1941-09 The Mindless Monsters

A few days ago, I came across a reference to Adventure Comics #48 which featured the first adventure of Hourman.

This story was written by Ken Fitch and drawn by Bernard Baily. This character used a chemical compound that transformed him into a superhuman for one hour. The mixture gave him super strength, endurance, superior speed, and significant but not total invulnerability to physical harm.

The character was a chemist named Rex Tyler. He named his chemical compound “Miraclo.”

I wondered if this might have been Alan Hathway’s inspiration for his Doc Savage story, “The Mindless Monsters” which was published in the September 1940 issue of Doc Savage. This was the second of Hathway’s four Doc Savage stories.

The secret of the mindless monsters is a chemical compound called Rex Supercol. It was created by Merwin Merlo who was the proprietor of an apothecary shop.  Merlo’s serum turned its victims into mindless men with superhuman strength. That is just an archaic name for a drugstore. The story does not indicate that Merlo was a pharmacist.

Doc Savage mentions Benzedrine and its use by German dive bomber pilots. Benzedrine was an over-the-counter amphetamine-based product for sale in drug stores and pharmacies at the time this story was published.

1940 Newspaper Advertisement

The film “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” came out in 1941 but was released after the Doc Savage story. There was a 1931 film of the same name but there is nothing that indicates Mr. Hyde had superhuman strength. That appears to be something added by modern film makers.

The compound in Hathway’s story shares some basic similarities with that later used by Hourman. The use of the term “Rex” in the compound’s name points to Hourman’s secret identity, Rex Tyler. 

Given the amount of material from Street & Smith that found its way into the early Superman and Batman comics it is surprising to find an example moving in the opposite direction.

Tom Barnett
May 5, 2022