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

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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