If, on the other hand, your skins aren't very valuable, she's up a creek. Artist: Pierce Rice.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Harvey Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creators: "Ellery King", writer, and Pierce Rice, artist
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Superheroes have named themselves after various fauna. The Jaguar's name connotes the fighting prowess and ferocity in battle of a large cat — so do Leopard Girl's and Tiger Girl's. The Silver Scorpion's name calls to mind an arachnid's sting, and you'd probably think twice before messing with somebody named The Tarantula or The Black Widow,

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… too. Wolverine, The Badger, The Black Panther, The Shark, The Fox … those superhero names speak for themselves.

But — The Zebra? When a zebra does battle with another denizen of the wild, it's usually because he's fallen victim to a predator, and he seldom wins that fight. When we think of zebras, the most prominent characteristic that comes to mind is black and white stripes, and how's that going to impress a bad guy?

He wasn't trying to make a bad guy afraid of him. In fact, the black and white stripes were what he had in mind when he chose his nom du superhero. He wore the stripes when bashing evil, because that's what he had on when he broke out of prison, where he was two days from being put to death for a murder he didn't commit. He brought the real killer to justice, thus clearing his name, without changing clothes, but accessorized them with a mask, underwear-on-the-outside, and, like so many masked crimefighters used to do, a cape. (His outfit also looked better tailored when he was off superheroing than it had when he was in the slammer.)

In pre-superhero life, he was John Doyle, whose prior occupation wasn't mentioned. His story started with a courtroom scene, just after he was convicted of murder. It quickly flashed forward to him lamenting that he had only two days to live, and thus had nothing to lose by risking death in an escape attempt. Succeeding, he dropped in on his girlfriend, Mary Sewell, entering through the window and was just in time to save her from thugs who wanted her out of the way because she knew something about the murder. He saved the day and got the evidence that hadn't come out during the trial, but she somehow managed not to recognize him in the prison uniform (with accessories). After it was all over, he decided to continue using the Zebra identity to oppose criminals the law couldn't touch.

The story appeared in Pocket Comics #1 (April, 1941), the same issue that also contained the first stories of The Spirit of '76, The Black Cat and several that were less successful. The publisher was Harvey Comics, better known for the likes of Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost. The Zebra was credited to "Ellery King", an obvious pseudonym when Ellery Queen was a best-selling by-line in murder mysteries. The artwork has been identified as that of Pierce Rice (Manhunter), penciller, and Arthur Cazeneuve (The Flame), inker.

The Zebra continued to appear in Pocket Comics. But retailers complained that product, an experiment in publishing half-sized comics, was too easy to steal, so it only lasted four issues, ending with its January, 1942 issue. He transferred to Speed Comics, where Captain Freedom and Shock Gibson were the stars. But that lasted only one issue. Later that year, when Harvey took over publication of The Green Hornet's title, The Zebra got a slot in the back pates. He started in #7 (June, 1942) with a reprint of his first story, and stayed until #30 (June, 1946).

The Zebra then disappeared, and hasn't been back. He didn't take the "convicted felon" schtick nearly as far as 711, who operated as a superhero while in prison, but strained credibility less, and lasted more than twice as long.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Harvey Comics.