Created by cartoonist and illustrator Basil Wolverton, Powerhouse Pepper first appeared in the Timely humor comic book JOKER Comics #1 in April 1942, though Wolverton created him earlier and had been trying to sell the strip to many outlets. Powerhouse was a naive, good-natured muscleman (described by his creator Basil Wolverton early on as "the puny person with potent paws") who had an extreme soft spot for the ladies, particularly those who were long-legged and blond. And Powerhouse was willing to go far out of his way to help them out, or to help ANYone, for that matter, even if this meant taking on a whole mob of gangsters simultaneously, or singlehandedly counteracting a huge natural disaster. Fortunately he was well prepared for conflict, as his boxing training was so good and his physique so fit that he was not only so strong that he could pick up and carry a stolen armored truck back to the bank from where it had been stolen, but his muscle control was so good he could deflect bullets like a costume-free Superman.
And while world famous because of this, Powerhouse remained ever-humble, and remarkably unconcerned with materialism, so much so that his lack of interest in money and such things would have put a Tibetan Lama to shame.
Powerhouse Pepper's first appearance in publisher Martin Goodman's Timely title JOKER Comics #1 featured the character as a boxer who manages to expose a crooked fight promoter even as he pummels his massively over sized opponent. Wolverton's wild verbal dance-steps were in evidence even in this first brief story, and his visual style of handling humor appears fully developed even at this early stage of his career.
Only ever drawn and written by his creator, Basil Wolverton, Powerhouse Pepper appeared in 30 issues of Timely’s JOKER Comics, in 17 issues of Timely's GAY Comics, in 6 issues of Timely's TESSIE THE TYPIST, as well as intermittently in various issues of Timely's other "Teen Humor" comics, along with a 5-issue run of his own comic book through 1948.
Reminiscent of Popeye, without the physical deformities, Powerhouse Pepper started out a good-natured but dim boxer who went on to star in increasingly dynamically slapstick comic stories that often bordered on the surreal --and sometimes blithely skipped right over that border-- in a fully developed humorous style and went on to include ever-wilder depictions and increasing use of absurd signage in random places in his scenery, all exhibiting the low-brow verbal wit that typifies Wolverton's Golden Age humor strips.
Along with a very few early stories, several late unpublished Powerhouse stories went on to appear in any of a number of digest sized, and later, magazine-sized, black-and-white "cheesecake" magazines put out by companies under Timely publisher Martin Goodman's extensive network of shell-companies overseen by Martin's brother Abe Goodman, such as Humorama and Visual Varieties. According to Wolverton's son Monte, the eleven late stories that never saw print in color comic books were sold as a lot by Basil to Martin Goodman as Wolverton was leaving the comics field. It is primarily these stories, which were printed and reprinted in the various black-and-white cheesecake magazines--with their questionable copyright provenance-- that have found their way into more recent reprintings of Powerhouse Pepper stories. It remains to be seen if the internal conflicts that may be churning away between Marvel corporate and the Wolverton Estate will ever permit the full run of Wolverton's Timely output to see the reprinting this astounding and hysterically funny work deserves.
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