Black Jack. Artist: Al Camy.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: MLJ/Archie Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Al Camy
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When MLJ Publications turned its attention to comic books, superheroes were king. Within a few months of launching its line, it had a superhero as the regular cover feature on …

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… each of the four anthology titles it was publishing — and shortly after that, it was putting two such characters on most covers. The last of its titles to sport only a single superhero on every cover was Zip Comics, where Steel Sterling reigned supreme until the 20th issue (November 1941). On the cover of that one, Steel stood before the readers with his arm around the shoulders of a never-before-seen costumed crime fighter, and said, "I'm sure proud to welcome you to Zip Comics, Black Jack!"

Sharing the cover of a monthly anthology may not have made Jack a superstar, but it's more prominent treatment than MLJ gave to The Fox, The Press Guardian, Firefly and a majority of its other superheroes.

Black Jack's origin story, by Al Camy (Black Hood, Airboy), appeared inside that issue. Jack Jones was a policeman, nicknamed "Blackjack" because of his dark hair and his affinity for that particular card game. With the help of a crooked cop named Baxter, he was lured into the clutches of gangster "Lucky" Lavitto, who, like the antagonist in Poe's "A Cask of Amontillado", trapped Jack inside a wall. Too weak to break through before the concrete dried, Jack did manage to thrust a jack of spades, which which he'd found in there with him, through the not-yet-impenetrable cement. This provided both life-giving air, and a clue for a rescuer. Since both gangsters and police thought Jack permanently out of action, and since "mystery men" in colorful, form-fitting costumes were all the rage in comic books of the time, he decided to create such an identity for himself, and used it in bringing the Lavitto gang to justice.

Over the next few months, Jack fought such villains as Poker Face, Black Seven and "Deuces" Wilde, while continuing to share the Zip Comics covers with Steel Sterling. But even that level of stardom didn't last very long. With the 27th issue, a new guy named The Web turned up on the cover, and as of the following issue, Black Jack was off. He made only one more cover appearance (#31), and a few months after that, was out of Zip Comics completely. His last adventure there was in #35 (March, 1943), as the ever-trendy MLJ was dropping its superheroes like hot potatoes in response to their waning popularity. Not long after that, Archie became such a big hit for the publisher, the entire company was renamed "Archie Comics".

Like the vast majority of MLJ/Archie's superheroes (rare exceptions being Red Rube, Captain Sprocket, Super Duck, Pureheart the Powerful's entourage and, of course, Mr. Satan), Black Jack turned up more than 20 years later, in a story titled "Too Many Superheroes", wherein he and all the rest tried to join The Mighty Crusaders. He wasn't seen again during the 1960s, nor was he part of Archie Comics' 1980s attempt to resurrect the genre.

He is, however, a part of the vast, amorphous mass of superheroes who turn up on rare occasions in the Archie line. In fact, he had a speaking role in Archie's Weird Mysteries #3, where that vast, amorphous mass, all now apparently having succeeded in their Crusaders-joining objective, guest starred. While he doesn't seem likely to regain even the level of stardom he had in the '40s, neither does he seem likely to go away completely.


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Text ©2004-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.