The Mystery Men of March part 1

Time again for another in my series of snapshots of super-heroes who made their début in this particular month. I’ll post covers which were either my earliest encounter with a specific character or of an issue that was significant to me.

Captain America: I’ve written about Cap extensively on Some Fantastic Place. As Kirby proved time and again, Cap can star in any story genre.The heart and soul of the Invaders and the Avengers, he is Marvel’s answer to Superman. There is a tone of awe and reverence for the character in the early Avengers that no amount of 60s and 70s soul-searching could debase. The First Avenger is the best of Marvel’s movies; Whedon’s Avengers Assemble might have problems with Cap’s nobility in the context of our rather asinine, shallow culture.

The least-known Legionnaire?

Superboy: I’ve also written about The Boy of Steel, in the context of the Super-Spectaculars. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of Superboy  as a vehicle for telling stories for boys. Many of the 50s and 60s tales are about loyalty to friends and parental respect. An older iteration of the character- the super-boyfriend – recently completed a hugely successful run on tv with the cancellation of Smallville. Perhaps this is an insight into why Supergirl has never quite achieved the same kind of success.

Krypto: Even a super- boy’s best friend is his dog, if the three pages of pet photographs in the local broadsheet is anything to go by. Like the Blue Peter pets,  comic book super-animals can appeal to children who can’t have a dog or cat of their own. The whole Legion of Super-Pets possesses humour and charm, as evidenced by the super-dog’s own animated series. I loved the original Man from UNCLE parody-” The Dog from SCPA”- which also poked fun at the Legion. Although I’ve seen the loveable hound act out the tragic tropes of Old Yeller and Lassie, I prefer him hale and hearty in his Doghouse of Solitude.

Flash (Barry Allen): the importance of the Flash should not be underestimated. His début in the 50s revived the super-hero genre and paved the way for the Silver Age Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman and Batman’s New Look.

In some ways, I suppose Barry/ Flash is DC’s Spider-Man: in cartoons (even when it’s really nephew Wally West) he’s flippant and insouciant; his Rogues Gallery is recalled in the Sinister Six and he got hip in the late Sixties (even being touted as a fan of a Jefferson Airship-style band in a Sargon story by Mike Friedrich). That’s really when I first got to know the Sultan of Speed. He was even marked by tragedy, like Peter Parker, with the “murder” of wife Iris. I never read any of the over-long Trial sequence but I was there when he sacrificed himself in the Crisis and Wally West took over the role. I was nonplussed because Marv Wolfman himself had told me that Mac Ryan would be the new Flash, with light powers…

Of course, Barry’s been back in the DCU for a few years and and I understand his New 52 version is an enjoyable and modernist comic; I should try it one day.

Not half-bad? Really selling them to me, Giordano!

Captain Atom: I probably first saw the space-age super-hero in this advert in a rare Charlton purchase and next in a b/w Alan Class reprint. I certainly recognised his sparkly jet-trail when Captain Mar-vell underwent his “Metamorphosis”. I didn’t care for Alan Class comics, though, or Charlton: they seemed markedly inferior to Marvel (my favourite for most of my childhood) or even DC, which could be alternately silly or overly adult.

I read a couple of issues of the 80s revival but the whole “government secret weapon” plotline seemed an ill fit for the DC Universe The most significant thing about this distinctly C-list character is that he’s famously the inspiration for the aloof (and naked) blue super-being Dr. Manhattan in the overblown and overrated Watchmen.

Iron Man: Despite the cover above, in all honesty, I found Stark’s adventures in the Sixties pretty dull. I suppose as a kid, boardroom intrigue and political machinations were plain boring. It wasn’t until the late 70s and early 80s when Michelinie and Layton fused espionage and technology that I picked the comic up more regularly. However, the downside was that Stark also became the first alcoholic superhero. Like Speedy’s heroin addiction, or Pym’s spouse abuse, there was just no coming back from that kind of character “development”. The Iron Man of the last decade has been depicted as both a futurist and an arsehole. That’s the persona in the surprisingly-successful movies but the self-indulgent, eternal adolescent turns me off.

Metal Men: predating the Pinocchio plotlines of the Vision and the Red Tornado by at least half- a-dozen years, I first encountered these malleable mechanoids when they were “robots in disguise”; that was in the late 60s when Mike Sekowsky was the “go-to” guy for revamping failing comics. The story in which I best remember them, however, was this whacked-out, campy battle with Egg Fu. The Metal Men were bizarrely effective when teamed up with Batman in The Brave and the Bold. I think they would be an excellent choice for a DC animated series.

(Madame) Medusa: Introduced as a counterpart for Sue Storm in the Frightful Four, the imperious and treacherous Medusa was revealed to be one of the Royal Family of Inhumans.  Instantly, the Lady with the Living Locks was de-clawed and Marvel lost a great villainess. The evil FF felt her loss keenly and spent nearly two decades trying to find a satisfactory replacement until Steve Englehart finally added another red-head in purple: Titania. Apart from a few years in the early Bronze Age as a fill-in member of the FF, the “titian-tressed tigress” has largely served a decorative purpose in Marvel comics, as the wife and interpreter of Black Bolt. She’s one of the few Marvel heroines who has never joined the Avengers, although Bendis and Romita Jr. featured her briefly. A potent and glamorous character, criminally neglected.

Next: A few more March Mystery Men!

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners.

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One comment on “The Mystery Men of March part 1

  1. Kid Robson says:

    Yeah, it’s funny how Medusa was much more interesting as a villain, wasn’t it?

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