JUSTICE INC. is an American comic book series published by DC Comics in 1975. The series consists of four issues written by comic legend Denny O’Neil. The first two issues were based on stories from the 1940s pulp magazine THE AVENGER. The first issue was drawn by comic great Al McWilliams. The last three issues were done by none other than comic genius Jack Kirby.
JUSTICE INC. follows the adventures of a hero known as The Avenger. Richard Henry Benson is an adventurer and explorer who suffers the loss of his wife and infant daughter, as well as a head injury, all of which leaves him traumatized. His hair has turned snow white, so has his skin, and his facial muscles are paralyzed. As such his skin can be molded into any form he wants like clay. Topped off with a wig and greasepaint, Benson – now calling himself The Avenger – becomes a master of disguise, which he uses in his war on crime.
Like most pulp super-heroes The Avenger has a group of people who aid him on his missions. They include:
Algernon Heathcote “Smitty” Smith
Fergus “Mac” MacMurdie
The creator of The Avenger and Justice Inc. is given as Kenneth Robeson the creator of Doc Savage. However, Kenneth Robeson was actually a house name used by publisher Street & Smith. Many writers wrote under the name Kenneth Robeson for them. The actual creator was a writer named Paul Ernst. What is interesting to note is that both Doc Savage (Clark Savage Jr.) and The Avenger (Richard Henry Benson) have the same inspiration. Both characters were inspired by real-life adventurer and explorer Richard Henry Savage.
For obvious reasons this comic adaptation could not be called THE AVENGER. Marvel comics was publishing a very popular comic book titled THE AVENGERS. The group that aided The Avenger in his adventures was known as Justice Inc. so that became the name of the comic.
ISSUE #1: THIS NIGHT, AN AVENGER IS BORN
Arthur Hickock and his henchmen kill Richard Henry Benson’s wife and daughter. The shock of their deaths and an injury to his head leave him with a ghastly appearance. While investigating the death of his family he meets Algernon Heathcote “Smitty” Smith – another man who has suffered at the hands of criminals. The two of them team-up and take down Hickock and his gang. Afterwards they form Justice Inc. to fight for all those who have suffered at the hands of criminals.
ISSUE #2; THE SKYWALKER
Trains and buildings come crashing down under mysterious circumstances. Even stranger is the appearance of a man waling on thin air in the sky. Inventor Robert Gant developed a sound ray that causes steel to vibrate and fall apart – hence the buildings collapsing. He also invented a process that renders metal invisible – which explains the man seeming to walk thru the sky. He was actually flying in an invisible plane. That man was Abel Darcy who killed Gant and stole his inventions. In a showdown in the sky The Avenger has to stop him before he kills again.
ISSUE #3: THE MONSTER BUG
The criminal mastermind Colonel Sodom – who once clashed with The Shadow – returns! He has samples of a germ that causes people exposed to mutate into horrible monsters in seconds. Sodom wants chemist Fergus MacMurdie to duplicate his samples for him. But MacMurdie’s wife is accidentally exposed and she is killed after becoming a monster. This turns MacMurdie into an implacable enemy who teams with The Avenger to stop Colonel Sodom.
This story is a sequel to THE SHADOW #5 (1974) also published by DC Comics.
ISSUE #4: SLAY RIDE IN THE SKY
A series of commercial planes have crashed under mysterious circumstances. The Avenger and Justice Inc. investigate. Rufus Comb – the owner of the airlines – has been causing them to crash by using sea gulls laced with explosives. He is broke and has been collecting on the insurance money. On a final battle on Comb’s biplane The Avenger makes sure he will never kill again.
There are a lot of things to like about The Avenger and Justice Inc. If you like pulp hero stories set in the 1940s then this is for you. With his disfigurement and bizarre appearance The Avenger is one of the earliest of the so-called “ugly” or not attractive super-heroes that later became so prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. But he alone did not make JUSTICE INC. great. I love Smitty the giant whose words are as big as his stature. I also love Mac the dour Scotsmen.
But one of the most amazing things about The Avenger magazine was the way in which it handled minorities in the 1940s. Josh and his wife Rosabel are a Negro couple and full-fledged members of Justice Inc. During its entire run they are presented as brave, intelligent, and resourceful members of the team. This is almost unbelievable for the 1940s. This same sensitivity in reflected in the comic book. Which raises it above other pulp books.
Lest you believe I think JUSTICE INC. is perfect allow me to say it is not! The artwork is outstanding – which is to be expected from Jack Kirby – and the stories are quick-paced and exciting. However, the writer Denny O’Neil is forced to adapt an entire pulp novel into just one issue for the first two issues. The last two issues are original stories but complete in just that one issue. The stories are simply not long enough and you are left wanting more. This is a major flaw in these four issues and I think this is why the book did not go on to greater success.
As a pulp character I love The Avenger and consider him in the same class as Doc Savage and The Shadow. I love the original pulps novels and I love this JUSTICE INC. comic book. Not a perfect comic book read by any means but enjoyable nonetheless and I recommend you check it out. On our rating scale I give these four issues three and a half gray geeks.
That is it for now. I thank you for allowing me to take up so much of your time. I wish you all to be safe and in these trying times put on your mask, wear your gloves, and be the super-hero you have always been!