Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Boy with a Gun

The cover of Avengers #218 was particularly disturbing, with a boy pointing a gun to his head. Having arrived at Avengers Mansion seeking help, the boy could not convince the heroes to take him seriously until he pulled out a gun and shot himself. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Wasp were beside themselves as they witnessed the boy's body disintegrate … only to return to life within minutes.

The boy claimed to be a reincarnation of Morgan MacNeil Hardy, an inventor who had died of mental backlash resulting from his Psi-Augmentor (Captain America #264). The boy explained that he had lived numerous lifetimes, always returning to life as a child after he died. In the past, he would have no memory of his earlier incarnations. Because of the Psi-Augmentor, however, the boy now retained the anguished memories of Morgan MacNeil Hardy and knowledge of his perpetual existence.

Desperately wanting to end this cycle, the boy snuck aboard a scientific probe headed to the Sun. Instead of permanently dying, the boy mutated into a plasma monster and returned to Earth. Defeated by the Avengers, the creature exploded into nothingness, then regrew to a boy—seemingly unburdened by the knowledge of his past selves.

A flashback to Captain America #264 showed the four telepaths who initially tested Morgan MacNeil Hardy's Psi-Augmentor. Two of them died from the mental backlash. The survivors, Ursula Richards and Philip Le Guin, were two of the six telepaths who would subdue Over-Mind.

Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 218. April 1982. "Born Again (and Again and Again…) J.M. DeMatteis (scripter/co-plotter), Don Perlin (layouts), Joe Rosen (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Jim Salicrup (editor), Jim Shooter (co-plotter/editor-in-chief).

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Routine Seven

When battling the Mutant Force in New Defenders #125, Iceman called over to Angel, asking if his teammate remembered Routine Seven—an apparent callback to their training as original members of the X-Men. Acknowledging the reference, the high-flying Angel grabbed the villain Shocker by the arms, flew well above the rooftops, and then dropped Shocker, who cried out for HELLLLP! Iceman used his powers to soften the Shocker's fall by catching the defeated villain in a mound of snow.

The X-Men were known for their intense training in the Danger Room, so one can only imagine what other combat routines the mutant heroes had memorized. Were there only seven? Or were there many more?

Monday, June 14, 2021

Behold, the Vision

Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (November 1940) marked a turning point for the comic-book anthology. Up until then, the western crimefighter known as the Masked Raider had appeared in every issue, with #12 encouraging readers to return for "another Masked Raider adventure next month!" Instead of bringing back the Masked Raider, however, #13 introduced a character more in step with the superpowered heroes who had featured most prominently in the series.

The new character was Aarkus, a visitor from another dimension with the uncanny ability to materialize through smoke or vapor. Readers would know the character better as the Vision during his three-year run.

Whereas the Masked Raider had been grounded in historical fiction, the Vision often faced enemies with supernatural or science-fiction themes. Like other superheroes of his day, the Vision also battled Nazis during World War II. Aarkus had no connection to the synthezoid Vision, who would appear in print two decades later.

The covers of Marvel Mystery Comics promoted the Vision as a sensational new feature. Vision received cover billing again on #16 and #18. The above panel comes from #14.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Behind the Masked Raider

Unlike many Golden Age heroes who eventually fell into obscurity, the Masked Raider remained a background figure even during his own era. The western crimefighter premiered in Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939), the same comic book that introduced Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch. Renamed Marvel Mystery Comics, the anthology series continued to include stories starring the Masked Raider in #2-12.

Disguised in a black mask and riding a white horse named Lightning, the Masked Raider apprehended bank robbers and swindlers under the backdrop of the California Gold Rush. Historical facts were vague within the stories, although literary character Pecos Bill made a guest appearance in #9.

Being a western hero made the Masked Raider something of an anomaly. With the notable excepction of jungle adventurer Ka-Zar, most of the other characters to appear regularly in Marvel Mystery Comics had superhuman powers and a modern setting. As such, the Masked Raider never appeared on the covers, and #8 was the only cover to list him as one of the characters featured within the publication.

The above panel comes from Marvel Comics #1, when Jim Gardley decided to become the Masked Raider.
The Golden Age crimefighter Angel, who featured prominently in the Marvel Mystery Comics, had no connection to Warren Worthington III of the New Defenders. The hero Electro, listed on the cover of #8, had no connection to the villain Electro from Defenders #63-64.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Le Defenders

Georges Batroc, known commonly as Batroc—or Batroc the Leaper—was one of numerous supervillains to briefly pose as Defenders. In word balloons, the French speaker habitually called himself Batroc ze Leaper, signaling his accent. That being said, Batroc made an uncharacteristic word choice in Defenders #64. In one panel, which included ze three times, Batroc referred to the heroic non-team as le Defenders. In this instance, it is curious that Batroc did not say les Defenders, as the French word les is the plural translation of the while le is singular. Batroc's full text from that panel appears below, with the French word gendarmes for police:

Follow Batroc ze Leaper, my fiendish friends, and we shall lose le Defenders in ze subway!
Already, we have left ze gendarmes far behind!

In the heat of the moment, spelling discrepancies are understandable. For instance, the mercenary Paladin introduced himself as Palladin (with an extra l) during his guest appearance in Defenders #62 and again in #63.

This image of Batroc first appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Revisiting Wertham

I recently reread Seduction of the Innocent, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's infamous book taking aim at the comic book industry. This time around, I paid particular attention to arguments I didn't cover in my initial post about the 1954 publication. As one example, Wertham criticized Millie the Model and similar comic books for setting unrealistic beauty ideals for girls.

Among his other concerns, Wertham asserted that the visual storytelling of comic books caused children to develop poor reading habits, such as picture reading: reading only the title and maybe the text on those pages with particularly violent or sexually intriguing illustrations. To Wertham, even comic books stating that "crime doesn't pay" were harmful as they showed children how to become criminals.

In writing Seduction of the Innocent, Wertham acknowledged that some psychiatrists regarded his claims as overzealous. Wertham countered that such colleagues made the mistake of seeing juvenile delinquents as fundamentally flawed while ignoring the pernicious influence of comic books. In another generalization, Wertham characterized comic book writers as dissatisfied with their own work.

For clarity, Wertham distinguished comic books from the newspaper comic strips, which he described as intended for adults and subject to tighter publishing standards. Here, Wertham employed a double standard, dismissing Flash Gordon and other comic books derived from newspaper strips as mere caricatures of the originals. In short, even comic books of the highest quality were inherently tainted by virtue of being comic books.

Millie the Model #55 (August 1954) appeared in print the same year as Seduction of the Innocent. Decades later, Millie guest-starred in Defenders #65.
Flash Gordon was one of several Golden Age adventurers reintroduced in the Defenders of the Earth limited series published in 1987 under the Star Comics imprint of Marvel Comics.