Sky Wolf escapes the deliberate wreckage of his own plane. Artist: Bob Fujitani.

SKY WOLF

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Hillman Periodicals
First Appeared: 1942
Creators: Harry Stein (writer) and Mort Leav (artist)
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Science fiction, like comics, traces its roots back to ancient times; but it was during the 1920s and '30s that sci-fi rose to prominence as a popular genre of fiction. At the same time, adventure stories bordering on science fiction, those based on the most up-to-date technology that could be used to drive exciting stories, …

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… rose along with it. That was when aviation heroes such as Tailspin Tommy, Smilin' Jack and Barney Baxter came along. World War II, by providing a backdrop for their adventures, reinforced the trend.

Just before the U.S. entered the war, Hillman Periodicals, which had previously made only a few half-hearted attempts to jump on the Superman bandwagon with some lackluster superheroes, came out with a whole comic book full of aviation heroes, Air Fighters Comics. It fizzled, but a year later, when America was fully committed to the war, they tried a second issue with all-new characters, and this time it clicked. Among the heroes introduced in Air Fighters #2 (November, 1942) were Iron Ace, The Flying Dutchman and Sky Wolf. The latter was so effective a Nazi fighter that in his very first story, Hitler himself, desperate to get rid of him, actively participated in a plan to capture him.

That story was written by Harry Stein (The Black Condor) and drawn by Mort Leav (The Hangman). They created him as a Blackhawk-inspired charismatic leader of a small band of pilots operating outside regular military chains of command.

Their status as separate agents in carrying on the war was emphasized by the fact that one of them, "The Judge", was there because he was too old to get into England's Royal Air Force. Another, "The Turtle", would have been rejected by most regular military organizations on grounds of disability — he was a Pole whose tongue had been cut out by Nazis, and communicated by tapping on his own head in Morse Code. The final non-commanding member of the group was Cocky Roche. who could have gotten into the military if he'd had the temperament for it, but he was a glib, clever little Cockney who didn't fit in smoothly with more conventional outfits.

And then there was Sky Wolf himself, whose evident leadership skills didn't help much when it came to fitting into the regimented life of standard command structures. He wore the pelt of a white wolf into battle, arranged so the wolf's head covered his own, with the man's face visible through the wolf's wired-open mouth. No origin story, offering info on who he was and how he came to be in his situation, was given, but it eventually came out that he was American, and his original name was Larry Wolfe. His adventuring name was occasionally spelled as one word, but it was always two separate ones in the series logo.

Another element of the series was the type of aircraft Sky Wolf and his cohorts flew. Instead of four regular airplanes, they had two contrivances that resembled two planes bolted together. How they flew can be explained only by the fact that they existed in comic books. The same explanation holds true for the fact that each could split apart in the air, into two vehicles. Why they did things this way, instead of simply flying normal aircraft, defies explanation.

A notable early Sky Wolf story introduced The Heap, comics' first muck monster, a character type that now includes Marvel's Man Thing, DC's Swamp Thing, and several minor shambling creatures from various publishers. The Heap returned in several Sky Wolf stories, and eventually got a series of his own in the back pages.

When the war ended and air fighting began to grow obsolete, Air Fighters changed its name to that of its biggest star, Airboy, who was deemed to have a future in civilian life. But the more war-specific were only gradually phased out of the back pages. Sky Wolf's series ended in Vol. 3 #10 (whole #34, dated November, 1946), but he was back two issues later, in a meeting with Airboy — Hillman's first and only crossover, unless you count early appearances of The Heap. After that, he was gone.

But not for good. In 1986, Eclipse Enterprises (Zot!, DNAgents) revived Airboy; and The Heap and Sky Wolf came along with him. He looked a little different (apparently the wolf pelt was no longer wearable after all those years), but he was the same guy. The revival ended in 1989. Eclipse's properties are now owned by Todd McFarlane (Spawn). Marvel made a stab at a World War II period piece similar to and also named Sky Wolf, but that went nowhere. Today, Sky Wolf is scarcely even remembered

— DDM

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Text ©2007-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hillman Periodicals.