Sunday, July 3, 2016

Crimebuster: A Tough Teen Tackles Trouble

In 1942, Charles Biro’s Crimebuster anticipated a question that would help propel Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man to fame two decades later: Why wait until you’re an adult to become a superhero?
Like Spider-Man, the Boy Comics headliner was a teenager who wouldn’t be relegated to the sidekick sidelines. And like Batman, he was a child morally reforged in the murder of his parents.
Chuck Chandler was a surprisingly tough and effective character, even a grim one. A hockey star at Custer Military Academy, Chandler rushed from the rink to a hospital after learning that his journalist dad had been shot by a Nazi agent. His hockey jersey bearing the letter C, along with a military cape he’d quickly grabbed to keep warm, would become his superhero costume, such as it was.
Chandler was powerless when the Nazi agent, Iron Jaw, returned to murder his father and mother and a doctor in the hospital. That horror turned Chandler into a convincingly implacable enemy of crime.
Biro said that Chuck Chandler wasn’t a “super boy,” but just an ordinary American teenager with the stuff to get ahead. Biro’s opinion of American boyhood must have been exceedingly high, because Crimebuster routinely shrugged off death traps and gruesome torture while he beat criminal gangs into submission with the help of no one but a monkey, Squeeks. His bravery was unshakeable, and his level-headed focus on street-level crime gave him a no-nonsense air.
Part of what made Crimebuster so effective was the gravitas of his genuinely chilling archenemy Iron Jaw, so called because a French Resistance bomb had blown off the lower half of his face.
“Iron Jaw, a name that still raises the hair on the back of my neck,” comics historian R.C. Harvey recalled. “A champion baddie of the Golden Age, Iron Jaw may have been ahead of his time, the prototype of today’s soulless super-thugs. He was one of few transgressors who made encore appearances in those days. He was eventually motivated not by greed or by a desire for power (the entire gamut of motives for most villains until the Silver Age), but by the obsession to murder the good guy who repeatedly apprehended him and threw him in the hoosegow. Sometimes, instead of being captured, he died horribly in a ghastly conflagration, the inadvertent result of some scheme of his own gone awry. But he always escaped or came back to life (because he hadn’t really been killed; it only appeared that he had been). In all of this, as you can plainly see, he was a thoroughly modern — i.e., contemporary — villain.”
And, when the popularity of superheroes waned in the late 1940s, Crimebuster’s minimalist costume was easily doffed.
“As the genre fell out of favor with the comics reading public, his adventures took on human interest overtones,” noted comics historian Don Markstein. “Eventually, things got so non-heroic, Squeeks got his own comic.”
“C.B. started wearing regular clothes because a girl told him he looked silly walking around in a hockey uniform all the time. His new outfit had roughly the same color scheme, and still displayed a big ‘C’ on the chest, but it looked more like a sports star’s letter (which, actually, it was all along) than a superhero insignia. The other kids still called him C.B. instead of Chuck — at least, until #112 (June 1955), when he apparently decided enough was enough. … C.B. went back to being Chuck Chandler, a name he hadn’t used in years, and remained Chuck Chandler for the rest of his days. Not that he had a whole lot of them left. Lev Gleason got out of the comic book business in 1956. The last issue of Boy Comics was #119, dated March of that year.
‘Marvel Comics (which had already appropriated the name of one Lev Gleason character, Daredevil) brought out a minor supporting character named Crimebuster in Nova #13 (Sept. 1977). This one never went anywhere, and was killed off a few years later.” Crimebuster’s more-than-respectable 14-year run had an interesting postscript. Pop artist Mel Ramos featured Crimebuster in a 1962 painting, and that was used for the cover of the 1996 album Evil Empire by the band Rage Against the Machine.

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