The Mystery Men of June part six !!

My word! There’s so much material to review here and on Some Fantastic Place this summer! Spider-Man and the Jackal; the X-Men’s Hidden Years; Storm vs. the Dire Wraiths; the White Tiger; and at least four extra 100-page Super-Spectaculars.

July is already shaping up to be a landmark month for Mystery Men: a Justice Society mainstay,  a pair of iconic Sixties heroes, a Legion sextet, two Gothamites, two Titans, a mystic master, a prince, a vampire hunter, an exorcist, a zombie, an android, two feline females and an entire  race of cosmic beings!

Meanwhile, June’s still bustin’ out all over:

The Question

Aside from a  Denny O’Neil Detective Comics annual in the late 80s, my only exposure to Ditko’s Objectivist hero was in a couple of issues of the Johnny DC  title above. The taciturn Question is, of course, the inspiration for the Watchmen’s trench coat vigilante, Rorshach. Even in a kid-friendly title, Vic Sage was portrayed as something of a paranoid conspiracy theory nut.

More recently, Gotham detective Renee Montoya took over the role of The Question. The FCBD sampler suggests the Question is some kind of supernatural entity. Pity; if the Justice League took the more urban noir direction I think it needs, there would be a place for a faceless, Hispanic lesbian.

Wildfire
An early-70s addition to the LSH, created by Dave Cockrum and Cary Bates. As we can see below, originally this Legionnaire had a well-worn name:

Making his début as Erg-1, (Energy Release Generator) Drake Burroughs was a familiar Legion trope: the mystery, masked Legionnaire.  He was also a hero in the Marvel mode:  agonizing about his bodiless condition, volatile and confrontational, in a doomed romance with winged tracker/noble savage Dawnstar.  After the 5YL reboot of the late 80s, Wildfire was off the radar for many years.  Like many of his more interesting team-mates, the energy being is featured in the spinoff Legion Lost series. I hope Brad Meltzer’s  theory about being a rebuilt Red Tornado has been lost too.

Mantis

Thanks to the vagaries of US imports at the height of Marvel UK’s output, I completely missed out on the saga of the Celestial Madonna until b/w reprints in the late 70s.

Mantis made her début as the partner of the reformed Swordsman. An ex-prostitute trained in martial arts by Kree priests, she rejected the swashbuckling klutz and made the Vision the target of her affections.  It was ultimately revealed that she had been selected to give birth to a messianic hybrid plant/human.  There’s a kind of grindcore genius in Englehart taking the Kung Fu craze and giving it a headshop twist: the plants become us and we become the plants. Whoa! Heavy.  Brian Bendis uses the voice of Hawkeye to poke fun at Mantis in the  Oral History of the Avengers with references to her “Diva thing ” Harsh.

Mantis, of course, is significant because she turned up at the Direct Competition  in the late 70s in the guise of Willow in the JLA :

…and at Eclipse Comics as Lorelei in Scorpio Rose. But then Englehart brought her back to Marvel as the Surfer’s paramour in 1987, after an abortive adventure where we met Sprout, the celestial child coveted by Kang, the Construct and the alien Cotati.

Mantis returned briefly to the West Coast Avengers and guest-starred with the FF but with Englehart’s departure from Marvel, the Madonna vanished again also for almost a dozen years.  Nearly a decade ago, she finally consummated her relationship with the Vision and we met the maturing Celestial Messiah, the rebellious Quoi.

A face only a mother could love.

Most recently, Mantis was a member of Marvel’s revamped Guardians of the Galaxy but I rather think her story would make a great Avengers movie sequel: a nubile martial artist defending her child against an army of death-worshippers from outer space? Can you dig it?

Global Guardians

This team was named in the issue above but had first appeared in the kid-friendly Super Friends title in 1977. E. Nelson Bridwell and Ramona Fradon created some iconic international heroes including:  Green Fury, a Brazilian employee  of Bruce Wayne , who went on to become known as Green Flame and FireJack O’Lantern, a magical hero from Ireland in the Green Lantern mould; Little Mermaid, an aquatic mutant from Denmark ; Godiva, a member of the New 52 Justice League International; Rising Sun from Japan, of course; Norway’s Icemaiden  and Australia’s Tasmanian Devil.

Other, perhaps less memorable  international heroes included  Olympian, Bushmaster from Venezuela, Wild Huntsman from Germany, Impala, Thunderlord from Taiwan , Owlwoman and  the bizarre Tuatara from New Zealand.

Green Fury and Jack O’Lantern  were regularly featured in SF as was Seraph, a Biblical hero from Israel.

As a character with the symbolic weight of a Superman, I think this Hebrew hero might be a more daring selection for a super-team than big, gay Alan Scott…

Contest of Champions

This project was originally conceived as an Olympic special. When the USA subsequently pulled out of the Moscow Olympics, the material was revised and re-issued as one of the earliest mini-series. Not only did it list every super-hero then in existence at the House of Ideas, it mimicked DC and introduced a slew of international superhumans.

The newcomers included my favourite, the Aussie mystic Talisman;  China’s  Collective Man; Ireland’s Shamrock (who later became an unlikely ally of the original Guardians of the Galaxy), Argentina’s Defensor (replacing a character called The Ocelot) , Le Peregrine from France and the uninspired Blitzkrieg, who sounded a bit too Nazi for my liking.

I don’t think many of these heroes ever progressed to anything more than cameos and guest appearances. Even Talisman was superceded by an aboriginal character called Dreamguard. Somehow, these international Marvels just didn’t have the weight of the Bridwell/Fradon creations.

Static

Milestone was an early-90s independent imprint within DC (co-founded by the late Dwayne McDuffie) which focused on urban, minority heroes. Milestone’s gritty, modern answer to Peter Parker went on to star in his own animated tv show, rather overshadowing Black Lightning. Four years ago, Static became one of the Teen Titans and was relaunched in his own comic last year.  Despite being cancelled very recently to make way for the Second Wave of the New 52, I suspect Virgil  will be back.  If I were the writer of the Justice League, I think I’d select Static before BL.

Superboy

The Teen of Steel I knew from 50s Smallville and the Legion of Super-Heroes fell in battle in the late Eighties. This  snarky adolescent clone  was introduced after the infamous “Death of Superman” and set up shop in Hawaii- an unusual locale for a DC series. Later revealed to have genetic material from Lex Luthor, Conner Kent died fighting the psychotic Superboy-Prime but was then subsequently resurrected. With his USP of non-Kryptonian tactile telekinesis, I’m surprised the Kid’s never been a JLAer.

Coming soon: The Sportsmaster, The Cavalier and King Peeble IV.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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One comment on “The Mystery Men of June part six !!

  1. Kid Robson says:

    If I remember correctly, it was The Contest of Champions that prompted Jim Shooter’s Secret Wars – or so I seem to remember reading somewhere. No doubt there were other factors too, of course.

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