We don’t see much of the Inter-Gang crime boss Badger but we see enough to determine he’s a vile sort! After Sugar-Man executes Screamer, who is suspected of the intent to blab about the “Big Caper,” and returns to the hideaway, wounded by The Black Racer, to report to Badger, the kingpin tells the pimped-out criminal, “You did your job, Sugar-Man! Sure there was a witness — but what can Willie Walker say? The kid’s a living clam! They’ll get nothing outta him! Not in time to stop what we gotta do! Sorry about the accident!” We see Badger is a slit-eyed, bald-headed, rat-faced goon (okay, badger-faced, then!), sporting a bow tie and fat cigar. After listening to his minion fret about The Black Racer, Badger dismisses him with, “Yaaa — Shut up! Inter-Gang must carry out what it’s paid to do! bring in the bomb!” Upon being asked what does the device do exactly, he responds, “The Apokolips people didn’t say! But I’ll bet it’s something wild and nasty!” He then places a key into the bomb, telling his henchmen, “There! I turn this key — and now the bomb is activated! And ready to plant!”
Just then, Orion (with Dave Lincoln in tow) exploded into the room, and Badger orders, “We’ve been warned about him! Get those special guns!” Orion sees they have Apokolips weapons, as Badger turns his trigger-man, telling him, “Stash that pea-shooter, Sugar-Man! Take the bomb! Plant it where the Apokolips crowd designated! Take off, Sugar-Man! We’ll get these birds!” As the bad guy and the bomb leave by the back way, Orion’s Mother Box jams the Apokolips-designed weapons and Badger’s gang is subdued. Badger clucks, “You cats cooled us, but not our bomb! By now, it’s being clamped on the communications building across town!!” But Mother Box intercedes again and the Inter-Gang plot is thwarted. But Badger still smirks, telling Orion and Dave Lincoln, “Nailing our unit won’t stop Inter-Gang!”
But it sure stopped Badger, dinnit?
Sugar-Man is the African-American gunman who becomes the first quarry on planet Earth for The Black Racer. When the Messenger of Death arrives via Boom Tube in the skies above the Metropolis ghetto, he first spies the Inter Gang criminal called Sugar-Man stalking another bad-guy, this one with a similarly odd nickname. The Black Racer first takes note, saying, “There, below — a place of black men! Those who fight to live — others who risk my presence!” BAM! BAM! “I’ve got you, Screamer!” Sugar-Man barks, as clad in a beret, neck scarf and sunglasses, engages in a gun battle. “You’re running out of ammo!”
Chasing his prey from rooftop to rooftop, Sugar-Man continues the fusillade as Screamer flees. “You can’t get away Screamer! It’s useless to run, baby.” Then making a bead on his target, the hunter makes the fatal shot with a taunt. “Your last scream won’t be to the law!” His job complete, the gangster says to no one in particular, “Inter-Gang gets rid of cats they can’t trust! Especially when he can blab about the Big Caper.” Sugar-Man then takes a look around and notices a figure laying still in a bed. “Oh-oh! A witness to the bang bang!” We get a closer look at the prone figure, one the criminal recognizes. “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?” Despite the invalid’s obvious paralysis, the thug raise his pistol and takes aim. “Well, Sugar-Man is gonna help you, Willie! Sugar-Man is gonna blot out all the misery inside you — It’ll just take — one squeeze –”
Then the hand of The Black Racer suddenly encompasses the handgun which explodes with Sugar-Man taking the full force of the backfire. “My face!” he screams while running away. “I’m hit! I’m hit! Gotta get outta here!” The murderer runs to the lair of his Inter-Gang boss, Badger, who says upon Sugar-Man’s arrival, “You did your job, Sugar-Man! Sure, there was a witness — but what can Willie Walker say? The kid’s a living clam! They’ll get nothing outta him! Not in time to stop what we gotta do! Sorry about the accident!”
His noggin getting bandaged (even around his eyes!), Sugar-Man is angry. “Accident, hell! I saw a hand, I tell you! It was like the hand of death closing over the barrel of my gun! Then — BOOM! There was someone there, standing in the darkness! I couldn’t see him — but I’ll know when I find him again!” Badger replies, “Yaaa — Shut up! Inter-Gang must carry out what it’s paid to do! Bring in the bomb!”
We learn that the “Apokolips people” made the device, which will melt all “every bit communication metal within a radius of thousands of miles,” as Orion will subsequently inform us, and when the fierce new god and his friend Dave Lincoln smash into the Inter-Gang hideout and Sugar-Man, once again donning sunglasses, fires at them. “Stash that pea-shooter, Sugar-Man!” orders Badger. “Take the bomb! Plant it where the Apokolips crowd designated!” Sugar-Man responds, “Okay, Badger! But hold this cat while I get away!” As the wounded desperado slinks out a back entrance, his boss yells, “Take off, Sugar-Man! We’ll get these birds!” And the departing gangster replies, “Sure, Badger! I’ll do as you say, but –”
Sugar-Man, running through an enclosed alleyway with the activated bomb in his grip, realizes the identity of one of the assailants laying seige on Badger’s crib. “A cat from New Genesis! We were warned that they might raid us! But they won’t stop Inter-Gang from doing what it’s paid to do!” He runs up to a waiting truck and loads his lethal possession in back. “In you go, bomb! Sugar-Man is gonna make sure you blow!” The truck takes off and the oblivious driver doesn’t know this will be his last delivery.
The next 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 follows closely behind, telling us, “And so the chase begins! Faster, Sugar-Man! Go faster! We are linked in a moment of dying!” Sugar-Man looks in the side-view to see the harbinger of death coming on fast. He thinks, “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 celestial being taunts his quarry. “You know me, Sugar-Man! You’ve sent many to The Black Racer!”
Sugar-Man is freaking out, driving the truck at top speed, and he recognizes his pursuer. “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 is ever closer, announcing to his prey, “Your luck has run out, Sugar-Man! Listen to the song of death!” The bomb starts making a disconcerting noise that adds to the driver’s hysteria. “The bomb!!” Sugar-Man hollers, “I-It’s not supposed to make those sounds!” The Black Racer uses his ski pole to penetrate the truck and make contact with the device. “Yes, it can, Sugar-Man — when its shell is penetrated by transmitted signals — They enter the truck — without resistance — as does my ski pole — Then, as signals reach the mechanized heart of the bomb — ” Then the pole does its business and the truck starts to fly skyward! The Black Racer solemnly says, “They trigger its anti-gravity circuits! Farewell, Sugar-Man!”
The criminal pleads, “No! No! No!” as he flies into outer space, Orion’s Mother Box activates the explosive and that’s the last we see of Sugar-Man. As Badger is subdued, he says to Orion and Lincoln, “You cats cooled us, but not our bomb! By now, it’s being clamped on the communications building across town!!” Dave replies, “We were too late to stop your man from escaping with the bomb — but perhaps –” But Orion reassures his Earth ally. “Don’t worry, Lincoln! Mother Box has intercepted the bomb in transit! And has sent it toward space! Now, the vehicle carrying the bomb is high enough to destruct there! Mother Box sends out her death signal!”
As Dave Lincoln calls the cops to take away the Inter-Gangsters, he tells his friend, “Now to call the police and drop this little package in their lap!” Orion replies, “We’ll deliver all, except the man who took the bomb! I’m afraid he’ll never be found!”
And, apparently, we’ll never learn how this rotten bad guy ever got such a sweet nickname. Just desserts indeed!
The villain Jack Kirby created for the first adversary to tangle with Mister Miracle? It’s Inter-Gang mob boss Steel-Hand, who lost his right hand to a machine gun fuselage and now sports a radiation-powered appendage that can destroy some of the strongest metal on the planet!
We first learn of Steel Hand when, after Thaddeus Brown has escaped the burning shed, a bunch of thugs come by for a visit. “The new arrivals emerge from a car — moving with silent, evil assurance — symbols of organized crime in the Atomic Age…” The Great Thaddeus recognizes the crew: “These men are a division of Inter-Gang!” (We know — right? — that this criminal association does Darkseid’s nefarious bidding on our planet, so their appearance is certainly a stupendous coincidence!)
The mobsters pull out their weapons and a free-for-all ensues with Scott Free and his carpetbag initiating the fray, joining Thaddeus and Oberon in fending off the villains. The good-guy trio take down the baddies and Scott, helping an exhausted Thaddeus to his feet, says, “Are you all right, sir? Perhaps it was unwise of me to start this fracas –” Thaddeus retorts, “There — was no choice! They came here for this –”
Scott: I realize that I have no right to ask — but are you involved in some way with — Inter-Gang?
Thaddeus: Not with Inter-Gang, boy! — With their division chief in this area — Steel Hand!
The scene shifts to the villain’s Metropolis headquarters, where his left hand holds a cigar and right is snugged inside of a typical Kirby contraption, and his underling is reporting the fight. “Trouble? Trouble? With an old ‘has been’ and a dwarf? All they had to do was push them around a little!” But Steel Hand hears of Scott Free — “Fast — good with his fists –” The bespectacled criminal takes his hand out of the container to reveal an apparently solid-metal hand!
Steel-Hand’s origin begins when he was a two-bit nobody. The gangster squawks (with no one in the room), “Ha ha ha — To think I was once at the end of my rope — a sniveling little loser — with his hand blasted by a Tommy-gun — then came a turn of luck — in the hospital — that surgeon — experimenting with transplants –” He approaches a huge riveted metal block, raising his metallic fist above his head, continuing, “He gave me this new hand! I didn’t know its history — but with radiation treatments, it gained power — power! My life changed after that! I smashed my way into a top job at Inter-Gang! — Just as easily as I smash this great bar of solid titanium!” With that, Steel Hand slams his… ummm… steel hand to decimate the enormous object!
Jack’s next caption reads, “But despite his arrogance, Steel Hand fears the loss of his status!! Somehow, Mister Miracle is linked with that deep-rooted fear! — And, thus, a brutal decision is made!” So the kingpin calls his henchmen into the room and plots the end of the Super Escape Artist!
Steel Hand tells his goons (who have delightful names in this tale: Stuka is his first lieutenant, plus there’s Herky and Nails), “I’m taking personal charge of the Mister Miracle job!” and Herky and Nails (who knows which is which!) reply, “We know what that means!” and “Right! We’ll get you our best sniper!”
The next day, Steel Hand is near the spot of “The Big Trap” with a hired assassin. “Soon, it will be over — and I can forget Mister Miracle. Before I lose face — he’ll lose his life!” Then, as the sniper’s telescopic sight zeroes in on Thaddeus, the crime boss gloats, “Goodbye, Mister Miracle. All bets are off!”
As we are tragically aware, Thaddeus Brown is killed, leaving Oberon and Scott to grieve. Sobbing, the tiny assistant finally explains the Brown-Steel Hand connection: “Poor Thaddeus! If only he hadn’t been so desperate to make a come-back — He needed money to do that — money he didn’t have — That’s why he went to Steel Hand — to remind him of a longstanding wager –”
“Go on, Oberon –” Scott gently prods, “Tell me the rest –”
The little man relents: “Thaddeus met Steel Hand in a hospital, years ago. Both men had serious injuries… to pass the time they made the wager… Steel Hand boasted he could stop Thaddeus with an escape-proof trap!” Scott surmises aloud the bet was probably $10,000 and the two bettors shook hands. Oberon continues, “Yes — it was only recently that we saw Steel Hand’s picture in the newspaper! He’d come a long way — too notorious — too powerful — to ignore or lose a wager! But Thaddeus saw him again — and now — this!”
Cut to a few days later, when Steel Hand arm wrestles and beats a robot opponent, only to have the new Mister Miracle jump in a window behind the bad guy. “You! I-I don’t believe it! Y-you’re dead — dead!” They tussle while Steel Hand’s goons are notified and the Super Escape Artist is knocked unconscious, only to be placed in jeopardy by his new nemesis. “This time he gets what he asked for — an escape-proof trap!” vows Steel Hand.
Scott is tied to a rocket (as it seems Steel Hand does have some pull as criminal mastermind, as he can reserve use of the “secret Inter-Gang missile site” simply by calling ahead!) and, of course, our hero appears to die as the missile explodes in mid-air. A henchman says, “Chief — if Mister Miracle come back from that — he won’t even be in shape to haunt a house!” Steel Hand offers, “He was a weird one, all right! But he was human! And humans don’t have nine lives! Steel Hand is still top man! Remember that, you birds!”
Steel Hand returns to his “lavish office” only to find Scott Free sitting at his desk. Steel Hand goes berserk and trashes the room. “The Steel Hand is no myth!” thinks Mister Miracle. “It’s the deadliest of weapons!” Then our hero turns the tables on the Inter-Gang division chief and captures him to be delivered at the feet of arriving policemen. “Thanks, Mister Miracle,” says one officer. “His conviction will wreck Inter-Gang’s Eastern operation!”
We never again see this peculiar villain in the series and he’s not much missed, hardly one of the top echelon in Jack’s Rogues Gallery, but Steel Hand getting his comeuppance is a hoot (I’ll describe it in full in the issue round-up and/or story synopsis)…
It’s appropriate that Jack, who had lived in the realm of real-world hoodlums as a kid growing up on the vicious mean streets of New York’s Lower East Side, had his greatest cosmic villain, Darkseid, not only ruling an entire planet of evil, but also serve as head gangster for an earthly crime organization, Inter-Gang. It brings the salient point home that despots and dictators are nothing but puffed-up gangsters, no matter what the fashionable accouterments or lofty-sounding rhetoric. Jack linked a high-tech Mafia to the dark god’s malevolent empire, expressing a fear-filled image that among us lurked an underground Apokoliptian Fifth Column, its rosters filled with thugs betraying their own planet motivated by (doubtless empty) promises of wealth and power from the Master of the Holocaust.
Yes, these are the same scoundrels Jack has portrayed since his beginnings in the art form, whether in Captain America Comics, “Newsboy Legion,” Justice Traps the Guilty, Fighting American, “Green Arrow,” or his innumerable Marvel tales: tough-talking, mean-natured, shallow, and murderous mobsters, a scourge to civilized life, grabbing what is not theirs and killing anyone who gets in their way. In other words, Jack always stuck with the Warner Brothers stereotype and, I strongly suspect, had real-life archetypes to contemplate, as a career in crime was a serious option to young Jacob Kurtzberg and the other youthful denizens of Manhattan’s slums.
Inter-Gang (International-Gangsters? Intergalactic-Gangsters?) was particularly active in the early issues of the Fourth World tetralogy, and as hackneyed and cliché as some of the goons are portrayed, they are all deliciously cruel and (of course) ill-fated in that indomitable Kirby style.
Jimmy Olsen had Ugly Mannhiem and the nameless killer of Jim (the original Guardian) Harper — and don’t forget the Scottish field office with Felix MacFinney and his “daughter,” Ginny; Mister Miracle had Steel Hand and even a secret Inter-Gang missile; The News Gods featured Badger, Sugar-Man, Country Boy and Snaky Doyle; and The Forever People? Well, they had this unnamed squad of Darkseid-connected racketeers, every-ready to to murder the unaware Super Kids and take out a certain Superman.
Want to get an inkling of Jack’s world view, at least a good portion? Load up your Netflix queue with the following Warner Brothers gangster movies (and then go read In the Days of The Mob as a chaser)… it’s all in there, pal:
Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (’31), G Men (’35), The Petrified Forest (’36), Angels With Dirty Faces (’38), They Drive by Night (’38), Each Dawn I Die (’39), The Roaring Twenties (’39), High Sierra (’41), and White Heat (’49).