This afternoon’s post ranges from the Bronze Age to the post-Crisis DC Universe:
The Shadow: the legendary Master of Men from the Pulp Era was folded into Batman’s mythos by Denny O’Neil. But only for a while, since it awkwardly linked Bruce Wayne to the Thirties. DC’s short-lived series by Mike Kaluta was ahead of its time; auteur and provocateur Howard Chaykin unleashed a cynical and violent modern take on the character in the exploitative Eighties.
The Warlord: Mike Grell’s mashed-up version of Conan and John Carter, set in his own take on the inner world of Pellucidar. With elements of The Hobbit thrown in! Travis Morgan was used to explore several fantasy genres- barbarians, sci-fi, interplanetary romance and Tolkinesque whimsy. Not a superhero or a crimebuster of course but thanks to Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and the Teen Titans, tied to the mainstream DC universe. This was the sole Sword and Sorcery book published by DC that could rival Conan the Barbarian for popularity and longevity.
Hercules Unbound: DC’s post-apocalyptic version of the demigod linked the alternate futures of the Atomic Knights and Kamandi. The setting was the most interesting aspect of this short-lived series; the hero himself was a pallid protagonist compared to Marvel’s roisterer.
Isis: tv goddess and superheroine with various mystical powers, Isis was a spin-off from the Shazam show. When I discovered her in 1976, I was mad about this distaff version of Thor. She had her own short-lived series in the mid-to-late 70s but was divorced from the main continuity. Perhaps just as well, since the comic was unsophisticated and derivative. Another version of Isis was the consort of DC’s over-exposed Namor-analogue Black Adam, prior to the New 52.
New Teen Titans/Cyborg, Raven and Starfire IV: Wolfman and Perez’s torrid teen soap fused elements of Nova and Tomb of Dracula to enormous success in the early Eighties. The series probably peaked with The Judas Contract, the serial that depicted the betrayal of teen sociopath Terra. Without Perez, the series died a long, undignified death.
The three new heroes introduced by the pair have survived for three decades, however. Cyborg is of course a founding member of the current Justice League: not bad for a cliché Angry Kid from the Ghetto. The fourth version of Starfire was a blend of Princess Leia and Red Sonja; a short-lived member of the JLA, she is unfortunately better known as a cheesecake character these days. The best-designed Titan, the empath Raven, anticipated the Goth and Emo movements. Teamed with Changeling/Beast Boy ( a desperately unfunny, needy kid when written by Wolfman) these Titans were an animation hit. Why DC doesn’t use them instead of the dreadful Image knock-offs in the New 52 is a mystery.
JLA Detroit/ Gypsy, Vibe and Steel: the success of the New Teen Titans (and of course their inspiration, the X-Men) led to the infamous mid-80s revamp of the JLA. Despite resounding unpopularity, I was quite fond of this iteration of the team. Gerry Conway revived his late-70s creation, the Vixen (I wonder if she was rumoured Ms. Marvel villain, the Fox originally). Conway also retooled his WWII creation Steel as a teenager.
Two brand-new teens also joined: elusive sneak-thief Gypsy and breakdancing Hispanic mascot Vibe. Gypsy had a long association with the JLA in the Taskforce title of the 90s while the reviled Vibe is to be revived in the new Justice League of America. I think it’s amusing that fan-fave writer James Robinson assembled an equally C-list JLA without achieving the notoriety of JLA Detroit.
John Byrne’s Superman: the Canadian writer artist revolutionised the Man of Steel in the Reagan Era, modernising the flagship hero by stripping away much of the Silver Age Kryptonian mythos. Unfortunately, he replaced it with rather reductive sci-fi, including the psionic powers he had long championed in magazine articles. The biggest loss must have been the retcon of the adventures of Superboy which hampered the Legion for decades.
Doom Patrol/Karma, Lodestone and Scott Fischer: DC briefly revived the Silver Age hard-luck heroes in the mid-70s, probably as a response to the All-New X-Men. As the Merry Mutants’ star continued to rise a decade later, the New DP was re-launched, this time with a youthful trainee sub-team.
Karma was an obnoxious No wave punk, who had an obscure influence over probability. Lodestone was a perky circus freak with magnetic powers and Scott Fischer ( allegedly codenamed Blaze) was a naive, sweet farmboy who had an incendiary touch.The trio were written out when Grant Morrison’s surreal Situationist take on the Doom Patrol began at the end of the Eighties. Karma was drafted into the Suicide Squad; Lodestone transformed into an abstract, alien being and Scott was killed in the Invasion! alongside Celsius.
Coming soon: DC Mystery Men of the Dark Age
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