Secrets Behind the Invisible Plane in Marvel's USA Comics, at Auction

The featured story of USA Comics #3 centers around a top-secret scientific process that can make planes invisible.  The issue hit the newsstands around November 24, 1940, which happens to be about two weeks after Wonder Woman's invisible plane debuted in Sensation Comics #1.  That's the kind of coincidence that likely means something during wartime, as comics are full of reflections of wartime superweapons from the news of the period.  Sometimes such news was propaganda, sometimes not. Newspapers were full of talk about both German and American super-soldiers before Captain America Comics #1 hit the newsstands.  The dreaded German V-1 influenced several comic book robot planes.  Most obviously, the atomic bomb had a dramatic influence on the course of comic book history.  And in the year leading up to Sensation Comics #1 and USA Comics #3, there were a lot of news stories about the development of top-secret invisible planes.  A fascinating moment in wartime comic book history, there's a USA Comics #3 (Timely, 1942) Condition: Apparent GD up for auction in the 2022 May 15-16 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122220 at Heritage Auctions.

USA Comics #3 features an invisible plane technology story (Timely, 1942)
USA Comics #3 features an invisible plane technology story (Timely, 1942)

The saga of the invisible plane during the WWII era starts in earnest in the Fall of 1940, with rumors of the development by the British of light-absorbing paint or varnish that could render planes invisible even from a distance of six feet.  The claim as written here is a bit of fairly obvious propaganda, but seems to have led to a tidbit in the December, 1940 issue of the industry trade journal Plastics asserting that "invisible" planes were possible via the use of transparent plastic polymers.  This in turn appears to have led to rumors that the Nazis were doing exactly that, sparked by a piece in a January 1941 issue of the British journal The Aeroplane which was widely repeated by newswiresPlastics magazine brought the story back into newspaper headlines again in June 1941 by claiming that not only was an invisible plane using transparent materials possible, but it had actually been done already — in World War I.  They discuss reports from the November 18, 1915 issue of Scientific American which asserted that the French had developed a tough, supposedly non-flammable version of celluloid called "cellon" which could be used to make many parts of an airplane transparent.  While the Scientific American article claims that the French had actually put invisible planes into combat during WWI, the Plastics correspondent casts doubt on that, alluding to similar research by German scientists at the time.  There may be some truth to that, as the German firm Linke-Hofmann had produced their partially transparent R.1 bomber by 1916.  Apparently, the Linke-Hofmann effort proved the drawbacks of the concept, as in practice the cellon material was highly reflective in sunlight, and not nearly so non-flammable as the Scientific American article claimed.

Nevertheless, media reports of the concept in mid-1941 likely helped inspire the Invisible Plane concept in comics later that year, just as happened with so many other wartime developments did during the period.  USA Comics #3 features a Captain Terror cover, likely by Joe Simon, and the Captain Terror interior story which centers around the theft of invisible plane technology by fifth columnists is drawn by Mike Suchorsky.  This issue also contains a Stan Lee text story. USA Comics has long been a highly sought-after Timely series, and this one has a fascinating historical background. There's a USA Comics #3 (Timely, 1942) Condition: Apparent GD up for auction in the 2022 May 15-16 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122220 at Heritage Auctions.


USA Comics #3 (Timely, 1942) Condition: Apparent GD. Captain Terror/torture cover by Joe Simon. Stan Lee story. Mike Sekowsky and Syd Shores art. Detached cover, one married wrap. Original wrap included. Restoration includes: pieces added on spine. Overstreet 2021 GD 2.0 value = $382.

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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