This afternoon’s post looks at DC super-heroes introduced in the Sixties in the month of June:
Mon-el: I’ve always found the Legion’s Daxamite member a great big dullard. Introduced as “Superboy’s Big Brother”, the Phantom Zone exile has died a couple of times and in various reboots has gone under a couple of different sobriquets. It hasn’t made this Legionnaire from the stiff, militaristic Forte era any more interesting.
In the 90s, when there was no Superboy connection with the Legion, Lar Gand was known as Valor and even had his own comic. Then he appeared in the Archie Legion as M’onel. Most recently, he was a 31st-century Green Lantern. His Adult Legion role as a one- man space patrol always seemed to be a logical one: his finest hour in the Bronze Age being a duel with an Imperial Starship in “Mon-el’s One Man War”.
Doom Patrol: This team of alienated misfits often seemed heavily influenced by Marvel’s X-Men and most especially the FF. The early issues featured elegant European art, which gave the adventures of a mummy, a sarcastic robot and a giant in an Alice band a sombre quality. Their 60s stories became increasingly wacky and campy (as above) but came to a startling end when the team were apparently all killed in an explosion.
The Bronze Age Showcase revival was inspired by Marvel (particularly the New X-Men) with its international cast and its Cold War flavour. Robotman remained the one constant through all the (many) subsequent revivals of the team: a manic, sardonic Ben Grimm.
Re-launched in the late 80s, the predominantly-espionage series became cartoony superheroics.
Mentoring a sub-team of young outcasts (Lodestone, Karma and the naive Scott Fischer), the DP was based in Kansas City, making it the first super-team of the American Mid-West.
Grant Morrison’s 90s version of the DP was an unsettling exploration of Surrealist art, occultism and landscapes of mental illness. It was memorable for the MPD superhuman, Crazy Jane. Unfortunately, I found the comic eventually became self-indulgent and incomprehensible .
John Byrne rebooted the DP in 2004 for a short-lived run, restoring the original freaks, adding some unappealing new kids (Nudge, Grunt and Vortex) and a grisly new origin for the Chief ; I didn’t read Keith Giffen’s 2009 take which ignored Byrne’s version.
It seems to me that what the audience wants is simply the iconic, original team of freaks; any attempts to bolster that roster with “edgy”, young characters seems “doomed” to fail. There’s more than a whiff of the DP in Monsters vs. Aliens too…
Teen Titans: I missed most of the go-go hepcat tomfoolery of the original Titans title but I can admire the stylish simplicity of teaming up the young teen sidekicks. I came aboard in the Gothic Romance period when the Titans was all about esper Lilith and caveboy Gnarrk. The story above, from that era, is a hybrid of Romeo and Juliet and The Hunchback of Notre Dame!
I was in my mid- teens when the Titans were revived for a kitschy run of adventures in the mid-70s. I think it was Silver Age fan Bob Rozakis who unleashed the deathless Bumblebee and Harlequin on an unsuspecting world. The New Teen Titans was something of a reaction to that period – but that’s a story for another time.
Blue Beetle: Ditko’s Charlton mash-up of Spider-Man and Batman. I found him irritating and redundant as one of the many, many “comic” characters in the smug Justice League International titles of the late Eighties. Nonetheless, his Marvel-esque origin by Wein and Kane is one of the purest super-hero comics of the era and is a great favourite of mine.
Inferior Five: a Sixties parody title which often poked fun at Marvel heroes (or in the case above, pulp heroes such as Tarzan). The team itself was made up of the offspring of a parody of the JLA. It was years before I realised the book’s title was a play on Fantastic Four! I also think there’s more than a little of Woody Allen in Merryman. It would be marvellous to see a revival of this title. If ever DC needed pomposity and pretension punctured, it’s surely now.
Having started with a boring Legionnaire, let’s end with a triptych of my favourites, who all made their début in the same issue, alongside alchemist and infiltrator, Nemesis Kid ( the name didn’t give it away?).
Princess Projectra is a combination of Grace Kelly and Cinderella. Initially something of a hothouse flower, over the decades Jeckie has become one of the most tragic Legionnaires and one of the steeliest. Remodelling her as the regal, enigmatic Sensor Girl, however, Levitz made a nonsense of her powers: distance itself is hardly an illusion although one’s perception of it can alter. Interestingly, the story of her spiritualist ability has never been developed.
Ferro Lad had a very brief career, terminating in young Jim Shooter’s first Fatal Five storyline. Conceived originally as the first black Legionnaire, he became the first member to die in action permanently- although his ghost haunted the original hq and the masked mutant’s twin would join the Adult Legion. A second Ferro starred in many of the Legionnaires titles of the 90s, rather dimming the impact of his predecessor’s sacrifice. Did you know Colossus of the X-Men was created as a revamped version of Ferro Lad?
Karate Kid was the only non-powered Legionnaire. With his backstory of revenge and murder and his love of flower-arranging, Val was one of the most high-profile Legionnaires of the late Sixties, quickly ascending to the leadership role. He was also the first to spin off into his own solo title – a late entry in the kung fu craze of the Bronze Age. Three iterations of KK have appeared since the first died in battle in the 80s- none became consort to Projectra but one succumbed to the Morticcocus virus in Countdown. A fourth was glimpsed in the revived Adventure Comics over a year ago but hasn’t appeared since.
Coming soon : Mystery Men part four- All the Young Dudes
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