Tonight’s post is very heavily weighted to represent the work of Merry Gerry Conway. A prolific writer for both DC and Marvel in the Bronze Age, Conway was never really accorded the same status as his contemporaries: neither as histrionic as Gerber nor pretentious as McGregor; neither as academic as Thomas nor as cinematic as Moench; as feminist as Claremont or corny as Wolfman.
The Punisher and Codename Assassin: the skull-garbed killer had three storylines in Bronze Age Spider-Man books but it wasn’t until the 80s that he became a superstar. Frankly, I’ve never found his quest for vengeance very engaging. Jonathan Drew has probably the coolest name for a Bronze Age non-entity, appearing in one First Issue Special and, thirty years later, in James Robinson’s arc on Superman- but neither of these guys seems heroic to me; “assassin” rather gives it away.
Firestorm the Nuclear Man: like Marv Wolfman’s Nova, this was Conway’s attempt to rework Peter Parker for the Disco Era at DC. Firestorm looks like a Dial H for Hero submission: Firelord’s hair; Lightray’s headgear; a garish costume and vague, fussy transmutation powers. A victim of the DC Implosion, the hero really worked best when subsequently placed in the “noob” role in the JLA.
The current Hispanic Blue Beetle does everything Firestorm would, however, with a touch of Manga and the legacy of a Golden Age name.
Steel the Indestructible Man: another Marvel hero in DC guise, a wartime fusion of Captain America and Iron Man. As with Firestorm, I came aboard with issue # 2, since first issues rarely crossed my path in the mid-to-late 70s.
First revived in All-Star Squadron and then in Justice League Detroit, the quick-tempered cyborg patriot had a third incarnation as Citizen Steel in Geoff Johns’ JSA. Infamously, his biggest claim to fame seemed to be in the trouser department.
Cloak and Dagger: the tragic scourge of drug-gangs, these urban heroes were popular in the late 80s and were even retconned as mutants. I’m surprised they’ve never assembled on one of Brian Bendis’ Avengers teams as a modern take on the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.
Miracleman: I first met Mickey Moran, the British reworking of Billy Batson in a Power Comics annual and then again, more than a decade later, in Warrior. Much of what happened in the overrated paranoid conspiracy thriller Watchmen was explored here first. Twenty-five years later, the character’s still floating around in Marvel limbo. I’m not crazy about the allegorical “what if superheroes were real?” school any more. Too reductive for me.
Infinity Inc: one of my favourite ideas from the early 80s- the sons and daughters, wards and proteges of the Justice Society, operating as a business. Roy Thomas was able to utilise his experience as an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter and combine it with his love for the JSA. When the Crisis hit, however, it dealt the title an ultimately fatal blow. The title limped on for a couple of years, through a couple of company crossovers, with rather stiff and dull art but it succumbed in the Grim and Gritty Era. Some Infinitors drifted into the League as third-stringers; others to the JSA. Frighteningly, in real time, the children of Infinity Inc. should, by rights, be going into the “family business” now!
Jonni Thunder: a mid-80s take on a late-60s staple, the quirky, noirish detective. Roy Thomas’ butch private investigator might have been more successful had she not been a Negative Woman knockoff, with a dull, electrical alter ego.
Crazy Jane: the very early days of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol drew on Symbolism, surrealist art and experimental film. The new star of this superhero team as therapy group was Kay Challis, a super-powered victim of appalling abuse- and lifted almost wholesale, as I discovered, from the book “When Rabbit Howls”. Multiple Personality Disorder has been largely discredited but Morrison took some of the ideas behind John Byrne’s Aurora and made the sexual themes more overt. Crazy Jane was certainly one of the strangest and most thought-provoking characters in a DC super-team.
Cable and Deadpool: I will pause briefly to say that Rob Liefeld cannot draw very well but made a lot of money from these mash-ups in the 90s. The former, Clint Eastwood crossed with the Terminator and the latter, Deathstroke crossed with Spidey. Derivative, impoverished and insanely popular. Comics, eh?!
Next: Devil-Fish or Manphibian?