I swear I’m not making this up. First appearing in Prize Comics #34 is AirMale! (They didn’t capitalize the M, but that doesn’t look right to me.) Created by Fred Morgan, for Prize Comics, AirMale was Kenneth Stevens, biology professor. While getting ready for a costume party, where he coincidentally was going in a superhero costume, Kenneth spills “Flight Fluid” on his hand. The fluid was an experiment he was working on for…. reasons. Look, he’s a Biology Professor, he doesn’t need a reason to make dangerous, untested chemicals. Maybe it was an extract of flying squirrel brains or something.
Anyway the fluid permanently makes him “lighter than air” granting him the power of flight. On his way to the party he encounters a robbery, and uses his newfound powers to stop the criminals. Emboldened by his success he decides to continue the good fight as AirMale! (When Justice absolutely, positively must be delivered overnight!) To hide his identity he invents a “Gravity Belt” that allows him to regulate the flow of gravity around him. I don’t know why he didn’t just make the belt to start with either. Once again, he’s a Biology Professor. Curriculums were different back then.
Stampy was Bobby Stevens, Kenneth’s nephew, or cousin, sources vary. (Or they were Southern and, he was both AirMale’s cousin, and nephew. Or it was the 40s and nobody cared whether they kept it straight from one issue to the next, you choose.) Seeing Kenneth become a hero, Bobby decides he wants in on the action and douses himself in the Flight Fluid as well. Once outfitted in a matching outfit he takes up the heroic nom de guerre, Stampy! (Don’t lick his back side, it decreases his value to collectors.)
The duo’s original outfits consisted of blue shirt, blue baggy pants, red gloves, boots, and cape, and domino masks. AirMale’s mask even had small wings coming off the side of it. They paired it with white belts, and really wide, white collars.
So let’s update these two…
AirMale made his first appearance in Kitty Hawk, NC on December 17, 1903 when he stopped a local bicycle shop from being robbed. While there had been a long history of masked do-gooders, and vigilantes stretching back to the early part of the 19th century, he is considered America’s first true costumed superhero.
Born Kenneth Stevens on June 23, 1876, AirMale discovered his abilities as a teen, but kept them hidden, even from his own family. This wasn’t unusual. At the time anyone exhibiting unusual physical, or mental, abilities would usually find themselves sold to a traveling show, or placed in an asylum. Kenneth had seen one of his classmates taken away after the girl developed gills and webbed hands one summer. He practiced in secret, with the goal of living a normal life, but fate had other ideas.
Kenneth was headed to a costume party that day. He was wearing the uniform of an aeroplane pilot as a private joke. The country was gripped with fascination at these new heavier-than-air craft. They could achieve speeds unheard of in conventional dirigibles, or zeppelins. When one British prototype achieved a record 200mph, the public was flabbergasted. Scientists had previously believed such speeds would kill the pilot by shattering his bones. The possibilities for exploiting this new technology were endless. Even the Post Office was getting in on the act.
In fact a notice for this new service, Air Mail, is what gave Kenneth his superhero identity. Stopping at the little shop to see if his new bicycle seat had arrived, Kenneth happened upon the robbery in progress. He had asked whether the part had arrived on the last Air Mail courier, but the group inside only heard the words AirMale. Kenneth, never a coward, quickly assessed the situation, and knocked out one of the robbers. The other escaped.
During the fight though, he levitated into the air to avoid a thrown wrench. As the shop owners tried to thank him, he flew away in a panic. He couldn’t let anyone know his secret. It would be three months before AirMale made another appearance. His second appearance involved evacuating a disabled ship before it sank. The thrill of adventure, coupled with his own morality, led him to continue his double life.
Later that year Kenneth rescued a teen from a evil circus owner. The boy, Bobby came to live with him, under the disguise of Kenneth’s orphaned cousin. Bobby had similar powers to Kenneth, and Kenneth taught him how to pass as normal. Bobby wanted to be a hero though, and made a costume to become AirMale’s teen sidekick, Stampy! Kenneth was reluctant at first, but Bobby son earned his respect, and approval. The duo fought robbers, gangsters, and the occasional mad scientist until 1906. That year Kenneth joined the Army, to go to Europe and fight the Martians. Bobby joined shortly after. In the fall of 1908 Kenneth came home, alone. Bobby had died in the final battle at Tunguska, caught in the blast that destroyed the Martian base. AirMale would continue to fight crime for another decade, but never took on another sidekick.
AirMale’s last adventure saw him facing off against Dr. Von Thorp. He easily defeated the Doctor’s automaton, and put him in jail. By this point Kenneth was in his 40s, married with 3 children, and risen to the position of Postmaster in the local Post Office. He had been contacted by the newly formed Department of Human Anomalies and told he would have to register if he wanted to continue his heroic career. Kenneth hung up his goggles, and walked away instead. Kenneth died on June 12, 1943, of a stroke. Before his death he licensed his old heroic identity to the United States Postal Service. Today, more people remember the duo as mascots for the mail service than as actual heroes.