The Black Cobra gives The Professor a present.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Dynamic Publications
First Appeared: 1941
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Most American comic book fans, being more interested in superheroes than in comics in general, know that the genre flourished in the 1940s, then flourished again starting in the '60s. A majority will agree that, despite claims by partisans of J'onn J'onzz and Captain Flash, the re-flourishing was sparked by the appearance of a …

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new version of The Flash in 1956. But The Flash wasn't the only '40s hero who had a new version in the '50s. Aside from outright revivals, such as Marvel's "big three", Captain America, The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner getting a brief second go-'round in 1953, guys like The Flame and The Shield were re-done. In fact, even an obscuro like The Black Cobra was tried again, and his original publisher didn't even leave a corporate heir, with an ownership interest in the character, to do the trying.

Blackie's original appearance was in Dynamic Comics #1, (October, 1941), where Major Victory was the cover-featured star. It was published by Dynamic Publications, one of many minor companies putting out a handful of comics in the early '40s. This one was run by Harry "A" Chesler, the comics entrepreneur who had been behind the company that originally brought Amazing-Man, The Fantom of the Fair and others before the public, including the very first masked hero in comic books, The Clock; and would later publish The Black Dwarf.

The Black Cobra (no relation, by the way) was Jim Hornsby, a law clerk working in the office of his father, the local district attorney. He dressed up and battled crime and/or evil for the same reason most of the other superheroes did, whatever that is. His younger brother, Bob, did the same, calling himself "Cobra Kid". Nobody knows who wrote or drew the story that introduced them.

There seems to have been some discrepancy about his superhero suit. The colorist thought he wore that old standby, underwear on the outside, and rendered it as green trunks over yellow tights. But the artist apparently didn't get the word, and drew him without containing lines for such coloring.

Whatever he wore, he didn't make much of an impression on readers, and was gone in the second issue in a wholesale revamp of the title, where Dynamic Boy (not Dynamic Man's later partner), Lady Satan and The Green Knight all debuted in the back pages. He next turned up years later, when L.B. Cole (Wonderworm, Classics illustrated), one of comics' all-time greatest cover artists, drew him in the back pages of Captain Flight #6 (January, 1945).

Blackie was in the next three issues of Captain Flight, plus #11 (the final issue), but no such luminary as Cole ever drew him again. In fact, his writers and artists are again unknown. After Captain Flight folded, its publisher (Four Star Publications, which also licensed Bruce Gentry and Brenda Starr), too, was finished with him.

Then there was Black Cobra #1 (November, 1954), published by Ajax Comics (Spunky the Smiling Spook, The Lone Rider). Robert Farrell, Ajax's publisher, had been an associate of Victor Fox, and had fallen into possession of Fox's Samson, Phantom Lady and other properties when Fox got out of the business. But it's unclear how he'd come to own The Black Cobra.

Since it was evident from the cover that the character had been at least altered since his last appearance — he was depicted with his hair uncovered, rather than wearing his original cowl that resembled a real cobra's, it was natural to assume that Farrel had simply wanted a superhero and grabbed a name for one that hadn't been used in several years (or very prominently at all). But the fact that most of the interior had been reprinted from Captain Flight indicated that no, there was a connection to the original Black Cobra.

But this certainly did seem like a new character. The District Attorney's office was gone. Instead, The Black Cobra was FBI agent Steve Drake, and Cobra Kid was just an office boy he worked with. His reason for putting on a costume was even less clear, because he did the same thing in both guises, i.e., bash Commies. But if there was confusion between new and reprinted material, the readers never saw an explanation.

This time, The Black Cobra lasted three issues. The final one was dated January, 1955. He wasn't brought back again — unless you count the inevitable revival by AC Comics, where no superhero is ever so defunct he can't be brought back. AC guest-starred the original "Jim Hornsby" version with their Femforce a couple of times during the '90s, then starred him alone in their All-Hero Retro Comics Annual #1 in 1998. But when they reprinted a few stories in Men of Mystery Comics, "Steve Drake" is the one they used.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Dynamic Publications.