The character Fireball, who debuted in Pep Comics #12, was MLJ's answer to Marvel's Human Torch. The company that became Marvel, Timely Publications, had debuted the Human Torch in its first comic book, Marvel Comics #1, initially cover-dated October 1939. The Human Torch character continued to be cover-featured often on Marvel Mystery Comics and got his own series cover-dated Fall 1940. Meanwhile, Victor Fox's Fox Features Syndicate had a fire-powered character who had debuted in Wonderworld Comics and got his own series in Summer 1940. MLJ Magazines joined this fiery fray and launched their own fire-based character with Fireball in Pep Comics #12 shortly after those. The first appearance and origin of an overlooked Golden Age superhero, there's a Pep Comics #12 (MLJ, 1941) Condition: GD/VG up for auction in the 2022 May 22-23 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122221 at Heritage Auctions.
Fireball was likely created by artist Harry Lucey, perhaps with the guidance of Pep Comics series editor Abner Sundell. Like many publishers during this period, MLJ Magazines cast a wide net during the Golden Age, and wasn't afraid to experiment with new characters. With two other major fire-based characters already having their own series by this time, Fireball was likely a no-brainer to try out. Unfortunately, the character didn't have much success and was last seen in Pep Comics in issue #20. Fireball got his powers during a fire at a chemical plant. His abilities were similar to his rivals, the Human Torch and the Flame, but also less visually flashy. Somewhat contrary to the name, he more controlled fire rather than casting it or bursting into flame himself. He was able to surround himself with sort of a flame aura as well.
Like many issues of Pep Comics in this range, the debut of Fireball is tougher to get than one might think, judging by the issues census numbers. and this one's got a stand-out cover featuring the Shield by Irv Novick. An underappreciated piece of MLJ history, there's a Pep Comics #12 (MLJ, 1941) Condition: GD/VG up for auction in the 2022 May 22-23 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122221 at Heritage Auctions.
Pep Comics #12 (MLJ, 1941) Condition: GD/VG. The Shield stars on this Irv Novick bondage cover. Origin and first appearance of Fireball, MLJ's answer to the Human Torch. Bottom staple detached and tape on spine at bottom staple. Overstreet 2021 GD 2.0 value = $232; VG 4.0 value = $464.