The Steampunk Opera blog is full of oddball historical episodes from the 19th century. It’s the perfect period for them: newspapers seeking out the most dramatic half-truths, ready to be further fictionalised in the penny dreadfuls. And traumatic social upheavals often lead to some truly bizarre shit.
There’s Spring-heeled Jack, a batman villain with — literally — a spring in his step. Supposedly he would bounce over walls, attack men and molest women, then leap away again. On one occasion, he stopped long enough to breathe blue fire at one of his victims.
Also the interesting idea of teenage boys being less bloodthirsty than adults:
Thus penny dreadfuls began the shift to the youth market. Sweeny Todd and Varney the Vampire continued to sell well and heaven knows, boys ate their adventures up with great relish also, but despite everyone’s assumption that the working class youth was out of their minds with lust for the high gore content of the penny bloods, the truth was that they perferred high adventure and heroism with protagonists they could identify with over the murderous content that had thrilled their fathers.