Thursday, January 7, 2016


In the mid-1950s, National Periodical Publications acquired the bulk of Quality Comics' titles and characters as the former company dissolved. Although primarily picking up the properties so as to continue Quality's popular war titles (including Blackhawk) and a top-selling romance book, and to nail down the rights to their then-still-popular superhero Plastic Man, National nonetheless acquired literally hundreds of characters which remained, for the most part, unused and underutilized in DC's already-packed publishing schedule.

While a few reappeared as The Freedom Fighters in an annual Justice League/Justice Society crossover, their own short-lived title, and an arc in the nostalgia-heavy All-Star Squadron, the vast majority of Quality's characters suffered persistent guest roles or less (at least until the Nineties and Aughts - almost a full half-century after the acquisition)!

Quality's back catalog, however, remains in the public domain, even if the trademarks now reside with DC Entertainment. This means that many of adventures of their most enjoyable and best-crafted characters can be freely downloaded, their modern-day omissions to behold.

As a for instance, there's Quality's supernatural Superman, a mix between the Man of Steel and the World's Mightiest Mortal - Captain Triumph!

Puberty in a nutshell.
Immediately earning cover graces with his debut in Crack Comics no.27 (January 1943), Captain Triumph is the magical melding of twin brothers Lance Gallant - journalist, alive and kicking - and Michael Gallant - adventurer and pilot, deceased. Quick to sign up with the Army Air Corps, avid flyer Michael unfortunately snuffs it in front of his loving brother and adoring on-and-off fiancee, Kim Meredith during what appears to be a routine hangar landing.

Cradling his dying brother in his arms, Lance rushes through the "anger" and "bargaining"portions of his five stages of grief in short order, pledging vengeance to a suddenly stormy sky. "Michael Gallant was my brother" he shouts, fist raised, to a seemingly uncaring sky, blackened by plumes of smoke. "I swear there's no risk I wouldn't take, nothing I'd hesitate to do! I'd sacrifice anyone's life -- my own included -- to wipe from the face of the Earth the evil that brought about this disaster!"

This is ambitious talk, considering that -- at this point -- there's been no sign of foul play in Michael's untimely death. Lance's journalistic instincts are correct, though, and verified by none other than the invisible audience to his pledge -- his brother Michael's ghost!

Granted tremendous powers by the three Fates of myth (although their involvement isn't mentioned or explained until the Captain's second appearance), Michael's ghost and Lance's living body can merge together to become the mighty Captain Triumph. Touching the T-shaped birthmark on his wrist, Lance initiates the change, granting the gestalt brothers the powers of flight, invulnerability, invisibility, tremendous strength and more. They also get a skin-tight tee-shirt and jodhpurs, for reasons best left to your imagination.

It's important to mention that Lance gets
knocked unconscious like every third issue.
Like the original Captain Marvel, Triumph appears and disappears in a lightning bolt. Also like the Big Red Cheese and his assorted junior partners, no one seems to notice the resemblance between the Captain and the living half of the pair which creates him. Criminals are a cowardly, superstitious and near-sighted lot, evidently.

Captain Triumph's adventures are among the most enjoyable Golden Age stories I've read (and, as you can imagine, I've read more than is clearly healthy). The appeal isn't just the attractive art (the excellent Reed Crandall handles art duties for about half of the character's lengthy run) or the entertaining concept, but -- like with The Fantastic Four, Metamorpho, the Metal Men, or any of the better ensemble books in superhero history -- because the supporting characters and the hero make for an inseparable bundle, stronger for all their complementary shortcomings and weaknesses.

The Captain acquires a manservant in the form of former clown Biff (whose debut in full clown regalia makes for one of the most unsettling cover appearances in the entire field. He thankfully ditches the clown suit immediately), a career fuckup whose enthusiasm is tempered by his inability to keep from tripping over his own feet. More importantly, he's a character who's desperate for approval and purpose, and arguably either adopts Kim and Lance as his immediate family or allows himself to be adopted by them.

Kim Meredith, Michael's former fiancee, still pines for her lost love (despite being engaged to Lance, according to a single caption -- although there's more on that in a moment), and throws herself into danger in what any observer might accurately call a deathwish. Her affection for Michael never translates to Captain Triumph, who is effectively the combined form of her suitor and her closest friend, which is seemingly sad. Captain Triumph, in whose chest beats Michael's heart, never exhibits any exceptional affection for her, either.

You're really selling Biff down the river there, Cap.
In fact, one of the most intriguing character elements is that Michael, Lance and Captain Triumph are all consistently portrayed as separate entities - Triumph isn't so much the two brothers working in accord as he is a third, spontaneously generated Gallant triplet, alive only when trouble calls him. Meanwhile, Michael can only enjoy life vicariously through observing his brother and friends at play, while Lance ... Lance seems to have his own problems.

It's always a tricky proposition to read the signifiers on old characters to determine if they were intended, however discreetly, to be gay, but there's a lot in Lance's favor. Despite the single mention of engagement to Kim, there's no romantic affection brewing between the two. He's otherwise a very tidy bachelor, and there must be some reason he didn't join up with his brother, or get picked up in the draft. It might just be me, of course, your mileage may always vary...

Whatever the case, the cast ends up being a tight-knit and co-dependent quintet of characters, compelling on their own even without Captain Triumph's superheroic escapades (and a modest rogues gallery, including lots of one-time baddies like the hypnotic Khor, the deadly Mr.Pointer, and the criminal twins A. and Z.Spade).

Captain Triumph has made a few appearances, including a fairly recent showing in an issue of Titans where Michael's ghost turned out to be a psychotic killer and the less said about which the better. Likewise, he formed a key component of James Robinson's and Paul Smith's miniseries Golden Age, although scripting the brothers as antagonists devoid of their company seems to miss the mark of the intent of the original stories.

By the end of his career, Triumph's get-up-and-go started to get-up-and-go, with his powers diminishing one by one until he couldn't even fly. Still, nothing's been done with Captain Triumph so decisively that the character isn't available for further use, if only there's a creator who knows how best to make use of an ensemble cast in an age of independent heroes ...

A thankfully brief diversion.

1 comment:

Terence said...

It was the Jim Steranko History of Comics that made aware of this Golden Age superhero who would be right at home in this paranormal rich era. The Reed Crandall artwork has not the stylized flair of Jack Kirby or Lou Fine but the stories are still entertaining. The character could have been deeper in devolpment. Most stories are provencial, local. He was a character with potential not fully realized and the 1943 creation of Captain Triumph may have also contributed to his demise among the panteon of superheroes. Still, when I can, I buy his books and have not regretted it nor am I not unhappy that others are ignoring him while I buy.

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