HYDROMANMedium: Comic Books
Published by: Eastern Color Printing
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Bill Everett
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In the early years of Superman's commercial success, publishers rushed to have competing characters on the stands — and they made characters who would sieze on virtually any excuse to become superheroes. Any unusual ability, no matter how useless for doing good, was sufficient motivation to put on a costume, make
up a flashy name, and sally forth to battle crime and/or evil. The Thin Man could make himself flat enough to slip under doors. Vapo-Man could turn into a cloud of gas. The Comet could kill people just by looking at them. Hydroman, who could change himself into living water, whatever that is, was right up there.
Eastern Color Printing, which was responsible for the first modern comic book, Famous Funnies, got on the bandwagon with Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics, which had a first-issue cover date of August, 1940. The title feature wasn't the only newspaper comic reprint in it — the ftrst story in the issue was about Flyin' Jenny. But the cover featured Hydroman, by Bill Everett, whose earlier water-based hero, Sub-Mariner, was already making a name for himself at the company that is now Marvel Comics.
Hydroman started when chemist Harry Thurston accidentally spilled an unknown formula on his hand, instantly turning it into gushing water. Despite the easy availability of an "antidote" to the hitherto-unseen substance, his first thought was to call his friend, Bob Blake, for whatever help Bob might be able to provide. Tho he was currently busy (in an unspecified capacity) with the case of the Oriental Invaders, Bob arrived while Harry's arm was still spilling all over the floor, and promptly got covered with a big jar of the mystery chemical, turning him into water.
Despite lacking a larynx (or any other anatomical feature), Bob found no difficulty voicing a protest against this turn of events. That's when Harry thought of the antidote, and poured it into him. Bob was restored as easily as clicking "undo" on a modern computer, and so thoroughly even his suit wasn't wrinkled — or even wet. Without another thought (such as "Does this really seem like a good idea?") Harry offered to inject the stuff into Bob's bloodstream, and Bob said "Sure thing!"
Tho there wasn't any particular reason to suppose it would have a good effect, the injection gave Bob the ability to switch between forms at will. Harry happened to have a few odds and ends lying around, to make a superhero suit out of, and Bob christened himself "Hydroman". His girlfriend, Joyce Church, who had witnessed all this, opined, "You're a nut, Bobby!" Nonetheless, acting on a hunch, Hydroman went straight to the basement office of an old tenement house, barged in on a secret meeting, and drowned the guy running it. Before the six-page story was over, Hydroman, back in human form, delivered a punch in the jaw to the Oriental Invaders' representative, warning, "Americans just won't be whipped!" Pearl Harbor was still more than a year in the future.
The 14th issue (September, 1942) introduced Rainbow Boy, who acted as his sidekick while also holding down a series of his own in the back pages. With the 16th, the Reg'lar Fellers were dropped from the title and the line-up, and Everett left the series. But Hydroman, tho banished from the cover (which from then on featured American soldiers at war), continued. His final appearance was in #29 (March, 1945).
This made him one of the more successful 1940s superheroes, despite the fact that he stretched the reader's credibility just in finding something useful to do with his super power. His publisher is long-since out of business, but he has his share of would-be revivers. AC Comics (Femforce) reprinted one of his adventures in 2008, and figured in Project Superpower, from Dynamite Entertainment (Red Sonja).