The Firefly arrives on the scene.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: MLJ Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Harry Shorten (writer) and Bob Wood (artist)
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By 1940, the comic book world was definitely waking up to the two-year-old success of its first break-out hit, Superman, and superheroes in his mold were proliferating. But at MLJ Comics, a 1939 start-up, they were already running rampant. By the end of that year, not only did all of their anthology titles sport superheroes on the covers — the back pages, too, were full to bursting with long-underwear …

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… characters. MLJ's Top-Notch Comics, for example, which started with The Wizard as its star, had no less than four of them by its 8th issue — and that was before its biggest star, The Black Hood, made the scene.

The last of those four to appear was The Firefly, who, unlike the average MLJ hero, was acknowledged on the cover of his debut issue (#8, September 1940) with a small inset. Of the three that preceded him in that title, two (Bob Phantom and Kardak the Magician) never were seen or even mentioned on the cover at all.

The Firefly was Harley Hudson, a scientist studying insects (tho he was characterized as a biologist and a chemist as well as an entomologist). He concluded that the ability of some bugs to lift many times their own weight and leap many times their own length had nothing to do with the square-cube law, their radically different structure, or anything else he couldn't do anything about. It was all attributable to muscular coordination, of which theirs was far superior. So he learned how to coordinate his muscles like they did, and next thing you know, he was leaping and lifting with the best of 'em.

With knowledge like that, most real people, then or now, would go into business as tutors, and make a fortune teaching others how to do it. Being a 1940 comic book character, however, Harley made himself a costume and fought crime. Tho he couldn't fly, and his abilities had nothing to do with heat or light, he decided the best insect to name himself after was the firefly. From then on, The Firefly had a regular, monthly feature in Top-Notch Comics.

The character was created by writer Harry Shorten, who also edited the comic, and artist Bob Wood. Shorten was a mainstay of the MLJ line, and in later years found success with a long-running newspaper comic, There Oughta Be a Law!. Wood's greatest success was as co-creator of the first comic book without continuing characters, Crime Does Not Pay.

Just as it was among the first to jump so wholeheartedly into the superhero fad, MLJ Comics was among the first to jump off. The Firefly lasted until Top-Notch #27 (May, 1942). After that, its title was changed to Top-Notch Laugh, and most of the super guys were replaced by the likes of The Three Monkeyteers, Señor Siesta and Pokey Oakie. The whole company went in a similar direction, and had soon renamed itself after its most popular character, Archie.

Decades went by, and eventually superheroes became popular again. The Firefly was next seen in 1966, when, in a story aptly titled "Too Many Superheroes", (along with a majority of his compatriots) he made a walk-on with The Mighty Crusaders. Since then, if he's appeared at all, it's been as a background character when, on rare occasions, Archie Comics trots out its old superheroes for a guest appearance.


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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.