Charlton VS Mighty MLJ

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Masked Men - No Superpowers but Superstyle!

We have been very remiss to skip the following two entries. It's not that we don't love them, but they were both late entries to the silver-age (in fact, one technically didn't make the 60's comic book "silver" age but is definitely a bronze-age boy). They were no fuss, no muss. No flashy powers or costumes... aside from that which covered their heads during their crusades against crime. And yet... they each had something distinct that made them beloved and moved their publishers to revitalize them in the 1980's, and then in the 1990's in somewhat radical departures that only built upon their legends. So without further ado, we proudly present our Masked Men of the Moment... The Question and The Black Hood.

There was already a Black Hood from the 1940's MLJ Comics, a Matthew Kip Burland. Originally a defrocked cop that was trained by a mysterious Hermit then becoming the Man of Mystery under the Hood. He lasted into the 1960's, thanks in large part to being turned into an ageless phantom for a few years. Turns out the Hermit *may* have been a Burland, who bequeathed Matt with an identity that had been passed on from generation to generation (no, not this guy). Quite a pedigree he was born into!

When his nephew Kip likewise found himself black balled by his own police force for attempting to rat out organized crime, which was firmly entrenched in local law enforcement, Matt inspired him to dawn the unique mask that made his alias famous. Realizing that this would become a full time job since the evil element has become so sophisticated since Matt's day, Kip retired from the force in partial disgrace and set up shop as a private investigator/troubleshooter/hood clad vigilante.

Enlisting the aid of local weapons inventor Mr. Damian, the Hood is soon armed with a unique pepperbox gun which fires gas, explosive shells, syringe bullets, and magnesium flare pellets. And the Hoodcycle, which allowed him maximum mobility.While this protected him from an assortment of criminal thugs, it did not protect his heart, which fell in love with a girl named Carolyn. Whom he attempted to protect... and ended up losing. We see his approach towards her killer, which is a common thread with his contemporary the Question (see below)....

While it seems like Black Hood is doomed to be alone, without so much as a stable supporting cast (aside from Damian), he eventually is befriended by the Comet and his revived Mighty Crusaders. Perhaps thinking of the good times he had standing on Uncle Matt's shoulders, he even gives him a supercharged motorcycle-rocket when he accidentally destroys the Hoodcycle. Only Hood's writer Grey Morrow wasn't to keen on sci-fi tech, and granted him a variation of the Hoodcycle shortly thereafter. 

Nevertheless, Kip ends up standing alongside the Crusaders throughout their modern day run, eventually turning into a cigar-chomping grump after his uncle is killed by these guys). Completely mis-characterized, unless of course he was replaced by a secret double agent planted in the Crusaders by the government. But that is another story for another time.

Now we turn our attention to the Question, who appeared before the Hood but also after (depending on which incarnation you refer to, of course). Reporter Vic Sage was about as outspoken a reporter as you can get, and he's been the focus of some excellent posts elsewhere, including a silver-age history over at the Silver Age blog. To sum up the guts and sinew of what makes the man behind the mask, let's quickly recap the essential facts about Mr. Sage. Starting with his extended social circle:

Yes, Vic has a large cast of characters, in fact perhaps the largest since another of Steve Ditko's creations. Who coincidentally was also in the journalism field, but we digress. Let's Marvel over our faceless wonder (speaking of which, I wonder if a race of alien women obsessed with faceless men would be interested in this guy?). This oft-reprinted page is the holy grail where explaining the Question's niche is concerned:

An inventor, this one named Professor Rodor, inventing gadgetry essential to our masked marauder's crimefighting? Sound familiar? Clad in nothing more distinct than his mask? Deja vu? And the Question was through and through an Objectivist in both his identities, which caused him to be alienated from collective society which he viewed as soulless. And his approach on a criminal element that would threaten his lovely girlfriend Nora Lace was not to be messed with if your a dime-store dupe.

Harsh! When Ditko finished his run of this character, in the sole issue of Mysterious Suspense, other writers had a different take on both sides of the Sage. He kept his hard edge but without the philosophical underpinnings that made the Question an Ayn Rand's answer to a hero with a tinge of hubris. He suddenly became the objective counterpoint to the run of the mill working class hero, like the Blue Beetle. Note this first team-up between the other half of future Sentinels of Justice:

Leaping into the fray without a fancy vehicle nor spandex, he quickly proves he's on equal footing with an self-styled superhero and may, in fact, have a leg up where being calm-cool-collect is concerned like in this impending death trap of the evil enemy of the Beetle, the Enigma...

And what became of these courageous masked everymen? Well one became all... psychological...

And the other reinterpretation by the Distinctive Competitor turned Consumer of our publishers was... psychotic!

While the basis of both characters remained, the charm of their initial incarnations lost some of what made them stand out from the pact. Maybe someday those versions will return to grace the comic pages once more.

No comments: