Lee Travis was one of DC's first masked Mystery Men, he first appeared in Detective Comics #20 October 1938, created by Jim Chambers.
Originally without an origin during his Golden Age run in Detective Comics (1938-1944), the Crimson Avenger was giving a backstory in Secret Origins #5 (1986). He received a second origin in Golden Age: Secret Files & Origins #1 (2001). While the latter seems to compliment the former, it contradicts it as well.
In late October of 1938 Lee Travis was a young publisher for the Globe-Leader, a newspaper that reported progressive causes. Travis had always been a hard worker, forward thinker and humanitarian, but had become quite comfortable with his place among the social elite. That would change on the day he was interviewed by Claudia Barker from Downtowner Magazine. Travis told her about his past and how his godfather, Winston W. Smythe weathered the Great Depression quite well and paid for his journalism schooling. His godfather thought highly of him until he joined the Abraham Lincoln brigade during the Spanish Civil War of 1936. Travis lasted 3 days before being wounded and sent back to the States. It wasn’t long after that his godfather passed away and left Travis sole proprietorship in the Globe-Leader.
Travis concluded by revealing to Miss Barker that he was attending a benefit ball for the Chinese war relief at the Vangilder Estate the night before Halloween. Miss Barker would be attending as well and reminded Travis that it was a costume party. Thinking he had not yet ordered a costume he contacted his secretary, Miss Stevens, and discovered she had ordered it days ago. His manservant and chauffeur, Wing How, voiced his frustration with wealthy Americans not taking a more active role in world events than just holding charity balls. Having donned a “Highway Robber” costume Travis attends the gala the same night as the Orson Welles radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds.
During that evening a group of criminals dressed in alien-like costumes took advantage of the hysteria caused by the radio broadcast. They robbed the Vangilder gala of funds raised for Chinese war victims. Amidst the hold up Claudia Barker was shot while one of the criminals attempted to steal her prized gold lighter. Angry over Barker’s foolish action, Travis almost missed her dying last words, ”Qui Vindicet Ibit”.
An enraged Travis went after the fleeing criminals with How driving him in his godfather’s bulletproof limo. They ran the crooks off the road and into a ditch. Travis and How subdued the criminals except one that was shot by a local farmer who was still caught up in the radio hysterics. Travis recovered Barker’s gold lighter and connected its engraved inscription with her dying words. It was Latin for “The Avenger will come”. Taking this as a cue, Travis and How drove away from the scene before cops arrived.
Travis was content to let the credit of the capture go to a mysterious “Crimson Avenger”, thus providing him with a greater purpose in life. Travis called himself The Crimson at first, but quickly adopted the name Crimson Avenger. As a publisher Travis thought it would further the mystique of his alter ego by painting him as a criminal and offering an award for the masked vigilante in his newspaper.
As costumed men grew more common, Travis adopted a yellow and red cowl unitard with a stylized symbol of a bullet hole (for years believed to be a sun symbol) on his chest. Wing adopted a similar costume a while after with yellow, instead of red, being the dominate color.
Inspiring a legacy
Lee Travis was a boyhood chum of Wesley Dodds. They met when Travis would visit his godfather Winston Smythe. Later, they became football rivals after attending different colleges. As a wealthy socialite, Dodds felt his life had lacked direction. It wasn’t until he heard about two masked “criminals”, The Phantom of the Fair and the Crimson Avenger, that he began to do something about it. The Phantom was terrorizing the 1939 New York World Fair and Dodds believed the Crimson Avenger was also involved. Fearing they may attack the visiting King and Queen, Dodds fashioned a costume with a green suit, hat, purple opera cape and WWI gas mask and adopted the name Sandman.
At the fair Dodds confronted the Crimson Avenger and discovered he was his long time friend Lee Travis. Together they fought the Phantom of the Fair, but the Phantom ended up escaping. Before the two parted ways Travis gave Dodds the Crimson Avenger’s gas gun as a gift, which Dodds would later perfect.
A senile Johnny Thunder related a tale to the JSA and Clark to answer their question of what Lee Travis was avenging as the Crimson Avenger. An eager Travis lied about his age in order to fight for his country in the First World War. After witnessing first hand the horrors man was capable of, Travis roamed around the world. He ended up in city the where he believed he would end up dying, but fate stepped in. He woke up in the city of Nanda Parbat.
While being nursed back to health, Travis pondered the question of what could one man do amongst the chaos in the world? While in meditation Travis was approached by the goddess Rama Kushna. She revealed how one man could make a difference by showing Travis the deeds and death of Superman. Inspired by what he saw, Travis vowed to avenge the memory of the Man of Steel before he was even born. When he returned to the States, Travis learned nearly ten years had gone by for the rest of the world. He would later end up roaming the streets as the Crimson Avenger.
The Team Equation
On one of their missions, Dr. Fate, The Atom and Elongated Man went back in time to and find the Crimson Avenger being worshipped as the Aztecs’ sun god king. A short battle ensued as Crimson Avenger is revealed to have gained mystical powers and believed the other heroes are a threat. Dr. Fate discovered that a glowing rock was the Crimson Avenger’s new power source and destroyed it. The Crimson Avenger wakes up from a dream-like daze and he returns to the correct time with his rescuers.
A separate mission was launched by the teams to learn the identity of the Unknown Soldier resting in a tomb on a mountain in where the SSofV had falling in battle with the Nebula Man. Later as Crimson Avenger and the other lost members were reunited it was revealed that Wing was the Unknown Soldier who perished after using the Nebula Rod to defeat the Nebula Man. Knowing one person would die by its use, the JSA and JLA debated who would volunteer as a new rod was constructed. Red Tornado stepped up and used the rod to destroy the Hand and apparently himself.
With the passage of time, Lee Travis discovered that he was suffering from a terminal disease. From his hospital bedroom he spotted a ship blinking SOS with its lights. Feeling a sense of purpose once again, Travis donned his red spandex outfit one last time and headed out to investigate. He learned the ship was taken over by criminals seeking to steal its cargo of explosive chemical waste. Travis confronted the criminals, but failed to stop a grenade from starting a fire that threatened to cause a massive explosion. Travis had everyone on board abandon ship while he piloted the ship to a safe distance out in the open sea.
Before the ship exploded and killed him, Travis had felt satisfied that he was going out heroically. When the crew reached the shore and were asked by the police who were they saved by, the captain said he never saw his rescuer’s face. One can assume that nobody knew where Lee Travis disappeared to from the hospital or that the Crimson Avenger was responsible for saving the crew and the city.
Jill Carlyle: The Legacy Continues
See: Crimson Avenger (Carlyle)
Jill Carlyle was a criminal attorney who purchased the pistols of the original Crimson Avenger at a pawn shop to use upon someone she deemed guilty of a crime that she failed to convict him of. Once she dispatched him she became enslaved to the weapons, becoming their vessel, so to speak. An ever-bleeding and painful bullet wound manifested in the center of her chest as a chilling emblem of the new Crimson Avenger. Instead of a mask she wears a crimson blindfold over her eyes in tribute to Lady Justice. She apparently has the powers of teleportation and ethereal intangibility. She also gains the memories and skills of the individual she is currently "avenging". Whether these skills become permanent or are merely temporary is unknown. It is to be assumed that Lee Travis's skills have automatically been transferred to Jill, the current "wielder".
She has been a brief member of the Justice Society when the Ultra Humanite took over the world.
She was also seen on a rooftop with Wild Dog during the Infinite Crisis. She and Wild Dog were firing on The Mad Men, who were beleived to have all died during that encounter.
The New 52: Earth 2
A modernized version of Lee Travis later appears on the new post-Flashpoint Earth 2. Like Jill Carlyle, Lee is now an African American woman, and is shown as a journalist and television news reporter. Whether or not she will adopt the Crimson Avenger identity remains to be seen. She is also seen with her cameraman James Wing.
Skills and Abilities
Armed only with his quick wit and bare knuckle form of justice, the Crimson Avenger had no super-human abilities. He was a skilled hand to hand combatant and an exceptional marksman. He also acquired martial arts skills over time due to training with his partner Wing.
In his early career he carried two 45 calibre automatic hand guns, which later became cursed items to the one wielded them. The guns never missed their target or ran out of ammunition. He also acquired a gas gun that he modified to emit a red gas cloud, which he later gave to the Sandman.
DC Animated Universe
He has had several cameos in Justice League Unlimited. In the episode "This Little Piggy", he helps Batman find Wonder Woman, who has been turned into a pig by Circe. He appeared alongside the Seven Soldiers of Victory in the episode Patriot Act. He is easily taken down by the General, but is not killed.