The Invisible Man

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #2 (April 1940).
Golden Age Appearances: Mystic Comics #2-4.
Modern Appearances: None.
Years Active: 1940-?

"Dr. Gade, brilliant young scientist, cherishes the dream of advancing civilization and helping mankind by his experiments - but selfish money grabbers hope to forestall him!"

Young Dr. Gade is working in his laboratory on "work-saving powers that will advance civilization a hundred years" when a "sneaking assassin" (who is dressed like one of the Dead End Boys, but, thank God, doesn't talk like it) pushes Gade into the conveniently open mouth of a blast furnace. The assassin walks away as Gade's laboratory goes up in flames--but, wouldn't you know it, Dr. Gade, who is wearing a Shadow-style black fedora and a red cape, is unharmed. Somehow the chemicals he was working with, and which were poured on him when he was shoved into the fire, have made him inflammable. And when he emerges from the fire and cools down...why, he's invisible! Fancy that!

For a moment it seems like he's permanently invisible, but a panel later, standing in front of a blue saucer-like thing, he says "These vibrations fix everything. I can appear and disappear at will! Now for revenge!"

Switch to the offices of the "unscrupulous money kings," who are complaining about how Gade's inventions "would have made life too easy - too cheap!" "Yes, ha, ha! We're here for money - not mercy!" Dr. Gade, invisible, makes his way into the office and punches out his assassin (then throws him out the window of the fortieth floor), and then uses his invisibility powers to dazzle the "money kings." Dr. Gade then jerks the hand of Sporvan, one of the kings, a hand which is holding a gun. The gun goes off and shoots Sporvan's partner. (That's two deaths for Dr. Gade.) The police rush in and, Dr. Gade being invisible, arrest Sporvan, who babbles about an invisible man. Sporvan breaks away from the cops and, "shrewdly tracing the Invisible Man to his new lair," breaks in to Gade's lab, "deduces some of the Invisible Man's scientific marvels, and exposes himself to the rays that make Dr. Gade become visible.

The Invisible Man returns to his lab, "his ray power run down...(he) returns to replenish it." Sporvan, lying in wait for him, has the rays turned on, which turn Dr. Gade visible. Sporvan and Gade fight; "brave but weakened," Dr. Gade is getting badly beaten by Sporvan until he, Dr.Gade, "comes in contact with his power-giving machine." Dr. Gade's strength and invisibility are restored, and he thrashes Sporvan but good.

The police, who've somehow trailed Sporvan, charge in to the lab. Sporvan tries to pin the blame on Dr. Gade, but Gade notices that his "old disintegrator machine in the corner! It's still working!" and touches a belt, turning himself invisible. Dr. Gade throws Sporvan against the disintegrator, blowing him "into atoms forever!" (That's three killings for Dr. Gade.) The police, understandably unnerved by the disappearing man and Sporvan throwing himself into a disintegrator, decide to "report Gade and Sporvan just missing."

That's Gade's debut. In his next adventure he takes on a band of grave robbers, whose leader is "Deadpan Louie;" Dr. Gade only kills one of the bad guys in his second strip. In his third and last appearance Dr. Gade investigates the suspicious "suicide" of an actress, which somehow turns out to be the fault of a man named Fatty. Dr. Gade drowns four of the criminals and blows up Fatty's yacht, with Fatty on it. (5 dead in this adventure, with Dr. Gade's total being nine, in case you're scoring at home, or just reading this by yourself.)

Although the Invisible Man stories are undistinguished in art and writing, they do have some interesting touches for the reader inclined to read them. The color of the strip struck me as rather pleasing to the eye, with a lot of reds and blues. Although the strip is even more poorly written than is usual for the Golden Age--how did Dr. Gade know who was responsible for the assassination attempt on him? How did Sporvan trace the Invisible Man to his lair?--there are nonetheless the seeds of some thought-provoking stories in it. Dr. Gade is essentially dependent on his ray machine for his power. Would he become somehow addicted to it, a la Hourman?

As a side note, the creators of Dr. Gade cannot be blamed for ripping off the gimmick of artificially-induced powers from DC's Hourman. Dr. Gade premiered in Mystic Comics #2, in April 1940, only one month after Hourman's debut, in Adventure Comics #48, in March 1940. Given the feverish pace in which comics were cranked out in those days, I don't think it likely that the creative team (whoever they were) for Dr. Gade can be accused of poaching the idea from Bernard Baily, who created Hourman. (Actually, as best I can recall, the first comic book superhero to derive their physical powers from exposure to a potentially-addictive substance was be the Blue Beetle, who was dependent upon Vitamin 2X for his powers; as Mike Benton says, "evidently, gulping down powerful illegal drugs and undressing in a pharmacist's office was acceptable behavior for an early 1940s superhero.")

Although Dr. Gade doesn't visually resemble Claude Rains in the film The Invisible Man--he's clothed much closer to the Shadow--the comparison would have been inevitable, and whoever created and wrote the Invisible Man strip must have known that. Admittedly, the idea of a superhero Invisible Man is a natural one, and Dr. Gade uses his powers for good, not evil, but Dr. Gade is nonetheless pretty clearly modeled on the Rains character.

The Invisible Man--the film--came out in 1933. The only other invisible hero of the time is the Invisible Hood, aka Invisible Justice, aka Hooded Justice. If the name "Hooded Justice" sounds vaguely familiar to you, it should; it's the name of one of the Golden Age Minutemen in Watchman--the one who was raping the criminals. (Go ahead, read the text pieces closely. You'll see what I mean about what the Hooded Justice was doing.) Alan Moore's array of names was excellent--but even he can occasionally overlook minutiae.

Finally, what remains with me after all other details about Dr. Gade's adventures are forgotten is the portly villain in Gade's third adventure. He's named Fatty. That name will likely ring no bells with you, and the average nine-year-old reading Dr. Gade's adventures in 1940 would likely be similarly ignorant of the connotations of the name, but any adult who might read it would instantly recognize what the creative team was referring to, and exploiting.

I see no point in paraphrasing or attempting to describe that which someone else has done definitively, which is why I'm quoting the following, from David Thomson's magisterial A Biographical Dictionary of Film:

Poor Virginia Rappe died from internal injuries; she'd had a Coke bottle inserted into her vagina. When news of this became known, the scandal reached a scope which had no precedent. In a very real sense, the Arbuckle trial was the first celebrity Trial Of The Century, unmatched by anything (including the Errol Flynn rape trial of 1942) until the O.J. Simpson trial. No one alive at the time forgot about it; from 1913 until his fall Arbuckle had been one of the one of the leading figures in silent film. And although Arbuckle ghosted some work for Buster Keaton and the Warners in the years after his trial, he died a broken and forgotten man in 1933.

What does piece of distasteful Hollywood history have to do with Dr. Gade? Roscoe Arbuckle's screen name, you see, was "Fatty." And in 1940 any adult who'd been alive and reading the papers in 1921 would instantly have connected the name "Fatty" with poor Roscoe Arbuckle. Worse still, the Fatty in Dr. Gade's strip is preying on young actresses. It might be thought that the "Invisible Man" creative team was making use of a then-present cultural myth, but to my eyes they were exploiting it, and distastefully, at that.

And because of that, the current obscurity of Dr. Gade, and his forgotten creators, is entirely merited.

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