The Mystery Men of May part 2

…or Part 2.o, Real Frantic Ones, since the last post on the Incredible Hulk was an instalment in the monthly “Mystery Men”series. You probably know by now that I take a look at each month’s super-hero débuts and the comics in which I first encountered them.  Or comics that have a personal significance for me. I will get back to the 100-page Super-Spec reviews- and Alex Toth’s Batman- in a week or two.

Marvel has always made much less of its Golden Age heroes than DC . Their one big revival was of course Captain America (and in essence, the Human Torch.) Sub-Mariner hasn’t been able to helm a title since Byrne stopped pencilling him in the 90s. The remainder who made cameos in the Bronze Age are an unmemorable bunch, aside from Union Jack, who was a continuity implant anyway.

Namora, Bloodstone and Zawadi of Wakanda. Black Panther’s Moms?!

Namora was co-created, rather appositely by Syd Shores, in the late 40s. I only know her as a flashback character, the murdered mother of Atlantean gamine, Namorita ( a character I found derivative and trivial as a kid).  Namora has been retconned into a couple of teams in Marvel’s version of the 50s and 60s, including  Stern’s Monster Hunters . She was revived about six years ago as one of the Agents of Atlas. I’m surprised Namora hasn’t become an Avenger- she would bring a lot of power to the table.

I first saw Manny in the previous issue but it was all, like, alligators an’ shit on the cover.

I’ve reviewed the cheesy Man-Thing dvd over on Some Fantastic Place and mentioned Swamp Thing two posts ago. Just as X-Men and Doom Patrol seemed to be devised simultaneously, the two swamp monsters both made their debuts in horror shorts. Manny appeared in Marvel’s first venture into b/w mature magazines, the legendary Savage Tales (along with those “violent voluptuaries” the Femizons in a faintly saucy swords and science fantasy).

Man-Thing is the product of attempts to recreate the Captain America/Super-Soldier project . The character’s fascination for me lay both in its bizarre (but weirdly appealing) Lovercraftian aspect and its horrific corrosive touch. As a barely-sentient creature, it can only react to events and other characters and shambled through a series of nightmarish, sometimes tragi-comic psychodramas. Man-Thing is really an icon of the Baby Boomers’ interest in therapy and the occult.

The shocking deaths of two of the Freemen made this issue a standout in my adolescence

Killraven, of course, was the protagonist in Marvel’s 70s sword- and -science War of the Worlds series. (See also DC’s Starfire) . The futuristic barbarian title mutated eventually into a lyrical, hallucinatory fantasy about pop culture, ecology, love and death. While Don McGregor (“The dour Scotsman”: Vampire Tales 3)  had a weakness for risible Beat poetry,  Craig Russell’s delicate Art Nouveau style increased the  horror of babies bred as Martian delicacies ( in the outrageous Death-Birth storyline.)

Some trivia about Killraven: in the 90s, the Guardians of the Galaxy comic  planned to reveal him to be the son of Franklin (FF) Richards. In 1975, the Killraven stories were re-drawn to create the bizarre Apeslayer series for the voracious UK weekly, Planet of the Apes.  I think flirty, sensual rebel Volcana Ash was a big influence on River Song. I was also surprised to finally notice that Marvel’s two split-books of the early 70s both became barbarian vehicles (’cause Ka-Zar is really Tarzan at The Earth’s Core)

I liked Colleen’s Samurai action in this comic, disembowelling Angar the Screamer

Speaking of Namor as we were above, Sub-Mariner’s creator Bill Everett was a significant influence on the creation of Iron Fist, Marvel’s second colour kung fu series. Everett’s Amazing Man was raised by Tibetan Monks ( see also Morisi’s Peter Cannon:Thunderbolt) and as a friend of Roy Thomas, Everett’s work was homaged in the origin of Danny Rand. The derided musical remake of Lost Horizon (1973) was possibly also in Thomas’ mind.

The initial storyline of the Living Weapon is a brutal culture-clash as Iron Fist rejects immortality to return to Manhattan to exact a hollow revenge on the murderer of his parents. It’s “What if Bruce Wayne were raised in Shangri-La?”  Claremont and Byrne eschewed much of the mystical element of the storyline and made it more superhero-sci-fi with a pinch of espionage thrown in. They also built up the strong female characters Colleen Wing and Misty Knight,  highlighting their ethnicity and flirting with lesbianism. A third and wildly successful spin-off character from the book was of course the feral Sabretooth. For the last thirty years, Iron Fist has been partnered with Luke Cage and is  currently a bit of a face in the crowd as  one of the many, many New Avengers.

A Kirby/Romita jam that screams “Bronze Age”

Returning to the work of Steve “Baby” Gerber, he introduced the distaff version of The Red Guardian in the Defenders. Here was a character who could truthfully say when something wasn’t brain surgery. This Cold War neurologist heroine was a gender-swapped Soviet Captain America- the previous incumbent being the late husband of the Black Widow. Unlike Steve Rogers, both Guardians used their belt-buckle as a projectile. Later versions of the Red Guardian would copy Cap’s shield, however.

While a symbol of the detente era of SALT II, the dynamic Comrade Belinsky didn’t actually get much to do and was effectively written out in the late 70s when she became a radioactive energy being. Black Widow has permanently supplanted her as Go-To Russian Tough Cookie in Decadent West. Hmm.  Smert’ Shpionam.

Coming soon: the third part of the Mystery Men of May and Batman’s Haunted Sky

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


4 comments on “The Mystery Men of May part 2

  1. Karen Barclay says:

    All these comics sound great – I like the horror/psychodrama elements esp. the poor wee Man-Thing. Plus I wish I’d read them if they make New Who make more sense.

    • Dougie says:

      Well, Volcana Ash in the Killraven series was a flirty redhead who toted a ray-gun (even though she could generate heat rays from her own body.) She teased the hero then floated off. So in that regard, she’s like Dr. Song, I think.
      The Man-Thing had storylines about a suicidal clown, a dysfunctional hillbilly marriage and one in which dogs were the supreme beings in the universe.

      • Karen Barclay says:

        Dogs are the supreme beings in the Universe – so it sounds perfect! I must seek out Man-Thing!

      • Dougie says:

        There’s a b/w edition of Essential Man-Thing which used to retail for just over a tenner. A lot of the early stuff is unreadable headshop crap, though.

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