Air Man delivers a special one. Artist: Harry Sahle.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Centaur Publications
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: George Kapitan (writer) and Harry Sahle (artist)
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For a relative pipsqueak of a comic-book publishing company in the early 1940s, Centaur Publications had an awful lot of superheroes. Of course, it's expected that giants like DC, Marvel and Archie Comics would be crawling with the things, given the way the genre so dominated the funnybook field back then. But even discounting Amazing-Man, whom some people may actually …

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… have heard of, Centaur had had Fantoman, Minimidget, The Iron Skull and dozens of others during its brief existence. One of Centaur's less prepossessing heroes was Air Man.

Tho Centaur had been among the first to hop on the Superman bandwagon and start pumping out super guys, Air Man didn't come along until Keen Detective Funnies #23 (August, 1940). Superheroes already in place in that very issue included The Eye and The Masked Marvel. Air Man did, however, appear on the cover.

The story was probably written by George Kapitan, who did a few Dick Cole and Sgt. Spook stories for Novelty Press. The artist identification is a little more certain. It was drawn by Harry Sahle, who later created Candy for Quality Comics. The two together also created The Black Widow for Marvel.

That story concerned Professor Claude Stevens, a scientist who got murdered, just like those in the origin stories of Captain Flag, The Human Bomb and The Shield. But this guy didn't have a fancy specialty that made him important to the American military — he was only an ornithologist — so the authorities didn't take much interest in finding the guys who did it. As in the other three cases, it was his son who became the superhero, but here he did it because that was the only way the old man would get any justice.

So Drake Stevens did what any son would do in such a situation — at least, in comic books. He put on a costume, complete with gas-filled wings for buoyancy and a jet pack for scooting around, and sallied forth, armed with bombs to drop on bad guys, to bring his father's murderers to justice. Showing the same imaginative verve as the company's Mighty Man and Fire-Man, he called himself Air Man.

A flying hero with wings makes a good visual image, one Fox Comics tried to exploit with Birdman and Marvel with The Red Raven. But Hawkman was already established as the hero with wings. There wasn't room for another. Air Man appeared in the next issue of Keen Detective Funnies, but that was the last one under that title. He also appeared in both issues of Detective Eye, which replaced Keen Detective on the publisher's schedule. But when Detective Eye folded with its December, 1940 issue, that was the end of Air Man.

In 1992, Malibu Comics (Men in Black, The Trouble with Girls) made an attempt to keep up with industry trends by launching its own superhero universe. The Centaur characters, being numerous, obscure and in the public domain, were deemed ideal for the purpose, so Air Man joined Man of War (no relation), The Arrow and the rest, in Malibu's group, The Protectors.

But the revival didn't last much longer than Air Man's original run.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Centaur Comics