A surprising number of superheroes moonlighted as judo, jiu jitsu and karate instructors.
One-page features of “judo tricks” were not uncommon during the Silver Age. Harvey Comics’ stuntwoman turned movie star turned masked crime-fighter, the Black Cat, offered them. In Archie Comics’ Adventures of the Fly, the 1940s superhero the Black Hood was recruited for the task. A little later, in the mid-1960s, Charlton Comics’ ‘action hero” Judomaster joined the club.
But the oddest and most obscure of the lot was Bobby Bell, a teenaged sidekick and/or mascot to a superhero who actually outlasted the hero himself.
In Adventures of The Fly 1 (Aug. 1959), the boy made his debut wearing a costume like the Shield’s (who had debuted two months before in his own title as Lancelot Strong, a Silver Age revamp of MLJ’s Golden Age Shield Joe Higgins).
Apparently president of the Shield’s Young Americans’ Club, Bell’s relationship to the Shield — whether sidekick or just fan — was never made clear because the Shield’s comic was killed after only two issues, the victim of a lawsuit threat. DC Comics had claimed the hero was too much like Superman.
Even his name was ambiguous, shifting from Bill Bell to Bobby Bell or Bob Bell. Whatever. Bell stayed in the ring giving instructions in the martial arts through Adventures of the Fly 11 (July 1961).
This quirky how-to sideline of superhero comics eventually died out, and it’s easy to see why teaching children how to battle each other might raise some eyebrows. Superheroes may not fear the criminal element, but they have a healthy respect for lawyers.