the Iron mask:
The story of "Iron Man"
First Flight: The Rocket Men
by Dennis E. Power
How do we account for the myriad depictions of Iron Man or his alter ego of Tony Stark in comic biographies of The Four, Thor, Captain America or even The Spider-Man? Do we discount these appearances merely as ficticious as in the case of the X-Men, Giant-Man (1)or Hercules (2) This is certainly the logical way to go but it is also the way in which "Tony Stark" has manipulated the media; to see him merely as a fictional character. Tony Stark was real enough, although his name was not Tony Stark.
Tony Stark was famous enough on his own without having the noteriety of being a comic book hero. Tony Stark was Howard Robard Hughes Jr. (3)The comic purist will undoubtedly protest, stating that despite the similarity of their physical appearance, a mutual background in engineering, aviation, finance, a shared image of being a playboy that their personal background and life histories are mutually incompatible. This again brings up the crux of the matter of how much truth is inherent in the comic book depictions of real people. The answer is not very much at all. It is also important to remember that we are not talking about the Howard Hughes which exists in our world but the Howard Hughes that exists in the WNU. This Hughes' life ran a course very similar to ours but it was often quite different.
Moreover this essay is not intended to be an indepth, detailed biography of the Wold Newton Universe Howard Hughes, its purpose is merely to provide an explanation for the origin of the Iron Man character and tell the truth about "Tony Stark"
The origin of the Iron Man armor suit and the pseudonym of Tony Stark had their origins in the annals of Doc Savage and the Shadow.
In 1936 or 1937 Doc Savage designed a portable jet engine that a person could wear like a backpack. This made an individual man able to fly like a rocket.The rocket pack had been created by Doc Savage and had been stolen by gangsters in the employ of Nazi agents.
In April of 1938 Clifford Secord found Doc Savage's rocket pack. With the help of his friend Peabody, who had a background in aviation engineering, Clifford designed a protective helmet. With the helmet and the rocket pack, Secord launched a short lived career as the mystery man known as the Rocketeer.
Clifford's desire to impress his girlfriend "Betty" (4) led him to use the helmet to create an act for the Bigelow's Flying Circus for which he worked as a stunt pilot. Cliff's use of the rocket pack made him a target for the Nazi's and the government. He was taken into custody by an FBI man. The car the FBI agent was driving was forced off the road in a gun fight. Clifford was thrown clear but the FBI agent was killed. Clifford used the rocket pack to fight free of the Nazi agents and fled the scene. The next day three goons came to the Flying Circus' airfield looking for the rocket pack, failing to find it they kidnapped Betty. Clifford tried to stop them in an experimental plane he called the Blind Bulldog. The plane and fleeing car's chase and attempts to escape were thought to be part of the air show. The car crashed into a haystack and the three men escaped into the crowd, leaving a bound and gagged Betty in the car.
One of the Nazi agents discovered Clifford Secord's identity. Moments later the Nazi agent was captured by a man with huge hands. These hands belonged to John Renwick, one of Doc Savage's aids. Under one of Doc's truth serum's the Nazi Agent told Doc who had the rocket pack.
Clifford lost his job at the air circus for his stunt with the plane and sat around the Bulldog cafe moping. He called up Betty to see if she wanted to go for a ride but she was busy posing for "art" photos for a photographer who promised to further her career. (5)
Depressed by this Clifford returned to the air field where his friend Peevy had repaired the damage to the rocket pack. After a short test flight, Clifford returned to his apartment. Sitting on his sofa were two of Doc Savage's aides, Monk and Ham. They wanted the rocket pack. Monk threatened to beat the location of the rocket pack out of Secord so Secord gave them an address where the rocket pack could be found. They made him accompany them in their car. Cliff jumped out of the car and onto the back of a street car. Fearing that Secord would warn his friend and they would hide the rocket pack, Ham and Monk hightailed it to the address and busted open the door. They found "Betty" posing for nude photos. Angry at Clifford's prank, Betty gave them Pevy's real address. Monk and Ham traveled there and Clifford dove out the back door. Monk and Ham took Peevy into custody and handcuffed him to the wheel of his car. They told him to drive to Clover field where the new Douglas plane the Locust was being tested. Clifford was hiding in the car on the floor of the front seat.
At Clover field, the pilots of the plane were found shot to death, after the plane had already taken off. Monk realized that the Nazi's had hijacked the plane. Peevy convinced Secord that the could stop the hijacking. Secord was reluctant at first until Peevy pointed out that if showed them that he aint no crook by saving the plane they wont be in as much trouble with the law.
Secord made up his mind just as Doc Savage showed up outside of the car. He demanded the rocket pack back. Doc intended to go after the Locust with the rocket pack. Cliff emerged from the car and Peevy held a gun on Savage. As Savage grabbed the gun from Peevy, Cliff ran away and started the rocket pack. He nearly caught the Locust but ran out of fuel. Doc had run to a nearby plane and had it started when Secord began to fall. He flew the plane under Secord and Secord grabbed onto the wing. Doc dropped Secord off on the Locust. Clifford climbed across the outside of the Locust and opened the bay door just as the pilot was examining it. The pilot fell to his death. Inside the plane Secord fought with the co-pilot and knocked him out. Secord had to land the plane with the unknown controls. He crash landed in the middle of Harrolds restaurant. Cliff was taken to the Army Airforce base hospital and treated for his injuries. When he regained consciousness Peevy was there telling him that despite their efforts they were still in a fix with the law. Even though the big fella said he would go to bat for him the cops still thought Cliff had bumped off the g-man. Cliff called Betty to tell her that he was alright. Her maid told Cliff that Betty had gone to New York with that foreign fella and then would be sailing to Europe. Directly after that a nurse came into to give him a pain shot. Cliff got out of bed, put on his clothes and left the room. He was spotted by Monk and Peevy who gave chase. He ducked into a chemical laboratory. Sitting on a table was the rocket pack and some beakers of fuel. Cliff grabbed the rocket pack and in his doped up state, knocked over the beakers filled with fuel. He accidentally started a fire but escaped out of the window. The various chemical fumes ignited and caused a great explosion and Cliff was believed to have died. He took the Blind Bulldog and flew to New York.
In New York Cliff met up with an old friend of his named Goose who was also pilot. He took Cliff on a tour of cafe society night spots where a high class Hollywood photographer and a beautiful woman would go. Outside the Cobalt Club Cliff pretended to be a taxi driver and showed the doorman a picture of "Betty". The doorman recognized her. Cliff pretended to have a gun and made the doorman walk behind the club to an alley where he exchanged clothes with him. Dressed in a tuxedo, Clifford entered the club, although his face was still adorned with bandages. Sitting at Betty's table he told Betty that he had come to take her back to California. She protested and the photographer told Cliff to take off. A fight ensued and Cliff was grabbed and held by several of the photographer's friends while the photographer pummeled him. Betty tried to stop Marco but he continued to pound on Cliff until a tall, hawk nosed man grabbed Marco's hand and made him stop. Marco asked who he was. The hawk nosed stranger said one who loathed parasites like Marco who preyed on naive young women and he knew all of Marcovitch's dirty little secrets. The hawk nosed man helped carry Cliff out of the club. The Hawk nosed man turned out to be the man for whom Cliff's friend Goose worked, he offered Cliff a job as a flier. Humiliated and angry, Cliff blew him off and then broke up with Betty. He told Goose to drive away. Betty asked Jonas to give Cliff the job he had offered him, she knew Cliff had spent every last cent to get to New York. Cliff explained to Goose that he broke up with Betty after seeing her with those high society people that was where she belonged not with some hand to mouth flier heading past his prime. Cliff went to spy on the departing ocean liner using binoculars, he spotted Marco at the rail but did not see Betty. He assumed she was in "their" room. Actually she was on a plane headed back to Los Angeles.
Clifford took the job with Jonas. Jonas explained that he knew about Cliff's use and possession of the Cirrus X-3. He wanted Cliff to use it for him. Cliff asked if he worked for the FBI or the Nazis. Jonas said he operated independently of all government agencies. Jonas instructed Cliff to meet him at a gangland bar. Cliff carried the rocket pack in a duffle bag. A red haired much battered crook greeted Cliff at the door and bought him a drink. He whispered for Cliff to go to room 1305 and look for anything to identify the occupant. The red haired crook was confronted by his double. The red haired crook who had met Cliff pulled out a gun and shot out the lights. Cliff put on the rocket pack and his helmet and flew up the stairs. Inside room 1305 he found a photograph of Teena, a young woman he had known many years before. Jonas confronted him in the room and showed him another snapshot.This was of a collection of people from a carny troupe. Cliff was one of the people in the snapshot. Jonas told him one by one the people in the photo had been tracked down and murdered, their spines snapped. Cliff said that was impossible, the man responsible was supposed to be in the death house. Jonas told Secord he was the murderers last victim and wanted to know why. Cliff said there was somebody not in the snapshot, Orsino the escape King. He was playing in Atlantic City. Goose and Cliff flew there in Goose's plane.
In Atlantic City Orsino performed a trick that called for a volunteer from the audience. A huge man raised his hand. The escape king was shocked and cried out the name Lothar. On stage the giant man told Orsini that there were too many witnesses, he will not kill him... here. Orsino went through with the trick with Lothar as his volunteer, Lothar deliberately fouled the trick. Lothar then used a weighted rope to ascend to the stage catwalk. He saw Cliff on the catwalk and still hanging on the rope he grabbed Cliff by the throat. Orsino cut the rope near the weight and Lothar plunged down onto the stage and crashed through the wood to the water below.
Orsino invited Cliff to the bar for a stiff drink. Goose asked what was going on. Cliff explained that in 1928 when he was 16 he was working as the assistant of Orsino the Escape King, He would be placed in a trunk under twelve feet of water and wait for Orsino to free him. Lothar wore a regalia of the Grim Reaper and held up an hour glass. One of the sideshow midgets, a beautiful if diminutive girl named Teena was infatuated with Cliff. She invited him to dinner as he was watching Ruby, the knife thrower's assistant. She fixed him dinner but he never showed. When she went to look for him, she discovered him in Ruby's wagon. Lothar was in love with Teena and tried to comfort her. Cliff was late showing up for the escape act and Teena said she would do it for him. Lothar objected but all the other sideshow people insisted that she be allowed to try. Cliff showed up just as they were pulling her body out of the trunk. Her tiny lungs could not hold enough air and she had drowned. Lothar went berserk. He went straight for Cliff's throat. Three carnies pulled Lothar off of Cliff but Lothar killed one of the carnies and was sent to Sing Sing. Cliff left the carnival for good that night.
Orsino invited Cliff and Goose to the amusement park where they could forget their recent troubles with some pretty girls. Inside the House of Death, a guided boat ride through a chamber of horrors, Cliff was pulled out of the water by Lothar and held under water until it appeared as though he had drowned. He had just held his breath like in the days of old when he had been in the water filled trunk. Lothar then set the rest of the papier mache and wood exhibit on fire. Orsino, Goose and their dates climbed upwards through the exhibits seeking to escape the flames.The found a place that jut over the water near the pier and jumped. Cliff surfaced from the water and sees a figure moving near the top of the House of Death. The figure was obscured by smoke and flame, believing it to be either Goose or Orsino Cliff used the rocket pack to fly up. He discovered to his regret that it was Lothar. Cliff escaped from Lothar by turning the jet pack on and burning him. Lothar fell into the roaring flames below and was seen no more.
Cliff planned to return to Los Angeles.
At the Bulldog Cafe, Betty showed up and said that she and Cliff and a lot to talk about. The impression given in the comic was that she intended to work at their relationship.
All in all it seemed like ingredients for a happy ending. Clifford Secord's career as the Rocketeer seems to have ended after this New York Adventure, at least for four years.
While in New York after having worked with Mr. Jonas Clifford must have realized that if he were to get out of the morass of legal troubles he was in, he woudl have to return the Cirrus X-3 and have Doc Savage help him with his legal difficulties. Although Peevy may have not recognized Monk, Ham or Doc (6) Clifford however probably recognized Doc, Ham and Monk from the newspapers or may have read Robeson's accounts in the Doc Savage Magazine. He knew Doc Savage was headquartered in New York and he knew where to find him. Clifford Secord returned the rocket pack to Doc Savage and through Doc's influence and Ham's legal skills Secord was absolved of any wrong doing despite having fled the custody of a federal agent, fleeing the scene of a crime (the murder of said federal agent) and destruction of government property, the rocket pack, the Locust and the chemical laboratory at Clover field. Clifford Secord was exonerated and yet FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did not totally forgive and forget.
Although Clifford was allowed to come back to the Bigelow Air Circus, Bigelow also did not forgive and forget so easily, he relegated Clifford to support staff or clown acts.
Although his true story did not come out until the later part of the century, shortly after Secord's 1938 debut various rocket powered heroes such as The Bulletman began appearing in comics but so far as we can determine these were fictional characters.
Peabody simply did not have the resources to design another jet pack for Clifford, at least not one that he felt would be safe enough for Clifford to use. Clifford Secord continued to eke out a living as a test pilot, stunt pilot, flying circus pilot and air race pilot. Ill luck, mechanical failures and perhaps sabotage prevented Clifford Secord from winning any of the big prizes and so from reaching the prominence or respect he desired. He continued to eke out a living as an air show pilot and even worked as a clown act. His relationship with the famed "model" " Betty" deteriorated as her career steadily rose while his seemed to peak and go down hill. He had never been comfortable with her "art pictures" and or her career as an ecdysiast. There was also the small hitch that she was married but estranged from her husband, a fact she had conveniently forgotten to tell Clifford.
In early 1941 Clifford worked part time at the Los Angeles based air show, mainly to stay close to his new girlfriend Jenny Blake. Jenny Blake was an aspiring actress. Jenny was almost completely opposite of "Betty Page" in that she was demure with a wholesome girl next door quality. Jenny's career was coming along at a steady if slow pace. She had a role in a Neville Sinclair picture.
This caused some tension between Clifford and Jenny. She thought that he was envious because her career was taking off while his had stalled. This was partially true. Clifford was also felt inadequete when compared to Neville Sinclair was was a dashing debonair, rich movie star.
In December 1941 Clifford Secord tried to enlist in the Army Air Force believing that his experience as a pilot would assure him a spot. However his career as a barnstormer, stunt pilot and as the Rocketeer played against him. His many crashes were deemed too significant for him to be a pilot and his many healed injuries were considered too significant and he was labeled a physical risk, despite being in perfect health. He found himself exempt from military service. He found that he could not join any branch despite offering to sign a waiver. This was J. Edgar Hoover's payback for Secord's involvement in the death of one of his agents. Clifford spent the first year and a half of the war as a mail pilot and a member of the Civilian Air Patrol. The CAP was a civilian volunteer group whose members flew anti-sabotage patrol, target towing, border patrol, search and rescue, and anti-submarine coastal patrol missions.
All of this changed in 1942 when Clifford once again embarked on a short lived career as the Rocketeer.
In 1938 after the Nazi government of Germany had failed to procure the rocket pack prototype they attempted to build their own version of the jet pack. All of their tests were fatally flawed. This however did not prevent the project director from releasing a promotional propaganda film about the Nazi Rocket Men.
The United States government obtained a copy of the propaganda film and immediately contacted Doc Savage to see if he could make his jet pack viable to be mass produced for military use. Citing time constraints to develop the rocket pack, Doc politely refused to work on the project and hoped that the ill conceived idea would stop there. Secord's adventures with the jetpack had demonstrated to Doc just how dangerous the pack could be to its flier, even if the flier was a trained pilot. Savage also saw that a corps of flying rocket men would be impractical especially since the flying soldiers would be vulnerable to all sorts of weapons fire without specially protective suits. The jetpacks would be in essense bombs strapped to the backs of the soldiers which could endanger the very military operations in which they were engaged.
The U. S. Army does not like to give up on ideas very easily so the U.S. Army Air Force contacted famed aviator and engineer Howard Hughes. Due to the military's willingness to give him a lucrative contract to develop the idea, Hughes took it on and began almost immediate work. While Howard Hughes may not have had a formal engineering degree he had an intuitive mechanical sense and often exhibited flashes of genius when it came to engineering. One of these flashes was the Hughes Jet Pack, H-K-1.
A working prototype was finished in 1942. Howard Hughes was a man with many irons in the fire, so far as his interests and business dealings went. Besides being a renowned record setting aviator, he ran an airline, ran a manufacturing company and produced and directed motions pictures. Hughes was in the midsts of making The Outlaw when the prototype for the Hughes Jetpack was finished. Actor Neville Sinclair overheard a conversation Hughes had about the jetpack and set into motion a plan to steal it and and hand it over to the Third Reich. Sinclair even arranged for a zepplin to fly up from Mexico to pick him and the jetpack up and transport it to the Third Reich.
Sinclair contacted local mob boss Eddie Valentine, whom he knew socially thorugh his visits to the South Seas Club. He hired Eddie to steal the jetpack for him. Two of Valentine's boys broke into the Hughes Aircraft in Glendale, California. The two gangsters were named Lenny and Wilmer. This was supposed to be Wilmer's last job. Wilmer was a long time associate of Eddie Valentine. Wilmer had started working for Eddie Valentine after a job in 1928 had gone horribly wrong. Wilmer had been a gunman for hire for two foreign gentlemen, a large fat man and a small poofer who were looking for a small black statuette of a bird. Wilmer had been shot by Mr. Gutman and had in turn shot him. Wilmer had gotten away and Gutman had spread enough cash around so that the story that both of them had died stuck.
The FBI had been watching Hughes Aircraft. Whether they were guarding the jetpack or more likely keeping Howard Hughes under surveillance as they often did at the behest of the Director depends on whose version you believe. Two FBI agents saw Wilmer and Lenny steal something and gave pursuit. In the chase that followed Lenny was killed, Clifford Secord who was flying overhead had his plane shot up in the gunfight, Wilmer drove into the grounds of Chaplain airfield where the air circus was holding a show. Wilmer drove into one of the hangar, ditched the HK-1 in a plane and substituted the bag in his car with a vacuum cleaner. He drove away as fast as he could . Wilmer was shot as he sped across the field, he lost control of the car which streaked towards a fuel truck. Wilmer rolled out of the car and watched as his car crashed into the fuel truck. Wilmer was sent to the hospital for his injuries but kept quiet this was even after Sinclair's pet goon Lothar paid Wilmer a visit and tried to break his back. It made sense for the police to pretend that Lothar had suceeded. A story was planted in the papers that Wilmer had been mysteriously had his back broken while in the hospital while awaiting arraignment.
Neville Sinclair was a flavor of the month matinee idol, he was a second rate Erroll Flynn or third rate Basil Rathbone. He had recently come to Hollywood from a career in English stage and cinema, hoping to make a mark while many of the major stars were in the Armed services. A slight inner ear problem managed to keep him out of the services. What was not commonly known about Neville Sinclair was that he was a British Fascist, a long time member of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, the Black Shirts. While still in England Sinclair became acquainted with Dr. Ivan Markoff (7) and with Lothar, an American with a hideous form and a hideous soul.(8). Lothar became quite devoted to Sinclair because treated him decently.
Clifford Secord found the rocketpack hidden in his plane and took this as a sign of fate, as a second chance to be the Rocketeer. He hid the truth from the FBI when they came asking questions about the gangsters or the rocket pack. The rocket pack that Hughes had designed was not as efficient or areodynamically sound as the one Doc Savage had created. Its fuel consumption and regulation also needed modifications. Amos Peabody made slight modifications to Clifford's previous Rocketeer helmet to make it act as a rudder and fixed the fuel problem by adding a control devise with dials that could be strapped to the chest of the pilot. This regulated the ratio of fuel and air for differences in atmospheric pressures to get a smoother burn.
After a few public appearances as the Rocketeer, in a scenario that played oddly like Clifford Secord's previous encounter with a rocket pack, he found himself pursued by gangsters, Nazi's and the FBI.
It was through Jenny Blake that Neville Sinclair stumbled onto the knowledge that Cliff Secord was the Rocketeer. Having overhead an argument between Cliff and Jenny at the movie set. He used her as a lure to bring the Rocketeer to him. He first tried a jealousy angle by arranging to take Jenny out on a date. When this ploy failed Sinclair took Jenny Blake hostage. In the melee at the South Seas Club, Neville Sinclair escaped from Clifford and Clifford was captured by the FBI.
Howard Hughes and the FBI were also after Clifford to have him return the jetpack. Clifford was taken to Hughes hangar in Glendale. This was the facility where they had begun designing the HK-1 Hercules Cargo plane. A large wooden model of the plane hung from the ceiling. Clifford told Hughes and the FBI that his girlfriend was being held by Sinclair but FBI insisted that he give the jetpack to him or go to jail. Clifford jumped up on the model of the HK-1 and sailed out of the Hangar. (9)
Secord contacted Sinclair and agreed to hand over the jet pack in return for Jenny's safety. At the exchange point of the Griffin Observatory, a gun fight broke out between the FBI and Eddie Valentine's men. Clifford and Jenny Blake revealed that Neville Sinclair was a Nazi agent. Since the jig was up, Neville Sinclair signalled for Nazi commandos who had surrounded the exchange point to make their presence known and for the dirigible come into view. Eddie Valentine may have been a gangster but he was an American gangster he and his gang joined with the FBI to shoot the Nazi commandos. Neville Sinclair fled to the dirigile with Jenny as his hostage.
Clifford flew up to the dirigile with the rocket pack. Aboard the top of the dirigible Clifford became involved in a fight with his nemesis Lothar (From Clifford's New York Adventure) Their fight ended up with Lothar sailing over the side of the ship holding onto a rope swinging helpessly. On one swing Lothar's smashed into and disabled the zepplin rudder, another swing he smashed him into the bridge, killing the captain, ruining the control panels and starting a fire.(10)
Sinclair traded Jenny for the jetpack and flew off of the burning dirigible laughing. Jenny and Clifford were rescued from the burning dirigible by Howard Hughes and Amos Peabody in a autogyro.
To his dismay Neville Sinclair discovered that the jet pack was leaking fuel from a bullet hole. His fuel regulator failed and he plummeted to the ground. His jet trail ignited the fuel leak and burst into flame, a flame that engulfed Neville Sinclair. Like a flaming meteorite or a falling star Neville Sinclair fell to the ground. The jetpack was destroyed. (11)
At the end of The Rocketeer film Clifford Secord is given a Gee Bee plane by Howard Hughes. However this is merely one of the misleading events that the film makers used to make the 1938 date of the film more believable. Since it was 1942, the air races were on hiatus. What Hughes did in fact was give Clifford a different pair of wings; he used his influence to get Clifford a commission as a pilot in the AAF. Secord served with distinction in the Pacific Theatre.
Clifford returned to the United States in 1946 when unemployed pilots were unfortunately pretty common. Clifford was able to secure a job with Trans-World Airlines. From 1946 to 1948 Clifford Secord was settled down to a rather mundane life as a commercial air line pilot. Jenny Blake's career in Hollywood had peaked by this time. Despite her great beauty, Jenny Blake had a rather miniscule acting talent, she had fallen back on her secretarial skills although she had also gotten a degree in chemistry.
During the War Hughes had worked with Amos Peabody to perfect his version of the jetpack. Hughes could see that the flying platoons as depicted in the German propaganda film were beyond the capabilities of existing technology. However he believed that the jetpack still had some commercial possibilities, for scientific research and exploration of remote areas, for military reconnaissance and for law enforcement and security work.
The latter idea was reinforced in 1948 when one of the scientists working on the jetpack project found himself involved in a struggle against a maniac who called himself Dr. Vulcan. Dr. Vulcan was one of those sorts of villains who had so recently fought the likes of Doc Savage, the Avenger, or the Spider. However with the apparent disappearance or retirement of those foes of evil, Jeff King found that he would have to face the man alone. Using a combination of his jetpack, detective work, ingenuity and his prior military experience Jeff King was able to defeat Dr. Vulcan and stop him from using his sonic decimator to rule the world, or at least destroy much of the Los Angeles area. (12) .
Howard Hughes saw Jeff King's experience as a means to do several things at once, first to provide publicity for the jetpack, to demonstrate its versatility so far as its how it was employed, to do something about cleaning up the criminal element that seemed to have swelled since the retirement or disappearance of Doc Savage, the Spider or Avenger. To be sure there were others in New York filling some of the void but the West Coast needed protection as well. It would also serve to make the Hughes Corporation more of a household word.
Hughes created the Air Patrol, nominally lead by Jeff King, The Air Patrol was also known as the Rocketmen by the newspapers and radio broadcasts of the day. Most accounts, to Hughes ire, did not mention that the Air Patrol was funded and sponsored by the Hughes Tool Company. Hughes drafted Clifford Secord to be second in Command of the the Air Patrol. Atlhough Jeff King would occasionally accompany the men on various missions, his primary concerns were scientific research and bureaucratic work. Therefore most of the actions were lead by Lt. Commander Secord or Commander "Cordy" as he became known in the parlance of the day.
Howard Hughes was oblivious to the fact for several years but in 1950 shortly after the Air Patrol began making newspaper headlines in the West Coast, a television show debuted called Space Patrol. The leader of the Space Patrol was Commander Corry. The plots of the 15 minute daily serial were often thinly disguised cases of the Air Patrol given a science fiction twist. Hughes was furious in 1954 when he realized that someone in the Air Patrol had been leaking information about its activities to the writer of the show. This person may have been Cliff Secord who may have done it to help his wife Jenny get small acting roles on the show. Atlhough Jenny had actually become a member of the Air Patrol support staff by working as a chemist she still took the occasional acting job because she enjoyed doing so.
In 1951 Clifford Secord and the members of the Air Patrol fought against Retik, the Ruler of the Moon and his Radarmen. Retik and his henchmen were laying the groundwork for an Invasion from the Moon. The Moon was comprised of a Brotherhood of humanity where an utopian society existed in that war, hatred, poverty, starvation and class struggle did not exist. Retik and his men had some advanced weaponry and vehicles but they were eventually stopped by Secord and the Air Patrol.
Retik and his followers were not inhabitants of the Moon but rather Soviet agents sent to America to undermine American society and prepare for a possible Invasion. While in the United States Retik had stumbled across an odd device which was later identified as a Capellean distorter. This distorter was a very unique one hidden in the body of a lacquered plaster statuette of a falcon. The distorter transported back and forth between the Capellean Moon base and Earth. The moon base had been established by Capelleans when they were making their survey of Earth.(13)
Retik was not a particularly smart man but he was smart enough to realized that they could not duplicate this technology with the resources that they possessed despite Soviet propaganda of being supreme in the sciences and that this base was not in any condition to be a permanent base of operations. He decided to use it as the basis for a scheme to undermine American morals and beliefs and fool the Americans into surrrendering to the Soviet Union. He was also a big dreamer.
Retik came up with a backstory cobbled together with borrowings from Edgar Rice Burroughs The Moon Men, used some phaser like weapons and anti-gravity discs that they found in the wreckage of the moonbase and found some gullible followers and some muscle for hire to begin laying the foundations for Soviet domination of America.To finance their operation they tried bank robbery, blackmail and payroll robbery. They used the large phaser drill to commit acts of sabotage against the United States using a truck with a false back. The question of course is why didn't he inform the Politboro of his discovery? Being a bit of a meglomaniac he did not trust the Politboro to use this knowledge wisely, as he did. He also felt that once the politboro was told of the moonbase they would no longer need him and his chances for advancement would be nil. Retik believed that his plan would succeed and once he had handed the United States over to the Soviet Union he would be at least made the Comissar of the Soviet Americas. It may also been that Retik had the idea of perhaps not so much giving the Americas to the Soviet Union but setting himself up as the leader of the Soviet Americas and using the Moon base to conquer the Soviet Union and hence the world. (14)
Clifford Secord and the Air Patrol stopped Retik and his "Radar Men" despite their advanced technology. They found themselves on the Moon with Retik and his henchmen. Their battle set off a chain reaction in the lunar base that triggered the remaining self destruct mechanisms. Clifford and his Air Patrol forced one of Retik's men to take them back to the Earth before the lunar base was completely destroyed.
In 1951, Clifford and the Air Patrol worked on two cases which became intermingled in the minds of the public. A mad man was stealing various equipment and material to be used in the construction of a hydrogen bomb. He wanted to detonate the atomic bomb along the San Andreas fault and destroy California and alter the shape of the West coast. He believed that California was corrupt and it deserved to fall into the ocean, he also believed that he could bring the worthless desert land he had inherited arable by making it closer to the ocean. Whether or not he could have actually constructed a hydrogen bomb is unknown. However he did convince a few other people of his scheme and they embarked on a variety of crimes and commit acts of sabotage and terrorism which led the authorites to take his threat seriously. Either as a feint or as the result of some form of schizophrenia Marex also claimed to be a Martian who wished to destroy the earth by exploding an atomic bomb in the center of the earth. The Earth would be destroyed and Mars would be moved into its orbit and Mars would once again be a paradise. Marex gathered a group of people who believed in his cause. It was little known at the time but Marex also claimed to be from the planet Mongo, sent there to destroy the Earth so that Mongo could take the Earth's place in the solar line up. Although this does sound like something Ming might do, the use of the hydrogen bomb to do it was of course a tell tale sign that this was just another story that Marex concocted. (15)
Despite some very serious injuries Clifford Secord led a fairly charmed life. However The Air Patrol had a high casualty rate due to misjudging landing velocities or impact injuries sustained at high velocity. Even hitting a bird at a high velocity could cause a serious injury.
Hughes began to envison an areodynamic protective suit much like a knight's suit of armor which would protect the rocketeer from injuries and germs. Yes, that is correct, germs. Howard Hughes was starting to lose his sanity. He was becoming convinced that the air was contaminated with germs, the upper atmosphere especially. These germs were more virulent in modern times due to nuclear fallout from nuclear tests.
Necessity makes strange bedfellows. When Howard Hughes sought help in designing his armor suit, he got it from a sources he would never have expected, one of his worst enemies. David Nelson, the famed Airboy.
End of Part One
Go to Part Two
1. While the reality of is unclear Giant-Man Dr. Henry Pym the descendent of Arthur Pym was real enough and helped create miniaturization process used by Project Proteus.
2. Hercules appearances were actually incidents in which Arn Munro took part.
3. The case could be made that Tony Stark was actually Jonas Cord jr. Cord was Howard Hughes' close rival whose career was an eerie doppelganger of Hughes. This does not seem to be case however. The Cord family will figure into our narrative.
Melissa Challenger married a Mayfair. Philip Jose Farmer states that the Mayfairs and Rutherfords had probably intermarried for generations. Yet Monk had an usual appearance, differing even from his Uncle. What then caused the difference? We know that the denizens of Opar were probably a Human/Neanderthal or other Human/other form of Hominid hybrid. They had apish men and beautiful quite human looking women. This was caused more than likely by generations of selective breeding, killing off the more homo sapien looking males and the apish girls. Monk's grandfather had explored Opar and managed to flee with one of the beautiful women and some of the Oparian gold which he used to establish a fortune. Monk's father took after his father and was born quite human in appearance. His older sister was also quite beautiful.
Andrew Blodgett Mayfair became quite apish due to the Oparian male traits cropping up in his physical appearance, yet he was not the only one..
Monk's aunt, his father sister, married a man named Jonas Cord. She was a brilliant chemist in her own right and helped make Cord Explosives into one of the leading explosives firms in the world. They had a son, Jonas Cord jr. who grew up to be a odd doppelganger of millionaire Howard Hughes, his closest rival. Although it is not touched upon in The Carpetbaggers, the first novel based on Jonas Cord jr.'s life, the film version of The Carpetbaggers reveals that Jonas Cord jr. had a great fear of losing his mind, that he feared to have children because he did not want to pass on the trait of insanity. It is revealed that Jonas had a twin brother, Joseph Cord. Joseph Cord had been insane and had died at the age of nine. Yet is that all the story?
I believe that Joseph Cord exhibited the simian traits much like Monk did due to the Oparian heritage. He was shut away by his emabarrased family. At the age of nine he accidentally killed his mother, not knowing his own strength. For this act he was shut away in a private sanitarium. Joseph Cord eventually escaped from the sanitarium and became financier and chemist in his own right. He managed to siphon money from his father's company through a shady deal and used it to start his own business empire. He may have went into business with Hans Stark and then adopted his last name after he betrayed him. He adopted the name Benedict Arnold Stark. He fought against the Shadow three times and was eventually killed. Howard Hughes acquired Stark Enterprises in the late thirties or early forties.
Bendict Stark was surrounded by a bevy of beauties. He managed to get one of them, his main secretary, pregnant. Rather than tell her son that his father had been a world class criminal, noting similar physical appearance between Benedict Stark and Monk Mayfair she told her son that Monk Mayfair was his father. Since Monk Mayfair would not acknowledge him the boy turned to crime, using the name Monk Mayfair as a way of bringing discredit to what he considered his dead beat father. This was the Monk Mayfair in the Great Gold Steal. I know this also is not what you have written but I thought the idea made a good deal of sense since. Bendict Stark was also a criminal, his son might be one as well. Thats how things go in the WNU.
As stated Monk Mayfair did not recognize, lets call him Ben Mayfair for now, as his son. When George Challenger came to America, he tried to make good with his cousin, Monk but since he was a drug smuggler or had been one, Monk would have nothing to do with him. George Challenger discovered that Ben Mayfair and his mother had been trying to get Monk to acknowledge Ben as his son. Possibly Ben's mother figured that Monk who had a reputation as a lothario would not remember all of his sexual encounters and could convince him of the paternity of Ben considering the unique resemblence. George Challenger took up with Ben Stark's mother and became a substitute father for Ben, all the while stoking his resentment towards Monk and leading the boy into a life of crime. To demonstrate the resemblence between Stark and Monk see below. Please also see the Challenging Rutherfords by Brad Mengel.
STARK was seated at his desk dictating to his personal secretary. He sat humped forward like a well-dressed ape. He glanced up briefly, grimaced with what was intended to be a smile of welcome, and then went on with his rapid dictation.
Cranston sat down in a nearby chair and watched Stark. The more he stared at the billionaire, the more amazing the man's ugliness became.
His body was barrel-chested, like a gorilla's. He was so short in stature that his chair had extra long legs to bring his head well above the level of his desk.
One of his arms was shorter than the other. Evidently the malformation had occurred at birth. It made using the left hand difficult and awkward. But Stark continually used it to pick up papers and to fiddle with pens and pencils. It almost seemed as if he enjoyed drawing attention to his deformity.
His head was enormously large on a short neck. The weight of that huge head made it sag forward toward his chest. He had a jutting lower lip, which gave him a sullen, unpleasant pout as he wrinkled his beady eyes to concentrate on the material he was dictating to his lovely secretary.
4. Although the physical appearance and her lifestyle would lead one to believe that Cliff Secord's girlfriend was the famous pinup model Betty Page, this does not seem to be the case. Betty Page was born in 1923 which would have made her 15 years old in 1938. While it is possible that WNU version of Betty Page had left her home at an early age and became involved in film and photographic work her relationship with the 26 year old Clifford Secord seems a bit unseemly. While it is possible that the Rocketeer adventures actually occurred in the late forties, this negates the Nazis and the Doc Savage and Shadow connections. Clifford's Betty appears to have been a woman who had an unsuccessful career in the films and more success as an unclothed model. Searching through the various pin up girls of the era I discovered that one Louise Hovick was in Hollywood in the 1937-39 appearing in minor roles, she also appeared in some men's magazines under a different name and also had a career in burlesque concurrent with this. Her stage name was Gypsy Rose Lee. Lee was born in 1914 and so would have been 24 during this period, perhaps a bit older than how Betty was portrayed but of an appropriate age for the 26 year old Clifford.
5. Although "Betty" or to use her real name Rose was more worldly than depicted in the comic book, she did indeed pose for these photos as she had for such photos in the past. This time she however hoped that the photographer would keep his word and this this would lead to roles outside of the burlesque theatre.
6. Peevy called Monk Colonel Mayhew and believed Ham to be Noah Dietrich, he believed and eerily prophesied that the rocket pack belonged to Howard Hughes.
7. Markoff a.k.a. was the brother of Markovitch the photographer who had tried to lure "Betty" to Europe, a Russian emegre who shared his Fascist views
8. Lothar suffered from acromegaly. Unlike most sufferers of this dreadful condition, Lothar and Carpenter became mad killers. This was more likely the result of innate sociopathic tendencies than a result of their physical condition, although hatred for their appearance may have been a contributing factor. Lothar's career as the Creeper was related in the films PEARL OF DEATH, THE HOUSE OF HORRORS and THE BRUTE MAN, also in THE ROCKETEER: CLIFF'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE and Rocketeer: The Movie.
There is some evidence to suggest that between the time of Cliff's New York Adventure (1938) and the events of the Rocketeer movie (circa 1942 I am aware that the film ostensibly takes place in 1938 but evidence suggests that this was later adventure of Clifford Secord with filler material from his previous adventures to cover gaps created by classified events) Lothar had spent some time in England where he had met Neville Sinclair.
While Lothar was in England he became acquainted with Dr. Igor Markoff. Markoff took blood, tissue and bone samples from Lothar, claiming he would strive to find a cure for his condition. He had not done so by the time Lothar returned to the United States. Markoff actually created a serum that would cause acromegaly. His serum targeted the pituitary gland with a tumor and caused an artificial form of acromegaly. Markoff first used it upon his estranged wife and then later after having fled to the United States, he used the serum on famed concert pianist Anthony Lawrence. Markoff had conceived of a passion for Lawrence's daughter and Lawrence was an obstacle. He tried to blackmail her into marriage by claiming he could cure the Acromegaly. During a struggle with the strong Lawrence, Markoff was killed. His assistant provided Lawrence with a cure. The tale of Dr. Markoff's misuse of his medical knowledge is dramatized in The Monster Maker. This was not actually a cure but rather it arrested the progress of the acromegaly. Once the bone had grown it was impossible without major surgery to reshape it.
9. The HK-1 was orignally named for steel magnate Henry Kaiser who first conceived of the plane in early 1941. He bowed out of the project in 1942 and Hughes took full control of the building of the plane. Although an early design model was ready by 1942, the plane was not finished until 1947. The 1942 date does however allow us to place this Rocketeer Adventure.
10. Amazingly Lothar once again survived a severe burning and fall from a great height. Lothar was also unique in his physiognomy in addition to acromegaly he also had a mild form of Proteus Syndrome that had the peculiar effect of toughening his skin and bones. The Proteus syndrome is one of the conditions from which Joseph Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man suffered. Despite his appearance, Lothar was exceedingly hard to kill. He survived gunshots, fire and a dirigible explosion. His appearance however suffered in each instance. Lothar survived the events of Rocketeer the movie and once again went to England. There he became the henchman of a master criminal named Giles Conover. Conover and Lothar were however thwarted by Solar Pons as seen in the film Pearl of Death. Although Pearl of Death was a Sherlock Holmes vehicle; Sherlock was long retired by WWII. Lothar once again escaped jail, although he had to create a diversionary fire to do so. He was burned in this fire. The accumulated effects of burned scar tissue from three different incidents created an appearance that was horrifying to most people. He called himself Moloch, after the fire god of the ancient Canaanites who was offered human sacrifices.
As Moloch Lothar became involved with Dr. Stendahl. Dr. Stendahl attempted to cure or control the unfortunate being known as the Paula Dupree the Jungle Woman, a female gorilla who had been transformed into a human being or a close semblance of one. Moloch kidnapped a female nurse in order to have a female blood donor. In the film version of these events, The Jungle Captive, the nurse was called Ann Forrester, although her real name was Flora Cranley Forrester. She had become involved with Paula Dupree through her acquaintance with Dr. Sigmund Walters. Moloch disappeared after this incident. Thanks to Rick Lai for information about Lothar's career as the Creeper and to Brad Mengel for his suggestion that Pearl of Death was a Solar Pons vehicle.
11. The film shows Neville Sinclair destroying the "land" section of the Hollywoodland sign. This however was not destroyed until 1949 by the Chamber of Commerce who thought that repairing that section of the sign would be cost prohibitive. Sinclair smoldering body however did damage the Land section of the sign so much that it led to being destroyed, although several years hence.
12. The film version of these events had Dr. Vulcan threaten and nearly destroy New York, however this was dramatic license on the part of the serial producers since New York was almost always the actual target of such attacks
13. Retik and his followers found the base almost completely destroyed. They killed the few remaining Selenites thinking they were being attacked. It was supposed to have self destructed as the Eridanean base did, Marra however overrode that particular self destruct sequence. Marra populated the moonbase with Selenites which were sentient cyborgs derived from lobster and spider DNA. They were there to maintain the base and enact some of Marra's experiments. Dr. Cavor discovered the base in 1900 and brought a disease that wiped out most of the Selenites. Or Cavor might have also been an innocent victim in a darker scheme. See Jules Verne, Savior of the World. In the mid-thirties a group of gangsters and lawmen discovered the distorter and were accidentally sent to the moon. The triggered the self destruct mechanism. This time the self destruct sequence was completed but some of the sections of the base were not completely destroyed. A dozen or so Selenites managed to make repairs to part of the base so these sections were inhabitable for human habitation once more.
14. This adventure with Retik eventually was released as the serial adventure, Radar Men From the Moon.
15. The two adventures that became intermingled were filmed as a serial named Zombies of the Stratosphere .
All rights reserved. The text and design of this page are © 2001 by the author, Dennis E. Power. No
copying or reproduction of this article or any portions thereof in any form whatsoever is permitted
without prior written permission and consent of the author.
Creeper Information from Lai, Mengel, Baugh, Sept. 2001 private emails
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