Golden Lad works on a very local case. Artist: Mort Meskin.

GOLDEN LAD

Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Spark Publications
First Appeared: 1945
Creator: Mort Meskin
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The major superheroes of the 1940s, like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, were all in place by the middle of the decade. Some, such as Starman and The Black Hood, had already come and gone. But there were still small fry, some from very small publishers, yet to be seen. Spark Publications (Atoman) had only one superhero at first, The Green Lama, and he was …

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… licensed from outside comics. Other than that, the closest they had was Lt. Hercules, a mere parody of the genre, when they launched their second title, which introduced a sure-fire superhero. Golden Lad #1 was dated July, 1945,

Golden Lad was created by Mort Meskin, whose earlier work includes Fiction House's Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and DC's Vigilante. It isn't known for sure, but Meskin may have written the script as well as drawn the story. Other series introduced in that comic include Swiftarrow (a crossbow-wielding urban adventurer), Air Rover (a Blackhawk type) and Sandusky & the Senator (comedy).

Golden Lad himself was Tommy Preston, a grade-school kid who lived with his grandfather. Grandpa Preston owned an antique store located in the building's street level, and Tommy often helped him out. One day, he ran across an old Aztec artifact — a golden sacrificial totem in the shape of a heart. Its legend was that it held the strength of a thousand martyred warriors (the Aztecs, as we know, were into human sacrifice). When Tommy said the phrase "Heart of Gold" (no relation), he was instantly transformed into Golden Lad, who had the usual super powers of strength, invulnerability and the ability to fly, and even dressed like a superhero.

How thoughtful of the ancient Aztecs, to key the release of their magic to a phrase in modern English!

Naturally, Golden Lad used his super powers in the cause of righteousness. They all do. The crimes he battled tended to be those that affected him personally, neighborhood affairs rather than world-impacting evil. The war was just running down at the time, so most Americans were directing their attention homeward.

The 5th issue of Golden Lad's comic, dated June, 1946, ran counter to prevailing trends in comics. Most of them got smaller as paper prices rose and they held the line price-wise, so it was common for comics to go from 52 to 36 pages. But this one went the other way. The first through fourth issues were 36 pages each, but #5 was 52. A new superhero series, about a couple of no-accounts named Shaman and The Flame, was introduced. Also added was Golden Girl, a spin-off of the comic's star.

Golden Girl was Peggy Shane, one of Tommy's classmates, who was in his neighborhood when she saw him drop his familiar "Heart of Gold" talisman on the sidewalk. A moment later, she spotted and picked up a fragment of it, and identified it aloud, using the phrase "Heart of Gold". She suddenly became Golden Girl, who righted a wrong before changing back. The closest the male hero ever came to even knowing about her existence was to wonder idly who'd righted that wrong while he wasn't watching. A blurb at the end of the story told readers to look for a new Golden Girl story in the next issue, but if they did, they were bound to be disappointed, because that was the last one.

In fact, it was the last comic Spark Publications ever made. Its Green Lama title had bit the dust a few months earlier, as did Atoman, Spark's third and last title. Aside from the fact that somebody who looked like him once turned up in a Thunderbunny story, neither Golden Lad nor Golden Girl was ever seen again.

— DDM

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