A belated Happy Easter! Here’s the unprecedented fifth insalment of this monthly series:
Kirby, Romita and Heck in their Bronze Age glory
Liberty Legion: When Marvel’s US editions were rare as hen’s teeth in Scotland, I bought DC and through the early 70s became very familiar with their Golden Age cast. When I started attending secondary school, I could buy the US Marvels for 6p or 7p each: one every day. This issue of Marvel Premiere is one that recalls that time most vividly.
In assembling the team, Roy Thomas revived some of Timely’s obscure third-stringers and this comic is primarily a series of (pretty whacky) origin sequences for his Justice Society analogue. Thomas teamed them with the Thing subsequently but, to be honest, I think they were too one-dimensional to catch on. Compared to six or seven years of wartime appearances by the likes of Hawkman, the Flash and the Atom, the Liberty Legion were often one-offs.
Three of the Legionnaires would join the All-Winners Squad at the end of WWII however but would experience more than their fair share of tragedy. The Patriot witnessed the murder of the second Captain America; Miss America died in childbirth and the Whizzer was forced to give up their mutant son, Nuklo. Red Raven became an embittered and dangerous figure, battling the Angel and Namor while guarding the remnants of his winged people. Meanwhile, Jack Frost, the Thin Man and Blue Diamond all lingered in obscurity for decades. Still, the Invaders crossover is a fond remembrance of my early teens.
Devil Dinosaur: not remotely a mystery “man” of course and a series I only know from short-lived 1980 UK comic Valour (still a great, British name for a comic). Kirby’s last Marvel series was originally envisaged as a cartoon pitch for US children’s tv. It has some of the same freewheeling energy as Kamandi but most interestingly, it veered quickly into Ancient Astronaut Theory. I read Chariots of the Gods on my uncle’s farm as a young boy and it blew my mind. I wasn’t aware then that the Kree had first appeared in the FF as a riff on those very ideas. Genetic and cultural intervention of course are the bedrock of The Eternals but they can be found in DD too.
Ant-Man II: This comic reminds me of the days when Lewis’s in Glasgow’s Argyle Street sold comics from spinner racks near the deli. Ex-con Scott Lang was introduced as a supporting character in Iron Man. He guested in the Michelinie Avengers toward the end of the Bronze Age and then became a fill-in member of the FF in the early 90s. Ant-Man finally joined the Avengers only to be killed off by his old antagonist and fellow Assembler Jack of Hearts in Avengers: Disassembled. For several years, Lang’s daughter Cassie (or versions thereof) was a higher-profile character as Stinger and Stature.
Despite his original, nifty Kirby-costume, I preferred Hank Pym as Goliath or Yellowjacket. Also, Lang’s super-hero identity always seemed a bit redundant while the Wasp was around. I gather he’s been revived so I don’t know where that leaves puerile comedy character, the Irredeemable Ant-Man.
Duality was a common theme for the Alphans. Gentle, innocent Marrina was a pre-programmed alien invader. Snowbird was the child of an Inuit goddess, torn between otherworldly duty and her love for a mortal colleague. Meanwhile, Sasquatch was her ally but also, secretly, one of her ancient enemies. Twins Northstar and Aurora were a darker, more troubled version of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, with his implied homosexuality and her abusive past and split personality.
Byrne’s penchant for “game-changing” plot twists meant the team was without a status quo for any length of time. One of the most startling of those twists was the death of team leader Guardian at the end of the first year of publication. Not only was this tragedy unexpected, his replacement by civilian wife Heather was a new concept in comics. Her tentative romantic relationship with dwarf bouncer Puck became the emotional centre of the team.
I suspect the constant state of flux and the two-dimensional villains (Deadly Ernest, the Master of the World, the Great Beasts) may have been slightly damaging for the book; Byrne certainly doesn’t rate it as among his best work. Nevertheless, I found the mix of supernatural horror and elegant designs a compelling one and was sorely disappointed when Byrne left for the Hulk.
Few teams can have experienced the deaths and resurrections of so many core members and Alpha Flight the comic has been revived three times since the original series ended in the early 90s. At that point, it was a generic Marvel series from the Fabian Nieceza/X-Men stable. Since then, it has come back as a conspiracy thriller, a comedic title and most recently as an 80s nostalgia-fest.
It’s funny that my own superheroes, the Scottish Six, bear a more-than-passing (if unintentional) resemblance to the Alphans.
Thunderbolts: During the Heroes Reborn debacle ( which bears quite a resemblance to the New 52), this title by Busiek and Bagley was a refreshing reminder of the Bronze Age Marvel U. With the disappearance of the FF and Avengers after the Onslaught crisis, this team made their debut as their bona fide replacements. The twist was that they were The Masters of Evil in disguise! In a further twist that recalled Shadow of a Doubt, teenager Jolt became a member, getting too close to the team’s secret. Once that plot had reached its climax, Hawkeye joined to try and help the Masters go straight. Since then, the title has continued- it even had a brief life as a super-villain version of Fight Club.
The Thunderbolts currently function as Marvel’s Suicide Squad: a secretive project to reform super-villains- or at least to put their sociopathic tendencies to more, er, productive use. Jolt has disappeared from the MU which is a pity because she, like Avengers trainee Silverclaw, was a fresh face with potential.
Next: The being known as Wonder Girl is speaking, I believe.
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