I don't think it's true that there are no good or bad characters, only good or bad handling; but neither is it the case that handling doesn't matter. Good art can help a not particularly inspired feature go down easier, and even give it an extra dimension, for example a moody atmosphere.

 

The very earliest Batman stories were crude. Later "Batman" was one of the best-written features of the Golden Age; but it seems to me the success of the character was partly due to a star quality he had from the beginning, before the handling got good. To be fair, the handling improved quickly. (Batman #1, with the Joker's debut stories, came out only a year after Batman's debut in Detective Comics #27.)

 

Here's my question. What characters who didn't make it - who didn't go on to great success - strike you as having that star quality, as characters who might've been bigger? I don't mean to restrict this question to Golden Age characters.

 

The two factors - the inherent strength of the characters, and how well they are handled - can be difficult to disentangle. Jack Cole's best Plastic Man stories are great, and great partly because of what Plastic Man's powers allowed Cole to do. But in other hands Plastic Man isn't always a compelling character.

 

I'd pick Dr Nemesis as a mostly forgotten character who had potential. I think he has a very good visual, and I like the character idea.

 

I'm fond of MLJ's the Wizard, as he was initially. In fairly short order he became a kind of Superman clone (he wore a uniform that gave him invulnerability, had super strength, and ran a newspaper in his other identity), but early on he dressed like a magician and used his super-science, mental abilities and secret-formula-derived "amazing strength" to fight the enemies of the US (the strip had a very strong patriotic theme). Arguably, though, he had his chance: he was already the cover-feature of Top-Notch Comics during this phase.

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You're baiting me aren't you, Luke?

This is, by far, one of the topics I find most fascinating. I am perpetually intrigued by "the potential" a character has versus the execution. An interesting germ of an idea is enough to get me intensely curious about an obscure character.

Most of you know about my blog series, "Relocating the Marvel Universe," where I shove the vast majority of Marvel's U.S. heroes out of the superhuman-choked New York City area and pepper them across the country. The very point of the series is to say "Hey, Marvel has all these great characters that are perpetually under-utilized and over-shadowed by keeping them  all in NYC. Let's explore their potential by transplanting them elsewhere."

The series, which is just a day away or so from its long-stalled Washington, D.C., entry, has helped me discover/rediscover a ton of great characters who have amazing potential.

Some samples for you to explore:

  • The Smuggler -- The brother to Eric Josten, AKA Atlas, has a really interesting set of powers and a great costume. Throw him in a solo series, and he's got a lot of Spider-Man potential. Heck, with his powers, he'd be a great host to a Marvel Team-Up book. I place him in Indiana.
  • The Puma -- As a Native American, he's perpetually struggling between doing what's right for his people, what's right in general and how much he's getting paid. I love his vibrant look, noble air and gruff attitude. I placed him in New Mexico.
  • Aegis -- Here's another neat character just itching to make the leap to the big time. He's a black kid wearing the armor of Athena, which grants him special powers. He recently died in The Incredible Hercules, but getting cured of death is no problem as we all know. I dropped him in Florida. Here's his Wikipedia entry, so you can get a look at him.
  • The Frog-Man -- Even joke characters can get a boost if you present them right. How about having the Fabulous Frog-Man patrol the Mississippi as he works on his Forensics degree? That could make a pretty entertaining series, if you ask me.
  • Valkyrie -- She's definitely higher profile than the guys above, but Val has a lot of unrealized potential, which I highlight in the North Dakota entry. Well, maybe it's being realized now that she's a Secret Avenger.
  • Jack of Hearts -- Yeah, I am obsessed with Jack. I even created a Facebook page for him that's regularly updated. In my blog series, I dropped him in Baltimore. But that's not all, I've offered a series plan, villain ideas, marketing suggestions and a discussion on his powers here, here, here, here and here. (Go on, I dare you to read them all!)

Ten years ago, I would have added Spider-Woman and (Black) Goliath to the list, but both those characters have been pleasantly explored in that time.

I could generate a list for DC and independent comics too (Marvel was easier since I had all those blog entries).

Maybe I will ...

Pardon my slow response, LJ.

 

I think a character has to succeed in a market. Richie Rich, for example, was a successful character in the markets of the 60s-70s (according to Toonopedia, he didn't take off right away), but not in the markets of the 80s-00s. So with characters introduced since, say, 1970 we might ask whether they might've become stars if given their own series in the 70s, 80s, 90s or 00s, whether they could've become stars if they'd been introduced earlier, and whether they could succeed as stars today.

 

I've always liked Jack of Hearts's design (I first encountered him in ROM #12; I think he was what got me to buy the issue). I think he has a strong enough design to have been a star, but a feature needs more than that. I see him as a character whose powers aren't really related to his costume/sobriquet, but that could be something different about him rather than a problem. Perhaps his costume/sobriquet could've been related to his MO somehow. (Didn't he give people playing cards to introduce himself? That idea works, I think.) I've not read the mini Mantlo wrote.

 

I don't know how she's written these days, but in her Defenders days Valkyrie had a personality, and her John Buscema look is a good design (she wore other costumes for a while in Defenders, and has a different look on the cover of the 1997 one-shot). I don't know she could've overcome the market's resistance to (non-supersexualised) superheroine features if she'd been tried out in a series in the 70s or 80s.

 

I know Puma from his Spider-Man appearances in the 80s. He puzzled me when I first ran into him because he seemed like a familiar, classic character and I couldn't remember where I'd seen him. His characterisation isn't off-putting to me, but as a leading man he might've had some of the same problems that the Sub-Mariner can have. A DeFalco/Frenz Puma series would be possible even now.

 

Wikipedia led me to this item on how he was created. Back in the 80s I regarded DeFalco's Spider-Man work as very ordinary, but it looks much better to me now. Black Fox, Silver Sable and Puma are all good characters.

 

I like your Frog-Man idea. The Mississippi setting sounds interesting to me. (It's not a part of the modern US I've heard much about, but different locations to New York seem to me to offer up different possibilities for action and adventure.) Perhaps Frog-Man could add oxygen equipment to his uniform, and become amphibious.

 

I'm unfamiliar with the Smuggler and Aegis. Smuggler looks great in that image you posted, and also in the image on the Marvunapp page. I can really buy that he could be a good Spider-Mannish outsider hero.

 

Aegis has an interesting high concept - a black kid receives a power from Greek mythology. In other respects, though, I don't think he has that star quality.

I think Magazine Enterprises's Ghost Rider has that star quality; but he was the company's star. He went out of publication because of the early Comics Code.

 

To be fair, though, Marvel didn't have a lot of luck with him when it bought him back.

 

Amusingly enough, I just read The Incredible Hercules No. 128, which features Herc, Amadeus Cho and Athena discussing what should be done with Aegis' body. They intentionally leave his corpse and his armor in a warehouse as they shuttle off to another battle. Even worse, they leave it there and Pluto is creeping around the same place! He could be revived lickety-split -- and maybe even as Pluto's emissary! Mwha-ha-ha!

 

Re: Ghost Rider

I've always found him kind of interesting, and if he really is a ghost (I forget if it was Phantom Rider or Night Rider who was), then he could be a viable and interesting character today. Even better, a book set in Marvel's Western past has lots of potential.

How big was Ghost Rider back when he was first being published? I get the impression that he, along with most of Timely/Marvel's properties, that he was a definite second banana to "real cowboys" such as the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers.

But if they had played their cards right and mixed "Tales of the Crypt" stories into the Western genre, they would have had a huge hit in the 1950s through the mid 1970s.

Luke Blanchard wrote:

"I think Magazine Enterprises's Ghost Rider has that star quality; but he was the company's star. He went out of publication because of the early Comics Code. To be fair, though, Marvel didn't have a lot of luck with him when it bought him back."

 

Well, that's because they DIDN'T. I've read the odd M.E. Ghost Rider story over the years, but it wasn't until last year I got to read some of the 1967 Marvel stories, and... they sucked-- real bad. Roy Thomas seemed too intent on turning the feature into a "Western" version of Spider-Man, right down to having one character who hates the guy and each and every story wants to end their career. The original character, U.S. Marshall Rex Fury (WHAT A NAME!) and his Chinese sidekick Sing-Song, were replaced with much wimpier characters who seemed to step out of LASSIE. And between Gary Friedrich and Roy Thomas (who I am convinced scripted at least one of those episodes uncredited, his style with words in unmistakable) made the thing damn near unreadable.

 

The one thing they did right was bring back the original artist-- DICK AYERS-- who pencilled every single episode of the original series (once Calico Kid became Ghost Rider, anyway). But while Vince Colletta did a better-than-usual job (for 60's Marvel Colletta, anyway), it was still a major come-down compared to the art in the early-50's stories. Even Ayers said he was disappointed with how things turned out.

 

And then Vin Sullivan threatened to sue Martin Goodman who had never bothered to legally acquire the rights to the character or his name... and so it ended after only 7 issues. Funny enough, Goodman's "Captain Marvel" debuted ONE MONTH LATER!!!  There's no keeping a good plagiarist down...

 

Apparently Gary Friedrich spent a few years developing his BIKER hero, and it was decided they were on safer legal ground coming up with an entirely new character named "Ghost Rider" provided he wasn't dressed in white and riding a horse. Even so, while the Johnny Blaze character was one of my favorites of the early-70's, in retrospect, I kinda wish they'd named him something else... like Hell Rider.  That way Bill Black wouldn't have had to rename Rex Fury's character The Haunted Horseman.

I always thought Adam Strange should have been more popular.  He's got a great look (really, IMO one of the best costumes in comics), there's alien worlds, he flies, he shoots stuff, he beats you with his brain and there's a romance as well.  Perhaps it was simply timing--I think his stories were handled well. I wonder if he debuted too late, however.

 

I've  mentioned in another thread that I felt the Hawks (Shayera and Katar Hol) could perhaps have done better had there been more of an effort to make them a team or to make Hawkgirl the focus.

 

I think the Green Team has potential.  Seriously.  Don't look at me that way, and tell the men in the white suits to put away their butterfly nets.

 

In recent vintage (and he's getting another shot, so we'll see), I think the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle could perhaps have taken off had John Rogers been the sole writer from the start.  The series really, really picked up when Keith Giffen moved on to other projects--although the series was decent when Giffen was there.

 

I could come up with a long list of villains that I think could be A-listers for both Marvel and DC, but they don't really carry books.

 

 

I always thought Adam Strange should have been more popular.  He's got a great look (really, IMO one of the best costumes in comics), there's alien worlds, he flies, he shoots stuff, he beats you with his brain and there's a romance as well.  Perhaps it was simply timing--I think his stories were handled well. I wonder if he debuted too late, however.

 

I argued in my Adam Strange thread that the character encapsulated a certain Rat-Pack cool, not just in how he always kept his head, and never got flustered or carried away by emotion, but also visually, in how he soared above it all, not having to touch the mundane Earth, like us poor saps.



 

I haven't looked into it, but his rapid promotion from try-out book to a 6-7 year run as headliner of his book seems to attest that he was a genuine star for a while.  Regarding Luke's 'execution' criteria, it helped that Fox and Infantino were at the top of their game and created some very personal and meaningful stories with the character. 



 

I argued there that the huge changes in society between the Mad Men/Rat-Pack/Bobby-soxers generation and the passionate, iconoclastic and rebellious proto-hippy generation made Adam as boring as your uncle overnight.  As Randy says, Adam might have been bigger - movies? TV shows? - if he'd debuted in the early 50s rather than just as Elvis and Jimmy Dean hit the scene!



 

In the long run though, Adam is a perfect distillation of the space-hero archetype. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers might be more famous, but Adam's ray-gun, flight pack and finned helmet define the iconic 30's/50's space hero. Even kids of my generation used to imagine we'd all be like Adam Strange when the 21st century came around. (And I didn't even know who Adam Strange was until I was at University!)



 

Adam is also a powerful archetype in how later creators have subverted and played with his iconography.

Ghost Rider pretended to be a ghost, using special effects (a phosphorescent costume and a reversable cape that was black on the other side and could be used to disappear). Marvel's version of Ghost Rider did the same, although he had a different secret ID. After the cancellation of his series Marvel tried him again in Western Gunfighters. In the course of the series that ran there Ghost Rider was killed, and replaced as Ghost Rider by his brother.

 

Then Marvel introduced the motorcyclist Ghost Rider, so when it reprinted the 60s series it renamed the western character Night Rider. A modern day Night Rider was introduced in Incredible Hulk #265. In West Coast Avengers, during Steve Englehart's run, the title characters travelled back to the second Marvel Rider's time. By this point he was known as Phantom Rider. He gave Mockingbird something that removed her memory because he wanted to keep her as his girlfriend. When she recovered it, they fought, and she let him die. Around that time I stopped buying the comic. I believe when she got back to the present she was haunted by his ghost. Subsequently his brother's ghost also showed up and they fought.

The original Ghost Rider was apparently a successful character for Magazine Enterprises, but whether that means he was successful by the standards of DC in the period, I don't know. The company gave him his own title, continued to use him elsewhere, and also ran horror stories as "Tales of the Ghost Rider". Dick Ayers talked about his time on the strip in this interview. According to Ayers, the Code authorities wouldn't let ME continue doing the character.

  

The company published a number of issues of Best of the West (double-numbered as part of its A-1 series). The features that appeared in the most issues were "Straight Arrow", the "Durango Kid", "Tim Holt"/"Red Mask", and "Ghost Rider". That might mean ME considered these its top features. They all had their own ME titles, as did "Bobby Benson's B-Bar-B Riders", which appeared instead of "Tim Holt" in the first issue. The last issue dropped "Straight Arrow" in favour of "Red Hawk", which I'm not informed about.

 

Straight Arrow was a radio character (described here). The Durango Kid was a movie character, played by Charles Starrett; his own title was titled Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid. Tim Holt was another movie star, but his Redmask identity, which the comics version of Holt started using in Tim Holt #20, was apparently an ME creation. I think the Durango Kid was the model for the identity; before he switched to a domino mask, Redmask basically looked like a red Durango Kid. Bobby Benson was from another radio show.

 

I've heard horror elements did play a role in the original Ghost Rider's series, but I'm not familiar enough with the series to say how extensively they were used and what they consisted of.

Nice summary.  Ghost Rider's regular home was the TIM HOLT comic, just as Batman's was DETECTIVE, Superman's was ACTION and Wonder Woman's was SENSATION.  It was a monthly, and in addition, he got his own quarterly solo book (just as did the 3 DC heroes I listed).  In addition, he ALSO appeared in BEST OF THE BEST.  I guess it's like how Sub-Mariner's regular home was MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS, then he got his own quarterly solo book, and also appeared in HUMAN TORCH, and ALL-WINNERS.

 

I've heard that near the end, they occasionally used real horror elements, but for the most part, it was "fake" horror-- like in SCOOBY-DOO.

 

It amazes me to think that Dick Ayers drew every single one of those stories, and most of the covers.  Frank Bolle (another artist whose style I've really come to love) did most of the TIM HOLT covers (he was the regular Tim Holt artist), and Frank Frazetta did a few TIM HOLT covers and GHOST RIDER covers.

 

 

The more I learned about what Marvel did with their version of GR, the more I think they didn't "use" him as much as "abuse" him.

 

The "real" Ghost Rider (US Marshall Rex Fury)-- known these days as Haunted Horseman-- had most of his adventures reprinted by AC Comics, and even made a few NEW appearances, again, with Dick Ayers art.

Jaime is definitely a good character. I actually think your assessment of Giffen's contributions is actually dead-on correct. It was obvious to me -- even then -- that they gave him a hand in the book simply to fend off criticism from Ted Kord fans (and I'm one of those). It somewhat backfired because there wasn't enough there to pull those fans in and simultaneously didn't give Jaime room to stretch out.


I felt the other big misstep with the series was in its effort to tie the scarab to the Green Lantern Corps. It's a concept I hope is completely expunged from the new version. In fact, I'd prefer the whole alien tech angle completely removed in place of magic/magic-tech.


Randy Jackson said:


In recent vintage (and he's getting another shot, so we'll see), I think the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle could perhaps have taken off had John Rogers been the sole writer from the start.  The series really, really picked up when Keith Giffen moved on to other projects--although the series was decent when Giffen was there.


 

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