In the Golden Age of comics, there were several characters every publisher had– the punching man in a flag, the punching astronaut, the punching masked detective, the punching jungle explorer, and the one no one remembers– the magician who punches. They were all exactly the same and no one was nerdy enough to care, but in 1940, Sure Fire Comics created, probably accidentally, the greatest version of the punching magician the world would ever forget: Marvo the Magician and Tito.
There was never an origin story with Marvo. We never learn how he can conjure illusions of any size or why he’s best friends with a super-intelligent monkey. They presumably had a stage show at one point, but now they have nothing. Every issue makes it clear– these two are just driving around looking for shit to do. And I don’t know if this was bad storytelling, a commonplace horror of 1940s America, or some kind of dark monkey instinct, but they ran into a woman in a red dress being attacked every place they ever went. Immediately. It’s how every one of their stories started. Here are some completely unaltered Marvo the Magician and Tito openers:
This was Marvo and Tito’s very first adventure and all the preparation readers received. An ordinary superhero show today will take 3 episodes to establish a character, 5 more to explain their powers, 3 to figure out their costume, and the season will end with them finally meeting a villain. Audiences in 1940 were so much more sophisticated. You could have a magician and a monkey drive past a woman in a fistfight and everyone was like, “Oh, I get what’s happening here.”
“Oh, look– a magician with a monkey on his shoulder driving a bright green convertible right in front of me. All I have to do is wait for them to go before I grab the gi– oh, I fucked this all up.”
I wasn’t kidding when I said all their stories start like this. The moment Marvo puts his foot on the gas he hears a woman scream. His car has two miles and 18 gallons of kidnapper blood on it. He didn’t get to finish a single sentence in this issue before a woman was attacked in broad daylight. And thank God, because there’s no way a 1940 man would start a sentence to his monkey, “THIS IS THE CHINESE SECTION OF THE CITY, TITO…” and not end it with something racist. He was about to tell that monkey, “BY THEIR SAVAGE IMAGININGS, YOU ARE A MENU ITEM” or “PROSTITUTES OF THE ORIENT LET YOU PEE ON THEM FOR A HA’PENNY, MY LOYAL FRIEND!”
Marvo didn’t even get to start a sentence in this issue. The very first line is “LOOK, TITO, THAT GIRL IS BEING HARMED” while an entire carnival abducts a woman. If you ask me, it’s happening too frequently. Another lady being abducted in front of countless witnesses? In the same red dress? I’m starting to think Marvo and Tito might be causing this somehow. You might already have these instincts, ladies, but if a magician ever approaches you, and he has a pet monkey, run.
A slight variation on “running into a woman in a red dress being abducted” is “running into a woman in a red dress crying.” The artist knows this isn’t very compelling, so whenever it happens, they compensate by drawing the craziest goddamn shit they can think of. In this case they went with terrifying banana pygmies sharing a snack with geese who have guns for asses. I don’t care how indifferent you are to the hysterics of women, I think most people will sit through a few tears to get to the part where whatever the fuck that is happens.
It’s insane that bumping into a woman in distress still surprises Marvo. He was 14 words deep into a conversation with his monkey. He had to have known he was long overdue to find a grabbed or sad woman. And since it was only the second one the artist knew he had to tease the story with something extra. So yes, it’s all lady drama right now, readers, but later: Man-Blasting Laser Cat! This all so clearly rules. It’s stupid to me how we aren’t all rating our top ten Marvo the Magician movies while we eat Tito shapes in tomato and “cheese” sauce.
You’re probably wondering… what did Marvo do when he found the source of these ladies’ distress? He did the same two things every time: he destroyed their concept of reality and beat them mostly or all the way to death. For instance, in the middle of a fight, he might distract his opponent by convincing him, with total certainty, that Santa Claus is real.
No thug survived a Marvo encounter with their sanity intact. There was no effort put into world building, but he and Tito seemed to inhabit a universe where sorcery did not exist and the press does not report on supernatural assaults by monkey owners. No kidnapper in a Marvo comic ever said anything close to, “Our guns have all become snakes! It must be da work of dat monkey prestidigitator from da papers!” But still, it was 1940, a time when doctors were using radium water to treat martian bites one day and learning cigarettes were a better cure the next. They adjusted to new information quickly, is my point. Let me show you what I mean.
He turns these men to vegetable-faced monsters, and there’s no fainting or panicking. Within seven sentences they settle in to their new reality and come up with a sensible solution. Marvo had the bad luck to be given fantastic illusion powers only in an era where no one was confused by anything. They were wrong, sure, but wrong with confidence in directions Marvo could never predict. Like this:
Marvo probably expected that man to freak out about his knife turning into a snake long enough to get hit in the face. Instead, the man agreed with reality that, sure, sometimes knives become snakes and he instantly gave his attention to the new problem– this place is filled with snakes! He needs to leave! It’s somehow both not enough and too much of a reaction, and this kind of thing happens to Marvo all the time. He was not a master of human psychology. He was a master of doing weird shit and punching his way out of the unexpected results.
This ambushed man has discovered men and monkeys can exist without heads and his immediate reaction is not wonderment or denial. He just assumes these creatures can somehow earlessly hear him and he wants to know what the fuck they’re doing in his office. Marvo’s illusory horror show bought him zero seconds at best. In fact, all it did was cost him the element of surprise. If he had walked in with only a monkey and a sashed tuxedo and they both had heads, that guy would have no idea anything strange was happening.
Marvo’s main backup plan was Tito. Tito was a smart monkey–smart enough to not overthink things. While Marvo would be concocting some grand illusion to maybe distract you, Tito would cave in your skull with a fucking fire extinguisher. Here’s a good example of the overly-complicated-pig-nonsense way Marvo handled things:
And here’s how Tito did it:
When Marvo wanted to kill you, he’d do something like create a fake flood to get you on the roof and then conjure police boats to scare you into jumping into the water which he would remove right before impact so you would see the ground and die feeling shame.
Tito, on the other hand, put holes in you with monkey strength and weapons until you stopped twitching.
Tito saved Marvo from certain death at least once a page, and besides being the brains, brawn, and comic relief of the team, he was also the charm. They didn’t have a term for this in 1940, but Tito was a pussy magnet. Women loved him and wouldn’t shut up about how adorable he was whether they were sinking in quicksand or awaiting execution. Plus, he and Marvo were the first guys these ladies had ever known who didn’t crush their feelings or throw them in a trunk. So they fell in love every time.
Each adventure ended with the rescued woman desperately throwing herself at Marvo. By 80-years-ago standards, they might as well have been tearing off their pantyhose and screaming, “I don’t care if the monkey watches!” But Marvo always had somewhere else he needed to be. You probably see where I’m going with this, but the only thing we know about this man is he has no schedule, plan, or responsibility and turning down casual sex with beautiful women is how he says goodbye. There’s also the little mustache, the beauty queen sash, and theatrics as a superpower. He wasn’t out and proud, but by 80-years-ago standards, he might as well have called himself the Scrumptious Presto Blowjobbo.
In a perfect world, Marvo the Magician and Tito should have made Batman and Robin look like Urkel and Urkelbot. Anyway, in honor of my new favorite crime fighters, I’m going to end this like every one of Marvo’s adventures– with a magician and a monkey shutting down horny women with no gaydar.