This is The Golden Age DC character Ted Grant AKA Wildcat. Champion of the Underdog. Scourge of the Underworld. Pugilist of the Pulp Era of comic book crime comics. An angel with a bloodied face. I remember coming across some reprints of his adventures on the mean streets and being completely knocked out. Like some of his opponents I suppose. The character never seemed to find the appeal or audience I believe he deserved but is that not the way of it? The hero who falls between the cracks. A place where Wildcat would have survived. A world of crumbling tenements. Zoot-suited scoundrels and fedora wearing gangsters with no mercy or grasp of grammar. For myself he had the pulp aura appeal of The Shadow or even Doc Savage. I held him in the same regard as The Gaurdian and the Newsboy Legion. Brave Ted Grant with his fists of stone. Built like a Paddy Wagon and squeezed into a skin-tight cat costume. Holy Smoke whats not to like. I thought the character would have been perfect for a Republic serial like the classic Captain Marvel. I can see the painted dramatic lobby posters in the flickering shadow-gallery of my minds eye.
My brothers boxed. It may well explain why I was drawn to the character. Seeing something beyond the romance of the pulp era. An earthy truthfulness. They boxed for the joy of it. I did not. I was too much of a nerdy fop and utterly lacked the competitive spirit necessary to step beneath the ropes and into the ring. If anyone in my company had the desire to proclaim themselves the champion of anything I was quite happy to let them do so. No matter how outrageous the claim. You could suddenly stand up and proclaim yourself the worlds tallest dwarf and I would clap you on the back WELL DONE THAT MAN! I do not believe I was born with the instinct needed to slip on the gloves and take and trade blows. Which is pretty ironic given that I had to fight almost every day growing up in Ardoyne. Not by any choice of mine. Quite the opposite. I do not think a day passed when I was not involved in a scrap of some sort. It is impossible not to when you just about tick every box in the bullies charter.
The sport of Boxing seems to strike some deep primal chord in my brothers that provokes a wild joy. One I cannot tap into or even feign in the hope of familial acceptance. The geek-gene. The nerdy-chromazone. Whatever the cause it marked me as unnaturally unengaged by competitive sports/conflicts. Two men punching each other always seemed to me like two men who are already losing. I explained this to one of my brothers and he immediately punched me.
In our house my brothers shared the roof space which had been converted into a room. It had a sloping roof with a creaking misty skylight that opened outwards. Held on by a rusting hinge that let in water during heavy rain fall. It also did not let in a lot of light. The attic space was accessed by a square hole in the floorboards. A trap door built by Micky and Barney my stepbrothers which could be reached by a ladder built by them as well. A wire ran from the floor to a hook in the ceiling from which hung a bare bulb. The heat from the house below rose and unless snow was resting on the tiles above it was a cosy and warm space. It felt secret. It felt safe.
The eves caused weird acoustics. Sounds travelled oddly. Some amplified. Some muffled. Sounds from the street below from the district surrounding. Not all of them pleasant sounds. Most awful were sounds of whistles and binlids being hammered against the pavements. To announce the anniversary of Internment or to mark the passing of a hunger striker. Terrible bedlam sounds. I thought this is what the sound of the end of the world must be like.
I remember a box. A box my brothers kept their cool stuff in. There was a hand-made catapult Barney made. A pen-knife. A single hand-painted lead soldier with a red coat and a busted musket. There was a spud gun that smelt of moldy potato. Football cards, loads of marbles, some domino pieces and some jacks. There was also a paperback copy of Lord Of The Flies. With a cut and paste photo cover that showed poor doomed Piggy holding the conch. My step brother Micky once began to read it to me but got bored after a page and a half. Told me I should learn to read for myself.
Which I did.
And still do.
Its a gift for life.Reading.
It was a box of treasures. Boys treasures. Every thing you would need to survive if you were cast away on a desert where dinosaurs still roamed and giant white mountain gorillas beat their mighty chests.
There were black and white and grey pictures of boxers and wrestlers pinned and taped to that sloping roof and a pair of boxing gloves swung by their laces from a hook. You could lay on your back and look up at them and be transported to a grey boxing ring world far far away. It must have seeded something in my imagination. My favorite origin story for a superhero is the first Daredevil The Man Without Fear strip. It has all the pulpy elements I so admired in the Wildcat stories. The down at heel crumbling tenementness. The genuine noirish qualities of the artwork. Its a crime noir story with a superhero at its heart.
And what a costume. I read it in a black and white reprint. In a Mighty world Of Marvel Christmas annual.
In my head library it occupies the same shelf as The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller.
My brother Micky died when he fell out of that attic room at the top of the house. He tumbled down the stairs and his head struck the hard floor. I remember standing in my bare feet staring at the blood on the floor which had not yet been wiped away.
The floor was so cold.
The world seemed so cold.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the word pugilist as a practitioner of the art of boxing, a boxer, a fighter. Time and misuse and even intent can blur and grey the accepted meanings of words. Language has an elasticity that allows words to adapt to whatever its currently being used for. Wicked can mean class. Bad can mean good.
We are all fighters.
We are all pugilists.