The Mystery Men of March part 2

The second part of  my regular series of portraits  of super-heroes who made their début in this particular month. I’ll post covers which were either my first encounter with that  specific character or of an issue that was significant to me.

Silver Surfer:  Stan’s favourite “creation”,  I believe. My first Surfer comic, when I was aged seven or eight,  was this hell-bound Buscema epic. Re-reading the collected Silver Age Surfer series last year, I realised how same-y the stories were: the ostracised, Messianic Surfer bemoans ignorant Mankind but then has to rescue us from some alien or supernatural threat. On the other hand, Lee has to be applauded for the ambition and tone of the comic but it did introduce a preachy, humourless, portentous quality to comics, crystallised in O’Neil and Adams’ Hard-Travelling Heroes.  Buscema’s art is beautiful to look at, however.

Norrin Radd was very well-served by the FF movie sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer.  I followed the Englehart/Rogers version ( a 1980s attempt to recapture the Kozmic Spliff  vibe of the Bronze Age) but the character is too inscrutable and his agonizing is rather unsympathetic, rendering him a perennial B-lister in my book.

Love those framed covers.

I didn’t encounter Galactus until the final page of this suitably apocalyptic early-70s FF. The Big G is actually more interesting than his Herald but is best used sparingly. The original Galactus Trilogy, which was the highlight of the second Marvel Treasury, is hard to beat.

Hall of Deceased Legionnaires: I’ll be featuring Jim Shooter’s Adult Legion 2-parter in a future post-possibly in the late summer. As I said on Some Fantastic Place, Adventure 354 was the first back issue I went searching for and found by chance, in the end.

The cover depicts the memorials of KIA Legionnaires, four of whom had yet to début in the series at that point. One of the most charming aspects of the story was that young Shooter introduced three of the four during his tenure as scripter, giving the series a mythic quality.  A teenage Shadow Woman, of course, was first to appear a year later, followed shortly by Chemical King ( a hero whose  power seemed to baffle Shooter’s successors, perhaps explaining his under-use). Quantum Queen, who could transform into a ray of light, appeared as a sore-thumb member of the Tolkinesque Wanderers almost two years later.

The beatific Reflecto is a strange one though.  Roy Thomas finally introduced him- after 14 years- in 1981 but “he” was a disguised Superboy with Ultra Boy’s memories (comics!). The Bierbaums introduced another Reflecto  (Stig Ah of Rimbor)  in the Five Years Later series of the early 90s. This iteration was still a casualty in battle but I have no idea of his current status in the Legion series.

Finally, inside the comic itself, we glimpse the base of a statue for Power Boy. Dave Cockrum designed the atomic-fisted  hero above for his unpublished LSH spinoff The Outsiders. However, the “real” PB is Jed Rikane, the purple-hued Legion Academy trainee recently revealed to be in a  relationship with Gravity Kid.  It remains to be seen whether Levitz will ever act upon his mid-80s impulse to give Jed that doomed identity. If he did kill off a gay character, the LSH fanbase would be up in arms.

The Creeper: I’ve never read any of the Creeper’s Sixties outings although I’d seen the ads. I first encountered the weird adventurer in Detective Comics and then, after nearly a decade, in the early days of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League. I was intrigued by his personality; a more unhinged and slightly menacing version of Marvel’s Beast. I have to admit that his Timmverse incarnation makes most sense to me: a victim of the same chemical processes that created The Joker. I found his Johnny DC appearances very entertaining.

One day, I’ll have to get around to the original Ditko stories. But the yellow-skinned crimebuster is one of the most memorable and bizarre Silver Age creations.

Starman /Mikaal Tomas: a shameless rip-off of the Sensational Captain Marvel, Gerry Conway’s blue alien turncoat languished in obscurity until James Robinson revived him in his acclaimed Starman series of the Nineties. A disco era hedonist, Mikaal was one of DC’s most prominent gay characters prior to the New 52.  He served in the JLA as a modern take on the Martian Manhunter. Trendy but highly derivative.

Robin (Jason Todd): Thanks largely to nostalgic gorehound Geoff Johns, DC is considered home of the Legacy Character. The first true example, I think, was Jason, the second in-continuity Robin. Jay was created when the highly successful New Teen Titans depicted Dick Grayson’s transition to adulthood. Obviously, Batman needed a Boy Wonder for licensing purposes and since this was the beginning of the Grim’n’Gritty Era,  enter circus boy Todd, in time for his parents to be eaten by crocodiles.

Beautiful Newton/Alcala work

Jason’s carrot-topped look was necessarily short-lived. He became (literally) a darker Robin and after the Crisis, his origin was inexplicably tweaked to make him a modern version of the delinquent kid Simon and Kirby used to write about.

I liked the character from the brief Barr/Davis Detective run, where the Toddster was a younger, more child-like version of Marv Wolfman’s neurotic, Peter Parker-ish Dick Grayson. However, Jason was very unpopular: enough to motivate an overwhelming fan response to kill him off.   I never read the Death in the Family storyline; what I did see of it seemed unnecessarily sadistic and unpleasant.  It resulted in a  self-flagellating  Emo Batman (very mature!) and the  introduction of a new and more successful Robin, Tim Drake.

Jason was resurrected of course and the “Bad Seed” and “Prodigal Son” storylines have been played out to further torture Batman for the edification of tattooed manboys everywhere.  A cautionary tale about how comics aren’t for kids any more.

Rick Astley IS…

Damage:  Speaking of Legacy Heroes, the gimmick behind this character was the secret of his parentage. It just turned out to be tedious Golden Age scrapper, Al Pratt. After a brief spell in various unsuccessful line-ups of the New Titans, Grant acquired terrible facial injuries in Infinite Crisis.  He was  inducted as a modern iteration of the luchador Atom in the Justice Society. This in spite of the existence of Nuklon (now going under the unwieldy codename “Atom Smasher” ) Despite a redemptive storyline, Damage was killed off in Marvel Zomb- sorry, Blackest Night. So much for Damage.

Blood Pack:  EEEEEE, my eyes !!!! A truly horrible 90s comic. A selection of unimaginative Goth superheroes scraped together from  the woeful Bloodlines  Body Horror annual event.  The idea of a super-team docudrama was fresh and interesting but the line-up was terrible. Delete. Delete.

Power Company: a quirky but likeable idea from continuity buff Kurt Busiek. Updating the Infinity Inc. concept, a super-team made up of four newbies, two obscure DC characters (Bork? Bork?!) and run on business principles.  Unfortunately, in an era of global recession, I can’t see a corporate super-group returning any time soon.

Next: Captain Marvel and the Golden Plague

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners.

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