944). Art: George Roussos. Tony the Snob, a classical music loving gangster, tries to rob a museum of modern art. Story full of interesting references to modern culture. Hollywood regularly made films about classical music, trying to bring it to the masses. This story has a bit of the same educational flavor, trying to ensure that the young readers of the magazine get exposed to the world of culture.
There was also a genuine interest in the world of culture by ordinary people in this period. It represented a better life. The story commences with the best way most people had to appreciate classical music in 1944: radio broadcasts. Air Wave is shown as a big fan of Arturo Toscanini, the famed NBC radio conductor, and the opera impresario Zozzini in the story is drawn to look like the real life Toscanini.
The plot gets the crooks in tuxes, so they can blend in with the culture crowd at the museum. Everyone wanted to be dressed up in evening clothes in this era, even poor people who would never own one.
The Phony Phantoms (1945). Art: George Roussos. Mary Willis is menaced by ghostly voices in her house. Spookiness is a natural for Roussos, whose art tends towards the atmospheric and the nocturnal, in general.
Doubling in Danger (1945). Art: George Roussos. Crooks create a phony version of Air Wave, and try to frame him as a criminal. This was a standard plot in comic books: see the Human Bomb tale, "The Phony Human Bomb" (Police Comics #7, February 1942). Such stories tend to have a moment, both comic and satisfying, in which the hero unmasks his impostor.
Sound Effects by Air Wave (1945). Art: George Roussos. When a gangster falls in love with a nice woman, he tries to scare off her boy friend with sound effects. Sound effects were an important part of radio in this era, as the story explicitly points out. So a story about sound effects was a legitimate part of Air Wave's turf as a hero - he specialized in all things radio. As in "The Phony Phantoms" (1945), the story revolves around fake sounds used to frighten people.
The City of Glass (1948). Art: Lee Harris. Crooks flee to the City of Glass, a high tech expo showing an all glass environment, where there are no metal elements for Air Wave to trace. Ingenious story. Both the story's basic premise, and the working out of the plot details, show ingenuity. The story combines logical detective work with scientific concepts.
The story spells out its basic challenge right away: how can Air Wave tackle crooks in such a metal-free environment. Then the tale gradually depicts a number of methods through which Air Wave rises to the challenge. Some of these are explained as they happen, with all details shared immediately with the reader. One method, however, is left as a mystery puzzle for the reader, and not explained till the end of the tale. This gives a variety of story telling strategies for the work.
Expositions of all types were common in the comic books. They figured in such Big Town tales as "Passkey to Big Town" (Big Town #43, January-February 1957) and "Theft of the Billion-Carat Diamond" (Big Town #45, May-June 1957); see also the trade show in the Green Arrow tale "Air Wave Loot" (Adventure #116, May 1947). Expositions were probably popular for several reasons:
Air Wave's costume echoes the colors of his parrot, Static: green, yellow and red. Most of Air Wave's costume is green, with yellow trim such as gloves, boots, trunks and the radio ear pieces. These are circular yellow ear covers, which at first resemble the circular ear guards worn by many other comic book heroes. But they have miniature antennae, allowing Air Wave to pick up radio signals. Air Wave's belt is red, the main splash of that bright color on his costume. When Air Wave and Static are shown together, their matching colors echo each other in visually pleasing fashion.
When Air Wave began, he had black boots and gloves with jagged, lightning-like edges. By this time, he has shifted to yellow boots and gloves with round, smooth edges.