The Mystery Men of April!

Welcome back to the continuing  series on super-heroes who made their début in each consecutive month.  As usual, I post images of the stories where I first discovered them or of  issues that are significant to me. April may be the cruellest month but it’s certainly one of the busiest. I may need a record number of entries to cover all the characters I want to look at.

The heroes under discussion today all appeared in the Golden Age of Comics and were all considered members of Roy Thomas’ All Star Squadron.

Starman and Dr. Mid-Nite: two of the lesser lights of the JSA. Starman is effectively a scientific version of the Green Lantern, while Dr. Mid-Nite’s gimmick has been superceded by Batman and crucially by Daredevil. Starman’s Golden Age adventures were beautifully drawn by Hardin “Jack”  Burnley. The Astral Avenger’s shtick is that his alter ego is a wealthy hypochondriac.

I was struck by a miniature version of this cover in an ad in one of my cousin Jim’s sixties comics. Starman looked vivid and I (wrongly) assumed Sportsmaster was his arch-enemy. By the Sixties, his gravity-powers had expanded through use of his sonic screwd- sorry, Cosmic Rod.

The first time I really saw Ted and Chuck in action was in this second part of the JLA’s centennial story (along with a rare appearance by GA Wonder Woman and an even rarer one by karate-chopping Diana Prince/Wonder Woman). Despite his dated, Buck Rogers look, David Bowie and later John Carpenter highlighted the potency of the Starman name. Two further sci-fi versions of the character appeared in the 70s; a garish young hero in a mullet appeared in the 80s; and the overrated James Robinson hipster version was prominent in the 90s. In addition, Ted’s power set was initially granted to the Star-Spangled Kid and then to his successor Stargirl.

Despite critical acclaim, I never warmed at all to the Goth incarnation of Starman and it’s ironic that the blue-skinned alien version of the mid-70s became a prominent JLAer in recent years.  Meanwhile, the Legionnaire Star Boy was depicted as  schizophrenic (sigh) and served as the JSA’s  third Starman.

I wish Kirby, with his preoccupation for UFOs, had revived a Star Man for First Issue Special, armed with a “Cosmi-Rod” charged with Kirby Krackle .

Dr. Mid-Nite featured in the delightful early-90s Mike Parobeck JSA, which was one of my favourite comics of that era.

The Zero Hour event was yet another attempt to write finis to the careers of the JSA and McNider was aged to death. A  third, male Dr. Mid-nite was then introduced in 1999. While he functions as the DC Universe version of Dr. Don Blake, I’m afraid I find the Medical Manhunter dull as can be and  prefer the distaff version from the 80s ( although I appreciate that’s a minority view.)

Manhunter: An unforgettable cover reprinted in New Gods 4.  Manhunter seems more implacable than Simon and Kirby’s Sandman, although he’s basically another costumed acrobat. A short-lived strip, Manhunter is unusual on two counts. He had a different sidekick in each story and, of course, Kirby returned to the concept in the 70s. The subsequent “android sect”  embellishment by Steve Englehart  is probably the best-known version.  In future posts, I’ll discuss Walt Simonson’s garish but “hella’ cool” iteration.

A perfect JLA roster?

Sargon The Sorceror: I first met this magician when Mike Friedrich was using him as an anti-hero in the very early Bronze Age. Here he is making a startling entrance at a groovy satellite seance. I’ve only read three Sargon stories and two of those feature the slinky Blue Lama. Sargon was killed off  in Swamp Thing by Alan Moore which is a pity because I really liked the stage performer  as a contrast to the imperious, unknowable  Dr. Fate.  He had a very specific power set, emanating from the Ruby of Life set in his turban.

A modern update of Sargon appeared five years ago . A couple of years before that, I dreamed up my own version: an ethnic street magician, in the David Blaine mould. The official design is pretty unappealing; I particularly dislike the blonde bangs recalling the turban:

Why do I like Sargon and not Ibis the Invincible, Fawcett sorceror? Unfamiliarity, I suppose. If and when I get round to discussing Alan Moore’s 1963 and Horus Lord of Light, then I’ll talk more about Ibis.

Sandy The Golden Boy/Sand: Here’s a sidekick I first encountered in Forever People. One of dose wartime kids wit’ moxie, Sandman’s version of Bucky had a tragic fate which we’ll discuss in a few posts’ time. Fortunately, he got better and in the Nineties, became a full-fledged and decisive leader of the Justice Society .

Unfortunately, he suffered the curse of many modern JSAers: too many powers! What does he do?  Change his form into granules, like the villainous Marvel Sandman?  Make ominous predictions like Dream Girl? Does he rely on gas guns? Which is it?  The thing I liked best about Sand was his headgear: a baseball cap was a logical replacement for a fedora. Then he underwent an Alex Ross redesign:

I was less thrilled by the slouch hat version, harking back to Wes Dodds, simply because it’s too sinister and reminiscent of The Shadow, the original Crimson Avenger and other pulp heroes. If DC ever revive their grisly noir Sandman Mystery Theatre, Sanderson Hawkins should star in it.

I first met the Original Robotman in the 1971 Dr. Fate/Superman issue of World’s Finest.  Unfortunately, with his silvery sheen and robo-mullet, he wasn’t a patch on Cliff Steele, the hep Robotman from Doom Patrol.  We’ll deal with both Mechanized Marvels on future posts; I just wanted to post this cover!

Next time: The Mystery Men of  April Part Two!

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners and are reproduced here for the purposes of nostalgia and comment.

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