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GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK ... by Wayne Skiver
During the Golden Age of comics, especially in the early years of World War Two, the comic book industry exploded. There were more publishing houses than a reader could keep track of and nearly all of them had their own stable of colorful costumed heroes. Many have been re-vamped and resurrected through the years, never to be forgotten. The Black Terror is such a character.
The Black Terror is, in reality, pharmacist Bob Benton. Having created a tonic from the formic acid of red ants, he inhaled its vapors, or as he called them, "formic ethers", and gained steel hard skin and strength to match. Basically the Terror was the Superman of his universe. Nedor comics (also known as both "Better" and "Standard") was the publishing venture of Ned Pines and was one of the bigger comic producers of the Golden Age. Through it all The black garbed, skull and cross-bones wearing hero was one of their most popular characters.
The Terror first appeared in Exciting Comics #9 in 1941, the cover and that story are reproduced in this very volume. He also appeared with many other heroes from the Better/Nedor/Standard stable such as Pyroman, Doc Strange, the Fighting Yank, and Miss Masque in America's Best Comics as well as having his own title, the first issue of which is also reprinted in this volume for your enjoyment sans the back-up feature.
The Black Terror is a favorite of comic historians and collectors largely due to his strikingcostume design. It's fairly simple yet there is no denying it has a great amount of eye appeal. Like most Golden Age heroes. the Terror's powers were often portrayed a bit inconsistently. One issue he may have bullets bouncing off of his skin harmlessly as he tosses a car through the air, the next he is tied to a post with a simple rope which he can't break free from. He and his equally-powered boy sidekick also seem to have a talent for being knocked out with blows to the head ... a lot. Such is the charm of those classic stories and an often rotating stable of writers and ghost-writers. This, of course, brings us to the subject of the Black Terror's boy sidekick.
When you think of Super Hero sidekicks what names come to mind? Robin, Toro, Bucky, Dyna-Mite, Kid Flash, Aqualad perhaps? How about one simply named ... Tim? Yes, the Black Terror, "America's Fighting Nemesis of Crime" was assisted by a kid who in real life was named Tim Roland, yet when evil reared its head, he donned similar garb as his mentor and became, uh ... "Tim". Alright, "Bucky" isn't that great a name either, I admit.
In the origin story it is not really clarified if Tim is an orphan or not, or was simply taking a nap on the sidewalk. In any case, Bob Benton gives him a job working in his pharmacy and, in fact, a mistake made by the boy actually inspires the creation of the formic ether formula. Together the two are referred to as "The Terror Twins" and through dozens of adventures we now look back and wonder if that kid had any parents or if he just always seemed to be at work for Bob. That slave driver! In later stories, Tim is finally referenced as Bob's ward, but the first few years are rather ambiguous.
The Terror and the rest of the Better/Nedor/Standard heroes vanished by the end of the 1940's to be replaced by stories of Jungle Lords and Cowboys. Eventually they lapsed into public domain. This basically means that literally anyone or any publisher can use the characters if they so wish. Many have over the years, re-vamping and re-designing to their hearts content, trying to make some, such as the Terror, into "dark" heroes or anti-heroes. Bill Black, known for his love of classic characters, has lovingly reprinted many of the original stories over the years as well as using a re-vamped "modern" version of the character. Alan Moore and Alex Ross have put their spin on him as well.
Some of our writers on this volume have put a slightly different take on things in each of their new and exciting stories, but stayed with the Golden Age version as the root basis of a great American hero. From a story that would have been right at home in the pages of Exciting comics, to a more "pulp" version, even a fantastic story that delves a bit deeper into the psyche of being a hero, each author has penned a Black Terror tale guaranteed to entertain and keep you turning the page.
Now get ready for EXCITEMENT, THRILLS, and FUN with the one and only ... BLACK TERROR!
Associate Editor, Wild Cat Books
TERRORS by Barry Reese
The formic ethers enveloped Bob Benton's face, seeping into his lungs and quickly dispersing their incredible effects throughout his body. They smelled like warm cinnamon, a scent that tended to cling to him even when he wasn't dressed in his black attire with its famous skull and crossbones chest piece.
Without the ethers, he was merely an unassuming appearing pharmacist. With them, he gained enhanced strength and skin so tough that bullets bounced harmlessly off of it.
Bob closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply. When the last of the ethers had been expended, he turned his steely gaze over the fields surrounding him. He was in full uniform, including mask, which marked the final transformation from Bob Benton to the Black Terror. Normally he would have been accompanied by his young partner, Tim Roland, but the youngster was still in the states right now, keeping beautiful Jean Starr company. Bob missed the boy's infectious optimism but he was secretly glad that Tim wasn't in the middle of this.
The Black Terror was deep within enemy lines, trudging through the German countryside with two United States soldiers at his back. The three of them had been traveling thus for nearly three days, so long that the Terror had been forced to re-expose himself to the ethers twice to keep his vitality up. The soldiers, in excellent physical shape, were beginning to lag behind ... Bob actually considered sharing the vaporous solution with them but he was down to just a handful of capsules and feared he might need them himself. Besides, the only other person with whom he'd conducted experiments was Tim, which meant that the ethers might still have side effects on others.
The sun was low in the western sky, giving the tall grasses a strange sickly color. Overhead, a few birds flew lazily past. Through the fading odor of warm cinnamon, the Black Terror thought he could detect the small of food: a meat stew of some kind, he mused.
"Think we oughtta call back to Eagle-1?" asked the stockier of the soldiers, a young man named Wendell. He hailed from New York City and had that region's accent. Eagle-1 was the codename for the plane that had snuck the group inside German territory.
The second soldier, a tanned fellow with dark hair and a short beard, was in his late thirties. He moved with the tired vigilance of a man who had seen far too much war in his time. Named Vincent, he was a quiet fellow that had quickly won the Black Terror's favor, coming across as dependable and capable. "Not yet," Vincent muttered. "We're too close to the Krauts. If any of them heard us, we'd be in a world of trouble."
"But how far are we from the base?" Wendell asked, looking around at the rapidly setting sun and looking just as young as his nineteen years would allow. "I mean, shouldn't we have found it by now?"
The Black Terror came to a stop, holding up a black gloved hand. "Hush," he warned.
At the hero's word, both soldiers fell into step beside him and grew silent. From just over the next hill, the sounds of men speaking in German could faintly be heard.
The Black Terror led the way forward, crouching low in the tall grasses when they reached the peak. He looked over the edge and saw a small military complex that had been set up around a country house. From the looks of things, there could be as many as two dozen soldiers and scientists camped there.
"I want the two of you to stay here while I go in to check things out," the Terror whispered.
Vincent shook his head quickly. "Too dangerous. We were told to stick close to you at all times."
"Vincent, I appreciate the offer. But I'm far more capable of taking care of things than the two of you. Having you along would only slow me down."
"The Brass is worried you might be compromised," the wily vet declared. His words struck at the Black Terror's heart because he'd known they would come eventually.
The U.S. government had come to the Black Terror with reports that the Germans were working on their own class of superhumans. These men were said to have strength and durability greater than the Terror's ... but with a peculiar kind of madness that drove them over the edge within weeks of their empowerment. Several of the killers had been captured by the Americans, with exhaustive testing following. What they had found had been disturbing at the very least....
These men had toxicology results that were almost identical to those of the Black Terror, leading everyone to assume that the Germans had somehow created their own versions of the formic ethers. Bob had studied the results himself and come to the same conclusion. Furthermore, he'd been able to locate the source of the German solution's defect: they were missing a critical component that made his own version of the ethers safe to use.
The Black Terror had been furious to discover that his work had been perverted in this fashion. It was inevitable that someone would eventually stumble onto his secret, though he wasn't at all sure how it had been done. But to see it destroying lives and being used by the enemy....!
"Are you trying to tell me that some people believe I'm collaborating with them?" he asked Vincent, keeping his tone even.
"Not at all!" the army grunt hurriedly replied. "It's just that if the Germans have managed to create a variant of your formula, they might have some means of combating it ... or even controlling you."
Bob pondered that. There had been some clues that the men the Germans were using as test subjects might not be soldiers, but rather political prisoners of some sort. The fact that they willingly aided their captors after their transformation did seem to imply that there was some method of mind control involved. "Fair enough," he relented. "But stay close to me."
Both Vincent and Wendell nodded their assurances and soon the trio was creeping towards the buildings below. The sun had continued to dip out of sight, leaving everything in a twilight gloom. There was a guard patrolling the perimeter as they approached but he was quickly silenced as the Black Terror sprang up behind him and gave him a firm tap to the head. Bob wasn't against killing when necessary--especially in a case like this, which was part of a war--but the chemist was not a violent man by nature. As such, he left the Nazi alive, but he wouldn't be waking up for quite some time.
Vincent and Wendell took up positions along the opposite edges of one of the main building's wall, each keeping an eye out for approaching Germans. The Black Terror crept towards a window, peering inside. The room was illuminated by a number of strong lights, making it easy to see everything in the room.
There was a scientist present, recognizable by his long white lab coat and thick glasses. He was in his late fifties, with messy gray hair and a disheveled nature. With him were two female nurses, both pretty young things, and three men. The men were shirtless and wearing loose-fitting slacks and combat boots. Each of the men was standing stock-still, their glassy eyes staring off into space.
Before Bob's horrified eyes, the scientist raised a small red capsule under the nostrils of one of the men, cracking it open easily. The scientist and the nurses were both wearing nose filters, he noticed. They were small devices that could be slipped into the nasal cavity to filter out certain elements from the air. They were not nearly as effective as traditional gas masks but they were effective against some things ... like the etherous vapors being unleashed.
The bare-chested figure inhaled deeply, his eyes widening as the drugs flooded his system. Bob remembered the first time he'd taken the substance, the rush of energy and power it had given him. He'd immediately feared the potentially addictive effects the fumes might have ... but he had tinkered with the formula as much as possible to limit that danger. There was still the chance of a psychological addiction, of course, but both himself and Tim were strong enough to avoid that.
The scientist stepped back and spoke to the drug-enhanced man in German. "How do you feel?"
The fellow's voice was somewhat slurred and monotone. "I feel ... powerful."
"What are they saying?" Wendell asked, distracting the Black Terror.
The hero waved him to silence and pressed his ear against the window. Bob could speak German fluently but their words were so muffled by the wall between them that he found it difficult to make it all out.
Inside the room, the scientist was holding out his hand to one of the nurses. The pretty young blonde handed him a Luger pistol. Before the Black Terror's narrowed eyes, the scientist put the gun point-blank against the other man's chest. Bob could barely believe his eyes--though his own formula made him bullet proof, at that range it would still hurt badly.
The scientist fired, the noise making both Vincent and Wendell jump in alarm. The bullet bounced harmlessly off the test subject's body, though it left a red welt that looked like it would bruise horribly.
"A definite success!" someone boomed from the doorway to the laboratory. The Black Terror watched as the scientist turned in surprise, his face quickly dissolving into an emotionless mask. For just a moment, though, Bob was sure that he'd detected not only distaste but fear.
The newcomer wore a crisp black S.S. uniform and was very fit. He had short-cropped black hair and dark eyes, which gazed out from a handsome if somewhat cruel looking face.
"Colonel Schmidt," the scientist said, offering up the stiff armed salute that had become infamous throughout the world. "We didn't expect you until the morning."
The Colonel smiled coolly. "That's why I'm here tonight, Herr Clarke. Your experiments have caught the full attention of the Fuehrer. He wishes me to bring back three of your Übermenschen for his inspection."
"But ... we are not yet finished with the tests!"
The Colonel approached the test subject and jabbed at him with a finger. The shirtless man did not even flinch. "You haven't yet mastered the ability to keep them alive for more than a few days or weeks?"
"I think we have," the scientist stammered. "As you can see, we have enhanced our control of their actions. They will accept basic commands but for the most part they are incapable of raising up arms against any of us."
Colonel Schmidt studied the scientist with a threatening air. "Then why do you think he is not ready to be shown off to our leader?"
Clarke hesitated before finally answering. "The mind control process is still unstable. While we are able to fully control his actions for the most part there are still times when he can break free and--"
A sudden sound from outside made everyone in the room turn towards the window where the Black Terror was in full view. He let out a curse, whirling about to see what had happened.
Wendell had allowed his guard to lapse and now a German soldier was grappling with him, shouting for others to assist.
Vincent ran towards his friend, pointing his gun towards the scene. He did not fire for fear of striking Wendell.
The Black Terror heard the sounds of other men approaching and felt a nag of irritation that Wendell and Vincent had insisted on coming along. Before anyone else could move, the black-garbed hero burst forward, grabbing hold of the struggling Nazi and lifting him off the ground. This allowed Vincent to fall free.
"Get out of here! Both of you!" the Black Terror commanded. This time, the men listened to him, taking off for the hills as fast as they could.
The Black Terror was left alone to face a base full of Nazis....