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The Supernatural World of Golden Age DC Comics

Super-Heroes, Magicians and Supernatural Features

The Golden Age of comics birthed a plethora of mystical characters, most of whom lifted their concepts straight from contemporary pop culture. There were occult detectives from pulp fiction, stage magicians in the funny pages, Far-East adepts on the radio, and turbaned hypnotists and sheikhs throughout the films of the era.

In fact, DC's (then National) very first comic magazine, New Fun Comics #1 (Feb, 1935) introduced a long-running serial called "Bobby and Binks." These school kids looked into a magic crystal which sent them bouncing through time (they did not have "powers," per se). The succession of DC's mystic heroes was led by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's groundbreaking Doctor Occult. Early heroes such as Nadir and Lando disappeared into obscurity while the Spectre and Dr. Fate have become iconic DC characters. Zatara and Sargon enjoyed long runs, and late in the Golden Age, Dr. Thirteen arrived to take DC's supernatural world into a new era.

Note: Some of the heroes featured on this page are covered in more detailed profiles, elsewhere, so links are provided. Others have yet to be fully researched.

Doctor Fate + The Spectre

First appearance, the Spectre: More Fun Comics #52 (Feb. 1940). Dr. Fate: More Fun Comics #55 (May 1940)

This serious pair of supernatural adepts debuted around the same time in More Fun Comics, and both have lengthy histories in the DC Universe. They were both founding members of the Justice Society and their legacies have been carried on multiple times.

Cosmic Teams is light on their Golden Age careers, but you can read good profiles at The Comics Archives: The Spectre Doctor Fate

READ MORE » The SpectreDoctor Fate

Doctor Occult

Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

First appearance: New Fun Comics #6 (Oct. 1935)

Magic and super-herodom in the DC Universe began with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's creations. Their first was Dr. Occult, published several years before Superman. Occult used an external talisman for power but also exhibited his own innate abilities.

READ MORE » Doctor Occult

Name: Dr. Terrence Thirteen

Known relatives: Traci Thirteen (daughter)

First appearance: Star-Spangled Comics #122 (Nov. 1951)

Dr. 13, the Ghost-Breaker

... Full profile coming soon ...

The term "ghost breaker" goes back to the early 20th century, in literature and film. Doctor Thirteen was preceded in comics by "Dr. Neff, the Original Ghost-Breaker," who first appeared in Street and Smith's Red Dragon Comics v.1 #3 (May 1948).

A sort of skeptical psychic detective, he worked with the Spectre and the Phantom Stranger. Has was reinterpreted in Vertigo Visions: Dr. Thirteen (Sept. 1998). This led to other appearances including the critically-acclaimed Tales of the Unexpected series (2007) by Brian Azzarello.

In 2003 girl sorceress, Traci 13 (Superman #189)

» SERIES:

  • Star-Spangled Comics #122–130 (Nov. 1951–July 1952)
  • Ghosts #95–102 (Dec. 1980–July 1981)
    • Tales of the Unexpected v.2 #1–8 (2006–07)

    » FEATURED APPEARANCES:

    • Mr. District Attorney #24 (Nov./Dec. 1951)
    • The Phantom Stranger v.1 #2, 3, 7, 15, 17 (1969–71)
    • Showcase #80 (Feb. 1969).
    • Vertigo Visions: Dr. Thirteen #1 (1998)

Name: Keith Everet, the Earl of Strethmere, aka Charles Collins, aka the Grim Ghost (post-Crisis)

Known relatives: Unnamed ancestors

First appearance: Sensation Comics #1 (Jan. 1942)

The Gay Ghost

aka the Grim Ghost

Created by Gardner Fox and Howard Purcell

"The Gay Ghost" was a peculiar feature that debuted alongside Wonder Woman and Wildcat in the pages of Sensation Comics. These features were awarded roomy slots, the Ghost taking up 13 wordy pages per issue. When DC dropped its page counts from 60 to 52 in 1944, this feature was consigned to DC Limbo. The entire run was drawn by Howard Purcell, who drew many DC series through the early 1970s.

Given the character's name, it's no mystery why he was rarely used again. When the Ghost was honored with a spotlight in Who's Who in 1985, the editors couldn't bring themselves to perpetuate the "Gay" part of the name and dubbed him "The Grim Ghost" instead (it was time for post-Crisis revisions, after all).

Keith Everet was the Earl of Strethmere and lived in 18th century Ireland. He died in 1700, on the day that he rode to propose marriage to the lovely lady Deborah Wallace. Near her ancient castle of Connaught in Ulster, he was beset by rogues who shot him with a pistol and fled from the nobles. Deborah consoled him during his last breaths, but after his body expired, the Earl's ghost lingered with Deborah; she felt him with her like a wind.

As his killers were hung, Keith was drawn away by the spirits of his ancestors. They charged him with returning to Earth to conquer the evils of men — but he was ordered to wait for Deborah. When he returned to Ireland, 80 years had passed and Deborah was dead and buried! He haunted the castle and the locals occasionally recognized his ghost, so steered clear of the castle. Centuries passed until in 1941, when a young, American Deborah Wallace came to Connaught. She was the descendant of the Earl's love and was escorted by Charles Collins.

The Gay Ghost and his alter ego, the multi-talented Charles Collins. From Sensation Comics #13 (1943); art by Howard Purcell.
Post-Crisis: The origin of the Grim Ghost. From Secret Origins #42 (1989); art by Michael Bair.
A brief retelling of the Ghost's origin, from Sensation Comics #8 (1942); art by Howard Purcell.
One of the Gay Ghost's few exotic adversaries, the Flaming Hand. From Sensation Comics #5 (1942); art by Howard Purcell.
The Ghost inhabits unconscious bodies and can make himself solid at will. From Sensation Comics #13 (1943); art by Howard Purcell.

Collins was in love with Deborah but she didn't return his affections. That night history repeated itself as spies sought refuge in the castle and killed Charles. As he died, the ghost's mission was sealed. He was able to enter and reanimate Collins's body, and Deborah was none the wiser. She was quick to note the queer changes in his manner, and the Earl was intent on making Deborah love him. To finish the spies, created an ectoplasmic construction of his former self and appeared to the men as the Gay Ghost. The Ghost could pass through walls and fly, but could also solidify himself to affect the material world. "Charles" and Deborah returned to America, brining the Earl's portrait along with them. (Sensation Comics #1)

The Earl had trouble adjusting to modern life. He made a frightening attempt to drive an automobile, which upset Deborah. Thieves often targeted Deborah for her riches. To fight them, the Ghost left Charles's body, which became limp and had no pulse. He realized that a comatose body lying around was disconcerting to others and drew unwanted attention, so he began hiding the body out of sight. (#2)

Sometimes the Gay Ghost obeyed to the call of his "ancestral council," who give him special missions. They bid him to help England in the war effort, so Charles (a pilot) became approved by the U.S. Army to take a bomber to Britain. He volunteered for a rescue mission to northern France and as the Gay Ghost he single-handedly took down a Nazi supply unit. Word spread via Baron Von Molte back to Adolf Hitler himself. (#4)

Charles remained in Europe for a short time, provoking Nazi General Von Schlitzer to shave his head, don a mask and prosthetic arm that shot flames and become the Flaming Hand. (#5)

After returning to America, Charles became a test pilot (#7) and had many adventures in the air. He and Deborah shut down Blackie Stover, a drunk who made himself captain of a band of masked, black market fliers called the Vultures. (#8)

Debbie's affections for Charles apparently grew along with the danger. He joined the Army Air Corps and after a harrowing Japanese attack in the Midwest, she kisses him. (#9) Debbie's brother, George, also became a pilot and was possessed by a magician. (#11) Deborah also enlisted in a medical unit. Her ship was attacked by Germans but the Ghost caught their bombs midair and redirected them back on them. (#12)

He frequently engaged with Nazis both at home and abroad. When troops could not be mobilized to defend Greece, he entreated his elders to use their collective willpower to fight evil on Earth. The ghost army descended upon German air fleet, ripping through them in air and land. (#17)

Other adventures included Japanese spies (#18, 23), and Axis forces in pursuit of wild weapons. (#19, 24)

He met another real ghost in Mexico: the spirit of El Espada, who guarded magical waters of eternal life. The Gay Ghost helped him protect the place when men came to mine for copper. (#21)

Holding on to Life

An odd feature got odder when artist Purcell began taking inspiration from Jack Cole's Plastic Man, in the Ghost's later adventures. From Sensation Comics #32 (1944); art by Howard Purcell.
The Gay Ghost and other lesser-known heroes of the Golden Age help the Justice Society. From Starman #62 (2000); art by Peter Snejberg.
Animal Man meets the lost characters of the universe in Limbo, including the Gay Ghost and the Inferior Five. From Animal Man #25 (1990); art by Chas Truog and Mark Farmer.

In 1944, the series' concept began to wear and it exhibited several changes. It's unclear whether this was the result of writers because the strip rarely bore a writer's byline. The Gay Ghost's identity as the Earl of Strethmere was forgotten and he was introduced only as Charles Collins. Deborah disappeared and Collins hopped on to the FBI. His cases were frequently set in Gotham City, and the latter ones used the Gay Ghost as a mere of backdrop to intriguing tales. Howard Purcell's art and lettering became noticeably influenced by Jack Cole's "Plastic Man," with exaggerated type and more deliberate page compositions.

Charles Collins was summoned to Gotham City (with no more reason than his "fine record") and helped police solve tough cases involving gangsters. (#25-27)

The Gay Ghost's legend grew... Two thousand years into the future, students were given ancient comic books and learned about Superman Batman, Wonder Woman — and greatest of all, the Gay Ghost. The Ghost was still around at that time. (#30)

And in a tale set 13 years earlier, the Gay Ghost was depicted active as Charles Collins, involved with a young attorney who would become the governor. (This was a clear departure from previous "continuity.") (#31)

The ancient Egyptian "Curse of Hathoreb" inspired a tomb raider to mimic a ghostly mummy and raid an exhibit in Gotham. Collins found that the man dead of unknown causes —  the ghost of Hathoreb himself? (#33)

The last Gay Ghost story was delayed five issues, as Sensation Comics shifted features, perhaps testing the best mix. Collins was back into the war effort, inspiring young boys to oppose Fifth Column organizers who vandalized churches with swastikas. (#38)

Post-Crisis

Contemporary writers have found no decent use for the Gay Ghost. When the character was featured in DC's encyclopedic celebration, Who's Who #9 (Nov. 1985) he was renamed the "Grim" Ghost, and appeared under that name in Secret Origins #42 (July 1989). Writer Grant Morrison ignored that when depicting the Gay Ghost in his reality-warping Animal Man #25 (July 1990). And James Robinson alluded to an untold adventure of the Justice Society, in which the the Gay Ghost might have participated. (Starman v.2 #62)

Powers

When the Gay Ghost left the body of Charles Collins, Collins would appear dead. His ghostly form could inhabit other unconscious people, remain immaterial and invisible, pass through walls, or become solid and affect the material world. When solid, the Gay Ghost demonstrated super-strength; he was known to change the course of missiles. He also grew to giant size and carried a plane into landing. As a ghost, he is immortal to some extent, and he can summon aid from his ghostly ancestors.

» SERIES:

  • Sensation Comics #1–13, 15–33, 38 (Jan. 1942–Feb. 1945)

» FEATURED APPEARANCES:

  • Comic Cavalcade #4 (Fall 1943)
  • Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #9 (Nov. 1985)
  • Secret Origins v.2 #42 (1989)
  • Animal Man #25 (1990)
  • Starman v.2 #62 (2000)

The Ghost Patrol

... Full profile coming soon ...

Created by Ted Udall, Emmanuel Demby and Frank Harry

First appearance: Flash Comics #29 (May 1942)

» FEATURED APPEARANCES:

  • Flash Comics #29–104 (May 1942–Feb. 1949)
  • The Big All-American Comic Book (1944)
  • Comic Cavalcade #1–2 (Winter 1942–Spring 1943)
  • World's Finest Comics #208 (1971)
  • Day of Vengeance #1 (2005)
  • Day of Vengeance: Infinite Crisis Special #1 (2006)
  • Shadowpact #5, 12
  • Superman #663 (2007)

Johnny Thunder

First appearance: Flash Comics #1 (Jan. 1940)

This Justice Society member and comedic character commanded the mystic Thunderbolt. In modern tales, that entity was classified as a genie originating from the 5th dimension.

Cosmic Teams is light on Thunder's Golden Age career, but you can read a good summary at The Comics Archives.

READ MORE » Johnny Thunder

Name: Unknown

First appearance: World's Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941)

Lando, Man of Magic

Created by Howard Purcell

Created in the wake of super-hero Superman and super-magician Zatara (both of whom also appeared in World's Finest), there was little that "Lando, Man of Magic" could not do. This feature in World's Finest suffered from constant creative turnover and lasted for only seven installments. Penciller Howard Purcell drew the first three. Most stories were loaded with incredible feats, many of which might be explained as illusions (which was common for this time).

"Lando the Unknown" was a touring magician who possessed legitimate supernatural powers. When he went on vacation, he was approached by a woman who had news of spy activity on a nearby mountain top. The next day they both embarked for the mountain. When Lando was double-crossed by their guide, he effortlessly floated into the air to avoid harm. He flew to the summit then instead, and engaged with an Asian man, turning him into a duck. Lando also made himself invisible, immobilized a guard, and ultimately transformed all the enemy planes into junk. (World's Best Comics #1

Lando quiets skeptics and gets to the business of finding the Hood. From World's Finest Comics #3 (1941); art by Howard Purcell.
Lando fights the monstrous Gargoyle. From World's Finest Comics #4 (1941); art by Chad Grothkopf.

At the end of a large and successful performance, Lando disappeared in a cloud of vapor. During his downtime he was summoned to help a circus owner root out some saboteurs. Lando confounded them by walking upside down, manifesting water to quell a fire, and commanding an elephant to round up the bad men. (World's Finest Comics #2)

On an adventure to Central America, Lando took on foreign interests that sought to seize the Panama Canal. Their leader, the Hood, sicced his own witch doctor on Lando. The two used their powers to shrink each other, and produce snakes and lions, but Lando won out by trapping the Hood's boat in frozen water. (#3)

As artists changed each issue, Lando's suit and cape were also altered in ways, and sometimes he bore a goatee. In the Mexican jungle, he and fellow plane passengers fell prey to a giant monster called the Gargoyle. (#4)

Lando also used the power of a magic crystal, changed his appearance, transmuted elements, (#5) conjured money, and turned men into animals. (#6)

The last panel of his final appearance promised another installment, but the hero was never seen again. (#7)

» FEATURED APPEARANCES: World's Best/Finest Comics #1–7 (Spring 1941–Fall 1942)

Name: Nadir

First appearance: New Adventure Comics #17 (July 1937)

Nadir, Master of Magic

Created by Will Ely

After Dr. Occult, the next original mystic to appear in the DC universe was Nadir, an exotic prince from the East who wore a traditional turban and black suit. The feature lasted a mere 14 issues and was created by Will Ely, who worked on other DC features through 1940. The first storyline was strung through eleven parts, not unusual for New Adventure Comics, which featured serials such as "The Golden Dragon," "She," and "The Monastery of the Blue God."

Nadir, the "Master of Magic" was a prince of India whose parents had died. This made him want to fight crime using "long-forgotten secrets of the Far East." He installed himself in luxury in New York City with his servant, Arcot. His associate, Sir Thomas Ellsworth, called upon him when a prized pearl was stolen. Nadir narrowly dodged a dagger en route, but used that knife in a magical rite to find the thief's location. (New Adventure Comics #17)

Nadir bathed the dagger in a special bath then placed the liquid in a ring that powered his crystal ball. At precisely 3 a.m., the ball divined the location of the thief, Henri Duprez. At Duprez's apartment, the prince used his "gleaming eyes," to compel Duprez to produce the pearl. (#18)

Nadir and Arcot use ancient forgotten techniques to find a thief. From New Adventure Comics #25 (1938); art by Will Ely.
Time for the whammy! From New Adventure Comics #30 (1938); art by Will Ely.

Duprez was double-crossed by his own bodyguard, Job, who locked Nadir in a stone cell. (#19) Arcot rescued his master and they used the crystal again. (#20) Their chase took them onto the seas, (#21) where Nadir was forced to swim to safety (he doffed his turban in order to "avoid questioning"). (#22)

Eventually Job was killed by the ship's greedy captain, (#24) and the captain was killed by the jewel fence. (#26) Nadir ju-jitsued his way back to the pearl and returned it to Sir Thomas. (#27)

Back home, Nadir used his mental powers to save movie star Marion Carver from an unwanted suitor. (#28) When Nadir concentrated, he produced a vision of Marion from within the man's mind. (#29)

In his final adventure, Nadir set out on a cruise vacation, but the ship was attacked by pirates. Nadir was strangled into unconsciousness and loaded into a car. The final panel promised, "To be continued." (#30)

This character made no further DC Comics appearances.

» FEATURED APPEARANCES: New Adventure Comics #17–30 (July 1937–Sept. 1938)

Name: John Sargent

First appearance: All-American Comics #26 (May 1941)

Sargon the Sorcerer

... Full profile still to come ...

The name Sargon was not original...

John Sargent's father found an ancient Aztec(?) talisman called the Ruby of Life on an archaeological expedition. Little John touched the Ruby and bonded with it for life. This granted him formidable mystic abilities. He became a stage magician, Sargon (named after the first king of Assyria), thus hiding his powers in plain sight. The Ruby of Life often times moved Sargent to commit criminal acts.

Post-Golden Age

Following World War II, he came up against Dr. Fate, Dr. Occult and Zatara when he tried to enter the vaults of the Vatican City. Eventually, he succeeded and obtained the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Swamp Thing #148) He planted this apple in the Black Forest (Freiburg, Germany) and let a tree grow for thirty years. In the meantime, he became more aware of the Ruby's evil influence and acted both as hero and villain. (Flash #186, DC Comics Presents #26) He even aided and became an honorary member of the Justice League. (Justice League of America #97-99)

He died nobly alongside Zatara (Swamp Thing #50), but his soul was restless and hovered in limbo. Eventually, he found a way into the body of a comatose man and summoned his niece, Grace Brady to him. As she arrived in Germany with his Ruby, so did the Swamp Thing. (Swamp Thing #148) Sargon used his influence over the people of Freiburg and made them commit suicide to feed the Tree of Knowledge with blood. (#149) Sargon then entered the light of the tree, but when the Swamp Thing cleansed the tree, he was trapped inside it — between heaven and hell. His Ruby of Life was claimed by a man called "the Traveler." He claimed that the Ruby was to await the coming of a "star-child." (#150) He also appeared as a spirit to Tim Hunter. (Books of Magic #1)

His grip on magic is so strong that he appears able to thwart death anytime. He returned again to vex the Swamp Thing. (Swamp Thing v.4 #2-4) Apparently, the Spectre put the final nail in Sargon's coffin. The next time he appeared, the Ruby of Life was shattered.

Sargon II

From the realm of death, Sargent reached out to his only remaining relative, his grandson David Sargent. He bound David to the Ruby and bade him to find the missing shards. (Helmet of Fate: Sargon)

» SERIES: All-American Comics #26–50, 70 (May 1941–June 1943) • Comic Cavalcade #3-16 • Sensation Comics #34–36, 52–83

» FEATURED APPEARANCES: Flash v.1 #186 • Green Lantern #37 • Justice League of America #98 • Swamp Thing v.2 #49–50, 148–150

The White Magician

aka Mr. Magik
Created by William Messner-Loebs and John Dennis

... Full profile still to be researched...

Name: Dr. Asquith Randolph

First appearance: Wonder Woman v.2 Annual #3 (1992)

» FEATURED APPEARANCES: Wonder Woman v.2 #66 , 71, 74, 75, 82, 84–87, 95–97, 99, 100

Wartime hero created in 1992.

Zatara

... Full profile to come ...

First appearance: Action Comics #1 (June 1938)

Zatara might have languished in obscurity if his daughter, Zatanna, hadn't been become a staple of the Justice League in the 1970s. When Zatara's creator, Fred Guardineer, moved to Quality Comics, he worked on two other suited magicians, Merlin and Tor. Both of these characters also spoke their spells in backwards English. Quality characters are now part of the DC universe and this "brotherhood" was referenced when all three appeared in All-Star Comics v.2 #1 (1999).