The Mystery Men of September part 2!

This morning’s post features some Marvel heroes who made their début in September as well as the two best- known and most celebrated super-teams from the House of Ideas…

Ant-Man: I never cared for Hank Pym’s first Commie-smashing identity. I did however have a passing interest in the Scott Lang version of the Bronze Age.  An ex-jailbird with a young daughter,  Lang was an associate of the Avengers and the FF. When he finally gained full membership in the Avengers, he clashed with Jack of Hearts and died in Avengers Disassembled. Daughter Cassie became the heroine Stature  ( or in the MC2 reality, Stinger). A third “Irredeemable Ant-Man” was portrayed as a sleazy comedy character. My bet is  that’s the one who’ll be a movie star.

Pym of course went on to adopt the identities of Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket and the Wasp. I liked his mid-80s stint as Dr. Pym (where he imitated Tom Baker, right  down to his own K-9: the robot vehicle “Rover”) Most of these crises and the attendant indignity can be found in…

The Avengers: Marvel’s answer to the Justice League of America. Except it isn’t. The Avengers took the in-fighting  of the early FF to a new level of confrontation. The book was always at its best when the members were either lusting after each other or at each other’s throats.  Also, the team departed from the JLA model with its rotating roster. Beginning with Cap’s Kooky Quartet, the public announcement as the “Old Order Changeth”  is as much a part of the Avengers as the Legion’s membership try-outs.

Aside from Thor and Hawkeye, that’s everyone who’s an essential Avenger, in these two images

During the Bendis years, the team has become a blend of marquee names and the writer’s own favourites, like Luke Cage and Spider-Woman. It’s also replaced the X-Men- of whom, more shortly- as the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. New Avengers begat Secret Avengers, Avengers Academy and Dark Avengers. Post-Bendis, the team will expand to nearly twenty members which I feel is a misstep: seven is the magic number.

Several Mystery Men were created within the book and otherwise might go overlooked in this series:

Liefeld’s  Hellcat and Swordsman; I’m so sorry .

Swordsman: swashbuckling mercenary and mentor to Hawkeye. A pathetic figure who died saving Mantis from Kang. Rob Liefeld created a second, bowl-cut version  who was critically injured in Heroes Reborn.

Black Knight: chivalric scientist and time-traveller. In the 90s, one leg of a love triangle with Sersi and Crystal.

The Vision: What if Mr. Spock fell in love?  The brooding android was the de facto star of the book in the Seventies.

Mantis: enigmatic kung fu fighter who became  the Celestial  Madonna. Steve Englehart’s River Song.

Hellcat: not perky Patsy Walker but Liefeld’s clone of Feral from X-Force. Appeared in Heroes Reborn, the original version of the New 52.

Rage : Larry Hama’s angry black luchador  was supposed to be the next Wolverine. He was also a teenager in disguise so he was booted off the team into New Warriors obscurity.

Triathlon: Kurt Busiek’s reworking of the 3-D Man seems massively unpopular perhaps because he belonged to a personal development cult.

Silverclaw: Jarvis sponsors a child and she turns out to be a shape-changing demi-goddess!  Englehart actually did better work with this character than her creator, Busiek. For some reason, her power seems too absurd for the Avengers.

Ronin: Conceived as a disguise for Daredevil, this mystery man turned out to be Echo, the deaf martial artist. The mystery was spoilered in a Dorling Kindersely book of all places. Hawkeye  also played Ronin for a while.

To me, My X-Men!  Post-Avengers, Bendis is bringing back the Most Uncanny Teens of All. While Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne made comic history and defined the 80s with the torrid sci-fi soap of the All-New X-Men, it’s Stan and Jack’s creations who remain the Comeback Kids.

As a rehash of the FF formula, the X-Men are pallid carbon copies and were the first real failure of The Man and the King,  limping to cancellation at the end of the Silver Age. But their outsider status and their school sanctuary have seen the merry mutants revived at least three times: in  X-Factor, X-Men The Hidden Years and X-Men First Class. The atomic Ivy Leaguers are among my earliest, fondest memories of Power Comics,  especially their battles with the circus freaks in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

The Falcon: Captain America’s partner from Harlem,  the fightin’ Falcon pioneered  the black urban experience at the House of Ideas.

Romita’s version of the mask is more  savage and the new colour scheme pops.

I prefer him simply as a costumed acrobat with a trained bird;  the Vibranium wings make the hero- and the high-flying Angel and Nighthawk- less unique.  I think the Falcon is overlooked as Marvel’s first African-American hero; while he had a higher profile than his DC counterparts ( Mal, John Stewart or Johnny-come-lately Black Lightning) he was obscured by Black Panther and Luke Cage.

Man-Wolf: after the success of Morbius the Living Vampire (see next month!), Marvel gave Spider-Man a werewolf foe. Astronaut John Jameson was infected by a moon-rock parasite that transformed him into a wolf-man. (At this point, Werewolf by Night still operated in his own, isolated corner of the MU). I’ve never read any of Jameson’s mid-70s adventures in Creatures on the Loose but I was aware of the Sword-and-Sorcery direction the character later undertook.  My first encounter with this lunar lycanthrope was in this issue of Spider-Man, picked up on my first visit to Amsterdam.

Brother Voodoo: another Blaxploitation character and one who owes his existence to Live and Let Die. After a moody, atmospheric start by Colan and Wein,  BV was treated with fond mockery for years by cartoonist Fred Hembeck. An obscure late-90s miniseries The Supernaturals introduced an alternate BV, a music producer, and gave him some dignity and flash.  Brother Voodoo replaced Dr. Strange as Sorcerer Supreme; in his Dr. Voodoo identity, BV was killed off by BB (Brian Bendis) in early 2011.

I first “met” the character through b/w reprints in stray issues of Marvel UK’s Dracula Lives: the one title to which we never had a subscription. Essentially, BV is  a colourful C-Lister, akin to DC’s Deadman or the Spectre.

Black Goliath: a late addition to Marvel’s range of Blaxploitation heroes, BG had been introduced in the Sixties as Hank Pym’s lab assistant. He took on a superhero identity in a 1975 Luke Cage: Power Man 2-parter then was launched in his own short-lived series. Relocated to the West Coast, Bill Foster was also briefly associated with the Champions. Later, he worked at Project: Pegasus as Giant-Man.

After a cancer scare, Foster retired for a short time before a third, equally short-lived revival in the late 80s. He was killed off, infamously, in the Civil War crossover event. A degree of embarrassment over the character’s 70s origins and the perennially fashionable  miseries of Hank Pym meant BG was doomed to remain something of a joke.

More hype, anyone?

Nova: As with Black Goliath, I was able to get in on the ground floor of Marv Wolfman’s nostalgic Silver Age tribute in 1976. However, Bucket-Head didn’t make it out of the seventies.

Ugh- Extreme  Mullet Nova from 1994. Foil-wrapped for Grunge.

Larsen 1999: short-lived

Kid (Friendly) Nova

Wolfman would go on to have far greater success with young, star-spanning heroes in the early 80s run of New Teen Titans. Nevertheless, Marvel’s Human Rocket has had numerous revivals (like his DC counterpart Firestorm) probably thanks to his appealing design. The Novice Hero trope will always appeal and as long as DC’s Green Lantern Corps are popular, Marvel’s overly-faithful homage is sure to reappear.

Coming soon: Zero Hour

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.


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