THE MASKED MARVELMedium: Comic books
Published by: Centaur Publications
First Appeared: 1939
Creator: Ben Thompson
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Marvel Comics has always had a "thing" for heroes with the word "marvel" in their names — Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Marvel Girl even before the company was called Marvel, it sported such characters as The Black Marvel and Marvel Boy. But the first
superhero with "marvel" in his monicker came even before Martin Goodman, the company's founder, published his first comic book — back when he made only pulp magazines such as Marvel Tales. The Masked Marvel debuted in Keen Detective Funnies vol. 2 #7, published by Centaur Publications with a cover date of July, 1939.
The Masked Marvel wasn't quite the first jumper-on to Superman's bandwagon. That would be Wonder Man, who came and went two months before the Marvel showed his face (so to speak). But he was one of the first (as were The Fantom of the Fair, who debuted the same month from the same company, and Fox's The Flame) not to get the life sued out of him by DC Comics, Superman's owner. That's because he wasn't an exact clone of the Man of Tomorrow (as Supes was called back then). Just to cite an obvious difference, he didn't even have a wimpy secret identity or, in fact, any secret identity at all. He just showed up out of nowhere, did a good deed or two, and went back where he'd been. Since he had no outside life, it's a mystery why he even bothered to hide his face, other than to live up to his name.
The character got around by flying, but not under his own power — he used an ordinary-looking airplane, albeit one that could go underwater when the situation called for it. He also wasn't particularly invulnerable, at least not that the readers ever saw. He did demonstrate a little super strength from time to time, or at least seemed to be a good deal stronger than average. In fact, he had no defined super powers at all. He was occasionally seen to carry a gun.
The character was created by cartoonist Ben Thompson, who was also the first to adapt Ka-Zar into comic books. Thompson wrote and drew The Masked Marvel through his entire run, which didn't last all that long. He also did a version formatted as a daily newspaper comic, which Watkins Syndicate (Don Dixon) made a brief attempt, in 1939, ro market, along with Skyrocket Steele, Speed Centaur and a few other of the company's properties.
Keen Detective Funnies ran until its 24th issue (dropping the volume designation), dated September, 1940. When it ended, he moved out into his own title, which ran three issues, September through December, 1940. Along the way, he turned up in the back pages of Detective Eye #1, where the title character's schtick was that he sees.
That was it for The Masked Marvel as published by Centaur Comics. In 1947, a character of that name turned up briefly in Prize Comics, fighting Frankenstein. In '49, a publisher even more obscure than Centaur published a western character of that name. Spider-Man was referred to as "a masked marvel" once in his 1962 origin story, before he made his regular costume. Snoopy used that name for his wrist wrestling persona. Marvel's 1988 character Speedball was also called The Masked Marvel especially in his early days as a superhero. In the early '90s, Malibu Comics did a group called The Protectors, where The Masked Marvel (re-named Night Mask to avoid potential trouble from Marvel Comics) bashed evil alongside Amazing-Man, The Arrow and others purporting to be the old Centaur heroes.
And in 2006, Marvel itself finally got around to introducing a character called The Masked Marvel.