Love of the Legion

Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek in the UK on BBC1. I never saw that first episode on transmission;  I did however see the second , “The Naked Time”, the following week  on the same day that pictures from Apollo 11 were being broadcast.

DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes series has been, at least since that time, “Star Trek with super-heroes”. I began re-reading the 80s Levitz-Giffen Legion the other day and it prompted me to think about the cast for an imaginary LSH tv series, in the same vein as Flash and Supergirl.

I thought that, like Agents of SHIELD, there would be a rotating cast of around nine or ten: less than half the size of the Legion in its heyday and more like the animated series of a decade ago. Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight!

I then posted on the Back Issue Facebook page, asking the followers there which Legionnaires they would like to see in a LSH series. In order of number of “votes”, their Top Ten line-up would be: Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Timber Wolf, Wildfire, Chameleon Boy and Dawnstar.

 

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Interestingly, classic Legionnaires Sun Boy, Colossal Boy and Chemical King were not voted for at all. Nor were there any votes for the 21st century members ( Shikari, Gear, Gazelle, Chemical Kid, Dragonwing or Harmonia) or most of the “Archie” Legionnaires ( Kinetix, Kid Quantum, Monstress) Non -human members from the 80s, Tellus and Blok, received no votes either.

This skewing toward Bronze Age Babies, to borrow a phrase, may be due to two factors: the demographics of the FB group and the mix of powers and personalities on a modern super-hero tv show.

Anyway, this was all just a work of fan-fiction until I got a message today on FB from Trek author Andy Mangels, hinting that Legion characters could very well be coming to tv. This is most likely to be on the Supergirl show.

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The FB group voted three times for Supergirl ( and twice for her 5YL and Zero Hour counterpart, Andromeda, above.) There was only one vote for Superboy; I would now cast mine also, having recently read this collection, from 2003-04:

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Legion Foundations is written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, whose Guardians of the Galaxy series was the source material for the eponymous Marvel movie. I didn’t follow either book although I did sample the first issue of Legion.

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This year marks the thirtieth ( thirtieth!) anniversary of John Byrne’s Man of Steel: the “modernisation” of Superman that  retconned the existence of Superboy. That move of course had its repercussions for the LSH and a few of its featured characters.

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Paul Levitz  wrote Superboy out of LSH  history, in the moving epic above and the Bierbaums replaced Clark Kent for a while with this guy, code-named Impulse ( but not a member of the Flash-family):

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However so problematic was Superboy’s erasure that this guy required two revisions:

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Neatly, his costume design can be an M or a V, representing either of his codenames ( the latter now being Martian for “wanderer”, allegedly). Further unraveling of the Kal-El dynasty required the problem of 30th century descendants to be solved:

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Lois Lane lookalike Laurel ( Lor-El?) Kent is revealed to be an impostor, an android Manhunter .Foundations, however, fills the Superboy vaccuum with his clone counterpart, Conner Kent.

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The collection is a thematic sequel to the Great Darkness Saga and also features what I think may be Dave Cockrum’s last LSH art in a vignette with Lightning Lad and Lightning Lord.

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The collection draws upon events in the first Legion Lost series, where the team found themselves stranded in another galaxy a la Star Trek Voyager and Element Lad became a mad god.

The universe is shrinking in Foundations and timey-wimey disruption provides cameos from the likes of Etrigan, Jonah Hex and Jay-Flash. Not only does the story feature evil doppelgangers of Orion, Big Barda and Firestorm, we also get two incarnations of Darkseid, this time.

Mid-way through, oddly, we finally get a “Meet the Legion” sequence and a tour of the Legion World satellite. Probably, there were just too many Legionnaires to focus on: I didn’t like the transformed versions of Kinetix and Sneckie and I never liked the insectoid Shikari, a Dawnstar substitute. Nor did the new Legion Cadets, like the robotic Babbage, become involved in the conflict. But I enjoyed a reference to a classic LSH artist in a “hyper-swan formation”; the tragic Lightning Lad (and by extension, Element Lad) coming good and the collection cemented the importance of Supey to the Legion to my mind.

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The Mark Waid “youth movement” iteration of the Legion that came next put Supergirl in the spotlight for a while and that may be the way the tv version comes to pass. But for now, certainly, I think it’s Superboy’s Legion.

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Coming soon: Conan the Freebooter

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Lure of the Legion

I was quite stunned to realise that The Great Darkness Saga was warming up thirty-four years ago this month. I bought these issues on my first-ever trip to London, in the Forbidden Planet store on Denmark Street.

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That holiday was notable for grim reasons: the two bombs which killed eleven military personnel on July 20th 1982 led to a temporary and anxious evacuation of Oxford Street, with which we became involved.

However, such is the resilience of late adolescence, that alarm and tension was soon placated by a repeat of The Curse of Peladon of tv and The Wrath of Khan in the cinema.

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I had been a fan of the LSH since Legion lore appeared in the pages of the b/w Super DC magazine and then with the “disco” era initiated by Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell. However, after a four-year period of bland, Avengers-inspired comics, the Legion had entered  a fertile and visually  striking phase that had begun with a brief pencilling stint by Pat Broderick.

In the 21st Century, the Legion hasn’t had a monthly title for a couple of years but I believe that state of affairs will change, sooner or later. Such a series could depict the LSH in a grim, dystopian world out of YA fiction, and even  link them to the twisted, ultra- violent Bat-mythos. It would probably be successful for a while.

But the important thing about the Legion is not the interplanetary utopian setting, per se; it’s more the sunny symbolism of its young membership. The Legionnaires should be teenagers and their link to the Superboy mythos indicates that truth and justice mean something- that those values prevail. And it seems to me that superheroes prevail in media other than comics: in film and television.

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In previous blog posts, I’ve postulated an imaginary Legion with a cohort of around fifty; that might fly in a comic: “Star Trek with super-heroes”. However, if the LSH were a tv series in the same universe as Flash or Supergirl, membership would be undoubtedly be limited in numbers, like Agents of SHIELD, to nine or ten characters.

Today, I present the ten Legionnaires I would pick to star in an imaginary tv season, chosen from all the different incarnations of the team over the decades.

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I wanted to honour the original trio of founders but I liked the idea of replacing stay-at-home dad Lightning Lad with his twin. I also liked the relationship between Ayla and Salu/Vi.

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Brainiac 5  and Shrinking Violet have two of the most memorable code-names  while Ultra Boy  has one of the best costumes and power sets in the LSH.

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I then wanted to include two of my favourite Jim Shooter Legionnaires: Karate Kid and Shadow Lass, the courageous Eurasian martial artist and the barbarian shadow caster.

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Then, to promote diversity and to honour the LSH of the 90s, I included the feline but relatively obscure Catspaw and the insectoid teleporter Gates. The latter would probably have to be a CGI creation on tv but I like the idea of a unwillingly drafted, Communist lifeform.

I’ve always been a fan of the plucky Substitute Legion and I would populate that group with some of the quirky, lesser lights of LSH history, in the spirit of the Planetary Chance Machine and villains like Starfinger :

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and in the wings, for a “second season”, I’d keep another of my Bronze Age favourites, the Energy Release Generator, ERG-1:

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It was difficult not to find a place for LSH stalwarts like Phantom Girl or the regal spiritualist Princess Projectra or Wolverine’s antecedent, Timber Wolf. But this grouping represents the widest range of aggressive and defensive abilities, ethnicity and gender balance.

In upcoming posts, I’ll probably revisit the Levitz/Giffen Legion and most likely, the Abnett/ Lanning version, beginning with Legion: Foundations. Meanwhile, let me know which Legionnaires you would like to see in a live-action series.

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Fragrant Harbours

Having visited China and Japan, today’s post continues our world tour in comics with super-heroes from other Asian countries .

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Hailing from the autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, Striker Z was a member of the Power Company. Like Japan’s Sunburst in the 80s, he hailed from the world of cinema stuntmen. I would like to see more of Danny Tsang in comics; in fact I’d like to see more of the Power Company.

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The All-New Atom, Ryan Choi was born in HK. Most heinously, he was murdered by Deathstroke in 2010. Returning one of their few Asian heroes to life was one of the most welcome moments in DC Rebirth.

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We’ve already met Blackbat, the Eurasian Batgirl. With Barbara Gordon firmly back in the limelight, I thought sending Cassandra to Hong Kong was a good idea but now she’s back as Orphan.

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Two Korean-Americans made their debut in the 21st century at DC. The Ray, the fourth hero to go by that nom de guerre, was an energy-manipulating lifeguard. Like a ray of light, he can only travel in a straight line. New 52 Ray strongly reminded me of the 80s Starman and I found his look rather fussily 90s.

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Element Woman is a ditzy Flashpoint and New 52 heroine with powers identical to Metamorpho. She’s a revamp of the ultra-obscure Element Girl from the Sixties. More recently, she was an associate of the Doom Patrol, as Metamorpho has been. I don’t know why comic creators insist on that connection: the fabulous freaks and the World’s Strangest Heroes are a poor fit, thematically

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Two recent spin-off characters at Marvel have been more-or-less identified as Korean -American. Amadeus Cho is a boy genius and superhero sidekick who is currently the Totally Awesome Hulk.

Silk Meanwhile,  Silk has the same powers as Spider-Man; I’ll be reviewing new volumes of Silk and Spider-Gwen on  Some Fantastic Place soon.

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The New 52 OMAC was a young Cambodian-American. he reminds me of the Amadeus Cho Hulk and was briefly a member of Justice League International.

Marvel’s first out lesbian hero, Karma, was introduced in a MTU annual by Claremont and Frank Miller. Her origin is linked to the tragedy of  the Vietnamese Boat People- late 70s refugees- and as such, she’s a symbol of Liberal Western Guilt, like Sunfire.

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Karma’s powers are similar to Deadman and, apart from her body dysmorphia storyline in the mid-80s,  she also had an attraction to Kitty Pryde. Karma probably didn’t catch on because her gimmicks- psionic powers and a dark side that threatened to overpower her- were done better with cohorts Mirage and Magik.

Mantis

Mantis is probably the most significant Eurasian female of the Bronze Age. Her transformation from martial-arts craze cash-in to progenitor of a new species was echoed by Englehart’s New Guardians, whom we’ve seen in previous posts.

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This one is named Willow, this time.

Interestingly, Mantis also appeared in other guises at other comics companies before returning to Marvel as love interest for the Silver Surfer and the Vision.

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Her association with both the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy has me day-dreaming about a cosmic encounter with the Celestial Madonna in the Marvel movie franchise.

It’s a little dismaying to note these heroes tend to conform to certain stereotypes: females with martial arts prowess and diminutive, nerdy youths or boys. We’ll examine further generalisations in representation among Indian and African superheroes at the Big Two in future posts.

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Japanese Boy

Welcome back to our world tour of super-heroes from DC and Marvel. previously, we saw how the racialist fantasies of the Yellow Peril marred Chinese characters. Today, super-humans from the Land of the Rising Sun get their turn.

It’s difficult to remember in our world of sushi and Hello Kitty that Japan was an exotic, alien landscape in the Sixties and Seventies of my childhood. And the earliest Japanese characters in comics were shaped by popular culture in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Songs of the period included “We’ve Got To Do a Job on the Japs, Baby,” “Oh, You Little Son of an Oriental,” and “When Those Little Yellow Bellies Meet the Cohens and the Kellys,”

The “Japanazis” in 40s -era comics and include Wonder Woman’s Golden Age nemeses, the cross-dressing Princess Maru aka Dr. Poison and  Kung, the assassin of 1000 Claws.

The fiendish Dr. Daka was of course the villain in the the 1943 Batman movie serial. He was co-opted into the DC Universe by Roy Thomas although Thomas did try to challenge discrimination and stereotypes- especially Japanese internment  with other characters.

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The first of these ( in terms of in-story continuity) was Gwenny-Lou Sabuki aka Golden Girl, who gained the power to generate concussive sunbursts. A sister heroine appeared in mid-80s stories All-Star Squadron and its successor, Young All-Stars. Tsunami had hydrokinetic powers but one of those rather negative, menacing code-names.

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In historical terms, Thomas attempted to introduce international X-Men in the late Sixties, with fervent nationalist Sunfire.

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The temperamental Shiro Yoshida (sometimes Yashida) was a symbol of Western guilt  for Hiroshima. A villain’s dupe in his first appearance, Sunfire went on to confront Namor and Iron Man before an extremely fleeting membership of the All-New, all-Different X-Men of the 70s.

When Wolverine was moulded into a masterless samurai, reflecting mass-media interest in Japan after the success of the Shogun tv show, Sunfire made further intermittent appearances with the X-Men. In the alternate Age of Apocalypse universe, Shiro underwent further mutation and this “mecha” look has been a popular one:

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In the 21st century, Sunfire was a member of the Avengers Unity Squad. Other popular Japanese characters in the X-Universe include the thief Yukio who had an implied romantic relationship with Storm; the murderous Lady Deathstrike and the Silver Samurai.

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The masterless samurai archetype was embodied at DC by Katana, one of the more enduring Outsiders created in the early 80s.

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Katana is interesting because she fulfills some of the Dragon Lady stereotypes, yet in her original incarnation, she is maternal and nurturing. Of course, she also borrows from Elric, with her cursed, parasitic sword. She has appeared as both a kabuki-inspired fighter in the New 52 and a parody of the lethal schoolgirl archetype from Kill Bill.

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Dr. Light is another 80s heroine. Driven and unlikeable in her earliest appearances, her abrasive personality was  later explained by the diet soda addiction device also used for Power Girl. She’s been a Justice Leaguer on a couple of occasions but the character is tainted by association with the rapes committed by her predecessor.

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DC have had a couple of other solar-powered heroes, very similar to Sunfire, primarily in the late 70s and early 80s. The Rising Sun was one and the tv  stuntman Sunburst another. The latter “looks” more dynamic, to me, however.

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The honourable wrestler and mystic Sonny Sumo first appeared in the early 70s and was revived in Final Crisis. Like many Kirby Kreations, who knows what kind of wacky adventures he might have had., if the Fourth World had prospered at DC.

Recent X-movie star Psylocke appears to be a Japanese character but of course is a body-swapped English woman, who can manifest psionic psis and katanas. She was briefly known as Lady Mandarin and even more confusingly, she’s modelled on the assassin Elektra, who is Greek.

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Big Hero Six were the stars of an animated movie and represented Marvel’s attempts in the 90s to capture the whimsy and sci-fi tropes of Manga. DC’s Big Science Action  have much of the same flavour. As we can see, Sunfire briefly went down the “powers-are-killing me” route endured by Sun Boy and Jack of Hearts. You’ll also notice Claremont’s favourite Japanese villain, Silver Samurai on this team.

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Armor is another young mutant who graduated to membership of the X-Men, this time in a tv anime. I like her because she makes a charming replacement for Colossus while contributing to the ethnic mix of the team.

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Colleen Wing, a supporting character in the Iron Fist series of the Bronze Age was revealed to have samurai training and used those skills in Daughters of the Dragon episodes.

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Japanese technological advancement, especially in terms of transistors and computer chips, was reflected in Ram, one of Englehart’s New Guardians. This team is probably the most reviled in DC’s modern history. Even JL Detroit are better respected. Ram was also something of a misogynist, IIRC.

The giant robot or mecha trope was most famously explored at Marvel by the Shogun Warrior toy tie-in but the House of Ideas had its own mecha in the form of Red RonIn:

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SPOILER!!!

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Ronin was a cover identity for multiple heroes in the Avengers and the Ultimate Universe: Echo, Clint Barton, Moon Knight and Blade. As such, while utilising Japanese tropes, he/she isn’t a Japanese hero any more than Psylocke is.

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Appearing in the legacy – hero team book Justice Society of Ameica and a gender-swapped version of a Charlton hero, the Judomaster of the Noughties  was unable to master English, frustratingly and cleaved to the stereotype of the deadly and unattainable warrior maiden.

One of my favourite Legionnaires was half-Japanese and briefly helmed his own Bronze Age title, as DC came very late to the martial arts craze

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We learned in the mid-70s  that Val was the son of the villainous Black Dragon in a reveal that was verrry reminiscent of Shang-Chi. Only Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell really drew him as Eurasian- in fact Grell modeled Val on Bruce Lee. In the late  sixties, KK was even, briefly, Legion leader. Here we see him with one of my favourite Legionanires who never was, Quantum Queen of the Wanderers,

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Although he was fond of painting and flower arranging in the 60s, unfortunately  Val laboured under another stereotype. He displayed a  kamikaze impulse on more than one occasion and goes out fighting in his final conflict with Nemesis Kid.

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The post-Zero Hour and Countdown versions of KK had more occidental features but I hope when the LSH returns, we see a Karate Kid more faithful to Shooter’s conception.

With that Japanese Boy, we conclude today’s post. In the future, we’ll revisit heroes from Hong Kong, Korea and Vietnam.

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China Girl

Yesterday, we looked at the Russian (read: Communist) superheroes who populate the comic universes of the Big Two. Today’s post concerns Chinese super-doers, as you’ll have guessed from the Bowie/Iggy reference.

Undoubtedly, Chinese characters in comics were shaped by the existential terror of the Yellow Peril:  the dread of the West being conquered by degenerate and occult powers. This terror began in America with legal immigration and was fed by the Boxer Rebellion.

In Britain, lurid tales of white slavery and opium dens in Limehouse created childhood fears of Glasgow dockside Lascars in my mother’s mind. The torrent of pig-tailed barbarians led by a sinister intelligence, writhing in the psychosexual landscape of America, surfaces in comics in various ways.

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Wing and Stuff, kid partners to the Crimson Avenger and Vigilante are redeemed by their youth, cultural assimilation, comedic value and/or stupidity. Chronologically, the next Chinese characters to feature are deathless, diabolical masterminds, in the Fu Manchu or Shiwan Khan mould.

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Yellow Claw

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The Mandarin, an imitator of the earlier Yellow Claw and Dr. Sun ( a Marvel version of the Doom Patrol’s Brain) are often seen as more loathsome than their American or European lackeys. Even the name of Ming the Merciless suggest this brand of “yellow deviltry” extends into space.

 

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The pre-FF monster mags also feature Communist Chinese terrors. Fin Fang Foom, the phenomenally popular extra-terrestrial dragon-creature, however, is an ambivalent ally of the West.

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Racialist anxieties would explain the rapid modification of Dr. Strange’s Asiatic appearance.

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As with the Russian or “Bodavian” villains in Iron Man, toxic Buddha the Radioactive Man gains his horrible, lethal powers from Communist science- an ideological development of Chinese malevolence. Chen Lu has sometimes reformed, apparently but such is his Chinese treachery, it’s never permanent. ( Is my tone clear enough? I once had a squabble with a colleague about the use of “Oriental” in reference to people. )

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The flipside of Chinese inscrutability might have begun in comics with spiritual seekers like the Beats and the Hippies discovering Buddhist ideas.  I Ching ( a terribly unsubtle name) mentored the Diana Rigg Wonder Woman for a while.

For 70s kids like me, tv show such as David Carradine’s Kung Fu and later The Water Margin -a Japanese adaptation of one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China- presented Chinese martial artists in a positive and glamorous light.

Bruce Lee’s portrayal of Kato in the Green Hornet and his phenomenal Enter the Dragon role blended with the Pulp Revival ( Rohmer’s Fu Manchu) to create Marvel’s most enduring Chinese hero:

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Shang-Chi is actually half-Chinese ( wasn’t his mother Marilyn Monroe?) and quite recently joined the Avengers. During the 70s, UK kids doubtlessly swooned for the philosophical fighter with the poppa issues. They would again , I think: I currently live in a town with a population of around 20,000 and three martial arts clubs.

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Lin Sun was the nominal leader of the Tiger Sons but was something of a weak Shang-Chi knock-off.  Another well-known Chinese Marvel star joined the X-Men a decade later. As Wolverine’s sidekick, her design made  witty reference to the Carrie Kelly Robin. Lately, she’s been a vampire, probably because lots of grown men find her teen sass and firework powers too silly.

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It amuses me to think how the fanmen must hate Jubilee’s role as the X-Men’s leader and part-time Avenger in the MC2 universe.

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In the 90s and beyond, Marvel have depicted several Chinese national heroes: the Collective Man, the Jade Dragon and even a group not dissimilar to DC’s Great Ten:

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And at DC, the seductive Dragon Lady archetype continued (in spite of Jubilee), first with New Guardian Gloss, with her Feng Shui powers:

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and later, in the form of the 2000s Batgirl.

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The third Batgirl is a Eurasian protagonist like Shang-Chi, with whom she shares character beats. Once mute and illiterate, Cassandra Cain had a horribly abusive childhood and has been a pawn of Deathstroke and the League of Assassins. A typically grim Bat-character, she’s struggled to find a place since Final Crisis.

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The Legion’s future features two Chinese characters, who draw upon the tropes we’ve seen in this post. Dragonmage was a short-lived 90s Legionnaire whose sorcerer’s powers manifest as dragon holograms. Visually interesting but frustratingly vague, like all LSH mages.

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More recently, the fire-breathing Dragonwing was introduced just before the New 52, as part of a move to bring more modern-day diversity to the inter-species LSH ( vide flamboyant super-bear, Gravity Kid) . Not only is her venom power unappealing, her futuristic cape would be impractical to draw.One of the things I didn’t like about Levitz’s New 52 comics were the dated tropes: Dragonwing’s China is heavily polluted -with a sea on fire– and fanatic nationalists augment themselves with super powers. It all reminds me of the Marvel 2099 comics ( or Unionist prophecies of Scotland).

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Harmonia was an elemental and an immortal who was added to the Legion when the New 52 began. An enigmatic” celestial” stereotype, I have no idea what the point was of making her a member in addition to Dragonwing. I suspect that when the Legion returns to comics, none of these Legionnaires will appear.

So, out of the martial artists and mystics, only Shang-Chi and Jubes really make an impact.

next: Big in Japan

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Ready to Love the World

Yesterday, we celebrated the patriotic superheroes of the USA on Independence Day. Coincidentally, yesterday it was announced that British troops are to be deployed by NATO to “deter any Russian aggresion”, in the words of the Defence secretary. I would argue that  many of the comic book characters featured in this post were born of the thawing of relations between the USA and the former USSR during the Seventies.

So, if the Russian soul is a dark place, as Dostoyevsky said, what can we make of its superheroes?

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“I was ready to love the world, but no one understood me, so I learned to hate.” Mikhail Lermontov

The Cold War politics of early Marvel comics depicted the Red Menace as devious, pompous but brutish. When these stories were reprinted in the early UK Spider-Man comics, the “Reds” became  shifty, Eastern Europeans from “Bodavia”. By the mid-Sixties, Red China had replaced Russia in Marvel as the home of fiendish plots, as reflected by masterminds like the Yellow Claw and the Mandarin.

Crimson Dynamo is the first of the Russian superheroes to appear at Marvel.  In his first incarnation, looking like a walking carburetor, he is a saboteur turned defector who goes to work for Tony Stark. The next notable incarnation was a Soviet exile named, ironically, for a prince and a saint. Implicated like the monstrous Titanium Man in the death of Janice Cord, he was the first Dynamo to join a super-team: the Vietnam-based Titanic Three.

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There have been thirteen Dynamos in total but the character has links with Marvel’s most famous tsarina, the lethal Black Widow.Madame Natasha is Marvel’s foremost movie super-heroine: an assassin and expert hand-to-hand combatant, she has been portrayed as having a Beauty and the Beast relationship with the Hulk.

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In the Seventies, the Widow was re-positioned as an adventuress in the Modesty Blaise mould, in part thanks to her partnership with Daredevil. To my mind, the 21st century Black Widow is a darker, more conflicted but less appealing character than the leader of the Champions in the 70s.

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The Red Guardian was first introduced as the Black Widow’s missing husband: a Soviet Captain America and an Avengers antagonist. The second version was glamorous brain surgeon and dissident Tania Belinsky- a blink-and-you’ll -miss- her Defender. Tania later became a cosmic being called Stardust in a storyline we’ll recount shortly.

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The current Red Guardian calls himself less euphoniously “Steel Guardian” which wouldn’t be a bad sobriquet for Colossus. The organic metal X-Man never became the star Len Wein conceived him to be. Developed from a Cockrum design for the Legionanire Ferro Lad, Colossus defected to Magneto and later sacrificed himself (temporarily!) in an heroic act, not unlike his 30th-century “forebear”.

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Peter Rasputin ( a great comic book name) has never been a major player at Marvel; indeed the Deadpool movie suggests that he would be more successful as comedy relief.

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More Russian mutants were introduced by Bill Mantlo in the 70s. The mysterious Darkstar and her brother Vanguard starred in stories with the Champions, Iron Man and the  Hulk. With their shape-shifting ally, Ursa Major and the longest-serving Crimson Dynamo, they formed the  Soviet Super-Soldiers.

A kind 0f USSR take on the X-Men, this group had been formed by a parasitic version of Prof. Xavier, who fed off their mutant energy.  A number of Russian characters are also victims of nuclear accidents, like the enigmatic Presence who transformed the female Red Guardian into his cosmic consort.

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With the fall of Communism, the group was later renamed the Winter Guard. Other members are analogues of Thor, Vision and the Scarlet Witch. This imitation of US heroes implies a lack of originality in the Russian personality.

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DC’s Russian heroes follow a similar template to those of Marvel. The New Doom Patrol’s Negative Woman (Valentina Vostok) has had a lengthy supporting role in comics and seemed inspired by Barbara Bach’s Spy Who Loved Me.

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Starfire- the first of three DC characters with that name- was a generic strongman who largely inhabited Teen Titans titles. his transformation to an equally generic energy-being wasn’t as appealing as his dinky military hat in cartoons.

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Rocket Red is an enduring DC hero- originally, one of a brigade of Iron Man-substitutes created by the alien Green Lantern, Kilowog. The best known Rocket Red follows a comics tradition since he’s named after the novelist Pushkin. By this logic, Captain America should be Steve Steinbeck and Iron Man, Tony Vidal. Like too many cheerful characters, both heroic Rockets have been killed off, unfortunately.

 

People's heroes

The comical People’s Heroes- Bolshoi, Sickle, Hammer, Molotov and Pravda- were first seen in one of my favourite 80s comics: (Batman and) the Outsiders. They’re an outrageous counterpart to the US Force of July. They also mirror the belligerent Soviet Super-Soldiers as unquestioning tools of the state.

Russian superheroes tend to eschew individualism. They’re unquestioning, naive and brutal. Most often, they represent authoritarian viewpoints- although I suppose the same could be said of billionaires like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne.

It seems that suspicion and posturing colour the development of the Russian superhero. Probably the most famous of all is this one:

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I think a great deal of this imagery made its way into Man of Steel, ironically enough. We’ll note similar stereotyping in upcoming posts, where we’ll revisit the superheroes of China, Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan.

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What So Proudly We Hail

Last time, we looked at international superheroes, primarily from the DC stable. In the future, I think I’ll post about Marvel’s assembled Russian and Chinese heroes, although some have their roots in the Red Scare era of the very early Sixties:

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I plan to celebrate Captain Britain‘s fortieth birthday in the autumn but the UK has had a long, long relationship of envy and admiration of American culture. From jazz to nylons, from Rock’n’Roll to Prom, from denim to the Kardashians, totems of the American Dream permeate England’s dreaming.

The foremost icons of the Land of the Free in comics are self-evident. Wonder Woman, as DC’s premier superheroine, wears the colours of the USA but her mission of peace through loving submission isn’t American per se. By comparison, as the protagonist in four blockbuster movies, Chris Evans inhabits the role of Captain America and makes him a symbol of integrity and optimism, without being cheesy or stiff.

So, to celebrate Independence Day, we pose the question: who is the second-best patriotic US superhero? I’ll look at these American Dreamers in the order I first “met” them.

Of course, you’ll know that the first star-spangled super-man was The Shield from the Archie/MLJ comics line. He’s an enduring character , perhaps because he’s a redhead. I first saw him in an Alan Class reprint ( where I also came across the likes of Captain Atom and the THUNDER Agents).

Alan Class Shield

I next saw the Shield in the early 80s revival of the Crusaders, where he joined forces with Simon and Kirby’s Private Strong ( a Cap/Superman mash-up)

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DC revived the MLJ gang for the !mpact line of kid-friendly comics in the 90s- an inspired idea that never caught on.

crusaders1-impact These deathless characters keep coming back, however: here’s the latest Shield, from last year-

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As for Cap’s Marvel rivals, I’ve posted before about my soft spot for the bespectacled flier Miss America, whom I first encountered in Marvel Super-Heroes reprint of the All-Winners Squad.

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She has a modern-day successor in America Chavez, the enigmatic powerhouse of the Ultimates.  (Author Al Ewing also seems fond of his own creation, the adult Danielle Cage – read on…)

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Miss A was the second patriotic player in the Bronze Age Liberty Legion, alongside The Patriot. Although this non-powered hero later impersonated Cap at the end of WWII, the only thing that wasn’t bland about him was his busy costume.

The USAgent is a Cap stand-in from the late 80s. Introduced as a pragmatic military man, John Walker was depicted as psychologically unstable, although he was also played as Marvel’s Guy Gardner: the team “asshole”. USAgent also parodied Judge Dredd at one stage.

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While Ewing’s newest iteration of the Avengers will star Luke Cage’s grown-up child as Cap, another alternate future introduced an earlier, distaff Captain America:

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American Dream and the Dream Team were a witty homage to Cap’s Kooky Quartet and Shannon Cater even starred in two mini-series in the last eight years. She also functions as a bridge  to DC’s patriotic heroes, as we’ll see momentarily…

The original Star-Spangled Kid and Uncle Sam were both revived in early-  70s JLA/JSA team-ups written by Len Wein.  Sam is more of a living symbol than any of the other heroes in this post and has always struck me as a little ridiculous. And I read several Freedom Fighters comics. (Native American villains. I can’t even…)

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The Star-Spangled Kid was a twist on the Bucky role; as you’ll know, his adult aide Stripesy was the junior partner in this duo. I never cared for SSK, with his hand-me-down Starman powers in the JSA revival of the Seventies. He became the leader of Infinity Inc in the 80s and finally took on an adult role as Skyman ( with Lanceleot Strong’s duds, it seemed.)

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Skyman was murdered by Solomon Grundy and Mr. Bones in the late 80s but the mantle was passed to Stripesy’s stepdaughter, who seems very similar to the aforementioned American Dream :

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Commander Steel was a mash-up of Cap and Iron Man, who had his own short-lived, old-timey series just prior to the DC Implosion. Revived a few years later in All-Star Squadron, he seemed superfluous, as did his teenage son in the infamous Detroit League.

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Overshadowed somewhat by the armoured, hammer-wielding namesake through the 90s, the character was revived in 2007.  A bereaved and pain -killer -addicted Citizen Steel was an early recruit in the second Johns Justice Society series.

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In the new 52, a Filipino Captain Steel made his debut and was promptly melted.  I would certainly consider this version for a more diverse DC team, however,

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I first encountered Liberty Belle in the early 80s issues of All-Star Squadron. Libby was an athletic heroine who was romantically involved with Johnny Quick– was Roy Thomas deliberately echoing the Whizzer/ Miss America relationship he’d written at Marvel?

Libby became the chairwoman of the Squadron, in a move for equality mirrored by other 80s heroines- Dream Girl, the Wasp and Heather Hudson to name but three.  She gained forgettable sonic powers a la Vibe later in the Squadron’s history and a big, red cape. Libby’s daughter Jesse has played the role too, when she’s not using her father’s speed formula. I like other athletic heroines better, I’m afraid.

Miss America was the Post-Crisis substitute for Wonder Woman in the wartime JSA (  although not the first- the story of the Golden Age Fury is worth investigating one of these days, not to mention Wonder Woman’s mother…)

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I have a Black Lightning post coming up this month -here, or on our sister blog, Some Fantastic Place.  Anyway, this Miss A had transmutation powers, like Firestorm. She mostly adventured on Nazi parallel world, Earth-X, IIRC and is (probably) deservedly forgotten.

Another lesser-known patriotic heroine is Skyrocket, from Kurt Busiek’s Power Company. She’s essentially a mash-up of Cap and Iron Man but also an army aviator. Celia reminds me of Marvel’s Monica Rambeau: a strong, intelligent black woman with leadership qualities but largely overlooked.

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So: who is the second-best patriotic hero?

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As a “legacy” character for two Golden Age heroes, I think the answer has to be DC’s plucky, likeable Stargirl. Having been a member of the JSA,  the New 52 Justice League of America and Justice League United/Canada, plus several episodes of Smallville, Courtney is my favourite flag-waver.  The others may also bring pathos or conflict, but Stargirl has perseverance and positivity in spades.

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Coming soon: the Sino-Supermen

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