The Mystery Men of August part 2

Today it’s the turn of DC heroes who made their first appearance in August, from the Forties to the early Seventies:


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Plastic Man: surreal humour star Eel O’Brien is one of the iconic Forties heroes ( even gaining a mention in The Slab Boys). I first became aware of him in ginchy Sixties house ads; he was revived in the 70s and was a notoriously poor seller. Sporadic appearances in Brave and Bold or All-Star Squadron gave Plas something of a profile in the 80s. I didn’t “get” him, however, until Grant Morrison inducted Plastic Man into the JLA as the trickster god in his Olympian pantheon of super-heroes. Alex Ross believes the team has room for Ralph Dibny and Plas and I think he’s absolutely right.

Black Canary: the sultry Veronica Lake of the Justice Society, we’ve seen previously on the ‘optikon how she debuted as a supporting character in Johnny Thunder‘s strip. Revived with the JSA in the Sixties, Dinah Drake Lance was inducted into the JLA to replace Mod Wonder Woman. I’ve wondered why Denny O’Neil didn’t choose Batgirl, who had a higher media profile.  And if Diana  Prince was modelled on Diana Rigg, with her judo skills and motorbike, the Canary resembles Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale. In the 60s, Murphy Anderson had proposed a black Black Canary, who would have, I suspect, been an even more appealing proposition for O’Neil.

As it was, he moved the widowed Dinah into a romance with the revamped Green Arrow. That relationship formed the bedrock of the JLA for over a decade. Dinah also developed a “sonic whammy”; later, her “Canary Cry”. Sonic powers don’t appear to work well in the soundless medium of comics and she lost the ability in the late 80s for a while, just as her origin was in flux. Infamously, Roy Thomas revealed that JLAer Dinah had false memories and was the daughter of the Golden Age Canary. This meant that she was no longer an older woman in a relationship with a younger man, one of her unique qualities.

Obviously, the secret of Dinah’s popularity is her mildly kinky look- fishnets, a bolero jacket, bustier and choker, blonde wig  and pirate boots (which have morphed into high heels). She’s moved during the comic shop years  from noir femme fatale to pneumatic biker chick . Frank Miller, bizarrely, depicted her as an Irish bartender.

Serving in recent years as the chair of the JLA, Dinah has moved away from being Black Widow to Ollie’s Daredevil and is more closely associated with the distaff members of the Batman Family in Birds of Prey. in many ways she”s returned to her roots as a glamorous martial artist, independent of a male protector.

Congo Bill:  despite starring in his own movie serial, I know next to nothing about safari adventurer Bill other than his alternate identity as the golden ape known as Congorilla. I still can’t decide  if his Justice League tenure was a stroke of genius by James Robinson or one of idiocy.

Viking Prince: in honour of the late Joe Kubert, I’m including his gorgeous sword-and-sorcery saga. The adventures of Prince Jon and his companion the Mute Bard must surely have been an influence on Marvel’s early Conan stories by Roy Thomas.

Mark Merlin: an elegantly-dressed occult adventurer with the power to occupy the body of his cat, I only read one exploit of MM before he was transformed into Dr. Strange looky-likey, Prince Ra-Man.

This, of course, is what a Sea Devil looks like.

Sea Devils: a quartet of scuba-diving adventurers, who fought undersea monsters and aliens. The team’s structure -the leader, the strongman, the kid and the girl – is the basis of the Fantastic Four, whom they preceded by a year.

Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Invisible Kid: three classic Sixties Legionnaires. Cham has been variously depicted as a alien outcast, barely able to communicate; a detective and a prankster. I prefer him as the heart of the Legion, given he’s the son of its founder, because that lovelorn freak- thing is so Marvel.

Jewish Legionnaire Gim (Colossal Boy) has been portrayed as one of the most unlucky Legionnaires, along with Star Boy and Lightning Lad: prone to injury, being overcome in battle, blackmailed by super-villains and tricked into marriage. He’s been killed off in two iterations of the LSH and has resigned from the current one. This is highly unfortunate as he is obviously one of the more visually-interesting Legionnaires. Amusingly, in Mark Waid’s youth movement LSH of 2004, Gim was a natural giant with the power to shrink to human size, calling himself Micro Lad.

Lyle was never a favourite of mine. As Leader, he always seemed stuffy and rigid until his brief, Gothic romance with the ghostly Myla and his murder by Validus.  Retroactively, he had a touching, paternal relationship with Chemical King but I have to say I prefer Jacques Foccart.

Ultra Boy: an oversight from July. Introduced in Superboy as impostor Gary Crane, the Boy with Ultra-Powers has always been one of the LSH edgiest members- and its most talented actor. Often depicted in modern times with a stubbly chin and earring, denoting his Bad Boy personality, Jo Nah is a refugee from a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Having been swallowed by the equivalent of a space whale, the Legion’s own Han Solo has been framed and considered KIA on a couple of occasions. His romance with Phantom Girl is one of the most enduring on the team and  Ultra Boy is one of the few Legionnaires whose  costume has scarcely changed since his introduction.

Bat Lash: Infantino and Orlando created this 1968 answer to the Spaghetti Western with Shelly Mayer and Sergio Aragones. I’ve still to read the Showcase book that reprints this feature. I only know Bat Lash from JLA appearances where he is a whimsical, dandyish gunslinger.

The Demon: Kirby’s first new creation after the Fourth World tetralogy folded is famously based on an image from Prince Valiant.  Like a satanic inversion of the Incredible Hulk, the destructive demon Etrigan transforms into moody, Byronic occultist Jason Blood. As a result of enchantments by Merlin at the fall of Camelot, Jason is immortal and lives in Gotham City. He subsequently gets embroiled in  Seventies reworkings of classic Universal monster movies.

Kirby’s Demon is an action-packed series, less transgressive than Marvel’s tales of vampires and devil-hunters and full of movie homages.  Alan Moore introduced the familiar verse-speaking gimmick for Etrigan in the 80s and the rhyming Demon currently appears in Paul Cornell’s Demon Knights– a  Game of Thrones take on the Magnificent Seven.

Coming soon: Mystery Men in the 70s, 8s and 90s.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


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