Whiz: 1953: The New Adventures of Bulletboy, Chapter 1: Young Bulletman

by Dan Swanson

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Around their twelfth year, most boys’ lives change a lot, just as they are changed by growing up. In 1944, Tod Drake had his twelfth birthday, and his life changed even more dramatically than most of his peers. He grew several inches and gained twenty pounds, his voice went from contralto to baritone, he almost became a bully, then became a hero, then a mystery-kid — and then an ex-mystery-kid. He went from being a poor student to an exceptional one. His family moved from New York City to Chicago, and he changed his name from Tod to Todd. All of these changes were related. It all began in January, 1944, a few days after Tod’s twelfth birthday.

Tod’s parents were brilliant. His father was the lead designer at Clandon Tank, a brilliant engineer who’d recently finished designing a powerful new tank for the war effort. His mother was a professor of English at Columbia and a published author, and she was considered the leading authority on women poets in the Western Hemisphere. Tod was as intelligent as either of his parents, but he rarely applied himself at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Elementary School; when he was younger, he’d always had straight A’s until the bullies in his class convinced him to stop making the rest of them look bad.

After his big brother Jack joined the U.S. Navy the previous year, Tod had begged Jack to teach him how to fight like his hero Bulletman. Partly in order to get him off his back, but also because he knew his kid brother needed to learn how to defend himself while Jack was away in the Pacific, he relented and taught Tod a few moves. He’d had to admit that the boy was a natural fighter.

In the last six months of 1943, Tod Drake had grown several inches taller and gained weight to match his height, and at the moment he was now the biggest kid in his class at school. Prior to this growth spurt, Tod had been among the smallest kids, and he’d often been picked on because of his size. He soon realized that the kids who had bullied him most of his life were now afraid of him, especially after his older brother had taught him how to fight.

Sammy Snodgrass had bullied Tod for years, and finally Tod decided he’d had enough. He called Sammy “Snotty” all day in front of their classmates and teachers, laughing when his rival grew madder and madder. Sammy had jumped him after school, and Tod beat the pants off him until Sammy began crying. Tod gave him one last kick. “Hey, Snotty, time to run home to mommy!” He was thrilled at the power he felt saying this, and he began plotting how he would get back at the other kids who had tormented him for years.

The next day, Tod and his brother Jack, while home on leave from the Navy, had gone to a war bond rally for kids at a department store. Every kid brought something to donate to the war effort, and kid-sized Bulletman costumes were available to buy. Some kids even got to meet the heroic mystery-man himself. Tod was just one kid in a crowd of many, but it was an incredible experience to be that close to his hero. Tod was thrilled with the Bulletman costume that Jack bought for him, and he immediately started wearing it and pretending he was a mystery-man for real.

That night, Tod spotted a prowler trying to break into his house and stopped him by dropping a vase on his head from an upper-floor window. The man was stunned, but still got away before the police could arrive. A reporter on the beat wrote up the story for the morning edition.

The next day, Jim Barr and Susan Kent read the newspaper account of how a prowler was scared away from the Drake home at 212 Harrison Drive. Being Bulletman himself, Jim recognized the address as that of a boy who’d bought a Bulletman costume. In fact, the only reason he recalled that much was because Jack Drake had approached the hero and told him how much Tod worshiped him. Thus Jim and Susan decided to make sure the boy was safe.

Meanwhile, Tod found the prowler’s hat and rode his bike to the address of the hat shop found in the label, bringing his Bulletman costume with him in a package. Tod never realized that Jim and Susan were secretly following him by car as he biked to the address he’d obtained from the hat shop, a creepy old shack at 121 Wood Road. Jim and Susan only realized there was trouble after the crooks caught Tod snooping around and took him inside at gunpoint. But as the couple peered through the window, they were knocked out from behind.

Just as the crooks were about to kill Tod, the boy burst from a room wearing his Bulletman costume after a quick change. Calling himself Young Bulletman, Tod landed a few impressive punches before Jim and Susan came to and secretly helped him out. When Tod introduced himself to them afterward, they decided not to let him know that they’d secretly helped him defeat the crooks.

Jim handcuffed the whole gang and was about to lead them to jail when a few of them grumbled about paying the price for someone else. Jim offered them a deal if they told the police about their boss, but before they could speak, a shooter began firing at everyone from a passing car. Some of the men were struck by bullets, but thankfully no one died. Jim now knew the gang comprised more than mere burglars.

Tod rode after the car, and after they’d secured the crooks for the police, Jim and Susan became Bulletman and Bulletgirl and also flew in pursuit, remaining unseen. As the car reached a dock, Tod sneaked onto the waiting yacht, while Bulletman and Bulletgirl landed elsewhere on the deck.

Soon Tod learned that the crooks were working for Herr Von Mite, a Nazi agent no taller than the boy, and that the real plan for robbing the Drake home had been to steal tank plans that Tod’s father was working on.

Having heard enough, Tod tried to burst through the door just like his hero, only to stun himself. As Tod recovered, Bulletman broke the lock before hiding once again, so when Tod tried a second time, the door opened easily.

Tod launched into the crooks, but this time he was easily knocked out, and didn’t see Bulletman and Bulletgirl defeat them. As Jim and Susan, they congratulated Tod for defeating the whole gang when he awoke, though Von Mite himself managed to escape. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Mimic and the Mite,” Master Comics #48 (March, 1944).]

A few weeks later, Von Mite’s second attempt to retrieve the tank plans would involve Tod Drake once more.

While visiting his father at the Clandon Tank Plant, Tod overheard Von Mite and his gang in a parked car making plans to abduct his father. Tod called the police, who captured the men, though Von Mite escaped again.

Jim Barr and Susan Kent overheard the news about Von Mite and determined to help young Tod again, but only secretly, since they figured it would break the boy’s heart if he knew that all his Bulletboy feats had been accomplished with their help.

Tod was unable to convince his father about Von Mite, but Jim and Susan decided to personally guard him. The next day, Jim and Susan followed Mr. Drake home from work, but they soon realized he was in danger after they were unable to follow him onto a ferry, supposedly because it was full.

Indeed, Tod’s father was held at gunpoint on the nearly empty ferry and was just about to be forced onto a yacht, when Tod Drake as Young Bulletman emerged from the car’s trunk to fight the men, leading them on a merry chase around the ferry. After his father was taken aboard the yacht, Tod tried to chase after him, but found himself unable to fly, instead falling down hard. Bulletman and Bulletgirl then secretly helped him on his second try, carrying him through the air by his costume through the fog and dropping him onto the yacht.

After fighting the crooks, Tod managed to enter the radio room and contact the Coast Guard, while Bulletman and Bulletgirl defeated all the crooks on the yacht. Leaving the radio room, Tod found his father as he was being tortured by Von Mite, and laid into the dwarf Nazi agent. Bulletman even helped him by knocking out Von Mite with a thrown metal bar.

When the Coast Guard arrived, Jim and Susan pretended to have come with them. After his father thanked him for defeating Von Mite, Tod was greeted by Jim and Susan, though he still had no idea they’d secretly aided Tod and used their own powers to make it seem as if he really did have powers of his own. (*) It wasn’t until later that Jim and Susan realized how dangerous their game really was.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Return of Bulletboy,” Master Comics #49 (April, 1944).]

Tod had enjoyed being Young Bulletman, and Bulletman was his own hero. Thus, while he was making plans to clobber some of the other bullies at school, he realized that his hero would certainly not approve. If he followed through on his plans for revenge on his former tormentors, he would become just another bully himself. Besides, with his new bullet-powers, it just wouldn’t be fair. He knew Bulletman and Bulletgirl never abused their powers, and he wanted to be just like them.

It wasn’t long after that when he realized that he no longer had bullet-powers. This happened when he tried to fly after a fleeing bank robber, only to fall hard to the pavement when he leaped into the air. After a few experiments, he reluctant concluded that the powers his costume gave him had faded. But Tod wasn’t licked yet.

“Well, Bulletman invented his helmet, which lets him fly,” he mused. “I’m going to invent something that lets me fly, too!” He decided he would focus on magnetism; he could experiment with magnets without needing to study anything, since everybody had seen magnets work. He soon immersed himself in his experiments, and by the time the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Elementary School Fall Science Fair was ready several months later that year, he was ready to show off. It was his entry that brought first Jim Barr and Sue Kent back into his life and then, a little later, Bulletman and Bulletgirl.

Jim Barr had some small renown as a police scientist in his neighborhood, and the school asked him to be a judge at the Science Fair. Some of the projects were less than sterling, such as whether cows give more milk if they are milked in the morning than the evening, or which cola has the most fizz. But he was extremely impressed with an entry in the fourteen-and-under category. He was even more intrigued when he discovered he already knew the young inventor — Tod Drake, who had once fancied himself Young Bulletman. Of course, since he already knew the young man, he recused himself to be sure the judging was unbiased, and Tod would have a chance to win the prize fair and square.

Tod’s exhibit was called Magnetic Levitation with Permanent Magnets by Todd Drake. Initially, when Tod saw that his name was misspelled on the sign he’d paid a whole quarter for, he had been furious. But he didn’t have time to take it back, and he didn’t want to wreck the sign by painting out the extra d — and besides, he was starting to like it. Todd looked so much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than Tod. Thus, right then and there, he enthusiastically adopted the extra d, and he was known as Todd from that point on.

His science fair project was a wooden race track of sorts, lima-bean-shaped, and about nine feet long. The track was really a wooden tray about two inches wide and two inches deep. The bottom of the tray was lined with flat magnets glued to the wood, with the north poles facing up, and the south poles facing down. Todd had built a flying boat that moved around the track, floating above it on magnetic repulsion.

The boat was about six inches long by two inches wide, and it had horizontal runners sticking out both sides, which fit into slots in the wall of the tray. Glued to the bottom of the boat were more flat magnets, with the north poles facing downward. When the boat was placed over top of the track, the magnets repelled each other, and the boat floated. Without the runners, the boat would have instantly slid to one side or the other and capsized, but the runners kept it upright. This meant, of course, that when the boat was pushed forward along the track, it would bounce from side to side, which would eventually bring the boat to a halt. The runners on the sides of the boat were made of highly polished glass, and the walls of the tray were covered with a very thin coat of Marvel Mystery Oil to minimize the loss of forward momentum due to friction against the tray walls. If the boat was pushed firmly enough, it would glide entirely around the track once without any further application of power.

When Jim Barr stopped to talk with Todd, he asked the youngster some questions, and was impressed with the answers.

“So, youngster, how are you going to propel your boat? You could put a fan on the back of it and push it!”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Todd replied seriously. “You know what electromagnets are, right?” Jim chuckled to himself as he nodded his head. “Well, I think there should be some way to use electromagnets to pull the boat along the track. But I don’t know enough about electricity to build anything.”

Jim offered to teach Todd electrical theory and electronics, including vacuum tubes, then help him design and build a model of the switched electromagnets the youngster had only envisioned. Todd agreed excitedly, and three times a week, he would head to Barr’s house after school. Up until this point in his life, Todd had been only an average student in most subjects, though he’d recently become fascinated with magnetism. When he realized how important math was to electronics, his interest in math picked up, too. And he quickly realized that he needed an excellent command of the English language in order to understand all the electronic books. So Todd went from being a mediocre student to an excellent one. His parents were both pleased as punch with their son’s drastic improvement, and Jim Barr and Susan Kent became good friends with the Drake family.

One day, Jim was called away from a tutoring session and quickly changed to Bulletman. However, he was a little careless, and Todd saw him change. When Jim came back, Todd told him what he’d seen and asked if he could join Jim and Susan as crime-fighters. He brought up his previous successes as Bulletboy without even a gravity helmet, so how much better would he be with actual powers? Jim figured that the gravity regulator helmet would protect him, so after considerable discussion with Susan and Todd, he was finally added to the team. As Bulletboy, Todd was introduced to a few other mystery-men friends of Bulletman and Bulletgirl, such as Minute Man.

Unfortunately, Todd’s stint as Bulletboy didn’t last very long. Jim was reluctant to let him use the anti-crime drug, because he was worried about potential side-effects in someone that young, and Todd’s normal twelve-year-old strength and speed soon let him down. He was trapped by a gang of juvenile delinquents calling themselves the X-Gang who broke his arm before Bulletman and Bulletgirl arrived to rescue him. Jim and Todd tried to come up with a story the Drakes would believe, but Susan flatly refused to take part in the cover-up. The Drakes didn’t believe the story, and eventually Jim told the truth.

The Drakes were flabbergasted and extremely angry when they discovered that their son was Bulletboy. They had trusted their friends to educate and protect their son, and instead they were putting him into deadly danger. Todd’s parents threatened to sue, or worse, if Jim and Sue ever again came near Todd. Mr. Drake even hinted that he might know somebody who would break bones pretty cheaply. Todd, Bulletman, and Bulletgirl were all devastated, but after both the heroes thought it over, they realized just how reckless they had been. They hated to lose the friendship of the Drakes and Todd, but they really had exercised very poor judgment in letting someone else’s son become Bulletboy without his parents’ knowledge.

Just to be on the safe side, the Drakes moved to another state, where Todd’s father eventually got a new design job at a tank plant in Chicago. Before they left, however, Jim was able to sneak Todd a gift — his Bulletboy costume and a vial of the anti-crime drug, but he only passed these on when Todd took a solemn oath not to use them until he reached eighteen. Of course, by the time he reached eighteen, Todd didn’t have the same interests in comic-books and mystery-men he’d had when he was twelve, so he wasn’t interested in being a hero any longer.

Todd Drake was born in 1932 and graduated from high school at seventeen in 1949. He worked for a year to save some money for school, and in 1950 he went on to college. He wanted to be a nuclear chemist, so he went to college at the school where atomic energy was first produced — the University of Chicago — and majored in physics and chemistry.

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