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Adventures of the Jaguar 13
"The Cat Gang!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND August 1963; published by Radio Comics (Archie); edited by Victor Gorelick (I think); stories in the issue written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by John Rosenberger. The cover depicts the red-costumed Jaguar leaping to punch out a thug dressed in a business suit and black panther headmask, while behind him a tiger-masked crook swings a stick. "The Jaguar fights for his life when he clashes with the amazing 'Cat Gang"!"

The Fly, the Simon and Kirby creation carried on by Bernstein and Rosenberger and John Giunta, was apparently enough of a success for Archie Comics that Bernstein and Rosenberger were invited to produce another superhero creation. They didn't stretch their imaginations too far to come up with a new character...while the Fly rubbed a magic ring to assume his superhero guise and had all the powers of the insect kingdom, the Jaguar rubbed a magic belt and had all the powers of the animal kingdom. Still, the Jaguar as drawn by Rosenberger looked pretty cool with his red outfit with leopardskin belt and boots, and a jungle cat was certainly a more imposing model for a superhero than a housefly.

This issue was one of the later ones in the Jaguar series (third from last, to be exact). The lead story is "The Birth of the Cat Gang!" and the splash shows three men in lion, tiger and panther masks standing over the fallen clerk of a costume shop and congratulating themselves on their new criminal enterprise; "Dressed like this, we'll really scare our victims!" "Right! From now on, we're the Cat Gang, and anyone who tries to stop us, even THE JAGUAR, gets clawed!" The third guy, in the panther mask, is apparently a little less confident; "Ha, ha! But we're lucky this Jaguar figure is only a costumed dummy!"

As the story starts, a zoo gorilla escapes his cage and is shot by a guard. The wounded ape is rushed to the lab of zoologist/veterinarian Ralph Hardy, who anesthetizes the gorilla and prepares to operate to remove the bullets. Hardy's secretary Jill asks if she can help and is told by Hardy that all she can do is to "send out for some coffee!" Jill is mildly distraught by the chauvinistic order and ponders how she could become more useful to her boss; "What could a secretary do in this situation? It would be different if I were a NURSE....Good heavens! I never thought of that! I'll study to become a nurse! I'll be of greater value to Ralph...and to humanity as well!" How much value a veterinary nurse will be to "humanity" may be in doubt....but, onward.... The gorilla wakens from the anesthetic sooner than expected and threatens to go on a rampage in Hardy's office, threatening Jill and zookeeper Eddie. But Ralph Hardy rubs his magic belt and speaks the magic words "The Jaguar!" and magically switches to his crimson-garbed secret identity (losing his pencil-thin mustache in the process-- a more unusual change-of-face than Clark Kent's glasses). The Jaguar swoops to the rescue and slugs the gorilla unconscious again, while making an excuse that Hardy is off somewhere out of danger. The Jaguar muses, "I'm glad Jill no longer knows my dual identity! No one must EVER know!" while Jill moons, "*SIGH* how I wish he'd fall for me!" (In an earlier story, Jill did know or guess the Jaguar's identity, but I don't know how her mind got wiped of the secret in an intervening issue.) After Ralph Hardy returns to his normal identity, Jill broaches the idea of her studying as a nurse while still working part time for him, and Hardy thinks, "Not a bad idea! If Jill weren't always around, I'd have more freedom as the Jaguar!" (Clearly, these stories were aimed at a pre-teen boy readership with a girls-are-pests attitude....)

As Jill goes off to enroll in nursing classes, Hardy is led to muse about his origin...."I remember clearly spotting that white jaguar in the Peruvian jungle and trailing it to a ruined Inca jungle!" (That's how the caption reads, but I suspect the letterer meant to write "ruined Inca *temple"") "There I found the Jaguar Belt and read the ancient inscription of its use.... By saying 'THE JAGUAR' I instantly became ruler of the animal kingdom! I could fly through power supplied by my nucleon energy belt..." (Even as a kid reading some of these stories, I could never figure out what in heck a "nucleon energy belt" with tiny jets on it had to do with the "animal kingdom". Apparently the Archie folks felt that any self-respecting superhero had to be able to fly, even if the only mammal with flight powers is the bat, and giving the Jaguar bat wings not only would have looked silly but would probably have resulted in Archie hearing from DC's lawyers.) "My Jaguar's body was a hundred times harder than the toughness of a rhinoceros hide! I could communicate telepathically with all animals! They knew me as their friend and leader....I've had weird battles, like the one with Cat Girl's living sphinx!" This reminds Ralph of his old female foe...."I wonder what ever happend to Cat Girl, the mythological queen of the cat world who had supernatural powers!"

The answer is quickly forthcoming; as a woman in an "uptown apartment" muses, "No one suspects I, the mysterious heiress Lydia Fellin, was once the great Cat Girl!" (The people in this story are certainly given to expository thought balloons reminding themselves of who they are.) A chagrined-looking Lydia continues to brood; "But now, with my supernatural powers gone, I cannot come and go in time...or materialize or disappear like an unearthly spirit!" It seems that exposure to strontium 90 from an atomic test has somehow robbed her of all her powers except the ability to telepathically command cats.... and also deprived her of her former knowledge of the Jaguar's great secret. "I'm still crazy about him, but I cannot recall his secret identity... but someday we shall meet! I must make the Jaguar fall in love with me! Without the one man I can love, life is meaningless!"

Meanwhile, three acrobatic crooks dressed in stocking masks invade a costume shop and overwhelm the proprietor; "We're not called 'cat' burglars for nothing!" Spotting a trio of cat head masks, they conceive the idea of discarding their crude stocking masks and becoming more literal "cat burglars". "Can you imagine the effect if we pulled jobs wearing headgear like these? We'll not only build up a great reputation, but scare the wits out of our victims!" "And so the fierce CAT GANG is born!"

The splash to Part 2 has the Jaguar landing in the midst of the Cat gangsters, who boast, "The Jaguar finally ran into some animals he can't control! The two-legged kind with HUMAN brains and HUMAN weapons!" Pulling their first job, the acrobatic Cat Gang vault over an electric fence surrounding a factory with a tempting safe, run a tape of jungle cat sounds, and panic the plant guards (who don't seem to be exactly the cream of the private security industry) by poking their masked faces out of the darkness, leading the guards to believe they are being attacked by real wild animals. As the Cats crack the safe, the guards call for help against "escaped animals" and are answered by the Jaguar, who identifies the culprits as beast-masked humans; "You're the gang's FIRST fall guys...but I doubt if you're the last!" The Cats are delighted by their publicity as well as the $30,000 haul (inflation has struck; I don't suppose that would be considered a very lucrative burglary today) and proceed to walk tightropes to reach their next target, a penthouse roof party full of "swells from society and Hollywood" wearing jewelry. Police Commissioner Martin is present at the party and encourages the publicity-loving Cats to have their pictures taken, hoping the camera flashes will attract the attention of the Jaguar on patrol. It does, but the cats outwit the Jaguar, escaping down an elevator shaft and into the city sewers. (You'd think with all those animal powers the Jaguar would be able to track them by smell...) The Commissioner is chagrined as his ruse to get the Jaguar's help only results in his looking like a laughing stock in the papers.

While hunting down the Cat Gang, the Jaguar spots debutante Lydia on the street and recognizes her as his old nemesis Cat Girl. He understandably jumps to the conclusion that she must be the mastermind behind the "Cat Gang". But she insists otherwise; "My days of evil are gone forever!" She demonstrates her loss of supernatural power and indestructibility by directing her pet cat to scratch her, and explains how she has given up crime and is living off wealth acquired when she was a queen. "What about your devilish cunning? You still have THAT, I imagine!" Lydia puts her arms around the Jaguar and declares, "Any cunning I now possess, I shall use to win your heart!" "You're very attractive, Cat Girl, but I don't trust you! I still think you're the Cat Gang's leader!" "You fool! You have the keenest eyesight...but you cannot see into my HEART!" Cat Girl resolves to prove her true intentions to the Jaguar by drawing out the Cat Gang and helping the Jaguar to catch them. As Lydia Fellin, she invites journalists to publish an account of her huge gem collection, inviting the Cat Gang to burglarize her apartment. But as they arrive on flying trapezes, Cat Girl directs a horde of alley cats to start yowling loudly in order to attract the attention of the Jaguar and the police. Panicked by the noise, the Cats flee without their intended loot, but when the Jaguar appears, they assume he was in control of the cats and prepare to fight back; "You've tricked us into a trap...but you'll turn out to be the DEAD DUCK!" But before they can shoot at the Jaguar, the swarm of cats controlled by Cat Girl attacks them. "Run! Run! They cuold kill us!" Playing along, the Jaguar pretends to be in control of the cats and persuades the gangsters to surrender. Why the super-powered Jaguar needed the help of a team of terrifying tabbies to defeat a trio of basically ordinary crooks in cat masks is unclear... but anyway, after the Cat Gang is in custody, the Jaguar flies to Lydia's apartment to give credit where due; "I owe you an apology, Cat Girl! You prepared this trap and ordered those cats to signal me!" "Now do you believe my nature has CHANGED? That I'm not up to any more evil tricks?" "Yes! Now, a grateful toast to CAT GIRL!" "No, my dear! To my new name...Lydia!" (thought) "Which, fate permitting, may one day be changed to MRS. JAGUAR!" (And so that tomcat, the Jaguar, two-times poor Jill as she slaves away in nursing school....)

The Jaguar backup story is "The Menace of the Winged Bull!" A remote mountain village is Asia is visited by the flying bovine in question, and the natives cower in terror, for they know that the appearance of the bull will be followed by the marauding "Black Knights" who "steal everything they can carry off". Hearing of these strange raids, zoologist Ralph Hardy decides to investigate and discover whether there really is a winged bull, and whether the Black Knights really are "descendants of a lost race of marauding Crusaders", as legend says, or common modern-day criminals. Setting up a "heavy-laden caravan" as bait, the Jaguar is rewarded by the appearance of the winged bull. But when the Jaguar attempts to engage in an aerial bullfight, the creature does not react, and he realizes it is no real animal but a remote-control device. Riding the bull back to its controllers, the Jaguar encounters a Black Knight with an un-medieval turn of phrase-- "Gasp! It's the Jaguar! What brought him to this neck of the woods?" and smashes the mechanical bull to pieces. (Maybe the Knights should have installed it in a cowboy bar instead of using it for crime.) The Jaguar is momentarily impeded when the Knights' remote control proves to have the power to deactivate his nucleon jet belt, causing him to crash to earth. But Jaguar directs the horses of his "knghtly" foes to rear and topple them, and then deflects their deadly lances with a boulder he lifts. In the end, the Black Knights are indeed found to be mere common criminals. "They exploited the lost crusaders and winged bull legends as a coverup for present day banditry! In other words, they were full of BULL!"

The issue also features a one page "Black Hood Teaches Karate" featurette, and a letters page in which reader Phil Leibfred of Bronxville, New York, reports reading about the old MLJ comics heroes in a fanzine article and suggests a poll on which of them-- "BLACK HOOD, THE SHIELD, THE WEB, MR. JUSTICE, CAPTAIN FLAG, STEEL STERLING, BLACK JACK, THE HANGMAN and THE WIZARD"-- ought to be brought back. Two issues later, the Jaguar himself disappeared into limbo.... and when Archie again revived their superhero line a couple of years later under the "Mighty Comics" banner, nearly all the MLJ heroes named above made appearances, but the Jaguar made only a fly-on appearance in the "Too Many Super-Heroes" story in MIGHTY CRUSADERS (in which every obscure hero MLJ ever published suddenly appeared and demanded to join the Crusaders team). Since then, the Jaguar has remained missing in action; the character name was revived for the "Impact Comics" line (licensed from Archie but produced and published by DC) in 1991 but the animal powers were given to a Latina teenage girl.