The Mystery Men of June part 2

Tonight’s instalment features three of the most iconic characters in the DC canon. Characters that are probably recognised worldwide and by people who have never seen a comic, much less read one. Let’s begin with the sine qua non of superheroes…

Superman: I’ve chosen a cover to represent one of the earliest Superman stories I can remember but I have no idea when, exactly, I first discovered the Caped Kryptonian. I certainly remember the Sixties cartoon series, which introduced me to the Clark-Lois-Daily Planet set-up. It always seemed more authentic to me to the media representations that followed:  the kitschy Americana of the Seventies; the screwball comedy of the Nineties; and the teen soap of the Noughties.

Superman gradually lost his pole postion to Batman and other “badass” characters over the last forty years. Even in my childhood, Kal-El was a space-faring hero with godlike powers but his foes were all goofy, balding men or sprites.

A brush with relevancy and Kirby Kozmic in the Seventies was quickly replaced by a return to traditional whimsical, sedate superheroics.

John Byrne “Marvelized” Superman in the Eighties and the Man of Steel had an infamous (temporary) appointment with the Grim Reaper in the Nineties. Most recently, a overly-rendered suit of space armour and a wink to the character’s working class origins have stirred up some interest in yesterday’s Man of Tomorrow. He may not be the hero comics readers want but I think he still may be the hero they need.

The Joker:  I miss the days before the Crown Prince of Crime became a virtual  force of nature and the poster boy for every kind of deviant behaviour and barbarity you can imagine. It’s actually quite enervating. It would be very daring to tell a story where the Joker committed a crime without some kind of ghastly mutilation as the centrepiece.

My Joker is Cesar Romero- or on a particularly dark day,  Jack Nicholson; Heath Ledger’s emo terrorist just seemed overblown and pedestrian to me.

Catwoman: making her début in the same issue as the Harlequin of Hate, Selina Kyle is about to ride again in the third part of Christopher Nolan’s painfully self-regarding Batman trilogy. Having starred in her own series since at least the early 90s,  the ambiguous and amoral Princess of Plunder is DC’s biggest female star, beside Wonder Woman. Here’s one of my favourite 80s iterations of the Bat, the Cat and the Clown:

Boy Commandos: probably my second-favourite Fourth World reprint strip (after Sandman), this wartime spin on the kid gang motif  has the edge on charm and drama over its contemporary, the Newsboy Legion.  As I’ve said before, an international band of teenage boys fighting Nazis sounds like a movie smash to me.

Captain Comet: I think I read one or two dull 50s adventures of the mutant Adam Blake in DC Super-Stars of Space. He seemed a complete dud until he became the protagonist in Secret Society of Super-Villains. Even here though, Gerry Conway relied on Marvel tropes to revitalize Comet: mental powers from the X-Men combined with a less-emphatic version of Captain America’s “Man out of Time” dilemma. Nonetheless, I  was always surprised that Conway didn’t add him to the League circa 1978.

In more recent years, Jim Starlin guided Comet through some cosmic adventures about religious fanaticism. It does sound a bit like a retread of Warlock, however.

Atomic Knights: another series from DC’s Silver Age of Sci-Fi and again, one that I knew from 70s reprints of Gigantic Strange Adventures. The post-apocalyptic series about a chivalric band of atomic war survivors, mounted on their giant dogs, was at least a decade ahead of its time. The Knights re-appeared in the mid-70s as guest-stars in the shortlived Hercules series, above.

Leading man Gardner Grayle also had two subsequent superhero revivals.Firstly, the Atomic Knight had a very brief tenure as one of the Outsiders in the late 80s

and a retroactive role as another one-shot Shining Knight in DC’s Silver Age event in 2000.

Coming soon: The World’s Strangest Heroes?

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


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