Kung Fu Pand-emonium

Welcome to the ‘optikon’s first anniversary! Today’s post focuses on the Marvel Special Collector’s Edition Treasury Savage Fists of Kung Fu. Yet again, this was a recent ebay purchase, largely down to the front and back cover illos by Gil Kane.

I had read most of the contents before in early-70s editions of the weekly Marvel UK Avengers comic. This was at the height of the comic’s popularity -when even Golden Wonder or Smith’s had got into the Kung Fu act with tangy corn snacks. Speaking of the Avengers,  Marvel’s first oriental martial artist was actually Mantis. I have always been fascinated by the character and would like to reiterate that I would be eager to see Joss Whedon’s sequel if it were titled Avengers: Celestial.

This treasury leads with The Master Plan of Fu Manchu;  a three-part story in which all the protagonists are involved in the machinations of Fu Manchu but never meet. The first chapter, by Moench and Frank McLaughlin pits Iron Fist against a Sumo wrestler and is written in the dense, second-person style of early IF stories.

The second chapter, starring the Sons of the Tiger,  is by Herb Trimpe and Chris Claremont, Captain Britain’s creators. I wonder if Claremont had a bad experience flying? This story, like so many of his in this period, begins with chaos at an airport. The climax is an assassination attempt at the United Nations launched by flying Lascars! This segment is my favourite because of its bizarre Man from UNCLE meets Enter the Dragon vibe. It’s quintessential Seventies Marvel.

The third chapter features Shang-Chi, confronting his father’s schemes on a submerged submarine. With a helicopter, bombs and hooded acolytes, it’s the most Bond-ian section of the story. The twist that Fu Manchu has participated in each chapter masquerading as a blind beggar, however, only  reminds me of some of the Master’s silly impostures in Doctor Who.

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu:  I think this tale, with its unappealing art by Alan Weiss, is a reprint from the b/w Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine. In it, Shang Chi encounters a group of outcasts led by the flamboyant gay caricature Mr. Man. This assembly are all former victims of the Devil Doctor who are subsequently killed in an explosion of his devising. It’s an unrewarding read.

The Sons of the Tiger: this was the only material I hadn’t seen before- the origin story of the Tiger Sons. The pencils by Dick Giordano are very appealing: a cross between Kane and Neal Adams.  The multi-racial martial artists uncover the conspiracy of the Silent Ones  behind drug pushers in a clichéd but efficient story by Gerry Conway.

Shang-Chi–Master of Kung Fu: the second solo outing in this collection is by the original MOKF creative team of Englehart, Starlin and Milgrom. It’s another re-coloured reprint and revolves around the adolescent Shang Chi undergoing a martial arts test against a cadre  of masked mercenaries. It’s basically one long fight sequence in a temple but the beatific monk- instructor is rather sinister.

As the son of a super-villain- well, a pulp criminal mastermind, Shang-Chi anticipates the story of Luke Skywalker by around four years.  My own preference was always for Kung fu Billionaire Iron Fist in part for his harrowing origin and its contrast with the Shangri-La imagery. Unlike their Ultimate iterations,  Marvel’s premier martial artists were from two very different traditions and didn’t mesh well, as the 1976 MOKF Annual only goes to show.

I’m afraid I wasn’t greatly entertained by this Treasury. Both solo stars would go on to better things eventually: Iron Fist as a funky sci-fi/super-hero strip (with a soupçon of eastern mysticism) under Byrne and Claremont; and Shang-Chi as a glossy, photo-realistic spy romp by Moench and Gulacy. Ironically, the most entertaining sections of the comic star the Tiger Sons- who would be retired by the late 70s and replaced with the first of a number of Hispanic heroes called White Tiger.

It seems unlikely that any of Shang-Chi’s 70s adventures will be reprinted since Marvel no longer has the licence for Fu Manchu, a relic of the racist scaremongering of another era. However, given the role of the Mandarin in the next Iron Man movie, perhaps that ring-wielding villain could replace the Devil Doctor as the fiendish father in the Marvel mythos? He’s even more of a stereotype Yellow Peril/Red Menace but at least Marvel owns this one.

Coming soon: more Secret Origins of Super-Villains; Superman vs. Spider-Man and the Holiday Grab-Bags!

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Fair Terms and a Villain’s Mind

This morning’s post features the first and earliest DC tabloid in my collection: Limited Collectors’ Edition 39  Secret Origins Super-Villains ( note: no “0f”. Tsk.) This selection of reprints recalls the Wanted Specials and the short-lived series of the early Seventies.

This is a recent acquisition from ebay, last year. Although Marvel’s Treasuries were on sale in West Central Scotland in the Bronze Age- even Howard the Duck and Cap’s Bicentennial Battles– I never saw the DC tabloids in any shops. Maybe because Marvel UK weeklies had a more prominent market presence?  This was the era of The Titans and Stan’n’ Herb in London, after all.

This tabloid from Oct-Nov 1975 was contemporary with the final Kirby books for National Periodical Publications- Kamandi, Omac, Justice Inc. and Sandman- and with the short-lived “adventure” line: Stalker, Claw, Beowulf, etc. At Marvel, meanwhile, The Champions and the Inhumans were launched as solo titles.

It feels like a fallow period for both companies: Marvels’ last great Head Shoppe Kozmic saga of the 70s, Starlin’s Warlock is underway; the only other ground-breaking series is the Bond movie pastiche of Moench and Gulacy’s cinematic Master of Kung Fu.  DC’s great Kirby initiative is sputtering to a sad conclusion and it seems the success of the US Savage Sword of Conan has led to a belated and futile attempt to jump on the Sword and Sorcery bandwagon. Since the end of the Relevancy Era, aside from a glut of ghost stories, DC’s USP has been nostalgia and reprints from the Golden Age of comics.

And so, Secret Origins Super -Villains.  The comic has a more child-friendly feel than a Marvel Treasury in part due to the flimsiness of the stapling (where Marvel’s books have a spine). Also, the Table-Top Diorama would require cutting up the back cover. Holy Mom’s Basement, Batman! But what of the contents?

The Man Behind the Red Hood: of course, these days Red Hood (Jason Todd)  is a major player in the Bat-mythos; this is the first appearance of the character. Bat-tales from the 50s are always dependable reads and this is no exception as the Caped Crusader teaches a college criminology course. His students, including a gangster’s repentant  son and a Hawaiian police trainee, have to solve a ten-year-old Bat-case. We’re so accustomed to the Joker as an unstoppable avatar of death that it’s strange to see him overcome by youthful impersonator, “Farmerboy” Benson. With its detection, colourful cast and giant Mayan statue, this is the most satisfying story in the collection.

How Luthor Met Superboy: a surprisingly modern fable about a celebrity stalker: adulation turns to hatred as brilliant young Luthor becomes obsessed with the mistaken idea that Superboy is jealous of him. Echoes of this complex are present in the FF’s Doom-Reed relationship. Lex’s sophisticated motives are depicted in a clean if rather staid style by Al Plastino. The rather priggish Superboy observes: ” It’s unfortunate Luthor’s father, a travelling salesman, is rarely home. His son needs a father’s guidance.”

The Coldest Man on Earth: I had previously read this story in a 1980s  issue of Egmont’s b/w reprint title, The Superheroes ( not to be confused with the Marvel UK  Surfer/X-Men weekly of the same name). At this stage, Cold’s motivation hasn’t been established; what makes him different from Mr. Freeze or the Icicle is his skirt-chasing masher personality. This is a sedate, polite science -crook short from the 50s. Infantino’s art is still quite naturalistic at this stage.

The story is interrupted by a centre spread of a Rogue’s Gallery (sic) of Super-Villains including the Marvel family’s foes; the Flash’s Rogues; a couple of Superman’s pests and the Batman’s arch-enemies. The  text page key reminds me of the lamented  Super-Specs.

The Origin of Sivana: a whimsical Captain Marvel tale that travels from Chinatown to the jungles of Central America. It’s almost a parody of the pulps with Sivana’s wildly racist impersonation of “wizened Celestial” Dr. Footu Yu (complete with “velly funny Chinee” font) Then there are the ubermenschen Beautia and Magnificus and the giant, frog-warriors of Venus. It reads as  very tongue-in-cheek but it’s really just a  curiosity.

The Origin of Terra-Man: a second entry for Superman.  An evil Clint Eastwood from space, Toby Manning made his début in Superman 249 in 1972. I got the original one Thursday in a shop in  Calderwood,  East Kilbride. (I think it was a Thursday because I’m convinced that’s when Lost in Space season 3 was repeated.) This is a beautiful Dick Dillin/Neal Adams collaboration but even in 1975, Terra-man was a C-list villain.

The inside back cover features mini-bios of the Cheetah and  Sinestro, either of whom seems more deserving than Terra-Man but I suppose it was a page-count issue.  The Shadow Thief and Chronos represent second-stringers Hawkman and Atom.

All in all, this is a rather juvenile package compared to, say, the Avengers or Dr. Strange Treasuries. I wasn’t crazy about this issue and could take or leave it, aside from the Joker story.

Coming soon: more Oriental wisdom with the Savage Fists of Kung Fu.

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Buscema Unbound

This morning’s post marks a return to my occasional series on the Treasuries and Tabloids of Comics’ Bronze Age.

Yet again, The Mighty Avengers (1975) is a very recent addition to my collection. I passed on it in Blackpool in 1980 although I bought the Conan Treasury.  Bronze Age Babies has had a fairly negative response to Kirby’s Seventies work at Marvel so far but I like this cover. Even if Cap is floating and a wonky Goliath is in the wrong costume. The contents are pencilled by John and Sal Buscema.

Death Calls for the Arch Heroes: Black Panther- in a short-lived open cowl, like Daredevil- joins the Avengers, who at this stage have been  reduced to a trio: Hank, Jan and Hawkeye.  Wanda and Pietro had been suborned by Magneto again and Hercules was back in Olympus, after being quite a central character for about a year.

The Panther has just been on a Bond-style mission with Cap to end the threat of Zemo’s death-ray satellite. T’Challa, genius and African ruler,  is the first black superhero to join a super-team, preceding Mal of the Teen Titans by two years.

The villain is the Grim Reaper, in an ornate costume of purple, blue and green. He will return at the beginning of the next decade in his more sombre colours. The Reaper is ,of course, the brother of Wonder Man ( presumed deceased at this point) and the Panther has to foil his plans for revenge. There are cameos for the Big Three Avengers, the Black Widow in her civilian guise and Jasper Sitwell, the pompous, fogeyish SHIELD agent from Iron Man.

Buscema’s Panther is powerfully built but agile and always in motion. The other Avengers are twisted in agony and the Reaper is pictured sneering or screeching. The title is a reference to a Willa Cather novel and signals Thomas’ literary knowledge. We’ll see more of that idiosyncrasy in this comic.

T’Challa’s open cowl makes the character more expressive while emphasising his race.  The importance of expression will be signalled with the arrival of the next Avenger…

Behold the Vision: a cinematic story, heavy with mood and menace as the synthezoid stalks the mansion like a vengeful ghost. Ghoulish robot villain Ultron returns;  Hank Pym imitates King Kong and Percy Shelley’s Romantic Poetry supplies a coda about hubristic pride. Thomas also references Andy Warhol.

This is a highpoint for two reasons then: first, Thomas supplies a surreal story with nods to the college cats and arts aficionados.  Then, there is plenty of action with this brooding, sombre new character: a dayglo version of the Spectre.

Black Widow returns in her fishnets, mask and cape for the second-last time in this book. T’Challa begins a subplot which will play out over a couple of years, as he muses on how to help in the ghetto.  The loquacious Wakandan will be overshadowed  by the presence of the Vision, however,  for the remainder of his time as an Avenger. The synthezoid’s struggle with his emotions trumps the Panther’s struggle with privilege and is more identifiable.

Till Death Do Us Part:  the only story in this comic that I owned in its original form. It’s the wedding of Hank and Jan; the team think Yellowjacket may have killed Goliath and is marrying the Wasp for her money. Bizarrely, they go along with Jan’s wishes, despite their suspicions. Comics!

Buscema gives us a stunning portrait of the wedding guests: Cap, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Nick Fury, the X-Men ( in a clique of their own), Dr. Strange, the Black Knight, Daredevil and hi-jinks from the FF.  It’s an encapsulated, manageable- affordable– Marvel Universe.  Thor is absent, battling the Silver Surfer in Asgard.I’m reminded now of the Adam West Batman with the revelation that the caterers for the reception are actually the Circus of Crime, at once both comical and menacing.

The tussle ends with Yellowjacket attaining giant size; the secret of Hank’s schizophrenic episode is out- with devastating consequences for the future. Meanwhile, Buscema draws beautiful women: Sue Richards, Crystal and of course, the bride herself. It’s a pleasant surprise also to see how dangerous the Clown can be.

Come On In, the Revolution’s Fine: Thomas comments on Women’s Lib with the Lady Liberators. This is an assembly including Wanda, Jan,  Madame Natasha (in her EmmaPeelers, now) and Medusa. The group is led by  operatic new villainess, the Valkyrie.

Val would go on to become a mainstay of the Defenders, thanks to Englehart and Gerber. Here, she’s a disguise for the Enchantress. The story is set at the Rutland Hallowe’en parade where the male Avengers take on the Masters of Evil ( Melter, Klaw, Whirlwind, and Radioactive Man). Hawkeye is in his lengthy Goliath phase ( the Avengers need a giant!). Quicksilver is in action, careening about like Cannonball- it’s so unusual to see him as a young, positive character instead of the bipolar, acerbic bastard-cum-nutjob of the last thirty years.

This is an inconsequential slugfest but moodily drawn by Buscema and Palmer.  Jan looks stunning and Pietro, exotically handsome. In the mighty Marvel metatextual manner,  Thomas and his first wife make a cameo appearance.

Avengers Assemble: this is a gorgeous Sal Buscema poster image circa issue 71 (December 1969): the conclusion of the Grandmaster/Kang tournament. It features all the Thomas Avengers -bar Hercules, Wanda and Pietro- and including Black Knight . It also appeared as the back cover of FOOM Magazine 3.

If most of the principal Avengers of the  Sixties appear on the Treasury’s front cover, the back cover features a Kirby portrait of the 70s stars, including the Beast and Moondragon (awkwardly clutching her cape); Wanda is wearing her long gloves; Vizh’s visage appears to have been redrawn by Gil Kane and  a friendly Yellowjacket is present alongside a goofy-looking Giant Man.

All in all, this comic  is a record of a vibrant time in Avengers history with superb art. It pinpoints the moment when the story engine changed from Hank and Jan to the Vision. Also, while I’m accustomed to the seven-member model of the 70s, it shows it’s perfectly possible to tell Avengers stories with a quintet (and a quinjet!) providing, of course, those Avengers have complex personal lives.

Coming soon: our first DC tabloid and the savage fists of Kung Fu.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners.

The Mystery Men of November Redux- part 3!

This morning’s post returns to DC comics for super-heroes who first appeared in November:

Vigilante: I have given Marv Wolfman a bashing in my blogs before; here we go again. The second version of Vigilante was introduced in New Teen Titans and is, essentially, a Punisher clone.

Part of DC’s response to the “grim and gritty” era ushered in by Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Wolverine, DA Adrian Chase was an amoral character revenging himself on mobsters. Guilt and paranoia, however, led to Chase’s suicide. Comics!

A female Vigilante was involved romantically with Wolfman’s Deathstroke and a third – the brother of Adrian Chase- did horrible things to nutty Titan Jericho.

True story: I once harangued Alan Moore to his wizardly face  for writing such a morally-reprehensible character. However, I was a twenty-something.

Looker: a generally-reviled heroine from the 80s, Looker debuted in Batman and the Outsiders. She was the centre of an Ugly Duckling storyline which drew upon She and Doc Savage. With telepathic and hypnotic powers, Emily Briggs was a free-spirited and self-centred character who caused modish tensions in a rather “vanilla” team book.

In the 90s, this scion of a lost race- turned – supermodel succumbed to the vampire curse. Comics! Despite the revulsion inspired by her original costume, Looker is still around today; given a rather Sixties-inspired look, she’s had cameos in Batman Inc. as his undercover agent. The vampire iteration of Looker also appeared in  a one-shot comic in August 2012.

5YL Legion: the late-80s Giffen/Bierbaum version of the Legion of Super-Heroes owes much to two products earlier in the decade. Firstly, the Crisis which, in revamping or deleting Superman, Superboy and Supergirl, unpicked the original history of the LSH. Secondly, The Big Chill, a movie that contrasted adolescent idealism with adult priorities.

These elements forged a mature Legion, pitted against implacable political and social forces in a dystopian 30th century, five years after a (literally) magical event  cause technology to collapse.

On some levels, it was painful to see childhood favourites traumatised, maimed or killed.  Yet, despite the fashionable darkness, there were positive themes of family and friendship. However, the sophisticated storytelling approach was hampered by attempts to consolidate a workable history without the Kryptonians. Two tamperings with time within the narrative made the book very hard to follow and, arguably, to invest in.

New characters introduced to the team included Celeste, a poor little rich girl turned private eye, imbued with Green Lantern powers; her partner Bounty ( the secret i.d. of the tracker Dawnstar); Devlin O’Ryan, a reporter who might have become Reflecto; Kono, a pirate urchin with powers recalling Kitty Pryde;  Furball, a mutated Timber Wolf; and Kent Shakespeare, a medic and proxy for Clark Kent.

The 5YL character with the most lasting impact was probably Laurel Gand. A blend of Supergirl, Power Girl and Superboy’s spurious descendant, Laurel Kent,  the statuesque Andromeda represented a trope new to the Legion: the tough Amazonian broad. However, comics seems to find such heroines emasculating so by the late 90s. Laurel was a xenophobic space nun.

Get an ‘aircut, Geo-Force!

Faust, Technocrat & Wylde:  When the Outsiders went Extreeeme!! in the 90s, three new members were added to replace Halo, Black Lightning and Metamorpho.

Faust is the offspring of antique JLA baddie Felix Faust and a maladjusted young sorcerer. Technocrat was a black Tony Stark and Wylde was his Happy Hogan: a pulpish chauffeur/bodyguard-but also a magically merged werebear. Dear God. This was a depressing period for a comic which had been a pleasure in the 80s. Faust is still a minor nuisance in DC comics but those other guys haven’t been heard from in a while.

Tempest: formerly Aquaman‘s frog-faced sidekick, Aqualad, whiny Garth grew out his 80s perm in the Nineties and acquired some “wicked cool” tribal markings. Under the auspices of Perez- fan Phil Jimenez,  he also gained magical powers to control water temperature; a version of Aquaman’s 80s camo suit; and the i.d. of a murdered Doom Patroller. A D-list undersea magic-user, Tempest was killed off in DC’s zombie apocalypse Blackest Night.

Hawk and Dove: Mike Baron’s late-90s version of Ditko’s battling duo. This time, the girl is the angry, violent one, while the boy is a slacker dude (shades of Rico Richards!) They made a handful of appearances then flapped off into oblivion.

Coming soon: More Marvel Treasury Editions!

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The Mystery Men of November Redux- part 2!

More heroes from the eleventh month, this time from DC comics:

Red Tornado ( Ma Hunkel): a humorous character who made one cameo appearance in the very first meeting of the Justice Society of America. Pot-headed nut Matilda was a working-class mother and neighbourhood super-hero who would have remained in obscurity- if not for the introduction of the android Red Tornado in 1968

I was first aware of the home-made heroine thanks to the 60s Murphy Anderson portrait of the JSA.  Geoff Johns gave the character dignity and a purpose- curator of the JSA’s trophies and mementos. Joel Priddy depicted the gutsy, practical Tornado above for Project Rooftop.

Dr. Thirteen: Happy belated Hallowe’en! Sceptical investigator  of the paranormal Terry Thirteen ( the “Ghost-Breaker”) has been around since the 50s.  Since he regularly interacted with the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre, his assertion that supernatural events are all hoaxes is somewhat foolish.  His daughter Traci, a magic user, has been a minor DC star of the Noughties.

The Mean Streets of Mars: unavailable in all good bookshops

Martian Manhunter: JLA Detroit and the Bwah-ha-ha League gave J’Onn J’Onzz an elder statesman role in the JLA that he never actually occupied during my childhood. In fact, he was  pretty much the codified Token Black with comical Martian breath and vision powers, then  subsequently written out for a decade and a half.

In the 80s, his alien stoicism was counterpointed with the fratboy antics of the other members.  The JLA animated series focused on his psionic powers and gave him a Professor X role. The fact is, in a team with Superman and Green Lantern, a green man from Mars is a B-Movie oddity. Yet, he’s back in the New 52’s “dangerous” new JLA. I think the Manhunter from Mars works best in his original iteration as a period piece : a police detective who’s an alien in disguise.

Adam Strange: a product of DC’s genteel sci-fi pulp era in the early Silver Age, Adam is a modern-day John Carter, travelling across the void of space to the planet Rann, to rescue the beautiful Alanna from crystal conquerors or robot-wraiths.  Armed only with a jetpack, a ray gun and his intellect, Adam is also an academic Buck Rogers.  Gardener Fox used a very similar formula with Hawkman, a more visually-imposing hero.

Green Glob:  an obscurity from (Tales of) The Unexpected, the Glob is a gaseous entity that puts humans into bizarre situations to test their mettle. I’ve only ever read one Green Glob story in a Double Double comic, but the premise of this alien force stuck with me, long before I ever saw The Twilight Zone.

Kamandi: tasked by Infantino to pastiche Planet of the Apes, Kirby revived some concepts from his earlier career to create a freewheeling satirical adventure: a blend of UFOs, political chicanery, animal rights and The Bomb.

Probably the King’s most long-lived property in the Seventies, Kam is a post-apocalypse James Dean: a teen outsider trying to forge his own identity among conflicted elders.  They also happen to be  intelligent animals who all have their own expansionist agendas. Kamandi’s quest to restore mankind’s supremacy takes him all over  the shattered and bizarre world of Earth A.D. (After Disaster). The animated Brave and Bold shows clearly that Kamandi is a  kid-friendly epic.

Iron-Wolf: not a super-hero per se, but Howard Chaykin’s science-fantasy swashbuckler from the early 70s. DC’s Weird Worlds was the closest thing to Marvel’s barbarian books: prettily pictured pulp stories of bare-chested heroes fighting monsters . Iron-Wolf was a Celtic pirate in an exotic world of wooden spaceships, giant aliens  and vampires, in the shadow of Watergate. ( Read Denny “Relevance” O’Neil’s editorial!) A baroque space opera,  Iron-Wolf’s intrigues were perhaps too cynical  for Super-Friendly DC.  The series was short-lived; Bronze Age books often were, of course.  Iron-Wolf returned, however, in a graphic novel in the very early Nineties.

The Huntress: next to Kamandi, my favourite character in this post. Daughter of the Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman, the Huntress was introduced as the Justice Society’s version of Batgirl. Helena Wayne was a far more sleek, driven and tragic heroine, however.

In her sexy, Forties-influenced bat-garb, The Huntress quickly became a break-out character from the 70s All-Star Comics, participating in at least five JLA/JSA summer Crises and helming her own back-up series in Batman Family and Wonder Woman. Her stardom was abruptly curtailed in the mid-80s, when the Crisis on Infinite Earths made her backstory redundant.

A new, modified  Huntress took her place. This Mafia Princess version interacted with the Bat-Family and even joined the JLA but she didn’t have the mythic significance and allure of Batman’s only child. Now, the original Huntress and her gal pal Power Girl are finally back in Worlds Finest, safe from the third-person- shooter game mediocrity of Earth-2.

Coming soon: Mystery Men of the Eighties and Nineties

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The Mystery Men of November Redux!

My scheduled Avengers Marvel Treasury post is postponed with the realisation that it’s already time for the first in this month’s  series of Mystery Men entries. As we approach the first anniversary of the ‘optikon, let’s look again at the super-heroes of the Big Two who made their début in Novembers past.

Patsy Walker/ Hellcat : I didn’t know for many years that Patsy was a venerable star of teen romance comics. I first encountered her as a member of the Defenders in the late 70s.

Hellcat was a reworking of failed solo-star, The Cat: a rather uninspired fusion of Catwoman and Daredevil from the Women’s Lib era. Patsy  Walker was a naive, shallow but spirited young woman who had lucked into super-heroing. She reminds me in some ways of a less strident Donna Noble from Dr. Who. Patsy was folded into the Marvel Universe by compulsive completist, Steve Englehart.

Patsy had little chance to experience the “rising and advancing of the spirit” before she was plunged into years of depressing Satanic storylines thanks to her romance with, er,  The Son of Satan.  Surviving two failed marriages, insanity, death and resurrection, Hellcat was restored by Kurt Busiek and Englehart himself in the late 90s. Patsy was now an occult heroine, with a dramatically reversed colour scheme:

Who ACTUALLY thinks of Patsy Walker as an Avenger?

Hellcat is still a d-lister at present, on the fringes of the MU. I was intrigued to see that the modern writer who best captures her voice is Brian Bendis in his Oral History of the Avengers. Frustratingly, Patsy never starred in New Avengers,  a group to which she was quite suited.

Franklin Richards/ Tattletale/Psi-Lord:  the first child born to super-heroes in the Marvel Universe, Franklin’s early years (the 70s) were marked by Star Trek/Twilight Zone plots where his nascent but unimaginative mental powers threatened the whole solar system.

In the 80s, Franklin was a member of winsome kiddy-team Power Pack, where his prophetic dreams got him into scrapes. Having stayed an infant for story purposes for a couple of decades, Franklin would also occasionally experience another sci-fi trope: the accelerated-ageing child.

In the Extreeeeeme!! Nineties, Franklin aka “Scrapper”  duplicated some  X-Men plotlines as the armoured, tattooed and time-displaced  Psi-Lord.  He also formed his own Extreeeeme!! teeeeam, Fantastic Force. It makes me feel positively ancient to have to tell you Franklin’s own son was introduced in Chris Claremont’s Genext. Rebel rocker Rico Richards displays his grandparents’ powers of stretching and invisibility.

Franklin rocks his Fantasti-mullet

As a child myself, I had idly wondered if  would ever see a Fantastic Five with an adolescent Franklin Richards and astonishingly, in my mid- 30s, I did. Poor teen Franklin was disfigured in later storylines but Kid Franklin appeared in a series of cute and knowing parodies of Calvin and Hobbes.

It’s rather depressing that, instead of moulding him into a bright, upbeat legacy hero, writers have probably doomed Franklin (no pun intended) to always be a moppet victim or a crazy, dangerous child-god.

Prowler: inspired by a young John Romita Jr., this ally of Spider-Man is a former window-cleaner whose devices enable him to duplicate Web-Head’s abilities.  Like many former bad guys, the Prowler was a member of a short-lived team of “edgy” characters, the Outlaws. However, a D-list superdoer from the late Sixties and reminiscent of…

Stingray: oceanographer/ superhero  and occasional ally of Sub- Mariner and the Avengers. Stingray is slightly more memorable than the Prowler thanks to his colour scheme. His finny cloak is a dramatic design but  his  featureless mask can’t convey any emotion so I  think his solo potential was fundamentally lacking.

Firebird/La Esperita: introduced at precisely the same time that Phoenix died on the Moon, devout Christian Bonita Juarez appeared to be something of an in-joke.  About a decade later and perhaps more insultingly, it was revealed that her powers were the result of an alien waste- dumping incident.

Firebird’s biggest role was as an associate of the West Coast Avengers. She intervened in Hank Pym’s suicide attempt and inspired him to adopt his Doctor Who, er, Doctor Pym identity. D-lister Firebird appears infrequently- whenever Marvel writers want to play a practising Christian off one of their pantheons of gods.

Rogue: probably the hero in this post with the highest profile, thanks to the X-Men movies and cartoons of the Nineties and Noughties. Rogue, of course, made her début in the Michael Golden/Chris Claremont Avengers annual that saw her steal the powers of the first Ms. Marvel.

A female reworking of X-foe the Mimic, Rogue was at first a butch and ruthless member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But in her subsequent appearances, she was depicted as a much younger, more vulnerable mutant; the movie version would echo this characterisation.

Rogue’s struggles with the effects of her power and her bouts of  personality disorder made her a sympathetic, even tragic heroine. These crises were juxtaposed in classic Marvel style with her super-strength and flight. Not only does she recall the great tragedians of Marvel- the Thing, Hulk, the Surfer- in her power and isolation, Rogue also belongs to the  Marvel tradition of poacher-turned-gamekeeper  that began with Hawkeye, Wanda and Pietro. Unfortunately, her journey was then duplicated by almost all the major X-Villains: Magneto, Sabretooth, Juggernaut and Mystique.  Another questionable legacy is Rogue’s distinctly Eighties fashion sense- a wardrobe of ugly costumes and wacky hairstyles.

Having once served briefly as the leader of the X-Men, we can now see Anna Raven as a member of a new team of Avengers. It’ll be interesting to see if she can regain the prominence she had in the 80s and 90s.

Generation X: the Emo New Mutants of the 90s, these edgier and more grotesque teens weren’t likely to be found watching Magnum or telling fairy tales. Representing the  burgeoning youth culture of piercing, tattooing, Death Metal and self-harm that’s pretty much the mainstream ( at least from what I’ve seen, working in four schools), Gen X was a darker take on Xavier’s school. The standout member was morose English telepath Chamber– a meld of John Constantine and the Legion’s Wildfire– who had a ball of Marvel mutant energy where his lower jaw and chest should be.

These kids were a new intake at Emma Frost’s academy and their co-educator was a buff, rugged version of Banshee. I actually preferred the original jolie-laide version  designed by Werner Roth: loquacious, a bit camp and resembling some kind of howling wraith in flight. I don’t even mind the ginger kid from X-Men First Class . But it was the hunky Irish mutant who appeared in a one-off tv movie starring Gen X.

The New Mutants have shown greater longevity than Generation X. Of their number, only the chrysalid Husk, the haughty M and the ruined Chamber still appear in comics. Boring mimic Synch, creepy, pendulous Skin and the mute, razor-sharp Hollow are no longer around. Mondo was a plant (possibly literally) and Jubilee, the sassy star, is now a vampire. Comics!

Coming soon: Globs and ghost-breakers

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