Sunday, January 6, 2013

Martian Manhunter Prototype: Radar the International Policeman?

Never underestimate synchronicity.

For instance, I was reading a post at Supergirl Comic Box Commentary about an Amazing Heroes article on the early years of the Maid of Might. Supergirl was co-created by Otto Binder, who was one of the primary writers on Captain Marvel comics back when Shazam routinely outsold Superman. Binder had been brought over to the Superman line when Fawcett finally folded shop due to a shrinking market and DC's decade-plus-long lawsuit over the similarities between the Man of Tomorrow and World's Mightiest Man. The Superman titles were edited by the monolithic Mort Weisinger at the time, and while he often disparaged the Fawcett books, it's pretty obvious that those rival comics inspired huge swaths of Superman's Silver Age adventures, including the development of a whole "family" of similar heroes. In a 1974 interview, Binder said of Weisinger, "He was really an idea man. Most editors aren't, you know." Binder said that it was Weisinger's idea to create Supergirl and hand the assignment to Binder, despite his past as co-creator and writer of Mary Marvel.

History has not been kind to the memory of Mort Weisinger, who was later revealed to be anything but an idea man, and rather a manipulative abuser of talent and associates. Most of the creations unofficially ascribed to Weisinger (as DC has a policy of not crediting their editors as creators in most instances) were blatant swipes of proven successes. Weisinger was noted for the dire habit of hearing a pitch from one writer, lambasting it, then turning around and giving the "rejected" idea to another writer to develop as though it were Weisinger's own.

At the same time I was reading the Supergirl blog, I was also playing a bit of catch-up on the infotainment site Comics Alliance, including an article titled Bizarro Back Issues: Boxing Day With Captain Marvel! (1944). Discussing the lead story from Captain Marvel Adventures #35, we're introduced to U.S. Army Private Pep Pepper, whose background as the child of circus performers led him to an impromptu performance at a U.S.O. show alongside Bob Hope and Billy Batson. Pepper ends up in a boxing match with Captain Marvel, and displays extraordinary abilities before knocking out a Nazi spy impersonating a major. Pepper is revealed to have inherited super-powers from his parents, and the Big Red Cheese is so impressed that Pepper is taken before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a secret collective of world powers to compel Pepper to become a covert International Policeman under the alias "Radar." The story was clearly a backdoor pilot for a new strip, which debuted in Master Comics #50, and ran for a couple of years.

Here's where things get interesting. Radar was a brown-haired Caucasian male with an athletic build who wore a white trenchcoat and fedora while conducting clandestine investigations using telepathy, heightened strength, and enhanced vision. Sound familiar? After spending many years considering the origins of John Jones, it's hard not to see this character as a missing link. Radar got a heavy push early on, but never caught on, though it seems the sort of property right up Mort Weisinger's alley. Radar was a back-up feature in the comic Captain Marvel Junior starred in, and Radar was also the subject of an illustrated "Comics Novel" called Anarcho, Dictator of Death written by Otto Binder. As a spy hunter, it isn't hard to see why Radar would have failed in the closing days of World War II, much too late to a crowded party that was rapidly winding down. I think it's very likely Weisinger could have been exposed to the property, seen its potential, and married it to the extremely popular crime drama and science fiction material of the mid-50s. It's not such a great leap from international to interstellar policeman.

Of course, the strong similarities between John Jones and Radar faded fairly quickly. Jones ditched the coat and hat, and artist Joe Certa began altering the character's features to that of a lantern jawed Irishman from the more WASPish look of the early stories. As the series progressed under editor Jack Schiff, the telepathy was soon forgotten, and when the super-hero trend was embraced, a fantastic alien appearance and more physical powers were emphasized. Still, the Sleuth from Outer Space came from somewhere, and creatively, it wasn't necessarily Mars.

Some Radar sample stories for your perusal... Captain Marvel Adventures #35/Master Comics #50
"Arsenal of Hate"
Master Comics #64


Anj said...

Great post!

I had never heard of Radar so this was very informative!

Weisinger does sound like he would be a tough guy to work for. But his books sure did sell.

will_in_chicago said...

This is the first that I have ever heard of Radar. So, this is something that should be shared, as I do see a lot of similarities between Radar and the early John Jones.