The Mystery Men of July

The first fortnight of the summer holidays is almost over and it’s already time for this month’s Mystery Men (and Women)! I’ve just got back from restoring my Glasgow flat to a semblance of habitability after the last tenancy; the Super-Spectacular series will re-commence soon.

The Zombie: Simon Garth  originally appeared in a Bill Everett story in the Fifties. Although I remember the Boris Vallejo cover of the first b/w issue extremely well from Foom #1, I didn’t read any of the stories until the Marvel Essentials reprint about six years ago. I didn’t enjoy Steve Gerber’s stories very much: they are full of the zuvembie shenanigans familiar from Brother Voodoo and Garth is a passive protagonist like the Man-Thing.  N.B.  this zombie is not a flesh-eater like the ones in movies and tv, which should be called “ghouls”, in my book.

The sword-and-sorcery buddy book that should’ve been?

Dr. Strange: I first met Marvel’s Mystic Master in Fantastic and later in the colour Marvel Tales. So, I worked backwards from Bill Everett’s origin of the Ancient One and Marie Severin’s Umar to the Daliesque dimensions of Ditko. Compared to DC’s mages, like Dr. Fate , the strength of Strange’s series has been the visuals: Ditko’s bizarre designs, the visual effects of Marshall Rogers or the art nouveau flourished of Barry Smith.

I like the simplicity of Ditko’s earlier, less ornamental depiction of Stephen Strange but I’m particularly fond of Thomas and Colan’s blue-skinned version of the late Sixties, who bears quite a resemblance to the Golden Age Vision. Surely the Sorcerer Supreme should be the next Marvel movie property?

Black Panther: Marvel’s first black superhero debuted in Fantastic Four in July 1966 as the tribal prince of a technological wonderland. He quickly went on to serve as an Avenger for about half-a-dozen years, where he had a brief socially-conscious spell as an inner-city school teacher. Originally portrayed as a stoic acrobat/tracker, T’Challa blossomed into a philosophical poet/prince in Don McGregor’s Panther’s Rage saga of sadism and intrigue. Steve Englehart poked fun at the  florid style of  “the dour Scot”  in Avengers 137:

The Panther’s next phase was a controversial late-70s sci-fi series by Jack Kirby, which featured a group of obsessive collectors and the saga of King Solomon’s Frog. After a fairly low-key Eighties, a Marvel Knights series in the late 90s re-positioned the Panther as an urban character once again but also made his history with the Avengers more morally and politically ambiguous.

His marriage to Marvel’s most visible black heroine, the X-Men’s Storm,  seemed rather tokenistic but it gave the couple a logical and effective status as temporary stand-ins for Reed and Sue in the FF. Most recently, T’Challa became the lead character in Daredevil  and the series was retitled Black Panther: The Man Without Fear. I’m surprised that the regal  Panther hasn’t been a player in the Bendis-Era Avengers but I hope that the character makes an appearance in the Avengers sequel.

Doc Samson: Marvel’s leading super-hero head-shrinker was obviously a parody of Doc Savage, introduced by Roy Thomas in his campy early-70s phase.

I’ve always found Samson one of the sillier Hulk-antagonists, apart from his stint as Hulk-Hunter in Byrne’s mid-80s comics.

Blade: the Daywalker of movie and tv fame was introduced in Tomb of Dracula by Colan and Wolfman where his Blaxploitation roots are obvious. I don’t care for the movies: I find them boring and excessively foul-mouthed. There is also something preening and ridiculous about Wesley Snipes’ performance. Don’t confuse this Blade with the execrable “softcore” paperback science-fantasy series of the mid-70s.

Tigra:  Greer Nelson got on the Bronze Age Horror bandwagon very late. Her previous, unsuccessful incarnation was as Marvel’s proto-feminist heroine, The Cat. I first encountered her, however, as a cheesecake catwoman on the back cover of FOOM Magazine in the summer of 1974. Her actual début was slightly less inauspicious, in Giant- Size Creatures with Werewolf by Night.

I finally read about her in Marvel Chillers,where Chris Claremont made her one of his early, empathetic heroines. For about thirty years, however, she’s been portrayed as a slutty third-rater; John Byrne transformed her into a near-domesticated animal and Brian Bendis depicted her as a victim of the Hood in what was, in effect, a rape sequence. Depressing.

Gabriel, Devil-Hunter: I only know this 70s obscurity from the Essential Marvel Horror collection, where his b/w adventures were blatant reworkings of The Exorcist . I can imagine his demonic agonies would appeal to the misunderstood modern comic fan, however.

The Eternals: My aunt introduced me to Chariots of the Gods on a visit to her farm so I was already familiar with Kirby’s Ancient Astronaut influences (although they can be traced back to 1967 and the first appearance of the Kree race in Fantastic Four.) Fortunately and unusually, I was able to get the first issue of this series. Unfortunately, spotty 70s distribution meant that I only read another half-dozen. With a scope even more grand than the Fourth World, the principal characters in Eternals tended to be more lightweight, especially the apparent star, Ikaris. The big mistake was folding the backstory of the Celestials into the mainstream Marvel universe, where they became diluted and impotent.

Mr. Machine/Machine Man: first appearing in Kirby’s quirky ongoing 2001 title, this android combined the Vision‘s earlier quest for humanity with the shape-changing exploits of a Metamorpho or Plastic Man.  A later run by Steve Ditko pitched “Aaron Stack” into some kid-friendly Silver Age-style adventures. Again, MM should never have been incorporated into the MU: we’d seen much of his journey before in the avenging synthezoid’s saga.

Coming soon: The Emerald Crusader and the Gimmick Girl

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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