My last review featured a Crimson Avenger story and in that, I mentioned how I would have liked to have seen the way that Roy Thomas had weaved The Crimson Avenger into the post-Crisis era, especially considering that Superman’s departure from the Golden Age would have made him the very first costumed hero. Well, Thomas did it in Secret Origins #5 where he gave the character not only a post-Crisis origin, but an origin altogether.
According to Thomas’ text piece in this issue’s lettercolumn, the character first appeared in Detective Comics #22 (the cover is reproduced in the issue) and never had an origin story–he was fighting crime in his first adventure and went on to keep doing that as we went through the Golden Age before he fell into obscurity. That issue came out in October 1938 and so Thomas gives us a story where newspaper publisher Lee Travis wears a crimson cape and mask to a costume party on Halloween in 1938, the same night that Orson Welles is broadcasting his famous adaptation of War of the Worlds. Crooks dressed as Martians try to rob everyone at the party and Lee is the one to eventually stop them with the help of his chauffeur, Wing.
It’s a little reminiscient of Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff’s story “The First Batman” from 1956’s Detective Comics #235–that’s the one where Batman’s father stops a crime at a costume party–and since Batman does take some cues from The Crimson Avenger (as well as The Shadow and The Green Hornet, something Thomas points out in his text piece), I’m sure Thomas was playing a little homage here. Plus, the “person in a Halloween costume foiling a crime and then deciding to keep doing it” is a trope that we’ll see time and again in comics, so to have it be the origin of the “first” hero is clever.
All of this, by the way, is made by Gene Colan and Mike Gustovich’s art. Thomas points out that Colan was his first choice for pencils on this issue and that makes complete sense because his work fits the moody, dark, noir feel of the story. This is one of those standout early issues of Secret Origins that makes this series so much fun to read and I’m looking forward to reading through the rest of my issues as well as finishing my collection of the series.
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