Monday, December 6, 2021

Truly Gone&Forgotten : Blackout!


Created by Don Rico
Appears in Captain Battle Comics #1 (1941 - reprinted in #5)

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a mid-air collision? 

Nope, it’s just a massive cloud of choking black smoke! And, in the center of that cloud -- a naked man, in a domino mask, blacked up from head to toe, and flying as though he had been shot from a cannon! Fascism, beware -- here comes the avenging hero BLACKOUT, Democracy’s dingiest defender! 


Working feverishly by lamplight, passionate young surgeon Dr.Basil Brusiloff struggles to save lives while Nazi airplanes riddle Belgrade with bombs. “Why?” he cries, as he collects vital medical supplies from his besieged laboratory, “What have we done to be attacked so brutally?” he demands of no one, bellowing into the empty air “...mangled women … men screaming in dying agony! WHY?”

No sooner has he posed the ghastly question than a Nazi bomber answers it, definitively in the negative, by delivering a “cargo of death” directly on the roof of the hospital. Explosions rip through the building, reducing the structure to rubble!

Tragedy following tragedy

Tragedy following tragedy

In his lab, however, Brusiloff discovers new life and new power. By some radical combination of chance, the racks of chemicals and medicines surrounding the young doctor are activated by the explosion, forming strange new concoctions and granting amazing abilities. Swallowed by a choking cloud of angry black smoke, Brusiloff emerges, bursting with strength, his body enveloped in an eerie new substance. 

The resulting aesthetic implied to some readers that Blackout was covered in thick, shaggy fur, like a werewolf. This is, of course, absurd. Blackout was, much more reasonably, a naked man whose pores exuded oily threads of greasy black smoke. Cool.

It’s the best education a slob could hope for.

It’s the best education a slob could hope for.

It can’t be denied that Blackout has a knockout look. The roiling clouds of inky blackness are highly dramatic, the tri-color blue-black-green palette is pretty unique in comics, and what can you say about a man who tops that ensemble with a grass green domino mask

Naturally, if you’re Blackout, you’ll want to wear a disguise. You wouldn’t want anyone from work to recognize you, after all, during those times when you’re a fascist-smashing smoke man. It would be terribly awkward. This is the same reason that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wear masks, in case they meet Shredder at the supermarket, or church.

Besides power and a dramatic new look, Brusiloff gains a mission. While the basis of his origin was chemical and catastrophic, something supernatural seems to speak to the strange new figure which looks back from the former young surgeon’s mirror. “What has caused this to me, I do not care! All that I know is, I feel the mighty command of a million souls who have perished from oppression in the struggle to keep democracy alive, appealing to me to carry on their ideals!”

In service of those ideals, Basil gains powers -- largely the product of the black tendrils of smoke which coil around him! He proves capable of flying by blasting out jets of smoke, can form choking and blinding cloud covers, knock planes and missiles out of the air, and even generate the force sufficient to blow brick walls to pieces. 

Better yet, in twelve hours he masters these powers, and demonstrates as much by smashing the very planes which destroyed his hospital! PAYBACK.

Blackout slaughtering Nazis and still having time to instigate a rebellion. This is the product of the kind of time-organization skills you develop in medical school.

Blackout slaughtering Nazis and still having time to instigate a rebellion. This is the product of the kind of time-organization skills you develop in medical school.

In the remainder of his sole adventure, Blackout pursues the planes to the headquarters of the Nazis who ordered the attack. Here he uncovers a ‘forced labor factory’ (and, let’s be honest folks --- aren’t they all?) and the architect of all this misery, Heinrich Himmel (no relation). Having fomented a rebellion among the enslaved workers, Blackout demolishes the factory and many of the enemy’s weapons, leaving only tanks. For these, he provides a massive tunnel of smoke through which the escaped prisoners drive until reaching a friendly nation. This underlines the importance of infrastructure. 


One interesting element of Blackout is that he’s a member of comics’ Axis-smashing fraternity of Golden Age heroes -- with a noticeable difference. Most anti-fascist superheroes of the era were first and foremost patriots. There were dozens upon dozens of flag-draped superheroes in the comics pages, and they primarily boasted bold red, white and blue palettes, adorned with eagles, stars, bars and any other unambiguous indication of their allegiance. As a handy example -- Captain Battle, in whose eponymous title Blackout debuts, combines many of these decorations and throws in an eyepatch, for clout.

By contrast, Blackout cuts a completely different figure -- a stark body of writhing black smoke. Nevermind patriotic trappings -- Blackout is barely visible as a figure, with ropey bands of impenetrable cloud giving his entire body the illusion of being wrapped in thick black fur. The only splash of color in the whole setup is Blackout’s green domino mask, which undoubtedly served the actual purpose of distinguishing the hero from any random silhouette elsewhere in the story.

I’m with these guys.

I’m with these guys.

Nonetheless, Blackout’s mission is overtly -- and deliberately -- antifascist, and against “the makers of war.” He is described in the text only as a “friend of the oppressed,” but the atypically literate strip drops strong hints that Blackout does have philosophical allegiances: Specifically, that he’s a Communist-leaning antifascist. If he isn’t the only such superhero in America’s Golden Age of Comics, then he’s at least unique enough to mention. 

Additionally, it’s worth wondering how many other comic book heroes of the age would begin their adventure with an anti-war quote from British satirist and liberal socialist Douglas Jerrold. “War is but murder in uniform (1909)” are the words which greet the young readers of Blackout’s adventure in two-fisted Captain Battle Comics, a book otherwise dedicated to colorful depictions of battlefield victory and death. What a conflicting preamble! Nonetheless...


Blackout was the creation of Don Rico, who may be primarily known as co-creator of The Black Widow, and also of engagingly atypical features such as The Sorceress of Zoom and Flip Falcon of the Fourth Dimension. He also preceded, as co-creator, Charles Biro’s run on Lev A.Gleason’s Daredevil. He was additionally a prolific paperback writer, so when the Beatles sing that song, now you know who they’re talking about. 

Blackout leaves the rescued prisoners inside the borders of a foreign, friendly nation. As they cheer freedom and celebrate their liberator, Blackout promises this wonderful new world. “The authorities here will treat you with respect,” he assures them, “And you will never again be slaves of brutal tyranny!” If that future actually came to pass, it might explain why Blackout petered out at one appearance. Who needs liberator in a world of Peace, Bread and Freedom?

His sole vice: Gambling.

His sole vice: Gambling.

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