The Puzzler

The Puzzler
The comic book history of The Puzzler, an enemy of The Black Terror, from America's Best comics.

Now, you might be thinking, we've already done the Puzzler...but that's because the concept of the Puzzler is already super generic. What stands out about the puzzler was what finally did him in, but we'll get to that.

And, nothing against the Puzzler, who goes by the name of Clyde Zane, but his backstory isn't all that noteworthy. He was smart, and, like a lot of smart people, he was super into talking about how smart he was. The only problem? Well, he was starving. Look, it was the 1940s. In maybe the worst, out of the frying pan into the fire situation, the world was pulling itself out of the great depression by kick-starting another world war, so times were tough all around and Clyde? Clyde was going to get his. He was tired of being honest. He was going to be rich. I mean, those aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, and I feel like if Clyde was so smart he could figure out a way to be honest and rich.

Meanwhile, across town, Bob Benton, local pharmacist, was already doing pretty well. I should clarify. He was doing well financially. Well enough for a chemistry lab where he was going to try to make a tonic for run down people so they could feel better. You see, Bob wasn't doing great emotionally. Earlier that day he tried to step in to help a child who was getting pummeled by some bullies and...ended up getting beaten up by children himself in front of a laughing street. His life was a nightmare.

Berating his child employees. Because he's the hero.

As people I guess did with random children in the 1940s, Bob invited the kid back to his place to do some chemistry experimentation. Since it was the child's first time touching any of the materials...and he was a child, the kid got sodium permanganate mixed up with formic acid. Because Bob's the hero of the story, he screamed at the child and called him an idiot before realizing...formic acid. That was obtained from red ants. The strongest thing alive.

Now, real quickly, the idea that ants are strong is a common misconception because while ants can lift 20x their body weight, twenty times nothing is still basically nothing and, because of the way gravity works there's less of it pulling down on what they carry. Bob had no idea what this concoction would do to of course he took a big ol' whiff.

And that was how pharmacist Bob got superpowers. His are just super strength and invulnerability, and he did what all pharmacists do when they discover a compound that could help millions: used it to beat criminals senseless. Pharmacists don't do the Hippocratic oath thing, if you're wondering. They have the Oath of a Pharmacist, which sounds more like a Keats poem.

A very particular look.

Anyway, Bob's costume kind of looked like when Tobias Fünke bought clothes that evoked "Leather Daddy" combined with something Superman would wear if Superman was a Nazi. It's a very particular look for a hero - tight black leather, higher collar, and skull and crossbones on the chest. That's probably because it came from the bottom of a bargain bin at the local costume shop. Since his costume was black, and he was very uncreative, he went by the name Black Terror!

Eventually he let the child he regularly invited over inhale the dangerous chemical fumes, bought him a leather costume, and together they were known as the Terror Twins.

Anyway, back to the Puzzler. Clyde realized that he was a pretty smart guy. In fact, when the bank employees locked themselves out of their vault, Clyde was able to pick the lock to be helpful. After helping them all not get fired during a depression, they told him to scram because he was poor, and this was enough to push him into a life of crime.

The Puzzler: Little boy puzzle genius.

And he did a pretty good job. The only problem? He was too good at it. No one could touch him. So, he started going by the "Puzzler" and, and because he was called the "Puzzler" of course he sent riddles to the Terror Twins detailing his future crimes.

They mostly figured it out, too, and responded to this non-violent crime committed by a clearly unwell beating him senseless in a bank vault, saying stuff like, "I'll knock him out the safe way" - by the way when it comes to head trauma, there's no safe way. Or, "we're going to check your career!" and, "you're losing your balance!"

Get him, kid! Beat that mentally ill man until he's unconscious!

Puzzler's was legitimately better at puns when he took a sack of pennies and began beating the heroes, saying "this should pound some cents into your head," escaping.

Every time he escaped he left a riddle regarding his next robbery, but the Puzzler's own worst enemy? Weak ankles.

Honestly it's what would probably do my supervillain career in, too. And this is no joke. He committed a successful robbery, jumped down from a tree in his escape...and turned his ankle. He got up know what? He was done. That hurt. He didn't want to run on the thing. So, he was arrested.

He's definitely going to take it easy.

That was the end of The Puzzler, but Black Terror, thanks to dropping into the public domain, has had a long career with many reinventions. He had a turn as an FBI agent, became the holy terror for a bit, and after his wife was killed by criminals after his retirement, went all John Wick on them and changed his name to, yes, "The Terrorist." It...has been changed back around the turn of the century particular reason.

Holy Comic Book Sources, Batman!
  • America's Best Comics #30

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