The Black Racer is the so-called Messenger of Death born of The Source and allied with neither New Genesis, Apokolips or Earth. His mission is merely to return his unfortunate and ill-fated quarry to The Source, commanded by a mysterious voice and suited in armor complete with a set of skis and ski-poles. When called, this god-like Dark Bringer of Death rides the spaceways, often at the speed of light to complete his grim missions. To be touch by The Black Racer is to die.
We first encounter this ominous being at the start of our current tale, as friendly Lightray is being pursued in space by the harbinger of doom. The young New God is desperate and very afraid. The caption reads: “Death is The Black Racer! Like the very source of all things, he is an ever-present fear that sweeps through the universe on swift, silent skis. The charred husks of great stars are left in his passing… and small lives vanish with their dreams at his touch! Yes, even the New Gods fear the Black Racer! For he brings –”
Lightray: Oblivion! I face oblivion! I am the quarry of a power that challenges all power!
The Black Racer: Hail, young Light-Ray! Destiny has decreed that our paths should cross! The flotsam of the universe cannot hide you! I am as swift as you are!
Lightray: But not as eager as I am to avoid your touch!
Orion’s best friend flies through a field of crystallized space rocks and suddenly stops behind one. He thinks, “I govern the power of light — and I must use it to ward off the racer! The jewel-like substance of these meteoroids may intensify this power of mine!” The Black Racer is catching up, telling the hapless New Genesis youth, “I am almost upon you, Lightray! Even one such as you must submit to me!” But our hero suddenly emits flashes of light energy from his hands, thinking, “I shall flash the brightest of beams through this prism-stone!” The next caption states, “So intensified are the light-beams passing through the massive jewel that they emerge with the power of a fiery holocaust!” Lightray explains, “Thus, as on Earth, the principle of the laser is invoked!”
As the consuming flame leaps at him, The Black Racer leaps even faster!
The Black Racer: Foolish one! Was it not told to you on New Genesis of The Black Racer’s superb agility? You cannot escape me!
Lightray: [Thinking] He is right! Though I fly at the utmost speed of light, he easily paces me! — Toys with me — but I shall not stop! I dare not stop!
The Black Racer: Your time has come, young one! I am no respecter of tender years! Prepare for my touch!
Lightray: No! No!
The scene shifts to Metropolis and a meeting of Orion and his Earth allies, with this caption: “This is the drama of desperation and death, enfolding the destinies of gods and men! Lightray, fighting madly to prolong his last, cosmic moments…” And, then, a little later…
Meanwhile, in the vast wilderness of stars, a giant, new sun flares into being!! Lightray, in a final burst of desperation, spends his remaining energies by exploding a filed of drifting matter to block his pursuer!!
Lightray: This must do it! This must halt him — and give me time to escape!
But from its flaming heart emerges death! The Black Racer is more than powerful! He is relentless… unshakable in his purpose! Lightray, mustering his failing strength, does not see the planetoid coming in his path!
Lightray: [Thinking] Can’t give up! Must escape!
He strikes its harsh surface with damaging effect!
The Black Rider: It is the end, Lightray! It could only end this way!
Then, just when we think Lightray will fade from being: “Suddenly, a rumble of sound like the crack of doom erupts about Lightray! A Boom Tube appears in mid-air and swallows The Black Racer! Then it quickly fades — revealing to an astonished Lightray the presence of his rescuer — Metron of New Genesis!”
The intellectual of New Genesis appears on his Mobius Chair and tells his ally, “Fear no more, Lightray! The Racer is gone! I merely deflected his flight elsewhere! You could have done the same, Lightray! You must learn to think more coolly! However, a brush with The Black Racer is a humbling experience at best! In my Mobius Chair, I master Time! Space! Infinity! Luckily for you — I am everywhere when needed!” If Lightray is grateful, you wouldn’t know it, as the young god is more concerned about where the interdimensional bridge will reappear: “The Black Racer — Where is he now? Where had the Boom Tube taken him?”
In a grandiose, full-page splash that follows the Messenger of Death bursts forth into the skies of Metropolis, exclaiming, “So, destiny has changed my course and takes me here — to Earth! The sound of deadly weapons reaches me! I sense that this area is ripe for my arrival! instinct guides me to my quarry!” Gunshots ring out! The Black Racer is gliding above the littered streets of the city’s black ghetto. “There, below — a place of black men! Those who fight to live — others who risk my presence!” We see Inter-Gang criminal Sugar-Man engaged in a rooftop gun battle with another bad guy. “I’ve got you, Screamer!” boasts Sugar-Man. “You’re running out of ammo!” The god-like being thinks, “It is true! One of them can no longer shoot! He must run!” Bullets ricochet off chimneys as the Inter-Gangster closes in for the kill. Sugar-Man taunts his prey, “You can’t get away, Screamer! It’s useless to run, baby! Your last scream won’t be to the law!” With that, Screamer falls, now eternally silent.
Sugar-Man looks about, muttering to himself, “Inter-Gang gets rid of cats they can’t trust! Especially when he can blab about the Big Caper!” Then, looking at the taller portion of the building, the criminal notes a window that has had full view of Screamer’s execution. Within, we see a still prostrate form in a neck brace lying on a bed. “Oh-oh!” exclaims Sugar-Man, “A witness to the bang bang! Hey! I know you! Sergeant Willie Walker! Big Vietnam hero! Can’t walk, talk — or even feed himself! Lotsa medals — but one big, bad wound, eh, Willie?” Targeting his intended victim at point blank range, the criminal is about to make his second elimination in as many minutes. “Well, Sugar-Man is gonna help you, Willie! Sugar-Man is gonna blot out all that misery inside you — It’ll just take — one squeeze –” Suddenly a hand appears from the ether, enveloping the pistol as Sugar-Man pulls the trigger. “The gun blasts, and backfires in Sugar-Man’s hand! Its barrel has been blocked and its torn metal flies in all directions!” The criminal’s face is recipient of the shards! He screams, “Aaaaa! My face! I’m hit! I’m hit! Gotta get outta here!”
Then, the death harbinger turns his attention to the paraplegic war hero. “Walls are no barrier to The Black Racer! He enters the room of Sergeant Willie Walker!”
The Black Racer: I hear a call! A voice invoking my name! The voice is yours! I can hear it! This is why destiny has led me here! I understand now! And even I must do destiny’s bidding! For one of your value, The Black Racer must bow! Come! Take my hand! You will not live — you will die! But you will have that what you have earned — the freedom of a great power! Fear not! See? Your hand moves! Yea — even as it reaches out — the rest of your body stirs to follow!”
Suddenly the wounded war veteran miraculously rises from his bed! And he speaks! “Wha–? I can move! I-I can move! — A-and speak! I can speak — Who are you?”
The Black Racer: In your despair — you summoned me!
Sgt. Willie Walker: Why don’t you answer me? I’m scared! More scared than I ever was in combat! Good Lord! I’m standing! This can’t be happening! What am I saying! It’s happened! I’m whole! I’m strong! I’m no longer half-alive! Willie Walker no longer needs this aid!
A transformation is occurring before our eyes, Sgt. Willie Walker metamorphosing into this new — yet eternal — persona as the Earth warrior takes on a solemn mantle. “Wha–? The armored stranger has collapsed! He lies motionless on the floor! There are so many questions I have to ask him!” Picking up the knight-like helmet, Willie pours out granules, exclaiming, “Dust! There is nothing in this armor — but dust! He’s gone! But the meaning of this, now, begins to dawn on me — I’m changing — I-I am more than Willie Walker!” A blinding flash consumes the hospital johnny-clad war veteran and instantaneously he is adorned in the colorful armor of the messenger of death! “I am a power to make all tremble! I am The Black Racer!” He steps through the wall and onto the rooftop, where stand ready are his skis and ski poles. “My instincts have cosmic sharpness! My mission is ever clear! Destiny has opened all barriers to the most helpless of beings! Now I mount my skis — and ride the night! Beware, my quarry! You are marked for oblivion!”
After Sugar-Man meets with his superior, Badger, and is assigned to carry the “wild and nasty” Apokolips-made bomb, Orion and Dave Lincoln smash into the Inter-Gang hideout. Sugar-Man then makes his escape with the explosive device, which he loads into the back of a box van. As he takes off in the truck, the caption reads, “But Sugar-Man is unaware that he’s been joined by another — one new at his mission — but old as time!”
The Black Racer: And so the chase begins! Faster, Sugar-Man! Go faster! We are linked in a moment of dying!
Sugar-Man: That reflection in my rear view mirror — I’m being followed! That clown’s not from Earth! But I’m not stopping to find out which side he’s on!
The Black Racer: You know me, Sugar-Man! You’ve sent many to The Black Racer!
Sugar-Man: I do know him! It was him — standing in the shadows on that roof — when my gun blew up in my face!
The Black Racer: Your luck has run out, Sugar-Man! Listen to the song of death!
Inside the truck, strange, electronic sounds rise to a strident pitch from the activated bomb!
Sugar-Man is in a panic behind the wheel. “The bomb!!” he screams, “I-It’s not supposed to make those sounds!” The Black Racer parallels the vehicle, both traveling at high speed, and he points a ski pole towards the truck’s cargo area. “Yes, it can, Sugar-Man — when its shell is penetrated by transmitted signals –” And then the pole pokes into the truck to make contact with the bomb inside! “They enter the truck — without resistance — as does my ski pole — Then, as signals reach the mechanized heart of the bomb — ” Amid the unnerving “RRRREEE” sound, “Suddenly, as the ski pole touches the bomb…” and Sugar-Man and the truck are space-bound, flying into the Metropolis sky! Despite Sugar-Man’s screams of “No! No! No!” The Black Racer bids his quarry adieu. “They trigger its anti-gravity circuits! Farewell, Sugar-Man!”
Whether Sugar-Man is dead or not by the time Mother Box activates the bomb’s detonation is unknown, but suffice to say there is a massive explosion in the night sky over Superman’s adopted city and Sugar-Man is no more. As Dave Lincoln and Orion are roundng up the gangsters, Badger says, “Nailing our unit won’t stop Inter-Gang!” Dave retorts as he dials the phone to alert the cops, “We’ve made a good start, eh, O’Ryan? Now to call the police and drop this little package in their lap!” Standing grimly, Orion answers, “We’ll deliver them all, except the man who took the bomb! I’m afraid he’ll never be found!” And the following caption reads, “No one knows this better than The Black Racer, who has seen Sugar-Man die in space!”
The Black Racer flies back to Willie Walker’s domicile, telling us, “Tonight’s mission ends! I return to the ghetto of Sergeant Willie Walker! There are no barriers for him now! Willie Walker now has the freedom of the farthest dimensions! Willie Walker is now one of many messengers! All who make the one entity — The Black Racer! The one who transferred his power to Willie has returned to the Source! The Source is all! The Source gave me this knowledge — this power! It was the Source that chose Willie Walker for this mission! I must still do its bidding! I return as Willie Walker! I touch my helmet and vanish as I am!”
We then meet the sergeant’s caretakers, Willie’s sister Verna and her husband Ray, and after she frets for her invalid brother’s safety, her spouse ponders, “Poor Willie! What must he be thinking?” and the next caption, closing the issue, reads, “Willie Walker’s eyes grow wide! He is aware! He knows his next quarry! Who is it? Him? — Her? — You? Don’t run for the exits! You can’t escape The Black Racer!”
We next encounter the harbinger of eternity in the very next adventure, as Orion mourns the death of Seagrin, the gentle warrior new god, who has been killed by the Deep Six. A veritable viking’s funeral erupts on the dock, which bursts into flames, and as Orion and Dave Lincoln leave the tragic scene, “behind them, leaping from the heart of the flames, a dark, blood-chilling figure silently swoops into the night sky!” It is The Black Racer. A police officer points at the flying figure, exclaiming, “Casey! Look! Up there! Did you see it?” Casey responds, “I don’t see anything but that fire! Cough! Cough!”
But he is there! Swift! Silent! Present at the finish of a man — or a god! Even stranger is his destination! When he makes his descent, it is in the humblest of places — the ghetto district! Ahead of him is a tenement of fading brick! Then a wall! Then — a window! Without hesitation, he enters, through material barriers that are not for him! For a moment, the room is lit by a blinding flash! Then — it’s gone! Sergeant Willie Walker has come home! Where but in the hands of a paraplegic, made helpless by war, would a wandering, god-like being have placed the most awesome power?
Verna: Willie! Willie! Are you all right? How did these fumes get in this room? I’ve taken all precaution against fire!
Under the constant care of his sister and her husband, who would suspect that Sergeant Willie Walker is The Black Racer, Messenger of Death!?
Verna: [Thinking] But how could this be?
In the final issue of The New Gods, The Black Racer appears as Orion and Kalibak are culminating their savage blood feud. We learn a little more about the character’s connection with The Source — or so we think! — when upon administering medication to her brother, Verna notices Willie Walker seems completely detached from her and reality. “Willie Walker is also forever silent! His eyes can move, but at this moment they are fixed on the distance –! — A distance far beyond his room –!”
Verna seeks the comfort of Ray’s embrace as she laments her sibling’s condition. “He just doesn’t seem to hear or see us anymore!” Ray holds her close, telling Verna, “Willie’s lost in the stars, Verna! I think nothing here has any meaning for him now!”
The caption reads, “And what does Willie think? And see? — And hear? What of the voice that calls to him — from — out there –!” And a voice comes from out of the air itself, telling the invalid, “It’s time, Willie! A messenger is needed! — A messenger, both swift and — final!”
–A messenger of death –!! With powers beyond the standards known by men! Powers that can make an invalid rise and stand firm with new strength!
Voice: On your feet, Willie! You can do it! That’s it, Willie! The change is coming! Even as you stand, the change is taking place!
Where the commanding voice comes from is a mystery to Willie! He only knows that it changes him! And with that change he is given a grim mission! And a new name!
The Black Racer: Once again — I’m The Black Racer!
With the change come new and strange powers! The Black Racer walks through the wall of Willie’s building — into the night outside —
The Black Racer: My equipment lies waiting! My mission begins!! Death is on the wing this night! —Death for an angry god!
Thus, as the ferocious slugfest between half-brothers reaches a crescendo, “At that deadly moment, The Black Racer arrives!”
The Black Racer: The time is at hand!
Then, as Orion lifts Kalibak for a last crushing act of violence, he sees The Black Racer rushing toward him!
The Black Racer: Death approaches, Orion! Both of you have taken incredible punishment! But I’ve come for only one!
Orion: If it be me — then come and be swift!
There’s no stopping The Black Racer! Orion is struck by a fierce wind! And every fiber quakes and screams in the shadow of what overwhelms him!
The wind shrieks on and flings debris everywhere! The Black Racer has come and gone — and gone, too, is Kalibak!!! A heavy silence falls on the city in the wake of the sudden gust! Then, the normal sounds of the city return —
Orion: [Thinking] The Black Racer spared me! It was Kalibak’s moment of dying! — not mine!
Dave Lincoln: Orion! What was all that? Where is Kalibak — and that guy on skis?
Ye ghads! What a climax and resolved on the very last page of the final issue of The New Gods, at that!
There is one other appearance for the character, during a “Young Gods of Supertown” vignette starring Fastbak entitled “Beat The Black Racer!!” Fastbak, as we previously learned, flies the skies (and apparently spaceways) courtesy of his phenomenally quick “Aero-Pads.” In this adventure, we see him in space about New Genesis as a lethal ski pole advances toward him.
The Black Racer: Greetings, Fastbak!! You face a difficult challenger this day!
Fastbak: The Dark Bringer of Death! [Thinking] Young Esak is missing –! And The Black Racer is a sorry clue to his situation!!
The Black Racer: Destiny has sent us on the same mission, Fastbak!! Life or extinction!! — It depends on which of us reaches our quarry — first!!
A race to the death! Fastbak had guessed as much from the start!
Fastbak: [Thinking] My new circuits check out! I hope they do their job well!
They do well — enabling Fastbak to elude the fatal rush of a meteor swarm! Apokolips has turned space into a great trap for New Genesis life!! It’s littered with dangers like the great Terror-Bats which pursue and kill!! Then there are the roving patrols of fierce Para-Demons!
Para-Demon: Close in on him! Don’t let him escape!!
But stopping Fastbak at his blinding speed is like trying to halt a dodging missile!!
Fastbak: Out of my way!
Fastbak whizzes on!! He know that the most sinister space-trap of all is the Magna-Target which holds its prey and pulls it toward Apokolips — where it can be shot down and destroyed!!
Fastbak: Just as I thought! The victim on that Magna-Target is young Esak!
The Black Racer: He was ever curious! As curious as Metron!
Fastbak: [Thinking] The Black Racer! I thought I’d lost him!
The Black Racer: The Black Racer catches up with everyone, Fastbak!
Fastbak: No! No!
The Black Racer: One of us must claim him! Fastbak!
Fastbak: I’ll do it! I must do it!
Esak: Help me, Fastbak!
At the last moment, Fastbak executes an unheard of burst of speed! Then —
Fastbak: The weapons of Apokolips have spoken! Their target is destroyed! But not its living prey, Esak!!
Esak: That was fantastic, Fastbak! You outdid yourself!
The Black Racer is nowhere to be seen! But he’ll return again!! He’s neither lost nor won! — But merely thwarted for a time!!
For some reason I’ve noticed over the years that The Black Racer seems to unnerve a contingent of fans.
The expressed feeling is something along the lines of, “A black man on skis is silly, and the costume is awful.”
Mark Evanier mentioned Kirby’s reaction to this in an issue of TJKC.
Kirby couldn’t understand why a silver character on a surfboard, was any different from a black character on skis.
Kirby was once asked why he’d created a costume like that for The Black Racer, and answered, “So he’d be noticed.”
Certainly one of my favorite characters and stories in the whole saga.
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