The Mystery Men of December

In this post, I’m commenting on  DC and Marvel Super-Heroes who made their first appearance in the month of December and illustrating them with images of either the first time I “met” them or stories that are significant to me. I’ll deal with Doll Man in a future Super-Spectacular post.  Also, I’ve never read any stories featuring Captain America’s sidekick, the original Golden Girl.

The most reknowned debut this month is that of Wonder Woman.  I can just about bear her as a member of the JLA;  largely, I find her  kitschy and anachronistic. But then, my introduction to the character was  Kanigher and Andru stories of Egg Fu and Giganta the Gorilla Girl. The only time I followed her comic on a regular basis was in the very  early 80s, for the Levitz/Staton Huntress back up.  The totemic kinkiness of the character’s Golden Age heyday just renders her silly and unappealing. The only creators who have been able to blend all the iterations of WW successfully are Paul Dini and Alex Ross in the Treasury-Sized  “Spirit of Truth”.

Not only does Kid Flash have one of the most elegant and striking costumes of the Silver Age, he was the first kid sidekick to inherit his mentor’s costumed identity in-continuity. As readers, we could follow Wally West from childhood to adulthood. In the New Teen Titans, West was a love-lorn, moping mummy’s boy; for many years after, the Post-Crisis Flash was an obnoxious jerk. In the Noughties, Wally became a family man but although that transition seemed to signal the character’s erasure, there’s still a KF in the Young Justice animated series.

Ramona Fradon was responsible for the design and the whacky feel of the earliest adventures of the Element Man. However, it’s Jim Aparo’s Fabulous Freak whom I think of first. As with the Doom Patrol, Metamorpho feels like DC’s attempt to capture Marvel’s hipster audience. Adventurer “Rexy-Boy” Mason is Ben Grimm as -Rat- Pack -swinger and, like Grimm, he is transformed into a grotesque being with super-powers. Unlike The Thing , Metamorpho’s origin has trappings of H.Rider Haggard and his transformation is far more cartoon-like and absurd. His pliable form recalls both the whimsical Plastic Man and the Metal Men, so it’s hard to sympathise with Rex as we might with Ben.

Metamorpho shares more than a passing resemblance to Ultra the Multi-Alien. I never saw him in Mystery in Space as a child; I’ve only read one Johnny DC story featuring the character, who made his debut a year after Rex Mason.

Similarly, I’ve only read one Dolphin story: a dreary  thing about aliens and cloning in the final issue of Secret Origins in 1990. She was a late Sixties entry in the dying days of Showcase series: a spell when nothing they tried seemed to catch on.

Captain Marvel is Marvel’s space-born super-hero and dates roughly from the same era as Dolphin. I first encountered him in a UK reprint “album” ( the Drake/Heck story above) but his unremarkable powers and unappealing  Buck Rogers space-suit were hardly exciting or memorable. Revamped at the end of the Sixties as a knowing homage to Shazam, the Kree captain was transmogrified by the dynamic work of Gil Kane.  However, the star of the strange story of social engineering above seemed to be protest singer Rick Jones.

In the early Seventies, Jim Starlin turned Mar-Vell into a cult character, a psychedelic  fusion of the New Gods and Dr. Strange. After Starlin, however,  the captain floundered in rehashed Kozmic storylines. But the decision to kill him off in Marvel’s first “graphic novel” lent Mar-Vell ( essentially a derivative C-list super-hero) some mythical significance. It’s astonishing, therefore, that he’s never been permanently revived.

Yellowjacket was another “new” Marvel hero from the same late Sixties/early Seventies period that marked the beginning of my personal  “Golden Age” as a schoolkid.  It’s also the identity that’s emblematic of Henry Pym’s decline from Avengers mainstay to unstable failure.  The first Yellowjacket story pitches the character as brash, arrogant; perhaps even a potential killer. Subsequently, Hank was literally overshadowed for years by the slightly- edgier Clint Barton version of Goliath.  YJ had a brief renaissance in the early 70s in the Steve Gerber issues of the Defenders but by the late 70s, Jim Shooter had begun the unravelling of Hank Pym’s mind . No matter how anyone tries to redeem Pym (like Englehart’s concerted effort to turn him into Dr. Who or Dan Slott elevating Hank to Scientist Supreme) he always reverts to a needy obsessive or at worst, (thanks, Mark Millar)  a snivelling, bi-polar wife-beater.

Firstar, of course, debuted in the Amazing Friends tv show so I suppose she’s the Marvel equivalent of Zan and Jayna. She should have been a break-out character over a decade ago, in the Busiek/Perez Avengers, but that book spent such a long time restoring some of the  mainstays of the team to their Seventies default positions that the newer characters were lost in the crowd.  With a succession of overly-complex costumes and with a  backstory where tragedy had been trowelled on rather thickly, this bright and shining young superhero deserved better.

Edited to include: Timber Wolf, one of my favourite Legionnaires and one of the most maligned. Variously depicted as a moron, a lycanthrope, and a Gambit-knockoff, Brin Londo of Zoon is currently imitating Wolverine again, although his feral look predates the Canucklehead:

Originally, however, he was a super-acrobat who believed himself to be an android. Later, he was depicted as an Adult Legionnaire with three kids and a raffish moustache.

I first saw him in “Kill a Friend to Save a World” which gave no indication what his powers were and didn’t even depict him in costume. Another time, I’ll clue you in to how I got clued up on the Wolf.

Next: A further look through the Super-Specs.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.


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