Sub-Zero | Costume | Stories: The John Daly Era

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The above is not a complete list of Sub-Zero stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazines, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.


Sub-Zero

Sub-Zero, the Man of Ice, is a man from Venus, who has the ability to emit blasts of cold from his fingertips, as well as freeze his own body and other objects. He looks like any typical Earthman, even though he is from another planet, and his adventures take place in the modern day United States. While Superman was from another planet, Krypton, most Golden Age super-heroes seem to be Earthmen; Sub-Zero is an exception.

Sub-Zero wears a costume, but no mask, and he does not seem to have a secret identity. He looks much younger than Superman or most other super-heroes; he is in fact quite boyish looking.

Sub-Zero appeared in Blue Bolt Comics #1 (June 1940) through #39 (September-October 1943), appearing in most issues except #38.

John Daly took over the art with issue #11. An interesting profile of Daly is found inside issue #25.

Costume

Sub-Zero's costume has vibrant red and blue colors. It is quite striking. It first shows up in Blue Bolt Comics #4. (Aside from debuting the costume, this is a terrible story, and not recommended.) The tale says that Sub-Zero designed the costume himself.

Sub-Zero wears a shirt with a lace-up collar. Superman's father Jor-El wears one in Wayne Boring's "Superman's Return to Krypton" (Superman #141, November 1960). Romance comic book heroes wearing them include the actor in "The Wrong Kind of Love" (Girls' Love Stories #151, May 1970) and the rock star in "That Special Man" (Love Stories #152, October - November 1973). This rock star stage uniform is a definitive version of the look.

Stories: The John Daly Era

The Latonian Agent (1941). Writer: Ray Gill? Art: John Daly. A dying agent for the sympathetic South American country Latonia asks Sub-Zero to deliver an important document to Washington.

This story appeared in the same issue of Blue Bolt Comics as the Dick Cole tale "Attack on a Princess". The two stories have much in common. SPOILERS. Both have:

Presumably the tales influenced each other, or maybe had a common origin.

There is a slight difference in the stories' exposition. In "Attack on a Princess" we learn the good country is a democracy; in "The Latonian Agent" we learn that the bad country is a dictatorship. I think both stories are trying to convey the same evil dictatorship vs good democracy theme.

One of the foreign agents from the dictatorship is named Kurt and referred to by Sub-Zero as a "blond brute": perhaps a hint these bad guys are Nazis.

It is notable how sympathetically all the South American characters from the good country of Latonia are treated.

Some of Daly's highly macho policemen show up at the end. These are good guys (pages 7, 9).

Furnaces roar and dynamos hum (1941). Writer: ? Art: John Daly. US Naval Intelligence asks Sub-Zero to investigate strange doings at a torpedo factory.

LABOR UNION. This story is unusual in that the mysterious events eventually erupt into labor-management disputes. The story stays largely neutral on pro- or anti- union issues, but it can be read as a plea for labor-management cooperation. This sort of story was fairly common in movies of the era: see Frank Borzage's Stranded (1935), or Tay Garnett's The Valley of Decision (1945). All of these works also express an anxiety that labor unrest might get out of hand. So the ideas here are none too original. It is not the last world on union issues of its day. Still, it offers an interesting close-up look at union events.

Especially noteworthy is the discussion of free speech within the union (page 5). This is quite committed and detailed.

NAZI VILLAIN. The villain is from an unnamed foreign power. His reference to the Fatherland strongly suggests he's a Nazi. (This is the same clue found in the Dick Cole "Attack on a Princess".)

This sort of spy intrigue was not too common in the early Sub-Zero tales, other than "The Latonian Agent", "Furnaces roar and dynamos hum" and "Dynamite was the chief ingredient of a plot". Sub-Zero typically fought against regular criminals, rather than spies.

RADIO. "Furnaces roar and dynamos hum" includes radio technology, the high tech favorite of Golden Age comic book writers. This is radio used to control torpedos. For more examples of such wireless control of technology, please see my index to stories with political and social commentary and search for "wireless".

STORY. Sub-Zero makes ingenious use of his powers in the finale. They turn out to be more versatile than one might guess at first thought.

UNIFORMS. John Daly's naval uniforms in this tale are good. First there is an overcoat, with epaulettes and a huge collar. Then there are naval white uniforms.

The police uniform, with jutting nightstick, is also well done (page 3). It is dressy, with patch pockets, Sam Browne belt, epaulettes and double-breasted front. Like the white naval uniform, it has stripes on the cuff, indicating rank.

Grab your hats! (1941). Writer: ? Art: John Daly. (Title from Grand Comics Database.) Sub-Zero and Freezum go after sinister modern-day river pirates on the Hudson River. Light-hearted tale that shows the heroes doing their super-powered stuff.

The Hudson River locale suggests that Sub-Zero is based in New York City. As best I can tell, his location is not made fully explicit in the tales. The artwork showing his home city tends to have a New York feel.

It's 'shoot-the-works' when Sub-Zero and his pal, Freezum (1942). Writer: ? Art: John Daly. Sub-Zero and Freezum go after murderous gangsters who run a gambling den.

This tale splits into two parts. The first part (pages 1-4) is an action-filled adventure tale set in the countryside, like "Grab your hats!". The second part (pages 5-9) is a detective story.

DETECTION. The cards the reporter caries in his wallet, serve as clues. Both the hero and the villains use them to deduce things. This makes for a strict adherence to the norms of detective fiction, in which people learn things from evidence, rather than guessing.

Technical knowledge shared by Sub-Zero and Freezum helps them round up the bad guys (page 8). The pair are depicted as thinking heroes, who use advanced knowledge in their work.

ANTI-GAMBLING. While Sub-Zero fully explores the gambling den while posing as a customer, he doesn't actually gamble. One suspects that having a hero shown gambling would be considered offensive in this era, especially in a comic book aimed at young readers. In contrast, going undercover in a gambling club to fight crime, as Sub-Zero does here, would be considered appropriate behavior for a hero.

There is also an expose of how gambling in the club is fixed.

Americans in general were anti-gambling in the 1940's. To get a list of comic book tales that attack gambling, please see my index to stories with political and social commentary and search for "gambling".

TUXEDO. Sub-Zero gets dressed up in a terrific looking tuxedo to go undercover at the gambling den. There was a broad American consensus in the era of wanting to look sharp. See my lists of comic book Heroes in White Tie and Tails and Tuxedos. Sub-Zero's tuxedo is a dressy black, but other people are in purple, green, brown or blue tuxedos. This gives variety and color to the art. It also makes Sub-Zero in his black tux the most dressed-up man in the club: a traditional role for the hero in many Hollywood films of the period.

Sub-Zero will get out of his costume again in "Scourge of the Knights of the Blue Flame" to wear swim trunks, and in "It's a 70-mile-an-hour race against time" to sport a winter coat. Many super-heroes have a secret identity, in which they wear regular clothes. But Sub-Zero lacks a secret identity, and if he is going to wear regular clothes, he has to do it while on the job as Sub-Zero.

The croupiers carry phallic rakes, which they are often holding at a jutting angle. The chair where Sub-Zero is held captive has tall posts.

Scourge of the Knights of the Blue Flame (1942). Writer: ? Art: John Daly. (Title from Grand Comics Database.) Sub-Zero goes up against a Ku Klux Klan-like organization, which is extorting money from businesses through terror tactics. Jerry Siegel, whose political tales were so influential on Golden Age comics, had previously written a Spy tale attacking the Klan: "The Hooded Hordes" (Detective Comics #17, July 1938).

There is an interesting mystery sub-plot: who is the secret leader of the Knights of the Blue Flame, under their hooded robes? The story offers a logical clue to this. This sub-plot and its clue also offer additional political commentary.

While crime stories are everywhere in Sub-Zero's tales, actually mysteries that need to be solved are scarce. Another Sub-Zero tale with a mysterious villain is "It's a 70-mile-an-hour race against time".

WHITE CLOTHES. The ambulance attendant carrying a stretcher (page 4) is one of Daly's hunks in all-white clothes. See also:

It's a 70-mile-an-hour race against time (1942). Writer: ? Art: John Daly. Sub-Zero and Freezum investigate sabotage at a trucking company. This is a combined detective story and action-adventure tale in the countryside.

Two types of splash panels are common: realistic ones that show a scene from the story; symbolic ones that represent an underlying idea in a fantastic way. The splash of "It's a 70-mile-an-hour race against time" doesn't fall into either of these categories. It shows something that doesn't happen in the story: Freezum driving the truck. Freezum is just a kid, and way too young to drive. And yet this panel is not symbolic of the story premise. Instead, it shows a daydream of many kid readers: to drive a big truck.

Like "It's 'shoot-the-works' when Sub-Zero and his pal, Freezum", "It's a 70-mile-an-hour race against time" is a strict detective story. Sub-Zero does not guess. Instead, he investigates and follows evidence he uncovers. Admittedly, in both of these tales the detective work is fairly simple. Still, it is satisfying to see the tale based on real detective work. Among other things, it gives a logical, unified structure to the plot.

Sub-Zero wears a spiffy red winter coat. It's belted, and with a huge double-breasted white shearling collar. He carries a matching red flashlight.

Sub-Zero's flashlight and a hacksaw serve as phallic symbols. In some Sub-Zero tales it is groups of bad-guy henchmen who wield phallic symbols, but here it is Sub-Zero himself.

I have to leave town for a while and I expect you to behave yourself! #25 (Vol. 3 #1) (June 1942). Writer: ? Art: John Daly. Freezum's ice business runs afoul of vicious gangsters who demand protection money. This is the last Sub-Zero tale apparently written before World War II broke out, with a civilian background.

This is a minor tale. It is mainly notable for the spectacular "cold-resistant suits" worn by the gang in the tale's second half, to make them immune to the heroes' freezing powers. These are coveralls that encase the whole body and most of the head. They look like something out of Louis Feuillade. They are worn with rectangular goggles strapped around their heads. The heating wires make a fascinating feature of the suits.

The gangsters use phallic looking hoses and nozzles. Their tank of liquid air is also phallic.