The Mystery Men of April part Six!!

Finally! The last entry in this monthly series for April kicks off with a heroine to whom we’ll return in the next Super-Spec post…

Wonder Girl (Donna Troy): alongside Hawkman and Supergirl, the teen Amazon is a DC character whose back story is so fiendishly complex, it has become toxic. However, she remains my favourite version of Wonder Woman. This bizarrely convoluted tale begins with an error. When (shudder)  a girl was needed to balance out the ranks of the Teen Titans, Bob Haney used Bob Kanigher’s Wonder Girl- but she was literally the adolescent Wonder Woman.

When I first saw her, on the cover of a Double Double comic,  I just imagined she was a protegee  of Wonder Woman, just like Haney.

She became groovy Wonder Chick at the end of the Sixties;  Marv Wolfman revealed that WW had rescued Donna as an infant and she was raised as an adoptive sister. Here, in DC’s Gothic Teen Romance period, the Titans go all Dark Shadows with mystery girl Lilith; Donna should tap this market again!

Donna went away for much of the Bronze Age, until the success of New Teen Titans in the early 80s. Wolfman fleshed out her family background and this was fine until Crisis necessitated a new origin. Now she was Troia, a protegee of the mythological Titans, in a typically overdesigned George Perez  “spacey-wacey” costume. This storyline reminded me a lot of Gerry Conway’s Young Gods from very early Bronze Age issues of Thor.

Donna lost her powers for a while, so joined 90s “extreme” Green Lanterns, the Darkstars. In “extreme” 90s style, the husband and child she had acquired in the New Titans Era were killed off.  She got another new origin thanks to tinkerer John Byrne: now Donna was a magical playmate  created for  Wonder Woman. So much simpler; thank goodness for that. She was killed off briefly but when last seen in the DCU, Donna had taken on the Wonder Woman role. I gather James Robinson had her swear a lot; who could blame her?

She’s languishing in obscurity again for now but the  pony-tailed Amazon’s imagery  is potent enough to keep coming back.

Astonishingly, Tyroc was only the third black super-hero at DC in the Bronze Age after Mal and Green Lantern John Stewart . LSH fans had clamoured for a black member throughout the early 70s. Allegedly, young Jim Shooter had envisaged masked Ferro Lad as black and Dave Cockrum, as we’ve seen, had designed a black version of Power Boy. Neither plan had come to fruition so Tyroc was a very big deal. Also, new Legionnaires appeared quite sporadically in the Bronze Age, so when I bought this issue one school lunchtime in Strathaven, it was very special.

Uunbeknownst to me ( thanks to poor distribution in Lanarkshire), Tyroc was initially a cover star but subsequently appeared in cameos until  completely written out in the late 70s. One argument is that he was a wrong-headed and embarrassing cliché but I suspect his reality-warping powers were just too vague and too deus ex machina to work in a team book. Surprisingly, however, Tyroc was revived for the latest reboot of the LSH and stars in spin-off title Legion Lost. Unfortunately, his disco Space-Pimp costume and mighty’ fro have gone away, rather diminishing what made him special (if ridiculous) in the first place.

Bwahahaha! The first issue of  late 80s version of the Justice League came out in April. Introduced in the mini-series Legends by Len Wein and elegant cartoonist John Byrne, this team signalled a return to greatness for DC’s iconic heroes  : Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate and, er, Changeling, the irritating green Titan.

A postcard set in 1988. It featured Big Barda fighting Parademons with a mop and bucket. DC, you kill me!

The line-up was amended somewhat for the first few issues. The Japanese Dr. Light appeared, sans costume, to no great effect and Captain Marvel was replaced by Booster Gold, Dan Jurgens’ satire on sports sponsorship. Initially, the plots rehashed the hippy mysticism and cold war anxieties of De Matteis’ gloomy Defenders. But the skill for caricature displayed by artist Kevin Maguire meant that ” sitcom” humour took precedence. This was the era of “dramedy”:  an ironic, knowing sensibility in US tv, most successfully incarnated in the show Moonlighting. The creators of Justice League got a hit, spoofing their second-string heroes- especially Booster, Blue Beetle and Reaganite Green Lantern, Guy Gardner. So successful was JL, it spawned the inevitable spin-off series, Justice League Europe.

I preferred the line-up in this team (aside from Englehart’s Soviet Iron Man, Rocket Red).  I’d been to Barcelona and was really interested in the idea of Europe-based superheroes.  Wonder Woman and Animal Man were dispatched in short order however and the asinine antics of the remaining characters put me off. Eventually, after about five years, the rest of the comics world voted with their feet. The Bwhahahah League was cancelled and Grant Morrison’s version-the JLA as a superhero pantheon- became a huge hit.

Although the Super Buddies were revived in the Noughties as a cult hit, it’s plain that comics fans prefer the JLA (and the Avengers) to consist of “big guns”. Also, too many spin-offs dilute the original success: Marvel, take note.

Let’s return to Grant Morrison for our final entries this month: Hourman III and the Seven Soldiers of Victory. This iteration of the Man of the Hour was a futuristic android; he appeared as the apprentice of the New God Metron in the JLA’s Rock of Ages storyline and the DC One Million crossover. He spun off into his own series which I never read but understand achieved some critical acclaim. Functioning as a nanotech version of the Bronze age Red Tornado, self-pitying and inadequate, he was summarily replaced by a revamped version of the 80s Hourman.

Morrison’s Seven Soldiers was a 2005 “metaseries” with  a grandiose structure echoing the SSOV stories reprinted in the JLA Super-Specs: seven miniseries crossing over and bookended by two special editions. It began as a project called JL8: a parody of The Ultimates utilising DC characters including  Zatanna and Mr. Miracle. We’ve previously discussed the Super Escape Artist and the Maid of Magic will have her own entry.

Art by Derek Charm

Shining Knight: the cross-dressing heroine of this series seems a lift to me from the 1981 movie Dragonslayer but Ystina is currently one of the stars of Paul Cornell’s Demon KnightsThe Magnificent Seven meets Game of Thrones.

Manhattan Guardian: a media-savvy iteration of the Simon and Kirby hero but drawing also from Mal Duncan‘s short-lived incarnation in the Bronze age Titans revival:

Unfortunately, Jake Jordan was replaced quickly by James Robinson’s take on the Fourth World’s  Golden Guardian.

Klarion: a sinister Puritan-garbed kid from the original Bronze Age Demon, his distinctive look was allegedly inspired by a real-life Kirby fan. Klarion is Harry Potter gone very wrong.

Bulleteer: a commentary on Good Girl art and cybersex, the absurd Bulleteer is an update of the Fawcett heroine Bulletgirl but I suspect was probably inspired by Hasbro/Palitoy’s Bulletman.

Despite a truly touching and tragic storyline,  attempts to graft the Cone-headed one into the DCU are sabotaged by her pneumatic appearance.

Frankenstein: a reworked version of DC’s Spawn of Frankenstein from the 70s.  A cross between the Hulk and The Punisher, the monster with the lugubrious Byronic monologues has gone on to his own New 52 series.

To my taste, SSOV was one of the most frustrating and oblique storylines Morrison has produced to date but I have to admit that he is unrivalled in his ability to find something quirky and appealing in  moribund concepts.

Next: Princessions

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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2 comments on “The Mystery Men of April part Six!!

  1. rabensam says:

    Klarion was based on a fan named Barry Alfonso. Photo comparison and more details on this page:

    http://dcwhocares.blogspot.com/2009/07/demon-7-march-1973-dc-comics-weird.html

    Kirby also used him as the model for one of the San Diego Five String Mob in Jimmy Olsen; the character was named “Barriboy” in acknowledgement of his inspiration.

  2. Dougie says:

    Wow! I remember Barri-boy. The resemblance to Klarion is pretty obvious. Thanks!

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