Super Slave

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #5 (March 1941).
Golden Age Appearances: Mystic Comics #5.
Modern Appearances: None.
Years Active: 1941-?

Our story beings "amid the raging fury of a North Atlantic storm," where "a small fishing trawler is hurled by thundering waves toward a jagged, rock-bound coast."

Cappy and Jane, the two on the trawler, are thrown overboard by a big wave, and are separated by the undertow. Jane gets swallowed up by the surf, and Cappy is washed ashore. Cappy is bewailing his fate: "Jane...Jane....she's gone...swallowed up by the sea! I wish I had the strength to find her!" when his fist clenches on an "ancient, sea-worn bracelet." (It's got a yellow clasp and a red jewel on the face, but the bracelet is mostly obscured by Cappy's hand.)

"Instantly billows of green mist appear from an opening in the bracelet...and as it clears...a towering figure stands over the fisherman!" It's Super Slave. He looks to be about eight feet tall, although his size will change during the story. He's white, with blond hair (he's drawn as having a big, receding forehead, and curly blond hair forming a small heap on top of that; the net effect is to make his head look enormous). He's nude except for a pair of purple swimming trunks. (Actually, they're purple, but have a large blue waistband that partially covers Super Slave's stomach. And...uh...there's a symbol of an arrow, pointing down. The symbol is on the waistband, right at where Super Slave's bellybutton would be. The arrow is pointing down towards his naughty bits. It's an odd design, it really is.)

Of course, since Super Slave is essentially a genie, he offers his services to Cappy, who tells him to go find Jane. Super Slave wades into the ocean, becomes a "towering giant," parts the waters "with a swish of his powerful arms," and (now about 80 feet tall) finds Jane. He lays her next to the now-unconscious Cappy, and returns to his normal size. "All through that night, the mysterious figure stands watching over the fisherman and his daughter." (And we get a nice panel of Super Slave, in silhouette, looking down at Cappy and Jane, while in the background the clouds roll away and the crescent moon becomes visible.)

The next morning Jane (who is pretty in a sort of poor-man's- Barbara-Stanwyck way) wakes up to find Super Slave looming over her. Now, I don't know about you, but if I woke up from a sound sleep to find a tall, muscular blond man, wearing nothing but swim trunks--with an arrow pointing to his crotch--looming over me and looking down at me, I'd scream like hell. And that's what Jane does: "Oh-h-h-h Cappy! CAPPY!"

Cappy gets between Jane and the Super Slave and asks Super Slave what he is. Super Slave answers that he's (wait for it) their slave, and that Cappy "brought me to life from a rest of thousands of years when you scratched the bracelet next to you! Wear it...and by scratching it...I will appear and disappear as you wish!"

Cappy says, "Things like this happen only in fairy tales." But he tries it anyhow, and Super Slave disappears in a flash. Cappy and Jane are puzzled, but put it out of their minds and being walking along the beach, looking for civilization. They see smoke coming from "around the bend" (they're walking along the beach at the base of a long stretch of rocky cliffs--like some of the rougher spots of Massachusetts' North Shore and the Maine coast). They find a wooden shack, with smoke coming from the chimney.

Jane doesn't like it, but Cappy says, "Well...we weren't we can't be choosey (sic)!" (Cappy's statement doesn't actually make much sense, but he's probably still delirious from the shipwreck the night before, so he can be forgiven, I think.) They enter the cabin, but wouldn't you know it, it's occupied by a gang of thugs. They take Jane and Cappy outside the cabin and, guns at the ready, line them up against the side of the cliff, but Cappy scratches the bracelet, and Super Slave steps out of a cloud of green smoke.

The men shoot him (one using a Thompson submachine gun) to no effect. The Slave grabs one (who actually says "Blub...gulp!") and uses him as a club against the other thugs. But then one of the criminals grabs Jane and threatens to kill her unless Cappy gets rid of Super Slave. Cappy does so, and the thugs take Jane and Cappy back into the cabin, separating them, with Jane being right by the lead thug, and Cappy in another room.

Cappy feels miserable and ponders his situation. But then..."Oh - I accidentally rubbed the bracelet! The slave will appear and these thugs will kill Jane!"

Nothing seems to happen. Cappy wonders aloud about it, and the Slave, hanging on his shirt-front, catches his attention, saying "I haven't failed you...a change in my size seemed to fit the occasion!" (The Slave is now about six inches high.) Cappy, who obviously never read any of the adventures of Doll Man or Minimidget or Timely's own Microman or of the Silver Age Atom, says, "B-but you are of no use to me as you are now!"

Super Slave sets out to convince him he's wrong. The Slave leaps across the room, swings on a window shade (thus catching the attention of the thug in the next room), swings across the boards in the ceiling and makes his way into the next room. He then removes the bullets from the thugs' guns and throws them out the window.

The Slave then grows up to normal size, knocking over a table as he grows. The criminals draw their guns and try to shoot the Slave, but, of course, the guns aren't loaded, and they feel foolish. The Slave then wipes the floor with them.

The Slave asks Cappy, "Is there anything else you wish?" Cappy, who is obviously not very bright, says, "No! To think I have control of the most powerful man on Earth...right here in this bracelet...a super slave!" But Cappy doesn't actually tell the Slave to do any of the things you or I would have him do--have Bella Abzug fall in love with me, count how many holes it would take to fill the Albert Hall--that sort of thing. Cappy just stands there and wonders about it.

Cappy and Jane and the Slave leave the cabin, but then Jane notices a boat pulling into the cove, and Cappy says that it's "The `Mary J'...why she's a notorious rum-runner and her crew is made up of escaped convicts! This means more trouble...a lot more!"

And there the story ends. They were obviously setting the strip up for further appearances, and possibly even making Super Slave a serial (which you didn't get that often in superhero comics, but which did sometimes happen, as with Davey and the Demon). But Super Slave's first appearance was in Mystic Comics #5, a book which was made up of left-over stories from the Funnies, Inc. shop. There was an seven-month gap between issues #5 and #6 of Mystic, and that may be why the Super Slave didn't reappear; Mystic #6 has a whole new crop of characters, most of whom had more obvious super-heroic appeal than the Super Slave.

Super Slave was drawn by Paul Gustavson. As with so many other Golden Age artists and writers, Gustavson is mostly forgotten today, but he does have a somewhat prominent place in the Golden Age pantheon. Gustavson was quite active in the Golden Age, doing work at the Harry Chesler shop as well as for Timely and for Quality. For Timely he created the Angel. Before that he created the Arrow, who was the first costumed hero to appear in comics after the debut of Superman. For Quality he created the Human Bomb, and also did Midnight. After the war Gustavson did humor books (where he'd gotten his start), Westerns, crime stories, and romances. His art style is decent, although not on the same level as the Coles, Crandalls, and Fines, or even the Becks or Guardineers. His people are very distinctive; there's never any confusion, looking at them, as to who is who. His action sequences are not particularly fluid, but he has a nice inking touch. His layouts are relatively ordinary, but on Super Slave he averages nine panels a page, which is a high panel-per-page average by today's standards, never mind the Golden Age's; this is a good thing, because it enables the creative team to put in a relatively high amount of story and action in a limited amount of space. Gustavson's panel compositions--that is, the posing of characters within each panel--is better than average; there are few stock poses, and Gustavson skillfully gives both large scene panels (with the characters being shown as small against the background) and close-ups. And he's got one really, really great panel: the first one in the story (lead with your A material, I guess). It's a half-page panel of Cappy and Jane's boat adrift in the storm. In the foreground are the rocks of the "jagged, rock-bound coast;" in the middle distance are the churning waves, and in the background, rising up the tiny boat, is the outlined form of the Super Slave. He's colored the same blue as the sky, and all that makes him distinctive are the shading lines. It's almost, dare I say it, subtle, and is quite effective in drawing the viewer in.

Obviously, the first thing that the reader notices about Super Slave is the name. Super Slave appeared in Mystic #5, which had a cover date of March 1941, which means that the story would have been written in December 1940 at the latest; given that Super Slave was one of the backlogged stories from the Funnies, Inc shop, the story might be even older than that. Call it mid-1940, anyhow. The racial politics and dynamics of 1940 and 1941 were, obviously, much more different than they are today; whites gave lip service to notions of equality, but when it came down to putting those notions into practice, as was attempted during the war with the limited integration of parts of the armed services, and the use of African- Americans in homefront industries, whites were extremely resistant. Even before the war there were outbreaks of racially-based unrest: riots in Puerto Rico in February 1937 and the "South Chicago Riot" at the Republic Steel Works in Chicago in May 1937, to name just two. And during the war there were the infamous Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots and the "Detroit Race Riots" in mid-1943. The times were much different, and racial prejudices were still much more overt.

But even in 1940 Gustavson must have known that the word "slave" in the name of a hero would have raised a red flag. Which, I think, is why he made the Super Slave a blond white man; he may (or may not) have been thinking in terms of his potential audience, or he may just have been in a hurry, but in either case casting the Slave as a white man, and not as an African American not only neutralizes the racial overtones of the character but puts an interesting twist on him.

Similarly, the Slave is, basically, a genie, a creation of Middle Eastern mythology. The Super Slave's reading audience would undoubtedly have been familiar with the concept from children's stories, such as Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, if not from cartoons The "A-Lad-In-A-Lamp" Bugs Bunny episode--the one with a Jim Bacchus-voiced Smokey the Genie--was created years after the appearance of Super Slave, but I'm sure there were other cartoons with genies that ran before Super Slave's appearance. But I can't recall a pre-1940/1941 appearance of a non-Arabic-looking genie.

Which is another reason that the Slave's appearance here, as a tall blond geek, puts a different spin on things. It's an interesting inversion of an ethnic stereotype, in the same manner as naming a big blond Aryan "Super Slave" (today's Timely Fun Fact: did you know some of the first slaves brought to America were the Irish, in Massachusetts?).

I doubt that Super Slave's further appearances would have been particularly interesting, at least in terms of character development and plot, but the Gustavson art would have made them worth looking at.

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