The Mystery Men of September

You know the drill by now. Monthly débuts of  superheroes.

Johnny Quick:  we’ve seen the “other”  Golden Age super-speedster in a couple of reprints in the Super-Specs; generally colourful but dull stories. In All-Star Squadron, he played the same brash role that Hawkeye occupied in the Avengers. His daughter Jesse has been more interesting than her dad as both Liberty Belle and Jesse Quick.

Atom II: stylishly pencilled by Gil Kane, the Tiny Titan was the second new admission to join the JLA (after Green Arrow). Apart from the  Time Pool stories, the Atom ‘s adventures often tended to be dull tales  of espionage with an unsuccessfully campy tone. A back-up strip for most of the 70s,  The Atom was revamped in the 80s in an  interplanetary romance vein. In the 90s, Ray Palmer reverted to a teenager for Dan Jurgens’ Teen Titans revival.  Ray’s wife Jean is infamous for the murder of Sue Dibny and a spell as the new incarnation of Eclipso.

Prince Ra-Man: Mark Merlin, the occult investigator of the early 60s was reincarnated as a pseudo-Egyptian knock-off of Dr. Strange in House of Secrets . Apart from Hawkeye-as-Goliath, that was the first time I saw one character become another. Occasionally pitted against stablemate Eclipso, Ra-Man was killed off in the Crisis , although Grant Morrison gave him a cameo in his Zatanna/Seven Soldiers miniseries.

Animal Man: another Sixties  obscurity,  Buddy Baker was liberated from the ranks of The Forgotten Heroes and third place support act in Adventure Comics by Grant Morrison’s late 80s series. Aside from giving us a cheeky and very funny Glaswegian Mirror Master, Animal Man morphed from animal rights tract to a surreal voyage into metatextuality, while gaining a redundant membership of Justice League Europe. I gather the title is one of the most successful and mature comics in the New 52 but I’ve had my fill of suburban domestic horror  with Buddy at present.

Mod Wonder Woman: I actually prefer the Diana Rigg- inspired, karate-chopping boutique owner to the star-spangled bondage queen of the Forties. I’m not at all clear why she was dropped from the JLA to be replaced by an equally-powerless Black Canary all those years ago. Admittedly, it’s hard to see Diana as anything other than Mrs. Vanessa Kensington nowadays but I think the concept was a lot more relevant and empowering than all that nonsense about Kangas and loving submission.

Omac:  Kirby’s One Man Army Corps was a dystopian creation of the mid-70s, satirising capitalism and the Cold War. Thematically, Omac explored similar ideas to the much-derided Captain America a couple of years later. In the 90s, John Byrne produced a sadistic and downbeat time-travel reboot of the series. More recently, Keith Giffen depicted a Hulk-like Omac in a “balls-out” Kirby “pastiche” for “the New 52!!!”

Starfire III: I bought my one-and-only issue of the eponymous Eurasian’s sci-fantasy series in East Kilbride. Visually inspired by European comics, DC’s answer to Red Sonja had a short-lived career, being far too late for the Sword and Sorcery fad of 70s comics  and far too early for its revival in the cinema. The second Starfire was a Mike Sekowsky Supergirl villain, while the first was the young Russian superhero who was later renamed Red Star.

New Doom Patrol:  I often bemoan the Marvelization of DC but this was a late-70s favourite of mine in Secondary School. The redesign of Robotman to echo John Byrne’s Rog indicated a fairly blatant imitation of the All-New X-Men. The international Doom Patrol had only one weak link in boring ghetto-blaster Tempest. Negative Woman had an interesting visual and Cold War appeal while Celsius had leadership skills and a backstory to rival Storm. Nevertheless, the original DP were all revived in time and their 70s replacements entirely forgotten.

Arak: Roy Thomas’ early 80s DC version of Conan, this was a pseudo-historical  fantasy series set in the era of Charlemagne with a Native American hero raised by Vikings. I read three mail-order issues of this title before dropping it  but now I’d love to see it get the Showcase treatment. Arak had two descendants in the DC universe: the elemental member of the mutant family Helix and the Young All-Stars own Flying Fox.

Next: DC’s Mystery Men of September in the  90s and Noughties.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


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