The Terror

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #5 (March 1941).
Golden Age Appearances: Mystic Comics #5-10.
Modern Appearances: She-Hulk #15-17.
Years Active: 1941-1943, present-? (see below)

The story opens late one night, in a hilltop lab in which the famous scientist and doctor John Storm and his faithful pet Rex are working. Dr. Storm is working on something--pouring a green liquid from one beaker to another--you know, Science Stuff.

Suddenly the door is wrenched from its hinges as a seven-foot-tall ape charges into the room. (God, I love the Golden Age, you could actually get away with plot devices like this.) The ape makes for Doctor Storm, who starts to run, but "hunched and snarling, Rex stands his ground. Suddenly, the dog's face assumes a skull- like appearance."

Rex leaps at the ape while Dr. Storm watches, saying "It's remarkable a skull face and untold strength. An unknown reaction produced undoubtedly by a chemical agitation." (Oh, undoubtedly.)

The ape goes for Rex's throat, but Rex The Terror Hound throws the ape off and rips open the ape's jugular. Once the ape is dead, Rex's head turns back to normal. He backs up and falls dead.

Dr. Storm, knowing a good thing when he sees it, resolves to find out what caused the change and transplant it into a human. He hooks up the corpse of Rex to a Mad Scientist Device (it's got tubes and wires and vials and lights and stuff) and goes to work.

Storm: "I've eliminated all the known blood combinations - the remaining fluid is the strange serum."

Holding a vial of reddish fluid, he says, "In this lies one of the greatest force (sic) of nature - superhuman strength beyond analysis."

But as Dr. Storm is thinking about this, a "violent electrical storm breaks out." (And we get a silhouette of Storm's labs, around which we see rain and lightning. The page before we saw nearly the same panel, but with a clear, moon-lit sky. Must have been a really sudden storm.)

A lightning bolt strikes a tree near a speeding car, and the driver goes off the road and crashes his car into a tree.

Narrator: "Dressed in full evening attire, and badly stunned, the driver staggers from the wreckage."

Driver: "Ow-w-my head. I can't think."

He sees Dr. Storm's labs and heads in that direction. Dr. Storm sees the stranger as he collapses on Storm's doorstep, and he takes the stranger in.

Storm: "Poor chap - he'll never recover his memory. The bolt of lightning was too much..."

Stranger: "Ow-w-w! My head! Who am I?"

Storm: "His past is gone - only the future remains and I shall control that. He will be my experiment."

Storm hooks the stranger up to another Mad Scientist Device (glowing things, dials, glass tubes, and those two upright rods between which electricity arcs, a piece of equipment no Mad Scientist should be without, apparently) and injects the stranger with the serum he got from Rex. He also bombards the stranger with "high radio frequency waves."

Storm: "If this proves successful - I've provided the most powerful foe of crime, since the annals of time."

But, wouldn't you know it, four thugs are hiding outside the laboratory, watching Dr. Storm's every move. ("That's the doc I've been talking about." "Good - we can use ‘im.") They burst into the labs and hold Dr. Storm at gun-point; the head crook tells Storm that "with your knowledge of science and medicine - I can build the greatest crime organization in the world!"

Storm, naturally, wants nothing to do with the thugs. The crooks then start to persuade him.

The stranger, who is now hepped up with Rabid Rex Serum, looks at the crooks working over Dr. Storm. "Puzzled by the sight, he watches until the gangsters' vicious act stirs him." Which is somewhat odd, but fits this strip; the stranger--heck, I'll give the plot away and reveal that he's really the Terror--just sits and watches Dr. Storm being beaten up until he finally gets angry. He's either amoral or stupid.

Actually, stupid may be the right description for him, because he says, "They're killing an innocent man." (No duh, Einstein.)

The Terror gets angry, saying "They must pay for this - THEY MUST!"

Narrator: "Slowly the strange serum reacts to the mounting anger, and an amazing change begins to take place. Suddenly, a strange vapor gushes forth and before their eyes the horrified thugs witness the most fantastic sight ever seen."

What they see is the angered civilian, surrounded by flames, and then the Terror, who is about a foot taller and has smooth white skin and looks slightly more skeletal...well, see below for my description of what he looks like.

The lead thug says "Out of here, men - that guy's a terror!" The Terror moves to help the doctor, who tells him to get after the criminals. He runs up to the top of a nearby cliff and sees the gangsters, below him, driving away. He jumps down from the cliff top onto the car and biffs them around, smacking one out of the car altogether.

Greco, the leader of the gang, pulls a gun, but the Terror leaps forward into the front seat, where Greco is, and twists Greco's arm around behind his back. The gun goes off --it's not clear from the art whether Greco pulled the trigger himself of if the Terror did it--and Greco goes down. Then the Terror leaps out of the car and it goes off the side of the road and into a ravine, taking the two other gangsters with it.

Narrator: "His anger appeases the strange character returns to a normal human being." He then returns to the doctor who tells him "By your strangeness and physical power - the world will know you as The Terror. Ahhh-"

The stranger, as the Terror, then buries him (I guess just being at the grave site angered him enough to turn him into the Terror again) and says "With your books an notes to aid me, the Terror shall continue your fight against crime."

In his second adventure (Mystic #6) the Terror stops a Nazi agent from turning FDR into a six-inch-high doll. In his third adventure (Mystic #7) the Terror stops the "ruthless killer" Potoro and his gang of looters from destroying the town of Midvale. In his fourth adventure (Mystic #8) the Terror rescues a group of prisoners from a Nazi slave ship, and then goes to "the desert" somewhere in North Africa, where the Nazis are forcing their prisoners to build a railroad; the Terror frees the prisoners and kills the Nazis. In his fifth adventure (Mystic #9) the Terror stops "The Old One" and his murder-for-hire organization, Poison, Inc. In his sixth appearance (Mystic #10) the Terror stops the Mysterious Mister Z (which, some time later, was the name of a Kirby-drawn enemy of Captain Marvel) and his Deadly Murder Machine (and the mob boss they're working for) from wiping out the citizens of Centerville. And that is the final Golden Age appearance of the Terror.

The first thing that hit me when reading the Terror's origin story (which appeared in Mystic Comics #5, cover dated March 1941) is likely the first thing that struck the longer-time Marvel fanboys. "John Storm"? Could this be the grandfather of Sue Storm Richards? It would be a nice tie-in to modern Marvel continuity, if so.

I know there are some Golden Age fans who really like the Terror, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them.

Part of the problem is the art. The first story is credited to Syd Shores and Phil Sturm. Phil Sturm I can find little about; I know he did some work for Fawcett during the Golden Age, but other than that, nothing. Syd Shores, on the other hand, is, in the context of the Golden Age, a Name. Shores is perhaps most famous for his work on Captain America, but he has more of a record than just that. He was the third member of the Timely staff, joining in 1940, after Simon and Kirby. He did Marvel work in the 1960s (Mar-Vell, Daredevil, Captain Savage, Captain America again), war comics in the Fifties, he did other work for Timely in the 1940s--a Blonde Phantom cover, for example, as well as some late-1940s crime comics. In the 1950s he was helping to keep Marvel afloat, and was running the Bullpen. He did some covers for the 1950s Captain America.

All that said, though, Shores' art on the Terror is unexceptional. It's average, in a Golden Age way, but for every good aspect--there are moments, and even whole panels, when Shores' shading and inks are almost Mac Raboy-esque (Mac Raboy was sublime artist of, most notably, Captain Marvel, Jr.; Raboy is one of the Golden Age's best artists, and is damn near sui generis)--there's a negative one--his characters' movement is rather stiff and...

Might as well say it now, I suppose. The visual design of the Terror is poor. It seems to me that the writers and artists were never quite sure what they wanted the Terror to be.

In his first appearance the Terror grows six inches in his transformation, his widow's peak grows, his ears grow and become pointed, and his face becomes white and smooth. However, it doesn't become a skull, which is the way in which the Terror Effect is supposed to work. The eyes are gone, but what's left isn't simply bone (it might be that the editor(s) of Timely thought that a real skull would be too frightening to the kids, and so made Shores draw a substitute). What remains is what looks like a gaunt face, or perhaps a thin elf, or a underfed vampire.

I can't help but compare this with the way in which the Black Widow was drawn. Presumably we're supposed to see both of them as being deathly; certainly the constant invocation of "skull-like" in the description of the Terror is meant to make us see the Terror as being like that. But the Widow is drawn to look like a skull with skin drawn tight against it; the final effect is genuinely creepy. The Terror looks more like a thin man with pancake makeup layered across his face.

Too, when Rex, in the Terror's first appearance, transforms into Canis Terribilus, and "assumes a skull like-appearance," his ears turn to bone. The human ear consists of skin and cartilage and muscle, and the same holds true for the dog ear. The ear shouldn't show at all when Rex becomes Rex The Terror Hound. (Again, though, it may be that the editor(s) thought a real skull might be too frightening, and had Shores go with something else.) Worse, Rex The Terror Hound doesn't look frightening; he's a pseudo-dog-skull on top of a hairy wolfhound's body. The net effect isn't frightening, it's ugly.

The Terror, at least, is spared this. He's in a full tuxedo, including the white front-board, and a cape, and so when he transforms to the Terror and wraps his cloak around him we see a black figure and a white pseudo-skull with a black widow's peak. On occasion the design looks good, but most of the time it looks unattractive, and not at all frightening, as (presumably) it was meant to be.

In his later adventures his appearance changed, and that's another flaw. It's one thing to alter costumes, as with the Wasp, but when the character's appearance itself alters from strip to strip, then there's a problem. In his second appearance (better drawn, although uncredited) the Terror's face isn't as smooth, and he does look slightly more skull-like, but he keeps the skin and cartilage, and his teeth become sharper and more pointier and fang-like, and he loses his nose, so you've got these two holes, with panel angles and close-ups so that the reader gets entirely too close to the face. It's somewhat disturbing, which I suppose was the point, but it's also ugly. Ugly can be good, if it's well designed, but this isn't; I think of Black Lightning's original costume is ugly, but in a good way. The Terror is just ugly, and off-puttingly so; at least the costumes of Captain Ultra and Mento were meant to be ugly.

In his third appearance he looks somewhat more skull-like, but he's got these blue bulges on his "face" that make him look like he's got either a really, really, really bad case of acne, or that he's got a case of the plague that's in its final stages of development. In his fourth appearance he looks somewhat like he did during his first appearance, although his widow's peak and skin color varies.

And so on. Consistency is a virtue, at least where superheroes' appearances are concerned. Someone like the Wasp can get away with constantly changing her costume, because she always shrinks and flies, and so is distinctive in that way. And, admittedly, the Terror is always going to be somewhat distinctive because of his grotesque "face" and his skin color. But his "face" seems to be continually changing, and that sort of inconsistency says, to me, that the various creative teams were never quite sure what they wanted him to look like. When the writers and artists are unclear in their conception of a character, you can be assured that that unsurety will show up on the page; in the modern era writers and artists can hide that sort of thing with flash and sizzle, in the way that a good stage magician uses misdirection to hide what s/he's really doing, but storytelling techniques were generally more primitive during the Golden Age, and so a weakness of conception is going to be apparent.

The writing, similarly, is flawed. It doesn't do to rely upon or expect good characterization of plotting in these Timely backup stories; they are pleasant surprises when they are there, but all too often they aren't. So one adjusts one's expectations downward, and looks for other virtues.

Unfortunately, even those other virtues aren't to be found. The inconsistency in art also appears in the writing. The Terror switches locations--now New York, now Lisbon, now Midvale--with nary an explanation. The premise that the Terror only becomes the Terror when he is angry shows up only intermittently; often the Terror becomes the Terror when he wants to, rather than following the more promising alternative, that his anger is what fuels the transformation. That could allow for some interesting plot twists. But, unfortunately, it's not used.

Similarly, the Terror being an amnesiac is more or less tossed aside; the idea that this man has no idea who he is or what his life has been up to now, and that he has no money or resources or friends, is a fruitful one, and could have provided the basis for some intriguing stories. Instead the Terror becomes simply another in a long line of one-dimensional heroes, without much in the way or interesting features.

While I'm at it--and perhaps I'm just in a nitpicky, kvetching mood--the origin of the Terror also bothers me. It has far too much reliance on coincidence. Doctor Storm's dog just happens to have the serum that makes the Terror? And just happens to be around when a rabid ape crashes into Dr. Storm's labs? And then Dr. Storm decides to subject some poor amnesiac to an experiment without his consent? Coincidence has always been a part of superhero comics, I know, but writers must be careful in how much they use, for too great a reliance on it strains credibility to the point where disbelief isn't suspended any more - it's dropped.

Too, making the poor fool into the Terror without his consent is kinda skeevy, and writing him as grateful for what Dr. Storm did even less creditable.

There's probably a good essay to be written (if it hasn't already been done so already) on when, exactly, the Timely books started using the Nazis as bad guys, and what might have prompted it. Mystic #6, with the Nazis trying to shrink FDR to a doll, was cover dated October 1941, which means it would have been written sometime during the summer of 1941.

In the She-Hulk stories he was shown as an old man long since retired, his powers having faded after a year or two of his having acquired them, but through a strange plot twist he regains them in the modern day. When John Byrne took over the She-Hulk, it was implied that the issues preceding his, including the Terror story, were only bad dreams, but that has never been confirmed or denied since then, so there's no way of knowing for sure whether the Terror does exist in modern Marvel continuity. (However, as Ronald Byrd tells me, other events from the pre-Byrne issues have been referenced in various comics, so we can assume that the Terror was in fact in continuity.) When the Terror gets angry the chemicals shoot out a flaming vapor from his body and turn his face into a skull and give him superstrength.

Ronald Byrd adds the following, which is both entertaining and informative, as is his wont, about the She-Hulk stories:

#14-17 told the story of "The Cosmic Squish Principle"---a crisis which involved "non-viable" universes of luncheon meat, garbage, and other such things expanding into our own (trust me, I'm putting only a little less effort into explaining it than Steve Gerber did, although it's pretty interesting and entertaining when you actually read the story)---and it was as part of this saga that the Terror returned (a bit of a stretch for a golden age hero of only six adventures and whose only super-powered foe was a man who shrank people to doll-size); I suppose someone who understands the workings of Mr. Gerber's mind better than I might be able to guess why he chose to involve this particular hero.  #14 introduced the situation and assembled most of the protagonists:  the She-Hulk of course, her colleague Louise Mason (a.k.a. the Blonde Phantom (II)), the She-Hulk's physicist friend Brent Wilcox, Howard the Duck (whose enemy Doctor Angst is responsible for the Squish; with fine disregard for the workings of comic book time, Gerber allows Angst to mention that he clashed with Howard 14 years ago, in 1976 (when, presumably, his appearance in Marvel Treasury #12 was published)), and the Critic (The Critics are a splinter faction of the Watchers:  "We watch, too---but feel compelled to deliver piquant commentary on what we see.").

The Terror turns up in #15 at the Mystic Meadows Home for the Elderly.  A grousing, wheelchair-ridden old man, he is startled and elated when, although he had "thought the secret serum had worn off decades ago," he senses evil when an executive threatens to convert the property into condominiums.  Wearing his Dracula-face, the Terror bursts in and kills both executive and home manager (who didn't even WANT to give in to the condo idea); none of this "hearts gave out" stuff for Gerber. Inexplicably, while in normal form the Terror twice casts the mood-setting shadow of a sort of doberman-headed man (you know, the way the golden age Angel would cast that odd winged shadow), a look which would at least have been more interesting than the Dracula-face; he also has a Popeye "arf arf" laugh, lending to this unexplained dog motif.

In #16, for no discernible reason, the Critic arrives at the home and questions the Terror on his nature.  The Terror (whose real name, it turns out, is Laslo Pevely) dutifully recounts his Mystic Comics #5 origin (sans the detail that he was a victim of amnesia at the time; I guess he forgot):

"It was a dark and stomy night---almost 50 years ago [well, as of 1990].  In a secluded cabin in the Catskills, a weird chain of events was about to transpire.  An escaped gorilla came in out of the rain to interrupt the secret scientific research of one Professor Storm.  The ape attacked---but Storm's faithful dog Rex leaped to his rescue.  Something in the little mutt caught fire.  As he went after the ape, his skull began to glow.  And with a ferocity you don't generally see in a beagle mix---he tore out the ape's throat.  Rex had saved his master---but at the cost of his own life.  Storm was aghast, of course, but he didn't have much time to ruminate.  Just then---a car was struck by lightning and rammed into a tree outside!  The driver, yours truly, lay in a puddle of blood and mud.  I would have died that night if not for the daring---and slightly demented---idea that occurred to Storm.  He strapped me into a gizmo that bombarded my nervous system with "high-frequency radio-waves"---and shot me up with a serum distilled from Rex's brain! He hoped it would endow me with the dog's ferocity and will to survive.  It did that and much more, as we found out---when two gangsters suddenly barged in!

What happened next was astounding---and just as inexplicable as where the gorilla came from [yeah, that WAS a bit pointless, wasn't it?] or why Rex's skull glowed.  All I know is, when I sensed the presence of evil, a change came over me---including a change of clothes.  My strength was monstrous, and I was driven by a single, all-consuming urge:  to rip the evil to shreds!  Which I did.  Literally.  With tooth, nail, and much relish [this is the blood and gore that golden age readers "missed"].  That accomplished, I reverted to my normal self---and the professor had a heart attack and died.

Well, not quite.  He lived long enough to tell me about the gorilla and the dog, obviously."

Pevely notes that his career as the Terror was "brief," the reaction to evil wearing off "after a year or so" so that's one "whatever happened to" mystery solved.  The Critic claims to know why the Terror's powers have returned---presumably the current situation had some sort of reverberating effect--but he doesn't tell us and it's not brought up again (leaving us to, as noted, ponder the thought process by which Mr. Gerber decided to include him).  The doghead shadow the Terror was casting last issue seemed to suggest that Gerber might elaborate a bit on Rex the Blazing Wonder Dog, but I guess not.

In #17, Pevely persuades the Critic to break his creed of non-interference and accompanies the cosmic being to aid She-Hulk and the others.  When Doctor Angst and his Band of the Bland (Tillie the Hun, the Spanker, Sitting Bullseye, Black Hole) confronts our heroes, Pevely again becomes the Terror and battles the Native American mercenary Sitting Bullseye ("Die, paramilitary pig!  Die, ideological dinosaur!" (yeah, look who's talkin')). Once the whole cosmic shtick is resolved by sucking the stray dimensional energy into Black Hole the living singularity, the Critic, bowing to the recommendation of his "Crisis Management on Infinite Earths" manual, leaves both heroes and villains without clear memory of the matter.  She-Hulk, Louise, Howard, and Brent are left standing in a field somewhere, Angst and most of his group (except for Black Hole, who's in the Critic's custody) are clueless in Manhattan...but the Terror is nowhere to be seen.  What became of him?  Frankly, I doubt that even Steve Gerber could tell us.

Note: Ronald Byrd followed up the preceding with this:
Re your caveat in the Terror's entry about the She-Hulk's "dreams" (i.e. the "between-Byrne" issues), I should mention that an Avengers Annual made reference to one of that period's characters (Pseudo-Man), another such character (Nosferata) appeared in a She-Hulk MCP arc, and a character (the Critic) and situation (an "Encroachiverse") from the very story arc that featured the Terror appeared after Byrne left again. I've never for a minute bought the "dream" concept, I recognize it was just Byrne being petty

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