Mr. Scarlet and Pinky.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Fawcett Publications
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: France Herron (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)
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As the 1940s opened, American comic book publishers apparently got the idea that you couldn't go wrong by slapping a superhero on the cover of an anthology comic book. That might explain why a few months after Fawcett's Whiz Comics (which introduced Captain Marvel, Golden Arrow and others) came …

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… out, the same publisher launched Wow Comics (first issue cover date, Winter 1940-41) with Mr. Scarlet, whose only apparent distinction was that he wore a mask and fought crime, as its star.

Aside from being one of comics' growing plethora of superheroes, Mr. Scarlet was Brian Butler, the local district attorney. Tired of letting silly legal niceties such as Constitutional rights and the presumption of innocence get in his way as he upheld the law, he took a cue from The Black Hood, The Blue Beetle, The Woman in Red and any number of others (some of whom weren't even color-themed), and put on a costume to try a less cumbersome method of fighting crime. His secretary, Miss Wade, was in on the secret and abetted these activities. This origin story was written by France Herron (Animal Man) and drawn by no less a personage than Jack Kirby (Devil Dinosaur).

He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams — in fact, even beyond his desires. Pretty soon, crime in his town had abated to the point where he was out of a job, and working in a variety of ways to keep food on his table. Despite the apparent loss of his raison d'etre, he remained active as Mr. Scarlet in every issue of Wow Comics.

Also, despite the apparent instability and non-affluence of his circumstances, he managed not only to maintain his association with Miss Wade — he was even able to take on a ward who became his sidekick in fighting crime, just as Batman had taken on Robin the Boy Wonder. Pinky the Whiz Kid was introduced in that role in Wow Comics #4 (Spring, 1942).

While having a sidekick named "Pinky" isn't entirely unique, nobody is expected to take Pinky & the Brain seriously. In the macho world of superheroes, choosing such a less-than-manly monicker, while perhaps inevitable if the main hero's name is Mr. Scarlet, does seem odd. Odder yet is the fact that like Captain America's Bucky, The Black Terror's Tim, and several others, he jeopardized the boss's secret identity by calling himself the same thing whether in costume or not. If he had another name, the fact wasn't mentioned. He isn't related to the kid in Radio Patrol.

Mr. Scarlet was kicked off the cover after only five issues, tho he did make a few scattered cover appearances later, in company with other heroes. But in the back pages, he was the longest-lasting character Wow Comics ever had. While the cover was devoted first to Commando Yank, then to Mary Marvel, and eventually to an Archie-type named Ozzie, he hung in all the way to the title's last issue, dated August, 1948. He also appeared in seven of the eight issues of America's Greatest Comics, where Fawcett got extra mileage out of its most popular heroes, such as Spy Smasher, Minute Man and of course, Captain Marvel.

But that would have been all there was of Mr. Scarlet and Pinky, if DC Comics hadn't gotten into the act. Having already licensed Captain Marvel, DC used the captain in its 1975 team-up between The Justice League of America and its 1940s counterpart, The Justice Society, and licensed other Fawcett heroes to go along with him. Mr. Scarlet & Pinky appeared in three Justice League issues that year, alongside Bulletman, Ibis the Invincible and a few others. DC later bought all of Fawcett's superheroes outright.

As a DC-owned superhero set in the 1940s, Mr. Scarlet is said to have been a member of The All-Star Squadron, but he doesn't seem to have appeared in any actual issues. He's also been retconned into membership in The Crime Crusaders Club (no relation), which in reality included only Captain Marvel Jr., Bulletman, Bulletgirl and Minute Man (the cast of Master Comics).

Nowadays, Mr. Scarlet and Pinky are seldom seen, but like Dollman, The Human Bomb and so many others, always lurk in the background of the DC Universe for rare guest appearances. In recent ones, it appears Mr. Scarlet has retired and Pinky, grown up at long last, is the new Mr. Scarlet.


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Text ©2006-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Fawcett Publications.