Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Seduction of the Innocent

Out of historical interest, I recently purchased a copy of Seduction of the Innocent by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham M.D. At approximately 400 pages, the 1954 book led to the development of the Comics Code that year and had a lasting influence on public opinion about comic books.

Amid his sweeping generalizations, Wertham's treatise issued numerous concerns against comic books. He warned that even children who appear to enjoy only animal comics like Donald Duck might secretly read crime comics (including Westerns and superheroes), which Wertham found particularly dangerous.

According to Wertham, the prevalent violence within crime comics directly contributed to juvenile delinquency and disturbed thinking. As an example, Wertham told of a nine-year-old boy who insisted his favorite comic book was called Human Torture rather than Human Torch.

In discussing superheroes, Wertham leveled most of his attacks against a handful of DC characters. Many comic book fans today are well aware of Wertham's homophobic inferences about Wonder Woman, and the partnership between Batman & Robin. Similarly, Wertham criticized the salaciousness of "love comics" as a genre.

As for Superboy/Superman, Wertham argued that the character's unrealistic powers misled children about the laws of science and overshadowed historical figures deserving of true admiration. To Wertham, Superman embodied the dangerous ideal of a super-race. Wertham found fault with other comics, particularly those with Jungle settings, for for their racist depictions of native peoples.

Discrediting the literary merit of comics, Wertham noted their frequent reliance on words like BLAM and KAPOW. Further, their vivid illustrations made comic-book depictions of horror far more pernicious to Wertham than the most unsettling fairy tales.

Wertham felt that comic book adaptions of classic literature, such as Robert Louis Stephenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, corrupted the source material and failed to motivate children to seek out the original text. In contrast to comic books, Wertham saw educational promise in film and children's television, media that are also intrinsically visual.

Wertham's concern about the content of comic books extended to the advertisements within. He deplored ads for (largely ineffective) health products that capitalized on the insecurities of girls and boys. Wertham also condemned ads for B.B. guns and knives, regarding these weapons as inappropriate for children.

Human Torch #38 (Aug. 1954) was published the same year as Seduction of the Innocent. Human Torch was the only superhero from Timely (later Marvel) directly mentioned in the Wertham's 1954 book.
Marvel Classics Comics #1 (Jan. 1976) launched a new series that presented critically acclaimed literature in comic book form, following a tradition other publishers had carried out in the past.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Tagak, the Leopard Lord

One of the most promising Defenders for a Day was Tagak, the Leopard Lord. Introduced in Daredevil #72, the mysterious Tagak was a costumed adventurer from another dimension. His home land was polytheistic, with only hints of what the religion entailed.

In his debut, the acrobatic Tagak revealed he was blind but could see by way of a mind-link with the trained leopard accompanying him. The leopard, however, did not join Tagak during his day with the Defenders, suggesting more nuance to the hero's sensory abilities.

Had Tagak stayed with the the non-team, or rejoined at some point, he certainly would have had potential to explore.

Daredevil. Vol. 1. No. 72. January 1971. "Lo, the Lord of the Leopards!" Stan Lee (editor), Gerry Conway (writer), Gene Colan (artist), Syd Shores (inker), Artie Simek (letterer).

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Tall Tales

Not long after his experience as one of the Defenders for a Day, Bill Foster decided the time was right to redesign the costume he wore as Black Goliath. Upon seeing the new look, Thing suggested that Black Goliath update his superheroic name as well (Marvel Two-In-One #55).

Thing: I mean, it's pretty obvious that you're black -- and if I remember my Sunday School lessons, Goliath was a bad guy.
Black Goliath: What do you suggest, Ben?
Thing: Why don't ya just call yerself Giant-Man? They ain't improved on that name yet … and ya won't have to change the monogram on yer new shorts.
Black Goliath: Well, I don't suppose Dr. Pym would mind. Okay, I'll try it.

There was a certain irony, however, in taking naming advice from someone known as the Thing.

Spidey Super Stories #47 guest-starred Bill Foster as Giant-Man … this time sporting the red version of the Giant-Man uniform originally worn by Henry Pym. The supervillain within that alternate story was the Human Top (a.k.a. Whirlwind in Defenders #63-64).

Marvel Two-In-One. Vol. 1. No. 55. September 1979. "Giants in the Earth." Gruenwald/Macchio (writers), Byrne/Sinnott (artists), Costanza (letterer), Sharen (colorist), Stern (editor), Shooter (chief).
Spidey Super Stories. Vol. 1. No. 47. July 1980. "Two against the Top!" Jim Salicrup/Steven Grant (writers), Winslow Mortimer (penciler), Ricardo Villamonte (inker), Raymond Holloway (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Deborah November/Anita Malnig (editors), Jim Shooter/Jim Salicrup (Marvel consultants), Bob Budiansky (art director).

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Gnome Knowledge

Gnomes often appear genteel in popular culture. Not so with Defenders #11. When the non-team traveled back to the Twelfth Century, the time of the Black Knight, the gnomes they encountered were anything but tame.

Described as an earth spirit, just one of these malevolent creatures was strong enough to challenge the Hulk. A gnome's only vulnerability seemed to be water. Because the medeival wizard Chandu had enlarged these gnomes to about the size of the Hulk, it is unclear how tough they would be at their original height.

Chandu has no connection to the mystical Chondu of the Headmen.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 11. December 1973. "A Dark and Stormy Knight." Steve Englehart (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Frank Bolle (inker), Tom Orz (letterer), G. Roussos, (colorist), Roy Thomas (editor).

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Cat

Published in cooperation with The Electric Company television show, Spidey Super Stories followed a separate continuity from the rest of Marvel Comics. We see this difference in an issue that revealed a unique origin for the Cat (#53). Here, we learn that Patsy Walker had agreed to participate in a scientific experiment that exposed her to a special ray under laboratory conditions. Gaining superhuman strength as a result, Patsy became the costumed crimefighter Cat (with no ties to the character Tigra).

During her guest appearances in Spidey Super Stories, Cat demonstrated overall athleticism as opposed to super strength … even when facing the villain Meteor Man, who had gained superhuman strength from exposure to a meteor (#53).

Spidey Super Stories. Vol. 1. No. 53. July 1981. "The Meteor Man." Steven Grant (writer), Winslow Mortimer (penciler), Esposito & Villamonte (inkers), Raymond Holloway (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Anita Malnig / Caroline Barnes (editors), Jim Shooter / Jim Salicrup (Marvel consultants), Bob Budiansky (art director).
Within Marvel Comics' standard continuity, Spider-Man and Nighthawk battled Meteor Man in Marvel Team-Up #33 (May 1975). The villain called himself Looter when he later appeared in Defenders #63-64.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Star Jaws

Spidey Super Stories #31 paid homage to the 1977 film Star Wars by retelling the story with an unlikely cast of characters drawn from various media.

In this version, Dr. Doom held Moon Dragon captive aboard a space station called Star Jaws. Moon Dragon's robot companion SAM (a recurring character from Sesame Street) escaped in a rocket ship to Earth, where he enlisted the help of Spider-Man and Marvel Boy (a hero originally from the 1950s).

Once rescued, Moon Dragon used her Mind Force (or Force for short) to create an illusion that tricked the Star Jaws space station to swallow one million tons of T.N.T. instead of engulfing the Earth.

Spidey Super Stories. Vol. 1. No. 31. February 1978. "Star Jaws." Kolfax Mingo (writer), Winslow Mortimer (pencils), Mike Esposito (inker), A.J. Hays / Julie Mishkin (editors), David Kraft (consulting Marvel editor), John Romita (art director).
Though a number of villains from the live-action Spider-Man segments of The Electric Company would appear in Spidey Super Stories, the comic book series did not have inherent ties to Sesame Street, making SAM an anomaly. This image of SAM (short for Super Automated Robot) comes from an early episode of Sesame Street.