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The Minutemen, formerly known as the New Minutemen and later the Minutemen Franchise LLC, were the premier group of superheroes throughout the 1940s. They were founded in 1939, largely through the actions of Nelson Gardner (Captain Metropolis), Sally Jupiter (the first Silk Spectre) and Jupiter's agent Laurence Schexnayder. Schexnayder also provided the group's publicity. After several public controversies, the group disbanded in 1949.


History

Formation

Captain Metropolis contacted Silk Spectre and her manager, Larry Schexnayder about joining forces with all "mystery men". As World War II was starting in Europe, advertisements were published in newspapers, attracting the interest of adventurers who wished to fight for the country.

In 1939, the original eight-person lineup of the team included Captain Metropolis, Silk Spectre, Hooded Justice, Nite Owl, Silhouette, Dollar Bill, Mothman and The Comedian.

Sometime around December of the same year, the team held their very first annual Christmas party.[1]

The Golden Age

Because of their name and the war, Captain Metropolis and Larry Schexnayder wished their image to be that of "modern patriots". The earliest criminals thwarted by the Minutemen were gangs dressed up as pirates or ghosts, who found it hilarious to perpetrate heists while wearing costumes. Regardless, with Schexnayder as their manager, he kept track of their popularity and appearances in newspapers, radio shows, and publicity events, allowing the Minutemen's popularity to soar. He attended to their personal lives, including arrangements for those of the team who needed help with living expenses, like young Eddie Blake. He also suggested targeting only big time cases, like saving elderly women, and beating crime bosses, such as Moloch. This disappointed some of the heroes like Hooded Justice and Silhouette who felt they were fighting for something more and so continued to work independently.

The crimefighters also defeated a costumed criminal named King Mob, who's ape make was later displayed in a showcase.

In 1940, they stopped Moloch and apprehended the Solar Mirror Weapon which he employed for heists. The Minutemen continued to be his frequent enemies, often foiled his operations and sent him to prison only to begin anew when he'd escape.

That year, the Comedian left the group, after attempting to rape Sally Jupiter, reducing the group's membership to seven. Around that time, the Minutemen were immortalized by the publication of a comic book which promoted their heroism, patriotism, and moral values.

World War II

The United States entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The war years greatly reduced the effectiveness of the Minutemen. Captain Metropolis was reactivated into the military, Dollar Bill was drafted into the Third United States Army, and Mothman (a conscientious objector) was assigned as a medical aide. As police officers, Hollis Mason and Will Reeves were not eligible for the draft, and since the draft excluded women, Sally Jupiter and Ursula Zandt were also excluded from combat roles. Because of this, the Minutemen only had four active members between 1941and 1945. They would spend the war years fighting Nazi saboteurs in the US, including the top Nazi operatives Captain Axis and the Screaming Skull.

Decline

Death of Dollar Bill

The end of the war brought the Minutemen back to full strength for a short time, but was soon struck by tragedy. In 1946, Dollar Bill was killed by a gunman while trying to foil a bank robbery.

Expulsion and Death of Ursula Zandt

Months after Bill Brady's death, the press discovered that Ursula Zandt was a lesbian. Laurence Schexnayder convinced the group that they had to expel Zandt from the team in order to preserve the Minutemen's public reputation. Months later, Zandt and her lover were killed by the Liquidator, an old enemy of the Silhouette.

Sally Jupiter's Retirement

The Minutemen, as portrayed in the HBO series (Season 1, Episode 6 "This Extraordinary Being"). (HBO series)

The following year, Sally Jupiter announced her retirement from the Minutemen, and married Laurence Schexnayder. The wedding was attended by Hollis Mason, Byron Lewis, Nelson Gardner, and former Minutemen member Eddie Blake. Without Schexnayder's management, the remaining Minutemen lost coordination and met sparingly.

Fading Trend

Hollis Mason recounted in his book Under the Hood that one of the biggest problems they had faced was the absence of costumed criminals. The Minutemen had hammered costumed villains to such an extent in the 1940s that new criminals stopped continuing the trend. He claimed that stopping criminals without costumes felt kind of stupid and embarrassing, but there had never been as many costumed criminals as heroes. He says crooks turned in their costumes along with their careers, but some opted for a less extroverted and more profitable approach. He called them the new breed of villains who had colorful names but were ordinary men in business suits who ran drug and prostitution rackets, and although they still caused a lot of trouble, they were no fun to fight.

Things were starting to get serious, but Mason noted how funny it was that the more serious things got, the better the Comedian seemed to do. About ten years younger than the other masked vigilantes, the Comedian was entering his physical prime while the others were starting to feel old. He was the only one of them still showing up on the front pages, and through his government connections, was turning into a patriotic symbol.

Minutemen - Watchmen (Comic).jpg

Disassembled

End of the Minutemen

In 1949, the remaining four members of the group, all tired of it, decided to disband the organization. They still remained individually active in the 1950s. Hollis Mason later described the 1950s as cold and bleak, both for himself and for masked adventurers in general.

The House UnAmerican Activities Committee

In 1954, the New Frontiersman published an article featuring photographs of Byron Lewis at the 13th World Science Fiction Convention associated with artists linked to socialist organizations. This revelation brought the attention of the Untied States government, and the House Un-American Activities Committee led by Joseph McCarthy subsequently demanded that all costumed adventurers reveal their identities to a congressman.

Being the first to answer the summons by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, the Comedian served as justice of the peace for Senator McCarthy's committee by delivering subpoenas to others costumed adventurers. Because of his involvement with the government, and past campaigns for several HUAC members including Joseph David Keene, Blake was the only vigilante not forced to testify.

The remaining active masked adventurers, however, had to testify before the HUAC, and were forced to reveal their true identities to an FBI lawyer and sign an oath of loyalty. This action didn't present any immediate problems for most of them, with Captain Metropolis' outstanding military record and Nite Owl's service in the police force, but Mothman had more difficulty because of his left-wing ties. He was cleared, but the investigations were both lengthy and ruthless, and that the pressure most likely prompted his drinking problem that later contributed to his decline in mental health.

Hooded Justice was the only masked adventurer who refused to testify on the grounds that he was not prepared to reveal his true identity to anyone. HJ spoke out about his decision in an ad published in the Amsterdam News, a leading black newspaper, in which he states "At this time, I am not prepared to share my truth to the world. And I will certainly not bow to the bullying of this racist Congress. For as long as the structures of law and order are controlled by corrupt elites whose singular, cyclopean focus is to protect and fortify the interests and flourishing of the ruling majority, I will never surrender my mission to help the invisible and the oppressed." This action surprised many including his former Minutemen teammates. When further pressured by the committee, HJ vanished from the public eye.

Emergence of Doctor Manhattan

The final end of the Minutemen even as a loose association came with the sudden appearance of Doctor Manhattan on the world stage in 1960, which changed everything. A few months later Nite Owl and some of the other masked vigilantes met Manhattan at a Red Cross event. Mothman was also in attendance but had a bad shake and not long afterwards would be entered into a sanitorium in Maine for his drinking problem and mental illness. That night Nite Owl realized that he was forty-six and feeling old, and decided to retire.

Legacy

Critics of the Minutemen have leveled the accusation that they were simply performing street theater while atrocities were being committed overseas during World War II. Despite this accusation, they were very popular with the American public. Even after the group disbanded in 1949, the concept of the costumed adventurer became embedded into the American psyche.

The second generation of costumed adventurers, inspired by the actions of the Minutemen, began to appear. Ozymandias first appeared in 1958, two years before the Red Cross event where Hollis Mason decided to retire; Laurie Juspeczyk, the daughter of Sally Jupiter, would ultimately follow into her mother's footsteps and ultimately became the second Silk Spectre. Even as Mason wrote Under the Hood in 1962, a new young crimefighter named Dan Dreiberg inspired by his career wrote him a fan letter formally asking his permission to use the "Nite Owl" name as a new masked vigilante. Mason met with Dreiberg, gave him his blessing, and they became good friends. Captain Metropolis' career continued sporadically, and despite his declining years he tried his hardest to stay fit for duty through vigorous exercises. In 1966 he even went so far as to try to organize the second generation of costumed adventurers into a new team he called the "Crimebusters", modeled on the Minutemen organization, which he himself had first proposed organizing. The attempt at an actual organization failed, though the individual careers of the second generation of superheroes continued up until the signing of the Keene Act in 1977, which outlawed vigilantism with the exception of those in service of the United States government.

DC Universe Rebirth

In DC Universe Rebirth, Wally West attempts to contact Johnny Thunder, the only known surviving member of the Justice Society of America, a group of costumed superheroes who served in World War II. The elderly Johnny is believed insane by everyone, but he is convinced its members still survive, and Wally confirms this to him. Before being pulled out of reality due to Johnny's panicked state, he pleads with him to locate them. During his ramblings, Johnny Thunder alludes to both the Keene Act and the Minutemen.

Equipment

Members

Captain Metropolis

The first Minutemen Christmas party, 1939.

Nelson Gardner was one of the founders of the Minutemen, originally suggesting that a group of heroes pooling their resources could be more effective than a handful of individuals. As an ex-Marine lieutenant, Captain Metropolis was motivated by ending "social ills" such as promiscuity and anti-war demonstrations. Gardner insisted that his motivations were not selfish or fanatically conservative. In 1966, Gardner attempted to restore the costumed hero fad by founding the Crimebusters.

The Comedian

Eddie Blake was teenage thug armed with a baseball bat. He was fighting the criminals around the New York harbor and always made sure that it was worth his time. There was a word that the Comedian stripped the criminals he captured from their money and kept it for himself. When he joined the Minutemen he complained that publicity was not enough and he was looking forward to real money. The Comedian was infamous for his rape attempt against Silk Spectre. Most of his colleagues voted whether he should be expelled, such as Hollis Mason who was often critical of him. As the Comedian told them, the Minutemen were all he had, however, he pursued a solo career after that.

Hooded Justice

Will Reeves was the first costumed vigilante, who utilized sheer brutality to stop an armed robbery as his first act of heroism. His identity was never revealed, but due to his large, bodybuilder type figure, many conjectured that HJ was actually former circus strongman Rolf Müller. Sally Jupiter posed as his girlfriend to calm suspicions that Reeves was in a romantic relationship with Nelson Gardner and protect the image of the Minutemen in the 1940s. In 1942, Hooded Justice stopped Sally Jupiter's rape at the hands of the Comedian. When the Minutemen began to be questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Hooded Justice vanished, leaving many to conjecture that he died at the hands of the Comedian. Müller's badly decomposing body was found in the Boston Harbor, but the circumstances of his death, and the possibility that he actually was Hooded Justice were never proven. In reality, Reeves retired from both his role as Hooded Justice and the New York City Police Department, and left New York in the fall of 1955.

Silhouette

Ursula Zandt was a Jewish Austrian immigrant who escaped the rise of Nazism in Austria and joined the Minutemen as the Silhouette. Ursula wanted the team to do something meaningful, like her exposure of a child pornography ring; Larry Schexnayder insisted that the Minutemen publicity should be connected with more positive and patriotic concepts like "saving the grandma" and not "sad children". This policy made Zandt to doubt about the real meaning of the team, which was mainly image, publicity, and money. Ursula often baited Sally Jupiter about her Polish roots, which Jupiter outright denied. She was later expelled from the group when it became public knowledge that she was a lesbian in 1946. Six weeks after her public outage and expulsion from the team, she was killed alongside her lover by an old adversary who sought revenge.

Nite Owl

Hollis Mason was a New York City policeman who became the first Nite Owl after being inspired by an article on Hooded Justice's first appearance in the New York Gazette. He replied to Captain Metropolis' advertisement and was accepted in the Minutemen. Initially, he was attracted to Silhouette, whom he considered the only person who knew why she was fighting. He helped to lead the team for many years. Once Doctor Manhattan became a public mainstay, Mason retired from hero work to open a garage, passing on the Nite Owl mantle to Dan Dreiberg, a long-time fan and eventually wrote a tell-all book about their endeavors called Under the Hood. His book contained the first public mention of the Comedian's rape of Sally Jupiter. Mason was killed on Halloween in 1985 when he was confused for Dreiberg by a mob of Knot Top gang members and beaten to death for the release of Rorschach from prison.

Silk Spectre

Sally Juspeczyk was a burlesque dancer and waitress who upon the advice of her agent, Laurence Schexnayder, became a crimefighter. After a photograph was taken of the Minutemen, Sally Jupiter, as she preferred to be called to mask her Polish heritage, was sexually assaulted by the Comedian. Hooded Justice intervened, resulting in bad blood between the two men. Sally later fell in love with the Comedian, even having a child by him while still married to Schexnayder, eventually becoming the root cause of their divorce. The original Silk Spectre trained her daughter, Laurel Jane Juspeczyk, early on to take up the mantle and be a better hero than she could ever be. She eventually retired to a rest home in California, letting her daughter take care of the crimefighting.

Dollar Bill

Bill Brady was a star college athlete from Kansas, employed as an in-house superhero by National Bank. While attempting to stop a raid upon one of his employer's banks, his cape became entangled in the bank's revolving door and he was shot dead before he could free it.

Mothman

Byron Lewis was an inventor who became a costumed adventurer after the appearance of Hooded Justice. Lewis used special wings to glide in the air while battling crime. He was one of the four Minutemen to remain on the team after the deaths of Dollar Bill and the Silhouette, the Comedian's expulsion, and the Silk Spectre's retirement. Lewis was investigated by HUAC, and had difficulty clearing his name due to several left-wing friends. The pressure from these investigations is considered to have precipitated his alcoholism and subsequent mental health problems that eventually consigned him to a sanatorium in Maine. Lewis' mental health reduced in later years to fragile sanity, unnerving the Laurie Juspeczyk. Despite this, he is regarded fondly by most of the Minutemen, and Hollis Mason even sends Dan Dreiberg to visit him, uncostumed, on his behalf.

Trivia

  • The decline of the "masked vigilantes" in the 1950s mirrored the real-life "lost age" of comic books between the Golden Age and Silver age (sometimes called the "Atomic Age"), when the original superheroes of the late 1930s and war years declined in popularity, and even faced external attacks from congressional hearings, spurred by the book Seduction of the Innocent by psychologist Fredric Wertham.

References

  1. Under the Hood: Chapter IV
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named bill
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named mol
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