IRON VICMedium: Comic books
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Bernard Dibble
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The urge to fill comic books up with superheroes on the eve of World War II must have been a strong one. It affected not just those publishers who had committed their resources to the fledgling form, Nedor (Black Terror, Pyroman), Fox (Blue Beetle, Green Mask), Fawcett (Mr. Scarlet, Bulletman) and all the rest. Dell, which tended to license properties from the likes
of MGM and Warner Bros. rather than develop ones of its own, had The Owl and Phantasmo, to name just two. Even United Feature Syndicate (Peanuts, Twin Earths), which gave little indication of having any interest in comic books except as a vehicle for re-selling such newspaper comics as Fritzi Ritz and Li'l Abner, succumbed to the urge to publish a couple of superheroes.
Their superheroes were all nonentities like Mirror Man and The Triple Terror. The most prominent of an obscure lot was Iron Vic, who debuted with his own logo at the top of the cover, alerting potential buyers they were being offered something that hadn't been seen before.
Besides publishing anthologies like Tip Top Comics and Sparkler Comics, United Feature allowed many of its stars to shine on their own in Single Series, each issue of which highlighted one of its headliners like Broncho Bill or Little Mary Mixup. In 1940, for the first and only time, Single Series ran something that United Feature wasn't also syndicating to newspapers. Iron Vic was on the cover of Single Series #22, his stance silently proclaiming for all to see that here stood a sure-fire superhero.
Iron Vic's story started dramatically enough. He was found on the beach, close to death, by a couple of guys who would probably qualify as reasonably mad scientists, and he didn't even remember who he was, how he'd gotten there, or anything else about his prior life. Fortunately, one of them, Professor Carvel, had developed a serum intended to superheroize the subject, but hadn't tested it. Unfortunately, he got killed right after administering it to the near-dead stranger. It made him physically better, but didn't improve his memory.
After Carvel's death, Iron Vic, as he was called, continued to live with his other discoverer, Dr. Degman, and instead of working for a living, used the super powers Carvel's treatment had left him with to thwart criminals and do other adventury stuff. He didn't maintain a secret identity, like most of the superheroes.
He didn't wear a flashy, skin-tight costume, either. He wasn't a plainclothes superhero like Johnny Thunder or Dick Cole, or even, quite, a minimalist one, like Crimebuster. He wore an ordinary tuxedo like The Face and Lando, Man of Magic, but with the addition of a cape, like The King and The Phantom Detective.
He was created by Bernard Dibble, whose prior work at United Feature included The Captain & the Kids and Hawkshaw the Detective. It's the only non-humorous work Dibble, who has also continued series started by Rube Goldberg, and Milt Gross, is known for.
United Feature didn't continue to put Vic on the cover. He transferred almost immediately to the back pages of Tip Top Comics, which he shared with Jim Hardy, Joe Jinks and things like that. But he didn't remain a superhero for long. Rankling about his parasitic situation, Vic sought employment as a professional baseball star, undeterred by the fact that competing by using his drug-enhanced abilities, while not quite scandalous back in those days, was hardly very sportsman-like. Before long, he was playing ball for a local team, The Panthers, and never even talked about superheroing anymore. His special abilities didn't get mentioned anymore either. He was just better at everything than anybody else.
Dibble continued to do stories about him in the Tip Top back pages, but he had another sudden career change after another year or so. In 1942 he joined the U.S. Marines, where his efforts were bent to the erradication of Nazis. He never did recover his memory, but eventually forgot to worry about it. That gig lasted until the end of the war, and then it was back to baseball.
By the way, Dibble himself had once played in the minor leagues.
Vic had another moment in the sun. By 1947, United Feature was no longer publishing its own comic books, but had licensed them to St. John Publications (which also licensed properties from Famous Studios and Terrytoons). One of St. John's titles, Comics Revue (no relation), functioned much like the old Single Series, devoting whole issues to Ella Cinders, Gordo, Hap Hopper and Iron Vic.
By that time, United was no longer producing original comic book material. (Comics Revue was made entirely of reprints.) Vic was the last character they had, that had once been a superhero.