The Second Sino-Japanese war is raging on the Asian mainland and the Nazi (and Soviet) invasion of Poland is mere weeks away. A depression-weary America attempts to steer a neutralist course through the geopolitical minefield, but anxieties are running high.
The people need a hero, a mythic champion willing to take up arms and defend life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They need…
…BOZO THE ROBOT, whose debut in Smash Comics #1 marked the beginning of a modestly impressive three-and-a-half year run.
The grinning automaton began his mechanical life as the villainous minion of a mad scientist. Though the combined forces of the police and fire departments were unable to halt his remote-operated reign on terror, the chortling archfiend was brought low by the actions of one Hugh Hazzard.
Hazzard was a playboy-turned-amateur-detective — a breed who were to Golden Age funnybook stories what America bison were to the 19th century Great Plains — whose two-fisted brand of crimefighting succeeded where more conventional menthods invariably failed. Through a clever ruse — which “Wayne Reid” (actually Quality Comics editor George Brenner) couldn’t bother to depict on the page — Hazzard managed to climb inside the “iron man” and use it as a mechanical Trojan Horse to catch its villainous operator unawares.
That moment of cybernetic intimacy left a mark on Hazzard, however, leading him to liberate the robot’s inert carcass from a police scrapyard and repurpose it for crimefighting purposes. He dubbed the mechanical man “Bozo” and kitted it out with a stainless steel propeller beanie capable of bestowing the power of flight. While remotely controllable through a hidden receiver in Hazzard’s lapel, Bozo could also be piloted directly by the playboy pugilist when circumstances required, making it one of the earliest — if not first — examples of superheroic power armor.
While the local constabulary was initially less than pleased with the robo-resurrection scheme, Hazzard’s knack for putting the kibosh on the schemes of home-grown gangsters and foreign saboteurs eventually won him a place in their good graces.
Those children of later, more cynical times may wonder whether Bozo’s clownish name and grinning mechanical maw might have impeded his ability to strike fear in the hearts of evildoers. That’s a reasonable point to raise, but a misguided one.
…being the last thing you see before you die.
And die you certainly would, because Hazzard’s administration of justice was positively Old Testament in practice…
Harsh? Certainly, but also much appreciated in a time of slashed funding for public services.
Apart from some visual “Easter Egg” cameos and a sideways nod in the recent Freedom Fighters reboot, Bozo hasn’t received any significant face time since early 1940s.
That’s just as well. Though the core concept behind “Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man” may be timeless, the appeal of the character is inseperably linked to the era of his creation — a more exuberant time when the “rules” of the superhero genre were being shaped on the fly and hadn’t yet calcified into a familiar litany of tropes. Bozo’s goofy charm could never bear the weight of smirking irony or po’ faced revisionism.
He’s an avatar of stupid disposable fun from when stupid disposable fun was the entire point of the funnybook game, and that’s why I cant help but love the murderous metallic mook.