Today’s post (and possibly the remainder of August’s entries) looks back to the Silver Age: in particular giant-sized comics that retailed at 25 cents or two shillings ( or ten New Pence, after Decimalisation!)
Marvel Super-Heroes was formerly a reprint anthology revelling in the bombastic, Stan-tastic title, Fantasy Masterpieces. From 1968 to 1969, it also hosted a Showcase- style feature with try-outs for the Kree Captain Marvel, Phantom Eagle, Black Knight, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ka-Zar, Dr. Doom and Starhawk – or was supposed to…but that’s a story for another time.
Today, we’re going to look at the first solo adventure for that Titian -tressed tigress, Medusa of The Inhumans.
Let the Silence Shatter: this is a moody, romantic and exciting adventure by Archie Goodwin in which Medusa is lured into committing a robbery by her former allies the, er, Frightful Three. Colan draws a gorgeous Bardot-esque heroine.
Compared to Romita’s version, in Stan’s frivolous Spidey adventure that very same month, Medusa is less imperious (and less curvaceous ). The white and blue version of her Kirby-costume, while less dramatic, is a more heroic colour-scheme.
As a small boy, I thought she was a French character because of the Parisian setting and the Wizard’s use of “Madam”! I also learned about anti-gravity from this story. With two spotlights in one month, The House of Ideas was obviously -and unusually- very keen to promote the Tonsorial Titaness, perhaps intending to build a female readership around her.
Garish recolouring of Medusa’s lilac and magenta “rig-out” from FF K-S 5, 1967
Why was Medusa not a success? Mark Gruenwald’s “Mark’s Remarks” column in the Eighties suggested Marvel’s Silver Age heroines didn’t make good audience -identification figures. Medusa has a “feminine” power but she is literally “alien” and also a former villain. Like most Inhumans, she rarely appears without a mask, which might make her seem less trustworthy and less conventionally pretty (cf. Wonder Woman and Supergirl). Fatally for a Sixties super-heroine, she is also portrayed as subordinate to males: the crafty Wizard and the mute Black Bolt.
What if… Medusa had graduated to her own series? Logically, it would be a back-up strip in the Fantastic Four or Captain Marvel. The imperious Inhuman would have had rematches with the Frightful Four and possibly Klaw, as suggested in this issue. That would doubtlessly have led to a second team-up with the Black Panther. Meetings with other Marvel rulers- Namor and Dr. Doom- would be dramatic. Of course, the FF (and younger sister Crystal) would guest-star from time to time.
Marvel continued to search for a break-out female super-star for at least another decade: Black Widow, the Cat, Shanna the She-Devil, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman…ironically, the most successful was arguably Red Sonja, the sword-wielding barbarienne.
The other features in the comic are often as interesting as the Super-Specs from DC – and frequently better drawn.
The Black Knight: a beautiful, ornate strip by Stan’s favourite artist, Joe Maneely. He died tragically, only 32 , falling between railway carriages. Roy Thomas pushed to have the BK strips reprinted; his fondness for the character carried into the Shining Knight in DC’s All-Star Squadron. Here, Camelot exists during the Norman Conquest and Modred is the husband of Morgan Le Fay, rather than the son!
The Dawn of the Sub-Mariner: a gorgeous three-page diary entry about Namor’s boyhood by Bill Everett. I’d forgotten that, before they were reworked as Atlanteans, the Sub-Mariners lived at the South Pole.
The Black Marvel: an obscure Stan Lee creation, drawn by Al Gabriele, BM has a superficial resemblance to DC’s Hourman. He is an athletic hero trained, rather anachronistically, by an Native American tribe. 100 notches on his longbow will prove him worthy of his title. His origin story also foreshadows the formation of a ” combine of crooks…just like a big corporation”. Black Marvel is more entertaining than either Hourman or Dr. Midnight; in the 1997 Spider-Man animated series, BM was a member of a super-team called The Six American Warriors.
Captain America Turns Traitor!: a rabidly anti-Communist tale , in which an effete University professor infects Cap with the “Virus of Evil”. However, the Sentinel of Liberty is too darn American to turn Red and sees off a Russian sub. John Romita Sr. also throws in dynamic cameos of Namor and the Human Torch.
The fervour of the story seems at odds with the Bullpen’s more utopian messages of the day. A disappointed LOC-er is anxious about this dichotomy but the 60s equivalent to a Marvel “Armadillo” draws a helpful distinction between warmongers and patriots. There are also a couple of plaudits for the Colan Captain Marvel.
Check out upcoming posts here and on Some Fantastic Place for more swingin’ Specials from the groovy Silver Age! Tamam Shud!
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