THE BLACK TERRORMedium: Comic books
Published by: Standard Comics
First Appeared: 1942
Creators: Richard E. Hughes (writer) and Don Gabrielson (artist)
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By 1942, comic books were so thickly populated with superheroes, it took some real doing for a new one to stand out from the crowd. The Black Terror, who debuted in the spring of that year, did it by wearing a solid black costume with gold trim, and using a skull and crossbones as his
chest emblem. He did add a little color with his red/blue reversible cape, but with the rest all trying to attract attention by piling on the bright stuff, he succeeded by muting it.
The Terror's series began in Exciting Comics #9, dated May, 1942. Its publisher, Standard Comics (also called Pines, Nedor and a couple of other names at various times), was a minor outfit compared to DC or Dell, but still notable for a few characters like Supermouse (comics' first series about a funny animal superhero) and The Woman in Red (whom some historians consider the first female superhero). The early stories were written by Richard E. Hughes, who is perhaps best remembered for his role in creating Herbie. The artist on the origin story, whose other known credits in comics are somewhere between sparse and nonexistent, was named Gabrielson, but whether his first name was Dave or Don depends on the source of information. Artists who later worked on the series include Sheldon Moldoff (Hawkman, The Black Pirate), George Tuska (Zanzibar the Magician, Crime Does Not Pay) and the team of Jerry Robinson (Batman) and Mort Meskin (Vigilante).
The Black Terror was pharmacist Bob Benton, who got his super powers the same way Hourman, Asterix, Atomic Mouse and many other old-time superheroes did — by ingesting a substance which we would nowadays call a drug. In his case, it was "formic ethers", which he'd been experimenting with in his spare time. Breathing them gave him super strength, and toughened his skin to the point where bullets would bounce off harmlessly. His main motivation for putting on a costume to fight Japs, Nazis and criminals seems to have been the fact that practically everybody with super powers was doing it those days.
And since practically everybody who did that sort of work in those days had a kid sidekick, he gave the same treatment to his assistant, Tim Roland, who wore an identical costume in action. The Black Terror and Tim (who, like Captain America's Bucky, used just his first name as a superhero monicker) were collectively known as The Terror Twins. Tim apparently didn't do much in the way of drawing in readers, as he disappeared from the covers after a few months (tho inside the comics, he remained Bob's partner in crime-fighting). The cast was rounded out by the inevitable love interest, Jean Starr, secretary to the town mayor, who often tagged along on their adventures.
The Black Terror was probably the most popular of Standard's early '40s heroes. Within six months of his introduction, he had his own comic, a distinction shared by only one other from that publisher, Fighting Yank. He was also featured on the cover of America's Best Comics, an anthology of the company's most popular characters. (The first issue of America's Best was dated February, 1942, which, if accurate, would make it The Terror's first appearance — but that may have been a typographic error; and in any case, the origin story was in Exciting Comics #9.)
The Terror lasted far longer than most of the 1940s long underwear guys, but by the end of the decade, even he was losing his grip on sales. All three of the comics that ran him were canceled in 1949, and a few years later, the company itself bit the dust.
But he and his striking appearance weren't forgotten. In the 1970s, Marvel Comics introduced a new character, The Punisher, with a costume strongly reminiscent of The Terror's. And with the trademark no longer current, Eclipse Comics (Airboy, DNAgents) introduced a new Black Terror in 1989, who looked like him and shared the name, but was otherwise different. Later, the original character was used by AC Comics, which makes a specialty of reviving old superheroes such as The Avenger, Captain Flash and The Blue Beetle. In 2001, writer Alan Moore (From Hell, Watchmen) brought the original, along with the company's other stars, back for a crossover with his own Tom Strong, which led to a brief series about them. In 2007, Dynamite Entertainment (Red Sonja) announced a series reviving the Terror along with Pyroman, The Face and other defunct heroes.
The 1989 version of The Black Terror is currently owned by Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, who holds title to Eclipse's properties. Other Eclipse characters, such as The Heap, have turned up in McFarlane's comics, in one form or another, so it's possible this one may someday do the same.