The Crimson Avenger

+ Wing + Crimson Avenger II
+ Crimson Avenger III

Created by Jim Chambers

NAME + ALIASES:
Lee Travis, aka "the Crimson"

KNOWN RELATIVES:
Unnamed parents, Winston Smythe (godfather)

GROUP AFFILIATIONS:
Seven Soldiers of Victory, All-Star Squadron

FIRST APPEARANCE:
Detective Comics #20 (Oct. 1938)
Second costume: Detective Comics #44 (Oct. 1940)

Wing

NAME + ALIASES:
Wing How

KNOWN RELATIVES:
Wing Ling (uncle)

GROUP AFFILIATIONS:
Seven Soldiers of Victory, All-Star Squadron

FIRST APPEARANCE:
Detective Comics #20 (Oct. 1938)
In costume: World's Finest #4 (Winter 1941)

Crimson Avenger II

NAME + ALIASES:
Albert Elwood

GROUP AFFILIATIONS:
None

FIRST APPEARANCE:
World's Finest Comics #131 (Feb. 1963)

Crimson Avenger III

NAME + ALIASES:
Jill Carlisle

GROUP AFFILIATIONS:
Justice Society of America

FIRST APPEARANCE:
Justice Society of America v.3 #33

History

Like many Golden Age heroes, the Crimson Avenger appeared fully formed and fightin'. "The Crimson," as he was called, was created by Jim Chambers and was National's (DC's) first masked hero — appearing four months after Superman, and four months earlier than the Batman.

The Crimson was styled after the contemporary hit radio hero, the Green Hornet, whose adventures began in Jan. 1936. Both characters were wealthy newspaper publishers and employed Asian chauffeurs (Wing, in the Crimson's case) adept at martial arts. In these early tales, Wing was often written using ethnic stereotypes that are considered offensive by today's audiences.

Clark Kent, writing a feature story for the Daily Planet on the fate of the Crimson Avenger, interviews the JSA, looking for more information on the Avenger's origins and the roots of the golden age of heroes.

The Crimson Avenger appeared only twice on the cover of Detective Comics, in issues #22 (Dec. 1938) and #34 (Dec. 1939); art by Jim Chambers. Imaged by Heritage Auctions.

As super-heroes rose in popularity, the Crimson Avenger exchanged his suit, cape and hat for a more de rigueur uniform — colorful and skin-tight (Detective Comics #44, Oct. 1940). He and Wing then joined up with the Seven Soldiers of Victory in Leading Comics #1 (Winter 1941/1942).

The Crimson's feature in Detective Comics was terminated even before the Soldiers' run in Leading ended. With its issues cover dated Aug. 1944, National dropped its page counts from 60 to 52 and one super-hero from every anthology comic was canceled. The Crimson Avenger thus became a footnote in Golden Age history until the Seven Soldiers' revival in 1972.

Noir Knights

Lee Travis' Halloween costume makes a date with destiny. From Secret Origins v.2 #5 (1986); art by Gene Colan and Mike Gustovich.
The Crimson's first printed caper, with Wing. From Detective Comics #20 (1938); art by Jim Chambers.
The Crimson's uses his signature gun, which emits a red sleeping gas. From Detective Comics #43 (1940); art by Jack Lehti.

Secret Origins

Like most Golden Age creations, the Crimson Avenger was given little or no back-story. That would have to wait until 1986, when Roy Thomas wrote one for Secret Origins v.2 #5; he continued the story in a 4-issue Crimson Avenger limited series.

Lee Travis was born to a working class family whose fortunes were poor during the Great Depression. Lee's godfather, Winston Smythe, paid for the tuition to send him to school. But when Lee joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to help fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Smythe threatened to withdraw his support. Despite this, Smythe left his fortune to Travis, which included a New York newspaper, the Globe-Leader.

On October 31, 1938, the 25-year-old Travis attended a Halloween masquerade, a charity ball for which he dressed as a "highway robber" — in a suit, hat, mask, and crimson capelet. The proceeds were intended for the relief of Hankow, China, which was the homeland of Lee's driver, Wing How. During the ball, guests tuned in to Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio play. The guests' panic was exacerbated by an attack on the party by men dressed like Martians. Travis and Wing pursued the robbers and captured them but his friend, reporter Claudia Barker, was killed. Lee claimed her golden lighter, which read "qui vindicet ibit": the avenger will come. The phrase inspired Travis to continue crime fighting. In the papers, he became mysterious vigilante called "the Crimson." (Secret Origins v.2 #5) Note: Wing's last name was not revealed until Crimson Avenger #1 (June 1988).

In the continuity created after Crisis on Infinite Earths (1986), there was no Golden Age Superman or Batman in the DC Universe. This meant that other early heroes were promoted as having been "the first." Among DC's super-hero community, it was the Crimson Avenger who was regarded as the first costumed. (Golden Age Secret Files #1) Note: Technically, two other non-masked heroes debuted before him: Doctor Occult in New Fun Comics #6 (Oct. 1935); and Zatara in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). Also, this story, while honorable, was inconsistent with revised post-Crisis continuity, which had already moved the origins of the Flash and the Sandman. Those heroes began their careers earlier in 1938 than the Crimson Avenger's October debut. Perhaps the Avenger was simply the first prominently known vigilante.

Lee's godfather, Mr. Smythe, resurfaced as the "Chairman" of a group of war profiteers called the Dark Cross. Having undergone plastic surgery, Smythe eluded Lee, but not the Crimson. The trail to Smythe ran through a coveted Fabergé egg that held secret Japanese codes. The Crimson was led in the right direction by an anonymous tip about a meeting of the American Bund. (Crimson Avenger #1)

Lee found no meeting, but a dead body instead. The police converged on him and the Crimson was branded by the papers as a murderer. En route to San Francisco by train, the avenger stumbled upon the Dark Cross's experimental weapons. He kept one of them, a gun that expelled knockout gas. (#2) Back home in New York, Smythe enticed the Crimson and both of their identities were revealed. They met in the penthouse of Smythe's condemned building, where the Crimson took a bullet to the leg but Wing managed to blow up the building; Smythe was assumed dead. (#4)

Original Golden Age Tales

The Crimson's earliest adventures in Detective Comics were allotted just four-to-six pages, so a lot of details were often summed up in the final two panels. The first concerned the crooked attorney Myron Block, who used his position to cover up his murder of the District Attorney. Newsman Lee Travis set out in a red cape, hat and domino mask, driven by his servant, Wing. (Detective Comics #20)

Travis thought nothing of taking his secretary, Miss Stevens, out to dinner, though she did not become a regular romantic interest (nor were there any others). (#21)

The police weren't keen on the Crimson's vigilante activities, and Lee's paper kept up appearances by running a $5000 reward for Crimson, dead or alive. It was a ruse to ferret out a leak in the police department who was tipping off crooks. (#22) The public regarded again him as a murderer when he was found on the scene of a dead cop. (#26)

The Crimson Avenger's foes were mostly unremarkable gangsters. He fought very few masked or costumed villains. One was King Cobra, who entranced men like zombies to do his bidding. (#23)

Detective Comics #27 marked the arrival of the Bat-Man, but the Crimson's adventures were minimally affected by the resulting wave of popularity for this kind of hero. The character's creator, Jim Chambers, exited the strip after Detective #29, moving onto work for Dell and Whitman Comics. It should have been the end of the character when the feature was replaced by "Buck Marshall, Range Detective" in issue #30. But when the editor decided to revive "The Crimson Avenger," in Detective Comics #37 (Mar. 1940) "Buck Marshall" was pulled in order to make room. The return episode was unsigned but the plot was the same: wealthy victims of kidnapping. Wing drove silently. (#37)

The Crimson's new artist was Jack Lehti, who began in Detective #38 (Apr. 1940; his art is dissimilar to that in #37). When the Avenger became a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, Lehti also drew the character's early chapters for Leading Comics. That feature ran in Leading Comics #1–14 (Winter 1941–Spring 1945).

Lehti's style was more engaging but the adventures (the writer is unknown) in Detective were a parade of 1930s serial plot devices: spies, society events, newspaper tips, mad scientists, remote shacks, waterfront smugglers, etc. Lehti's talent was best applied to his splash pages and in larger panel compositions, where the scenes were more detailed and deep. Wing often jumped in on the action, but remained mostly silent.

Keeping Up

Another example of DC Comics' prowess in multi-channel marketing. From Detective Comics #45 (1940); art by Jim Chambers.
Wing jumps into a compatible costume. From World's Finest Comics #4 (1941); art by Daly.
The Avenger can escape from anything! From Detective Comics #68 (1942); art by Jack Lehti.
The one-time appearance of the Crimson Avenger's flaming sword emblem. From Detective Comics #79 (1943); art by Pierce Rice.
Although the character of Wing showed promise, contemporary writers couldn't find their way past the habit of stereotyping. From Detective Comics #80 (1943); art by John Daly.

An all-new Crimson debuted in the summer of 1940, when the hero donned a new skin-tight red-and-yellow costume. Without any fanfare, Lee asked Wing to fetch the costume, which also sported a cowl, a sun-like emblem, and (in the beginning) a cape. The stories remained the same; in this case it was a woman kidnapped by mad scientist. (#44) Notes: By Detective #54 (Aug. 1941), the cape was mostly gone. Wing did not begin wearing his costume at this time.

Perhaps the new super-hero design made the Avenger more amenable to National's marketing efforts. The conclusion of another mad scientist story was capped by an ad for the "Daisy Superman Krypto-Raygun." In the story, Professor Crawford had created an "agita-pulverizo ray" that could destroy any material. (#45)

Over time, Wing began speaking in a more stereotypical manner, supposedly played for laughs. Their short adventures ranged across scenes like cattle ranches, (#50) Long Island (#51) the circus, (#52) and an aquarium. (#57)

Graduation Day for Wing

The Crimson Avenger and Wing also appeared in the first five issues of World's Finest Comics (1941–42). Issue #4 was the first appearance of Wing in costume, which mirrored the Avenger's but had the colors reversed. On his chest was a Chinese-looking symbol instead of a starburst. (Research from the Grand Comics Database notes that World's Finest #4 was copyrighted on Nov. 10, 1941, and Detective #59 on Nov. 22.) The timing of this change coincides roughly with the debut of the Seven Soldiers of Victory in Leading Comics #1 (Winter 1941/1942). In that comic, the pair joined other costumed characters who worked in teams of two.

Wing's first costumed adventure was a battle against Methuselah, who visited old Phineas Carver with promise of immortality — for a price. With a ray machine, his customers were granted youth, but only temporarily. Methuselah then blackmailed them into doing crimes in exchange for more treatments. But when the ray was turned on its creator, it aged him irreversibly. (World's Finest Comics #4)

As Detective Comics began to shed some of its filler material and ads, features grew in length. The "Crimson Avenger" (as the full name was now more commonly spoken) now filled up to ten pages. In Wing's second appearance in costume, the pair foiled a bank robbery. (Detective Comics #59)

Despite the surge in super-heroes' popularity, the "Avenger" series never changed much from its original formula. Unlike the Batman, the Crimson had no repeating characters, but the strip certainly employed repeating motifs, mostly gangsters, and a stories that began with a considerable setup. Newsman Lee Travis did mimic another idea — scrappy newsboys. When the Midnight Menace (a cowboy in black) robbed the city, Lee enlisted his own legion of newsboys to alert him of the Menace's whereabouts. It was a rival publisher who was inventing sensations to cover. (#77) Note: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's "Newsboy Legion" was the inspiration; that feature ran in Star-Spangled Comics #7–64 (1942–47).

At a torchlight parade, the Crimson Avenger joined Superman among the giant balloons on display. He and Wing were celebrated in the parade at the end. (#65)

When the United States entered the war, the Avenger fought some Nazis at sea. (#75)

Changing Gears

Near the end of its run, Jack Lehti moved on to work for other publishers. After one fill-in, the strip was then drawn by John Daly. Many of these final "Crimson Avenger" stories gave Wing the spotlight.

Before Daly began, there was one anomalous story drawn by the capable Pierce Rice. In it, the Crimson and Wing dove into action against the Adder. At the moment of action, the Avenger's chest emblem changed to a flaming sword! The change was "produced by a special chemical" to strike panic into the hearts of the startled thugs. The sword emblem never appeared again. (#79)

Wing managed to stumble onto an irate German (a Nazi spy, naturally) at his Chinese friend's laundry. (#80) Lee even decided to send Wing on a reporting assignment, which got him kidnapped, (#81) and on another where jewels were stolen. (#84)

Travis met Wing's uncle, Wing Ling (who resembled the fictional Charlie Chan), who owned an antiques shop. Lee bought a music box from Ling that played a tune that opened a vessel for stolen jewels. (#87)

The pair's final Golden Age adventure involved the hooded Ghost Gang, who crashed a society event. (#89)

Whatever Happened to the Crimson Avenger?

The Oracle explains the Soldiers' encounter with the Nebula-Man. From Justice League of America #100 (1972); art by Dick Dillin and Joe Giella.
The Crimson Avenger gained powers but lost his memory in ancient Mexico. From Justice League of America #100 (1972); art by Dick Dillin and Joe Giella.
A post-Crisis depiction of the Soldiers. From Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0 (1999); art by Chris Weston and John Stokes.
Wing's only appearance in the tale was in its final panel. From Justice League of America #102 (1972); art by Dick Dillin and Joe Giella.
The Crimson Avenger chooses sacrifice over illness. From DC Comics Presents #38 (1981); art by Alex Saviuk and Dennis Jensen.

The Crimson Avenger and Wing passed into pop culture obscurity until 1972, when Len Wein and Dick Dillin reminded a new audience about the Seven Soldiers of Victory. Their tale in Justice League of America #100–102 (Aug. 1972) explained why the Soldiers had passed from public memory, and brought the heroes back to the present day (on Earth-Two). It was explained that the Seven Soldiers had all been forgotten after being flung across time...

The Crimson Avenger had kept in touch with the Soldiers sporadically after the war. In their final case the Soldiers' first foe, the Hand, figured out a way to summon a giant cosmic menace called the Nebula Man. It was defeated when the Seven Soldiers devised a weapon called the "nebula rod" that channeled cosmic energies. (Justice League of America #100)

But the weapon had to be delivered manually, so it was Wing who sacrificed himself to do it. Wing died and the energy discharge hurled the rest of the Soldiers into different points in the past. It also erased all memory of the Seven Soldiers of Victory from the inhabitants of Earth-Two. (#101-102)

The Crimson Avenger was rendered amnesiac and acquired energy powers, enabling him to become a king among the ancient Aztecs. He was rescued and returned to the 20th century by Doctor Fate, the Atom, and the Elongated Man. (#100)

Post-Crisis

The Crisis on Infinite Earths (1986) removed the Golden Age Green Arrow and Speedy from DC continuity, so any retelling of the Soldiers' past needed new members to "get the total back up" to seven. Originally Wing had not been considered an official member of the Soldiers, but in post-Crisis revisions, such as Young All-Stars #27 (July 1989), writer Roy Thomas promoted Wing and Stuff the Chinatown Kid as substitutes.

The Justice League of America story was also revised for post-Crisis continuity by Geoff Johns in Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #9 (Apr. 2000). In the expanded tale, (another) post-Crisis member, the Spider, killed the Vigilante's friend, Billy Gunn. Gunn managed to tell Wing about the Spider's betrayal; Wing then delivered critical information to the team so they could complete the Nebula Rod and defeat the Nebula Man.

The resulting blast banished the Nebula Man but killed Wing, and scattered the rest of the team through time and space. Afterwards, the monks at a nearby monastery buried Wing. They marked his grave with a tombstone bearing the epitaph "Here in honored glory lies an Unknown Soldier of Victory who died that his world might live." (Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #9)

Decades Later

The Crimson Avenger hung up his costume and traveled the world. While in Malaysia, Lee Travis learned that he was dying from an unknown disease. He returned to the U.S. and was admitted to a Detroit hospital. From his hospital window, Travis witnessed a ship hijacking on the Detroit River. Without hesitation, he donned his old Crimson Avenger costume and engaged the criminals. Unfortunately, the experimental chemicals on board caught fire. Aware that he had only a week to live, Lee sent the entire crew to safety and steered the vessel to a safe distance, where it exploded. (DC Comics Presents #38)

Two years after his death, the surviving members of the Seven Soldiers of Victory gathered to hold a memorial service at his grave site. (Infinity Inc. #11)

Neither the Crimson Avenger nor Wing left any known family or descendants.

The Crimson Avenger II

Created by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff
Inventor Albert Elwood becomes the Silver Age Crimson Avenger. From World's Finest Comics #131 (1963) art by Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff.

In the Silver Age of comics, super-heroes returned to popularity and DC revived some of its Golden Age properties in new ways. In World's Finest Comics #131 (Feb. 1963), the Superman/Batman team encountered a new hero called the Crimson Avenger.

This man was an inventor named Albert Elwood, who decided to use his skills to help fight crime. Elwood created a number of fantastic weapons and donned a flamboyant red costume. He intervened when Batman and Robin were trying to catch the Octopus Gang; as the Crimson Avenger he used a fire-gun and a device which created bubbles of force to contain the bandits. But when the criminals ducked, the bubbles smashed into Batman and Robin and the crooks escaped. The Avenger fared similarly in a meeting with Superman.

Elwood was captured by the Octopus Gang and rescued by the world's finest team. He vowed to hang up his costume and content himself with inventing.

Though this story took place on Earth-One, the Avenger made an curious remark: "I've taken the name of a former lawman — the Crimson Avenger!" One might argue that he'd read the original Avenger's adventures in the pages of comics books, something which was true of the Earth-One Flash and his Golden Age counterpart.

The second Crimson Avenger appeared only once.

Crimson Avenger III

Created by Geoff Johns and Leonard Kirk
The mysterious new Crimson Avenger explains her situation. From JSA #53 (2002); art by Leonard Kirk and Keith Champagne.
From JSA #37 (2002); art by Leonard Kirk and Keith Champagne.
When confronted with the irony of her position, the Crimson chooses death. From JSA #53 (2003); art by Don Kramer and Keith Champagne.
When confronted with the irony of her position, the Crimson chooses death. From JSA #73 (2005); art by Don Kramer and Keith Champagne.
This random card from the Legion of Super-Heroes set listed the Avenger's secret identity: Jill Carlyle. From card number DLS-195 (2006); art by Ray Lago.

At the conclusion of Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. #9 (Apr. 2000, the final issue), writer Geoff Johns foreshadowed the coming of a new Crimson Avenger. This person appeared in shadow and appeared to be male. Alongside other cameos, the appearance was clearly meant to presage the reformation of a new Seven Soldiers of Victory.

This Avenger never appeared again, but when Johns became the writer for JSA, he created a different Crimson Avenger, an African-American woman. In comics, this woman's name was never mentioned, but it was listed on a trading card from the 2006 Legion of Super-Heroes set of VS System games. Card number DLS-195 gives the Crimson Avenger's name as Jill Carlyle.

Very little was revealed about her origins. She had been a lawyer, and in one of her cases a murderer walked free. When she came across two guns belonging to Lee Travis, she was possessed by their supernatural power. She used them to kill the murderer, and was then compelled to take vengeance for other victims. (JSA #53)

The newest Crimson Avenger (III) first appeared after the Ultra-Humanite had taken possession of the genie called Thunderbolt and overrun the world. He also commanded Earth's strongest heroes. The Avenger joined the Justice Society's Sand, who helped lead a group of rebels to oppose Ultra. (JSA #33)

This makeshift JSA managed to free all the Humanite's captive heroes. During the battle, the Avenger revealed that she was bent on avenging Lee Travis' death. The now-supernatural guns required persuasion, fired by themselves, and only when warranted. (#35) She later clarified that Travis' death in that explosion was the fault of the Ultra-Humanite. When the Ultra-Humanite's brain was removed from its host, the Crimson Avenger destroyed it, then disappeared in a red mist. (#37)

Her next victim was the Justice Society's Wildcat, whom she stalked briefly (#45) before condemning the hero for the death of Charles Durham. Durham, she claimed, was framed for murder by Wildcat, and subsequently executed. (#52) Wildcat managed to explain his situation and force the Crimson Avenger to question her motivation and the source of her powers. She was driven mad and tried to kill herself, but her strange powers would not allow it, and she was spirited away again, inside a red cloud. (#53)

When the Spectre returned to Earth on a mission to eradicate all magical and supernatural powers, he struck the Crimson Avenger. Her actual death was not shown, but the Spectre did terminate other magic-based individuals. (#73)

+ Powers

The original Crimson Avenger had no super-human powers. He was a superior hand-to-hand combatant, athlete and acrobat. He often used a gas gun which released a red sleeping gas.

Wing was an adept martial artist and could pilot a plane to, as they investigate.

Appearances + References

» FEATURED APPEARANCES:

Crimson Avenger I:
  • Adventure Comics #438, 440, 443
  • All-Star Squadron #31-32, 53, 59
  • All-Star Squadron #60, 64
  • DC Comics Presents #38
  • DC Universe: Legacies #1, 2
  • Golden Age Secret Files #1
  • Justice League of America v.1 #100, 102
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre #43, 69, 70
  • Secret Origins v. 2 #5, 7
  • Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #9
  • Young All-Stars #3, 9, 27, Annual #1

Crimson Avenger III:

  • JSA #33-37, 45, 52, 53, 73

» SERIES:

  • Detective Comics #20-29, 37-89 (Oct. 1938–July 1944)
  • Leading Comics, #1–14 (Winter 1941–Spring 1945)
  • World's Best/Finest Comics #1–5 (Spring 1941–Spring 1942)
  • Crimson Avenger, 4-issue mini-series (1988)