Nikola Tesla in Golden Age Comics: Real Heroes, #16, “Prophet of Science” (1946)

Nikola Tesla was featured in the Golden Age comic book series Real Heroes Comics, #16, published in the United States in October, 1946. The Nikola Tesla comic story consisted of six pages. Real Heroes Comics were published by Parent’s Magazine Press in New York . Draza Mihailovich had appeared in the September, 1942 issue of Real Heroes Comics, issue #6.

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The comic book story on Nikola Tesla was entitled “Prophet of Science”, Real Heroes Comics, #6, October, 1946. “Real Heroes. True Stories in Comics. Thrilling stories about real people. Oct. No. 16. Tops in Quality and Quantity. Parents’ Magazine Press.” 10 cents. Real Heroes Comics, 1941 series, were published from September, 1941 to 1946 by the Parents’ Magazine Press, Inc., in New York.

The story begins with an inset image of Nikola Tesla. His significance and role in the development of modern technology is recounted: “Nikola Tesla is the forgotten genius, who revolutionized the science of electricity and made fantastic predictions which time proved true.” The birth year of Nikola Tesla is incorrectly given as 1857. He was born in 1856. He was born in the town of Smiljan, outside of Gospic, which was then a part of Austria-Hungary. The town is incorrectly given as “Smilgan” in the story. Croatia was then a part of Austria-Hungary. The first scene shows a water pump for a new fire engine. The pump does not work. Nikola Tesla, pictured as a youth, volunteers to fix the water pump. Tesla jumps into the water and fixes the clogged water pump.

In a scene from later in his life, his father warns him that he is exerting too much effort on his studies. He was so committed to his studies that he became ill. His diligent study paid off. He was enrolled in the major European universities of that time such as the University of Technology in Graz, Austria, and the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague. He created controvery immediately by challenging the accepted scientific dogmas and orthodoxies. Tesla advocated alternating current over direct direct: “But professor, if alternating current were used…”

He was dismissed by his professors: “Mister Tesla, please forget that foolish idea. Direct current is the only method.” He then moved to Paris, where he worked for the Continental Edison Company. In 1884, he met Charles Batchelor, a former employee and associate of Thomas Edison. His name is misspelled as “Batchellor” in the story. Tesla tells Batchelor: “My experiments with the rotating magnetic field prove that my motor will work.” Batchelor replies: “I think you’re a brilliant scientist, Tesla. You must go to America and work with Edison.” Tesla is shown on the dock awaiting to sail to the United States. Tesla exclaims that he has been robbed of his money and baggage. In the next scene he is shown arriving in the United States. As he is getting off the ship, he thinks to himself: “I’ve only got four pennies. I must get work.”

Walking from the pier, Tesla volunteers to help fix a broken-down machine. He fixes the machine in several hours for which he is paid twenty dollars. In New York, Tesla begins working for Thomas Edison after a letter of introduction from Charles Batchelor: “Through a letter from Batchellor to Edison, Tesla was soon working for the American inventor.” Edison tells Tesla, who is shown holding a wrench in Edison’s company: “We’re having a hard time repairing the motor of the liner ‘Oregon.’ See what you can do with it.” In the next scene, Tesla is shown walking home after repairing the motor of the ‘Oregon”, docked in the harbor. “In the year Tesla worked for Edison, he designed twenty-four dynamos and automatic controls. But Edison would not accept his theories on alternating current. In 1885 Tesla left Edison, unable to find work…” Tesla is shown digging a ditch in order to earn enough money to survive.

The story glosses over the controversy between Tesla and Edison over the “War of the Currents”. Edison adamantly rejected alternating current in favor of direct current in which he had invested his capital and his scientific reputaion. Edison’s theories on direct current were discredited while direct current itself was shown to be nonviable and unpractical as a source of energy for long distances and at high voltages.

Tesla set up his own company in 1888 in New York, the Tesla Electric Company, after Alfred K. Brown of Western Union invested in it: “Then he met A. K. Brown, who recognized his genius and helped finance his work. In April, 1887 …” Tesla is shown beaming in front of his new company as workers put up the company name sign. He exclaims: “At last, my own laboratory. Now I’ll have a chance to build and experiment.”

His breakthrough came in 1888 when he demonstrated his system of alternating current in a lecture: “Tesla persisted in his experiments and finally in May, 1888, at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in New York …” Tesla is shown demonstrating his AC induction motor before a packed-house: “…And so you see how a wire can carry a thousand times more energy with alternating current than with direct current.”

George Westinghouse is then shown making a proposal to Tesla to develop his alternating current system: “I’ll give you a million dollars and a royalty of one dollar per horsepower for your patents.” This contract would make Tesla one of the wealthiest inventors in the world. Tesla agreed to the terms of the offer: “I accept, Mister Westinghouse.” Westinghouse’s financial backers, however, forced Westinghouse to rescind the royalty agreement. Westinghouse informed Tesla: “The bankers won’t help me start a new company unless our royalty agreement is cancelled.” Tesla agreed to the abrogation of the royalty agreement: “That’s all right, as long as I have enough money to continue with experiments.”

One of the milestones in Tesla’s career is described next: “Tesla worked hard and devised a method of harnessing power from Niagara Falls. Later he designed the Niagara Power Plant.”

In the next scene, the destruction of his laboratory by fire on March 13, 1895 is described. Tesla is shown outside his company as fire fighters seek to extinguish the flames which have engulfed the building. Tesla shouts in anguish: “All my experiments, all my records! They’ll be burned!”

After the construction of a new laboratory, Tesla focused his attention on other experiments. One of his major discovers was cosmic rays. Tesla stated: “I believe there are particles of matter bombarding the earth.” This theory was later proven to be accurate: “Thus Tesla discovered the cosmic ray thirty years before its existence was known to the world.” He was able to transmit power without wires: “He experimented further with electricity and in 1890…” Tesla is shown lighting a light bulb without wires. One observer exclaims: “Unbelievable! Light without wires!” Another exclaims: “Amazing!”

Tesla’s pioneering development of radio is recounted: “He worked on the fundamentals of radio and in 1891 …” Tesla is shown demonstrating remote control before a group of spectators. He is able to power a small red boat model in a small pool by remote control: “And so he foreshadowed wireless remote control and electronics.”

In the next scene, the Wardenclyffe project is described, Tesla’s unsuccessful attempt to provide free wireless power for the entire planet: “But a major disappointment came.” Tesla is shown in front of the tower. He tells a backer of the project: “Wireless power will circle the globe when we get this built.” He is told: “I’m sorry, Tesla, but it can’t be finished. We have no more funds to give you.” J. P. Morgan was the principal sponsor of the Wardenclyffe tower project initially investing $150,000. Morgan refused to invest further in the project. As a result, the Wardenclyffe tower was shut down and demolished in 1917.

The closing section focused on Tesla’s final years in New York: “In spite of many set-backs, Tesla achieved fame in the scientific world, and in 1936 …” A group is gathered to award the Edison Medal, which was awarded to Tesla in 1916. Tesla’s chair is shown to be empty. One of the men explains: “Receiving the Edison Medal is a great event in any man’s life, but when is Tesla coming?” The other responds: “I think I know where he may be.”

They are able to locate Tesla in Bryant Park, in Manhattan in New York City. Tesla is seated on a park bench feeding white pigeons that have landed on his shoulders. The comic story ends here.

The story concludes with an assessment and evaluation of Tesla’s role and contributions to the development of modern science: “Some of Tesla’s early predictions which have been perfected included radar and television. But many scientists are still skeptical about other of his later ideas like … sending messages to planets … controlling moisture on deserts by means of electrical impulses … creating a death beam that could destroy 10,000 planes at once.” In the final panel, an image of Tesla is shown. His death on January 7, 1943, at the age of 86, is noted.

The story concludes with the observation that Tesla was able to perservere and to become a pioneer in the development of the modern technological age: “In spite of the hardships that plagued his life, Nikola Tesla continued his scientific investigations which were so far ahead of his time.”

The Nikola Tesla comic book story series “Prophet of Science” from Real Heroes Comics, #16, October, 1946, was reprinted in the 1948 Daisy BB Gun Handbook, Daisy Handbook, #2, March, 1948, in black and white. The comic story begins on page 53.

The Daisy Handbook was a pocket-sized collection of black and white reprints of several comic features from comic books such as True Comics, Real Heores Comics, and other comic books, as well as containing color ads for its own products, air rifles or BB guns. The cover description was as follows: “Daisy Handbook, No. 2. Featuring Captain Marvel, Robotman, Red Ryder, Da Vinci, 2-Gun Percy, Rudolph Diesel, Boy Commandos, Ibis. The American Boy’s Fun and Fact Digest.” The price for the handbook was 10 cents.

There were two issues of the handbook published, in 1946 and 1948. The 1948 handbook was advertised as follows: “Daisy announces an entirely new 128 page, pocket size handbook including a brand new 4-color Daisy catalog.” The Daisy Handbook was published by the Daisy Manufacturing Company, 387 Union Street, Department 8, Plymouth, Michigan, USA. The company manufactured primarily BB guns or air rifles. The company, founded in 1882 as the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company, was the oldest and largest manufacturer of pellet and air-powered guns, ammunition, and accessories. The major product of the company was the Red Ryder BB gun which was introduced in 1938 and of which 9 million were sold. The company also manufactured air rifles, pistols, carbon dioxide or CO2 pistols, slingshots, and branded apparel.

Nikola Tesla would also appear in the 1946 comic book True Comics, #50, July, 1946, George Westinghouse, the 1949 comic book Top Secrets, #9, May-June, Top Secrets of Nature. Nikola Tesla: Discoverer of Alternating Current, published by Street and Smith in New York, the 1974 comic book The Science Fair Story of Electronics: Man’s Discovery That Changed The World, Science Fair Quiz, and The Science Fair Story of Electronics: The Discovery That Changed the World, #68-6028, September, 1981, both by Radio Shack.

Fifty years after Nikola Tesla’s first appearance in Golden Age comics, he would become a dominant and recurring subject of comic books and graphic novels. Nikola Tesla would appear in the following comics books: DC Comics’ Barnum, May, 2003, Justice League of America, JLA: Age of Wonder, 2003 by DC Comics, Marvel Comics’ S.H.I.E.L.D, #5, February, 2011, Chapter Five: The Forgotten Machines of Nikola Tesla,  DC Comics’ Jonah Hex, #22, October, 2007, The Wizards of Electricity, The Current War, the Finnish comic book Agent X9, #1, January, 2012, by Egmont Serieforlaget, Atomic Robo, October, 2007, The Will To Power, by Red 5 Comics, Ltd., Marvel Comics’ 2099 Unlimited, #3, January, 1994, Kid Current, Online, and The Night Man, #1, October, 1993, C: The Sorcerer, by Malibu.