The Dart bowls 'em over. Artist: Louis Cazeneuve.

THE DART

Original Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Fox Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Unknown writer and Louis Cazeneuve, artist
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By 1940, only two years after the advent of Superman, the superhero fad had so thoroughly taken over American comic books that some were already in their second generation. Not yet in the way Air Wave was the son of Air Wave or the parents of The Inferior Five had been superheroes before them, but at least in the sense that some publishers were replacing worn-out, passé series about superheroes with …

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… brand-new, fresh superhero series. At Fox Feature Syndicate, a third-rate comics producer that pumped out first-rate volume, that year saw The Bird Man replaced in the title Weird Comics by The Dart.

This happened in Weird Comics #5 (August, 1940), which introduced an ancient (pre-Empire) Roman superhero named Caius Martius, who used a sword and the super power of "darting" through the air, which was apparently similar to what his modern counterparts called "flying", to smash ancient racketeers. He got into the modern world himself when, on the very first page, a sorcerer employed by a particularly evil racketeer named Marius cast a spell to make him "dissolve" into a flat rock, where he'd sleep for 2200 years. Right on schedule (and still on the same page), he emerged from the rock, which was inexplicably on display in an American museum despite the fact that it was, then and now, nothing but a flat rock, and found himself in a world completely different from the one he'd known.

Before another page had ended, he'd had his first encounter with an automobile — seeing The Ricarno Gang perform an apparently motiveless drive-by shooting that orphaned young Ace Barlow. He took the boy under his wing and trained him in the superhero arts, including "darting", which appeared to be less a super power than a learnable skill. A few months later, they were both decked out in modern superhero suits and ready to teach gangsters the ancient wisdom that Crime Does Not Pay (no relation). The third page is where The Dart and Ace (who followed the lead of Mr. Scarlet's Pinky and The Black Terror's Tim, and used his own name for superhero work) took on Ricarno and his henchmen. One "origin story" item remained, taking on a modern surname. It was later that his secret identity became Caius Martius Wheeler.

The Dart was created by an unknown writer, with Louis Cazeneuve, an Argentine-born artist who worked for many publishers during the 1940s, including DC, where he once did Lando, Man of Magic; and Marvel, where his credits included Red Raven. He debuted in the lead position of Weird Comics, but Dr. Mortal, a villain protagonist, was on the cover. But The Dart took the cover with #6 and kept it, eventually appearing on as many of its covers as Thor, The Sorceress of Zoom and all the rest of its features put together.

The Dart and Ace far outlasted the character they'd replaced, but that didn't take much. Weird Comics ran only 20 issues, the final one dated January, 1942. That's when the series ended. They never did appear anywhere else.

— DDM

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Text ©2008 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Fox Feature Syndicate