Black Terror #11 - Part One "The Voice"

As opposed to America's Best Comics, which had an anthology of heroes, Black Terror comics focused mainly on the eponymous hero, with a couple of text stories and gag strips thrown in on the side. The Black Terror #11 from August 1945 has two Black Terror stories, a 1-page text story called "Luzon Luck" by Charles S. Strong, a 1-page text story by Tex Mumford called "The Bank Bandits", a Mortimer Magic story by the cartoonist known as VEP (Victor E. PazmiƱo), a 1-page text story "Peruvian Boy" by William B McClellan, and a 1-page cartoon called Adam the Chimp.

The lead-in for "The Voice" captures you with a cool image: "A gigantic skull and crossbones in the sky herald a mysterious death to the chosen victims of 'The Voice'! Guided by the whispered clues of dying men, Bob Benton, alias the Black Terror, and his fighting partner, Tim, go west for another spine-tingling, victorious adventure!"

In this story Bob and Tim travel west to Nevada to see an old classmate of Bob's named Fred Swanson. Fred's neighbors have been mysteriously killed after seeing a flying skull and crossbones. Bob, Tim and their friend Jean fly to Fred's property in Nevada to investigate.  That night, after arriving at Fred's shack, the mysterious skull and crossbones appear in the sky as a harbinger of death. It turns out the gruesome sight is just painted on the underside of a weird helicopter. The Black Terror leaps to catch hold of the helicopter as it swings low only to be thrown to the ground. The eerie chopper emits some poisonous gas and then escapes without a sound. "Probably some special engine designed to let the plane sneak up on its enemies. No wonder the murdered men thought they'd been attacked by a ghost!"

Running as super-speed they somehow manage to find the helicopter's secret hangar where they're captured by The Voice. The Voice is sinister-looking character in a purple hood and robe with a skull and crossbones instead of his face. He decides to test his "hemoline gas" on the Terror Twins. Meanwhile, Jean and Fred have been captured and are also brought to the secret base.

As The Voice is locking them in the gas chamber he describes his nefarious plot. "I am an expert on gases--I made it my hobby because I suffered severely from gas in the last war!" He continues "at dawn I will wipe out the entire city of Elkwater...then I'll be in control of one hundred square miles from which to launch me attacks against all America. Mines, factories, human beings...all will work at my command."

As the gas chamber with the Terror Twins begins to fill with hemoline gas, The Voice leaves to commence his plot. Luckily the Black Terror recognizes that the hemoline gas is heavier than air -- if the can only let the gas attack their shackles first they will then be able to break the chains and escape. Fortunately, it works out and they free Jean and Fred.

In the final page our heroes steal one of The Voice's helicopters, leap from plane to plane, kill the henchmen with one of the villain's own hemoline gas bombs, and capture the ringleader. In the last panel Fred congratulates the Black Terror. "You've done a wonderful service to the people of Nevada and all of America, Terror! But I wonder if you can find my friend Bob Benton for me?"

Things to note: Although Tim offered to ask Jean to come along in America's Best Comics #15, he's downright disappointed to find her waiting for them at the airport. Fred Swanson is also put out by Jean's presence when the arrive in Nevada. "I'm glad you could make it so soon, but I didn't know you'd bring a lady along." You'd almost think that Bob was more popular with the guys than the gals.

Again, Bob disappears just as the Black Terror shows up, which might be explained away. But in this case they're in the middle of the friggin' Nevada desert. Wouldn't Jean wonder why the Black Terror was out West? But, even at the last panel neither Fred nor Jean wonder where the Black Terror came from, or why Bob is missing.

Why did the villain name himself The Voice? Given his mastery of gases, and his pirate insignia on his hood, why didn't he call himself The Gas Pirate, or something more obvious. And shouldn't his silent airship have been a dirigible rather than a helicopter? The gas theme was sort of scattershot. I mean, why would someone who's been scarred by mustard gas in WWI take up a hobby of poisonous gases?  In any case, the design of the costume for The Voice is pretty cool.

Interestingly enough, since a gas gave the Black Terror his powers, one would think that Bob Benton could use his ingenuity to combat the voice, but he doesn't. I found a slightly different version of BT's origin on this website:
Pharmacist Bob Benton was being harassed for protection money. After he convinced the goons to give him one more day, they stormed out - knocking down teenager Tim Roland on the way. Feeling bad for Tim, Benton hired him as his assistant.

That evening, Benton and Tim were working on Bob's secret project - trying to develop a formula to help "run down people," as Bob puts it. Tim accidentally adds formic acid, which comes from red ants. The resulting "formic ethers" gave Benton super strength and invulnerability. He decided to use these powers to fight crime, starting with the goons who were hounding him. He sent Tim to a costume shop and then became the Black Terror.

After putting an end to their racket, Tim learned of a plot to crash a subway train. The Black Terror went to prevent the crash. Tim, thinking the Terror may need help, reproduced the experiment and developed the same powers as Bob. Tim showed up in the nick of time and the crash was prevented.

The powers of the Terror Twins seem especially inconsistent in this story. The Black Terror can leap from the ground to the helicopter, punch through a porthole, and hold his breath through poison gas, yet a single punch on the chin knocks him free of the plan. Both Tim and the Black Terror can run for miles very quickly, tear down 10-inch roof beams and bend steel bars, but they're both felled when hit by stout pieces of wood.

This story, however, gives the Terror Twins more opportunities to show off their fighting styles. I like the sequence where Bob leaps up, grabs the propeller, then Tim tries to do the same but is thrown off. The action, like the panel frames, feels very organic.

And the Schomburg cover, as always, is great. I like how the robbers look like humanized versions of the Beagle Boys. The frightened tellers also have some great expressions.











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