Friday, July 31, 2009

Questions You Never Asked: Who was the First Disney Comics “Super Villain”?

In comics, we take the concept of the “super villain” so much for granted that it’s small wonder this is a “Question You Never Asked”. There are “villains” and there are “super villains”. The fine line of interpretation comes down to the scope of their villainy and, quite frankly, the impression they make on both their “good” or heroic counterparts – and the readers.

The Beagle Boys, for example, (…even during Carl Barks’Terrible Beagle Boys” phase) for all their enduring tenacity, would probably not be considered “super villains” because they do their thing with mere trickery and brute force. The same criteria also eliminates Peg Leg/Black Pete.

Magica De Spell, by contrast, qualifies, due to her supposedly supernatural abilities – even if a fair amount of that is also “trickery” of sorts. Evil Inventor Emil Eagle also gets a talon in the door, by virtue of his scientific prowess and his “crossover appeal” as a foe to both the “Duck and Mouse” groups of characters.
Even a relative newcomer like alien criminal Tachyon Farflung gains entry to the club, given his otherworldly technology. And Don Rosa’s Black Knight hits all the nasty notes as well. But, just who might be Disney comics’ FIRSTsuper villain”?

The immediate reaction would be to say The Phantom Blot, one of the most memorable malefactors to menace Mickey Mouse, waaay back in 1939. He certainly qualifies in the “fear factor” department, and has the
reputation with both fellow characters and readers alike.

But, while there may be no definitive answer to this question, one answer MAY lie in the TERMsuper villain” itself.

It’s opposite; the term “super hero” has been around seemingly since the Golden Age of Comic Books (Predominantly: The 1940s) , if not longer. However, I’m truly at a loss to pin down when – and by whom – the term “super villain” was coined. Even Wikipedia’s entry for the term “super villain” (
Click HERE) defines it and provides examples throughout the history of fiction… but offers no definitive origin of the term itself.
I’m not entirely certain that the term “super villain”, as such preceded Comic Books’ Silver Age (Predominantly: The 1960s) – when most of the conventions of super heroics born of the Golden Age were fleshed-out and SOLIDIFIED into the basic tenets that still apply today.

To my knowledge, the term “super villain” had never appeared in a DISNEY comic book… until (Drum roll!) MICKEY MOUSE # 111 – released in December of that unforgettable year – 1966!

Yes, indeed… According to the cover caption “A SUPER VILLAIN operates a dynamite-filled blimp in… THE MIDNIGHT MYSTERIES”!

In this lead detective adventure tale by writer Vic Lockman and artist Tony Strobl, said “Super Villain” turns out to be the rather presumptuously (…and unoriginally) named “Crime King”!

The Crime King’s reign is quite short – the story was 14 pages long and he, himself, appears in a pathetically puny TWO PANELS (!) of those 14 pages, and was never seen again…

…BUT, at least by this line of reasoning, and quirks of both timing and terminology, we hereby salute “The Crime King” – Disney comics’ first “Super Villain”!

So modest is he, that we don’t even have an Internet scan to represent him! (…And heck, we even found one for Tachyon Farflung!)

Now, aren’t you sorry you never asked that question?


Anonymous said...

1966 was probably when the terms "super hero" and "super villain" really started to come into widespread use, because of the Batman TV show making the concept familiar to the general (i.e., non-fanboy) public.

Joe Torcivia said...

1966, Anon, was one of the greatest years (perhaps THE greatest year) for many of the things we love! At least that’s MY opinion… and you’ll see that all over this Blog!

It would not surprise me in the least to find that it gave birth to the term “Super Villain”. “Super Hero” certainly predated ’66, but I’d have to agree with you on its entering our “mainstream vocabulary” at that time!

Anonymous said...

"Super Hero" dates back at least to 1917, when the book "Contact" used it to describe the men serving in WWI. Its present meaning goes back at least to the 1930's.

An article by Will Murray in Comic Book Marketplace #63 (Oct. 1998) says that ads in Street & Smith pulp magazines referred to Doc Savage and the Shadow as "those two great super heroes of modern fiction." And that some Shadow stories referred to the villains as "super crooks" or "super criminals."

The word "superhero" also appeared on a cover of the Supersnipe comic book in 1942. That comic book series was a spoof of super heroes.

The phrase was apparently common (in comic books, anyway) by that watershed year, 1966. Archie published an annual entitled "Super Heroes vs. Super Villains." Marvel published a one-shot called "Marvel Super Heroes" that same year, and also used "Marvel Super Heroes" as the umbrella title for their TV cartoons (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Sub-Mariner, and Hulk). DC used the term in Justice League #47 and Superboy #132. In 1967, Marvel changed the name of their comic Fantasy Masterpieces to Marvel Super Heroes.

I don't recall the 1966-68 Batman TV show using "super hero" or "super villain," but I do seem to remember Robin once referring to King Tut as "a super-crook."

Bantam Books published paperback editions of some James Bond novels sometime around 1971, and a blurb on the back covers referred to Bond as a superhero.

DC and Marvel jointly secured a trademark or copyright on the term "super hero" in 1979, and they aggressively enforce it. Which seems rather like Xerox trying to trademark the word "copy."

Joe Torcivia said...

Well, that's some excellent background on both terms, "Super Hero" and "Super Villain"! Thank you for that!