The Scarlet Avenger | Origin
Classic Comic Books Home Page (with many articles on comics)
These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
Many issues of Zip Comics can be read free online at Comic Book +.
This story is rich in creativeness. It is not a true origin tale - it only tells a little about how Jim Kendell actually became the Scarlet Avenger. What it concentrates on is the amazing array of scientific devices Jim has invented, to aid his career. These are fascinating. They are also well integrated with the crime plot. Each one's use advances the crime story in a logical and significant way. The crime plot is itself complicated, with an elaborate series of insurance frauds we see both after the fact, and later from the inside; detective work by The Scarlet Avenger and his operatives; a series of different crooks who interact with each other in complex ways, and a variety of locales. All this and the Scarlet Avenger's anti-crime inventions, all in six pages! The story is a model of artistic economy.
The Scarlet Avenger is a masked crime fighter without super powers, but with a secret identity and a lot of high tech inventions. In this he sounds like Batman. However, the actual feel of the character is very different from Batman, or such Batman imitators as the Green Arrow. Unlike Batman, The Scarlet Avenger is not a lone crime fighter. Instead, he is the head of a large team of operatives. These men and women take orders from him, and aid him with his war on crime. Also, his inventions tend not to be simple technological devices like the Batarang or Bat Signal. Instead, they are massively innovative scientific breakthroughs. They are clearly so futuristic that they should be considered science fictional. Also, unlike Batman, the Scarlet Avenger's world is not grotesque. The criminals he fights are typical 1940's gangsters, who run rackets that are depicted with realism. The crooks dress in suits, not costumes, and are the typical racketeers of the era.
The Scarlet Avenger is also older looking and more mature than Batman, and many comic book heroes. While he wears a cape with a mask attached, he is otherwise dressed in a normal business suit and tie of the era. Even his cloak is worn because it is bullet proof, not as a part of a super hero costume. His whole style of dress has a business like quality, as if he is a serious responsible figure, and member of society. Jim is a serious looking person, in general, both with and without his mask. Such a character is a bit unusual for the comics. The fact that he never smiles also underlines the serious nature of his mission and social position.
The Scarlet Avenger is strongly in the tradition of such pulp heroes as Doc Savage. Like Doc, he is a scientific genius who has created many crime fighting inventions. Like Doc, he has a team of loyal operatives.
The operators here are more than spear carriers, or extras in the plot. The gutsy woman Operator #12 here plays a major role in the story. Her idealism and courage are striking. The Scarlet Avenger is not part of an all-male world, unlike many prose detective heroes. Instead, he is part of a world where both men and women show heroism.
The Protection Racket (1940). Writer: Harry Shooten. Art: Irv Novick. The Scarlet Avenger targets a protection racket, one that has the cooperation of the corrupt city police.
This story is quite detailed in its look at civic corruption. Civic corruption had been a major theme of 1930's prose mystery tales in the pulp magazine Black Mask.
The art showing the sinister police is quite effective (p2). They are done up in spit and polish, formal uniforms. These have peaked lapels, white dress shirts and ties, and uniform caps with shiny black visors.
Death to the Scarlet Avenger (#3, April 1940). Writer: Harry Shooten. Art: Irv Novick. The Scarlet Avenger fights Texa, a woman whose evil scientific genius matches the Avenger's own. This is the first of a series of stories that star Texa. Like the Scarlet Avenger, Texa is the leader of a whole organization, all loyal to her. She is also full of inventions, just like the hero. In many ways, she is his mirror image, a criminal whose powers and abilities equal his own.
This pleasant tale has a zany, campy quality. Much of the dialogue made me laugh at its absurdity. The Scarlet Avenger has a team meeting of all his operatives here. It reminded me of every corporate team meeting I've ever attended in real life. The team sets to work on a new scientific invention here; it will remind one irresistibly of real world engineering and software projects.
The art for the Scarlet Avenger's "neutronically propelled airship" is excellent. The airship looks much like the rocket ships that appeared in pulp science fiction illustrations. While many super heroes had airplanes, this airship looks much more science fictional, more like a space ship.
Catastrophe on Coney Island (#6, July 1940). Art: Irv Novick. The Scarlet Avenger and Operator #1, Inez Courtney, a courageous woman sleuth, fall in love. Operator #1 learns the hero's secret identity here, and the two become a fully functioning romantic couple. They remind one of the Shadow and his long time girl friend Margot Lane. Both women are sophisticated New York figures. Operator #1 is a night club blues singer in her secret identity. Both women are glamorous. Neither woman is an ingenue. Both are clearly experienced and knowledgeable in every sense of the term, just as the Shadow and the Scarlet Avenger are both mature men. Both are deeply loyal to the man they love, and are good partners to him.