The Mystery Men of November

Welcome to my new WordPress blog- born, or so I thought, out of necessity when Google apparently deleted my account, as I approached one hundred posts. Strangely, everything seems to have returned to normal today. Nonetheless, I thought I might continue with this one.

Anyone who has followed me on “Some Fantastic Place” will be aware that I’ve been reflecting on the long, strange journey that’s led me to teach in Moray in the North-East of Scotland, after over twenty-five years living in Glasgow. And that reflection has been through the prism of Marvel and DC comics, pulp paperbacks and Dr. Who.  So, expect more of the same… but different. On Materioptikon, I’ll try to follow Kid’s advice and post little and often.

So, I’m introducing a little monthly feature on the first appearances of Super-Heroes , starting with comics characters who debuted in November (with a tip of the hat to 1982’s All-Star Squadron # 14!)  I have only read the origin story of the Western El Diablo and only know the bespectacled Miss America from the Liberty Legion and the All-Winners Squad. Stingray, meanwhile, although a cool visual, is basically a Z-list hero without a strip of his own, to my knowledge.

Aquaman is a character I’ve never felt any great attachment to, aside from the Filmation cartoon. Namor does everything the Sea King does but better and his comics never had to kill off a toddler to sell. Adam Strange is an icon of Silver Age sci-fi,  an atomic update of John Carter of Mars, solving genteel mysteries in his Buck Rogers suit. The Martian Manhunter is another quirky relic of the 50s sci-fi boom. Effectively the “token black” of the original JLA,  this quaint character came to prominence in the 80s.  The tv version in the animated Justice League is probably the most successful iteration. I quite liked Mark Millar’s idea to position J’Onn as the Superman of  Earth’s Southern Hemisphere.

I was fascinated by the two issues of Captain Action I read as a little kid, not realising he was a fusion of Batman and Captain Marvel. I didn’t question the juxtaposition of his quasi-naval uniform and his god-like powers; I was attracted and repelled by the  suffering and cosmic scope of  Gil Kane’s characters.

Jimmy Olsen had been the star of a seemingly-endless series of bizarre, often humorous tales of transformation; his role as a plucky, jump-suited adventurer in Kirby’s techno-hippy stories again both attracted and unsettled me, in the very early 70s.

Green Arrow also underwent a radical transformation at the end of the Silver Age. The bland Batman knockoff  got one of the coolest makeovers ever and became the comix voice of the Liberal Left. He also became the first and biggest breakout star of the JLA, far bigger than either Black Canary or Red Tornado.  The Grim and Gritty Era of the mid-80s turned GA into a Mature Readers property, effectively cutting him out of the superhero milieu.  It’s the Smallville version, essentially a stand-in for Bruce Wayne/Batman , who’s probably the most publically  recognisable take.

The Vigilante was a character I discovered in the very same JLA issue in which I “met” the new Green Arrow and the Black Canary. Vig’s arch-enemy the Dummy is a disturbing concept: a midget impersonating a ventriloquist’s doll. However, my favourite Vigilante villains are “Shakes, the underworld poet and Dictionary, the crook with the 18-carat vocabulary”.

The most influential, most imaginative and endearing characters to debut in November are of course the fabulous Fantastic Four.  Kirby was the first artist whose work I could recognise  as a child and in my early school years, (1968-70) I scarcely missed an issue. I fiercely envied viewers in the Grampian region (e.g. Moray) who could see the original cartoon series on tv!

I came back to the FF during ’76-77 although I was aware of a slightly jaundiced tone in Roy Thomas’ writing. Again, I hardly missed an issue during John Byrne’s tenure. I loved the negative uniforms, She-Hulk and was moved by Sue’s miscarriage.  In the late 80s, I was captivated by Englehart’s torrid stories of betrayed Ben Grimm, two-timing Crystal and the despair of Sharon Ventura.

The grim and gritty era wasn’t kind to the FF: two reboots in the 90s, foil covers, disfigurement and tragedy. The World’s Greatest Comic Book, with its blend of wild sci-fi and family values seems at odds with today’s 18-35 demographic. But I hope that one day, comics will be for kids again and Stan and Jack’s First Family in the Baxter Building will be waiting to adventure in the Microverse, the Great Refuge and behind the Beehive once more.

All cover artwork and characters are copyright of Marvel and  DC Comics





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