Crimson Avenger #1 (June, 1988)
“The Dark Cross Conspiracy, Chapter One: You Go to My Head…”
Writers/Editors – Roy and Dann Thomas
Art – Greg Brooks
Colors – Bill Wray
Letters – Helen Vesik
Associate Editor – Mark Waid
Cover Price: $1.00
Here’s an issue I’ve wanted to talk about for quite a long time… but, never did. Ya see, my interest has nothing to do with anything that happens within this comic (to be honest, it looks wickedly dull), but with some rather scandalous “rumor and innuendo” that surrounds it.
Lemme take you all back to the beginning. Picture it: December, 2016… I was writing a piece for Super-Blog Team-Up’s Christmas get-together, and I was very much in the “gotta go the extra mile to get noticed” sort of head space. And so, I reviewed all skatey-eight hundred pages of Christmas With the Super-Heroes #1 from 1988. In it, I happened across a strange little strip… a Cap’s Hobby Hints strip, which I suppose isn’t all that strange, Cap showed up all the time back in the long ago… and for a Christmas spectacular that ran the gamut of various “Comics Age” stories being featured, a Cap’s Hobby Hints isn’t exactly out the realm of possibilities for inclusion.
Anyhoo, not thinking all that much about it… and honestly, just happy it wasn’t another story-page I had to dissect, I snapped a pic of the strip, and figured I’d include it as an “et-cetera” in the blog post. After uploading it, and placing it into the piece, I noticed something that did catch my attention… the signature. This strip was credited to a “Ty Templetoff”… which, sounded a lot to me like “Ty Templeton“. No-brainer, right? It’s gotta be him. Well, rather than make an outright statement about that (because, people do rather love pointing out errors in blog posts), I decided to confirm my suspicions. What I found… was something far more… um… weird.
If you notice, this Cap’s Hobby Hints has to do with “hammer safety”. Fair play, right? Kids, especially back in the long ago, weren’t complete strangers to the concept of building things with hammer and nails… and so, Cap very well might’ve saved a tiny thumb or two with this thoughtful strip. You might also notice that this gives Special Thanks to a… “Lee Travis of Cleveland, Ohio”. Well, I didn’t know this then… but, Lee Travis is the civilian name of The Crimson Avenger.
Now, why in the hell am I telling you this… and how is it relevant? I’m glad you asked. Ya see, as I was trawling the internet for information/confirmation on this “Templetoff”, I came across a message board post from 2013 about this very strip… which referred to it as “DC’s disgusting joke”. Some of the replies assumed this had to do with insensitivity due to it appearing in a Christmas issue, and Jesus being nailed to a cross. However, one of the posters did elaborate… and, again… so much of this is “rumor and innuendo”, I’m not making any claims to any of this information… besides that which is part of public record.
So… it would appear that the artist on this Crimson Avenger miniseries… did a really bad thing. But, could this be even remotely true? Well, this rabbit-hole I’d dug continued to grow ever deeper… I mean, I was initially just confirming that Ty Templeton might’ve been giving a nod to original Cap’s artist, Henry Boltinoff (which, I mean, has never been officially confirmed but… ya know, duh)… and here I was, learning about a murder?! I decided to keep poking around… and finally found myself at the altar of… The Answerman! Bob Rozakis, in a piece for The Comics Bulletin (September 16, 2002) shared the following:
Okay… well, that sure got real in a hurry, dinnit? Seems like Brooks and Kessler had a rather tumultuous association there. I’m not going to bother digging up actual police records here… because, to be completely honest, a) it kinda makes me feel a bit skeevy, and b) I wouldn’t have the first idea how! What we know from the Answerman’s missive is that Brooks was arrested and in jail for around a decade… and if his timeline is right, he got out right around the year 2000.
Let’s jump back to the Cap’s Hobby Hints strip for a moment. From an interview with Comic Book Creator #3 (Fall, 2013), Mark Waid recalls his days as a young editor at DC Comics… and how the inclusion of this strip actually wound up (in part) costing him his job! Well, it put him on DC’s s-list, at the very least. Included in the below image is Mr. Waid’s own recollection of the Brooks-Kessler situation. Very sobering stuff here…
Apparently, the gag here was so subtle that it went over the DC brass’ heads for over a year… though, when it finally came to light (via a very perceptive reader of Comics Buyer’s Guide), they didn’t find it all that humorous.
And yeah, I suppose if this Cap’s strip was written with malice… or as a way to poke fun at the very real situation… that’s kind of a jerk move, and might just be informed by youthful “edginess”, if that makes any sense. I mean, I’d like to think we’ve all been in situations where we made light of or mocked a serious issue… sometimes it lands, sometimes it doesn’t. This might’ve just been a case where it didn’t.
On another note… there was an interview done with Roy Thomas regarding all things RT@DC in the 1980’s in Alter Ego: Centennial aka. Alter Ego #100 (February, 2011 – TwoMorrows). In it, the issue of Greg Brooks and The Crimson Avenger eventually came up… to which, he said the following:
Now, that does add a little bit more about Elizabeth Kessler… and at least Alex Toth’s point of view on the Kessler/Brooks relationship. As an outsider looking in, everything seemed perfectly normal… which, I suppose is how things usually seem in stories like this. Here is a piece of art Alex Toth signed and wrote a little note on for Elizabeth back in August of 1987:
Back to Roy’s statement… more specifically, the part that stuck with me the most…
So yeah… an un-named DC Editor hung a Hammer on the wall at the DC Comics offices… and labelled it “The Greg Brooks Memorial Hammer”. Well, that’s kinda taking “gallows humor” to the nth degree, innit? This goes a step past “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” sort of territory… and into something far more personal. I mean, if this is true (I ain’t saying one way or the other!) this gag is about two former co-workers… one of whom is dead… and the other done did the deed! Brooks worked on this Crimson Avenger miniseries, and Kessler worked as a colorist (on the Doom Patrol Bonus-Book we looked at a little while back). Now, I wanna make it clear… Roy Thomas didn’t name names… and I sure as heck ain’t about to either!
There’s a bit more to the scandalous “rumor and innuendo”… but, I feel like I’ve got my fill for now. If you’re interested in digging even deeper… the theories and speculation are out there, and I’ll leave you to them to find and make up your own mind.
So now… with all’a that out of the way, is there any possible way for this issue to be even half as interesting as the controversy surrounding it? Probably not…
We open on December 7, 1938… back before that was a day that would live in infamy! We meet an American Nazi sympathizer in a parked car listening to the radio… over the air is a Professor Goldstein… a fugitive from Nazi Germany, and likely this fella’s target. Before he can peel out in pursuit, however… he is faced off with: The Crimson Avenger! The baddie decides he’s going to drive off anyway… and so, Crimson… get this, sets the dude’s face on fire! Yeesh. Our hero then hops into his own hooptie and asks his driver, Wing follow dat car.
The chase is on… the bad guys unloads their guns into Crimson’s cab, before finally being rammed off road and sent careening into a fire hydrant. A brief fire-fight follows, with Crimson coming out on top.
As the dust begins to settle, we see that Wing got winged… shot in the arm! Crimson chucks a baddie through a window and beats a hasty retreat before the police arrive on the scene. We learn that “Crimson” is look at as though he’s a “crook” in the newspapers… including the very paper that the Crimson Avenger’s civilian identity owns!
We jump ahead to… probably the next day? Crimson’s in his Lee Travis civvies, and he and Wing are pulling into a large New Jersey estate for a charity auction. We get our first (of many) references to a story that took place in Secret Origins #5… which, if I’m being honest, pulls me out of things. Anyhoo, they notice a plane sputtering out of the sky overhead. They hop in the hooptie and chase it down to ensure they are there to assist the pilot if need be.
Turns out, this pilot is a g-g-g-g-g-girl! A Chinese woman named Su Ling Fang. Turns out, somebody planted a… wool sponge (?) in her fuel tank. Guess that’s better than a banana. Anyhoo, this Fang is a famous pilot, had a spread in Life Magazine and everything. She’s also here for the auction.
Travis offers her a ride… but, it looks like the hooptie’s got a flat-tire. Lee excuses himself to change it, while Wing entertains the lady pilot. Our man pats himself on the back for knowing how to change a tire… and ensures us via narration panel that he wasn’t always a rich man. In fact, he’d only inherited the newspaper from his wealthy Godfather this very year.
From here, we head into the Estate for the auction. Among the items is a Faberge Egg… which Lee notices catches the eye of a beautiful Russian woman. He decides to outbid her, like a jerk… and then offer to hand it over if she goes on a date with him. This woman is Sonya Nabotov, a dancer. She says she’ll meet with him later that night, after her performance.
Back at the office, our man pulls an all-nighter… or an all-eveninger, I suppose. As he reads and attempts to respond to a threatening note, which is covered with iron crosses, and refers to him as a “Jew lover”, he is interrupted by some of his workers, who are all about to head off to a… uh, Hitler Party? I guess these were “all the rage” back in the late 1930’s? I guess these are parties where all of the attendees dress as Adolf… and walk around saluting one another? I tried to research this to see if it was an actual phenomenon, but couldn’t find anything relevant to this era.
Next, Lee is headed to the Manhattan-Russian Ballet to meet up with his date. After the performance, she requests he take her to the top of the Empire State Building for caviar and vodka…
… unfortunately, upon arrival at the Empire State, they find that someone done jumped off the thing earlier that night! The whole building is taped off… and our happy couple is going to have to figure out a “Plan B”.
Well, Plan B involves going back to Travis’ place for some heavy-necking. He assures her that he lives in the penthouse of his building, but apologizes that it’s only 22 stories up… so, definitely not as exquisite a view as the Empire State Building. The make-out scene is… pretty weird. We get an extreme close-up on their lips, but it looks more like they’re bumping butts or something. Very odd.
The make-out session is interrupted by a phone call. Travis is informed by that very same Professor Hiram Goldstein from the beginning of the issue that there is a going to be a meeting of the German-American Bund in Yorkville later that night. Initially, our man doesn’t seem terribly interested… but, comes around to the idea quickly. Before hanging up, Goldstein tells him he ought to stop slandering that “Crimson” guy in his newspaper… so, Lee’s got him fooled at least!
After ending the call, Lee squeezes in one more snog session with Sonya, before assuring her that Wing will hand over the Faberge Egg the following morning. She’s cool with it.
With her gone, Lee changes into his Crimson Avenger togs, and head out to the Bund. There, he finds what he assumes to be a wino passed out in an alley. Turns out, this ain’t no drunk… it’s a corpse!
A pretty well beaten corpse, in fact… this stiff’s had his eyeballs removed! Overcome with shock, Crimson is taken unawares by a police officer’s flashlight.
Before he knows it, he’s surrounded by cops… who promise he’ll be spending the rest of his days in Alcatraz. Crimson assures them that this is a set-up, but they ain’t buyin’ it. They do have one question though… just who’s face is under the mask?
Okay, well this wasn’t quite as dull as I feared it would be! I’ve had this miniseries in my collection for… yeesh, probably a decade at this point… but, every time I made a run at it… I’d only get a handful of pages in before setting it aside. I’m glad I finally powered through this time… though, it didn’t exactly rock my socks.
I feel like having to read Secret Origins #5 as something of a prerequisite to fully appreciate this was kind of a cheat. I know I’ve got that issue in the pile somewhere… but, I wasn’t about to go digging. Though, I suppose folks back in ye old 1988 might not have had that problem. Still though, this miniseries does boast a #1 on its cover… I shouldn’t have to read anything else first.
With that out of the way… this first issue does present a decent handful of potential story spurs. Most of ’em were at least moderately interesting to boot! The German “fugitive”, the American Nazi sympathizers, the Empire State Building jumper, Su Ling Fang, and Sonya Whatsherface should provide more than enough story fodder to occupy the next three issues-worth of Crimson Avenger adventures!
Now, Crimson Avenger… is a character I know next to nothing about. I wanna say there was a version of the character in the JSA at some point, but I don’t know diddly about Lee Travis. I feel like he wasn’t introduced quite as well as he could’ve been here… though, again, DC was looking to sell copies of Secret Origins #5… so, I’m not sure I can blame that on our creative team. What we do know is… he’s nouveau riche, he’s tolerant of Jewish people, and his own newspaper refers to his alter-ego, the Crimson Avenger as a “crook”. I wonder if that’s due to the writers at his rag… or, if he’s trying to keep people “off the scent”? I’m sure that would eventually be cleared up.
The art. Do weee… talk about the art? I mean, really… do I even comment, or just let it lay? It feels weird, dunnit? I mean, the art’s… the art’s good. I really liked it, and feel like it fit the tone of this story quite well. Outside of that weird extreme close-up on the warring-lips, I thought the art here was as solid as any. I guess I’ll leave it at that… though, if anyone wishes to discuss the art (or whatever) further in the comments, please feel free to reach out!
Unsurprisingly (at least to my knowledge), this miniseries has not been made available digitally. It also, at least to my knowledge, doesn’t look like it’s ever been reprinted.
I wanna thank you all for reading… and apologize if this piece might’ve gotten a little too dark!
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