East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Curse of the Golden Bat III – the First Superhero

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After meeting a horrid human being like General Doihara, we need something to lift our spirits, and so this third instalment of the post series based on my research for Guillotine Wind and the strange case of the Golden Bat cigarettes.
And we go in a whole new direction as we go back to 1931, and meet a character created as a tie-in with the cigarette brand.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ogon Bat

It was in 1931 when two young men, sixteen-year old Takeo Nagamatsu and twenty-five year old Suzuki Ichiro, decided to create a new character for the kamishibai market. A character somehow inspired to the Golden Bat cigarettes, probably to cash in on the publicity.

Kamishibai (Paper Theater) is the Japanese name of a popular form of entertainment we find all over the world – it’s called cantastorie in Italy: a guy standing in front of a easel on which illustrated panels are exposed, telling a story. A classic pre-technological form of mass entertainment, kamishibai survived in Japan well into the thirties, and among the stories featured, soon the new character dreamed up by Nagamatsu & Suzuki’s character, apparently inspired by traditional illustrations they had seen in a museum.

Called Ogon Batto (Ogon Bat – literally Golden Bat), the new character was a macabre, skull-faced champion of good, straight out of Atlantis. Waking up after a sleep of 10.000 years, somewhat-undead, gold-clad Ogon Bat set himself up as an avenger, thanks to his Atlantean powers: flight, super-strength and an imperviousness to physical damage (because he’s like, dead already, or something). Complete with a secret base in the Japanese Alps, Ogon Bat is an unlikely missing link between pulp avengers and “proper” superheroes – and he’s older than Superman and all the rest of the heroes we know.

Soon making his transition to comic books, Ogon Bat came complete with a nemesis – the sinister Kurayami Batto (the Dark Bat) and the supervillain, catlike Dr Nazo, complete with hordes of masked henchmen and superscience.

Sure, he was developed to sell cigarettes to kids, but Ogon Bat demonstrated a nice staying power – so much so that thirty-five years after his debut, he was to appear in a feature film, that further developed his mythos (and replaced his sword-cane with a death-ray projecting cane). The movie featured Japanese acting legend Sonny Chiba as professor Yamatone, the man that discovers Ogon Bat’s sarcophagus.

We have already discussed Ogon Bat back when we talked about Fantoma and other skull-faced characters – and pulp fiction readers might wonder about the connection between the Golden Bat and Robert E. Howard’s Skull Face, that debuted on Weird Tales in 1929.

Granted, Kathulos aka Skull Face was the bad guy, basically Howard’s own take on Fu Manchu, but he shared the look and the Atlantean origin with Ogon Bat, and both characters came with their own ancient sarcophagus…

In 1967, Ogon Bat moved to the TV, with a 52-episodes animated series.
The show was also broadcast in my country, in the ’80s, with the character name changed to Fantaman. The anime was pretty primitive for today standards, but the character did decidedly pack a punch, especially because he did fight for good, sure, but everything about him spelled bad guy: the looks, the bat motive, the crazy laugh…

And yes, Ogon Bat’s suspended animation is the “just add water to revive” kind. Nifty.

Ogon Bat has been seriously needing a revival, but apparently no one’s interested in bringing him back to the screens.
Born to sell cigarettes, he ended up fighting evil, before he finally disappeared from our story – like pulp avengers so often do when their job is done.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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