CAPTAIN FLAG (Tom Townsend)
Joe Blair & Lin Streeter
Joined Mighty Crusaders:
In an untold story prior to Archie’s Weird Mysteries #3
Blue Ribbon Comics #16, September 1941
A master criminal who wants the plans for the father’s latest invention kidnaps Tom Townsend and his inventor father. Tom watches helplessly as his father is strangled to death. An eagle crashes through a window and saves Tom. The eagle nurses Tom back to health. One day the eagle returns with an American Flag in its beak and Tom takes this as an omen. He makes a costume from the flag and returns to America to fight crime as Captain Flag
The hero who would become known as Captain Flag had a most ignoble beginning. Though many heroes have posed in their civilian identities as playboys or as uncaring weaklings, Thomas Townsend was such. He was a playboy and a lush, who had no qualms about idly spending his father’s money.
One night the robed and hooded, white-faced Black Hand abducts John Townsend, wealthy inventor of the Army’s new bombsight. Taking Townsend to his hideout, Black Hand tortures him, using hungry rats that gnaw at Townsend’s chest, to get him to reveal the plans for the bombsight. But Townsend is made of stern stuff and will not break. So, Black Hood decides to abduct Thomas, his son, to coerce his father into talking. His henchmen snatch the inebriated Thomas Townsend as he leaves the Crane Club at dawn. He is so out of it that once he revives from the clout on the head by Black Hand’s hirelings he thinks his headache is from the drink. But realization sobers him up quickly when he sees his father hanging by chains on a wall, his chest bloodied from where the rats had gnawed. Black Hand ties Thomas to a post and prepares to torture him. He removes the glove from his right hand to reveal a clawed, diseased black hand. But John Townsend still has fight left in him and when Black Hand’s back is toward him he lifts his legs and kicks the villain preventing him from murdering his son. Black Hand, in a rage, turns on Townsend and strangles him, piercing his throat with a claw of his deadly black hand. As John Townsend dies “ his face and neck become hideously black”. Seeing no further use for Thomas Townsend, Black Hand delivers to him the same deadly grip. Providence intervenes, however, in the shape of an eagle, which suddenly appears, grabs Thomas, and, amidst a hail of bullets, crashes through a window carrying him to safety. No matter, as far as Black Hand is concerned: “… that molly-coddle will never survive”.
During the weeks that follow the Black Hand and his band of cutthroats become a scourge committing an “unprecedented series” of sabotage and murder, culminating in the theft of the Army’s bombsight. Apparently, no one can stop them. Not even the FBI.
All this while Thomas Townsend slowly regains his health with the “amazing cooperation” of the eagle that saved his life. Having taken the man to its aerie, the eagle proceeds to bring him food. Meanwhile, through the use of his natural surroundings, Thomas develops the muscles that he has allowed to degenerate during his soft playboy years. Then, one day the eagle arrives bearing an American flag. Townsend takes this as a symbol of his destiny, fashions a costume out of the flag and vows: “The eagle brought me a flag…a flag which I’ll protect with my very life.” And thus Captain Flag is born.
Giving his eagle friend the name Yank, Captain Flag rushes to Black Hand’s hideout just in time to break up a meeting where Black Hand is informing his men that he is planning to sell the bombsight plans to the Nazis. Flag, like a whirlwind, bowls over Black Hand then storms into his men. Regaining his footing, Black Hand retrieves a kerosene lamp, which he hurls at Captain Flag while the hero is preoccupied with the villain’s cronies. Yank saves the day by grabbing the kerosene lamp in the air and dropping it down onto Black Hand. Within minutes, the rundown mansion is a raging inferno, which Captain Flag and Yank just barely escape. So, it seemed, Black Hand’s terrorism had come to an end.
Captain Flag’s next outing takes him to Canada where he meets ex-film star and U.S. Secret Service agent Veronica Darnell. They are both there to capture Black Hand, who somehow survived the inferno of his hideout, and is now helping German prisoners to escape from Canadian prisons. Black Hand proves to be a master of disguise and an adept fighter. He easily overpowers Miss Darnell who has a gun pointed at him. Captain Flag comes to Veronica’s rescue, but during his scuffle with Black Hand, Miss Darnell, trying to knock out Black Hand, conks Captain Flag over the head with the butt of her revolver. Black Hand and his freed prisoner flee. When Captain Flag recovers the repartee between him and Veronica speaks of instant mutual attraction. They give chase to Black Hand who fixes a bridge to collapse as the pair cross it. Captain Flag manages to save himself, and trusty Yank saves Veronica Darnell. Captain Flag closes ranks on Black Hand, who, during the fight, dives into the river and escapes. A little later Black Hand’s benefactors, who were hiding nearby, are found and arrested by Miss Darnell. More of the attraction between Captain Flag and Veronica becomes evident as they stare into each other’s eyes before parting. Miss Darnell gives an emotional: “Good luck, Captain Flag…and until we meet again.,” as Captain Flag flies off into the night towed by Yank.
Blue Ribbon #18 opens with Black Hand stealthily making his way toward a factory, and Captain Flag diving down at him. Captain Flag has not escaped Black Hand’s notice, however, as the villain whirls and clouts the hero with a lead pipe. In a hurry to complete his mission, Black Hand does not kill Captain Flag, but hurries on, entering the factory by a rear door. A watchman inside making his rounds discovers Black Hand, who quickly gives the guard a taste of his fatal appendage. Next, Black Hand opens a section of the factory’s air conditioning and pours a vial of germs into it. He quickly races out, past a ringing telephone, which he assumes if an attempt by the watchman’s superior to get his watchman’s report. Meanwhile, Captain Flag recovers from Black Hand’s blow and, himself, gains entrance to the warehouse, just in time to see Black Hand fleeing past. He gives chase but is distracted by the feeble moan of the watchman, whom he stops to help. He realizes, the man’s face already black, that it is too late to help. The police, notified by the watch superintendent, barge in and find Captain Flag leaning over the dead watchman. They arrest Captain Flag for the man’s murder.
Next morning, when the air conditioning is turned on, the deadly germs that Black Hand released into the system, spread through the air infecting the workmen, who begin collapsing. One man, before he succumbs, manages to get a phone call off to the police.
Veronica Darnell (who in this issue says she is from the FBI) visits Captain Flag in prison and tells him of the situation at the factory. She informs him that only radium can save the workers and that a half million dollars worth is being sent from Chicago. She is going to meet the shipment at the airport and escort it to the hospital. Captain Flag realizes getting the radium is what Black Flag is really up to. After Miss Darnell leaves, Captain Flag tricks a guard and escapes from jail amidst a hail of bullets, and races to the airport. While this is going on Black Hand accosts the doctor at the hospital, and kills him. Arriving at the airport Flag finds out from the FBI agents there that Miss Darnell has accompanied the radium shipment to the hospital. Captain Flag commandeers a motorcycle. As he is speeding off one of the FBI agents draws his gun, but his stopped from shooting by the other agent, who reminds him that Veronica told them to tip Flag off.
At the hospital, Veronica delivers the radium to the doctor but realizes almost immediately that he is really Black Hand. Black Hand works quickly, and as Captain Flag barges in the villain has a deadly grip on Miss Darnell’s throat. Captain Flag attacks Black Hand and is doing well until Black Hand throws a chair at him which forces the hero back against the door just as the police are charging in. Flag is conked on the head with the swung open door, and Black Hand leaps out the window. Veronica Darnell helps revive Captain Flag who says, “Well, well. Every time I meet up with you, I get my head cracked.” He inquires of the police about Black Hand who tell him that he escaped by a rope that he had attached to the window. The radium was saved, and thus the lives of the workmen will also be saved the police explain, as the sergeant apologizes to Captain Flag for arresting him falsely. He tells them to forget it and races off in search of Black Hand.
Captain Flag had a knack for showing up at the scene of a crime and being arrested by the police as his next adventure testifies to. It starts with Captain Flag crashing through a window to help an inventor who is being strangled by the vines of a plant that popped out of a package that had been delivered to him. The good Captain fails as he struggles with the vines that feel “like they’re living animals.” Just as the inventor expires the police rush in, guns out, and arrest Captain Flag for the inventor’s murder.
The inventor, who had been working on a secret government project, was the target of a malformed botanist who uses plants to kill his victim. He plans to kill his next victim McCoy, the first inventor’s partner, with the scent of the Mediterranean Poison Cornflower and disguises himself as an old woman peddling flowers to pull it off.
The FBI chief (J. Edgar Hoover?) tasks Miss Darnell with protecting McCoy. She accepts the assignment then rushes off to the prison to pay a visit to Captain Flag. She tells Flag that she knows that he is not guilty and promises to “have him out in no time.” During their conversation, Captain Flag manages to filch a nail file from her purse, which she had allowed to become suspiciously close to him. And, of course, shortly after she leaves he manages to escape. Later at the McCoy mansion Captain Flag finds out that McCoy had received two tickets to a theatre premiere, and had just left for the theatre with Miss Darnell.
Outside the theatre, Miss Darnell and McCoy are approached by the disguised mad botanist who convinces McCoy to purchase a boutonniere. Shortly thereafter McCoy succumbs to the flower’s deadly perfume. Captain Flag arrives just as McCoy collapses. He surmises about the poison flower, and Miss Darnell points out the escaping flower woman. Captain Flag follows the mad botanist to his greenhouse headquarters, where during a struggle the villain falls into the jaws of a man-eating clam plant. Going through the man’s papers as the police and Miss Darnell arrive, Captain Flag finds that the mad botanist was being paid by a foreign power. Note #1: Next day, when Tom Townsend visits McCoy in the hospital, Veronica gives him the credit, in front of McCoy, for saving the inventor’s life. Note#2: Though he appears nowhere in this story, Black Hand is prominently displayed on the cover of this issue of Blue Ribbon Comics (#19).
“Deep in the dank, dismal jungle of Devil’s Island, where men’s souls and bodies are crushed under the heel of hate, Jeffrey Flynn, American newspaperman, suffers lingering torture at the hands of his Nazi captors, cruel, inhuman jailers who have imprisoned him in the infamous penal colony once controlled by France.” So begins Captain Flag’s most dangerous adventure.
Flynn was imprisoned by the Nazis in order to get him to sign a confession retracting everything he wrote in his book, “I Accuse Germany,” an expose of the Nazi regime.
Months later a fishing boat crew plucks a bottle with a note in it from the gulf stream. Determining the note is legitimate, the ship’s captain forwards it to the FBI. It is a note from Flynn seeking rescue from Devil’s Island.
The FBI chief calls in Linda Reed, who knows Captain Flag, who is a friend of Flynn’s. Linda visit’s Captain Flag in his civilian identity at his home. There he authenticates Flynn’s handwriting and explains to Linda that it was he who encouraged Flynn to write the book. Shortly thereafter, Captain Flag heads for Devils Island in his plane The American Eagle, with Yank tagging along just above. He decides to alight in the water near Devil’s Island and swim to shore. Along the way, he encounters some sharks. One charges him and Captain Flag dispatches it with his knife, leaving it as bait for the others while he swims to shore. Nearing the prison, Flag sees a line of prisoners returning from their day’s work. He waylays a straggler and dons the man’s prison uniform to gain entrance. Once inside, he locates Flynn, and the two flee. They are seen, however, and, as a guard takes a bead on them with his machine gun as they negotiate a wall, Yank dives to the attack deflecting the guard’s aim. As they race through the jungle chased by hounds, the ground suddenly crumbles beneath them. They are trapped in a pit.
Seemingly at the mercy of the prison’s Commandant, Captain Flag acquiesces to the Commandant’s demands that Flag convinces Flynn to sign the confession. But once the commandant throws down to them the paper and pen, Captain Flag reveals to Flynn that he had no intention of having him sign the confession. Grabbing a hollow bamboo stick that had formed the covering of their trap Captain Flag uses it as a blowgun to hurl the pen at the Commandant, killing him. The two climb out of the pit on a rope the Commandant had lowered down to bring them up once Flynn had signed the confession. As Yank runs interference with the other guards, the two escape into the jungle. Finding a dugout in a native village, Flynn and Captain Flag head out to sea amidst a hail of bullets. They are soon picked up by an American battleship.
Captain Flag’s final adventure begins in the Sixteenth Century as a mate on a battleship spies a man afloat in the water. The man is picked up, and by the book of verses he has with him the ship’s captain deduces he is “the murderous dog known as the Poet Pirate.” The Captain orders the Poet Pirate thrown into the brig to await his hanging the next day. All night long the Poet Pirate writes in his book what will be his last verses. As he is being accompanied to the yardarm to be hanged he gives his book to a mate and explains that in the verse he has written lies the secret to finding the Sandhurst treasure that went down with the “Lucy Grey”. The Poet Pirate is subsequently hanged. The mate, curious, attempts to read the book but is killed by the boatswain mate. He, in turn, is killed by the Captain, who is killed by mutineers, all in an attempt to gain the book of verse and decipher the secret to the Sandhurst treasure. And so it goes, down through the centuries, death after death to each owner of the Poet Pirate’s book of verses as the legend grows. Then, an article in January 5, 1942, edition of the Daily Clarion attracts the attention of the Black Hand and Captain Flag. A millionaire is bequeathing the book to the public library.
Black Hand wants the book. Captain Flag surmises that he will be after it. And so the game begins.
Black Hand strikes first. At the library, he obtains the book and an envelope containing the deciphered verse from the Librarian. Then, promptly kills him. But then — Captain Flag arrives. A knock-em-down-drag-em-out fight ensues. As the fight spills out onto the street, Captain Flag is felled when, in a last-ditch effort, Black Hand pushes him into a lamppost and knocks him out. Black Hand flees with the envelope, feeling that that is all he needs to find the Sandhurst treasure.
When Captain Flag regains consciousness, he discovers that the interpreter left notes in the book that gave the location of the treasure. Hiring a plane, he flies out over the South Atlantic, where he spots Black Hand’s motorboat at the scene. Ordering the pilot to fly low, Captain Flag dives into the ocean. He encounters Black Hand, in diving gear, below with the treasure chest. Captain Flag rips off Black Hand’s helmet and a fight begins. During the struggle, Black Hand’s foot gets caught in the wreckage of the “Lucy Grey.” Captain Flag, nearly out of breath, rises to the surface, regretting that he had to leave Black Hand. Once in Black Hand’s motorboat, Captain Flag opens the chest — empty. All those years people had been killing each other for a treasure that didn’t exist. Captain Flag tosses the chest back into the ocean, vowing to destroy the book. As Captain Flag speeds away, a black hand breaks the surface of the water.
Shortly thereafter, the half-drowned Black Hand is fished out of the Atlantic by a passing yacht. He’s resuscitated and given a place to sleep. Days later, when the boat’s captain discovers who he is, Black Hand kills him, but before he can dispose of the body, a storm hits. When the hurricane subsides, only Black Hand is left alive on the battered, drifting shell. Black Hand manages to get the boat running and limps into a foreign port under the cover of fog. There, he gathers a crew, repairs the yacht, equipping it with cannon, and sets sail for a foray of piracy. Spotting a freighter, the Black Hand sends out an SOS. As the unsuspecting ship draws near the seemingly deserted yacht cannon fire cripples the freighter. As the pirates board the freighter, a lone sailor darts into a cabin, and soon emerges as — Captain Flag. Wading through a number of pirates, Captain Flag spots Black Hand and gives chase. He is downed, however, by a billy club-wielding hand that strikes out from a porthole. He is placed in irons and stored below. Once the crew is subdued, Black Hand orders Captain Flag brought forth. Wrists bound in chains, Captain Flag is forced to walk the plank. He turns it to his advantage, however. Diving into the shallow water, he breaks the chain on a jagged rock on the ocean’s bottom. He climbs back onto the ship from the other side just as Black Hand announces that he has planted a bomb, and orders his crew to abandon ship. Captain Flag is ready to rush into another fray when he hears a call for help. Investigating, he finds the freighter’s Captain bound in a cabin, and dynamite with a lighted fuse. Thinking fast. Captain Flag rushes onto the deck and tosses the dynamite toward the Black Hand’s boat. The villain leaps into the water as the dynamite hits the yacht and explodes. Again the Black Hand is fished out of the water. This time, though, he meets with a different fate — a pirate’s death. He is hanged from the ship’s yardarm, thus ending “the scourge known as the Black Hand.”
This was also the end of Captain Flag as this issue (Blue Ribbon #22) was the last issue of the magazine. Captain Flag appeared briefly years later in Mighty Crusaders #4 (1st Series) trying to gain membership in the Mighty Crusaders. And again, in Mighty Crusaders #5 where, along with the Fox and the Web, he aided the Mighty Crusaders in putting an end to the terrorist organization known as D.E.M.O.N. (Destruction, Extortion, Murder, Oppression, and Nefariousness).
Powers & Weapons:
Captain Flag is an Olympic level athlete but has no superpowers.
Blue Ribbon Comics 16-22
Mighty & Radio Comics:
Mighty Crusaders 4
Red Circle & Archie Comics:
Mighty Crusaders (vol. 2) 9
Archie’s Weird Mysteries 3, 14
TEXT BY: John Packer