Bulletman

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Bulletman

(pop culture)

Sensing that it had a hit on its hands with Captain Marvel, Fawcett Comics rushed out three other comics in early 1940, in order to capitalize on the superhero’s success, but the company soon discovered that launching successful characters was not as easy as it thought. The three comics were: Slam Bang, starring a no-hoper called Diamond Jack; Master Comics, starring (appropriately enough) Master Man; and Nickel Comics, starring Bulletman. Fawcett soon realized that it was in trouble with these titles. Nickel Comics was half the price of other comics but only offered half the page count of its rivals (and, what’s more, only gave the newsstand owners a tiny profit). Master Comics was launched as an oversized comic so that it would stand out from its competitors, but both it and Slam Bang were filled with second-rate strips that failed to excite their readers. So Fawcett decided to cut its losses and merged the three titles into Master Comics, with its seventh issue (October 1940). This version finally went on to enjoy the success that the publisher had hoped for, thanks to Bullet-man and Captain Marvel Junior (a late arrival, in issue #22).

Bulletman’s origin, recounted in Nickel Comics #1, details how Jim Barr attempts to join the police force after seeing his father—a cop— gunned down by gangsters. Vowing to carry on his father’s crusade against crime, Barr becomes a scientist devoted to somehow “curing” the desire for crime. Sadly, years in the laboratory weaken him and, after the inevitable rejection by the police force, it seems as if Barr will have to settle for a career in the police labs. Instead, he works up a new concoction that magically increases his physical and mental abilities, creating an Adonislike physique and vastly amplified intelligence. Armed with this new brainpower, he creates the Gravity Regulator Helmet, a bullet-shaped, chrome headpiece that allows him to fly at great speed and also magnetically repels bullets away from him. Donning a red shirt, open to the waist, yellow tights, and boots, he now adapts his nickname “Bullet” Barr to become Bulletman. In addition to being able to fly, he also possesses telescopic vision.

Fawcett had a small army of second-division heroes, such as Spy Smasher, Ibis the Invincible, Minute Man, Mr. Scarlet and Pinky, Commando Yank, and Golden Arrow. While Bulletman never rose to the exalted status of Captain Marvel, he was probably the star act of these lesser-known characters. His principal writer was Fawcett’s inventive workhorse Otto Binder, and with art from talents such as Jon Small, Mac Raboy, Dan Barry, Bill Ward, and Charles Sultan, the strip was an attractive feature. It came to life, in April 1941, with the introduction of Bulletgirl, created (in the fine tradition of Robin, Bucky, and other sidekicks) so that Bulletman would have someone to talk to and, of course, to add a little glamour to the feature. Bulletgirl was Susan Kent, the inquisitive daughter and secretary of Police Chief Kent; when she stumbles upon Barr’s amazing alter ego, he bows to the inevitable, giving her a hit of his secret elixir and building a second bullet helmet for her. In 1944, the team was accompanied by Bulletboy and a dog called—you guessed it—Bulletdog, who flies thanks to the invention of an anti-gravity collar.

As the “Flying Detectives,” Bulletman and Bulletgirl enjoyed a lengthy run in Master Comics (until issue #106, in 1949), and starred in sixteen issues of Bulletman (from 1941 to 1946), as well as appearing in America’s Greatest Comics, X-Mas Comics, Fawcett Miniatures, and Mighty Midget Comics—a total of around 150 yarns in all. One of the first man-and-woman superhero duos, predating Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Flame and Flame Girl, and Lash Lightning and Lightning Girl, their adventures tended to be fast-moving tales with little room for introspection or characterization. These short stories were frequently peppered with bizarre and macabre foes, including Black Mask, Dr. Weird, Mr. Murder, the Gorgon, the Black Rat, the Invisible Man, and the Black Spider. Later adventures featured a one-off team-up with Captain Marvel Junior and Minute Man, as the Crime Crusaders Club. However, the strip’s status was most convincingly shown with a visit from Captain Marvel himself during the lengthy fight with Captain Nazi in Master Comics #21 and #22.

With the cancellation of their feature in Master Comics #106, the pair faded from view. However, Justice League of America #135 (October 1976) re-introduced Bulletman and Bulletgirl, as denizens of the parallel world Earth-S, along with other Fawcett superheroes including Captain Marvel, the sorcerer Ibis the Invincible, Spy Smasher, and the team of Mr. Scarlet and Pinky. Writer/artist Jerry Ordway guest starred Bulletman and Bulletgirl in The Power of Shazam #8 in 1995.

Writer Grant Morrison co-created a new superheroine, Bulleteer, modeled after Bulletgirl, as a member of his new Seven Soldiers of Victory, in 2005. The series Infinite Crisis (2005–2006) reintroduced the DC Multiverse, including Earth-S with its own versions of Bulletman and Bulletgirl; Bulletman and his archenemy, the Weeper, appeared in a 2011 episode of the animated TV series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. —DAR & PS