BULLETMANMedium: Comic books
Published by: Fawcett Publications
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Bill Parker (writer) and Jon Smalle (artist)
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Hourman, The Human Torch and dozens of others. But Bulletman had a gimmick that made him stand out from the crowd — whereas readers had to shell out an entire dime for most comics, Bulletman's cost only five cents. With a cover date of May, 1940, he debuted in the first issue of Nickel Comics.
Nickel Comics was an experiment on the part of its publisher, Fawcett Publications (whose biggest star was Captain Marvel) to see if a comic half as thick, costing half as much, and coming out twice as often, could make it in the marketplace. It didn't. Nickel Comics lasted only eight issues. Bulletman transferred to Master Comics with its 7th issue (October, 1940), displacing Master Man, who had formerly been the cover feature. He continued to appear in Master for years (tho Captain Marvel Jr. edged him off the covers in 1943).
The character was created by writer Bill Parker (who three months earlier had written the first adventures of Ibis the Invincible, Spy Smasher and more) and artist Jon Smalle (who did a number of features for Fawcett, Prize Comics and others). Later on, most stories came out of Jack Binder's shop, which handled The Whizzer for Marvel, Mary Marvel for Fawcett, Captain Battle for Lev Gleason, and many other features.
Bulletman was Jim Barr, son of police sergeant Pat Barr, who had been murdered by criminals when Jim was a child. Like Batman and The Hangman, Jim took this as his cue to swear vengeance against criminals — but unlike them, he didn't have the necessary physical abilities. He did excel in intellectual pursuits, tho, and joined the police force as a forensic scientist, where his ability with ballistics earned him the nickname "Bullet".
Using his superior knowledge of chemistry, he concocted a formula which, he thought, would purge the human body of the putative toxins that made people turn criminal. Trying it on himself, he unexpectedly added 60 pounds of muscle overnight, along with a similar increase in brainpower. As was usually the case when this sort of thing happened in a comic book of the early 1940s, he made himself a gaudy costume and fought crime under an assumed name, in his case "Bulletman".
The name wasn't based on what they called him at the police station — it referred to his "gravity regulating" helmet, which enabled him to fly, but at the cost of making his head look just like a bullet. It did, tho, have the additional benefit of magnetically preventing real bullets from reaching his body. Adding greater relevance to the name was his penchant for crashing through things head-first, as shown month after month on the early covers of Nickel and Master Comics.
Bulletman was probably runner-up to Captain Marvel, for spinning off the most similarly-themed superheroes. It started in Master #13 (April, 1941), when Jim's girlfriend, Susan Kent, discovered his secret identity (the first to do so, despite the fact that he didn't wear a mask). He made a gravity regulating helmet for her, and she joined him as Bulletgirl (anticipating by eight months a similar move on the part of DC Comics' Hawkman). In 1943, a neighborhood kid joined the team as Bulletboy, and there was even a Bulletdog, when they gave a gravity regulating helmet to a pet pooch. Bulletman was also a member (along with Captain Marvel Jr. and Minute Man) of The Crime Crusaders Club (no relation), which might have been Fawcett's answer to The Justice Society of America, if not for the fact that it appeared only in one issue (Master Comics #41, August 1943, where it wasn't even mentioned on the cover).
Bulletman didn't spawn any movie serials or radio shows, but in comics, he did better than any other Fawcett character except those connected with Captain Marvel. He had his own comic for 16 issues, from 1941-46. He also appeared in America's Greatest Comics, where the publisher gave extra exposure to its most popular characters. His final appearance was in Master Comics #106 (August, 1949).
After more than a quarter century of oblivion, Bulletman was brought back by DC Comics, which acquired the Fawcett superhero characters in the mid-1970s. Justice League of America #135 (October, 1976) launched a three-issue slugfest that featured the lot of them, among at least two dozen superheroes altogether. Since then, like Doll Man, Thunderbolt and any number of other super characters DC has bought from other publishers, he's been a minor but persistent background element of the DC Universe.