The 1939 Debut of the Flame in Wonderworld Comics #3, Up for Auction

In a moment that triggered one of the most important sequences of events in American comic book publishing history, the Wonderworld Comics title was launched as Wonder Comics #1 on March 17, 1939.  Its publisher Victor Fox was sued by DC Comics virtually the instant his debut issue hit the newsstands, "for infringement of copyright on plaintiff's comic strip called 'The Superman' by defendants' comic strip called 'The Wonderman.'"  On April 7, 1939, SDNY Judge John Munro Woolsey found that Wonderman did infringe on DC Comics copyrights, and although Victor Fox would appeal this decision, he had no intention of waiting on that appeal to continue his comic book empire.  He retitled Wonder Comics as Wonderworld Comics and had issue #3 on the newsstands about six weeks later.  Wonderman was gone of course, and a new superhero created by Will Eisner and Lou Fine called the Flame became the lead feature.  There are a number of issues of the highly sought-after and tough-to-get Wonderworld Comics series, including the historically important Wonderworld Comics #3 up for auction in the 2022 December 1 Fox Comics Showcase Auction #40214 at Heritage Auctions.

Wonderworld Comics #3 (Fox, 1939)
Wonderworld Comics #3 (Fox, 1939)

Given Victor Fox's reputation, it is often assumed that the Flame is little more than a Human Torch rip-off, but that issue is more complicated than it seems. The Flame's debut in Wonderworld Comics #3 came three months in advance of the Human Torch's debut in Marvel Comics #1.  However, his fire-based powers were limited to being able to materialize himself within a flame in his initial appearances, as a means of teleportation, and the use of a flame gun that he invented.  In Wonderworld Comics #11, a few months after the debut of the Human Torch in Marvel Comics #1, the Flame's origin is told for the first time.  It was a not uncommon type of saga in which he ends up in a Buddhist monastery as a child and learns ways of advanced science, magic, and physical combat — and most importantly, control over flame.  That control is seemingly demonstrated for the first time in Wonderworld Comics #14, where he exhibits one of his go-to moves of this period, shooting a stream of flame from his gun and then walking on that stream to get where he needs to go.  Eventually, without further explanation in Wonderworld #22 and The Flame #4, he is shown being able to spontaneously burst into flame himself, which allows him to fly.  From there, he gradually begins to spontaneously exhibit more powerful flame-based abilities similar to the Human Torch.

Throughout its lifespan, like many Fox characters, the Flame combined superheroics, super-science, and sometimes horror to great effect.  Wonderworld Comics is a highly sought-after series with a number of classic Lou Fine covers, and the competition to get them is fierce.  A historically important title, there are a number of issues of the highly sought-after and tough-to-get Wonderworld Comics series, including the historically important Wonderworld Comics #3 up for auction in the 2022 December 1 Fox Comics Showcase Auction #40214 at Heritage Auctions. If you've never bid at Heritage Auctions before, you can get further information, you can check out their FAQ on the bidding process and related matters.

Wonderworld Comics #3 (Fox, 1939)
Wonderworld Comics #3 (Fox, 1939)

Wonderworld Comics #3 (Fox, 1939) CGC GD/VG 3.0 Cream to off-white pages. First issue of the title formerly known as Wonder Comics. First appearance of the Flame. Lou Fine and Will Eisner cover and art. Bob Powell art. Rated a Gerber "7" or "scarce." Overstreet 2022 GD 2.0 value = $1,275; VG 4.0 value = $2,550. CGC census 11/22: 2 in 3.0, 8 higher.

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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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