RAFFLES, THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN
Real Name: Arthur J. Raffles
World War I and
World War II era);
formerly professional thief, gentleman (see comments)
Group Membership: Formerly Gentlemen of England (see comments)
Affiliations: Harry "Bunny" Manders, Whizzer (Robert
rescued Bates, "Norman"
Enemies: Corporal Connal, Inspector Mackenzie, Riko
Known Relatives: None
Aliases: The Amateur Cracksman, Mr. Maturin
Base of Operations: A farm outside an unidentified
formerly The Albany, Piccadilly, London, England
First Appearance: "The Ides of March," Cassell's Magazine
(Marvel) All Winners Comics I#8/5 (Spring 1943)
Powers/Abilities: Raffles is an exceptional safecracker and burglar, skilled at climbing, lockpicking and slight of hand. He's also an incredible athlete and cricketer, with good hand-eye co-ordination and throwing skills.
Height: 5'8" (by approximation)
Weight: 165 lbs. (by approximation)
Hair: Brown (see comments)
(Raffles short stories and novel) - Having attended public school as a boy, Arthur J. Raffles made his living as a cricketer and gambler, though he harbored a secret hatred for his wealthier peers who he knew only accepted him into their society because of his sporting prowess, useful to the landed gentry for playing in their personal competitions. While visiting the Colonies, Raffles found himself in debt, and turned to theft to get himself out of it. Though he had initially intended this to be a one-time thing, he found the danger exciting, and decided to make a living that way rather than taking up more humdrum conventional work, justifying a career he nevertheless accepted to be immoral by telling himself that the distribution of wealth was unfair anyway. He used his role as a gentleman cricketer to gain access to the landed gentry, allowing him to case their homes for jewelry, and began a string of ingenious burglaries. Unlike the "Professors," professional burglars from the lower classes, he considered himself the "Amateur Cracksman." Nevertheless, he retained a conscience, never stealing from those who couldn't afford it or his actual hosts, sometimes using his skills to right injustices, and disliking killing, doing so only once to avenge a murdered love.
In 1891, when Raffles' school friend and fellow gambler "Bunny" Manders came to Raffles contemplating suicide because he was about to be disgraced for writing checks to pay his gambling debts that he knew would fail to clear, Raffles enlisted Bunny as his partner in crime (and chronicler, the Watson to Raffles' Holmes). They worked together for a number of years, but in July 1895, while on a Mediterranean cruise aboard The Uhlan, they were finally caught red-handed by their old nemesis Inspector Mackenzie. To escape, Raffles leapt overboard, and was believed drowned.
Two years later, after Bunny had served time in prison, he was contacted by Raffles, who had returned to London in disguise as "Mr. Maturin." They recommenced their criminal careers, now as professionals since polite society was barred to them. Still patriots however, they volunteered for the army when the Boer War broke out in 1899. While fighting in Southern Africa, Raffles captured a spy, Corporal Connal, but Connal had overheard Bunny and Raffles talking and so uncovered Raffles' true identity. Despite knowing he might face over a decade in prison, Raffles handed Connal over to his superiors. Though Connal vindictively exposed Raffles to the senior officers, they recognized Raffles was a good soldier who had sacrificed everything to stop Connal, and deliberately let him return to the fighting with the understanding that they would deal with his past crimes later. During the subsequent battle, Bunny was wounded, and reported that Raffles had been killed by the enemy.
(by implication) However, Bunny had lied, and Raffles used his reported death to once more evade the authorities (see comments).
(All Winners Comics I#8 (fb) - BTS) - Raffles was finally arrested and served time in British prisons for his crimes. Upon his release he renounced crime and remained an honest man (or at least was never caught again) for years, at some point during which time he emigrated to the United States. Even there his name and face were notorious amongst law-enforcement and banking circles. At some point he met the Whizzer, and the pair parted on cordial terms (see comments).
(All Winners Comics I#8) - Having forced two bank staff to let them into the vault, Riko and his gang cruelly locked the two men in the vault before making their escape, well aware that the airtight room was on a time lock. Other people who had been in the bank during the robbery swiftly alerted the police, who called in the Whizzer. Since using explosives to open the vault would also kill the men inside, and with less than an hour's worth of air left, the Whizzer raced to Raffles' farm, convinced the former cracksman was the only person who could help. Though willing to help, Raffles expressed some concern over his police record, but the Whizzer reminded him that he had paid for his crimes already in Britain.
Both police and bank officials expressed their surprise when the Whizzer returned with the notorious Raffles in tow, but the Whizzer convinced them to give his friend the benefit of the doubt. Insisting on being left alone to work on the lock, Raffles removed his jacket and leaned down with his ear next to the tumbler as he began the slow process of breaking into the safe, while Whizzer raced off to catch Riko and his gang. When the police estimated there was only five minutes of air left, they returned to the room containing the vault and informed Raffles that his time limit was up, he was twenty-five years behind the times and couldn't crack this modern vault, and that they were going to risk blowing it open with explosives. Casually putting his jacket back on, Raffles told the incredulous officers to pull on the vault door, which swung open freely, releasing the two captives.
Shortly afterwards, as the two newly freed men recovered, a police officer arrived with a report that Whizzer was fighting Riko's gang off the North highway. Fearing for his friend's safety, Raffles expressed his wish that he could be there to help. He accompanied the police as they drove to the scene, arriving to find Whizzer had easily subdued the bandits. Raffles confirmed to the Whizzer that he had freed the captives, and had broken the time lock in doing so. He told the speedster that he grateful for the chance to help, having learned the folly of crime years ago, and that he was now ready to offer his services to fight crime. As the Whizzer returned Raffles home, the police noted that the speedster seemed to have a new partner to help him fight crime (see comments).
Comments: Created by Ernest William Hornung, (first?)
illustrated by E.V. Nadherny (see above right), introduced to Marvel by
Hornung was the brother-in-law to Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, via marriage to Doyle's sister Constance, and created the character of Raffles, an "amateur cracksman" or gentleman thief, as an "inversion" of Doyle's most famous character, the detective Sherlock Holmes. Hornung even went so far as to dedicate his first collection of Raffles stories to him: "To A.C.D., this form of flattery." Doyle for his part was genuinely touched by Hornung's kind gesture and openly applauded his skilled storytelling, but disagreed with the basic concept of making the criminal the hero.
Though largely forgotten these days (sadly), Raffles was in his time nearly as popular as Holmes, and was known in the United States, with American movie adaptations released in 1917, 1925, 1930 and 1939, starring John Barrymore, House Peters, Ronald Colman and David Niven respectively. So despite the character only being identified by his surname in All Winners I#8, there's no question it is Hornung's character, given that he is described as a cracksman and identified as British. The ending of the issue makes it clear that Raffles was intended to return as the Whizzer's new partner. However, Raffles made no further appearances in any Whizzer tales. Perhaps subsequent writers didn't want to use him, but it's also possible that copyright issues got in the way. Though Hornung had died in 1921, the character was still in copyright, and writer Peter Atkey, under the alias Barry Perowne, had been producing new stories authorized by Hornung's estate since 1932 in British pulp-style magazine The Thriller. Between these stories, which had U.S. reprints, and the relatively recent movies, Raffles was recognizable to the general American public in 1943, and it's doubtful that anyone had arranged permission to use the character in the comic.
When not committing crimes Raffles played cricket at a national level; however, this was not his occupation. Instead, he was simply a "gentleman," meaning that he was supposed to have inherited sufficient wealth to live off for his entire life. This was a peculiarity of English society in the Victorian era (and possibly other times), where some in the upper class considered it uncouth for those in their echelon of society to "lessen" themselves by doing something so lowly as regular work. The trouble was, just because you had a noble family, didn't always mean you actually inherited significant wealth, so if those unfortunates wanted to continue to show their faces in polite society, they had to find some way of supporting themselves without disgracing themselves by stooping to finding a job. Hence Raffles turning to burglary; bizarrely, even once his crimes came to light, that career was considered more acceptable (if not respectable) by his peers, simply because it wasn't mundane or menial. Mind you, even if finding a real job had been considered acceptable, Raffles would have stuck to crime, simply because he found it more exciting. For a gentleman, being a professional-level but unpaid and hence amateur sportsman, was considered respectable, especially in cricket; there was a yearly match between the Gentlemen of England (unpaid amateurs, though they could claim often considerable expenses) and Players (people who were paid to play the sport by various cricket clubs). Hence Raffles' nickname, the Amateur Cracksman, had a double meaning; he was not only a self-taught (and hence amateur) cracksman, but a burglar who was also an "amateur," or gentleman.
Raffles' London address, the Albany, is a real world semi-famous set of apartments in a very costly and prestigious part of London. He shares the address with fellow fictional adventurer Lord John Roxton, who accompanied Professor Challenger to the Lost World in Arthur Conan Doyle's novel of that name, though Roxton lived there long after Raffles' seeming demise. Raffles also appears in Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as a member of the early 1900s League.
It's not explicitly stated anywhere that Bunny lied about Raffles dying. However, given he was reported dead in a short story narrated by Bunny, and turned up alive and well in All Winners#8, what happened is fairly clear. However, I can't put down an issue reference for it in the history, because there is none to give.
In All Winners I#8, when the Whizzer brings Raffles to the bank, one of the staff instantly recognizes him without Raffles' name being mentioned, indicating he is still well known within banking circles (which is a little weird, given he burgled houses, not banks), and a police officer later tells Raffles he is twenty-five years behind the times, indicating how long it has been either since Raffles was active, or perhaps since his release from prison. When Whizzer and Raffles meet in the issue, their exchange allows for the possibility that they might just be recognizing one another by reputation, with Raffles' instant willingness to assist Whizzer coming from his awareness that Whizzer is a hero and Raffles' own desire to atone for his past; Raffles also later describes Whizzer as his friend, but that could be down to Whizzer's willingness to accept Raffles despite his crimes. However, it's also feasible from the exchange that the pair already know each other, and given that Whizzer knew exactly where Raffles lived, it seems more probable to me that they'd already met at least once before.
Raffles was dark haired in the novels, turning to white as he aged. The comic inconsistently depicts him with blond and then brown hair.
Profile by Loki.
Raffles has no known connections to:
Riko was considered the most dangerous of all bank robbers. After murdering the head bank teller, he deliberately locked two others in the vault to suffocate before he and his bandits made their escape. As their escape car raced up the North Highway he gloated about their half million dollar haul of cash and bonds and savored the idea of the two men slowly dying. When the Whizzer caught up with their car and caused it to crash, Riko cravenly abandoned, leaving them to slow the Whizzer down while he made his own escape, but the Whizzer easily caught up with and captured him.
--All Winners I#8
Bates and "Norman"
Bates and "Norman" were two bank tellers who opened the vault for Riko after he murdered the head teller and threatened to kill them and the others present in the bank. Riko then cruelly locked them in the vault to die from slow suffocation for his own amusement. The younger "Norman" gave in to despair, but the bald-headed Bates reminded him that the authorities were probably trying their hardest to get the door open. In the end Bates was proven right, and Raffles got them out in time.
Comments: Only Bates is named in the story, so I have named the other character Norman for ease of reference. I suspect those reading this can guess where that particular naming combination originated!
--All Winners I#8
images: (without ads)
All Winners I#8/5, p4, pan 4 (main image)
All Winners I#8/5, p7, pan 1 (safecracking headshot)
Collier's Magazine June 1898 (illustration of Raffles from his first story's first printing)
All Winners I#8/5, p1, pan 3 (Riko)
All Winners I#8/5, p2, pan 7 (Bates and "Norman")
All Winners Comics I#8 (Spring 1943) - creators uncredited and unknown
First Posted: 01/24/2019
Last updated: 01/24/2019
Any Additions/Corrections? please let me know.
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