Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Angel Before the Angel

When you say "The Angel" to most people familiar with the Marvel Comics Universe, they're almost sure to reply "The guy from the X-Men with wings." Many modern readers would then recount that mind-numbingly depressing story arc in which he gets his wings cut off, has them replaced with metal wings by a super-villain and then seems to alternate between being a bad guy and a dark anti-hero. Gee whiz, it's no wonder I read so few modern comic books!

But there was an Angel before that Angel--A World War II-era hero who was introduced in Marvel Comics #1 along with the Human Torch and (sort of) the Sub-Mariner. (Namor appeared in a black-and-white giveaway comic before Marvel Comics was published. But, in my opinion, that was more of a test-drive than a true premiere.)



The first Angel was a costumed vigilante without any powers. At first, he didn't really have much of a back story--he was simply a guy who took on a costumed identity to better hunt down mobsters. (In modern comics, he was given a pretty nifty back story involving being inspired by an elderly Matt Hawk--aka the Two-Gun Kid. So, yes, modern comics do occasionally have moments of sincere coolness.)

Written and drawn by Paul Gustavson, the Angel stories were straightforward and exciting action stories. He was pretty ruthless--it wasn't unusual for him to leave a number of corpses in his wake with just one or two living criminals still around for the cops to arrest. But that actually wasn't an unusual thing for many of the 1940s Marvel heroes. They were quite a ruthless bunch.

 Like the Torch, Namor and Captain America, the character was popular enough to earn appearances in three or four different comics each month. In Spring 1941, he popped up as a back-up story in Sub-Mariner #1.

This was a cool story. Angel, a guy named Tex and a gal named Jane are in the small seaport of Sabatino. (The story isn't clear on this--but Sabatino seems to be a part of a Caribbean island nation. Given the nature of the story, it's probably meant to be an expy of Haiti.)


Jane has inherited a castle known as the House of Horrors and intends to take possession. But someone thinks that's a bad idea and kidnaps her. So it's up to the Angel and Tex to break into the castle and rescue her. Along the way, they discover a villain is running a secret gold mine under the castle and is using zombies as his labor force.


So the Angel and Tex rather ruthlessly dispose of some human guards, go toe-to-toe with some zombies, rescue the girl and escape just before the gold mine gets blown up.

It's a simple plot enhanced by fun, energetic art and some nicely-choreographed fight scenes. The Angel pretty much faded away after the initial superhero craze of the 1940s died out, never making the same comeback as did Namor, the Torch and Captain America. But he did okay for himself while he was around.

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