The Crimson Comet was a rare example of a successful Australian superhero, who flourished at a time when American comic-book heroes such as Superman and Captain Marvel dominated Australian newsstands throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Yet like many successful Australian comics of the post-war era, The Crimson Comet was portrayed as an ostensibly American (rather than Australian) character, a commercial tactic deemed necessary by many publishers to snare Australian audiences captivated by the imported glamour of American comics.
The Crimson Comet, created by John Dixon (February 20, 1929 – May 7, 2015), debuted in his self-titled comic magazine in 1949. His bizarre origin story owes something to the Batman mythos; when Ralph Rivers’s mother was murdered by a burglar, his brilliant surgeon father, driven insane with grief, grafted a pair of eagle’s wings onto his infant son’s back, which grew in size as he became older, granting him the power of flight. Rivers concealed his deformity beneath his clothes, giving him the appearance of a hunchback, which proved no handicap in his chosen career as a successful private investigator. Unbeknownst to his clients, Rivers would shed his clothes and take to the skies as The Crimson Comet, clad in a red-and-yellow costume and armed with a powerful ray pistol, to solve dangerous cases.
Dixon’s early storylines contained fantastic elements, pitching The Crimson Comet against submarine pirates (No.2), or criminal gangs using sabre-tooth tigers to hold a city to ransom (No.4). However, when Dixon relinquished the series to focus on his aviator hero comic, Tim Valour (1948-1957), Albert De Vine took over as illustrator from the eighth issue and frequently sent The Crimson Comet on intergalactic adventures, battling aliens and flying saucers. When Dixon returned as writer-illustrator in the early 1950s, he made Rivers a special operative of the UN Intelligence Service, thus giving him the opportunity to hurl The Crimson Comet onto the frontlines of the Korean War, where he fought Chinese troops on the ground (No.56) and blasted Russian MiG-15 jet fighters out of the skies (No.63).
The Crimson Comet was exported to the United Kingdom, making it one of the most successful Australian comics of the 1950s. The character was grounded when its publisher, H.J. Edwards, closed its doors in 1957, following the advent of television broadcasting in Australia, which decimated the local comic-book industry. Long retired from active service as The Crimson Comet, Rivers would reappear decades later – with Dixon’s blessing – as a senior executive officer with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), now appointed field commander of The Southern Squadron, an unruly group of superheroes appearing in Cyclone Australia (1985-1987).