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12134145089?profile=originalPart I

 

Last week, I started a two-part column on the greatest comic book characters of the 1950s and ‘60s.  These kinds of lists are always less the definitive end of the conversation than the start of one.  So keep reading to find out if your favorite heroes made my list, and feel free to respond with your different opinions. 

 

51.  The Jaguar (Archie, 1961): The Jaguar is a wonderful example of Silver Age excess.  He might have looked cool in his sleek red costume, except for the matching 12134145286?profile=originaljaguar belt and boots.  His mystical belt gives him the power of the jaguar, which somehow includes the power of flight.  He might have been a formidable foe, but he followed Superman into stories of domestic deception.Yet despite his flaws- or perhaps because of them- the Jaguar is a fun and memorable character.

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52.  J. Jonah Jameson
(Marvel, 1963): I’ve learned to appreciate J. Jonah Jameson over the years.  At first, I found him annoying.  But I’ve grown fond of his bombastic style, his belligerent attitude and even his brush-cut.

 


53.  
Josie and the Pussycats (Archie, 1963): Dan DeCarlo introduced this power trio girl band into the world of Archie, inspiring girls with their independent attitude while enthralling boys with their cat-print bathing suits.  Forget the Go-Gos and the Spice Girls- the Pussycats were there first.


12134146060?profile=original12134146266?profile=original54.  Kang the Conqueror
(Marvel, 1963): Arguably the Avengers’ greatest foe.  Kang the Conqueror is a time-travelling villain who attacks the present in order to establish and preserve his empire in the future.  He overmatches the heroes with advanced technology and an intense drive to succeed.

 


55.  Kid Flash
(DC, 1959): He’s just a normal kid.  He’s not an orphan.  He’s not an addict.  He’s a nephew who likes to hang out with his uncle, and whose uncle happens to be a superhero.  Wally West was always one of the most likable sidekicks.  And, by reversing the Flash’s color scheme, he always had one of the most likable costumes as well.

 


56.  The Kingpin
(Marvel, 1967): The Kingpin is a great villain, whether he’s giving trouble to Spider-Man, Daredevil or anyone else.  He has a distinctive look, with his bald head, 12134146474?profile=originalwhite coat and formidable size.  He portrays menace, while mostly getting others to do his dirty work.  He’s the Godfather or the Teflon Don of comics.

 

 

 

 

 

57.  Krypto the Super-Dog (DC, 1955): Everybody loves dogs. 
That goes double for dogs who wear a cape and can fly.

 

 

 

 


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Side-bar: The ‘50s were a good decade for animal heroes.  Rex the Wonder Dog and Detective Chimp were introduced to comic book fans before Krypto came along.  Then Ace the Bat-Hound, Streaky the Super-Cat, Comet the Super-Horse and Beppo the Super-Moneky followed in Krypto’s paw-prints.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12134146294?profile=original58.  Lana Lang (DC, 1950): Lana Lang was the last character to make the list as she’s little more than your standard ingénue.  However, she’s become an indelible part of the Superman canon and her presence added all kinds of possibilities for romantic triangles and entanglements.

 

 

12134147088?profile=original59.  Legion of Substitute Heroes (DC, 1963): They’re (almost) everybody’s favorite underdogs.  They were turned down by the Legion of Super-Heroes because their powers are (mostly) useless.  But they don’t give up easily.  They formed their own team and proved that determination is just as important than ability.

 

 

Side-bar: Comedy doesn’t translate well across eras.  I like the Substitutes, even though they were often played for laughs.  But few of the other humorous characters provoke even a chuckle.  With apologies to Forbush Man, Herbie the Fat Fury and the Inferior Five, you had to be there and I wasn’t. 



12134147672?profile=original12134147892?profile=original60.  Loki (Marvel, 1962)

61.  Magneto (Marvel, 1963): Here are a couple of classic villains who have pestered Thor and the X-Men from the beginning.  Loki is the master trickster.  He’s a manipulator, a liar, an uncertain ally and a dangerous foe.  The first Loki appeared in Marvel’s Venus stories in 1949, though he bore little resemblance to the later version we all love to hate.  Magneto is a megalomaniac.  He perceives himself as the victim because of his tragic 12134148654?profile=originalchildhood during the Nazi regime but he learned the wrong lessons.  Striking first and preaching subjugation of his adversaries, he has become the enemy he hated.



12134148498?profile=original62.  Martian Manhunter
(DC, 1955): The Manhunter from Mars is a man without an era.  He’s too late for the Golden Age and too early for the Silver Age.  On the bright side, he’s one of the most powerful characters in comics, with a wide array of powers that puts even Superman to shame.



63.  Marvel Girl
(Marvel, 1963): She became a much more interesting character- and was also blessed with a much better nom du superhero- in the hands of Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne.  Whether she’s Marvel Girl, Phoenix or the Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey belongs on this list.


12134149473?profile=original64.  Marvelman (L & M, 1954): Legal opinions may vary.  When DC bought the rights to Captain Marvel from the faltering Fawcett Comics company, the British license holder forged on with their own Captain Marvel imitation named Marvelman.  He shouted Kimota! (“atomic” backwards) instead of Shazam!  He also became an international sensation in the 1980s due to writer Alan Moore, though he had to be called Miracleman on this side of the Atlantic.

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65. Mary Jane Watson (Marvel, 1966): You hit the jackpot, Tiger!

12134149899?profile=original66. Metal Men (DC, 1962): The Metal Men are a great group.  They have a cohesive unity, but also individual identity.  If I wanted one representative, I could have chosen the stuttering Tin, the surly Mercury or the sultry Platinum.  But, like the table of elements, they’re better when they’re all together.

 

Side-bar: In general, I like teams and DC had a lot of them during the Silver Age.  But I find a lot of the groups from this era to be indistinguishable from one another.  They would wear identical uniforms and have only the most basic of personalities.  Fans who grew up during this time may disagree but I have no room (and little patience) for the Challengers of the Unknown, the Secret Six or the Sea Devils. 


12134150296?profile=original67. Metamorpho (DC, 1965): It’s not easy to take this many disparate elements (pun partially intended) and pull them together into a look that works.  Ultra the Multi-Alien failed but Metamorpho succeeded.  He looks great.  He’s incredibly powerful.  And his working-class demeanor, in spite of his world adventurer status, resonates with fans.

12134150891?profile=original68. Mr. Fantastic (Marvel, 1961): He may be the leader of the Fantastic Four but he’s often the least-appreciated character.  He’s the brains behind the outfit but he’s sometimes socially awkward, which is off-putting to fellow characters and fans alike.  However, Mark Waid’s classic run showed the depth and strength of the character like never before.

69. Nick Fury (Marvel, 1963): A character so great he could 12134151660?profile=originalhave made the list twice.  As Sgt. Fury, Nick led the Howling Commandoes during World War II.  As Commander Fury, Nick led the super-spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D.

 

Side-rant: Who cares what S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for?  It’s a holdover from an era when, for some weird reason, everything had to have an acronym: S.P.E.C.T.R.E., The Man from U.N.C.L.E., T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and so on.  I hope the new James Bond movies never try to define Quantum as Q.U.A.N.T.U.M.  It’s completely unnecessary.  It’s entirely possible to name an organization Shield or Quantum or Thunder without having it be an acronym. 

12134151877?profile=original12134152656?profile=original70.  Nightshade (Charlton, 1966)

71.  NoMan (Tower, 1965): People tend to forget this but the Silver Age was more than just Marvel and DC.  Charlton, Tower and others got into the superhero scene.  Nightshade was part of Charlton’s Action Hero line appearing in Captain Atom stories before starring in her own back-up strip.  She has since been eclipsed in the public consciousness by her stand-in, Silk Spectre of the Watchmen, but she’s still appearing in DC Comics such as Shadowpact and Secret Six.  NoMan was arguably the most interesting Thunder Agent.  He could project his mind into a series of android bodies, and would ditch one body for another when it ran into trouble.

12134152864?profile=original72.  Nukla (Dell, 1965): This may be the most obscure character I picked for this list.  Nukla starred in only four issues for Dell, a company known better for their Disney comics or for their wrong-headed superhero/horror monster mash-ups.  But Nukla, aka test pilot Matthew Gibb, was a pretty cool character and cool artists like Dick Giordano and Steve Ditko contributed to his adventures.

 

Side-bar: In part one, I admitted I like the underdog.  Well, I like obscure characters for many of the same reasons.  I would have loved to include more in the list.   Nemesis and Magicman (Adventures into Unknown and Forbidden Worlds) have interesting looks but they’re better known for appearing on cool covers than for starring in good stories.  Private Strong was an interesting addition to the Archie superhero canon, but he was mostly a mix of Captain America and the Shield. 

Charlton’s Nature Boy was a late entry to the mid-‘50s superhero revival but despite some great John Buscema art he was a holdover from the Golden Age with a set-up similar to Captain Marvel’s Shazam. 12134153073?profile=original



73. Poison Ivy
(DC, 1966): She’s such a classic Batman villain that it’s almost hard to believe she wasn’t added to his cast of rogues until the mid-‘60s.

 

12134153863?profile=original74. Professor X (Marvel, 1963): Over the years, the X-Men have tried to outgrow their founder, teacher and mentor.  He’s been killed off, sent into outer space and voluntarily imprisoned.  But he keeps coming back.  After all, it’s his name and his dream.

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75. The Question (Charlton, 1967): The man without a face.

 

12134154862?profile=original76. Quicksilver (Marvel, 1964): There had been plenty of speedsters in comics before Quicksilver came along.  There was even another Quicksilver at Quality.  But no one was ever as conflicted or complicated as Pietro Maximov.  He’s an overprotective brother, an evil mutant, a hero, a rogue, a jealous husband, a devoted father, an Avenger and an X-Man.

 

12134155266?profile=original77. Ralph and Sue Dibny (DC, 1960, ‘61): Ralph wasn’t the first extendable superhero, but he stretched the boundaries of the genre.  He was among the first to reveal his identity to the world.  He was among the first to treat his wife as an equal partner and not a sidekick (with a tip of the cap to The Thin Man’s Nick & Nora Charles).  He was more of a detective than a superhero.  And while he had a sense of humor about his powers and himself, he more than a jokester.

 

12134155691?profile=original78. Rawhide Kid (Marvel, 1955): The last of Marvel’s Big Three western heroes, the Rawhide Kid is Johnny Bart.  He wears a distinctive white hat and like a lot of cowboys, he was an outlaw for a crime he didn’t commit.

 

12134155894?profile=original79. Richie Rich (Harvey, 1953): This list may be full of superheroes but few characters are as famous as Harvey’s poor little rich kid.  Richie Rich was a superstar.  He was kind to his servants, his friends and even his enemies.

 

80. Rick Jones (Marvel, 1962): I know people make fun of him.  I’ve done it myself.  But in all honesty, Rick is much more than a hanger-on or a superhero groupie.  He initiates a lot of the action.  He helps out despite having no powers.  He’s partnered 12134156484?profile=originalwith the Hulk, the Avengers, Captain America and Captain Marvel.  That’s pretty impressive for someone who started out by wandering into a place he didn’t belong.

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81.  Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Archie, 1962): Another Dan DeCarlo creation for Archie Comics.  Sabrina is the wholesome face of the world of witchcraft, dealing with typical teen problems like adults who don’t understand you and atypical problems like spells that go awry.

 

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82.  Saturn Girl (DC, 1958): My daughter is a big, Saturn Girl.  Probably because she wears pink.  I’m a Saturn Girl fan too but that’s because she’s the calm heart of the Legion of Superheroes.  Cosmic Boy, or the latest winner of some fan poll, may be the official leader but Saturn Girl is the glue that holds the team together.

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83.  Scarlet Witch (Marvel, 1964): Scarlet Witch is a testament to character growth.  She started out a wilting flower, sheltered by her brother and cowed by Magneto.  She was made an Avenger and quickly became one of the team’s most stalwart members.  She’s been a lover and a mother.  She’s grown more and more comfortable with her ethnic roots (she was raised as a gypsy).  And, recently, she’s become more conflicted, mysterious and possibly evil.12134158082?profile=original

 

84.  Sgt. Rock (DC, 1959): Arguably the greatest war character ever created for comics.  Sgt. Rock is the stoic leader of Easy Company.  Yet despite his brusque exterior, he has a big heart.

 

12134158699?profile=original85.  Sif (Marvel, 1964): Too easily underrated by fans and ignored by Thor, the recent movie showcased her true potential.

 

 

12134158890?profile=original86.  Silver Surfer (Marvel, 1966): One of the coolest characters ever created.  He has shiny silver skin.  He rides a surfboard through space.  He works for one of the greatest powers in the universe and wields cosmic power of his own.

 

 

 

12134159090?profile=original87.  Sinestro (DC, 1961): One of DC’s greatest villains.  The former Green Lantern shows that even law & order can be dangerous when taken to extremes.  He’s a fascist, but a fascinating one.

 

12134159295?profile=original88.  Spider-Man (Marvel, 1962): One of the greatest characters ever created.  Peter Parker is the hard-luck hero who learned that great power requires great responsibility.  He perseveres against impossible odds, while cracking one-liners and keeping a brave stance.

 

12134159871?profile=original89.  Spy vs. Spy (EC, 1961): You don’t have to know their names in order to understand the depth of their rivalry.  The animosity between these two spies has given rise to countless amusing encounters.  And, despite their simple features, their geometric faces convey a lot of emotion.

 

 

 

12134159882?profile=original90.  Supergirl (DC, 1958): The classic ingénue.

 

 

12134161057?profile=original91.  The Thing (Marvel, 1961)

92.  Thor (Marvel, 1962): They’re two of the toughest guys around.  One is the Norse God of Thunder who fights with a war hammer that no one else can pick up.  The other is an everyman made of rock who fights with his fists, though he has more trouble overcoming his low self-esteem.

 

 

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93. Turok (Gold Key, 1954): There’s a long list of characters who star in jungle stories.  There’s even a pretty good crowd of characters who star in dinosaur stories.  But Turok is one of the best.  The Son of Stone is a master hunter in any location and in any age.

12134161288?profile=original94.  Ultra Boy (DC, 1962): I love his self-esteem.  Ultra Boy considers himself one of the big boys even though the limitations on his powers (he can only use one at a time) mean that he’s often caught out of his weight class.  Yet that utter confidence, that supreme belief that he’s as good as anyone, is charming.

 

 

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95.  The Vision (Marvel, 1968): You’ll believe that an android can be more interesting than a man.  The Vision predated Star Trek’s Data by decades as an android who wondered what it would be like to have human emotions and then had trouble understanding them once he got them.

12134161695?profile=original96.  The Warriors Three (Marvel, 1965): The three Norse Warriors make for great supporting characters.  They’re distinct and easily recognizable.  They have strong personalities with just enough depth to keep them from being mannequins.  And now they’re movie stars.  They’re Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg (aka Errol Flynn, Charles Bronson and Falstaff).

 

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97.  Wasp (Marvel, 1963): I’ve always liked characters that enjoy being superheroes.  Wasp is one of those.  For her, the life of a superhero was one big lark.  She delighted in designing new costumes.  She had a blast hanging out with the boys.  But while she didn’t mind making a few jokes, she was never a joke herself.  She was smart, and made a great team leader when given the chance.


12134162856?profile=original98.  Wendy the Good Little Witch (Harvey, 1954): Harvey had one of the best stables of kids’ characters.  After starting out as a companion to Caspar the Friendly Ghost, Wendy graduated to her own series in 1960.

 

12134162881?profile=original99.  Wonder Girl (DC, 1965): She was too interesting to be a younger version of Wonder Woman for long.  Donna is a strong, confident, young woman.  She’s a great friend and an even better ally.

 

 

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100.  Zatanna (DC, 1964): The backwards writing is kind of annoying but everything else about Zatanna is alluring.  She’s smart, spunky and has a better sense of humor than most superwomen.  And, oh yeah, she knows magic.

 

 

Final Side-Bar: When you’re creating something like this, you always set out with the intention of creating the perfect list.  But, of course, it’s never definitive.  Other people will obviously disagree with you.  And, in retrospect, you may wonder yourself why you picked one character over another.  When I look back at my earlier lists, I’m surprised at some of the characters I didn’t include.  I hadn’t read any Scott Pilgrim yet but he’d easily make the ‘90s/’00s list now.  I thought I had included Gravity but I guess I didn’t.  Ana was right that I should have included Big Barda in the ‘70s/’80s list.  And I was so sure I had included someone from Alpha Flight that I mentioned it in a side-bar but apparently I didn’t.  Either Heather Hudson or Northstar must have fallen out between a first draft and the final.  I expect that will happen with this list as well.  I’ll probably change my mind in six months.  So don’t be afraid to tell me who you would have included instead. 

 

Read more…

12134156671?profile=originalI’m not the Silver Age expert on this site.  We have Captain Comics, Commander Benson and Mr. Silver Age for that.  Hey, I wasn’t born until almost halfway through the ‘70s.  But I thought it would be fun to put together a list of the best characters from the ‘50s and ‘60s anyway.  Consider it an outsider’s perspective on which characters were interesting, timeless, noteworthy or at least quirky enough to appeal to a latecomer like me.  Have fun reading.

  1. Adam Strange (DC, 1958): He’s a science fiction action hero in the vein of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars, yet he’s also comfortable in the superhero milieu of Superman, Green Lantern and the Justice League of America.  The mechanism that transported him back and forth to Rann was a little contrived but it did result in fast-paced adventures and a tragic emotional hook.

  2. 12134157069?profile=originalAlfred E. Neuman (EC, 1954): His dim-witted, slightly mischievous mug had been featured in advertisements for half a century.  Even the catchphrase “What, Me Worry?” had been around for decades.  But in 1954, EC made the character their own.  They gave him a name and turned him into the mascot for MAD.  He’s still grinning today, making fun of Justin Bieber and The Walking Dead.

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  3. Animal Man (DC, 1965): Maybe I just like the color orange.  Buddy Baker was a late addition to the Silver Age and wasn’t elevated to leading status until Grant Morrison got ahold of him in the 1980s.  Yet the man with the power of any animal is a classic superhero staple.


  4. 12134158058?profile=original12134158090?profile=originalAnt-Man (Marvel, 1962)
  5. Atom II (DC, 1961): I’ve always liked the underdog.  That’s probably why I’ve always had affection for these often-belittled little heroes.  They weren’t the first to shrink down to size but they did bring a scientific sensibility to their superhero adventures.

     
  6. 12134159263?profile=originalBatgirl (DC, 1966): Barbara Gordon could have made two of these lists.  Her reinvention in the 1980s as the information broker Oracle practically constitutes a new character.  Yet I also love her as the light-hearted adventurer Batgirl.  She brought a sense of joy and wonder to her escapades.  Plus, I have a poster of Batgirl hanging above my home computer.

  7. 12134159076?profile=originalBeast (Marvel, 1963): Hank McCoy wasn’t that interesting in his initial incarnation.  He was another in a long line of Jack Kirby creations who demonstrated their intelligence by using big words.  But he came into his own in the 1970s when he was reinvented as an actual beast with real fur and then joined the Avengers with a sense of humor that matched his super intellect.

    Side-bar: The original X-Men were boring.  Oh, a few of them will make this list but that’s mostly because of what was done with them by later creators.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love them all- even the ones that people mock like Angel and Iceman.  They’re like family.  But they’re great by association and they don’t all deserve entries.
     
  8. 12134159290?profile=originalBeast Boy (DC, 1965): He was the rare standout in a world of sidekicks.  He didn’t copy the powers of his adult mentor.  He was the sidekick to an entire team rather than an individual hero.  And he was a natural comedian, treating the entire superhero scene as a big lark.

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  9. “Big Ethel” Muggs (Archie, 1962): I don’t think there’s anyone in comics quite like Ethel Muggs.  She wasn’t gorgeous.  She was incredibly tall, lanky, and a little buck-toothed.  She didn’t have boys chasing after her, unlike Betty, Veronica or
    the other ladies of Riverdale.  Instead, she was the12134160293?profile=original one trying to get Jughead to go out with her.  She bordered on boy-crazy but even at her most intense, she was relatable as the average-looking girl who has to make her own destiny.
     
  10. 12134161452?profile=originalBizarro (DC, 1958): Me no like Bizarro.  Him no make list of stupid characters.

     
  11. Black Bolt (Marvel, 1965): The silent leader of the otherworldly Inhumans, the Black Bolt is a model of restrained power and nobility.  He’s also a model of artistic restraint.  Jack Kirby’s character designs were often convoluted, but the Black Bolt
    has just enough detail to be distinctive while staying sleek.
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  12. Black Panther (Marvel, 1966): The first black superhero remains the best.  He’s an African
    monarch and an American immigrant.  He has royal dignity and street credibility.  He rises above clichés.  He can stand shoulder to shoulder with heroes like Captain America or world leaders like Dr. Doom.

     
  13. 12134161871?profile=originalBlack Widow (Marvel, 1964): The Soviet spy who made almost every Marvel superhero fall in love with her at one time or another (not to mention, quite a few comic book fans), she’s an incredibly competent agent, spy, superhero and team leader.

     
  14. Blue Beetle II (Charlton, 1966): Charlton followed the DC blueprint to success: take a Golden Age character, divest him of mystical elements and
    invest him with science and technology instead.  Ted Kord may have inherited a name from Dan Garrett, but he was a gadget-wielding inventor who fought crime with knowledge and wit.  And a pretty cool costume.12134162255?profile=original


  15. Bouncing Boy (DC, 1961): The Legion of Super-12134162289?profile=originalHeroes could have contributed a legion of entries and most of them would have been square-jawed heroic types.  But the charm of the Legion came from their offbeat members like Chuck Taine.  As Bouncing Boy, he was impervious to both physical damage and sadness.

     
  16. Brainiac (DC, 1958): The Silver Age was a great
    era for Superman villains.  Bizarro showed up earlier on this list.  A third villain will make a later appearance.  But Brainiac was arguably the best.  The alien genius was arrogant, callow and extremely dangerous.  I prefer his later robotic look, but in any form he was one of Superman’s most perilous foes.

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  17. 12134163083?profile=originalBrainiac 5 (DC, 1961): What a brilliant idea!  Brainiac 5 was the descendant of Superman villain Brainiac except this time the super-genius was on the side of the good guys as one of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  However, even though he was one of the good guys, the heroic Brainiac 5 remained arrogant, selfish and snide.

     
  18. Captain Atom (Charlton, 1960): This nuclear-powered space hero created by Steve Ditko, has been a major player in several incarnations for both
    Charlton and DC.

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  19. 12134164266?profile=originalCaptain Comet (DC, 1951): He’s not a super-hero.  Captain Comet was a science-fiction star with pulp fiction inspiration.  Then again, he is a superhero.  He has a vast array of powers including clairvoyance, telepathy and telekinesis.  Captain Comet expertly strides the two worlds, which is kind of fitting for a character that was introduced in between the Golden and Silver Ages of comics.


  20. 12134164498?profile=originalCaptain Flash (Sterling, 1954): The Captain was one of best new characters to come out of the short-lived superhero revival of 1953-55.  His sleek costume and his radiation-based powers presaged the Silver Age.  Oh, and most of his adventures were drawn by Mike Sekowsky.

     
  21. 12134165274?profile=originalCaptain Marvel (Marvel, 1967): It’s one of the mostly widely used names in comics.  This is the Marvel version.  Mar-Vell was a Kree soldier sent to spy on Earth.  But after observing the planet, Mar-Vell decides to defend its people instead.

  22. Chameleon Boy (DC, 1960): Our third 12134166062?profile=originalLegionnaire, Chameleon Boy was a shape-shifter from the planet Durlan.  Over the years, Chameleon and his home planet became the focus for meaningful stories about xenophobia, isolationism, impersonation and paranoia.  Thankfully, he eventually dropped the “boy” from his name.
  23. The Creeper (DC, 1968): Steve Ditko took villains that he had created for Blue 12134166486?profile=originalBeetle (the Madmen) and reworked them into this antihero for DC.  The Creeper was sometimes good, sometimes bad and always unpredictable.

     
  24. The Crypt-Keeper (EC, 1950): As the host of Tales from the Crypt, the Keeper introduces the stories and teases the readers.  He’s just creepy enough that he’s part of the show, suggesting that even greater horrors await
    those who are about to turn the page.  He’s also a multi-media star having made the leap to television and the movies.


    Side-bar: I’m not sure why 12134166879?profile=originaleverybody thought it was necessary but every horror comic needed a host.  The Crypt-Keeper shared a neighborhood with the Vault-Keeper from The Vault of Horror and the Old Witch from Haunt of Fear, though they frequently crossed from one comic to the other.  DC brought the brothers Cain and Abel in as the hosts of House of Mystery and House of Secrets.  Warren had Uncle Creepy.  And Charlton had a whole battalion of horror hosts, including Doctor Graves, Mr. Bones and Countess Von Bludd.
     
  25. 12134167459?profile=originalCyclops (Marvel, 1963): He’s the straight-laced leader of the X-Men.  He bottles up his emotions for the sake of the team so that he’s sometimes considered a little stuffy.  But he also has one of those powers that everybody wishes for (who hasn’t wanted to shoot beams out of their eyes at some point?) and that’s endlessly imitated (ie. The Incredibles’ Gazerbeam).

     
  26. 12134167670?profile=originalDaredevil (Marvel, 1964): The first time I tried to invent my own superhero for a role-playing game, I came up with a blind hero who “sees” everything with super-senses.  The games-master replied, “So you want to play Daredevil?”  Then he let me know that Stan Lee beat me there by about 30 years.

     
  27. 12134167694?profile=originalDoctor Doom (Marvel, 1962): Honestly, Doctor Doom is not one of my favorite villains.  He’s full of bluster more than actual menace.  But he is the standard for tin-pot dictators from fictional countries.  And it would be weird to put a list together without him.

     
  28. Doctor Solar (Gold Key, 1962): Doctor Solar was an odd fit in the Silver Age.  12134168657?profile=originalHe didn’t wear a costume initially and his skin turned green whenever he used his powers.  But a 1990s revival by Jim Shooter and Valiant Comics demonstrated that the guy in the red pajamas might just be the most powerful hero of them all.

     
  29. 12134169071?profile=originalDoctor Strange (Marvel, 1963): After an accident robbed him of his ability to work as a surgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange found a second career as the master of magic.

     
  30. Dynamo (Tower, 1965): He was the linchpin of the 12134169479?profile=originalT.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.  He was their most powerful member and their star.  His powers, including super-strength, came from the Dynamo belt that he wore.  He was also a very loyal, honest, hard-working hero.

     
  31. Elasti-Girl (DC, 1963): She’s the biggest star of the Doom Patrol.  She was the one who held the team together when one of the boys got mopey or 
    threw a tantrum.  She was a surrogate mom to 12134170073?profile=originalBeast-Boy and a friend to everyone.


  32. Enemy Ace (DC, 1965): Every once in a while, you might read a story reminding12134171060?profile=original you that the soldiers on the other side are decent, honorable fellows a lot like the guys on our side.  DC took that concept and turned into one of their most compelling features.  The Enemy Ace fought for the Germans in World War I.  Yet he fought with honor, class and excellence.


    Side-bar: War comics were big business in the ’50s and ‘60s.  DC specialized in them. Marvel dabbled in them.  EC and Warren published noteworthy titles.  And Charlton practically drowned in them.  Many of the titles were anthologies with a new lead for every story.  But several titles focused on specific characters.  In addition to the few, proud men who make this list, we salute Gunner and Sarge, the Haunted Tank, Leatherneck Jack, the Losers, Mademoiselle Marie, Willy Schultz, the Unknown Soldier and all the rest.12134171484?profile=original

     
  33. The Falcon (Marvel, 1969): Don’t call him a sidekick.  The Falcon was Captain America’s partner, a member of the Avengers and a solo hero in his own right.


    12134172086?profile=original
  34. Fighting American (Prize, 1954): Joe Simon and Jack Kirby jumped into the superhero revival with the Fighting American but they couldn’t take themselves- or the character- as seriously the second time around.  The Fighting American quickly became a parody of superhero comics, fighting communists such as Poison Ivan and Hotsky Trotsky.

     
  35. 12134172282?profile=originalThe Flash II (DC, 1956): Here’s another Silver Age hero that I find kind of boring.  Sorry.  But there’s no doubting Barry Allen’s place in history.  As a revamp of a Golden Age character, he paved the way and provided the template for the return of superheroes.

    12134172875?profile=original 
  36. The Fly (Archie, 1959): Another Simon and Kirby creation.

     
  37. Galactus (Marvel, 1966): Galactus is one of great super-villains.  He’s virtually unstoppable.  He
    exposes an ethical quandary- how much responsibility does he have for the lower12134173090?profile=original life forms that live on the planets he eats for sustenance?  And he has a huge, freaking helmet!  Have you seen the size of that thing?


    12134173860?profile=original 
  38. General Zod (DC, 1961): Kneel before Zod.

     
  39. Gorilla Grodd (DC, 1959): Gorillas were pretty popular in the ‘50s so it’s not surprising that at least one of them became a classic foe.  But what makes this gorilla so special is that he has mental faculties that exceed most humans, plus a dash of telepathy on the side.


    Side-Bar: I would have loved to include the Flash’s Rogues.  However,12134174267?profile=original they’re more interesting together than they are individually.  Yet they were introduced one at a time in separate stories (and different years).  So they don’t cut it as individual entries or a truly fit as a group.  Even so, they’re the gang that every group of super-villains aspires to be.

    12134174472?profile=original 

  40. Green Goblin (Marvel, 1964): Spider-Man’s greatest foe.  He’s got a great look, a great set of gadgets (exploding pumpkins and a glider, how cool is that?) and a great laugh.  He’s also got one of the greatest moments in comic book villainy as the one who killed Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy.12134174074?profile=original

     
  41. Green Lantern II (DC, 1959)
  42. Guy Gardner (DC, 1968): They’re arguably the two most popular ring slingers: Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner.  Hal is the buttoned-up, law & order guy, except he also has a fierce independent streak.  That makes him a great test pilot, but also means he runs into friction with authority figures.  Guy is brash and arrogant and a bit of a jerk.  Except he’s also insecure and tenderly romantic.  That makes him one of the most interesting characters to ever light the lantern.

     
  43. 12134175084?profile=originalGyro Gearloose (Dell, 1952): The world of Donald Duck and his Uncle Scrooge kept expanding a12134176061?profile=originalnd adding interesting, new characters.  Most of this expansion happened in the late ‘40s or onscreen (ie. Professor Ludwig Von Drake) but Duckburg’s resident inventor made his debut in Dell Comics and has stuck around ever since.


     
  44. Havok (Marvel, 1969): He’s more than Cyclops’ younger brother.  Alex Summers has a great look, an awesome power and a cool name.  He also has interests outside of the X-Men, like archaeology.  And, like a lot of younger brothers, he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

     
  45. Hawkeye (Marvel, 1964): I love guys who stir things up, whether it’s Guy Gardner in the Justice League or Hawkeye in the 12134175682?profile=originalAvengers.  Hawkeye teases his co-workers and agitates those in charge.  Yet he’s also a very effective leader when given the opportunity.12134176483?profile=original


     
  46. Hawkman II (DC, 1961): Another reinvented hero, the second Hawkman is Katar Hol from Thanagar.  The alien origin is interesting though it hasn’t always meshed well with the Egyptology aspects that were left over from the original.  Then again, there are Americans who are experts in Chinese history so why not a Thanagarian expert in Earth history?

     
  47. The Hulk (Marvel, 1962): One of the greatest anti-12134176864?profile=originalheroes ever created, in comics or anywhere else.  Hulk smash!
      
  48. Human Torch II (Marvel, 1961)12134177652?profile=original
  49. Invisible Woman (Marvel, 1961): This brother and sister tandem is the heart of the Fantastic Four.  Sue Storm (now Richards) started out as the weak link on the team but an expansion of her abilities to include invisible force fields turned her into the resident powerhouse.  She’s a great wife, mother, big sister and friend.  She’s the team’s conscience and it’s real leader.  Johnny was supposed to be the breakout star (he was the first to get a solo gig) but he didn’t realize his potential until the recent movies.  He’s the one who reminds us that this is supposed to be fun.  It’s cool to have powers.

     
  50. 12134177866?profile=originalIron Man (Marvel, 1963): Tony Stark is the natural evolution of technology.  The Golden Age gave us robots and heroes with gadgets but Tony truly became the man inside the machine.  Astonishingly, with his womanizing and alcohol addiction, the man inside the machine is sometimes more interesting than the superhero.


    Special Side-Bar: While compiling this list, I tried to be representative of every era and multiple genres.  But, perhaps not surprisingly, the list is heavily represented by the early ‘60s.  That’s mostly because of the Silver Age superhero boom-though not entirely as non-superheroes like Ethel Muggs and Enemy Ace hail from those years as well.  As for comics’ dark decade, four years in the ‘50s make the list only once and one year, 1957, doesn’t make the list at all. 

     

 
 
 
 
 
 
Read more…

12134133277?profile=originalLast year, I wrote a pair of columns about the greatest characters of the past 20 years.  I had a lot of fun coming up with the list and discussing it with everyone here.  It was so much fun I’m going to do it again.  This time, I’m looking at the 20 years before the past 20 years: otherwise known as the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Sit back, read along and have fun.  After all, that’s what these kinds of lists are all about.

 

12134133861?profile=original1. Abigail Arcane (DC, 1972): There are a lot of romantic leads in comics but few are as important to their title as Abigail Arcane is to Swamp Thing.  She’s our lens into the world of horror and mystery.  She’s the heart of the story.  And with her distinctive white hair, she’s as recognizable as the muck monster himself.

 

2. Adam Warlock (Marvel, 1972): Roy Thomas took a blank slate from a 1968 Fantastic Four story and completely revamped him.  “Him” was reborn as Adam Warlock, given a great Gil Kane costume, written as a cosmic messiah and placed in some of the most interesting stories of the ‘70s. 

 

12134134458?profile=original3. Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld (DC, 1983): Proving that wish fulfillment isn’t only the purview of adolescent boys, DC had a minor hit with Amethyst- the adolescent girl who is magically transported to the colorful kingdom of Gemworld and transformed into the beautiful princess Amethyst.  12134134853?profile=original

 

4. Arion, Lord of Atlantis (DC, 1982): The immortal magician starred in an idealized version of ancient Atlantis but became more compelling as a conniving magical manipulator in the present. 

 

12134134899?profile=original5. Bernie Rosenthal (Marvel, 1980): Bernie was a striking contrast to Steve Rogers, and therefore an intoxicating love interest.  She was a lawyer.  She was Jewish.  She was slightly bohemian.  And she was definitely more than a prototypical girlfriend.

 

Side-Bar: Although many superhero girlfriends dated back to the character’s origin, this era witnessed the introduction of quite a few love interests, romantic rivals and steady girlfriends for established heroes.  They don’t all deserve their own entry, but they’re worth mentioning.  So here’s to you, Silver St. Cloud, Cat Grant, Madelyne Pryor and all the other girls we’ve loved before.12134135497?profile=original

 

6. Beta Ray Bill (Marvel, 1983): He’s a space alien who looks like a skeletal horse and he’s worthy of lifting Thor’s hammer.  It sounds silly when you say it out loud, but it was brilliantly executed and Beta Ray Bill quickly became a fan favorite.

 

12134135297?profile=original7. Black Lightning (DC, 1977): Jefferson Pierce may have been new to the scene in 1977, but he was a classic hero that you could admire.  His day job was as a schoolteacher.  And he had a strong moral code in his own series or as one of the Outsiders.

 

12134136270?profile=original8. Blade (Marvel, 1973): Blade is a classic example of a supporting character who soon outshines his leads and becomes a star in his own right.  Introduced in Tomb of Dracula, the vampire hunter graduated to his own title and eventually his own movie trilogy. 

 

12134136484?profile=original9. Blue Devil (DC, 1984): Even as grim and gritty superheroes were putting a stranglehold on the market, a counter-current of comedic heroes was claiming a different corner of the stage.  The Blue Devil was one of the best of these comedic heroes, combining excellent adventures with a gleeful sense of humor.  

 

12134136883?profile=original10. Booster Gold (DC, 1986): He was supposed to be a commentary on the “greed is good” 1980s as the first superhero to seek corporate sponsorship.  But, paired with Blue Beetle in JLI, he became one half of comics’ greatest comedy duo. 

 

12134137477?profile=original11. Cannonball (Marvel, 1982): He started out as an empty-headed Southern stereotype.  He soon evolved into a team leader and someone who could make friends with everyone from Sunspot to Shatterstar.  Whether he was with the New Mutants, X-Force or a rookie with the X-Men, Cannonball was a great hero.

 

12. Captain Britain (Marvel, 1976)

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13. Captain Canuck (Comely Comix, 1975):12134138478?profile=original

It was only natural, considering the lasting success of Captain America, for the other English speaking countries to have heroes of their own.  However, these two characters took up more than their country’s flags.  Captain Britain became the central figure in an inter-dimensional corps and the star in inventive stories by Alan Moore and Alan Davis.  Captain Canuck was one of the earliest, and most enduring, independent heroes.

 

12134139061?profile=original14. Chunk (DC, 1988): The superhero stage was fairly full by the late 1980s, yet there is always room for interesting supporting characters.  Flash befriended Chunk, who had the power to teleport objects or people to another dimension and who proved to be an intriguing physical contrast. 12134139290?profile=original

 

15. Cinnamon (DC, 1978): Westerns were supposed to be past their prime by the 1970s.  The movie genre was pretty much played out.  But DC managed to introduce a couple of significant gun-slingers anyway.  Jonah Hex became their biggest star though I find Cinnamon to be the more intriguing character.

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12134139497?profile=original16. Colossus (Marvel, 1975)

17. Cyborg (DC, 1980):

They were the two greatest teams of the era.  One was all-new and all-different.  The other was simply new.  But they were both the best.  Colossus and Cyborg may be the first Uncanny X-Man and New Teen Titan to make the list but they won’t be the last.

 

12134140093?profile=original18. Daigoro (Futabasha, 1970; First, 1987): He’s the cub in Lone Wolf and Cub.  His curiosity, compassion and bravery endear him to every one who meets him.  

 

12134140671?profile=original19. Dani Moonstar (Marvel, 1982): Writers had a hard time deciding on her powers.  She could cause someone to see their greatest fears.  She was a Valkyrie who could foresee death.  She could shoot psychic arrows that temporarily shorted out someone’s brain.  But readers didn’t have a hard time taking an interest in her- including this fan.12134141280?profile=original

 

20. Darkseid (DC, 1970): One of the greatest super-villains ever imagined.  Period.

 

21. Dawnstar (DC, 1977): The major comic book companies were becoming more aware of the need for minority characters in the 12134141876?profile=original1970s.  Some of their attempts were laughable, but not all of them.  Dawnstar does a great job of borrowing from Native American traditions and attire while standing on her own as an interstellar tracker in the far-off future.12134142296?profile=original

 

22. Dazzler (Marvel, 1980): She’s a punch-line to many fans, yet Dazzler has outlasted the jokes.  She was well cast as a reluctant hero in Claremont and Silvestri’s X-Men.  More recently, she’s been depicted as a well-rounded human being- with actual interests on the side other than beating up bad guys. 

 

23. Death (DC, 1989): She’s the person you would want to meet when you die.  She’s sweet.  She’s compassionate, yet honest.  And she finds something of value in everyone and everything. 

 

12134143073?profile=original12134143284?profile=original12134143675?profile=original24. Deathstroke (DC, 1980): What a great villain.  He’s an older man, with white hair and adult children.  He’s deadly with a blade, or any other instrument he can get his hands on.  He’s blind in one eye, but he doesn’t care who knows and his costume even draws attention to his infirmity.  He’s a wonderful blend of arrogance and competence.

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25. Demon-Hunter (Atlas, 1975): This is an admittedly obscure selection from the short-lived Atlas line of comics.  However, Demon-Hunter was interesting enough that Marvel gave him a second life (as the poorly received Demon-Slayer) and he was a forerunner of many of today’s demon hunters, from Van Helsing to
Underworld. 

 

26. Dream (DC, 1989): He’s the Sandman.  He can make your dreams come true, but not his own.

 

12134145274?profile=original12134145696?profile=original27. E-Man (Charlton, 1973): Following in the tradition of Plastic Man, E-Man is a light-based, light-hearted superhero.  He can do anything he wants, but mostly he wants to have fun. 

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28. Elektra (Marvel, 1981): Ignore the mediocre movie (I could say that about lot of heroes).  She can hold her own in any fight, but her motives may not always be right.  That makes Elektra a wonderful ally or adversary. 

 

29. Emma Frost (Marvel, 1980): The wicked witch of the west has nothing on the White Queen.  She’s not above kidnapping children.  She’s betrayed her allies and sacrificed her own team to save herself.  She’s been broken, but she’s never lost her mean streak or her sharp tongue.  And now, she’s wearing a metaphorical white hat as one of the X-Men.

 

12134146667?profile=original30. Firestar (Marvel, 1981): I gave myself a precedent when I selected another cartoon character who immigrated to comics when I chose Harley Quinn in the earlier article.  Firestar may have started out as one of Spider-Man’s Amazing Friends but her home has been in comics for nearly thirty years as a New Warrior and an Avenger.

 

12134146868?profile=original31. Firestorm (DC, 1978): Though he was introduced in 1978, Firestorm has always been one of the characters who defined the ‘80s for me.  I loved his bold colors, his youthful enthusiasm and his flaming head.   

 

12134147262?profile=original32. Ghost Rider (Marvel, 1972): And now we have the flaming skull.  Ghost Rider was a character who straddled the line between good and evil and straddled genres between horror and superhero.  Once again, ignore the awful movie. 

 

12134147095?profile=original33. G’nort (DC, 1988).  Seriously.  It’s not easy to write comedy.  G’nort provided brilliant comic relief for both the Green Lantern Corps and Justice League International. 

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34. Granny Goodness (DC, 1971): Jack Kirby included a bunch of memorable villains as part of Darkseid’s retinue- DeSaad, Glorious Godfrey, Kalibak and more.  Yet Granny Goodness stands above the rest.  Like Nurse Ratchett in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, she embodies the kind of evil that hides under the veneer of care.  Plus, she was voiced by Ed Asner in the Justice League cartoon. 

 

Side-Bar: This seems like as good a time as any to reiterate this is my list.  As our beloved Captain Comics likes to say, your mileage may vary.  For example, the lovely anacoqui thinks I should have included Big Barda instead of Granny Goodness (or any number of other characters).  She loves that Barda is a married super-heroine who isn’t a mirror of her husband’s powers and who isn’t afraid to join a team without him as she did during Grant Morrison’s run on JLA. 12134148098?profile=original12134148896?profile=original

 

35. Grendel (Comico, 1983)

36. Groo (Pacific, 1982): The early ‘80s was a great time for independent comics.  Established creators were able to introduce concepts that might not have fit under the banners of “the big two” and new creators were allowed to stretch their wings.  Matt Wagner chose to follow the villain rather than the hero and the result was the intriguing Grendel.  Sergio Aragones chose to send up barbarian comics with the farcical Groo.   

 

12134149086?profile=original37. Henry Peter Gyrich (Marvel, 1977): Never underestimate the value of a good foil.  Henry Peter Gyrich was a stubborn, bossy, self-righteous pain in the butt.  His presence provided delightful dramatic tension for the readers, if not for the Avengers. 12134149658?profile=original

 

38. Hobgoblin (Marvel, 1983): Every once in a while, an otherwise derivative character takes on a life of his own.  Such is the case with the Hobgoblin.  He became more than an orange Green Goblin.  He brought mystery, surprise and anarchy into the Spider-Man comics for years. 

 

12134149895?profile=original39. Huntress II (DC, 1989): The first Huntress was introduced years earlier but she had little personality beyond being Batman’s daughter.  The second Huntress dropped the blood connection and was much more interesting because of it.  The new Huntress was the daughter of a mafioso who repudiated her lineage in order to fight on the right side of the law.  However, she couldn’t entirely escape her past and often ran afoul of other heroes because of her rough approach.  12134150080?profile=original

 

40. Iron Fist (Marvel, 1974): Iron Fist has a foot in two camps.  He’s both superhero and kung fu warrior, blending two genres into one character at home in either world. 

41. Ironjaw (Atlas, 1975): No apologies this time.  Ironjaw was an incredible character.  He took the rough barbarian type and the 12134150875?profile=originalsword and sorcery setting to their extreme end.  His series was completely over the top, and wonderfully so.

 

12134151653?profile=original42. Jade (DC, 1983): I’ve always thought that the Infinity Inc. women were more interesting than the men.  Jade was a wonderful ingénue: sincere, devoted and lovable yet competent and very powerful.

 

12134152069?profile=original43. James Rhodes (Marvel, 1979): The superhero stage may have been crowded by this point but there was plenty of room for interesting supporting characters and allies.  James Rhodes was Iron Man’s pilot, replacement and friend. 

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44. Jean DeWolff (Marvel, 1976): Sometimes a good death can make for a memorable character.  Jean was one of Spider-Man’s supporters, working with him on cases from time to time and providing cover from other authorities.  But her untimely loss is the biggest part of her story.

 

12134152855?profile=original12134152885?profile=original45. Jenny Weaver (Eclipse, 1984): The series may have been named after the superhero but Jenny was the real star.  Zot! proved that the travails of a teenage girl could be more interesting than a villainous plot to take over the world.

 

46. John Constantine (DC, 1985): I can only borrow the best description of John Constantine from someone else: “He’s either a putz pretending to be a master magician or a master magician pretending to be a putz.” 

 

47. John Stewart (DC, 1972): John Stewart has established his 12134153485?profile=originalcredentials as a Green Lantern.  He took on the lead of a comic book series in the ‘80s 12134153884?profile=originalversion of Green Lantern Corps and 1990’s Green Lantern Mosaic.  And he became a television star as part of the Justice League Unlimited. 

 

48. Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis (DC, 1987): They were a college professor specializing in Greek history and a high school student.  They were frumpy or skinny, instead of supermodels.  They were the normal people who befriended Wonder Woman and grounded her series in the real world. 

 

49. Kitty Pryde (Marvel, 1980): Joss Whedon said it best.  12134154671?profile=originalEveryone of a certain age fell in love with Kitty Pryde.

 

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50. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael (Tundra, 1984): I’m not sure I could tell them apart but I know I’ve seen them everywhere- in comics, cartoons, movies, on lunchboxes, puzzles and toy boxes.  They’re the heroes of the half-shell and they’re one of comics’ greatest success stories. 

 

Special Side-Bar: I’ve included a number of independent characters- loosely defined as anybody that didn’t come from the big two of Marvel and DC.  However, I was born in the ‘70s and I grew up in the ‘80s; I wasn’t exactly looking for a lot of independent comics as a kid.  A few crossed my path at the time.  Others I searched out as an adult.  But there are a lot of independent heroes that I just haven’t read.  I think I might have liked at least some of them.  So I’ll go ahead and tip my cap to the characters who would have made a lot of other people’s lists: Vanth Dreadstar, Reuben Flagg, Grimjack, Jon Sable, Kevin Matchstick and the cast of Love and Rockets. 

 

Read more…

12134196470?profile=originalThe genesis of this column began a couple of years ago when I compiled a list of the 100 greatest characters of the past 20 years. Since then, I’ve worked my way back through the decades two at a time, presenting a new list every six months or so. Now, I’ve finally arrived at the beginning. Comic books were created as a format in the 1930s, though their artistic roots go back further than that. This is my list of the best characters from the early years of comic books. Your list, in all likelihood, is different from mine but that’s part of what makes an exercise like this so much fun. Read, enjoy, and feel free to share your own thoughts below.


12134196867?profile=original
1. Airboy (Hillman, 1942): It’s hard to imagine now but one of the most popular genres in the nascent days of comic books was aerial adventure. Fiction House found success with Flight Comics and Hillman had a stable of star pilots like Black Angel, Iron Ace and the Sky Wolf. But no one was better than Airboy, the tousle haired youth who flew his “Birdie” against the Axis powers.


2. Alfred Pennyworth (DC, 1943): This sage servant has
offered service, advice and first aid to Batman for almost 70 years. He’s a confidant, a mentor
12134197285?profile=original
and even a surrogate grandfather to the many young men and women who have donned the Robin costume.


12134197486?profile=original3. Aquaman (DC, 1941): He’s borne the brunt of more jokes than any other hero yet that’s also a testament to his indelible imprint. The King of the Seas has starred in several solo series and participated in every version of the Justice League. While some fans and writers make fun of the orange shirt, his costume also makes him one of the most recognizable characters in comics.


4. Archie Andrews (MLJ, 1941): He’s conquered more

superheroes than Lex Luthor or the Red Skull. Archie started out as a back-up comedy character in MLJ’s Pep Comics but he soon proved more popular than the superhero leads. Actually, he proved more popular than their entire line of superheroes which is why the company eventually changed their name to Archie Comics. He’s starred in dozens of series, launched co-stars into series of their own and even crossed over to cartoons.

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5. Batman (DC, 1939): There’s a recent internet meme that reads, “The most important thing in life is to be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Always be Batman.”


12134198859?profile=original6. Betty & Veronica (MLJ, 1941 and 1942): They represent an essential dilemma for every guy: do you
chase the unattainable beauty or notice the pretty girl next door? Yet these two women have become so much more than a metaphor for Archie’s difficult decision. They’re best friends and worst enemies. They’re fashion-friendly feminists. They’re everything they want to be. And they’re an indelible part of American culture.



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7. Black Adam (Fawcett, 1945): A lot of superheroes are asked to fight their mirror images- the villain who has the exact same set of powers. But Black Adam surpasses his origin as a counterpart to Captain Marvel. He has a great look, an interesting origin of his own and, in recent years, the kind of conflicted motivation that makes for an interesting anti-hero.

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8. Black Canary (DC, 1947): Like a lot of female super-heroines, Black Canary is a study in contrasts. She’s one of the few heroines, in the Golden Age or since, who stands on her own. She’s not the sidekick, understudy or female version of a male hero. For that reason, she’s been a female icon and personal favorite, especially in recent titles such as Birds of 12134200069?profile=originalPrey. But she also runs around in fishnet stockings and high heels, demonstrating that even female icons are subjected to male fantasies.

9. Black Cat (Harvey, 1941): She’s arguably the first female superhero. Linda Turner was the daughter of a silent film star and a stuntwoman. She learned a host of 12134199892?profile=originalskills from her parents and became a daredevil in disguise to fight Nazi conspirators and other criminals. She lost her title to the horror and mystery genres at the end of the Golden Age but enjoyed a couple of comebacks in 1961 and ‘88.

10. Black Condor (Quality, 1940): It almost seems quaint now but at one time, a hero could get by with only the power of flight. Black Condor flew into the pages of Crack Comics for Quality and was one of that company’s 12134201656?profile=originalbiggest stars. After being acquired by DC Comics, he joined with the other Quality alumni to form the Freedom Fighters.


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11. Blackhawk (Quality, 1941): This military hero was Quality’s biggest star, inspiring a radio serial, a television series and even a feature film. He led a team of ex-patriots who had been displaced by the Nazis as part of an exotic aerial squadron. At various times, Blackhawk has been American, Polish or an American of Polish descent.

12. Black Terror (Nedor, 1941): He may have looked like a villain, with a skull and crossbones as his chest insignia, but the Black Terror was one of Nedor’s biggest heroes. He starred in Exciting Comics before heading over to the anthology America’s Best Comics. The Black Terror was Bob Benton and together with his sidekick, Tim Roland, formed the terror twins. In recent years, the Black Terror has been resurrected in Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics and Alex Ross’s Project Superpowers.


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13. Blonde Phantom (Marvel, 1946): The post-war period saw a boom in female crime fighters and Marvel’s Blonde Phantom was one of the most prolific. By the fall of 1948, she was starring in five titles and guest starring in two others. The Blonde Phantom straddled the boundaries between superheroes and film noir as she was a pistol-wielding investigator who had no actual powers.

Sidebar: Marvel has long had the reputation of saturating the comic book market and they were certainly one of the biggest culprits in inundating the market with new female heroes. In addition to the Blonde Phantom and a couple of others on this list, Marvel introduced female counterparts to Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch: Golden Girl (1947), Namora (1947) and Sun Girl (1948).

12134202684?profile=original12134203260?profile=original14. Blue Beetle (Fox, 1939)
15. Blue Bolt (Novelty, 1940): The two “blue” characters were some of the first superheroes to step onto the stage after the success of Superman. Blue Bolt was created by Joe Simon and co-written by Jack Kirby. He took as much inspiration from science-fiction heroes such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon as he did from superheroes like Superman and served as an excellent hybrid of the two genres. The original Blue Beetle was a bit of a mish-mash as well. At first, he was a masked hero like the Shadow. Later, he gained superpowers and a chainmail costume. Blue Beetle was one of Fox’s most popular characters despite the incongruous combination and served as the inspiration for a more coherent version in the Silver Age.12134203482?profile=original

16. Boy King (Hillman, 1943): The Boy King was the star of Hillman’s Clue Comics. Unlike many of his contemporaries, the Boy King wasn’t a sidekick. He didn’t need an adult hero to help him punch out gangsters, monsters or Nazis.

12134203895?profile=original17. Bucky (Marvel, 1941): Bucky fought alongside Captain America in his very first appearance in 1941. At the time, Bucky was almost as big a star as Captain America. He wielded weapons on some of the most memorable covers, pointing machine guns at Nazis and Japanese soldiers alike. He even put together his own team on the side, the Young Allies, starring the sidekicks of Marvel’s major heroes.

Sidebar: Bucky may have led his own team in the Young Allies but they weren’t the only boy band running around in the Golden Age. Simon and Kirby were responsible for most (and the best) of them, creating the Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion for DC. Competitors at Holyoke, MLJ and Lev Gleason came up with the Little Leaders, the Boy Buddies and the Little Wise Guys. While it’s hard to mention any one character, let alone any single group, it’s still worthwhile to give a shout to the boy groups of the 1940s.

12134204273?profile=original18. Bulletman & Bulletgirl (Fawcett, 1940): A number of heroes picked up female partners along the way but Bulletman was one of the few to include his girlfriend from the get-go. Police officer Jim Barr invented an indestructible helmet that helped him fly. He then made a second one for his girlfriend, Susan Kent. The two fought crime-lords and, naturally, Nazis with the power of a speeding bullet.

12134205056?profile=original19. Captain America (Marvel, 1941): He’s the standard by which other heroes are measured. Captain America may wear the stars and stripes of the American flag, but he really represents the heart and soul of the country. He’s a patriot and a hero, willing to fight for his country and die if necessary. He’s also noble and conscientious, willing to stand up to his country when he thinks it’s heading in the wrong direction. He represents us as a nation at our ideal best.

Sidebar: Captain America wasn’t the only hero to don patriotic colors. Stand and salute, American Crusader, American Eagle, Captain Courageous, Captain Fearless, Captain Flag, Captain Glory, Captain Jack Commando, Commando Yank, the Conqueror, the Crusader, the Eagle, the Flag, the Liberator, Liberty Belle, Major Liberty, Major Victory, Minute-Man, Miss Victory, the Patriot, the Spirit of ’76, the Star-Spangled Kid, the Unknown Soldier, U.S.A., U.S. Jones, V-Man, Yank & Doodle, Yankee Boy and Yankee Doodle Jones.

12134205076?profile=original20. Captain Haddock (Casterman, 1941): Thundering typhoons! Tintin’s friend and frequent companion made his first appearance in “The Crab with the Golden Claws.” He was as faithful as he was foul-tempered. He was as courageous as he was complicated. He was a wonderfully colorful addition to Tintin’s adventures. Blistering barnacles!

12134205466?profile=original12134206067?profile=original21. Captain Marvel (Fawcett, 1940): SHAZAM!

22. Captain Marvel Jr. (Fawcett, 1941): Captain Marvel Jr. was more than a miniature version of the famous hero. Captain Marvel is a child in a man’s body, but Captain Marvel Jr. is crippled in his alter ego of Freddie Freeman. Freddie’s desire to escape from his disability resulted in unique sympathy for the character. His adventures were usually a little more serious than Big 12134206092?profile=originalRed’s highly comic affairs. Furthermore, his battles with the villainous Captain Nazi were some of the first ongoing stories and crossovers in comics.


23. Cat-Man & Kitten (Holyoke, 1940): They were Holyoke’s biggest, and arguably, only stars. Catman and Kitten were fairly typical superheroes, dressing up in costumes and fighting bad guys for no particular reason. However, they were atypical in one way as it was unusual for a male hero to have a female sidekick. Catman and his partner appeared in a number of eye-catching covers that helped boost the character’s popularity. Plus, Kitten appeared to go through a surge of puberty as she had significantly more curves by 1944 than she did on the covers from 1942.

12134206866?profile=original24. Catwoman (DC): She’s one of the greatest villains of any age. Just as Julie Newmar, Michelle Pfeiffer or Anne Hathaway.


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25. Crimebuster (Lev Gleason, 1942)
26. Daredevil (Lev Gleason, 1940): Lev Gleason built his comic book empire around these two popular characters. Crimebuster was a young boy who dressed in a hockey uniform and cape to fight crime. The series took a 12134207860?profile=originalnaturalistic approach to the superhero genre and could be considered the precursor to modern comics like Kick-@$$. Daredevil wore a red and black costume with a spiked belt. He started out as a straight adventurer, but eventually added comedic elements when he teamed up with the Little Wise Guys.

12134207687?profile=original27. Destroyer (Marvel, 1941): The Destroyer was one of Stan Lee’s first creations and was one of the better characters in Marvel’s second-tier. His stories were well written with surprising twists that kept both the Nazis and the readers on their toes. Kevin “Keen” Marlow also had a cool anti-hero vibe with a demon mask, skull insignia and (yes) striped pants.12134208266?profile=original12134209052?profile=original

28. Doctor Fate (DC, 1940)
29. Doctor Mid-Nite (DC, 1941): DC’s two doctors were very different characters. Dr. Fate was a mystical sorcerer. He spoke in incantations and worked magic. He also wore the coolest helmet this side of Sparta. Dr. Mid-Nite was a scientist. Although he was legally blind, he invented blackout bombs that allowed him to see while simultaneously impairing his foes.

12134209098?profile=original30. Doll Man (Quality, 1939): Here’s another hero whose powers seem useless now but which were unique and inventive at the time. Doll Man was the first miniature hero in comic books. He’d fight crime syndicates, mad scientists and the occasional giant spider.12134209489?profile=original

31. The Face (Columbia, 1940): The Golden Age of comics was generally a time of square-jawed virtuous heroes. The nation was fighting a war at the time and had an image to maintain. That makes The Face a particularly distinctive figure. Tony Trent put on a demon’s masks in order to frighten the criminals he was fighting in his war for justice. But the scary mask made him one of comics’
first anti-heroes and he’s been treated as such in recent revivals.


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32. Fighting Yank (Nedor, 1941): The Fighting Yank is another patriotic hero and one of Nedor’s most popular characters. His costume incorporated colonial as well as patriotic themes. He eventually joined the Black Terror in Nedor’s successful anthology, America’s Best Comics.

33. Flash (DC, 1940): He’s the fastest man alive and the first in a long legacy of scarlet speedsters.

34. Ghost Rider (Marvel, 1949): The original Ghost Rider was a western anti-hero who rode a white horse and wore an all-white costume. The spectral look struck fear into varmints on the western trail. After Marvel came up with
the modern flaming skull Ghost Rider, the original western character changed his name first to Night Rider and then to Phantom Rider.

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35. Green Arrow (DC, 1941): Okay, DC started out by ripping off their more popular hero, Batman. Green Arrow showed up with a sidekick, an arrow cave and even an arrow car. But over the years, he’s developed into one of the more interesting characters in comics. He’s been a loudmouth liberal, an urban vigilante and a modern Robin Hood. Plus, thanks to his Errol Flynn inspiration, he has one of the coolest costumes around.

36. Green Lantern (DC, 1940): Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, has one of the worst costumes in history. His red and green combo clashes horrendously. He has a high-collared cape and a big belt. Plus, he has an
unnecessary lantern insignia. But the inspiration behind the character more than made up for the awful attire. Here was a character who could do anything. Thanks to his magic ring, he could create constructs out of thin air even if, in the Golden Age, he usually resorted to punching people. Superheroes capture the audience’s imagination partly through wish fulfillment and a kid couldn’t wish for more than a ring that can do anything.

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37. The Hangman (MLJ, 1942): Nowadays, we like to think that Marvel or DC invented comic book continuity. But, in the Golden Age, other companies like Fawcett and MLJ introduced the kind of interconnectedness we now take for granted. In 1942, MLJ killed off one of their heroes, the Comet. Then, they introduced the Comet’s brother who donned a costume of his own. As the Hangman, he was vengeful force against crime.


38. Hawkman (DC, 1940): He flies, he wears a cool-looking helmet and he carries a mace. What’s not to like?

39. Hop Harrigan (DC, 1939): Earlier, I mentioned that one of the biggest Golden Age genres was aerial adventure. It may surprise you to learn that DC had one of the biggest stars in that
genre: the young aviator, Hop Harrigan. Hop 12134213477?profile=original
wasn’t the first aviator adventurer- they’d been appearing in comic strips for some time- but he was one of the first
12134212899?profile=originalcharacters of any stripe to make his debut in comic books. He starred in All-American Comics, a title he eventually shared with Green Lantern. Hop was so popular at the time that he crossed over to both radio and the movies, beating Green Lantern to the silver screen by 65 years.



40. Hourman (DC, 1940): Hourman was one of DC’s second-tier characters. He was elevated by his appearance in 12134214092?profile=originalthe Justice Society of America and by the subsequent heroes who have shared his name. He also had one of the more interesting limitations: he could only use his powers for one hour at a time, resulting in an enjoyably intense pace for most of his adventures.

12134214879?profile=original12134215089?profile=original41. Human Torch (Marvel, 1939)
42. Hydroman (Eastern, 1940): There’s something pure about the conflict between fire and water. The Human Torch was created for Marvel Comics by Carl Burgos. The original version was an android who burst into flames in the presence of oxygen. Other than that, he was a pureblooded hero who fought the Nazis in World War II. Hydroman was created for Eastern Comics by Bill Everett. Everett also created a water-based hero for Marvel named Sub-Mariner. Unlike Sub-Mariner, Hydroman was able to turn his body into living water.

12134215872?profile=original12134216260?profile=original43. Ibis the Invincible (Fawcett, 1940): Mandrake the Magician was one of the most popular comic strips back in the day and a number of comic book companies tried to emulate his success. One of the better versions came from Fawcett. Ibis the Invincible used his magical Ibistick to cast spells, cast light and cast out evildoers.

44. Jimmy Olsen (DC, 1941): I didn’t want to include Jimmy Olsen. He’s kind of dorky. He’s almost too dorky for even a dorky kid like myself to find relatable. Yet Jimmy Olsen is one of the most recognizable characters in comics and there’s a reason why he’s joined Superman in radio, in cartoons, in movies and on television. There’s something appealing about his earnestness, his can-do attitude and his loyalty to Superman.

45. Johnny Canuck (Bell, 1942): Johnny Canuck was a staple of Canadian political
cartoons, kind of a counterpoint to their southern neighbor’s Uncle Sam. In 1942, Bell Features turned him into a
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comic book hero. Sometimes, he wore the brown coat and wide-brimmed hat of a frontiersman. Sometimes, he wore a military uniform. He fought petty criminals and Nazi spies. And he was the biggest star in Canada’s black and white comics of the war era.

Sidebar: I have a confession to make. I love international comic book characters. Maybe it’s because I’m a dual citizen. Or maybe I just like to travel. But I always like to see heroes from other lands, whether they’re from France or Japan or my native Canada. I included Captain Canuck and Lone Wolf & Cub in my list of the best characters from the ‘70s and ‘80s. And I eagerly included Johnny Canuck and Captain Haddock in this list. But I have another confession to make. I completely forgot about international characters when I was coming up with the list for the ‘50s and ‘60s. My apologies to fans of Astro Boy (1952), Asterix & Obelisk (1959) and even Dan Dare (1950).

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46. The Joker (DC, 1940): Is he a genius or is he insane? The eternal question and the elusive answer is that he’s always a little bit of 12134217093?profile=originalboth. He’s a criminal mastermind who’s also maddeningly unpredictable. He’s a criminal madman who’s also surprisingly clever. He’s one of the greatest villains ever created. He is the “Clown Prince of Crime.”

47. Jughead (MLJ, 1941): I always wanted a best friend like Jughead. Well, except for the times when I wanted to be Jughead myself. He’s cool. He’s unflappable. He has his own unique style and he doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him. He also has an insatiable appetite for hamburgers. But if you’re going to famous for something, why not be famous for liking fun food?




12134218253?profile=original48. Katy Keene (MLJ, 1945): Katy Keene was the undisputed queen of romance comics. While most romance comics were anthologies, Katy headlined her own title for a dozen years. She was a great wish fulfillment character for young girls- she was a model, an actress and a singer who wore stunning clothes.12134218083?profile=original

49. Kid Colt (Marvel, 1948): Marvel, or Timely as they were known at the time, was the king of western heroes. While other companies specialized in licensed stories based on movie stars, Marvel developed their own stable of gunslingers. Kid Colt was one of Marvel’s big three western heroes. With his white hat and calfskin jacket, he was instantly recognizable. Kid Colt was one of the longest-running western heroes as well. His own title lasted for 31 years until the end of the ‘70s.


50. Kid Eternity (Quality, 1942): It’s not easy to stand out in the superhero genre but 12134218677?profile=originalKid Eternity had a place all to himself. Christopher Freeman had his own personal genie who would summon historical figures to help him in his adventures. The Kid Eternity comic book combined education, entertainment and incredible art.

Special sidebar: This is as far back as I go. The comic book was invented in 1933. However, original characters didn’t start appearing until about 1938 as the earliest comic books were reprinted collections of comic strips. So I can’t really put together a list of the greatest comic book of the ‘20s as the format didn’t exist yet. Yet, even though I can’t compile a list, I can at least pay tribute to the great characters who paved the way. Say hello to the Yellow Kid, Little Nemo from Slumberland, Popeye, Buck Rogers, Tintin and so many more.

Read more…

12134103686?profile=originalLast week, I started my list of the 100 greatest characters of the ‘70s and ‘80s.  As with the list I did last year for the 100 greatest characters of the ‘90s and ‘00s, I decided to present the list alphabetically.  It’s hard enough narrowing all of the characters down to 100 without having to try and sort them, too.

 

51. Lilith (Marvel, 1974): One sign of a great villain is that they can move beyond the orbit of their original title.  Lilith, the mother of vampires, may have started out in Tomb of Dracula but she eventually made life messy for the X-Men and Ghost Rider as well.12134104084?profile=original

 

52. Longshot (Marvel, 1985): Longshot was like an independent series published by one of the big two.  He was a naïve refugee from another dimension, being faced by multiple foes, many of whom disguised themselves with friendly faces.  His luck powers were a little too convenient when he was a part of a team, but he was a truly intriguing solo star.12134104692?profile=original

 

53. Lucius Fox (DC, 1979): Another great supporting character.  Lucius Fox was added to the Batman titles by Len Wein.  He fits so well that it seems as if he’s always been there.12134104869?profile=original
 

54. Luke Cage (Marvel, 1972): The Hero for Hire.  Power Man.  More recently, New Avenger, superhero husband and dad.  Luke Cage has seen and done it all. 

 

55. Lumiya (Marvel, 1982): She was introduced late in Marvel’s Star Wars title, not showing up until after Empire Strikes Back.  But she was a memorable villain, with a12134105092?profile=original great look and an inextinguishable hatred for the good guys. 
She graduated to the novels where she trained Jacen Solo in the ways of the dark side.  It’s always cool when the comics influence the larger Star Wars world.

 

12134105666?profile=originalSide-Bar: Comics have always borrowed- or licensed- characters from other media.  Movie stars, radio stars, TV stars and even toys have made their way into comics.  Some of the biggest hits during this era came from other sources.  They were among the greatest characters.  They contributed some of the best comics and stories.  But they don’t count for this list.  Yet comics wouldn’t have been the same without Conan, Star Wars, Transformers or GI Joe.

 

56. Maggie Sawyer (DC, 1987): Another great supporting character.  She was added to the Superman mythos by John Byrne.  She fits so well that it seems like she’s always been there.12134105691?profile=original

 

57. Misty Knight (Marvel, 1975): I wanted to add both Misty and her Daughters of the
Dragon partner Colleen Wing but I settled on picking just the one.  Misty has always been a little more prominent.  Maybe it’s the impossible-to-notice afro.

 

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58. Mr. Miracle (DC, 1971): Jack Kirby allegedly based Mr. Miracle on fellow comic superstar Jim Steranko, who had been an escape artist earlier in life.  It was an inspired idea, filling a niche that nobody else realized was empty. 12134107252?profile=original

 

59. Mr. Monster (Pacific, 1984): Michael T. Gilbert took a little known hero from Canada’s Golden Age and morphed him into a character all his own.  The new Mr. Monster was a wonderfully wacky addition to the world of heroes and monsters. 

 

 

12134106886?profile=original60. Myndi Mayer (DC, 1987): Another great supporting character.  George Perez assigned Wonder Woman a publicist as part of her relaunch.  Myndi was self-assured, selfish, smug, snide, sexually confident and- to the shock of the readers- suicidal. 

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61. Mystique (Marvel, 1978): She can be anyone she wants as she shifts shapes, allegiances and motives as easily as anyone else changes shoes.  She’s a dangerous foe, and potentially a more dangerous ally.

 

62. Nexus (Pacific, 1981): Arguably the greatest of the independent heroes.  Horatio Hellpop is Nexus, the star of a space opera that combined science-fiction and super-heroics with questions about divinity, capital punishment and politics. 

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63. Nightcrawler (Marvel, 1975): One of my favorite characters.  Nightcrawler is eminently likable, everybody’s best friend, quick with a jest and in love with life.  Yet he runs deep, with a strong Catholic faith and an even stronger sense of mutant rights. 12134108290?profile=original

 

64. Ogami Itto (Futabasha, 1970; First, 1987): The Lone Wolf of Lone Wolf and Cub who walks quietly and carries a big sword. 

 

65. Power Girl (DC, 1976): She’s bold.  She’s unembarrassed by her sexuality.  She’s confident as a 12134108680?profile=originalwoman in a man’s world, whether that’s as a superhero or as the CEO of a software company.  She can sometimes be a little abrasive as well (especially when she’s written by a man who isn’t sympathetic to women’s right).12134109498?profile=original

 

66. Psylocke (Marvel, 1986): She’s undergone some incredible transformations as part of some unforgettable stories.  As Captain Britain’s innocent sister, she was captured by Mojo and given a cybernetic eye.  As one of the Uncanny X-Men, she was captured by Matsuo and turned into a ninja.  Yet, she has survived and even thrived through it all, becoming one of the more distinctive members of the X-Men.

 

12134110069?profile=original67. Puma (Marvel, 1984): The Puma isn’t one of Spider-Man’s biggest adversaries but he’s one of the best.  Puma was a fierce fighter.  He was also a Native American who was trying to abandon the reservation for the boardroom.  He was complicated, contentious and very cool.12134110683?profile=original

 

68. The Punisher (Marvel, 1974): In the mid-‘70s, Marvel specialized in creating anti-heroes.  The Punisher brought a gun and a grudge to comics as a former Viet Nam vet who now turned his sights on the mob.  He also targeted those who protected them, a category that sometimes included superheroes who refused to take a life such as the Amazing Spider-Man.

 

12134111459?profile=original69. Rachel Summers (Marvel, 1981): Other fans may have been distracted by her origin but I’m engrossed by her plight.  As a refugee from a possible future, her family
doesn’t know her.  As a young mutant, she can’t control her incredible powers.  As a former slave, she carries guilt and embarrassment like accessories.  Her understandable angst was perfectly in place for the Uncanny X-Men. 12134111856?profile=original

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70. Rachel Van Helsing (Marvel, 1972): Rachel was an excellent combination of a hard edge and a soft side.  She was an indefatigable vampire hunter yet she also developed tender relationships with mentors and lovers.

 

71. Ra’s Al Ghul (DC, 1971): The immortal Batman villain. 

 

12134112080?profile=original72. Raven (DC, 1980): The ingénue who was also the daughter of the devil.   The empath who felt everyone else’s emotions yet was inexperienced with her own.  The goth princess who was invented before goth was popular. 

 

73. Red Sonja (Marvel, 1973): The sword and sorcery queen who
is infamous for her strong sword, her metal bikini and her hatred of men.  It worked at the time, as long as you don’t think about it too much.

 

12134112675?profile=originalSide-Bar: Red Sonja isn’t the only product of her time who has difficulty translating to other eras.  There were plenty of other characters who shone brightly for a short period.  They have their fans, but I’m not among them.  Villains may fear the touch of the12134113069?profile=original Man-Thing but I fear his stories, as they’re usually frightfully boring.  Howard the Duck’s
humor may have been timely, but it isn’t timeless.  And Judge Dredd is like the Punisher without the depth of characterization.  Sorry, guys, you had to be there.  And I wasn’t.  

 

74. The Rocketeer (Pacific, 1982): Now here’s a timeless character.  The Rocketeer had a nostalgic glow that made him simultaneously classic and new.

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75. Rog-2000 (Charlton, 1974): Before there was Wall-E, R2-D2 or C-3PO, there was Rog-2000.  He started out as an illustration, 12134113275?profile=originalgraduated to small gags and eventually short stories.  He also put John Byrne on the map, getting the artist noticed by first Charlton and then Marvel. 

 

76. Rogue (Marvel, 1981): The Southern belle sought refuge and redemption with the X-Men.


77. Rorshach (DC, 1985): The heartless hero was the bane of
villains and the idol of fans. 

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78. Sabretooth (Marvel, 1977)

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12134114900?profile=original79. Sebastian Shaw (Marvel, 1980): The X-Men quickly developed their own set of villains.  Sabretooth was poached from Power Man and Iron Fist as a natural foe first for the X-Men and then for Wolverine.  He’s had memorable bouts with Psylocke, Jubilee, Jean Grey and just about everybody else.  Sebastian Shaw was the head of the Hellfire Club, causing consternation for our heroes while hiding behind a veneer of civility.

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80. Shang-Chi (Marvel, 1973): The greatest comic book kung fu hero.

 

12134115678?profile=original12134116264?profile=original81. She-Hulk (Marvel, 1980)

82. Spider-Woman (Marvel, 1977): Marvel developed a pattern of creating female heroes based on their successful male characters.  She-Hulk was a cousin to the Hulk.  Spider-Woman had no relation but the name.  Yet these super heroines grew out of their derivative roots to grow legions of fans all their own, including future Marvel writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Dan Slott.12134116664?profile=original

 

83. Spiral (Marvel, 1985): I love Spiral’s twisted approach to everything.  She doesn’t defeat the hero as much as confuse him until he doesn’t know if he’s won or lost.  She supposedly works for Mojo but she’s worked against him as well.

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12134117291?profile=original84. Speedball (Marvel, 1988): Life- and comics- would be boring if every hero was the same.  We need those straight-jawed heroes that are always right.  And we also need hyper-kinetic balls of energy that bring whimsy to their work. 

 

85. Starfire (DC, 1980): The successful cartoon reminded us that Starfire was more than an alien supermodel.  She brought an innocence, enthusiasm and passion to everything she did- from building friendships to budding romances to beating up bad guys.

 

12134117877?profile=original86. Storm (Marvel, 1975): The queen of super-heroes.  Storm was one of the greatest characters of any era.  She was a black hero who embraced her African roots while eschewing stereotypical costumes or powers.  She was quiet, yet forceful; regal, yet sneaky. 

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87. Swamp Thing (DC, 1971): He was already the best of the muck monsters thanks to his distinctive profile and his excellent early appearances.  However, he eclipsed the rest of the category when Alan Moore re-imagined him as a swamp creature that thought he was a man.

 

12134118852?profile=original88. Talisman (Noble Comics, 1981): He’s not even the most famous hero to bear the name.  That honor belongs to the daughter of Alpha Flight’s Shaman.  However, this Talisman was a trailblazer.  Unlike every other hero, he was cynical, smarmy, and he refused to wear a costume, running around in a suit and tie instead. 

 

Side-Bar: I’ve always been a fan 12134119271?profile=originalof super-teams.  For some of the biggest teams, like the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, it was easy to include every member.  For some of the others, like Alpha Flight or Infinity Inc, I tended to choose one interesting character as a representative.  But for a lot of the independent teams, it was difficult to single out one character.  The DNAgents and the Elementals may have been interesting, but they’re still missing from this list.  However, the lesser-known Justice Machine makes an appearance thanks to the memorable Talisman.

 

89. Terra (DC, 1982): She’s unforgettable.  She was the sweetest young girl you could ever know and the Titans gladly brought her into their ranks.  But it was all a lie.  She was 12134119662?profile=originalactually a hardened criminal playing them for fools.  The revelation was shocking.  And yet fans kept hoping that we had been right about her the first time. 12134119684?profile=original

 

90. The Tick (New England, 1986): How can you not love a superhero with the catchphrase “Spoon!” 

 

91. Tigra (Marvel, 1974): Tigra is an interesting hybrid.  Yes, she’s part woman and part tiger.  But I’m more fascinated by the way she strode the fence between horror and superhero comics. 

 

12134120274?profile=original92. Tim Drake (DC, 1989): He earned the right to be a sidekick, even though that wasn’t his intention.  Tim Drake decided that the Batman needed a Robin to keep him grounded.  And he figured out that Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, used to be Robin.  By convincing Batman and Nightwing of the importance of Robin, the dynamic duo offered him the job.

 

Side-Bar: For 40 years or more, one hero wore the red, green and yellow of the Robin costume. Then, in less than a decade, three characters pulled on the yellow cape.  Jason Todd was the first.  Or the second.  There were incarnations, pre and post Crisis.  One was slightly annoying.  The other incredibly so.  Carrie Kelly was next, wearing the suit in the future story, The Dark Knight Returns.  But Tim was the best.

 

12134120489?profile=original12134121464?profile=original93. Usagi Yojimbo (Fantagraphics, 1984): His name means “rabbit bodyguard” and he’s Stan Sakai’s contribution to the world of comic books.  He’s a rabbit.  He’s a samurai.  And he’s a modern classic.    

 

94. Ventriloquist (DC, 1988)

12134121853?profile=original95. Venom (Marvel, 1988): It’s not easy to create a villain for a classic character.  Their other opponents have such a long history that it’s hard for the new fellow to measure up.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  The Ventriloquist may not be as infamous as the Joker or the Penguin, but he’s an absolutely inspired creation.  And Venom, the alien symbiote that likes to shape itself as a black Spider-Man costume, has elevated itself into one of the wallcrawler’s greatest foes. 

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96. Warlord (DC, 1975): The ‘70s were a good tim12134122093?profile=originale for alternate genres and fans of those genres.  Travis Morgan was the Warlord, a fantasy hero who drew inspiration from Tarzan’s jungle adventures and Conan’s sword and sorcery. 

 

97. Wildfire (DC, 1973): The Legion of Super-Heroes were supposed to be located in the far future but it wasn’t until the 1970s that they started to explore the edges of imagination.  Wildfire was a being of pure energy who wore a containment suit. 
He was also a wild card, a loose cannon and a welcome addition12134123268?profile=original to the often uptight Legion.

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98. Wolverine (Marvel, 1974): One of the all-time greatest comic book characters. He’s the epitome of the anti-hero.  He’s unrelenting against his enemies, irritating to his friends and shackled by his inner demons.

 

99. Yang (Charlton, 1973): Yang is arguably the purest of the kung fu characters.  While others borrowed from pulp fiction or super-heroes, Yang stayed within the sphere of martial arts.  That meant that his adventures weren’t always as wild as the others, but they were always precise.

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100. Zot! (Eclipse, 1984): The innocent hero of the eponymous title.  He fought blowhards, diehards and hardcases.  But he had trouble figuring out the problems of a teenaged girl. 

 

Thanks for reading.  These lists are a lot of work, but they’re also a lot of fun. 

 

The end.  For now. 

Read more…


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Last month (Sorry about that folks, I (anacoqui) have been much too busy!), I started a series on the 100 greatest comic book characters of the ‘30s and ‘40s. I’ve been progressing through the list alphabetically because, quite frankly, it’s hard enough to narrow the list down to 100 without trying to rank them in order as well. So here’s the second half of the hot 100, starting with the letter “L.”

51. Lady Luck (Quality, 1940): I’m stretching the definition here a little. Not the definition of a great character. Lady Luck, who was created by Will Eisner and wore a distinctive green costume and veil, certainly qualifies as one of the greats. No, I’m stretching the definition of comic book. Lady Luck served as the Spirit’s back-up feature in his Sunday supplement, something that straddled the line between a comic strip and a comic book. I’m choosing to count it among the latter so that I can include the Lady and the fella later on.

12134164275?profile=original52. Lex Luthor (DC, 1940): Luthor didn’t spring fully formed from the imaginations of Superman creators Shuster and Siegel. There was a prototype for the character early on who wasn’t bald. Plus, he started out as little more than a gang boss in prison gear, not the manipulative mastermind that we’ve come to know. Some characters are born great while others grow into their greatness and Luthor certainly fits the latter category. He’s been recognized as Superman’s greatest foe and as one of the smartest villains in history for decades.

12134164862?profile=original53. Little Dot (Harvey, 1949): As I’ve mentioned time and time again, comic books aren’t all superheroes- even if that’s the association most people draw today. Harvey had a lot of success with their line of humorous kids’ comics. Little Dot, who had a fascination with dots, was one of their headliners. Her tales were funny and cute and I remember enjoying them years later when I was a kid.



54. Lois Lane
(DC, 1938): She’s Clark Kent’s co-worker, Superman’s girlfriend and an unwitting participant in one of comics’ oddest love triangles. Yet she’s so much more 12134164901?profile=originalthan that. She’s an intrepid reporter and a prize-winning journalist. She’s dedicated, hardworking and occasionally hardheaded. She’s an army brat with a chip on her shoulder. And she emerged from the shadow of Superman’s cape to star in her own comic book and to be co-featured in a television series.

12134165263?profile=original55. Mary Marvel (Fawcett, 1942): I shy away from including derivative characters so I surprise even myself by including both Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel. But then, Fawcett didn’t really create derivative characters. Mary became so much more than a female version of Captain Marvel. She brought welcome joy and innocence to the genre as she starred in her own light-hearted adventures.

12134165870?profile=original56. Master Key (Harry “A” Chesler, 1940): Haven’t heard of him? That’s okay. Sometimes cool characters come from unexpected places. Harry “A” Chesler was the man behind many a C-list comic book in the Golden Age but he also uncovered a few diamonds in the mine. Similar to most Golden Age heroes, the Master Key was a wealthy playboy who received superpowers through a scientific experiment gone awry. In this case, he had super-vision. However, unlike other heroes, the Master Key eschewed a costume. He fought crime while smartly dressed in a white hat and tuxedo. And he used his vast resources to travel the globe, finding adventure in every corner of the world.

12134165289?profile=original57. Merry, Girl of 1000 Gimmicks (DC, 1948): She’s not as well known as her brother Sylvester, who became the patriotic hero, the Star-Spangled Kid. But when superheroes waned in the late ‘40s, Merry picked up a thousand toys and trinkets to become the Girl of 1000 Gimmicks. She became the Star-Spangled Kid’s partner before supplanting him in the strip and starring in her own adventures.

12134166089?profile=original12134166698?profile=original58. Miss America (Quality, 1941)
59. Miss America (Marvel, 1943): Two separate heroines wore this moniker and both are worthy of this list. The first is Quality’s patriotic heroine, Joan Dale. Joan received her powers from the Statue of Liberty in a dream, not unlike King Arthur receiving his sword from the Lady of the Lake. She fought evil in the pages of Military Comics and has been revived in recent decades by DC Comics. Marvel created their own Miss America two years later. Madeline Joyce started out as a back-up feature in Marvel Mystery but graduated to her own title in 1944, leading the charge the post-war boom of super-heroines

12134167478?profile=original60. Miss Fury (Marvel, 1941): Like Lady Luck, Miss Fury strode the line between comic strip and comic book, appearing in both formats. Originally named the Black Fury, Miss Fury was created by Tarpe Mills making her own of the few (and likely the first) female comic book character created by a woman. She was wealthy socialite, Marla Drake. She wore a skintight black costume. And like a lot of her contemporaries, she fought crime without the benefit of superpowers.

Side-bar: The line between comic strips and comic books seems set in stone today when collections of strips like Foxtrot or Calvin & Hobbes aren’t even displayed in the same section of a bookstore as Batman. But that wasn’t always the case. Comic books started out by collecting and reprinting comic strips. Some of the most popular books continued to feature comic strip stars for years. Plus, it wasn’t unusual for characters or creators to move back and forth between the two formats. Technically, they don’t count for this list of comic book characters. But, truthfully, they had a huge presence in and influence on the comic books of the time. So I tip my cap to Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Pogo, Prince Valiant, Little Orphan Annie and all the rest.

12134167883?profile=original61. Miss Masque (Nedor, 1946): Marvel wasn’t the only company to enjoy the post-war boom in female heroes. Nedor had already had success with The Woman in Red, who they introduced as one of the first female heroes back in 1940. But in 1946, they perfected the formula with Miss Masque. Diana Adams wore a sporting hat, a black mask and a short red dress. She quickly became one of Nedor’s most popular characters and co-starred in America’s Best Comics with the Black Terror and the Fighting Yank.

12134168090?profile=original62. Mr. Mind (Fawcett, 1943): Good villains are hard to find. In this case quite literally. Mr. Mind is a two-inch worm. He’s an alien of incredible intelligence and, in some stories, telepathic abilities. Captain Marvel heard Mr. Mind’s voice years before he discovered the truth behind this new nemesis. Mr. Mind worked through a cadre of minions to make the Captain’s life miserable and was the mastermind behind one of comics’ first super-villain teams, the Monster Society of Evil.



63. Mr. Mxyzptlk
(DC, 1944): Comic book writers quickly realized that they couldn’t put super strong villains up against Superman. It was no match. So they went the other way. Superman faced a legion of tricksters and jokesters 12134168484?profile=originalwho toyed with his mind and forced him to think his way out of a problem. I could have included the Toyman or the Prankster but the best of the bunch is clearly the multi-dimensional imp, Mr. Mxyzptlk.

12134169058?profile=original64. Moon Girl (EC, 1947): Moon Girl was one of the last superheroes created in the Golden Age. She was a new adventure hero for fledgling EC. However, she couldn’t fight the rising tide of romance comics and was replaced after only a couple of issues. However, championed by historians like Tricia Robbins, Moon Girl has remained a beloved character.


65. Nelvana of the Northern Lights
(Hillborough, 1941): Andy Dingle was inspired to create Nelvana by the native stories of the Inuit (aka
Eskimos). He introduced her at the small Canadian company Hillborough which was eventually bought by the larger publisher Bell. Dingle and his character were part of the
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move and Nelvana became one of Canada’s most popular and enduring figures. John Byrne cited her as an influence in his creation of the Alpha Flight character, Snowbird.

12134170056?profile=original66. Patsy and Hedy (Marvel, 1944): Marvel had a minor hit with this comedy duo in the late ‘40s. They were like Betty & Veronica, but out from Archie’s shadow. They were occasional rivals and frequent friends, planning parties and fighting over boys. Their stories are witty and fun. Patsy also enjoyed a second career as the superhero and Avenger, Hellcat, after Marvel brought her back in the 1970s.

12134169899?profile=original12134171061?profile=original67. The Penguin (DC, 1941)
68. The Penguin (Bell, 1943): Once again, there are two characters of the same name but this time, they’re nothing alike. The first Penguin is the famous Batman villain. Oswald Cobblepot baffles Batman with trick umbrellas and other gimmicks. He also occasionally and famously teams up with the Joker. The second Penguin is an obscure Canadian hero by Andy Dingle (who also created Nelvana). The Penguin fought crime in a mask and tuxedo. However, fans never knew his real identity and part of the fun was trying to figure out which character running away from trouble was really the Penguin doubling back in disguise.

12134171489?profile=original69. Phantom Lady (Quality, 1941): Phantom Lady might hold the record for having her adventures recorded by more publishers than any other. She started out at Quality in 1941. When Quality stopped publishing her adventures, Jerry Iger took the feature to Fox where she became infamous for her sexy covers. She appeared at Ajax in the ‘50s, at Charlton in the ‘60s and at AC in the ‘70s. In recent decades, she’s been the property of DC Comics who acquired her rights when they bought the Quality stable in the mid-‘50s.

12134172454?profile=original70. Plastic Man (Quality, 1941): Jack Cole created one of comics’ most enduring characters when he combined comedy and superhero in the plastic personality of Eel O’Brian.

71. Professor Calculus (Casterman, 1944): The absent-minded professor has been a staple of fiction for a long, long time. One of the best examples can be found in
Tintin’s adviser, Professor Calculus. The Professor may be brilliant but he’s easily
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distracted, more easily confused and most often a source of consternation to friend and foe alike.

72. Pyroman (Nedor, 1942): Research student Dick Martin found a way to store electric current in his body. He was falsely accused and wrongly convicted of murder. After surviving the electric chair, Martin fought crime as
the superhero Pyroman. Although he wasn’t one of the Nedor’s big three characters, Pyroman was a trailblazer. He was one of the first heroes
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to fly and to shoot beams from his hands- abilities that would become prevalent in the atomic age of comics.


73. The Ray
(Quality, 1940): The original Ray appeared in an all-yellow costume with a pointy hat and a star-shaped frill. Hey, at least he wasn’t 12134173097?profile=originalcalled The Whizzer. He was able to change into a light ray- a power he gained due to exposure to sunlight and lightning at the same time. He fought crime for Quality Comics and has inspired several legacy characters at DC.


74. Red Skull
(Marvel, 1941)
12134174254?profile=original12134174465?profile=original75. The Riddler (DC, 1948): They’re two of the greatest villains, but they couldn’t be more different. The Red Skull is the face of evil. He’s a Nazi scientist who survived an accident that removed the skin from his head and turned his skull red. He’s relentless and humorless, haunting Captain America and other Marvel heroes for over 70 years. The Riddler is an enigma. He’s a criminal, though he seems more interested in crime as a game- a way to match wits with cops, superheroes and especially Batman.

12134174495?profile=original76. Robin (DC, 1940): The original sidekick, Robin is one of the great characters in comic books. Trained in the circus. Orphaned as a young boy. Taken in as a ward by Batman. Trained to fight crime. Robin led the kind of life that many a young boy could envy. More than that, Robin always seemed to have a smile on his face as he socked the latest crook. Fighting crime was a lark and the reader could appreciate the joy of being a superhero alongside Robin.

Sidebar: DC described Robin as “the character find of 1940” and they were right. Robin is one of the most imitated characters other than Superman himself, inspiring a legion of kid sidekicks. Some deserve their place on this list (Bucky). Others were so integral to the main hero that they were included as part of the same entry (Kitten). But most were simply minor versions of minor heroes. But, for a while, every hero needed a little kid trailing after him. So give a pat on the head to Dan the Dyna-Mite (TNT), Davey (Magno the Magnetic Man), Dusty the Boy Detective (Shield), Pinky (Mr. Scarlet), Roy the Superboy (Wizard), Sandy (Sandman) and Toro (the Human Torch).

12134175081?profile=original77. Sandman (DC, 1939): A lot of different characters have claimed the moniker of the Sandman but the first comic book character to do so was Wesley Dodds. He wore a business suit, a fedora and a gas mask as he fought crime with a gas gun that emitted knockout gas. Later one, he was transformed into a more traditional superhero but it’s the distinctive original look that has persisted over the decades.

12134176060?profile=original78. Scrooge McDuck (Dell, 1947): The Walt Disney empire was built on cartoon serials but one of their most well known characters made his debut in comic books. Carl Barks introduced Donald’s rich uncle in 1947. The world’s richest duck has starred in hundreds of his own comics. He has also joined Donald in movies and on television. Scrooge’s money bin is instantly recognizable and he continues to rank highly on Forbes’ annual list of the richest fictional characters.



79. Senorita Rio
(Fiction House, 1942)
12134175894?profile=original80. Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (Fiction House, 1938): They’re mostly forgotten 12134176292?profile=originalnow but Fiction House was one of the more prominent publishers of the Golden Age. They specialized in adventure anthologies like Jungle, Fight, Planet and Wings. Sheena was one of their biggest characters. A female version of Tarzan, she started in Jumbo Comics before starring in a title of her own. She was also a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, proving as popular with the troops in Britain as with the kids back home. Senorita Rio, though not as well known, was another great character. She was a secret agent and adventurer who used her Hispanic background to infiltrate fascist elements in Central and South America. She stands in the middle of a proud line of adventurers from Zorro to Indiana Jones.

Sidebar: Sheena has always seemed like a character that should have debuted in pulp novels. In the early days, there was a lot of crossover between the two formats. Pulp heroes such as Doc Savage, Green Hornet and the Shadow starred in comic books. Many comic characters were influenced and inspired by these pulp stars. Some were fairly direct copies, such as Marvel’s Angel who was clearly based on The Saint. Others were a little more original. In either case, pulps and comics were as close as cousins in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

12134177260?profile=original81. The Shield (MLJ, 1940): This patriotic hero was one of MLJ’s biggest stars before the company transitioned to teen humor superstar, Archie Andrews. The first Shield was Joe Higgins. The front of his costume looked like a shield. He also wore stars and stripes on his gloves and boots. He eventually picked up a sidekick named Dusty the Boy Detective. The Shield has made periodic appearances whenever Archie has decided to bring back their superheroes.

12134177473?profile=original82. Skyman (Columbia, 1940): Some of the most interesting characters of the Golden Age came from the lesser publishers like Columbia. Skyman wore a blue cape and cowl. He had a red tunic and a yellow symbol that looked like a three-handed clock but which was supposed to be a plane’s steering column. He bridged genres between aerial adventure and superhero and could often be seen swinging out of an airplane on a jump-line.

 


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83. Slam Bradley (DC, 1937): Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are, of course, most associated with Superman but they created several other characters for DC including Doctor Occult and Slam Bradley. Bradley was a hard-boiled detective straight from the pulp novels and film noir movies. His adventures were fast-paced and full of action, which is fitting considering his name.

12134178859?profile=original84. Solomon Grundy (DC, 1944): DC took a name from a children’s nursery rhyme and turned him into one of their most interesting villains. Grundy is a creature of the swamp. He’s big. He’s huge. He’s only partially sentient. And he’s an indefatigable foe for Green Lantern, Batman, Starman and a host of other heroes. He was even name-checked by the Crash Test Dummies in their ‘90s hit, Superman’s Song.


85. The Spirit
(Quality, 1940): Denny Colt is just your average, ordinary gumshoe detective. Except for the fact that everyone thinks he’s dead. And that he wears a mask to keep up the presence. And that he lives in a
cemetery. But the real star of The Spirit was writer/artist Will Eisner. He brought whimsy
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and ingenuity to the strip that had never been seen before or, arguably, since.

12134179495?profile=original86. Spy Smasher (Fawcett, 1940): Spy Smasher was one of Fawcett’s original heroes. Debuting in Whiz Comics #2 (there was no #1), he appeared alongside Captain Marvel and Ibis the Invincible before receiving his own title in 1941. After World War II, he changed his name to Crime Smasher and continued his war against evil at home.


87. Starman
(DC, 1941): The first Starman, Ted Knight, harnessed the energy of the stars through a gravity rod that allowed him to fly and shoot energy blasts. He wore a red costume with a yellow
star which, when worn as a T-shirt, elicits a lot of comments about whether or not you support communism (trust me, I speak from experience on this one).
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Sidebar: DC is easily the publisher with the most entries on this list. That stands to reason: they are the company behind Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. However, the fame of great heroes rubbed off on lesser characters who appeared in the same titles. Plus, many of those characters continue to be a part of DC’s continuity. today They may be more familiar than other entries, but that’s because of their association and not because of their inherent quality. Even so, they’re worth a nod. Stand up and be counted, Guardian, Johnny Quick, Manhunter, Vigilante and all the rest.

12134180255?profile=original88. Stuntman (Harvey, 1946): When they returned from service in World War II, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby took one last shot at creating a superhero and came up with one of their best. Stuntman was similar to a grown-up Robin. He was a circus performer, trapeze artist and movie stuntman. He had no actual powers but he used his peculiar skills to fight crime. However, the era of superheroes had passed and Simon & Kirby soon transitioned to romance comics like Young Love.

12134180086?profile=original89. Sub-Mariner (Marvel, 1939): Bill Everett created the king of the seven seas for Marvel in 1939. Namor the Sub-Mariner was a royal rogue. He was the king of Atlantis whose objectives didn’t always align with the surface world. His fights with the Human Torch were famous as one of the first comic book crossovers in history. However, he soon recognized that Hitler was a threat to everyone and allied himself with Captain America and the Human Torch against the Nazis. Imperial, officious and arrogant, Namor has been one of Marvel’s most unpredictable characters for 70 years.

12134180855?profile=original90. Superboy (DC, 1945): Does he deserve a separate entry? Sure, why not? The adventures of Superman as a young boy in Smallville proved to be a popular idea. Superboy took over More Fun comics, landed in his own eponymous title and eventually gave rise to the futuristic Legion of Super-Heroes. More recently, he’s starred in a long-lasting television series.



12134181085?profile=original91. Superman
(DC, 1938): The first and greatest superhero. Superman is Kal-El, a young boy sent to Earth in a rocket from a world about to be destroyed. Superman is Clark Kent, the adopted son of American farmers. His alien origin gives him strange abilities on our world: the ability to jump, to fly, to run fast, to stop a speeding bullet, to see through objects and more. He’s the American immigrant. He’s every boy who wished to be great. He’s a true original.

12134181654?profile=original92. Tawky Tawny (Fawcett, 1947): He’s a big talking tiger. That’s it. But by befriending Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel family, Mr. Tawky Tawny earned his place in comic book history. Lots of heroes had comic sidekicks and companions. But few of those companions were as interesting and individual as a big talking tiger.

12134182060?profile=original93. Thomson and Thompson (Casterman, 1934): Herge didn’t invent the bumbling police detective. The Keystone Cops had been running around for years. But Thomson and Thompson are perfect representatives. They think they’re brilliant sleuths while the rest of us recognize them as dupes. They finish each other’s sentences in odd and often contradictory ways. But they sometimes stumble on the right answer after all. They were wonderful additions to the adventures of Tintin.

12134182259?profile=original94. Two-Gun Kid (Marvel, 1948): As I kid, I loved visiting my grandparents’ farm. One reason was that my brother and I could read the ‘50s westerns that my dad and his brothers had read when they were kids. Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid and the Two-Gun Kid were exciting heroes who starred in heart-pounding adventures. The Two-Gun Kid was recognized by his black hat and spotted vest.

12134182476?profile=original95. Uncle Sam (Quality, 1940): The American Icon predated comics by at least a century but in the patriotic fervor of the pre-war period, Quality turned him into a superhero. He was a natural. Uncle Sam pulled up his sleeves and joined the fray, punching German and Japanese soldiers with ruthless efficiency.

96. Vandal Savage (DC, 1943): A superhero without a villain is just a guy in a silly costume. A great super-villain- someone who is worth fighting, someone who needs to be stopped for the sake of the world- is invaluable. Vandal Savage is an 12134183066?profile=originalimmortal, born long before humans settled down and became civilized. He sees other people as tools to be used. And he’s a master tactician, often playing a long game. As a foe for Green Lantern and then as one of the ringleaders of the Injustice Society, Vandal Savage was one of the greatest villains of any age.

12134183658?profile=original97. Venus (Marvel, 1948): As previously mentioned, Marvel created a lot of female characters in the late ‘40s. Venus is arguably the best of them. She’s appeared in a number of different incarnations over the years. Sometimes, she’s actually the goddess Aphrodite. Sometimes, she’s related to the goddess in another way. But, in any incarnation, she’s both beautiful and powerful.



98. The Vision
(Marvel, 1940): Marvel recycled a lot of names from Golden Age characters when building their Silver Age continuity. Few of them were worth 12134184064?profile=originalremembering. But this Jack Kirby creation stands out. Also known as Aarkus, the Vision was an other-dimensional being. He was a law enforcement officer accidentally stranded on our Earth. He was also able to appear and disappear in a cloud of smoke. His alien appearance was unique for the era.

12134184097?profile=original99. White Streak (Novelty, 1940): The White Streak’s moniker is a bit of a misnomer. He wears red and blue in his earliest appearances and shoots red beams, not white ones, from his eyes. Eventually, Novelty corrected their error and he changes to a white tunic on later covers. But that little inconsistency isn’t what makes this character remarkable. Rather, his powerful eye-beams and robotic like appearance made him a visually interesting character and a prototype for many who follow.

12134184274?profile=original100. Wonder Woman (DC, 1941): She’s the greatest comic book heroine of all-time. Created by William Marston as a model for young girls, Wonder Woman is an interesting amalgam. She’s a foreigner from Paradise Island yet also an American patriot. She’s a super strong adventurer yet also an advocate for peace. She’s genuinely compassionate yet occasionally aloof. Far from being a weakness, these inconsistencies are part of her lasting allure. As Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” Likewise, Wonder Woman is a complex character who has successfully molded herself into a role model and an icon for successive generations of young girls.

Final sidebar: Well, that’s my list. I’m sure yours would be different. Perhaps I chose too many obscure and forgotten heroes for your taste (speaking for myself, I could have picked even more as I have a soft spot for oddballs and unknowns). Maybe you would have preferred fewer superheroes (what can I say, that was by far the most popular genre of the era). Maybe you would have liked more super-villains (you have an evil look about you). In any case, I’d love to hear your disagreements, disputes and suggestions. That’s part of what makes a list like this so much fun.

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12134027688?profile=original“You’re right, Cap!  I see the fuse!  It’s gonna blow!

 

These were the last words Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s boy partner, ever spoke in the Silver Age.  One panel later, he was dead, blown to pieces by a booby-trapped drone plane, and a mere three panels after his Silver-Age introduction in The Avengers # 4 (Mar., 1964).

 

I’m tempted to say that that is some sort of record for shortest time between debut and death for a Silver-Age character, but to insist so would be a bit of a cheat.  Comic-book fans with stubborn memories would remember Bucky’s long history with Captain America during the Golden Age.

 

12134127890?profile=originalBucky first appeared alongside his star-spangled mentor in Captain America Comics # 1 (Mar., 1941).  Following his own origin, Captain America was stationed, as Private Steve Rogers, at Fort Lehigh, New Jersey.  There, he met Bucky Barnes, a boy whose soldier father had been killed in a training exercise.  The other G.I.’s had adopted him as the camp mascot.   One night, Bucky burst into Rogers’ tent and inadvertently caught Steve in the act of changing into his costume.  In typical comic-book logic, this somehow entitled him to become Cap’s partner.

 

Donning his own blue-and-crimson outfit, Bucky enthusiastically fought the Nazis and the Japanese alongside Cap.  He proved popular enough to headline twenty issues of his own title, Young Allies Comics, leading his own kid gang, including Toro, sidekick to the original Human Torch.

 

After the war, Captain America Comics shifted gears and turned Cap and Bucky into crime-fighters, tackling gangsters with names like Scarface and the Big Guy.  As soon as he was given his discharge papers, Steve Rogers became a teacher at the Lee School, with Bucky as one of his pupils.  But peacetime was not as good to Bucky as the war had been.

 

The youngster had battled Nazi troops from one end of Europe to the other and never received so much as a scratch.  But only a couple of years after V-J Day, Bucky was gunned down by a slinky villainess named Lavender, in Captain America Comics # 66 (Apr., 1948).  He survived the experience, but was wounded bad enough for Captain America to replace him with a female sidekick, Golden Girl, for a year and a half.

 

12134128091?profile=originalThe lead story in Captain America Comics # 71 (Oct., 1949) saw Bucky finally released from the hospital, just in time for him and Cap to get caught up in a scheme by a second-rate villain named the Trickster.  It would be the last time Bucky appeared in the comic, but it really didn’t matter, because the title itself ended four issues later.

 

In 1953, Atlas (as Marvel Comics was calling itself then) returned Cap and Bucky to active duty, in Young Men # 24 (Dec., 1953).  Atlas even brought back the Captain America title, but it failed to make much of an impression and folded in 1954, after a three-issue run.

 

That was the last mention of Bucky Barnes until The Avengers # 4.  But in that ten years’ time, a new generation of fans had stepped up to the spinner racks, youngsters who had never read any of Cap and Bucky’s Golden-Age adventures.  To them, Captain America was an exciting new character.  Sure, Marvel dropped enough baggage about Cap (especially in his Silver-Age “try-out” in the Human Torch tale that appeared in Strange Tales # 114 [Nov., 1963]) to figure out that there was some kind of history there.  But, to all purposes, Captain America was a Silver-Age hero whose story began when Giant-Man fished his frozen body out of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

 

 

12134132269?profile=originalAs the revived Captain America explained to the Avengers, he and Bucky had been trying to stop a hijacked drone plane from taking off for Nazi Germany.  While Cap had failed to grab onto the plane, Bucky took hold, only to find that an explosive charge had been rigged.  It detonated an instant later, plunging Cap into the icy waters of the North Atlantic, to fall into a state of suspended animation for two decades.

 

Bucky hadn’t been so lucky.  He was blown into pieces-parts.

 

Now, this is where my non-comics-reading fans, like my friends, the Wards, are saying, “Wait a second, commander!  You just told us Captain America and Bucky went home after the war and fought crooks.  Bucky even survived being gut-shot by that brazen hussy.  And, now, you’re saying Bucky got killed fighting Nazis?”

 

Well, yeah.

 

You see, Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee figured nobody reading his magazines now would remember all that stuff, or even know about it.  So, basically, he took a big blue pencil to all those post-war issues of Captain America Comics and Young Men

 

Later on, Stan would discover that fans did know about all those late-1940’s and early 1950’s Cap tales, and they wanted an explanation.  Marvel Comics delivered one in 1972---but it didn’t take Our Heroes off that exploding drone-plane.  (Instead, the 1950’s Cap and Bucky were a different couple of fellas, y’see . . . .)

 

And young Mr. Barnes was still very dead.

 

 

 

 

In that Silver-Age perspective, Bucky became one of those characters---like Ben Parker and Dr. and Mrs. Wayne---whose death was the principal reason for his existence in the first place.  Stan Lee insisted that every Marvel hero of the Silver Age would have a tragic flaw, and Bucky’s death represented the cross that the otherwise-perfect Captain America would bear.  Rarely did an early Captain America adventure go by which didn’t have at least one scene of the Star-Spangled Avenger reproaching himself over Bucky’s death---a combination of survivor’s guilt and self-blame over failing to save the boy.

 

12134133066?profile=originalReaders were hammered with Cap’s guilt over Bucky repeatedly in the first year of his revival, but probably nowhere did it manifest itself more strikingly than in his relationship with Avengers groupie Rick Jones.

 

Within hours of coming out of suspended animation and returning to New York, the shield-slinger has decided to give up his life as Captain America.  “It would be meaningless without Bucky!” he concludes.  “I don’t belong in this age---in this year---no place for me---if only Bucky were here----“

 

On cue, Rick Jones enters Cap’s hotel room, and Cap nearly jumps out of his skin.  “Bucky!! It’s you!!” he cries. “You’ve come back!!  Bucky, you’ve come back!!”  All things considered, Rick takes that greeting pretty much in stride, but outside of telling Steve who he really is, the lad can’t get a word in edgewise.

 

“It’s unbelievable!” Cap rants.  “You’re like his twin brother!  Your voice---your face---everything!!  You could be Bucky’s double!” 

 

Understandably, Rick starts to get the idea that he just barged in on a star-spangled nutcase, and starts edging his way toward the door when Cap says, “. . . You’ve suddenly made me realize that life goes on!  In a way, Bucky can still live again!”

 

I shudder to think of what modern sensibilities would make of that exchange, but fortunately, Rick met Cap in a more-innocent time, and in short order, Rick becomes a true Captain America booster.  Even by Silver-Age comic-book standards, though, Cap’s attitude toward Rick Jones bordered on the psychotic.

 

12134133484?profile=originalDuring most Avengers stories, Cap kept Rick close to his side, protectively.  He was like the big brother that Rick never had.  He taught Rick self-defence techniques and expressed his support of the lad’s efforts to become an Avenger. 

 

. . . Except for the time, in The Avengers # 7 (Aug., 1964), when Rick finds one of Bucky’s old costumes in Steve’s closet and tries it on.  Cap spots him wearing it and rips Rick a new one, swearing that he will never have another partner.

 

. . . And except for the time when Iron Man, in issue # 10 (Nov., 1964), recommends that they make Rick a full-fledged member.  Captain America slaps the idea down almost before Shellhead can finish his sentence, objecting on the basis that he still carries guilt over Bucky Barnes’s death.  And none of the other Avengers has the gumption to overrule him.

 

. . . And then there is the time that Cap jumps down Rick’s throat for daring to express his opinion at an Avengers meeting, in issue # 11 (Dec., 1964).

 

 

 

 

Captain America’s moaning and groaning over Bucky’s death increases after the story “The Masters of Evil”, from The Avengers # 6 (Jul., 1964).  Here, the readers discover that Baron Zemo was the Nazi agent who tried to steal the drone plane upon which Bucky met his end.  When the baron, safely hidden in his South American stronghold, learns that Captain America is still alive, he forms the Masters of Evil to take revenge on the Star-Spangled Avenger.  And when Cap finds out that Zemo is still alive, it flames his own thirst for vengeance, a chord that repeats through all of Zemo’s repeated attacks on the Avengers, over the course of several issues.

 

Probably sensing that the readers were tiring of Cap’s constant whining, Stan Lee brought things to a head.   In “Now, By My Hand, Shall Die a Villain”, from The Avengers # 15 (Apr., 1965), Cap jets to Baron Zemo’s jungle hideout for a showdown.  In a final confrontation, Zemo attempts to blast Cap with a disintegrator pistol.  However, the Star-Spangled Avenger uses his shield to reflect sunlight into the villain’s eyes, blinding him.  Firing wildly, the baron triggers a rockslide which crushes the life out of him.

 

With Bucky’s death avenged, Cap was never again as maudlin.  Cap was still shown to think about his dead partner from time to time, but he stopped crying in his beer over it.

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Stan also probably suspected that the fans were starting to find Cap’s relationship with Rick rather creepy, so in the next issue---the landmark “The Old Order Changeth”---Rick was once again passed up for Avengers membership and summarily dismissed from the series.

 

By this time, Captain America had been awarded a series of his own, taking up the back half of Tales of Suspense, beginning with issue # 59 (Nov., 1964).  After a handful of minor-but-entertaining tales, Cap’s series shifted back to World War II, beginning with a retelling of his and Bucky’s origins.  The Cap stories from Tales of Suspense # 63 (Mar., 1965) through # 71 (Nov., 1965) were all set during the war.  These offered the Silver-Age readers their first look at Bucky in action. 

 

Stan Lee wrote all of these WWII tales, and he gave Cap and Bucky an easy comaraderie, portraying them as confident and capable, with witty dialogue in the same vein as his later Sgt. Fury scripts.  For someone who professed to hate the idea of “kid partners”, Stan did a superb job of writing Bucky as a competent, resourceful hero in his own right, a true partner to Cap, rather than a sycophantic hanger-on.

 

It paid off, after the series shifted back to the present; Bucky had become more of a real character in the eyes of the fans.  Thus, when Cap was shown reflecting on his partner’s death, it had more gravitas, more meaning, because the readers could now more easily identify with his loss.  I don’t know if that result was what Stan had in mind when he scripted those wartime tales, but I’m sure if you asked him, he would tell you “Of course!”, whether he did or not.

 

While the constantly brooding Cap was pretty much a thing of the past, Stan would still play the “Bucky card” on occasion.  One such occasion arose in a four-issue arc beginning with Tales of Suspense # 88 (Apr, 1967), and the story “If Bucky Lives!”  It kicks off when Cap receives a video transmission from Bucky over an Avengers monitor, drawing the shield-slinging hero to a remote island off of Nova Scotia.  To no-one’s surprise, this turns out to be an ambush laid by his arch-foe, the Red Skull.

 

12134138078?profile=originalThe highlight of the multi-parter is the next issue’s confrontation between Cap and Bucky.  The Skull tells him that Bucky survived the drone’s explosion in a state of suspended animation, similar to Cap’s own.  The Nazi villain then brainwashed the youngster, instilling hatred for his former partner.  Or so he says. 

 

The shield-wielding Avenger is forced to fight the youth, and his reluctance lets Bucky get the best of him---until tell-tale clues inform Captain America that Bucky is really a sophisticated robot.  Enraged over the Skull’s manipulation of his feelings, Cap quickly reduces the replica to nuts and bolts.

 

The “Bucky Returns” trick was used a lot over the next fifteen years, probably because Cap fell for it every time.  They always involved a duplicate of Bucky Barnes---robot, android, or human double---used to lure the Star-Spangled Avenger into a trap.  Most of them came after my 1968 cut-off point for the Silver Age, but it was a common Bronze-Age device.  In fact, the next time it was attempted, in 1970, it followed the plot of “If Bucky Lives!” almost identically, substituting Modok and Baron Strucker for the Red Skull as the main villains.

 

(Cap shows he’s finally wised up to the gag in Captain America # 281 [May, 1983], when yet another Bucky shows up at Steve Rogers’ door.  The Avenger grabs him and bounces his head off a wall several times, expecting to find another robot---only to discover that he is Jack Monroe, the 1950’s Bucky.  Oops.)

 

 

 

 

However, the last Bucky story of the Silver Age brought the character full-circle, back to where he entered the era.  Appropriately, it appeared in The Avengers---in issue # 56 (Sep., 1968).

 

In the rush to present Captain America to the Marvel fans of 1964, the one-page account of Bucky’s death and Cap’s survival shown in The Avengers # 4 left many unanswered questions.  Why were Cap and Bucky going after the drone-plane?  Why was it booby-trapped?  And why were Our Heroes in standard G.I. uniforms, instead of their colourful costumes?  The breakneck pace of the story brushed right past those details, and nobody seemed to care enough to go back and find out.

 

12134138681?profile=originalLeave it to Roy Thomas to care enough.  He unveiled the full events of that final adventure in the story “Death Be Not Proud!”  It begins with Captain America summoning the then-active roster of Avengers to the castle once occupied by Doctor Doom ‘way back in Fantastic Four # 5.  Cap confesses to the assembled heroes that he has been preoccupied lately with determining whether or not Bucky could have survived the explosion of the drone-plane.  “If I somehow survived it,” reflects Cap, “couldn’t he have, too?”

 

In order to put an end to his gnawing doubts, Cap proposes using Doom’s time machine to go back to that fatal day.  Goliath, Hawkeye, and the Black Panther insist on tagging along with their red-white-and-blue buddy, while the Wasp operates the device.

 

Since all of them were alive in 1945, the Avenger foursome, borrowing a page from DC’s rules of time-travel, arrives in wartime England in an invisible and intangible state.  Led to the proper hangar by the 1968-Cap, the Avengers have a ringside seat to the last mission of Captain America and Bucky.

 

Roy Thomas crafted a masterful tale, an early showing of his proclivity for fleshing out old stories without altering the original events.  All of the loose ends from The Avengers # 4 are tied neatly.  And though briefly materialised on the scene, due to an outside influence on the time machine, the Avengers are unable to thwart Zemo’s plan before the effect wears off.  Thus, they are forced to helplessly watch those last, awful moments.

 

Bucky Barnes leaves the Silver Age in the same four panels in which he entered it.  And this time, Captain America has no doubts; he could only have been killed instantly.

 

 

 

 

At least, there were no doubts, then.

 

For nearly forty years, despite all the times Marvel had tantalised Captain America and the readers with “Bucky Returns!” plotlines, the true Bucky Barnes had remained really, most sincerely dead.  So certain was this that the comics fanship coined the term Bucky-dead for any character perceived to have been killed off permanently, with no chance of revival.

 

Like most shorthand terms, Bucky-dead was instantly descriptive.  Then, in 2005, it became instantly invalid.  For that was when Bucky returned to the Marvel universe alive, all grown up, and working for the Commies as “the Winter Soldier”.  As the modern account would have it, the Red Skull’s phoney story, back in Tales of Suspense # 89, wasn’t too far off the mark.  Bucky did survive the drone’s explosion, only to be found by the Russians, who altered his memories and put him to work for the KGB.

 

As with all controversial comics plotlines, the readers are largely divided over Bucky’s survival and return.  I suspect most of those who don’t like it are of my vintage.  As I see it, Bucky’s death, and Captain America’s perception of it as his one tragic failure, had more dramatic cachet than any shock value from his resurrection.  It also doesn’t help things that the revolving door of comic-book deaths was opened a little wider.

 

Fortunately, I am rooted in the Silver Age; editorial decisions of the modern day don’t count.  For me, Bucky Barnes’ story ended right where it should have, with the conclusion of The Avengers # 56, when Cap gave his little buddy his final send-off . . . .

 

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Bucky Barnes, Requiescat in Pace.

 

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12134027688?profile=originalAnyone who, as I did, read a Lois Lane comic back in the Silver Age, or anyone who might browse through one of those vintage mags now, will come away with one impression.

 

What in the name of Rao’s green Krypton did Superman ever see in her?

 

Lois Lane was petty, conniving, jealous, prying, and two-faced.  It doesn’t matter which Silver-Age issue of Lois Lane you read; most, if not all, of those traits would have been on display.

 

She claimed to be in love with Superman.  Yet, she spent much of her time trying to ferret out his most private secret---his other identity.  A secret which, if exposed, would completely upend his life and cause him no end of distress.  And in trying to do this, Lois violated Superman’s trust; she violated common decency; and she violated any number of local criminal statutes regarding breaking-and-entering and burglary.

 

When Lois wasn’t doing that, she was preöccupied with luring Superman to the altar.  There, no scheme was too underhanded.  She deceived him, hoaxed him, manipulated him.  She toyed with other men’s affections simply to make the Man of Steel jealous.  Any cruel trick was fair game, if it resulted in her becoming “Mrs. Superman”.

 

12134130073?profile=originalOh, sure, every now and then there would be a story showing Lois doing something heroic or selfless.  But that was only to keep Superman from looking like a total nimrod for having her as his girl friend.

 

Occasionally, he would get sufficiently peeved with Lois to teach her a well-deserved lesson, but in the end, no matter how unflattering things came out, the nosy newshen could always count on Superman remaining her adoring suitor.

 

She might not have felt so secure, had she known that the Man of Steel was simply going through the motions.  Superman no doubt remembered the women who had so captured his heart that his relationship with the lady reporter back home dissolved into “Lois---who?”  And it was only the intervention of harsh fate that ruined the Caped Kryptonian’s chance for happiness each time . . . .

 

 

 

Lori Lemaris

 

 

Lois never really had a chance, for Superman met the first love of his life back in his college days, as Clark Kent.  We learn about “The Girl in Superman’s Past” in Superman # 129 (May, 1959).  While attending a football game at his alma mater, Metropolis University, Clark’s thoughts drift back to the day during his senior year when he spotted a brunette in a wheelchair pushing herself down a steep path.  When the chair’s brake fails, sending the girl careering madly down the slope, Clark comes to the rescue by secretly using his heat vision to melt the wheels.  The chair lurches to a halt, pitching the young woman airborne.  Clark catches her on the fly and sets her back in the chair gently.

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Before he can come up with some lame excuse for why the rubber wheels melted, the girl provides an explanation on her own.  Their eyes lock, as if she had read his mind.  Even more intriguing to Clark is her exotic beauty and hint of a foreign accent.  She introduces herself as Lori Lemaris, an exchange student, and she’s equally taken with the reserved, unassuming Clark.

 

It’s a magical semester for Clark.  He and Lori see each other every chance they can, between their studies and Kent’s duties as Superman.  Then, at the end of the term, Lori tells him that she must return to her homeland.  This brings him to a momentous decision.

 

“I love her!  She’s the kind of girl I’ve always dreamed of marrying---a girl of rare beauty and courage!  I’m going to ask her to be my wife!”

 

As if that’s not drastic enough, Clark realises that his career as Superman would endanger the woman he took as his wife, should criminals learn his secret identity.   So there’s only one thing to do---he’ll reveal his true identity to Lori and then abandon his Superman career!

 

12134132866?profile=originalMeeting Lori at an isolated spot along the seashore, Clark proposes to her.  Lori confides that she loves him, as well, and also that she already knows that he is Superman.  His surprise is followed by devastation, when she tells him that she cannot marry him.  Don’t ask why, she entreats him, just accept it.

 

Clark searches for the answers to Lori’s rejection and uncovers the incredible truth---Lori Lemaris is a mermaid!  It’s confirmed when a near-by dam ruptures and Lori joins Superman to aid the stricken victims.  Afterward, she tells him of her home, the underwater civilisation of Atlantis.  She is one of their race, who adapted to the depths by becoming mermen, communicating by telepathy.

 

Once a century, an Atlantean is sent to the surface world to learn of its progress, and on this occasion, Lori was chosen.  She hadn’t expected to fall in love in the bargain.  But she has her duty to return to her people, just as Clark has his duty as Superman.  Reluctantly, the Man of Steel agrees.

 

 

 

But that wasn’t the end of it.  Years after his college days, Superman would encounter his first love again, and old passions would flame anew.

 

In “Superman’s Mermaid Sweetheart”, from Superman # 135 (Feb., 1960), Clark Kent investigates a whaler’s account of a mermaid interfering with his catches.  The sailor’s description of her reminds Kent of Lori, awakening the memories of his first romance.  That night, seized with the desire to see her again, Kent stands on the rocky seacoast and mentally calls to Lori---“eagerly, every fiber of his being atingle with hope . . . .”

 

12134135474?profile=originalTo his amazement, Lori responds, and the two lovers reunite.  After a dazzling night on the town, Clark changes to Superman and returns Lori to the sea.  Marry me, he asks her, and he’ll quit the surface world forever to live with her in Atlantis.  Lori’s heart says yes, but she tells the Man of Steel that she’ll have to get permission from the elders of Atlantis first.  She’ll return in twenty-four hours with their answer.

 

The next night, an ebullient Lori tells Superman the elders’ answer is “yes!”  Atlantis will be proud to have him as a citizen.

 

Joy turns to disaster, however, an instant later.  The whaler, blaming Lori for his lost catches, has tracked her down.  In vengeance, the seaman hurls his harpoon at Lori’s pet dolphin.  In moving to save the animal, Lori breaks her neck on a stony outcropping.  She’s left paralysed and near death.  Only the need to rush her to medical help prevents an enraged Superman from tearing the whaler limb from limb.

 

“If the woman I love dies,” he tells the sailor in cold fury, “there will be no corner in the universe where you can hide!”

 

The Man of Steel super-speeds the stricken mermaid to Atlantis.  Sadly, its physicians report, there’s nothing Atlantean medicine can do for her.  Desperately, Superman scours the galaxy in search of a surgeon who can save his dying love.  After a hundred disappointments, he locates a water-covered world with a race of merman similar to the Atlanteans.  Their greatest surgeon, Ronal, believes he can help.

 

12134135289?profile=originalSuperman brings the merman to Earth and the surgery begins.  The impatient hero waits nearly a week to learn the results.  But it’s worth it.  The operation was a success, and Lori is well and whole, again.  Superman is ecstatic---until he accidentally discovers with his super-senses that Lori has fallen in love with Ronal.

 

For an instant, Superman is blind with jealousy over the injustice of it.  Then, accepting the reality of the situation, he takes the high ground and leaves Lori with his best wishes.

 

 

Lori Lemaris would become a regular character in the Superman family magazines.  The readers weren’t privy to Lori’s feelings on the matter, but their frequent encounters often stirred the Man of Steel’s feelings for her.  Not a good thing, as far as his relationship with Lois went.

 

 

 

Lyla Lerrol

 

 

In the landmark “Superman’s Return to Krypton”, from Superman # 141 (Nov., 1960), Our Hero is accidently thrust back in time, to the world of his birth before its destruction.  He makes the acquaintance of his parents, the newly married Jor-El and Lara, and posing as a science student,  he works feverishly with his father to find a way to save Krypton’s people.

 

To explain his costume, Superman has taken a job as an extra for a science-fiction movie.  He discovers that the leading lady of the film, Lyla Lerrol, is a stunning beauty.  He can’t take his eyes off her.  He’s delighted when, later, Jor-El and Lara throw a dinner party, and Lyla appears as one of the guests.  The Man of Steel is captivated by her gracious, unaffected manner and her sincere interest in him, even though he is a “lowly” bit-player.

 

12134136876?profile=originalSuperman realises that any romance on Krypton is doomed, so he avoids Lyla, which only piques her interest in him.  It’s not the reaction from men that she’s used to getting.

 

As the plans to save Krypton collapse one after the other, Kal-El is even more determined to keep Lyla at arm’s length.  Though, try as he might, he cannot put the lovely actress out of his thoughts.  He can’t keep her out of his life either, for Lyla has grown positively enchanted with him.  She finds more excuses to visit the House of El and the stranger who barely speaks to her.  One afternoon, on a visit to the local zoo, an escaped beast threatens Lyla.  Jor-El and Superman manage to capture the animal, and the Man of Steel rushes to Lyla’s side.  In that moment, their mutual feelings burst free and they embrace in a passionate kiss.

 

In the days that follow, Superman and Lyla take in the sights of their world---the Jewel Mountains, the Rainbow Canyon, the Hall of Worlds---and their romance blooms.  Only Superman’s hidden knowledge of the imminent death of Krypton haunts their budding love.

 

When the last chance for survival---the space-ark, lost when the evil space-pirate Brainiac abducts the city of Kandor---fails, Jor-El tells Lyla of what is to come.  Instead of dismay, she seizes the brooding Man of Steel and encourages him to live whatever time they have left together to the fullest.  Inspired by her courage and love, Superman comes to a realisation.

 

“Lyla’s right!  If I’m to die here on Krypton, I’d be a fool to waste our last days being miserable!  We’ll face the end bravely . . . together!”

 

12134137493?profile=originalSuperman proposes, and Lyla joyously accepts.

 

 

 

But, as with Lori, fate has other plans.

 

Days later, on the set of the science-fiction film, Superman takes his place in the nose of a “space craft”, in preparation for the final blast-off scene.  In a tragic turn of events, a mishap with the firing process turns it into a genuine launch.  Helpless to do anything to halt it, the Man of Steel, inside the prop rocket, is blasted out of Krypton’s atmosphere, into the depths of outer space.

 

Lyla can only watch in horror.

 

Before Superman succumbs to the vacuum of space, the rocket enters a yellow-sun solar system, and his super-powers return.  He cannot return to Krypton---he would die in space the instant its red sun sapped his powers---yet, he thinks of Lyla and, for a moment, considers it.  With no other choice, he speeds through the time-barrier, back to his own time.

 

As he approaches Earth, he fights back tears when he spots a passing swarm of green-kryptonite meteors, reminding him of the death of his home world, and his parents.  And Lyla.

 

 

 

Luma Lynai

 

 

“Superman’s Super-Courtship”, from Action Comics # 289 (Jun., 1962), opens with Linda (Supergirl) Danvers enjoying a quiet evening of television at home with her foster-parents.  The tearjerking ending of a romance picture (undoubtedly, the Danvers women outvoted the man of the house on that one) sets Linda to thinking about her cousin, Superman.  Surely, she concludes, her cousin is miserable in his lonely life as a bachelor.

 

12134138860?profile=originalJust maybe, though, she could play Cupid, and find the right girl for the Man of Steel, so he wouldn’t have to go through life as an unhappy bachelor.  Notably, she immediately discards Lois Lane and Lana Lang as likely prospects.  However, when she confides her idea to her parents, they dash it with the cold water of reason . . . .

 

“Don’t interfere in Superman’s personal life, Linda,” warns Fred Danvers.  “Every man prefers to pick out his own wife!”

 

“Your father’s right,” says Edna.  “Now forget this nonsense!”

 

But, like all teen-agers everywhere, Linda figures her parents don’t know what they’re talking about, and as soon as they’re asleep, she changes to Supergirl and puts her plan into motion.

 

In fact, she’ll succeed beyond all expectations, and in the process, discover that she should have listened to her mom and dad all along.

 

 

 

Keeping her intentions a secret, the Girl of Steel lures Superman into romantic situations with, first, Helen of Troy, and then with Saturn Woman, of the adult Legion of Super-Heroes.  Both attempts bomb big time, resulting in major embarrassments for the Man of Steel.

 

In the Fortress of Solitude, a contrite Supergirl admits her matchmaking subterfuge to her cousin.  Instead of being tremendously peeved at her meddling, as most fellows would be, Superman is touched by her concern and makes a confession of his own.

 

If he ever did marry, says the Man of Steel, it would be to someone like Supergirl herself.  He’s quick to point out that, on Krypton, it was illegal for cousins to marry, but still there’s a creepiness factor going on there.  Nevertheless, Supergirl isn’t put off by it; in fact, it gives her an idea.

 

12134140276?profile=originalShe programs his ultra-sophisticated computer---most likely, the super-ultivac---with all of her own physical and personality traits.  Just to keep things from being too gross, she adds fifteen years or so in age, then sets the device to “Google” the universe for a match.

 

The computer comes up with just one hit---a super-woman named Luma Lynai, on the planet Staryl.

 

Faster than you can say “Kryptonian babooch”, Superman is zipping his way across interstellar space to the orange-sun system of the planet Staryl.  Arriving on the planet, he wastes no time looking up Luma Lynai.  She’s a dead ringer for his cousin Kara, as she’ll be in ten or fifteen years, as Superwoman.

 

It’s a whirlwind romance all right, because only two panels later, when Kara checks up on things with her super-vision, she finds Superman and Luma in a warm embrace.  She’s even more thrilled when her super-hearing overhears that Luma has consented to return to Earth with her cousin and get married.

 

Supergirl is still peeking with her telescopic vision when she sees the happy couple enter our solar system.  Both she and Superman are mystified when Luma suddenly doubles over in agony and her super-powers fade away.

 

The Man of Steel rushes Luma back to Staryl, where she recovers immediately.  She’s puzzled, but Our Hero pieces together the answer.

 

12134141089?profile=originalJust as a yellow sun gives Superman his powers, the orange sun of Staryl makes Luma super.  And where a red sun erases the Action Ace’s mighty abilities, the yellow sun of our world does the same to Luma, only it’s worse.  A lot worse.  A yellow sun is actually deadly to Luna, the same way kryptonite is to Superman. 

 

She can never live on Earth.

 

No matter, says Superman, without reservation.  He loves Luma, and he’ll abandon Earth to live with her on Staryl.  No, insists Luma. 

 

In so short a time, she knows Superman better than he knows himself.  His sense of responsibility is too strong.  Earth needs him, and she won’t force him to make the terrible choice between love and duty.

 

It’s an inconsolable Man of Steel that returns to Earth, and Supergirl realises that her meddling only resulted in her cousin’s heartbreak.  She should have left well enough alone.

 

 

 

Sally Selwyn

 

 

So far, Silver-Age fans had seen an enamoured Superman ready to divulge his secret identity, to give up his career as a super-hero, to abandon Earth completely---drastic choices made unswervingly for the sake of love.

 

12134142486?profile=originalYet, he never considered doing any of these things in his relationship with Lois Lane.

 

It’s difficult to tell just how much Lois did know about his romances with Lori and Lyla and Luma.  According to Lois Lane # 97 (Nov., 1969), she was aware of his three past loves, but probably not how much the Man of Steel had been willing to sacrifice for them.  Even so, she was no doubt gladdened by the fact that all three were denied to Superman’s heart.  Lori was a mermaid and married to Ronal.  Lyla had perished when Krypton exploded some thirty years before.  And Luma Lynai could never come to Earth.

 

Lois did not know about Sally Selwyn.  She never would know about Sally, and the reason behind that, more than anything else, reveals how Superman could never be truly serious about Lois Lane.

 

 

The star-crossed story of Sally Selwyn began in Superman # 165 (Nov., 1963).  “The Sweetheart Superman Forgot” opens on a hot summer day, on a routine mission for the Man of Steel when he is exposed to red kryptonite.  Knowing that he is likely about to undergo some bizarre transformation, Our Hero streaks to a remote part of the countryside to await its developments.

 

The red k takes hold of Superman in stages.  First comes the irresistible impulse to change to his Clark Kent identity.  Then he is compelled to bury his costume, his wallet, and everything else on his person that would identify him as Superman or Clark.

 

Next, as the summer heat beats down on him, making him perspire, Clark realises that the red k has robbed him of his super-powers.  Before he can take the full measure of that, the last effect kicks in---amnesia!

 

12134143876?profile=originalAs dedicated Superman fans knew, the effects of red kryptonite usually lasted no longer than forty-eight hours.  But in this case, an editor’s footnote informs us, Clark was exposed to a freak form of the stuff.  Its effects will last not days, but weeks.

 

For hours, Clark wanders down a lonely country road, under the blazing sun, until he arrives at a farmhouse.  He barely has time to beg for a drink from a blonde girl milking a cow before passing out from heat exhaustion.

 

Clark awakens in bed, at the sumptuous mansion of Digby Selwyn.  The pretty blonde he mistook for a farmhand is Selwyn’s daughter, Sally.  A self-made millionaire, Selwyn is sympathetic towards Clark, whom they believe to be a down-on-his-luck itinerant.  When asked, the amnesiac Clark gives his name as “Jim White”, from subconscious memories of his friends Jimmy Olsen and Perry White.

 

In a couple of days, “Jim” is well enough to get out of bed, and the Selwyns give him a tour of the estate.  When a sudden lightning storm threatens to explode a cache of dynamite set aside for blasting a drainage ditch, Clark heroically risks his life to move the explosives out of harm’s way, saving everyone else.  In gratitude, Mr. Selwyn gives Clark a job with his logging company.

 

This puts Clark under the oversight of Bart Benson, the company’s knuckle-dragging foreman and general all-around bully.  Benson has designs on marrying the boss’s daughter and doesn’t like the way Sally is already making eyes at Kent.  He rides “Jim” mercilessly, in hopes of making him quit, but Clark bears up under the harassment, impressing Sally further.

 

12134144657?profile=originalAs days turn into weeks, the readers see a unique perspective on the Man of Steel.  As ordinary, memoryless Jim White, we see him as the kind of man he would have been had he not grown up with super-powers or the need to pose as a mild-mannered Clark Kent.  He’s manly and brave, yet kind and caring.  He and Sally spend more and more time together---much to Bart Benson’s irritation.

 

“Jim” and Sally begin to talk of a future together, and Sally offers him a place running all of the Selwyn operations after her father retires.  No, Clark insists.  He wants to make his own way in the world.  He loves Sally, but with nothing to his name, not even memories of his past, he hasn’t the right to ask her to marry him.

 

Sally doesn’t care.  She’s in love with Jim, not any wealth or prestige he might gain.  Yes, she’ll marry him!

 

 

 

The next day, Clark enters a rodeo contest, with the hopes of winning the five-thousand-dollar grand prize as a stake for starting his own business.  But a jealous Bart Benson feeds loco weed to the bronco Clark is slated to ride.  During the event, Kent is thrown violently and lands hard, damaging his spine.

 

12134145477?profile=originalThe diagnosis is grim.  “Jim” will probably spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.  It doesn’t matter, says Sally.  She loves him.  Do you, asks Clark, or is it just pity?

 

Clark wheels himself out to a bluff overlooking a rushing river, to be alone with his thoughts.  From hiding, the malevolent Benson shoves a boulder Clark’s way, to scare him.  Instead, the hurling rock takes a wild bounce and overturns the wheelchair, pitching Kent into the raging waters below.  Unable to swim, water fills Clark’s lungs and he blacks out.

 

When Sally and her father find Clark’s wheelchair lying at the cliff’s edge, they come to the conclusion that Jim threw himself into the water on purpose.  Sally is grief stricken.

 

 

As for Clark, he regains consciousness a week later, in Atlantis.  Lori Lemaris explains to him that Aquaman had discovered him struggling in the water and brought him to her people before he could drown.  Clark has spent the last seven days in an air-filled respiration chamber, seized with delirium.

 

As Clark begins to explain to Lori, the effects of the red kryptonite finally wear off.  His super-powers return, along with his memories.  Except he has no recollexion of what had happened to him over the past several weeks, while he was under the red-k influence. 

 

He doesn’t remember being Jim White.  And he doesn’t remember Sally.

 

Clark returns to his old life.  At work, a chance comment from a journalism student causes him to ponder the fact that, as Superman, he’ll never know if a woman loves him for himself, or for his fame and powers.

 

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Bittersweet as it was, it would have been much kinder to the Man of Steel if the story of Sally Selwyn had ended there.  But that was not to be.

 

The events that led to “The Man Who Stole Superman’s Secret Life”, from Superman # 169 (May, 1964), began years earlier, during Superman’s boyhood.  Smallville teen-ager Ned Barnes nearly died in a house fire before being rescued by Superboy.  Though the boy's face was disfigured by the disaster, plastic surgery could restore his features.  Ned pleaded with the surgeon to alter his face to look like his idol, Superboy.

 

12134147495?profile=originalThe operation succeeded beyond Ned’s wildest dreams.  His face was a perfect match for the Boy of Steel’s.  Inspired, Ned determined to be as much like his hero as possible.  “I’ll be kind and helpful to others . . . unselfish!”

 

It didn’t turn out that way.  Ned may have looked like Superboy, but his best attempts to emulate him resulted in dismal failure.  The other kids taunted him mercilessly and bullies beat him.  Young Ned’s idealism was pounded out of him, to be replaced by an irrational hatred for the hero whose face he wore.  He left Smallville to become a punk thug, and the punk thug grew up to be a hardened criminal.

 

Now an adult, Barnes works for the mob.  Donning a Superman costume, his resemblance to the Man of Steel gets him accepted as the genuine article at a top secret military installation.  With a hidden camera, he photographs the classified plans to a new missile.  However, his impersonation is exposed when he bangs his arm against a metal post and yelps in pain.

 

To get away from the pursuing guards, Barnes waylays a passing motorist and dons the man’s suit and eyeglasses.  Unknowingly, he is now a double for Clark Kent.

 

To elude capture, Barnes takes the country roads, only to have his getaway halted when some wandering cows block the roadway.  Ranchhands arrive to recover the animals, while Ned waits impatiently.  Suddenly, one of the riders calls out excitedly, “Jim!”

 

The cows are Selwyn cattle, and the rider is Sally Selwyn!  She leaps into Ned’s arms and kisses him passionately.  To her, this is the man she knew as Jim White.

 

12134148675?profile=originalBarnes doesn’t have to say a word.  Sally babbles out her own explanation for how “Jim” survived and regained the use of his legs.  It doesn’t make a bit of sense, even by comic-book standards, but she’s so overcome with joy, she doesn’t care.  She takes Ned back home, and the hoodlum plays along, realising that the Selwyn estate makes an excellent hide-out from the law.

 

 

Back at the Daily Planet Building, a teletype newsflash alerts the real Clark Kent to the incident at the top secret lab.  Investigating as Superman, he is troubled by the reports that the spy was his exact double.  As he dogs his impostor’s trail, the Man of Steel decides, though it will be slower going, he will be less conspicuous as Clark Kent.

 

Meanwhile, Ned Barnes is enjoying the fruits of being “Jim White”.  Sally’s love for him, or rather the man she thinks he is, is pure and genuine.  It’s the first real affection Ned has known in his life and he finds himself wanting to be more like the real Jim.  He decides to give up his life of crime.  But first, he must dispose of the evidence of his final criminal act.  He sneaks off into the woods to bury the Superman costume and the camera holding the photographs he took.

 

By chance, Clark Kent has followed Barnes’s trail to the Selwyn ranch, just as Sally arrives to check on the herd.  Clark is taken aback when she greets him with a kiss.  Instinctively, he kisses her back, and as they embrace, suddenly the memories of his previous life as Jim White flood back into his mind.

 

12134150684?profile=originalHe remembers everything, including how much he loves Sally, and how much Sally loves him---for himself!

 

Despite being awestruck at his discovery, Clark keeps his head long enough to realise that someone else had been posing as Jim earlier.  That person could only be the same man who posed as Superman at the lab.  With his super-vision, he locates Ned Barnes, deep in the woods, burying the evidence.

 

Making an excuse to Sally, Clark slips away to think things through.  It doesn’t take long for him to make up his mind.

 

“Now that I’ve found her, I don’t want to lose her again, ever!  I’ll marry her!  Why not?  I love her and she loves me—and I may never again find a girl who truly loves me for myself!”

 

First, though, he’ll deal with that Superman impostor.

 

 

Out in the woods, Ned Barnes has had time to think things out, as well.  His newfound conscience won’t let him go on deceiving Sally.  She deserves the real Jim White and not a phoney like him.  Ned decides to leave before his resolve to do the right thing weakens.

 

12134153075?profile=originalBefore he can do so, he is surprised by two of the mob’s triggermen.  Since Ned failed to show up with the spy photos, his gangland bosses concluded that he double-crossed them.  The two hitmen were sent to kill Ned.  And to drive the lesson home, they’re going to kill Sally first.  One of the assassins raises a rifle and focuses on Sally with its telescopic sight.

 

Desperately, Ned tackles the gunmen.  The struggle takes them to the edge of a rocky precipice.  Loose rock gives way and all three of them plunge into the ravine below.

 

Seconds later, Superman arrives.  A quick check with his x-ray vision tells him the two hitmen are dead and Ned Barnes, nearly so.  With his last breaths, Ned tells Superman the whole story.

 

With genuine regret, the Man of Steel tells the dying man, “I’m sorry that changing your features to look like mine brought such unhappiness to you . . . .”

 

A second later, Ned Barnes is gone.  Superman is free to tell Sally the truth---that he is Jim White, that he loves her with all his heart, and he wants her to be his wife.

 

Instead, he does the most difficult thing he has ever done in his remarkable life.

 

The Man of Steel flies to the Selwyn home and tells Sally, “Jim was killed while saving you from gun-happy prowlers.”

 

 

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With Sally’s anguished cries stabbing like a kryptonite knife into his heart, he streaks off.

 

The mobsters’ attempt to kill Sally drove home the terrible understanding that he has held all of his life---that any girl he married would be a target for his enemies.  The wife of Superman would always be in danger.

 

Yes, it’s the same reason he gives for not marrying Lois Lane, but it’s not the same thing.  Lois Lane is known to be Superman’s girl friend, and Superman’s girl friend is scarcely less of a target for a criminal’s revenge than Superman’s wife.  With Lois, it’s a handy excuse for dodging the altar.

 

But with Sally, the threat is grimly real.  The incident with Ned Barnes and the gunmen was a chilling reminder.

 

With Sally, there could be no games of girl friend-but-not-wife.  With Sally, he could not risk her having any association with Superman.  He couldn’t chance even marrying her as Clark Kent.  Too many of his foes, such as the Phantom Zone villains and the Superman Revenge Squad, knew that Clark Kent was Superman.

 

The only way to ensure the safety of the woman he loved was to keep her completely out of his life.

 

 

 

Of all of Superman’s lost loves, Sally Selwyn had to be the most agonising.  She wasn’t long dead or married to another.  She was within reach. 

 

Maybe that’s why Superman put up with all of Lois Lane’s shenanigans.  It kept his mind off of what was so close, yet so far.

 

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AMSA #2: The Need for Tomboy Betty!

In light of our recent discussion in Cap's Blog about Archie and the gang, I pulled out this AMSA column from CBG #1583 (March 19, 2004), arguing for a modest proposition that would make the Archie gang way more interesting and drop the point spread on the Betty Vs. Veronica cage match below six figures. 

After this article appeared, CBG told me that Archie Comics ordered extra copies of the issue. Sadly, I don't believe they took my arguments to heart, more's the pity.

 

The need for Tomboy Betty!

 Betty Cooper makes Archie’s gang more interesting when she’s got her own quirks


Dear Mr. Silver Age,

I’ve been following Archie Andrew’s dilemma in having to choose between Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper. After considerable evaluation and soul searching, I’ve decided that Archie should pick Betty. She’s the better choice of the two.

Harvey D.

Gotham City 

 

Mr. Silver Age says: I hope you didn’t spend too long making that choice, Harv. Frankly, you arrived at the same conclusion as virtually every male who ever brought his brain cells to bear on that vital question. It’s hard to pick against Betty, because she’s just so darn perfect—and Veronica has so little to offer that Betty can’t offer, too. But that wouldn’t have to be the case.

12134073867?profile=originalI was reminded of how lopsided the battle has become while reading the introduction by Dawn Wells (Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island) in the Betty & Veronica Summer Fun trade paperback. In it, Dawn noted the similarities between Mary Ann and Betty. “I knew that in order for the contrasting personalities of Mary Ann and Ginger [the sexpot] to work, I had to play Mary Ann completely ‘apple pie.’”

That meant, she wrote, emphasizing the traits that Betty so often brings to the fore. Mary Ann “was an enthusiastic leader, effective at getting everyone to do his or her part. In the same way, Betty Cooper is a stabilizing influence in Archie and the gang’s lives. It is a Midwestern, small-town ethic that Mary Ann, Betty and myself share—a patriotic, never-give-up approach to life.”

I realize that Betty and Veronica are part of an ensemble cast and play the specific roles required to make a particular script work. That’s true of the entire gang, with Veronica and Reggie tending to swing the wildest, one moment being a trusted (and rich) friend and the next being a back-stabbing schemer who uses the others for his or her manipulative needs. The other characters keep to narrower slots, adjusting slightly as needed for the tale.

We also have to assume that time resets after each story, with the gang forgetting the previous plot’s specifics. Otherwise, the sheer number of betrayals and humiliations piled on the gang by Reggie or Veronica when a story called for it would make the others ostracize them. Not to mention, they’d all sooner or later decide that they’d been to one too many junior proms.

But given those necessities, each friend has perennial quirks that are catalysts for stories: klutzy Lothario Archie; spoiled hot-head Veronica; woman-hating glutton Jughead; vain prankster Reggie; totally competent Betty.

That last one just doesn’t fit. It’s not fair for Betty to be the multi-talented straight woman to the others—and it’s not fair to Veronica, either. Ronnie will never win this two-woman competition with the way it’s stacked against her, loading her with all the unattractive qualities (with the occasional ultimate redemption). She could win a few votes if one aspect of Betty’s personality that isn’t emphasized enough came to the fore, changing her basic ensemble trait.

Betty should be a tomboy.

In other words, she should generally be a little rougher around the edges, a little less refined and knowledgeable about the finer things in life that Veronica should excel at effortlessly. In “Smallville” terms, she needs to be a Chloe to Veronica’s Lana.

12134074869?profile=originalOn occasion, she plays that role. But usually, she becomes the handy mechanic or the ace shortstop only when a plot requires it. Those are still variations on the ultra-competent role that makes her so admirable to everyone from teachers to parents to boys with flat tires or empty stomachs. But those rough-hewn personality traits don’t carry over to stories where they aren’t pivotal to the plot, and they should.

 There should be some ramifications to being so good at everything the boys do, besides being taken for granted by Archie when the plot needs it. That isn’t the same as Archie favoring Veronica because Betty isn’t “girlie” enough for him on a routine basis, which would give Ronnie a little boost. And if Betty were more rough-hewn all the time, she might counter Ronnie’s advantages in snarkier ways that wouldn’t always bring her credit (but could be hilarious).

 The biggest difficulty with accepting that Betty is viewed generally as one of the boys is that she can go toe-to-toe with Veronica in any female department required—and effortlessly outdo her in some of them. And that starts with her appearance.

Dawn Wells made the case that Mary Ann and Betty are similar in that “they are forever engaged in friendships/rivalries with the glamour queens, Ginger Grant and Veronica Lodge, respectively. Ginger and Veronica represent the ‘fantasy’ sex symbols—the unattainable girls most guys know they don’t have a shot at marrying. They are constantly pushing the envelope, using their beauty to get their way.”

That was true for Ginger. She wore slinky gowns and talked in a breathless style that had the guys all atwitter. But it’s less true in distinguishing Veronica from Betty. In filling the role of “fantasy sex symbol,” Ronnie sets the bar so low that Betty usually has no trouble clearing it, too.12134075076?profile=original

The cover to Betty & Veronica Double Digest #111 (Feb 03) is a good example of what should be the status quo – but seldom is. Veronica is dressed in chic clothes, while Betty is in rumpled, plainer clothes. They’re dressed like that to help sell the joke visually, but they should be dressed like that all the time. Veronica should look sleek and well composed, even when the gang is just hanging out. Betty should look a little dowdy even at her best. She shouldn’t be able to pull off a strong fashion sense so easily.

12134075680?profile=originalIf their sexiness differentiated them as it did Josie and Melody in She’s Josie, Archie’s Silver Age sister comic, they’d have a definite point of distinction for our red-headed pal to ponder. Certainly, Ginger and Mary Anne offered that distinction (since they were real people not being drawn by artists who didn't spend much time giving the girls any distinguishing features beyond "attractive"). Features, body type and other attributes will appeal to some guys more than others. No two people are alike, so some guys being attracted to a Ginger "type" instead of the Mary Anne "type" makes perfect sense.

12134076487?profile=originalBut as Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder so hilariously pointed out in their Starchie satire in Mad #12 (Jun 54), Betty and Veronica’s similarities in features, figures and fashions make that “fantasy sex symbol” differentiation disappear.

Then there’s the matter of their skill sets. Betty can match Veronica’s designer fashions by sewing up an exact duplicate after eyeballing Ronnie’s creation; she cooks like the illegitimate daughter of Julie Child and Emeril Lagasse; she can create romantic, candle-lit settings; and she innumerable times has kissed Archie until he was too dazed to stand (which, apparently, doesn’t really take all that much).

That’s quite a range of talents—too much range to give Veronica a fighting chance. In fact, I’d argue that some of Betty’s talents more rightfully belong to Veronica, while Betty’s basic trait set should be focused more on talents that characterize her as “eager tomboy” rather than “totally competent and knowledgeable friend.” She needs a bit more snarkiness-which she sometimeshad in the 1950s and even into the1960s, but, again, mostly when the story required it. It's not an especially attractive attribute--but it was darn funny. And, let's face it, every other cast member has at least one unattractive attribute. Why not Betty?

12134077252?profile=originalVeronica was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. In most stories, all that gets her is a  fancy sportscar, a rationale for taking the gang to an exotic locale or tickets to a black-tie country club soiree to which Archie must (reluctantly) escort her. That ain’t much, at least from Archie’s (and the reader’s) perspective. What her manor-born position should gain her is considerable aesthetic background that Betty wouldn’t have—but that Ronnie still would have to leverage just right to use to her advantage.

12134077860?profile=originalAn example of how Betty plays too many roles, limiting Veronica to “rich witch,” can be seen in one of the semi-educational features Archie comics sometimes ran. Appearing in Archie Giant #187 (Betty and Veronica Summer Fun, Sep 71), it featured ballet stances and terms. Betty narrated and performed, because, after all, she’s the studious, book-learning, lesson-taking cast member, who “teaches” the others when the deed must be done.

 But that should’ve been Veronica’s role. She would’ve been the one growing up with ballet classes, piano classes, art classes, etc. She would’ve been jetting around the world and wandering through museums, no doubt bored out of her skull but still picking up culture at least by osmosis.

Veronica should be familiar with classical artists and composers, know ballet terms and be able to bake a souffle—but maybe not a birthday cake. The cast member chosen to narrate that feature was a nuance, but those selections set the tone for each girl’s underlying skill set in the ensemble.

With Betty serving as the source of all facts and talents, she gains a huge advantage in the tug of war. After all, considering they look alike, they have the same figure and they can dress alike, who are we going to pick: the one who knows everything and selflessly shares that knowledge, or the one whose chief role is to throw expensive hissy fits? Exactly.12134078481?profile=original

Even worse, their roles make us think less of Archie. The way it’s set up, there’s really only one reason he could possibly choose Veronica over Betty—he’s after her money.

A classic example of how stacking the deck so heavily against Veronica should almost always end up was reprinted in Betty & Veronica Double Digest #42 (Jan 94). It’s a Mopee-worthy story, because it has to be forgotten for the triangle to continue to work.

“Valley Rally” began with Veronica inviting Archie to go with her and her parents to their ski lodge in Posh Valley. Oblivious Archie and smug Ronnie waved goodbye to broken-hearted Betty and drove off. As usual, Betty quickly swung into action. She collected 5,000 aluminum cans and used the recycling proceeds to finance her own trip to Posh Valley. (So we’re stipulating that there were rooms for rent in this lodge, and it was the cost and not the lack of an invite that kept her from coming along.)

Meanwhile, Ronnie discovered that two jet-setting pals, Gunther and Otto, had arrived unexpectedly. She began spending all her time with them, leaving Archie alone. Mrs. Lodge chided Veronica for ignoring her boyfriend, but Ronnie sloughed off the criticism. She explained she didn’t know her rich pals would be there—and she mostly invited Archie to keep him away from Betty.

It’s a classic story set-up, but then things took a wacky turn. With so much time on his hands, Archie pulled out his wallet and mooned over a photo of Betty. “I was a fool to leave behind the girl who really cares for me!” he said. Hokey smokes! Had he really taken a smart pill rather than spending the story trying goofily to get Ronnie to pay attention to him?

The next morning, fed up, Archie told Ronnie he was leaving due to her inattention. Apparently, deciding it was late enough in the weekend that Betty wouldn’t be able to take advantage of Archie’s freedom, Veronica blew him off. Soon, Betty arrived and greeted Veronica. Smugly, Ron informed Bets that “your loverboy Archie is gone!” Your loverboy?

12134078878?profile=originalDistraught, Betty left with Ronnie’s triumphant laughter in her ears. She hadn’t gone far when she heard the unmistakable sound of Archie’s car. It wouldn’t start, so Arch was stuck in the parking lot, where Betty found him. “Betty, I dig you,” Archie said, wrapping his arms around her. “And I dig you, Archie,” she cooed back. “And I also dig this broken-down jalopy that’s kept you here!” The end.

Yikes! Game, set, match to Betty! This tale apparently took place on Earth-Reality, a location little visited by Archie’s gang—and, frankly, a place we don’t really want them to hang out.

Good thing time resets. Otherwise, Veronica would have made so many crass blunders in this story that she would never have recovered with Arch, even as forgiving as he is. But we readers remember the story, and we know, deep down, that Ronnie doesn’t stand a chance—and we wouldn’t root for her if she were the only girl at Riverdale High.

Is that fair? I say thee nay! Sure, Veronica should show her selfish side sometimes. But in most cases, when the tales are a bit more subtle, she should have talents Betty can’t match, talents that are admirable to us readers—and might make Archie look better for wanting to date her.

Betty should have to try harder to get back into the game, even playing pranks (that sometimes backfire) to score some Archie time. And she should be less able to effortlessly match Ronnie (or obliterate her) in sexiness, skill and knowledge.

Concluding “Valley Rally” with Betty and Archie professing their mutual affection was the only sane reaction to a totally selfish Veronica and an industrious, loving Betty—who didn’t even dirty her hands this go-round fixing the broken car. Ronnie needs a leveler playing field on a routine basis.

-- MSA

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12134027688?profile=originalFor the last couple of entries, we've been talking about Lightning Lad's rôle in the death of interplanetary criminal Zaryan the Conqueror.  This prompted the question from correspondent Commando Cody, "Why didn't the Legion then charge Lightning Lad with violating the club's code against killing?"

 

It's a good question, and as we shall see, Cody wasn't the first one to ask it.

 

To the point where we left off---Adventure Comics # 311 (Aug., 1963)---the Legion could not be faulted for failing to investigate Lightning Lad in the matter, as the same action had resulted in the Legionnaire's own death.  As a matter of propriety and practicality, charging Lightning Lad with breaking the code would have been pointless.

 

12134164489?profile=originalIn fact, there is a suggestion that, had Lightning Lad lived, the super-hero club would have looked into the matter.  In “The Return of Lightning Lad”, from Adventure Comics # 308 (May, 1963), the Legionnaire appeared to have returned from the dead, but lost his super-power in the process.  As mentioned in the last session, Cosmic Boy was insistent on expelling the now-powerless Lightning Lad from the club.  This was despite whatever emotional turmoil it might have caused Garth Ranzz.

 

This implies that at least one Legionnaire would pursue other possible violations of Legion law committed by Lightning Lad.

 

The point became moot, though, when it was discovered that the “resurrected” Lighting Lad was actually his twin sister, Ayla Ranzz, posing as the slain Legionnaire.

 

Thus, through Adventure Comics # 311, Lightning Lad remained dead and beyond the reach of any disciplinary procedure.  However, in the letter column of that issue, editor Mort Weisinger, responding to a number of fans, revealed that Lightning Lad would be restored to life in the following issue.

 

 

 

THE RETURN OF THE ACCUSED TO JURISDICTION.

 

 

12134166254?profile=originalIn “The Super-Sacrifice of the Legionnaires”, from Adventure Comics # 312 (Sep., 1963), Mon-El, who had been pretty much absent since his release from the Phantom Zone seven issues earlier, returns to Earth after searching for a means to resurrect Lightning Lad.  He reports to his hopeful fellow Legionnaires that he has failed.  Even the great biologists of his home world, Daxam, were unable to provide a means to bring the dead back to life.

 

Or so Mon-El tells them.

 

Mon and the others travel to a deserted world with an atmosphere that constantly discharges bolts of lightning.  Here is where Lightning Lad’s transparent sarcophagus has been relocated and here is where Saturn Girl is waiting.  They give her the bad news.

 

Early in the Legion’s formation, Saturn Girl had pledged to never use her super-power of telepathy to intrude on the privacy of her fellow members’ thoughts.  In her grief at Mon-El’s failure, however, her self-control slips, and she is startled by the stray thought she has picked up from Mon.  Incredibly, Mon-El does know a way of restoring Lightning Lad!

 

12134167282?profile=originalWhen she attempts to read his mind directly, Saturn Girl finds that Mon is shielding his thoughts, preventing her from confirming what she detected or finding out why he lied.

 

 

Confronted with the hard reality that her brother isn’t coming back, Lightning Lass weeps uncontrollably over his coffin.   WIth two sobbing females on his hands, Superboy, ever the softie, issues a stirring challenge.

 

“We’ve often accomplished feats that were considered impossible when others asked us!  Now we’re going to do something for our own lost comrade . . . we’ll find a way to revive Lightning Lad!”

 

Like a losing football team pumped up by its coach’s half-time pep talk, the Legionnaires rally around the Boy of Steel.  “Superboy’s right!” says Saturn Girl.  “We’ll search the whole universe, if necessary, to find the way!”

 

The first step is to run a Google-search on the Legion’s “mechanical-librarian” computer, collecting several hits on the topic “revival of life”.  Narrowing it down to a handful of the most likely possibilities, Our Heroes split up into small sub-teams to check them out.  A suspicious Saturn Girl ensures that she’s paired up with Mon-El.

 

12134168067?profile=originalThe Legionnaires give it their best shot.  The blue sun of Galaxy AB-213.  The legend of the undying Taroc creature.  The radium-capsule of Skor.  All methods advertised to raise the dead---and each one of them has a hitch which makes it useless in restoring Lightning Lad.  Worse yet, in his frustration, Mon-El’s guard slips and Saturn Girl catches another “glimpse” of his thoughts.

 

Mon-El could revive Lightning Lad right now---but doesn’t want to!

 

She’s had enough of this.  She tricks Mon-El into taking her to Daxam, where one of that world’s physicians inadvertently spills the beans.  Saturn Girl demands the whole truth and Mon agrees to admit all.

 

Summoning all of the other Legionnaires involved back to Lightning Lad’s resting place on the lightning world, Mon-El reveals the information that he’s been hiding.

 

The biologists of Daxam had, indeed, devised a method for returning life to the dead.  A unique conductor is attached to the dead subject and a live person.  This conductor is of a sophisticated and complex design.  When the living person is struck with a sufficient jolt of electricity, his life-force will transfer, via the conductor, into the dead subject, making him live, again.

 

But such a miracle comes with a terrible cost.  The donor whose life-force is used dies!

 

As soon as he’d been able to sneak away, Mon-El had intended to secretly use the device himself, to sacrifice his own life-force to revive Lightning Lad.  And, yes, the conductor will suck the life out of super-beings such as himself or Superboy just as completely as it will out of regular folks.

 

Naturally, being Legionnaires, everyone present volunteers to trade his life for Lightning Lad’s.

 

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They decide that the only fair way is for all of them to have an equal chance.  Each Legionnaire grips a conductor running to the body of their fallen comrade and holds a steel rod up in the air.  The lightning bolts eternally crashing overhead will provide the power.  It’s a grim and deadly lottery, with the “winner” being the one whose rod is the first to be struck by a bolt.

 

Yet, one Legionnaire, Saturn Girl, is determined to make the sacrifice.  Unknown to her fellow Legionnaires, she holds a rod made of duralim---an element which actually attracts lightning.  She’s doctored the rod to make it look like the steel ones held by the others.

 

12134170872?profile=originalFor several tense minutes, the six Legionnaires stand, rods held high, over Lightning Lad’s lifeless form, waiting for fate to choose.  Then, a burst of lightning strikes Saturn Girl’s duralim rod!

 

It turns out that it is not Saturn Girl’s time to die---as determined as she was to die for Lightning Lad, there was someone even more determined that she live.  Instead, Chameleon Boy’s shape-changing pet, Proty, lured Saturn Girl away then took her place.  The Legionnaires discover this when, in death, the little protoplasmic creature reverts to its true blobby, yellow form.

 

The good news is---Lightning Lad lives again!  It is a bittersweet occasion of joy and loss, as the resurrected hero retakes his place in the Legion.

 

Oh, and that “killing Zaryan the Conqueror” thing?  Nobody brings it up throughout the rest of the series.  Ever.

 

 

 

CONCLUSIONS.

 

 

12134171883?profile=originalAs to the real-life, behind-the-scenes reason that the Legion was never seen to address the question of Lightning Lad’s hand in the death of Zaryan, I’m tempted to guess that it was because Mort Weisinger and his writers never thought of it.  But that rather short-changes them.  More than any other series produced by DC, the Legion of Super-Heroes took many of its elements and developments from suggestions by its fans, and you can bet that Mort paid attention to the Adventure Comics mail that came over his transom.

 

Weisinger also had an advantage.  DC’s top-tier super-team title, Justice League of America, featured characters who were stars of their own magazines or series.  Thus, JLA writer Gardner Fox was hogtied when it came to introducing any developments in the book that would have an impact on the heroes in their parent titles.

 

But, except for a few of the characters---principally Superboy and Supergirl---no such restriction bound the Legion.  That gave Mort’s staff the latitude to impose permanent, life-altering changes on the various members.  As the writers got their sea legs, more disaster would be imposed on the Legionnaires.  Featured players would suffer death and dismemberment, lose their super-powers, or find themselves kicked out of the club.

 

So, while the idea of writing a story behind Lightning Lad’s killing of a foe might not have occurred to Mort and company immediately, it would have eventually.  Especially when, as discussed below, at least one reader had written in, pointing out Lightning Lad’s apparent violation of the Legion code.

 

12134165670?profile=originalThe problem for Weisinger here was Lightning Lad was one of the few Legionnaires who couldn’t be tinkered with too much.  Several earlier stories had established that Lightning Lad would grow up to be Lightning Man and still solidly a member of the Legion.  And as the letters from Todd Walters and Steven Gerstein and Caroline Dove had shown, Legion fans possessed impeccable memories.  Mort knew that any story involving court-martialing Lightning Lad for the death of Zaryan would not have any lasting impact.  Should L.L. be convicted and expelled, the Adult Legion appearances had established that it would eventually be undone.

 

I suspect that Weisinger did like the idea of examining the consequences to a Legionnaire who killed.  However, when it came time to write a story around it, the central character turned out to be Star Boy, whose future life was unwritten.

 

 

As to the matter of providing an in-fiction explanation for the Legion’s failure to take action against Lightning Lad, after he had been restored to life . . . well, that is the purpose of my one-man review board.

 

Once Lightning Lad was revived and returned to duty with the Legion, he was subject to the club’s rules and regulations.  In this unique case, death had been only a delay to the club’s procedures.

 

After a consideration of all the evidence and testimony, I conclude that the Legion of Super-Heroes failed to pursue the matter of Lightning Lad’s possible violation of the Legion code for one or more of the following reasons:

 

 

 

1.  The Legion Code against killing did not apply.

 

 

There is no direct evidence that Zaryan the Conqueror was killed in Lightning Lad’s assault on the villain’s space-cruiser.  Zaryan’s death was not shown “on panel”, nor was his body shown afterward.

 

12134175863?profile=originalTrue, the level of destruction to Zaryan’s ship, as seen in the single panel showing Lightning Lad’s actual assault, makes it highly unlikely that Zaryan survived.  But, remember, we are dealing with thirtieth-century technologies, some of them alien to Earth.  One-man survival pods, personal protective force-fields, even teleportation, are all within the scope of futuristic technology and were seen in other Legion stories.

 

The sole witness to the incident, Saturn Girl, immediately departed that area of space, understandably, to rush the injured Lightning Lad to Earth and possible medical aid.  But as a consequence, no-one remained to inspect the wreckage of Zaryan’s spacecraft and check for either survivors or victims. 

 

Quite possibly, the Legion took the concept of habeas corpus at its literal meaning---“that you have the body.”  Without clear indication that Zaryan had died, perhaps it chose not to accuse Lightning Lad of violating the Legion code.

 

 

 

2.  Even if Zaryan had died, Lightning Lad did not violate the Legion code against killing.

 

 

This one is a bit tricky because it involves a precedent not yet set at the time Lightning Lad was restored to life.  That is the matter of Star Boy’s court-martial and expulsion from the Legion after he caused the death of Kenz Nuhor in “The Legionnaire Who Killed”, from Adventure Comics # 342 (Mar., 1966).

 

A quandary in the substance of the Legion code against killing resulted from this story.  It’s best looked at in chronological order.

 

12134176669?profile=originalThe Smallville Mailsack of Adventure Comics # 316 (Jan., 1964) published a letter from Barney Palmatier, of Santa Monica, California.  Mr. Palmatier wrote in, raising the question forty-eight years before Commando Cody did:

 

 I see that you have brought Lightning Lad back to life, for which we are all grateful.  But when Zaryan the Conqueror’s ship was destroyed by Lightning Lad, Zaryan was also destroyed.  Therefore, since it is against the code of the Legionnaires to destroy life, he should be expelled from the Legion.  Right?

 

 

To this, Mort replied:

 

It is against the code to destroy life ruthlessly or in a wanton manner.  It is not against the code to destroy life in self-defense . . . Lightning Lad gave up his life to stop a diabolical villain.  He deserves nothing but praise for his heroic deed.

 

An eminently reasonable explanation, one that would have made my Deck Log Entries on this subject unnecessary---except for the matter of “The Legionnaire Who Killed”, which came along two years later.

 

12134177065?profile=originalOne of the key issues raised during Star Boy’s court-martial was the matter of self-defense.  As presented here, the Legion code against killing did not provide for the right to self-defense.  It was a violation of the code for a Legionnaire to kill---period.

 

This lack of a self-defense provision is the reason why Superboy volunteered to defend Star Boy from the charges.  He, along with the other invulnerable Legionnaires, believed that their fellow members should have the right to kill to prevent their own deaths.  The Boy of Steel’s efforts to exonerate Star Boy concentrated on demonstrating why a self-defense proviso was a needed thing.

 

Ultimately, he even persuaded the prosecutor, Brainiac 5, of this.  However, it didn’t stop the court-martial from going forward.  Star Boy had violated the Legion code as it currently existed---without the right to self-defense.  In the end, the lad from Xanthu was found guilty and kicked out of the Legion.

 

Yet, this was clearly a contradiction of Mort Weisinger’s earlier claim that the Legion code did permit Legionnaires to kill, if necessary to save their own lives.  By now, he should have known that the hard-core Legion mavens would jump on that.  At least one did---Alan Anderson, of St. Petersburg, Florida.  His indignant letter appeared in Adventure Comics # 345 (Jun., 1966):

 

12134178493?profile=originalYou’ve finally gone and done it!  Your latest story, “The Legionnaire Who Killed,” simply has no basis.  In your January, 1964 letter column, you stated:  “It is against the code to destroy life ruthlessly, or in a wanton manner.  It is not against the code to destroy life in self-defense.”  Admit, you blew it!

 

With his own words hurled back at him, Mort could only offer a mea culpa and weakly argue that it didn’t matter, anyway:

 

True, we forgot about that provision in the code.  But Brainiac 5 proved that Star Boy could have used his power to beat the killer without doing him in.  So the expulsion still stands.

 

This is the kind of thing that gives loyal series fans fits.  Devotees of Sherlock Holmes have applied contorted trains of thought into justifying how many wives Doctor Watson had or to his war wound, cited variously as in the shoulder or the leg.  The same could be said for die-hard Legion-lovers and the matter of the Legion code providing an exception for self-defense.  Fan sites have debated it for years.

 

Which is why I find the last of the possible reasons the most compelling . . . .

 

 

 

3.  As they did often, the Legionnaires ignored their own rules.

 

 

12134179077?profile=originalIt’s been discussed here before that, as much as the Legionnaires presented themselves as responsible and adult, they were still only teen-agers, on the cusp of maturity.  So many of their actions were based on the whims and superficial concerns of adolescents.  Our own Randy Jackson has raised this point a few times.

 

Many times in the Legion series, the symptoms of “teenage-itis” poke through their veneer of maturity.

 

You have the hair-trigger emotional responses.  In “The Stolen Super-Powers”, the other Legionnaires are so chaffed by Saturn Girl’s behaviour that, at the mere mention of Zaryan, they immediately jump to the conclusion that she is in league with the criminal.  During the events of “The Legionnaires’ Super-Sacrifice”, Saturn Girl believes that Mon-El is withholding his knowledge because he is jealous of Lightning Lad.

 

Not only are they insecure about each other, but like all teens, they are insecure about themselves.  In “The Fantastic Spy”, the secret details of Legion operations are being leaked to criminals.  Immediately, thoughts turn to the possibility of a traitor in the organisation, but no fingers have been pointed.  That doesn’t keep Matter-Eater Lad from worrying about his status with the group.

 

“Since I’m the newest member,” he says, “and my loyalty hasn’t been proven yet, I---I can’t help feeling you veteran Legionnaires suspect me!

 

12134180287?profile=originalPerhaps part of M-E Lad’s insecurity comes from his awareness that his super-power is a pretty lame one, by Legion standards.  To be sure, the most obvious examples of the Legionnaires’ cliquishness and adolescent thinking appear in their membership-offering.

 

Many times, the Legion seems to have accepted new members on the basis of personality alone.  The events of “The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy” scarcely justify his induction into the Legion.  He gets in because he’s the funny fat kid.  The Legionnaires admit it themselves when B.B. is left behind “to guard the ship” in “The Legion of Super-Monsters”.  Once he is out of earshot, his buddies admit that their plump pal is jolly and they like him, but his power of super-bouncing doesn’t help much on missions.

 

On the other hand, Polar Boy, whose power of super-cold clearly would be of benefit, is rejected.  Polar Boy meets all of the qualifications for Legion membership; he’s also noticeably smaller, and probably younger, than the Legionnaires.  To them, it would be like having one’s kid brother tagging along.  So he’s shown the door on the flimsiest of excuses.  (“It might . . . disable us at a critical moment!”)

 

12134182272?profile=originalEven Star Boy’s court-martial saw some cracks in the Legionnaires’ official deportment.  During the vote for verdict, all of the female Legionnaires---except Saturn Girl---voted for Star Boy’s acquittal out of sentiment for his romance with Dream Girl.  It wasn’t the first time Dream Girl was responsible for the teens voting with their hormones.  Back in Adventure Comics # 317 (Feb., 1964), Dreamy was admitted to the Legion, the girl Legionnaires outvoted by the boys, responding to the blood rushing out of their brains.

 

While they played at being adults, the Legionnaires all too often displayed their immaturity by letting their impulsive emotions override their own policies.

 

 

The failure to indict Lighting Lad for the death of Zaryan might have been simply one more example of the cliquish Legionnaires giving into their adolescent whims.

 

Not all of them.  Cosmic Boy was certainly a hard-liner, as seen by his insistence that L.L. be expelled for losing his super-power, as he believed, back in “The Return of Lightning Lad”.  On his home world of Braal, its people were considered adults at fourteen---probably owing to a faster maturity rate---and Cos had been the first Legion leader.   He understood the tremendous responsibility of being a Legionnaire.

 

Notably, Cosmic Boy was absent during the events which saw Lightning Lad return to life.  Without his influence, the issue of Zaryan’s death wasn’t raised.  Nor was it likely to be, given that the Legion members who were there for Lightning Lad's revival included Lightning Lass (his sister), Sun Boy (his best friend), and Superboy (who believed that the Legionnaires should have the right to kill in self-defense).

 

And then there was Saturn Girl, whom Legion fans had already pegged as Lightning Lad’s girl friend, based on the fact that Action Comics # 289 (Jun., 1962) had shown them married, as adults.  Moreover, she was the current leader of the team.  Any move to prosecute Lightning Lad would have to get past her. 

 

The other Legionnaires still had fresh memories of their experience with Saturn Girl as a tyrant.  They were probably more than glad to let the matter of Lightning Lad’s violation slide, rather than see the return of “Imra, the She-Wolf from Hell”.

 

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12134027688?profile=originalAs you’ll remember from where I left off last time, the television division of United Artists now had a product for syndication---Ultraman, which had been a phenomenal hit in Japan.  Thanks to the dialogue direction of Peter Fernandez, the series was ready for airing on American stations.  Now, UA-TV had to find buyers.  Here, it got an unintended boost from the Federal Communications Commission.

 

To explain this, I’ll need to provide a short lesson in the history of television.  Feel free to go to the kitchen and make yourself a sandwich during this part.

 

In the early 1940’s, the F.C.C. had limited television broadcasting to the Very High Frequency band; however,  the post-WW II economic boom saw a tremendous proliferation of local television stations.  This overloaded the available VHF spectrum.  To stem the problem, the F.C.C. imposed a moratorium on licencing new stations.  That was in 1948.  Four years later, the F.C.C. instituted a permanent solution by opening up the Ultra High Frequency band to television and lifted the freeze on broadcasting licences.

 

12134227298?profile=originalWhile this action made more bandwidth available to new stations, broadcasting on UHF wasn’t ideal; it was the “less-talented” brother of VHF.  UHF stations had a more limited range and the image reception was of poorer quality.  That’s when your television set could receive it at all.  Television sets of the day had been designed to receive VHF signals only, and in order to receive UHF transmissions, a special adaptor had to be purchased and installed.

 

In essence, when UHF television became available, it created more TV stations, but those UHF stations weren’t very profitable.  Because of the added expense of the adaptor---and this was at a time when a television set itself was still so pricey that the only way many folks could see a TV show was to go down to the hardware store and watch it on a set in the display window---and the lesser quality of the reception, most people didn’t bother with UHF.

 

Again, the F.C.C. came to the rescue.  It mandated that, from 1964 on, all new television sets would be both VHF and UHF capable.  Furthermore, it raised the limit on how much power UHF stations could use to radiate their signals; UHF stations could boost their signals to five megawatts, while VHF stations were limited to 316 kilowatts.

 

A licence-holder still wasn’t going to get rich off a UHF station, but now, with an increased customer-base, it could be profitable, with proper budget management.  What that meant was keeping the expenses down in other areas, such as production values and marketability.  Thus, UHF channels tended to air programmes that were cheap to produce. 

 

Purchasing inexpensive syndicated shows was better, yet.  That opened the door to the Japanese imports, such as Astro Boy, Speed Racer, 8th Man, and---Ultraman!

 

Got your sandwich and a cold one?  Good, because that’s the end of the history lesson.

 

The result was, by the fall of 1967, when UA-TV was ready to sell Ultraman, it found a ready market in UHF stations eager to buy a super-hero series at a cut rate.

 

 

 

12134229076?profile=originalAs early as August of ’67, American youngsters were introduced to Ultraman.  It didn’t take long for them to glom on to the basics.

 

As with most shows aimed at a younger audience, the characters were strongly defined, without much nuance.  The head of Japan’s Science Patrol was Captain Mura, a stern, no-nonsense commander, but not so hard-nosed that he didn’t flash a smile or display a wry sense of humour on occasion.  Nor was Mura chained to his desk; he led in the field, jumping right into harm’s way with the rest of his team.

 

Typical of most such arrangements---again, for easy audience identification---the other members of the Science Patrol were divided by specialties. 

 

Arashi was the team’s marksman.  Round-faced and a bit pudgy, he went against body type with his “tough guy” personality.  There was nothing phoney about his bravado, though.  Arashi was usually the first one to charge the threat, no matter what it was.

 

Ito was the engineer, the one who designed new weaponry to take into battle.  He was also the show’s designated comedy relief.  Unfortunately, this meant a lot of childish comments and mugging for the camera like a drunken college student on spring break.  Fortunately, he wasn’t played as incompetent.  12134231263?profile=originalIto wasn’t Barney Fife; when trouble arose, he could handle himself.

 

And then, of course, there was Hayata.  Firm, confident, decisive.  He was clearly the most competent of the Patrollers and the one everybody respected.  That was convenient, because it meant nobody asked him a lot of questions whenever he went off on his own or disappeared, to become Ultraman.

 

Rounding out the group was Fuji, the only female on the team.  For the about the first half of the series’ run, she was the communications officer, stuck at the headquarters radio console while everybody else was out getting smacked silly by the monster of the week.  Later on, she accompanied the rest of the team on missions, and she did a good job at it, too.  Often, she was nearly as level-headed and capable as Hayata.

 

Occasionally seen was the obligatory kid mascot, Hoshino.  He got to hang out with the Science Patrol, and at one point, even wore a Patrol uniform.  The Japanese rendition of the show never gave a reason for his privileged status; the American version explained his presence by stating he was Fuji’s little brother.  Once or twice, Hoshino proved handy to have around, but most of the time, his purpose was to get into trouble at the most inopportune moments, forcing the Patrol or Ultraman to bail him out.

 

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Though constantly referred to in the definite article---the Science Patrol---Captain Mura and his crew actually comprised only the Japanese branch of the organisation.  The Science Patrol proper was a global force dedicated to the protection of the Earth.  Occasionally, members of other branches---the United States, France, and South America---appeared in episodes.  This didn’t happen very often, but it was nice to know that Japan wasn’t the only country torn apart by monsters and alien invasions.

 

 

 

12134232668?profile=originalThe hook of the series was, naturally, that Science Patrolman Hayata was secretly Ultraman.  For the reasons I discussed in the last entry, Ultraman rarely made an appearance until the end of an episode.  When the situation became critical, Hayata would sneak off privately or order everyone else to get away.   (“But, Hayata, we can’t leave you alone with the monster!”  “Nevermind, just do as I say!”)  Then, he would take the beta capsule out of his jacket, raise it over his head, and press the button.  In a burst of light and smoke, the giant Ultraman would appear in his place.

 

Just in case some brain-dead viewer at home didn’t get it, narrator Jack Curtis would helpfully intone, “Using the beta capsule, Hayata becomes---Ultraman!”

 

Most super-hero-type television series have a recurring moment that the kids wait for eagerly and fidget excitedly when it happens.  On Adventures of Superman, it was when Clark Kent ducked into that storeroom and whipped off his glasses.  In the animated cartoon, The Mighty Hercules, it was when Herc donned his magic ring and held it over his head.  The youngsters know that’s when the real action is about to go down.

 

It was the same thing whenever Hayata whipped out the beta capsule.  That was what they had been waiting for.

 

Most of Ultraman’s battles followed the same pattern.  First, two or three minutes of physical combat with the monster.  Lots of karate chops and shoulder throws.  This part of it tended to be hard on the local property values.  Two giant figures flailing around resulted in a great many toppled buildings, smashed warehouses, and flattened cars.  When the fight took place near a refinery or a power plant, you could count on explosions and large fires.

 

If the monster possessed some special power, it would attack with it, generally giving Ultraman some trouble at first.  But then he would find a way to protect himself from it and go back on the offensive.  Usually about this time, his colour timer would change to red and start blinking.  As always, the narrator would inform the viewers what that meant.

 

At this point, Ultraman would get down to business and employ one of his many, many special abilities.  He had almost as many powers as there were episodes, but one used most commonly was his “specium ray”, a sort of general-purpose particle beam that caused whatever it hit to explode.  Often, after knocking his foe down hard, Ultraman used the ray to deliver the coup de grace.

 

12134234078?profile=originalOur Hero could employ the specium ray in another fashion.  By making a different gesture, the ray would discharge as “cutting halos”, resembling flying buzz saws, which would sever his opponent in half.

 

Once the enemy was destroyed, Ultraman would launch himself in the air and fly off to change back to Hayata.  The transformation back to his human form was seen only twice during the course of the series (from his fingertips, the airborne Ultraman would cast a spiral beam to the earth; Hayata’s body would reïncorporate within the spiral, while Ultraman vanished); instead, usually, the closing scene would simply show Hayata rejoining his fellow Patrollers.

 

Hayata didn’t have much difficulty keeping his dual existence secret from the other members of the Science Patrol.  Even though virtually every adventure concluded with someone remarking, “Hayata, where have you been?” or “Hayata, you just missed seeing Ultraman destroy the monster!”, those top-flight brains of the Science Patrol never put two and two together.

 

 

 

12134235072?profile=originalPerhaps one of the qualities that made Ultraman so popular was that, even for an alien, he was distinctively unearthly.  First, there was the fact that he stood over 130 feet tall.  But more bizarre was the fact that he routinely never spoke.  The only patently audible sounds he uttered were loud, reverberating kiais that he shouted during his fights.  And an occasional groan.  Otherwise, he never said a word.

 

There were exceptions, rare ones, when the lawman from Nebula M78 did communicate verbally.  To Hayata, in the origin episode, naturally.  Then, in “The Space Ray of Terror”, Ultraman reassures a group of children that he has not destroyed that episode’s monster, but rather, has transformed it into a constellation of stars.  

 

And, in the last episode, “Farewell, Ultraman”, he explains to his commander the reason for his extended stay on Earth.

 

All of these instances could be attributed to telepathy, rather than actual speech.  In any event, Ultraman’s perpetual silence was one of the eerier aspects to the character.  It was certainly unsettling.

 

 

 

The majority of menaces fought by Ultraman and the Science Patrol, especially at first, were the giant animal/giant insect/Godzilla type---bestial monsters that mindlessly wreaked destruction.   While their eventual destruction was necessary, it was regrettable in one sense---as dumb beasts, they weren’t truly malevolent.  Over time, the show developed foes that were evil and guided by intellect.  This arose most often when the Earth was attacked by alien beings.  On several occasions, the Science Patrol confronted enemies who were the vanguard for 12134235698?profile=originaltheir respective warlike alien races.  These proved to be much more formidable opponents for the valiant defenders of Earth and for Ultraman.

 

Would-be conqueror Zarab arrives from space, posing as a friend to Earth.  When the Science Patrol unmasks his true purpose, he transforms into an evil version of Ultraman, smashing several city blocks before being confronted by the genuine article.  On another occasion, an emissary from an extraterrestrial race called the Dada comes to Earth to kidnap human specimens for study.  With the Dada alien’s ability to change his size and teleport at will, Ultraman finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.  Particularly at one point, when the giant hero is reduced briefly to human size.

 

As tough as it was beating the Dada, the alien Mephilas proved even tougher.  Seeking to get rid of all of us pesky earthlings so his people could colonise our world, Mephilas uses his power of illusion to buffalo the people of Earth into surrendering without a struggle.  The situation doesn’t improve any after Hayata activates the beta capsule.  When Mephilas rejects Ultraman’s ultimatum to leave Earth or die, a pitched combat results, with neither opponent gaining the upper hand.  Their physical abilities are too evenly matched, and Mephilas’ electrical bolts prove equal to Our Hero’s specium ray.

 

Incredibly, it’s Mephilas who calls an end to the stalemate, realising that he cannot be certain of victory over Ultraman.  Should he be destroyed, the invader explains, then he can no longer protect his home world.  With that, Mephilas teleports off Earth, leaving Ultraman with a promise to return.

 

 

 

12134236491?profile=originalThe target demographic for the series were early adolescents and those on its cusp.  But, unlike most U.S. children’s programming that came along later, in the 1970’s, Ultraman never talked down to the kids.  The writers respected the intelligence of its youthful fans and didn’t patronise them in the scripts.  Thus, an adult looking for a half-hour of escapist entertainment could appreciate the show.

 

That’s not to say it was The West WingUltraman was straightforward adventure with little depth and virtually no development of its characters beyond the basic traits in their conception.  The plots followed a simple formula calculated to thrill its audience and never varied.  It’s a credit to the show’s writers that they managed to produce so many imaginative and distinctive stories, yet remain within that strict outline.

 

Still, despite the simplicity of its format, Ultraman, on occasion, delivered some tales with surprisingly mature themes.

 

“My Home is Earth” is one of the most tragic episodes in the series.  The Science Patrol is assigned to safeguard the members of an international peace conference held in Tokyo, seeking to moderate the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Despite the Patrol’s best efforts, three of the conference representatives are killed by a mysterious invisible force.

 

Science Patrol member Ito devises a weapon that neutralises the assassin’s invisibility, revealing the culprit to be a horribly deformed giant.  However, Hayata makes a more crucial discovery.  His suspicions aroused by comments made by the remaining conference members, he investigates and learns that the monster is actually Jamila, an astronaut from a nation the script avoids specifying.

 

12134237276?profile=originalAccording to classified records obtained by Hayata, Jamila was the pilot of a manned satellite which was flung out of orbit and crash-landed on another planet.  The alien environment of that world caused Jamila to mutate into the creature.  Jamila’s government was aware of this, but rather than embark a rescue mission, it abandoned the astronaut to his fate.

 

Instead, the incident was kept secret, to prevent the public from losing faith in the space programme.

 

The mutated astronaut was able to eventually repair his craft and return to Earth.  Now, he seeks revenge against those who turned their backs on him by killing the members of the peace conference.  Reluctantly, the Science Patrol attacks the monster, but he’s invulnerable to missiles and bombs and fire.  It is Ultraman who is forced to destroy Jamila on the threshold of demolishing the peace-conference headquarters.

 

Afterward, in a grand display, the assembled representatives give Jamila a hero’s funeral.  Curiously, it is the usually comedic Ito who somberly indicts the hypocrisy with the final line of the episode . . . .

 

“Politicians are always like this.  Only their words are beautiful.”

 

 

12134236901?profile=originalUltraman played a couple of  its episodes for comedy; however, one of them carried a healthy dose of pathos along with the humour.  In “The Monster Graveyard”, Arashi and Ito are spacebound, checking out a strange distortion in the vacuum.  It turns out to be a zone containing the drifting remains of monsters that Ultraman defeated in previous episodes.  When the news is radioed to Science Patrol headquarters, Hayata is markedly disturbed.  He goes to the roof of the building to be alone and, in a moment of introspexion, reflects on his duty as Ultraman.

 

“To all of the creatures that I have destroyed, I am sorry that I had to do it.  Even though it wasn’t your fault, I had to keep the peace on this world.”

 

In a mishap, a Mars-bound rocket passes through the same zone and is diverted back to Earth, carrying a passenger from the graveyard---Seabozu, a gigantic skeleton-like dragon.  When the rocket strikes Earth, Seabozu returns to life.  The Science Patrol mobilises, but is quickly confounded by the monster’s actions.  Or rather, its lack of action.  Seabozu does not rampage or destroy; it simply walks forlornly through the city.

 

When it climbs to the top of a skyscraper and leaps upward, the members of the Patrol understand.  The monster simply wants to return to the eternal peace of its resting place in space.

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This is a rare episode in that it does not conclude in a tremendous battle between the creature and Ultraman.  Seabozu has no desire to fight and the giant hero is reluctant to harm him.  Instead, he herds the monster toward the rocket standing by to return it to the graveyard.

 

It is, probably, Ultraman’s most expressive scene in the entire series.  Seabozu drags its heels like a petulant child and Ultraman responds like an exasperated parent.  At one point, the creature drops to the ground, refusing to budge, and Our Hero shrugs his shoulders in frustration.

 

 

There was one other memorable instance when the series mixed absurdity with poignancy.  This occurred toward the end, in the episode “The Little Hero”.

 

The main villain of the piece is Geronimon, one of infrequent cases of a monster who is not an alien, nor humanoid, but possesses an evil intelligence.  Seeking vengeance for all of the creatures previously killed in the series, Geronimon intends to destroy Japan.  He initiates his plan by resurrecting three other monsters.  Eventually, he will restore sixty of the giant beasts, who will then lay waste to the country.

 

12134240088?profile=originalGeronimon has screwed up, though.  One of that first trio of monsters revived is Pigmon, a human-sized creature who befriended the Science Patrol, back in the eighth episode, before being killed by the behemoth Red King.

 

Those of you familiar with the series probably rolled your eyes when I mentioned Pigmon.  For the rest of you, all I can say is---I don’t know how Japanese viewers received him, but for us Occidentals, Pigmon was awfully hard to take.  Frog-mouthed, red-tufted, with hands that flapped uselessly from his torso, Pigmon was a blatant attempt for laughs.  But to most American kids, he was irritating and infantile.

 

Pigmon seeks out the Science Patrol and, even though his speech sounds like the squawking of a macaw, somehow Captain Mura and his team comprehend his warning about Geronimon.

 

As the Patrol prepares to launch a preëmptive attack on Geronimon and the other two monsters, the usually jovial Ito is despondent and apathetic to the whole situation.  When Hayata pulls him aside to find out what’s wrong, Ito responds, essentially, “What’s the point?”

 

Bitterly, Ito complains that the Science Patrol never accomplishes anything; it’s always Ultraman who defeats the monsters.  He feels that the Patrol is useless.   An opinion, no doubt, shared by the show’s audience over the last thirty-odd episodes.

 

Hayata argues that the Patrol is necessary and Ultraman cannot do it alone, but it falls on deaf ears.  Still, Ito is not so far gone that he refuses when Captain Mura orders him to come along on the mission.

 

Pigmon leads the team to the small island that Geronimon is using as his base.  Leaving Pigmon behind on the ship, the Patrol splits up.  Mura and Fuji and Arashi will take one side of the island, while Hayata and Ito search the other.  Their orders are simple:  kill all the monsters!

 

12134240675?profile=originalRemarkably enough, Mura’s group accomplishes just that, when they come across one of the resurrected creatures.  By laying the barrels of their energy pistols together and aiming for the monster’s unarmoured midsection, the combined burst puts it down for the count.

 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t go that way for Hayata and Ito.  They locate the other revived beast, Dorako, but Ito sees no point in attacking it, insisting that Ultraman will be along any minute to do the job.  Dorako begins to hurl boulders at the two Science Patrolmen and Ito starts shouting for Ultraman to appear.

 

Hayata draws out his beta capsule, but cannot bring himself to use it, knowing that Ultraman’s arrival would shatter whatever faith Ito has left in himself and the Patrol.  In that moment of hesitation, the monster scatters the two men, then turns his attention to Ito, who simply cowers, pleading for Ultraman.

 

An instant before Dorako can squash Ito into paste, Pigmon leaps out, squawking and flapping his hands frantically, to distract the behemoth.  Pigmon’s appearance has the same effect on Dorako as it did the viewers---the little clown annoys the hell out of him.  And when Pigmon stumbles on a ledge, the monster crushes him with one blow, then walks away satisfied with his kill.

 

12134241689?profile=originalThe little fellow dies in Hayata’s arms.  Angrily, Hayata snaps at Ito, “Pigmon sacrificed his life for mankind, and you continue to feel sorry for yourself?”  Then he punctuates it by punching Ito in the jaw.

 

Shamed, Ito charges Dorako and keeps coming, even after the beast pelts him with a shower of rocks.  With a rapid-fire device attached to his pistol, Ito disintegrates the giant creature with a fusillade of energy blasts.

 

With his henchmen destroyed, Geronimon takes direct action, and when he nearly kills Mura and the others, Hayata has no choice but to become Ultraman.  But Geronimon is no push-over; he’s sneaky and has a number of powers at his disposal.  Ultraman finally gains the advantage, but it won’t last long---his warning light is flashing wildly, indicating his three minutes are almost up.

 

Just then, Ito scrambles up on the bluff and aims his modified energy pistol at Geronimon.  Ultraman catches on and struggles desperately to hold his foe.  With his strength waning rapidly, he cannot keep Geronimon steady.  Ito has to take the best shot he can.

 

It works!  And the giant feathered beast vanishes in a burst of flame, just as Ultraman doubles over in exhaustion.

 

“We did it!” shouts Ito.  "We did it!  You and me, Ultraman!”

 

And Ultraman nods, acknowledging that, this time, the Science Patrol did all the heavy lifting.

 

 

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It was only thirty-nine episodes.  It didn’t even run a full year.  But Eiji Tsuburaya had launched a concept that refused to die.

 

Obtaining greater financing, Tsuburaya tinkered with the basic concept and, in the fall of 1967, introduced a new series---Ultra Seven.  This was not the Ultraman who had been linked to Hayata, but a new hero to come to Earth from Nebula M78.  In a departure from the original format, Ultra Seven did not have an Earthman as a human host; rather, he assumed the identity of Dan Moroboshi, a member of the Terrestrial Defense Force, an updated version of the Science Patrol.

 

Ultra Seven lasted a year, and Eiji Tsuburaya meant for that to be the last of the “Ultra” series.  But when Eiji died in 1970, his son, Hajime, took over the production company.  And Hajime knew that he had a franchise on his hands.  In 1971, Japanese viewers were treated to The Return of Ultraman, yet another similar but slightly reworked adaptation of the giant hero, who this time was known, in English, as Ultraman Jack.  There would be more Ultramen to follow.  Many more.

 

12134243495?profile=originalOver the next thirty years, between television series and feature films, there would be at least fifteen more separate incarnations of Ultraman.  A mythos emerged, linking all of the various Ultramen as coming from the Land of Light, to serve as humanity’s protectors.  No longer was Ultraman a unique force for good; rather, he was one of an interstellar organisation, pledged to uphold peace.  This was underscored when, occasionally, the current Ultraman would require the aid of one or more of his Ultra-Brothers.

 

Virtually every new Ultraman series took a turn at remembering its roots by running an episode which saw the return of the original Ultraman.  This has meant a lifetime of employment for actor Susumu Kurobe.  For while the man inside the silver-and-red suit changed over the years, Kurobe has continued to appear as Hayata for over four decades---the link to the series that started it all.

 

Other actors who had played human host to an Ultraman have occasionally reprised their parts, as well.  But Susumu Kurobe remains the most recognised.  I have seen interviews with Kurobe, and like George Reeves and Clayton Moore, he respects his image as a rôle model for youngsters, on both sides of the globe.

 

In March of this year, Tsuburaya Productions released the feature film Ultraman Saga, in celebration of the forty-fifth anniversary of the original television series.  That’s quite a thing for Eiji Tsuburaya, I think.  Not many men have created a legacy lasting nearly half a century.

 

Shu-watchhh!

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Many Septembers from Now: DC One Million - Week 1

"We were just sitting around talking, about how they've done the zero issues, and what's the most ludicrous thing you could think of in the other direction. Issue one million was the answer. I suggested it as a crossover and it just grew out of the idea of what would be these titles' millionth issues, and what year it would all take place in?"

Grant Morrison, describing the origin of DC One Million.

(from Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, 1999)

 

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DC One Million hit an unsuspecting world in September 1998, when every single DC comic set in the DC Universe became involved in a huge crossover where we got to see what each title, and indeed the DCU itself, would look like in a million months from that time.  It was a five week month, during which every DCU title jumped forward to the year 85,265AD.  I've been meaning to look at this series as part of my JLA thread, which in turn is part of a look at most of Morrison's entire body of work.  However, thanks to a pointer from one of the contributers to the JLA thread, verified by some of my own research, I discovered that Morrison had a hand in virtually every issue that came out in that month.

 

Grant again:

 

"Oh yeah, that was the biggest work I've ever done, because basically I plotted everything that month, every single comic except for Hitman.  With that I just said, 'Garth, take the piss', that was my plot. The rest of it was quite detailed. The Batman stuff, the Superman stuff was really detailed. I plotted something like sixty-four comics that month and wrote five of them. It was big. That took a few months. I was working non-stop."

 

(NB:  Morrison is exagerating here, not that he has to.  Plotting around 35 comics to be ready in a single month and tying them all together is no mean feat itself.)

 

Having discovered that the mind-boggling architecture of the entire event and much of the plotting of each issue was down to the Mad Scotsman, I decided that I would have to go as deep into these comics as I could.  All the more so, because such a fan-pleasing, original and ambitious crossover appears to have gotten very little coverage on the comics internet.  I guess it is just too sprawling, and multi-faceted to be looked at as a complete body of work. Another mark against it is the hugely variable range of styles and indeed quality across the DC One Million titles.  Virtually every DC writer and artist from Morrison's JLA period were involved, with varying degrees of commitment and engagement.  The DC One Million titles range from perhaps my favourite single issue of any comic (Martian Manhunter 1,000,000), to perhaps one of the worst, most insulting comics I've ever read (Azrael 1,000,000).  So we get a fascinating, slightly off-centre snapshot of DC's entire superhero line and the talent then at the company, which I hope inspires some comment from nostalgic fanboys in the replies below.

 

There is a huge amount of material to get through, so these may be some of the longest blogs ever posted here.  Rather than just seeing a wall of text, I hope that the obliging reader will instead see these blog entries as mini-magazines with different sections to be read seperately.

 

The comics themselves might have appeared as random issues with a 853rd Century connection to the readers of the time, very few of whom would have bought into all the comics that month.  The central story, contained in DC One Million #1-4, Morrison's JLA 1,000,000 and  a few other key issues, was collected as JLA: One Million and it makes for a pretty good read.  However, many of the other issues can be grouped together into several strands that weave together into a larger story and many other issues are interesting standalones, or even, as is the case with Creeper, Chase, and Young Heroes in Love, were in effect the final issues of their respective series. 

 

So in each of these blog entries, I'll be picking out the themes and meanings of Morrison's work in my usual fashion, with particular emphasis on the 5 comics he scripted.  I also hope to highlight the complexity of the inter-related story strands, all of which Morrison was involved with to some extent or another.  Finally, I'm hoping to celebrate to some extent the DC comics of the late 20th Century, an area of superhero comics close to my heart.

 

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DC One Million #1

 

We open ‘on the third day’ when Plastic Man and Zauriel rush back to the Watchtower monitor room to find that Vandal Savage has just nuclear bombed Montevideo.  This turns out to be the day when the JLA take up the offer from their 853rd century counterparts, the Justice Legion 'A', to travel to the future to take part in various challenges in front of huge crowds to celebrate the original Superman’s return from the sun in the far future.

 

12134223283?profile=originalThe rest of the comic is a countdown to this moment.  DC One Million has a huge cast and a lot of story elements in play, in two time periods, and Morrison sets them all up in this 40 page comic.  The comic is quite dense and hardly a frame is wasted.  Character moments also push forward the plot or get across the dramatic tone that Morrison is going for.  As the icons talk about visiting the far flung future, their nervousness and excitement communicates to the reader what a big deal it is.  Even Batman is tempted to go.  That these heroes in particular, who have experienced so much weirdness, should be nervous about the future-shock they might experience in the world of Justice Legion A, goes a long way in setting up the awe and wonder of the 853rdcentury.

 

Another thing that Morrison does to get across how special this event must be, is to establish within the story how difficult it was to arrange for the two teams to swap places.  The story emphasises that they can only do it for a brief period of time.  Superhero comics do suffer when jumps between realities or from one time period to another are presented as boringly regular and everyday events.

 

A conversation between two Golden Age heroes tells us that this is a flowering of what they begun.  Ted Knight, the first Starman can’t contain his excitement in a phone call to the Golden Age Flash:

 

That dream we had.  That stupid idea when we were young that we could make things better...  It all comes true, Jay”.

 

It highlights the simple optimism and can-do spirit of the first generation of superheroes and perhaps, what superheroes are ultimately ‘for’!

 

As ‘our’ JLA prepare to leave, we get an exciting plot strand of the Titans as they were then - Arsenal, Aqualad, Jessie Quick - and Supergirl getting in way over their heads when they try to stop Vandal Savage buying some nuclear-armed Rocket Red armoured suits.  They actually end up in the suits and unconscious as Savage prepares to launch them as weapons in his drive to conquer the Earth.

 

The Titans are well cast in this role, as they are between books at this stage, but are still well-known to the readers.  (All readers except me in 1998, I suppose.  I really was the newbie reader that Morrison was writing towards at this time.  That I found his comics so welcoming at that stage probably speaks towards the success, then and now of this incarnation of the League.)

 

Leaving aside the plotting of the awe-inspiring mega-events in two time periods, the comic is peppered with lots of little details of the sort that make reading a Morrison comic a pleasure.  To give just two examples of his handle on the characters and his ability, in only a word or two, to show what makes them tick:

 

“Snnt!”  - Flash’s sniggering reaction to the news that Green Lantern’s Challenge Arena will be in a spaceship orbiting Uranus.

 

Holy God!” - Plastic Man’s reaction to seeing the damage done to Montevideo by the first of Vandal Savage’s nuclear missiles.  Not only does the phrase subtly hint at Eel O’Brian’s Irish-American background, adding a bit of texture, but it’s one of the few panels in the whole series where the pliable prankster isn’t joking.

 

There is another little fleeting phrase that betrays the depth of thought Morrison puts into his best work.  The book ends with a glimpse of the Vandal Savage of the far future toasting the success of his plans with Solaris.  We get our first taste of the continuous babble of Headnet, the information-broadcasting system that links all the citizens of the far future.

 

One of the lines is: “Instant cosmos accessing your neurons wherever the Super-Sun shines...”

 

The future Starman has already explained to us the perhaps central aspect of life in the 853rdCentury:

 

“Our entire culture organises itself around the processing of Information:  a gigantic network of star-computers link the entire galaxy, allowing us to trade new ideas with distant systems.”

 

In literary and figurative language, the sun’s light often stands for understanding and knowledge.  As used by us in phrases like 'The light dawned on him".  In a kind of alchemical, magickal way, Morrison is making the figurative real in his future world, where the stars are giant computers, processing information and broadcasting it to all.  In a way he is transforming the powerful figurative language of symbols, which we all use every day, into superheroic picture-poetry.  Suns that have become giant super-computers are exactly the kind of thing that some would use to accuse Morrison of wilful “weirdness for weirdness’ sake”.  I’d contend that there is deep systematic thought that goes into many of the ideas that confound those who only look for surface values in their comics.  This transmogrification of the conceptual and the literary into the literally real and visually represented is something playful and smart, that lends itself especially well to superhero comics.

 

DC One Million #1 is a fine opening chapter to the crossover, communicating the wonder and awe of what is about to happen in the 853rd Century while establishing a large cast and an array of dazzling new concepts.  All while building up the storyline of Vandal Savage’s greatest push for world domination in 1998.

 

The rest of DC One Million - Week One

 

To help guide you through the many issues released under the DC One Million banner, I'll be including these panels from the backmatter for each issue, showing what was released each week.  The incredible thing is how, in the case of issues that weren't standalone, the events in subsequent week's issues follow on from the previously released issues.  The logistics and planning that went into this crossover must have been immense.  In the case of the major strands that run through several comics, I thought it would make for easier comprehension of the storylines if I presented them as a group, rather than divide them up over the different weeks.  It'll be up to you to notice where a comic is in the list for that week's releases, or where it is from a different week.  Well, I mentioned that the architecture of this crossover was complex!

 

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Action Comics 1,000,000 – We'll cover this issue in a Superman strand in a later blog entry.

 

Shadow of the Bat 1,000,000 – “Neverending Story”.  This is a good origin of Batman 1m, framed by a story of the future Batman trying to get to the 20th Century Batcave to begin addressing the crisis.  Alan Grant supplies a tight script that owes something to the great European revenge westerns which he would seem to be a big fan of. 

 

Nightwing 1,000,000 – This is basically a long conversation between Nightwing and Batman 1m.  It's a fun bridge in the longer arc of Batman 1m stuck in the 20th Century, but it doesn’t have the good classical structure like Shadow.

 

Scott McDaniel’s art has element of ‘cartooning’, which is as good a point as any to remark that fashions have changed in comics in the last 15 years.

 

Green Lantern 1,000,000 – 'Star-Crossed'.  This Ron Marz/Brian Hitch collaboration gets across the pathos of Kyle Raynor being the only Green Lantern, subtly pointing out that his line doesn’t continue into the 853rd Century, whereas the rest of the major heroes have proud legacies.  This theme is presented in a very subtle ‘Morrisonian’ way, rather than hitting the reader over the head with it.  Subtle as it is, there is some payoff of this by the end of the series.

 

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The scene-setting double page spread is very Alan Davis-esque, with wonderful artwork that leaves us in no doubt that we are dealing with a weird and wondrous alien culture.  As it should do!

 

Young Justice 'Just ice, cubed.' 

 

“Current Location: Pluto.  Current Time: Wednesday in the 853rdCentury.” 

 

David's opening text-box betrays his iconoclastic and tongue-in-cheek approach to the material.  The future versions of Young Justice tell each other stories about their 20th Century counterparts, each more ludicrously ill-informed than the last. Superboy 1m's story parodies Doomsday.  Robin the Toy Wonder’s story conflates Final Night, No Man’s Land, Earthquake, Zero Hour and Knightfall, all told in a Batman, The Animated Series style.

 

This is a very fun issue, even though its clear David isn't taking it too seriously (perhaps because of this!)  It would have been a distraction for David anyway, as this was only the third or so issue of his Young Justice series to be published.

 

One of the few obvious discrepancies amongst all these tie-ins occurs here.  This story announces it takes place after Superboy 1m visits the Arctic in Superboy 1,000,000, but that story refers to the events here as if they were in the past. 

 

Perhaps its a minor time-anomaly caused by Hourman’s messing with Deep Time? 

 

Yeah, that’s it...

 

That this is practically the only major mix-up between so many comics, written by so many writers, many of which are connected directly to the others in terms of cause and effect, speaks well of Morrison’s overall architecture.

 

******************************

 

The Mercury Strand.

 

Finally we come to the first of our sections looking at comics which make up an inter-related strand.  Only two comics in this strand, both set on Mercury, and both featuring men in red suits with lightning flashes emblazoned on their chests.

 

Power of Shazam 1,000,000

 

This is a complex, disturbing story.  It's extremely downbeat, as the citizens of Mercury are shown as a thoughtless lot, avaricious for the currency of information, addicted to the babble of headnet, into Kingdom Come-style pointless super-powered fights. A lot happens here, new characters and their society are well drawn in a few pages and then developed and worked into a single story.

 

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Morrison’s hand is evident in the mysteriousness of Shazam’s long slumber and Shazam’s base ‘the Rock of Eternity' being hidden away in a tesseract deep within the machinery of Mercury - the Information hub of the Solar System.  Shazam keeps being compared to the Flash in this story and mistaken for him, and we get hints in this story of Flash’s concurrent adventure, which wouldn’t appear until week 4.  This prefigures their team-up in Flash 1,000,000. 

 

This thematic association with the Flash prefigures how Morrison links them in his recent writing as bearers of the Mercury/Hermes Flash symbol of inspiration, and avatars of communication and the ‘magic’ of language and information. (Remember that Captain Marvel activates his powers by a Magic Word!)  In Supergods Morrison points out that the second Flash kicked off the Silver Age, and was there when the hugely significant contact with the Golden Age/Earth One was made.  He also notes that the star of the hugely popular and imaginative Captain Marvel comics, which outsold Superman's own comics for a time, also bore the flash symbol of lightning/inspiration descending from the heavens to the Earth.

 

So the Flash and what he and his Lightning iconography symbolise have great significance in Morrison’s ‘cosmology’ and in this story he is ‘bundling’ the two Lightning-emblazoned heroes that embody the forces of Hermes/Mercury together with the actual planet named Mercury and its 853rd century role as the hub of information to the whole Solar System.  Again its a kind of poetry in pictures that would be impossible to do in other media.  There is a lot of this bundling and compressing of symbolic roles in Final Crisis, where several characters appearing in the same issue embody similar forces, so it’s interesting to realise that he was doing it in this phase of his career as well.  In the plot of The Power of Shazam 1,000,000, he addresses the dark side of the mercurial forces symbolised by the lightning.

 

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At first I thought that this comic wouldn’t get MY glowing review, as it is so downbeat and paints the citizens of this corner of Morrison’s supposed Utopia as extremely cruel and petty.  The forces of creativity, communication and inspiration that Morrison normally speaks so highly of elsewhere manifest themselves here in the disturbing characteristics and behaviour of the citizens of Mercury.

 

They are addicted to information and the acquiring of it at all costs, thoughtlessly killing Sutra, the enterprising mother of the hero of the story, whilst stampeding over her in their rush for new experiences and information to acquire and sell.

 

However, thanks to the conceptual meat of Morrison's plotting and the excellent realisation of Morrison's ideas by Ordway and his collaborators, I eventually developed a higher opinion of this entry in the crossover.

 

Flash 1,000,000– “Fast Forward”  (Mark Waid and Michael Jan Friedman)

 

12134226888?profile=originalThis wraps up some of the themes of the Power of Shazam issue, and seems at first glance to be a well-put-together but unexceptional superhero tale.  'Our' Flash has to save the world of Mercury one million months hence from the depradations of Commander Cold and Heatwave.  A closer look, however shows why Mark Waid is such a consummate professional and a wonderful collaborator with Morrison.  Waid subsumes his story to the broader DC One Million project.  Each issue of these DC One Million comics has an introductory page which summarises the set-up of the series and introduces the reader to a future world which they haven't seen before.

 

I'm presuming Waid wrote the intro page to Flash 1,000,000, but whoever did added a line which gives some context to the behaviour of the citizens of Mercury in the earlier Shazam book.  It describes “the fast-living culture of rabid info-junkies”.  So Waid (or whoever) gives the reprehensible behaviour of the ‘Mercurians’ some context and explanation, which the earlier story didn't present so explicitly.  The page also points out that Mercury is the connecting point between the brain-sun and the rest of the planets.  So now the name, location and all the mythology of Mercury/Hermes and the Lightning of inspiration/thought/communication are all compressed and presented as a superhero comicbook.

 

Another thing this issue does is take the time to elaborate on the nature of the poverty suffered by Sutra and Tanist, the main protagonists of The Power of Shazam 1,000,000.  Yes, they have all the basics for living, but they are still marginalised and cut off from the true wealth of this society.  Waid's contribution is one of the few comics I read that really felt like the writer concerned had studied the comics that his would tie directly into.  He seems to be developing the bare ideas Morrison puts forward in the Shazamcomic and making them more presentable and understandable to the general reader.   Perhaps the fact that his issue would come out in week 4 allowed Waid the tiny bit of extra time to do this with his script.

 

Although this looks like a straightforward confontation between the heroes and two bad guys, a comparison with the other DC One Million comics featuring the adventures of 'our' JLA in the future shows that Waid avoided the trap that the other comics all fell into. Each of them ended up inadvertantly using the same basic plot more or less, as the Green Lantern comic described above, where the hero had to deal with their contest going dangerously haywire and then find a way to get to Jupiter to meet the rest of the JLA there.  This repetition of the same plot makes the DC One Million comics featuring the main JLA stars pretty much the least interesting of all the One Million comics.  Waid wasn't 'Flashy', if you'll excuse the pun, but he put a lot of thought into his work and provided satisfying comics as a result.

 

I'm reminded of some notes Waid added to one of the trade collections of 52.  He said that he was the perfect choice to script the Ralph Dibney sections of 52 because they chronicle the adventures of a man of science and rationality who has to deal with the mystical and the bizarre encroaching on his life.  Waid declared that this was a great fictional parallel to his own relationship to Morrison.

 

Waid and Morrison were a great team.  In their rejected proposal for Superman 2000, Waid was specified as the one who would make Morrison's far-out ideas work and keep the feet of the series on the ground.  I can only agree with that assessment of their dynamic.  DC should have made more use of the productive synergy that seemed to flow from their obvious respect for each other's different methods and styles.

 

*****************

 

That's it for DC One Million, week 1.  I hope you can join me for the next installment of this look back to the future.

 

454-120313

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AMSA #1: Superman's Trials & Tribulations

Welcome to the new Ask Mr .Silver Age blog!

I'm Craig Shutt, who writes the Ask Mr. Silver Age column for the Comics Buyer's Guide. I'll be posting regular articles and essays in this space, mostly concerning Silver Age comics but possibly topics of other types of interest to Silver Age fans. Who really knows?

Many of the posts will feature classic,never-before-reprinted AMSA articles from my massive treasure trove of columns that originally appeared in CBG during the past (gulp) 19 years. I'm starting off with a column from CBG #1542 (June 6, 2003) concerning my favorite super-hero.

I hope you'll join in the discussion here and at my new Discussion section in the Forum section, where we'll be talking all things comics history, Silver Agey or not.

 

Superman’s trials and tribulations

Kal's courtroom career included stints as

the Defendant, Counsel and Witness of Steel

 

Dear Mr. Silver Age,

Superman has put a lot of crooks in the slammer during his career. Has he ever found himself on the other side of the courtroom?

Harvey D.

Gotham City

 

Mr. Silver Age says: He sure has, Harv. The Man of Steel on a number of occasions had to defend himself in court during the Silver Age. Those make for compelling stories, both because the image of Superman on trial is so striking and because they make for an interesting type of whodunit as we learn why Supes is there and where the flaw in the evidence lies—because we all know Big Blue didn’t do anything to rate doing time.

Sadly, the space available in most comics—especially when we’re talking a tale shorter than a novel-length adventure—requires shortcuts to the verdict that often undercut the plausibility of a trial’s procedural nature. Granted, we don’t know all of the laws of Earth-1, so we can’t say for sure what’s allowed in court. But unless we assume things are a lot different, the stories often require us to turn off our brains and go along for the ride. Not that it’s something we’re unaccustomed to with Silver Age comics. On top of that, trial scenes can be emotionally effective, but they often lose a lot visually.

Superman’s experience with trials began early in his career—in fact, it began with his career as Superboy back in Smallville. Let’s face it, was there really a chance that with all those Superboy stories to produce, nobody got around to putting The Boy of Steel on trial at some point?

12134099489?profile=originalThat deed occurred in “The Trial of Superboy” in Superboy #63 (Mar 58). This trial was unique, however, as it was a civil case; The Boy of Steel was sued because his rocket ship had passed over a man’s house, catching it on fire. Oops.

The owner was demanding $100,000 in damages. (Superboy was served papers by having the process server jump off a roof and into Superboy’s arms; kids, don't try this at home). During the trial, the lawyer mapped out the rocket’s path into Smallville, based on the statue that now indicated where the rocket had landed, and he showed fragments found at the plaintiff’s home.

Superboy, acting as his own attorney, argued that the calculations were incorrect. To prove it, he suggested that he recreate his trip through space to see where he landed. As if he’d actually do it exactly the same way if it would prove him guilty, even if he could figure it out exactly. But everyone agreed he’d be honest, so he tried—and was proven guilty. I’ll let you read it to find out how he got out of this one (and, of course, you know he did).

 After he grew up, The Defendant of Steel wound up before the bench on a number of occasions. Here’s a quick rundown on some of his trials and tribulations:


12134099667?profile=original# “The World of Bizarros!” in Action #263-264 (Apr-May 60): In this classic adventure, better known for other innovations, Superman discovered that his imperfect Bizarro duplicate had wandered to a far-off solar system to create a new world for himself stocked with duplicates of himself and his Bizarro Lois. So he apparently was better at creating scientific devices than the guy who created the original duplicator, who could produce only imperfect copies.

During Supes’ visit, he learned the Bizarro code (“Us Do Opposite Of All Earthly Things!”) and was arrested for fixing up some houses to make them “perfect.” As usual, arresting someone for a crime seems exactly like an Earthly Thing to do, but a Bizarro story always requires a lot of leeway.

We trailed along as The Convict of Steel visited with other inmates, who were confined for thinking and speaking normally (I guess Bizarro’s duplicator machine didn’t work all the time, or it would’ve been perfect). Then a Bizarro Lois on the jury showed up and offered to convince the other jurors to find him innocent—if he’d marry her. Doesn’t sound like no Bizarro Lois to me!

Ultimately, he was found guilty, thanks in part to Bizarro Lois’ impassioned (and revenge-motivated) speech to the jury. Well, and the fact that he’d actually done what he was charged with, I suppose. Finding someone guilty of doing something they’d actually done seems an awfully Earthly Thing to do, too, but I’ll shut up now about how often the Bizarros seem to violate their own code. Supes managed to wriggle free, using logic that could only work on Bizarro’s world—or any random comic book, I fear.

 

12134100862?profile=original# “The Jury of Super-Enemies!” in Action #286 (Mar 62): In this tale, Superman was captured by a team-up of some of his most hated foes—Luthor, Brainiac, Electro, Saturn Queen, Cosmic King and Lightning Lord. They put him on trial for ruining their plots to conquer the world—again, a charge that he was pretty danged guilty of. He was sentenced to battle Supergirl to the death in their gladiator arena.

Sadly, this tale turned out to be one of those that made DC sometimes foreswear that a cover image was not a hoax, a dream or an Imaginary Story. I won’t tell you which it was, although it’s obvious in the story early on.

 

 12134100900?profile=original“When Superman Defended His Arch-Enemy!” in Action #292 (Sep 62): This time, Superman was on the other side of the visitor’s booth, after tracking down Lex Luthor on an alien world. The robotic citizens intended to kill Luthor for “murdering” one of their own, which Lex didn’t consider much of a crime. When they assured him it was—and showed that they could overcome his inventions to keep him from escaping—he appealed to Superman to save him.

The robots contended aliens were too primitive to deserve a trial, so Supes had to undergo a series of challenges to prove he and Lex were worthy. That doesn’t bode well for the trial’s ultimate outcome, does it?

Once he got through that, the trial itself proved a short affair, because Superman called a surprise witness that helped spring Lex. Luthor was feeling pretty smug about the whole deal until Supes flew off, leaving him stranded on the alien world. Naturally, that didn’t appeal to Lex much, and he terrorized this world (and Superman from a distance) in the next issue.

 

12134101873?profile=original# “The Trial of Superman!” in Action #301 (Jun 63): This was one wacky tale, as the set-up involved Clark and Lois being trapped by gangsters in a warehouse along a river, of all places.

To allow Superman to show up, Clark threw his voice into the next room to make it seem that Supes had arrived. Then he ran in, slammed the door behind him, changed to Superman, and threw his empty suit of Clark clothes out the window as if in a mad fit of rage—on the pretext that Clark had learned his identity!

Yikes. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time but geez, there had to be a better plan than that. Except, of course, that a better plan wouldn’t have put Superman on trial as he needed to be so we’d get our spiffy cover shot.

Lois testified that she saw Supes throw Clark out the window, showing a decided limit to her observational ability in differentiating a suit of clothes from a human body. However, when the defense put Superman on the stand, he would only state, “I have nothing to say,” a questionable defense strategy at best.

He avoided becoming The Convict of Steel, of course, and you can probably even figure out how he dodged being found guilty of killing somebody who wasn’t actually dead but couldn’t show up to prove it.

Well, all right, there are about 57 ways Superman has done that in stories, so you’ll have to read it to see which option he used this time.

 

12134102101?profile=original# “The Death of Luthor!” in Action #318-319 (Nov-Dec 64): Superman ended up standing trial for having killed Luthor on Lexor, where citizens were more partial to Lex than to Big Blue.

Lex had snuck aboard a space ship that he piloted to Lexor, where he received a Lexorian ticker-tape parade. But things quickly went awry when The Man of Steel arrived. In trying to recapture Lex to return him to Earth, the non-super Superman slugged Lex, who hit his head on a stone statue and died. Oops.

Outraged Lexorians put Supes on trial for murdering their greatest hero. The two Lexorians selected to defend him weren’t thrilled by their role or by Superman’s flimsy story. Part 2 featured Superman’s trial, which was interrupted when The Criminal of Steel escaped in a desperate attempt to clear his name. Want to guess whether he did? It was always fun to visit Lexor, and this visit, with Superman on trial, was a suspenseful trip without a lot of the usual physical action.

 

12134103267?profile=original# “Superman’s Day of Truth!” in Superman #176 (Apr 65): In this instance, The Man of Steel was simply testifying in court. But that proved problematic because it was The Day of Truth, a Kryptonian holiday in which everyone had to tell the truth. What are the chances? Well, considering it was the Silver Age, the chances were really darned good.

As often happens in stories like this, “telling the truth” was confused with “telling everything you know in a rude way.” But the key problem came when Superman had to testify in a criminal trial. The defense attorney challenged Superman to tell them who he really was and specified that he couldn’t “fool” them by using his Kryptonian name, which seems as real as any other.

Superman stipulated that he’d reveal his secret identity by writing it on a chalkboard, a highly irregular way of complying with the basic “state your name, please” request, but it did give us a nifty cover. And that’s really what we needed from this story, wasn’t it?

 

“Superman…Guilty of Homicide!” in Action #358-359 (Jan-Feb 68): Once again, The Man of Steel was set up to be accused of murder, this time in one of the more elaborate plans used.

First, criminals brought back to life a penny-ante crook who could be killed by the slightest tap—and they concocted a scheme to have Superman tap him. But the mope died on his way to meet Supes, foiling the plan.

12134103482?profile=originalTo ensure the plan went ahead, the remaining crooks picked cards to determine who would take the guy’s place—and the boss “won” (he rigged it). So when Superman tapped him during a charity boxing match, he went down, swallowed a capsule that put him into suspended animation, and Superman went on trial.

You’d think Superman might’ve been able to detect that the man was only in suspended animation. But the truth is that the criminal mastermind working for the crime boss had switched capsules, giving the boss one filled with deadly poison instead. That let him get rid of Superman and take over the gang, a win-win, assuming we mean both wins were for the same guy. That’s the trouble with having to rely on henchmen for your criminal masterminding.

Part two took us through jury selection, with a number of potential jurors (including Bruce Wayne) rejected because of their faith in Superman. Then the criminal mastermind, kidnapping the prosecutor to take his place, brought in all kinds of wacko evidence.

This included displaying the element Supermanium and stamps of The Man of Steel from around the world to show how conceited he was. They were part of his argument that Superman had used his powers recklessly and destructively—which, at best, would be involuntary manslaughter, not the homicide charge they’d hung on him.

Things ultimately fell apart with some Perry Mason-like dramatics in the final reel, including an appearance by Clark Kent. But beyond that, it was about as rousing of a Superman trial as the Silver Age had to offer. And as is obvious from these examples, Superman spent quite a bit of his time in a court of law of one type of another, often on the wrong side of the aisle.

-- Craig Shutt, aka Mr. Silver age

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Jack Kirby is Not Coming through that Door

12134081290?profile=originalIt’s no secret that comic book sales are in trouble.  After a high in 2007, sales have been slumping for several years.  And practically everyone seems to have noticed.  You don’t have to travel very far on the internet to come across a discussion about the state of the slump, the cause or the cure.  Of course, having some interest in the topic, I haven’t exactly attempted to avoid such discussions.  However, one comment in particular caught my eye: “Comic books have been in trouble since Jack Kirby left Marvel.”

            I could give the commenter the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he was making fun of the predictions of the death of the industry that have been around almost as long as the industry.  But I don’t think that was the case.  Based on the tone of the discussion, the commenter seemed to seriously suggest that comic books have been on the verge of death for 40 years, or longer than I’ve been alive.

            Now, I have a few quibbles with that offhand comment. 

            First, while noticing the valleys and slumps that have periodically plagued comic book sales, it fails to recognize the peaks and successes that have also been a part of the cycle.  Comics sold well in the 1980s, in the early ‘90s and in this past decade.  The claim that our current problems began in 1970 betrays a false belief that comic book sales have seen a straight line down from 1970 to the present day.  They haven’t.  The past 40 years have seen a cycle of both rises and falls.  Notably, the more recent peaks have taken place without Jack Kirby. 

            More importantly, the comment places an unwarranted faith in the past.  Those who look to the past to save the present or the future are bound to be disappointed.  I’m reminded of an excellent rant by Rick Pitino when he was coach of the Boston Celtics:

Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they're going to be gray and old.”

            The superstars of the past, whether in comic books or basketball, can not save the present or the future. 

            Comic book fans, Jack Kirby is not walking through that door.  Julius Schwartz is not walking through that door, and Mort Weisinger is not walking through that door.  Even if they were somehow still alive, they still wouldn’t be able to save comic books.  They would be old.  They would be out of touch.  We wouldn’t be getting the Jack Kirby of 1967 who was at the top of his form.  Remember that Jack Kirby kept working for 15 years after he left Marvel.  Remember that he even came back to Marvel for a time.  While some of his later work was worthwhile, it wasn’t enough to spark new heights for the industry.

         12134082094?profile=original   Consider the former superstars who have made recent forays into comic books.  Stan Lee contributed several superhero ideas to Boom Studios and those series aren’t exactly burning up the charts.  Stan Lee helped create modern comic books in 1961, but he can’t be the one to save them in 2011.  Neal Adams is another former superstar producing current work.  Unfortunately, his Batman: Odyssey series has been widely panned (even by Neal Adams fans) and is sinking swiftly down the sales charts.

            I don’t mean to point my finger only at other people.  I have to remind myself that the industry won’t be saved by the series, styles or writers that captivated me when I was younger.  Paul Levitz is back on the Legion of Superheroes, but with little impact on sales.  Jim Shooter is once again working on characters that he revived for Valiant, but the new titles are tanking on the sales charts.  What worked in the mid-‘80s or the early ‘90s is unlikely to be the solution for today. 

             What is the solution?  I don’t know.  I’ve always been a better cheerleader than prognosticator.  Like many, I expect that the next peak will be driven in major part by digital sales.  But I don’t know what series or creative star will lead the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

Call it self-fulfilling prophecy, but I’ve read the first issues of two of DC’s four new Vertigo books, and I feel about them exactly as I expected to.

 

Fairest #1 ($2.99), which arrived March 7, was just as much fun as I’d hoped. For those who missed my previous column on this topic (and for shame!), Fairest is a spinoff from Vertigo’s popular and award-winning Fables series, which posits that all fairy tale characters exist, with each as proportionally powerful as the number of mortals who remember and/or believe in them. This new title focuses on the histories and solo adventures of the ladies in our fairy tales, from Cinderella (who has already had two solo miniseries) to Snow White.

 

It starts with a wraparound cover featuring 12 gals and one guy by the fantastic Adam Hughes; it’s not only gorgeous but a fun challenge to identify all the characters. I was only able to ID them all  because I’ve read more than 100 issues of Fables, and it wasn’t easy – there sure are a lot of blondes! I’ll provide a hint in that those depicted are Ali Baba, Beauty (of “and the Beast”), Bo Peep, Briar Rose (“Sleeping Beauty), Cinderella, Ozma, Princess Alder, Rapunzel, Rose Red, Snow Queen, Snow White, Mrs. Jack Spratt and Thumbelina. Good luck!

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The insides are by writer Bill Willingham, the creator and writer of “Fables,” and fan favorite artist Phil Jimenez (“Wonder Woman”), and are a delight. Jimenez pours a ton of detail on the page, mirroring the monthly effort of Mark Buckingham over in “Fables.” And Willingham’s efforts here are as entertaining as they are in “Fables;” with witty dialogue, specific characterization, pell-mell adventure and little details that tickle your childhood fairy-tale memories.

 

12134151455?profile=originalOne oddity must be mentioned: In a book devoted to women, none show up until page 13 (actually two, Snow Queen and Briar Rose), and no Fairest has any dialogue until the last page. The focus of this first issue is on Ali “Prince of Thieves” Baba, a sarcastic effrit and an angry wooden soldier carved by Gepetto. They are all males, which indicates that the book won’t be entirely free of Y chromosomes – it’s just that men won’t be the focus. I’m sure Briar Rose (and possibly the Snow Queen) will have their fair share of adventure soon enough.

 

12134152093?profile=originalAnd I’ll be there to read it, because Fairest #1 was enormous fun. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and caution that remote viewing of the series through a magic mirror or crystal ball is considered piracy.

 

A little lower on my enthusiasm scale is Saucer Country #1 ($2.99), which arrived March 14. The series, unlike most comics, won’t shy away from actual politics. It stars a divorced, female, Hispanic governor of a southwestern state who is considering a run for the presidency on what is the (unnamed) Democratic ticket. Her opponents, whose affiliation is equally unnamed, are clearly Republicans.

 

12134152481?profile=originalThis is the part that interests me, primarily for the novelty. I don’t want many or even most of my funnybooks to provide political commentary, as I prefer my fantasy to be an escape from all that. But once in a blue moon some real-world issues and controversies can add a little reaffirming verisimilitude – as long it doesn’t devolve into the writer standing on a soapbox. Screeds aren’t fun to read even when you agree with the politics, and are flat-out intolerable when you don’t.

 

12134153284?profile=originalThe name of the book refers to what will surely become the main plot before long, in that our heroine comes to the realization on the last page that she had been abducted by aliens. This will certainly complicate her campaign, as if an alcoholic ex-husband and brutal politics aren’t problem enough. But the press material indicates she now believes we’re being invaded – and she needs to be president to stop it. It’s not clear in the first issue if it’s true or if there’s some other reason for the governor’s recovered memories, but it does add a whole new meaning to the term “illegal aliens.”

 

Saucer Country is by British writer Paul Cornell, known primarily for television drama like Doctor Who, and his current runs on DC’s Demon Knights and Stormwatch. The art is by Ryan Kelly, who put in years of solid work on Vertigo’s “Lucifer.” That’s a pretty good line-up, so I’m looking forward to a political potboiler with a side order of aliens – or maybe it’ll be the other way around.

 

12134153700?profile=originalContact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

 

1. The first issue of Fairest sports a wraparound cover depicting 13 characters expected to appear in the series. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

2. The second issue of Fairest, due in April, show Ali Baba and Briar Rose with an interfering effrit. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

3. The third issue of Fairest features Snow Queen on the cover. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

4. The cover of the first issue of Saucer Country shows the lead character haunted by gray aliens. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

5. The second issue of Saucer Country is due in April. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

6. The third issue of Saucer Country is due in May.  Courtesy DC Entertainment. 

 

 

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12134027688?profile=original“The Game of Secret Identities”

Editor:  Mort Weisinger  Writer:  Edmond Hamilton  Art:  Curt Swan (pencils); Sheldon Moldoff (inks)

 

 

 

The big news from National Periodical in the spring of 1964 was the debut of Batman’s “New Look”.   As part of an editorial shuffle, Julius Schwartz had been assigned to the floundering Bat-titles.  Schwartz jettisoned the science-fiction plots into which the Dynamic Duo had been awkwardly shoehorned, along with all the bat-detritus that had collected over the previous decade.  The fans were intrigued to see Batman and Robin back in their old milieu as sleuths.  Visually, the New Look was marked by the addition of a yellow circle to the Gotham Gangbuster’s chest emblem and vastly improved art, overall.

 

The New Look got all the buzz, but Batman and Detective Comics weren’t the only DC titles to enjoy a renaissance because of the shifting of editors.

 

12134089096?profile=originalAs part of the shake-up, Superman editor Mort Weisinger inherited World’s Finest Comics from Jack Schiff.   Weisinger had established a detailed mythos around the character of Superman, and since World's Finest featured joint appearances of Superman and Batman, there was a certain logic in assigning him as the title’s new editor.  Immediately, Mort set about folding World’s Finest into his Superman family of magazines.

 

For the readers the most noticeable indication of that was the assignment of Curt Swan as the regular artist.  Swan was regarded as the Superman artist and his rendition of the Man of Steel had become the standard for all of Weisinger's comics.  Also reporting on board, as the series’ writer, was Edmond Hamilton.  Hamilton had a talent for investing his characters with humanity, providing motivations for their actions more than “just because the script says so.”

 

World’s Finest Comics now had the same look and feel as the rest of the Superman titles, and it paid off with the same dividends.  It invigorated the title.  Readers were drawn by the sleekness of Swan’s art and the dimension of Hamilton’s stories.

 

Just about any Hamilton/Swan tale from that magical era of 1964-to-1966 deserves examination, but one more than any other stands out for me.  Curiously, there is no villain in this story, no threat to humanity, nor even any real danger to Our Heroes.  Yet, it exemplifies all the things that made Weisinger’s Superman-Batman team something that fans are nostalgic for, even to-day.

 

 

 

12134090454?profile=original“The Game of Secret Identities” starts with the normally implacable Clark Kent getting the bejeesus scared out of him.  He finds, shoved under his door, a message stating he is Superman.  As it turns out, it’s just a handbill advertising, “At least you’ll feel like Superman---when you take Smither’s Tonic.”  Still, it’s enough to put a nagging thought in the back of his mind.  Just how safe is his secret identity, he frets, from someone with enough wherewithal and desire to really want to uncover it?

 

Now, if you or I had something gnawing at us like that, we’d probably just head down to our favourite watering hole and guzzle enough brewskis to wash our worries away.  But the Metropolis Marvel is a man of action!  Before the end of the first page of the story proper, he’s flown to Gotham City to present his good buddy, the Batman, with a proposition.

 

“Batman, you’re the world’s greatest detective!  I want you and Robin to test my security by trying to find out my secret identity!  If you two can’t do it, nobody can . . . and I’ll be sure I’m safe!”

 

12134090871?profile=originalThe Masked Manhunter points out one slight flaw in his super-pal’s plan:  they already know that Superman is Clark Kent.

 

But the Man of Steel has thought of that, too.  He’s brought along a selective amnesia-inducer from the bottled city of Kandor.  Kryptonians use the device to remove painful memories, without causing complete amnesia.  With it, he can erase the Dynamic Duo’s knowledge of his identity.

 

Batman and Robin agree to the challenge, and when Superman departs, they submit themselves to the inducer.  After it does its work, they have forgotten Superman’s secrets and his real identity. 

 

 

 

They buckle down to the task that the Man of Steel has asked of them.  The next day, in Metropolis, during one of Superman’s scheduled public appearances, Batman and Robin, in a lead-lined “television truck”, use an encephalograph to record the Kryptonian’s distinctive brain-wave pattern.  They’re thwarted when the device reveals that Superman has no brain-wave activity at all.

 

12134091876?profile=originalRealising that it’s a Superman robot in the Man of Steel’s place, the Batman resorts to plan “B”.  When the robot flies off, the Caped Crusader sends his flying remote surveillance camera, the “bat-eye”, to follow it.  The Dynamic Duo knows that Superman has a Fortress of Solitude, though they can no longer remember its location, and they hope that the robot leads the bat-eye right to it.

 

It does, and the caped crime-fighters head for the Arctic in the Batplane.  They manage to circumvent the security devices and enter the Man of Steel’s sanctum, hoping to find a clue to his secret identity there.  But Superman has anticipated this, as well.  He’s removed everything that might suggest that he is Clark Kent.  Before they depart, though, Batman secretly disables all of the Superman robots.

 

As Batman had hoped, Superman doesn’t discover the tampering until it’s too late, the next day, to send one of his robots to his next public appearance.  Once again on hand with the encephalograph, this time, the Dynamic Duo records the genuine Man of Steel’s brain-wave pattern when he arrives to lay a building cornerstone.  Using the device to home in on Superman’s powerful brain-waves, they track him down to Clark Kent’s apartment house.

 

12134092696?profile=originalStudying the building’s tenants, Batman and Robin narrow the field to four men, including Clark Kent.  But when they secretly record the brain-waves of each of the four, none of them match Superman’s.  Now, if it were Lois Lane, she’d would have packed up her toys and gone home, once again figuring she was wrong about Superman being Clark Kent.  But the Batman is made of sterner stuff.

 

“He suspects our plan, and by his super-mental control, is altering his brain-waves to deceive us,” the Masked Manhunter deduces. 

 

Laying a trap, the Batman requests the help of the four suspects.  He brings them to a small theatre and asks them to view some film clips.  “You may help me break a case simply by watching them,” he tells them.  Clark guesses it’s a ruse of some kind, but he can’t refuse without drawing suspicion.

 

The four men watch the films; they are recordings of previous Superman-Batman cases.  (In a nice touch of continuity, some of the clips depict events from earlier stories, such as their battle with the Composite Superman.  Hamilton often made reference to things from past issues.)  Meanwhile, Batman and Robin monitor each of the men’s brain-wave patterns.

 

At first, none of the four brain-waves match Superman’s.  But as the films continue to roll, one pattern shifts until it is identical to the Man of Steel’s.  The brain-wave pattern of suspect number four---Clark Kent!  Batman had expected this.  “His super-mental control relaxed because of his emotion at seeing those old scenes,” he explains.

 

Privately, the Dynamic Duo confronts Kent with the evidence, and he admits exposure.

 

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Now, if the story had ended here, it would have been nothing more than a pleasant little tale, good enough for a nine-page back-up filler.  But here is where Hamilton does what he did best---he advanced the plot logically, based on simple, human emotion.  In this case, the emotion of pride.

 

12134095071?profile=originalInstead of being grateful for being shown the weaknesses in his Clark Kent guise, the Man of Steel shows that his pride as been stung.  He tells his bat-buddy that, if he wanted to, he could find out who he and Robin really are.  Since that’s not such a big trick for someone who has X-ray vision, Superman double-dares him, insisting that he won’t use any of his super-senses to do it.

 

Take your best shot, says the Batman.

 

Part II begins with Superman using the selective amnesia-inducer to remove his knowledge of Batman and Robin’s secrets.  Then he goes on the offensive.  First, tries to follow the Batplane back to the Batcave.  But the caped crime-busters discharge a cloud of green-kryptonite dust behind their ship, forcing the Metropolis Marvel to veer off.

 

Next, Superman scoots down to Kandor to pick up a telepathic hound, and when the Dynamic Duo appears at the public dedication of the new Batman Museum, he uses the pooch to lock in on Batman’s thought patterns.  When 12134095674?profile=originalBatman and Robin leave, Superman follows on foot, being led by the telepathic hound.

 

But Batman, recalling telepathic hounds from their adventure in Kandor, back in World’s Finest Comics # 143 (Aug., 1964), has figured out a way to dodge the pursuit---and rub his super-pal’s face in it, at the same time.  Superman is astonished when the hound leads him to Clark Kent’s apartment!  Then he finds the encephalograph machine planted there, with it set to broadcast a recording of Batman’s brain-wave pattern.

 

Meanwhile, the Cowled Crusader is afraid that Superman’s attempts to learn their identities may become an obsession with him.  He approaches his old friend and attempts to call the contest off.  The Man of Steel, still irritated over Batman’s success, refuses.

 

Moreover, it appears that Superman is, indeed, obsessed with proving that he is as good a detective as Batman.  Wrapped up in his planning, he puts off requests for help and responds to emergencies almost too late.

 

12134095889?profile=originalThen, Superman announces to Batman and Robin that he will have solved the secret of their true identities within twenty-four hours.  Concerned, the caped crime-fighters investigate a large citadel built by the Man of Steel on the outskirts of Metropolis.  As they try to enter, electric-eye alarms, triggered by the colour schemes of their costumes, alert Superman via a receiver worn around his neck.

 

Confident, Superman shows them the giant computer within the structure.  The machine has been programmed with the data of every person recorded in the 1960 census.  Superman has fed the computer with all the information known about the Dynamic Duo, and within the day, he declares, it will identify which two persons in the country are Batman and Robin.

 

That night, they return to the citadel as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, to avoid setting off the electric-eye alarms.  But once inside, the lights flash on and they are surprised by Superman.  It was a trick all along.  Not even the colossal computer could have deduced Batman’s identity, but the Man of Steel calculated that they wouldn’t take that chance.  And he knew they would return in their civilian identities to prevent triggering the alarms.

 

Smug in his victory, Superman flies off to handle the urgent missions that he has been ignoring.

 

In this case, however, victory is a matter of perspective . . . .

 

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“He doesn’t dream that we purposefully let ourselves be caught by him,” says Dick, once the Man of Steel is out of sight.

 

“We had to do it,” replies Bruce.  “Superman was neglecting vital missions in his obsession with the contest!”

 

  

 

 

The first thing that will probably strike you about “The Game of Secret Identities” is that Superman was a real sorehead.

 

That was Mort Weisinger’s approach to Superman.  He understood that there was little physical drama in a lead character who could shrug off H-bomb explosions and juggle planets.  Mort preferred scripts that emphasized Superman’s humanity, that he was heir to the same emotions as the rest of us---love, anger, loyalty, regret, jealousy, and all the rest.   This was the key that enabled readers to relate to him.

 

12134096668?profile=originalEdmond Hamilton’s style dovetailed with this approach perfectly.  His scripts weren’t awash with emotion, as Jerry Siegel’s could be.  (When Siegel’s florid technique worked, it resulted in a powerful effort---“The Death of Superman”, for example; but when it didn’t, one was left with a soggy melodrama.)  Hamilton would often turn a character’s motivation around a single, logical emotional result, which would propel the rest of the story to its conclusion.

 

We saw this a great deal in Hamilton’s World’s Finest tales.  “The Game of Secret Identities” showed that Superman had a bit of an ego, after all, and what happened when his pride was stung.  In “The Feud Between Superman and Batman”, from World’s Finest Comics # 143, the events flowed from the Batman’s inferiority complex after being shown up by the Man of Steel just one time too many.  And both heroes give way to despair, in “The Composite Superman”, from issue # 142 (Jun., 1964), before digging deep inside themselves to find the courage to take on their overwhelmingly powerful foe.

 

Early in the story, Hamilton lays the groundwork for the Man of Steel’s peeved reaction.  Despite his worry, Superman is confident that he has securely protected his identity.  Before the Dynamic Duo even begins their investigation, Superman tells them, “I feel sure you’ll fail, which will quiet my worries!”  So, no doubt, he’s embarrassed when his pals come up with the goods in only three days.  It’s a blow to his ego.

 

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Another notable feature of “The Game of Secret Identities” is that it strongly defines just what it is that the Batman brings to his partnership with Superman---his keen, analytical mind.  Bear in mind, Superman was no dummy.  He anticipated Batman’s use of the encephalograph by sending a robot to that first public appearance.  The Man of Steel even expected that Batman would locate his Fortress and scrubbed it of any identity-revealing clues. 

 

Nevertheless, the Masked Manhunter was able to out-think his super-pal on every turn.  That’s not a small thing.  More than any of his other abilities, his razor-sharp mind and quick wits make him a super-hero.  And they enabled him to outsmart his super-partner.  Many times over the course of the series, Superman is shown to respect and value this.

 

 

As strange as it may seem, Hamilton uses the competitive theme of the tale to underscore the deep friendship between Superman and Batman.  It begins with the Man of Steel asking the help of the man whose abilities and 12134100262?profile=originalintelligence he trusts more than anyone else’s.  And later on, the Batman worries at how obsessed Superman has become in ferreting out his and Robin’s secret identities.  And as his fears are borne out by the emergencies mishandled or ignored by the Man of Steel, the Caped Crusader knows how much his friend will regret this, when he comes to his senses.

 

So, for the sake of Superman’s conscience, as much as that of the world, Batman sets his ego aside and throws the contest.

 

Antagonism between the two super-heroes was also a frequent refrain in Hamilton’s World’s Finest plots.  Note, I’m not talking about the “I constantly ride him but I really love him like a brother” kind of “friendships”.  Those invariably come across as unrealistic and contrived.  What Hamilton did was find a story wedge to drive between Superman and Batman, then examine its effect on their friendship.

 

12134101062?profile=originalIn the previously mentioned World’s Finest Comics # 143, Batman develops an inferiority complex in light of the Man of Steel’s overwhelming array of super-powers and breaks up their partnership.  Significantly, Superman genuinely believes that Batman is a contributing member of the team and tries to shake him out of it.  That idea goes south in the worst possible way.   In “Prison for Heroes”, from issue # 145 (Nov., 1964), a hypnotised Batman holds Superman captive on an asteroid prison under a red sun.  The plot examines the Man of Steel’s sense of betrayal and anger under Batman’s sadistic treatment.  And in “Batman, Son of Krypton”, from issue # 146 (Dec., 1964), the Masked Manhunter throws himself between a blinded-with-rage Superman and an Earth scientist believed responsible for Krypton’s destruction.  Batman puts his own neck on the line to keep the Man of Steel from making the biggest mistake of his life.

 

Every time, the strength of their friendship overcomes all conflicts.

 

If you’re from a newer generation of comics readers and you wonder why older fans long for the days when Superman and Batman shared adventures as good and trusting friends, World’s Finest Comics # 149 is a good place to find out.

 

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12134027688?profile=original“The Legionnaire Who Killed”

 

Editor: Mort Weisinger  Writer:  Edmond Hamilton  Art: Curt Swan (pencils); Sheldon Moldoff, George Klein (inks)

 

 

“Talking head” stories, as a rule, don’t go over too well in comics.   One of the strengths of the comic-book medium lies in its ability to depict super-hero-type action in fantastic environments, and when a story doesn’t deliver that, many fans feel cheated.  This was especially true back in the Silver Age, when the readership tended to be younger.  We didn’t want psycho-drama; we wanted to see Green Lantern kick Sinestro halfway to Alpha Centauri.

 

12134165670?profile=originalThat’s why a story like “The Legionnaire Who Killed” proved to be so remarkable.  It was a tale almost completely bereft of action and posed no physical threat to Our Heroes.  Yet, this masterful drama by Edmond Hamilton gripped the reader from page one and didn’t let go until the last panel.

 

I need to speak for a moment about Edmond Hamilton and the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Largely, it is Jim Shooter whom the fans credit for more sophisticated stories, stronger characterisation, heavy emotional drama, and overall, elevating the Legion series from a juvenile level.  To be sure, Shooter took the Legion to its highest point, but most of the things he gets credit for bringing to the series actually started in the Adventure scripts that came out of Hamilton’s typewriter.

 

Such Hamilton stories as “The Lone Wolf Legionnaire”, “The War Between Krypton and Earth”, “The Super-Moby Dick of Space”, and “Hunters of the Super-Beasts” introduced the first believable nuances of romance, obsession, and, what the young readers probably most identified with, feelings of alienation in the teen-age heroes.  Hamilton also wrote the first true Legion saga with his two-part Starfinger tale.

 

Yet, none of those other tales displays Hamilton’s literary skill as much as “The Legionnaire Who Killed”.  It is no accident that this tale consistently makes most Silver-Age fans’ list of favourite Legion stories.

 

 

 

One look at the cover of Adventure Comics # 342 shows that this will not be a run-of-the-mill Legion story.  The focus is on seldom-seen Legionnaire Star Boy, holding the body of the outlaw he has killed.  On the dead man’s chest is a large smear of blood.  This was a real eye-opener in those days.  Any trace of blood was virtually taboo then.  Whether hero, villain, or fringe character, all wounds, no matter how grievous, were almost always depicted with nary a drop of the red stuff.

 

12134167085?profile=originalThe story proper opens with a scene of the Legionnaires not on currently on missions enjoying a rare moment of relaxation.  Except for Star Boy, who wanders among his pals too busy mooning over Dream Girl to join in the fun.  Though Star Boy had been established as a Legionnaire since his first appearance in a Superboy story back in 1961, it wasn’t until Adventure Comics # 317 (Feb., 1964) that he had any real participation in a Legion story.  This was the same issue that saw Dream Girl’s debut as a character and a Legionnaire.  At the end of that tale, Dream Girl resigned her membership, and the fans were left with vague hints that Star Boy had taken more than a professional interest in her.

 

Adventure Comics # 342 confirmed it.  The boy from Xanthu was carrying an Olympic-sized torch for the girl from Naltor.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one.

 

Travelling to the jungle planet of Karak to meet his parents, Star Boy is told by explorer Jan Barth that he has just missed their departure.  And that’s the good news.  The bad news is Kenz Nuhor, from the planet Naltor, has just landed with blood in his eye.  He’s stuck on Dream Girl in a big way, but since falling in love with Star Boy, she doesn’t even know Nuhor is alive.

 

Overcome with jealousy, Nuhor aims a ray gun at Star Boy.  Jan Barth draws his own pistol, but Nuhor blasts him, fatally.  When Star Boy attempts to use his mass-induction power, it is reflected back by a special shield Nuhor is carrying.  The weight of his own legs increased tremendously, Star Boy crumples to the ground.

 

Nuhor takes a few seconds to gloat; then he’s distracted by Dream Girl’s arrival in a space cruiser.  This gives Star Boy time to grab Barth’s ray gun and fire it at Nuhor, killing him.  (One wonders why Nuhor, being from Naltor himself, didn’t see this coming.)

 

That is the only bit of standard comic-book action in this story, and it’s over by page five.

 

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It’s a clear case of self-defence, and Dream Girl’s eyewitness testimony gets Star Boy off the hook with the Science Police.  But that’s the least of his problems.  When he gets back to the Legion clubhouse, he is informed by a group of grim-faced Legionnaires that he will stand court-martial for breaking the Legion code against killing.

 

12134169263?profile=originalAs the current Legion leader, Brainiac 5 will prosecute, while Superboy volunteers to act as Star Boy’s defence counsel.  The Boy of Steel disagrees with the absolute rigidity of the Legion Code.  He’s invulnerable, but most of his fellow members are not, and he feels that the Code should be amended to permit Legionnaires the use of lethal force if necessary to protect their own lives.

 

Brainiac 5 appoints Saturn Girl to head a presiding board composed of herself, Chameleon Boy, Ultra Boy, Element Lad, and Duo Damsel.  And Star Boy is hauled off to a detention cell.

 

The next day, the trial begins in earnest.  There is no dispute of Dream Girl’s testimony, but when Star Boy himself takes the stand, Brainiac 5 goes right for the jugular.  He points out several instances in the past where other Legionnaires’ lives were in jeopardy and they were able to use their super-powers to save themselves without killing.  Brainiac 5 demands to know why Star Boy didn’t do the same thing.

 

I did, protests Star Boy, but Nuhor’s shield reflected my super-power back on me.  There was nothing else I could do, he insists.

 

Then Brainiac 5 produces an exhibit of the scene on Karak, with figures of Star Boy, Nuhor, and the surrounding landscape. 

 

12134169653?profile=original“Yes,” confirms Star Boy, “this miniature scene shows everything just as it was the moment before I fired the ray gun!”

 

“I ask that you direct your super-power,” says Brainiac 5, “at the model tree’s foliage, just over the model Kenz Nuhor’s head!”

 

Star Boy does so, and before the eyes of all present, the limb of the model tree breaks from the super-heaviness and falls on the model of Kenz Nuhor.

 

“If you had directed your super-power at the real foliage,” Brainiac 5 points out, “it would have pinned down Kenz Nuhor without need to kill him!”

 

It is the most masterful moment of the trial---not only for the characters in the story; it’s an eye-opener for the readers, too.  Leafing back to the actual scene at the beginning, it’s all there:  Star Boy, Nuhor, the near-by tree, the foliage overhead.  The opportunity to use the tactic suggested by Brainiac 5 was right there, before Star Boy’s---and our---eyes.

 

The prosecution rests.

 

 

 

12134170291?profile=originalAs the defence counsel, Superboy knows he’s up against it.  He spends the night reviewing thousands of video-tapes of the Legionnaires in action, looking for something that will give him a chance to overcome the damning evidence presented at trial.  Finally, just before the court-martial reconvenes, he thinks he’s found it.

 

Appearing in court, Superboy challenges the validity of the charges.  There is a precedent, he states.  Another Legionnaire has killed in self-defence---and that Legionnaire is the prosecutor himself, Brainiac 5!  Superboy runs a video-tape of Brainiac 5 gunning down a man to save his own life.

 

The Legion’s leader is unfazed.  For Superboy has made an error worthy of one of Jack McCoy's assistants on Law & Order.  He failed to watch the end of the tape, which shows clearly that the “man” Brainiac 5 shot was a robot, a fact known to the Legionnaire when he pulled the trigger.

 

“Your ‘precedent’ is of no value, Superboy,” rules Saturn Girl.

 

The defence rests.

 

 

 

The Boy of Steel does some out-of-the-box thinking.  During the final summations, he tries a final desperate deception intended to prove his point that the non-invulnerable Legionnaires should be permitted to take lives to save their own.

 

And Brainiac 5 sees right through it.  However, it provokes him into making a startling statement during his closing argument.

 

12134171655?profile=original“I agree with Superboy that a change in the Code to allow the taking of life in self-defense should be studied in the near future!”

 

Star Boy leaps up and shakes his defence counsel’s hand.  “I’m cleared!”  But, to paraphrase the old punch line---“Not so fast, Kallor!”

 

Brainiac 5, showing that he has the soul of Hamilton Burger, continues, “No change that may be made in the future alters the fact that Star Boy broke the Code as we have it now!  You’ve seen the evidence!  I demand the extreme penalty . . . expulsion from the Legion!”

 

Then Superboy addresses the board.

 

“Will you expel Star Boy, shatter his career, just because he defended himself from a ruthless murderer?  Think . . . you may be in that position yourselves some day!  I ask you to acquit him!”

 

Now, Star Boy’s fate is in the hands of the Legion membership, all of whom have seen and heard all the evidence, either in the courtroom or via distant monitors.

 

 

 

12134173054?profile=originalIn retrospect, it’s not a surprise that the script singled out Star Boy as the centre of the drama.  That could only have been Mort Weisinger’s hand in it.

 

Between Adventure Comics # 247, the debut of the Super-Hero Club, and Adventure Comics # 300, when it became a regular series, the Legion was little more than a plot device.  Continuity was minimal, largely because there was little need for it---the Legionnaires existed merely to move things along.  And whenever a super-youth was needed for a Superboy story, it was a convenient excuse to make him a member of the Legion.  This hap-hazard fashion of membership created particular difficulties later, when the Legion got its own series and the characters had to be dealt with on a regular basis.

 

One of the more prominent problems was the presence of too many members with Superboy-level powers.  Besides the Boy of Steel himself, there was Mon-El, Supergirl, and Ultra Boy.  That was a headache for story plotting, since it was virtually impossible to come up every month with a menace that any one of those four couldn’t whip by the end of page two, while the rest of the Legionnaires sat around, playing Spaceopoly ®.  Since Superboy’s appearance was mandated, that meant that Mon-El and the others were almost always tied up on “missions at the other end of the galaxy.”

 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, then there was Star Boy, another hold-over member from the “Hey, let’s make him a Legionnaire; we’ll never use him again, anyway” days.  When introduced in Adventure Comics # 282 (Mar., 1961), he too had Superboy-style powers.  Unlike the others in that group, Star Boy had never been more than a one-shot character, and no doubt, Weisinger would have preferred just to forget he ever appeared.

 

12134173277?profile=originalHe certainly tried to.  Nothing was seen of the boy from Xanthu for over three years.  But then the #%$@#$!! fans starting asking about him.  So, in the letter column in Adventure Comics # 308 (May, 1963), Mort explained that Star Boy was away on a “detached service” mission for the Legion.  His face began to appear on Legion monitor boards, and finally, with a radical change in his super-powers, he joined the regular cast.

 

I suspect that it was his lack of a true Legion history that marked him for disaster.  Even after being added to the Adventure Comics cast, Star Boy rarely appeared.  He didn’t have even the modest fan base that the other, longer-running Legionnaires did.

 

Or so Mort thought.

 

 

 

The voting sequence takes only two pages, and it is about as static a scene as one will ever see in a comic-book adventure.  But it is as much of a cliffhanger moment as the Fatal Five showing up in Metropolis.  At first, it looks good for Star Boy.  The other members who are invulnerable agree with Superboy’s views on self-defence and vote “not guilty”; and the female Legionnaires---except for Saturn Girl, who was always something of an ice queen---are on Star Boy’s side because of his romance with Dream Girl.

 

His advantage erodes, as more Legionnaires weigh in.  It stands 9 to 8 for acquittal, when the last two Legion votes are tallied.  For the record, they are Matter-Eater Lad’s and Invisible Kid’s.

 

Guilty.

 

Guilty.

 

By a vote of 10-to-9, Star Boy is found guilty of breaking the Legion Code and is expelled from the Legion.

 

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If Mort Weisinger believed he was getting rid of a “nothing”character in dumping Star Boy from the Legion, he very shortly found himself woefully mistaken.  So much mail flowed in about “The Legionnaire Who Killed,” it filled two monthly letter columns.  Nearly all of the fans applauded the overall story, but they were similarly overwhelming in angrily taking DC to task for expelling Star Boy.

 

As Mort himself stated, in “The Legion Outpost” of Adventure Comics # 346 (Jul., 1966):  “We seem to have stirred up a real hornets’ nest with ‘The Legionnaire Who Killed.’ And most of the letters are against conviction for Star Boy.”

 

Either Weisinger had underestimated the popularity of the character, or Edmond Hamilton had invested Star Boy with such a genuine pathos and humanity that the fans readily sympathised with him.  It was probably a bit of both.

 

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In any event, Hamilton produced an impressive story.  The last place a Silver-Age DC fan expected to see a courtroom drama was in a Legion story.  One of the most powerful aspects to the tale was the fact that Hamilton did not fall back on the usual comic-book contrivances of having the accused hero’s crime turn out to be a hoax, or the result of a frame-up by an enemy.  No, Star Boy actually committed the killing for which he stood court-martial.  The question was---was Star Boy’s act justified or not?

 

This engaged each reader on an ethical level, according to his own opinion on the subject of a hero’s use of deadly force in self-defence. 

 

12134175692?profile=originalA “code against killing” had been de rigueur for DC’s super-heroes since 1940, when Jack Liebowitz and Whitney Ellsworth sought to shield the company from the “morality police” of Fiorello LaGuardia’s reform movement.  Superman and his fellow DC cape-and-tights brethren would no longer kill, a prohibition which continued on to the Silver Age.  The ban frequently resulted in some contrived situations, bending the scripts over backwards to avoid having a DC hero kill a foe, no matter how deadly a threat the villain posed, even to the very world.

 

To many readers, a code against killing represented one of the ideals of the Silver Age and they accepted the plot contortions.  To others, such a thing seemed impractical.  Not that they wanted wholesale bloodshed, but certainly, it was permissible for a hero to use deadly force to save his own life, or those of innocents, if there was no other way.

 

But what happens when the ideal conflicts with necessity?  That was the crux of Edmond Hamilton’s story.

 

It’s been over forty years since Adventure Comics # 342 hit the stands, and the topic is still being debated by comics fans.  “Thought-provoking” was not an adjective that one applied often to Silver-Age DC stories, but “The Legionnaire Who Killed” offered it in spades.

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Uncanny X-Force vs. Generation Hope

12134116670?profile=originalLast October, Marvel debuted two new titles as part of the X-Men line: Uncanny X-Force and Generation Hope.  I’ve been an X-Men fan for a long time and I’m still a regular reader of the line so, naturally, I decided to give both of these new titles a try. 

            However, I entered these two titles with different expectations.  Based on previous experience, I planned to give one title a short leash; it had to win me over quickly or I wouldn’t stick around for future issues.  Conversely, I was prepared to give the other title a fairly lengthy trial period.  To my surprise, the titles have, so far, defied my expectations.  The one I expected to appeal to me has left me cold.  The one I expected to drive me away has instead pulled me in.

            I had high hopes for Generation Hope.  These hopes were partially based on my long history with the X-Men family.  I’ve often enjoyed their teen titles and I’ve appreciated the shift from one class to another every decade or so. 

12134117072?profile=originalNew Mutants debuted in 1983, introducing a new team of teenaged mutants.  I enjoyed their adventures, the sense of growth and discovery.  Cannonball and Moonstar remain some of my favorite characters.  Generation X debuted in 1994, bringing another generation of mutants to the school.  It was one of my favorite titles of the time, combining Chris Bachalo’s excellent artwork with Scott Lobdell’s sense of whimsy.  The next class started in 2003.  They went through more permutations than the others, starring in New Mutants, New X-Men: Academy X, New X-Men and Young X-Men.  Yet, despite the many changes, the New/Young X-Men introduced interesting characters like Dust and Anole and experienced some classic adventures.  Every decade, I’ve enjoyed the stories of the current class at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.  Even though it was a little early, I was looking forward to the stories of the teens of the ‘teens (Generation Hope was cover-dated January 2011). 

My expectation wasn’t entirely based on my love for older titles, either.  I thought that the writers and editors had done a very good job of laying the groundwork for the current title too.  The roots of Generation Hope began in the excellent crossover, Second Coming.  At the end of that story, Hope’s powers somehow activated the first new mutants since M-Day.  The appearance of these new mutants, referred to as the Five Lights, lifted a dark despair off of the current teams.  They were not destined to be the last generation of mutants.  The story of these new mutants continued in an arc in Uncanny X-Men called “The Five Lights.”  Hope and Rogue raced around the globe, trying to find the newly activated mutants before anyone else.  Hope also used her powers to somehow stabilize the newer mutants.  The story followed the standard formula for collecting new heroes but was well told. 

With that history and that groundwork, I was predisposed to like Generation Hope.  I wanted to embrace these new characters.  I wanted to enjoy their stories.  Unfortunately, the early issues of Generation Hope have been a disappointment.  I accept that I may share some of the blame.  It’s not fair to compare these new characters to M or Chamber right away.  But a greater share of the blame falls at the feet of writer Kieron Gillen.  It’s not that I don’t like the new characters as much as that he doesn’t believe in them.   

In the first story, the kids of Generation Hope have traveled to Japan to collect the last of the Five Lights.  Since they’re only teenagers, they have been accompanied by X-Men veterans Cyclops, Rogue and Wolverine.  I understand that these classic characters are involved in the story in order to attract readers.  However, their presence comes at the expense of the new characters.  The four new kids pretty much stand around while the X-Men and Hope do all the work.  They’re passive.  They’re uninteresting.  Their powers aren’t original enough to help them stand out (one has super-speed, the other heat and cold powers).  And they don’t speak enough or do enough to develop personalities.  Gillen should have trusted the arc in Uncanny X-Men to entice readers to try this title, rather than allowing the supposed stars to become supporting characters in their own book.

12134118054?profile=originalThat’s not the only problem with this title.  I’ve also been confused by the lack of clarity as to Kenji’s powers.  He’s the fifth light that they’re trying to rescue and recruit.  Like the others, his powers are out of control.  But they seem to do several different things making it difficult to determine the exact nature of the threat.  Is he psychic?  Does he tap into a dark dimension (like DC’s Shade)?  The confusing threat plus uninspiring heroes makes for a particularly troublesome combination.  That’s why, despite my initial expectation, Generation Hope has failed to deliver. 

On the other hand, I had low expectations for Uncanny X-Force.  Once again, my expectations were based in part on past experience.  That’s not to say I’ve always disliked X-Force.  Yet I haven’t always liked the title either. 

I’m a fan of the first 100 issues.  I liked the way the title juggled multiple threats, the constant energy in both story and art and interesting developments such as Cannonball’s apparent immortality.  I enjoyed the series as it transitioned through other creative teams and other concepts: Cable’s strike-force, the team on the run, the junior X-Men, hitchhiking across America, and so on.  After that, the team and the title have struggled to find their footing.  Warren Ellis’ European industrial approach was quickly abandoned.  Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s completely new team was interesting but sufficiently different that it was eventually spun off as X-Statix.  Most recently, there was the ultra-violent black ops team led by Wolverine.

The black ops version did well enough on the sales charts.  But it wasn’t the right kind of title for me.  I wasn’t interested in the over-the-top violence.  I was dismayed at the gray, muddy art.  I abandoned the title after only one issue.  I would occasionally check in on the title when there was a highly publicized story like Messiah War or Necrosha.  But I noticed the same tone and immediately put it back on the shelf.

So why would I even give this new Uncanny X-Force a chance in the first place?  Well, there are a number of reasons.  One, it’s new.  I’m generally interested in something new.  In this case, the newness also included a completely new creative team.  Two, I’m not going to hold the mistakes of earlier incarnations against this one if it’s good.  They may inform my decision to stick around or to give up quickly but there are plenty of concepts that have righted themselves after a rough period.  Three, people whose opinions I respect read the book before I did and had good things to say about it.  And, four, the new creative team already showed a bit of promise.  Rick Remender is a respected writer.  Jerome Opena’s figures had more form than the amorphous characters of the previous series.  And Dean White actually mixed a bit of red, green and even pink into the palette instead of multiple shades of gray. 

Even then, I had low expectations going in.  The new title would continue the black ops angle that I had found unappealing the last time around.  The new team would feature Deadpool and Fantomex, who I wouldn’t count among my favorite characters at this point.  So, while I was willing to give it a chance, I wasn’t willing to give it much of a chance.

12134117673?profile=originalTo my surprise, Uncanny X-Force has been well-worth reading.  Remender has approached both Fantomex and Deadpool in ways that have made them interesting to me for the first time in years.  Deadpool is actually funny, though with a cynical bite.  There’s also heart to the series, as Remender has Angel and Psylocke deal with their difficult relationship.  They each have dark sides that are needed for this kind of operation and it’s a struggle to maintain their love in the midst of it.  Yet it’s their love for one another that helps them overcome obstacles.  Amazingly, Wolverine has been the least interesting character so far.  He’s the glue that holds the team together, but it’s the interaction among the others that has been most appealing

Uncanny X-Force has also played against my expectations.  One issue opened with a particular violent scene in which Psylocke dispatched her allies.  However, that scene was quickly revealed to be a psychic trap that Psylocke rejected.  It’s almost as if the series hinted at the darkness before telling us that it wouldn’t go there. 

Finally, in contrast to Generation Hope, Uncanny X-Force has given sufficient screen time to all of its characters to make each of them interesting- including the villains.  I appreciated the back-stories for Apocalypse’s current set of Horsemen.  It gave depth to those characters and to the conflict.  I still fear that Uncanny X-Force will fall to my low expectations.  Yet, so far, it’s risen to the occasion with wonderfully rich characters and interesting stories.

 

 

 

 

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