Charlton VS Mighty MLJ

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reluctant hero vs Henpecked hero

Today's entry is a comparion of the brief mid-60's runs of two blonde bombshells. Both athletic on a mythically Olympic level that at times dwarf imagination in their feats of fortitude. Both are intellectual giants immersed in scholarly studies that seem to contradict the fisticuffs they invariable are drawn into. Both prefer a similar style in clothing of the jigsaw variety.

We present our two participants:

The Web was first introduced in Zip Comics #27 (July 1942) and had a brief run in MLJ Comics. A criminologist drawn into the life of crime fighting by a wayward sibling, he later retired and married his sweetheart Rose. When they were young and in love, she approved of his dual identities. However, as domesticated blissed settled in for the couple, Rose perpetually insisted that her retired heroic hubby stay retired. Invariably, he was always drawn into crimefighting such as in the above cover appearence in 1966 when his wife gave out his identity over the radio, and an old adversary came a calling on the Web's wife and mother-in-law. In each silver age appearence, John Raymond would have to rationalize the Web's existence to his mate. His favorite mantra to his foes was "you've been caught in a web of your own making". His tales, as were the norm for Mighty (MLJ) of those days, were humour oriented with a splash of action mixed in.

A counterpoint to this approach is that taken by Peter Cannon, the Thunderbolt. The orphan of a heroic couple who gave their lives to save a Himalayan monastary, he was raised by the wise denizens of said monastary until he became worthy of being the "Chosen One". Sent back to civilization (in those days, New York City) to a society he despised for their corruption, he was continually drawn into conflicts thanks to the relentless verbal proddings of his pal Tabu (also from said monastary). Many of his conflicts were orchestrated by the Hooded One, another disciple of Cannon's homeland that felt jilted when he hadn't received the prized scrolls and knowledge contained therein. Thunderbolt first appeared in January 1966, the same year of the Web's reppearence (or first appearence, if you believe a later story that the 1940's Web was actually the father of the current one...which works only when you account for both father and son marrying a pair of Roses). Thunderbolt's favorite mantra was "I can do it...I must do it...I will do it". He hates the lawlessness that fascinates the Web.

Comparisons are aplenty for these two non-powered human dynamos. Both had the aforementioned costume style sense, with neither found of wearing those masks that mat down the hair so common among most hero folk. Both were henpecked, one by a loving companion to quit his career he loved so much, one by a loyal companion to continue a career he hated. Both used their brain as much as their brawn to outwit their enemies. Both were keen on repeating their mantras during tense situations. And both quitely faded into oblivion (until DC purchased/leased them both) after their publishers' abandoned the heroic fad.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What Bugs These Golden Agers? Bad PR?

While the world clamours for a wall-crawling wise cracker derived from a spider bite, insect heroes are nothing knew. Consider our two entries for today, the Blue Beetle (aka Dan Garrett) and the Firefly (aka Harley Hudson). Two red-haired scientists favouring similar color schemes in their clothes, two men who harnessed the power of insects to grant them wonderful strength, agility, and bio-illuminesence. And they made their marks in the golden and silver age (sort of).

Whereas Blue Beetle of the mid-60's added a "T" to his civilian identity and a scarab to his heroic alias, he seemed to be on the surface the same man who pounded a beat as a officer hyped up by Vitamin K pills from the local pharmacy. Except now, he could fly and zap other bugs (poor Preying Mantis never had a chance, either time they clashed). Firefly may not have dug into ancient Egyptian mythology to gain his powers as did the Beetle, but he apparently dug into the right research material to obtain the means to replicate the physically prowess of his namesake. And later, of its brightness to stun foes.

Alas, Firefly lasted only 20 issues in Top Notch and a sole appearence in Mighty Crusaders #4 (attempting to join said group). Blue Beetle didn't do much better in the silver age with only about 10 appearences (11 if you count his death and intoduction of a successor).

Of course they both were brought back in the 80s. One as a coral clone from Atlantis, the other as a resurrected Beetle (who was in some perpetual cycle-thingy where he was continually recycled from police officer to archeologist to secret agent) and later an android replica. Swan songs for trend setters without whom, perhaps we wouldn't have a movie franchise about the trials and tribulations of a common house hold pest.

Oh, and apparently dragons can't stand them.

Nope, not one bit.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Team-Up Tuesdays: 3 Items of Power

To kick off our inagural Team-Up Tuesday, let's consider a legendary team and an obscure team only tangentially connected to either fictional universe. Both were published briefly by them, and met at least one occupant from Charlton and Mighty. And both met one occupant from Charlton. Oh...huh?

First the legendary team, originally published in the mid-1960's by Tower Comics known as The T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents made Wally Wood a legend with his sleek artwork, and the characters have been resurrected from the publisher netherworld more times by more publishers than just about any other character or group of characters. In the early 80's this included Red Circle (at that time Archie Adventure Series) helped distribute a modest run which climaxed in Blue Ribbon Comics. Herein lies the first meeting of superstrong Dynamo and mysterious mentalist Menthor (and the guy she's speaking to in her head was Janus, the late Menthor that preceded her).

Our other consideration today revolves around perhaps the most obscure of characters over at Charlton (aside from licensed properties), the Sensation Sentinels. Or as the Sentinels...of Justice as de facto leader Helio initially labeled them (a name later adopted by other Charltonites, Charltonoids, Charltonians?). They lasted a whole six issues, never to be seen again despite the promise of continued adventures. They solely resided in the backpages of Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt #54-59. The following panel introduces us to two of the three members, the superstrong Brute and the scintillating psychic Mentalia.

By the way, the villains in the background our Uber-Awesome femme fatale Iron Maiden and an android named Titan. Both teams began their adventures once they obtained three garments of power created by dying scientists. For the agents, it was the Dynamo's belt (superstrength), a cloak (invisibility) used by an android named Nomanm and Menthor's helmet (telekinetic/telepathic abilities). Wait, two androids? Noman AND Titan??? What are the odds in the 60's of androids appearing in comics of that period? heh.

The Sentinels likewise were bequeathed three garments of power, Brute's gloves (superstrength), Mentalia's tiara (telekinetic/telepathic abilities) and a backpack (for flight or rather to "reduce weight" with propulsion added in apparently for good measure). The latter was worn by a member that was out of commission in the above panel.

During our next Team-Up Tuesday, we'll be introduced to an immortals (of sorts) that meet our cold war gladiators.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ditko's Other Insect Men

Today's entry involves a pair of heroic insects that Ditko worked on of somewhat lesser note than is piece de resistance: Blue Beetle and the Fly. Interestingly, he seemed more enthralled by their firepower then their superpower (or, for the Beetle at least, his super-inventiveness).
The Fly debuted in 1959 as young Tommy Troy, granted a ring that while rubbing it and wishing he was the Fly, became a powerful, adult version of himself. Clad in googles and all the garment trappings of an insect-man, he launched into a semi-successful career and a run of 39 issues of his self-titled run. During that period he met and worked alongside a military captain controlling a fundamental force granting him a super-charged body (more on him later), as well as a host of other heroes including a plain-clothed crime fighter whose stichk was a trademark mask and his urban style of fighting crime without a grasp on constitutional protections (once more, more on him later). Back to little Tommy...well he got bigger became an attorney and packed a buzz-gun designed by an alien named Turan which was seldom used and ill-defined in its usefulness.

It took eight years for our other buggy boy to appear, although his direct inspiration had appeared in 1964, himself inspired by a golden age version. All three incarnations of the Blue Beetle had a similar goals although varying approaches of getting to them. The first Dan Garret was a police officer granted powers from a local pharmacist, the second Dan Garrett was an archelogist granted powers from an Egyptian scarab, and the third is our entry today. Ted Kord was a scientist who unwittingly drew Beetle #2 into a death trap on a deserted island when his sinister uncle unleased a horde of robots again them. Kord used his mechanical wizardry to create a new identity including an aerodynamically incredulous flying beetle named Bug which allowed Kord to drop in on his opponents using gymnastic feats he must've obtained through osmosous between Pago Island and Hub City. He later teamed up with a military captain controlling a fundamental force granting him a super-charged body (more on him later) and a plain-clothed crime fighter whose stichk was a trademark mask and his urban style of fighting without a grasp on constitutional protections (you guessed it...).

Interestingly, Ditko worked on both characters (creating the latter) and incorporated into his tales occasions when the Fly and the Beetle lost their similar style guns and the witless criminals (at least the Beetle's foes the Madmen were memorable) holding possessing of said instruments are unable to figure out how to trigger them:
Nothing like recycled ideas, ey? Or perhaps the Charlton and Mighty MLJ universes are more common than we might think? And buzz guns are always in vogue. Next we will consider the insect precursors to today's entry, a pair of heroes harkening back to a golden age showing us that bug-men are ALWAYS in style.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Steeler Sundays: The other Men of Steel

To commence this blog, which will illuminate the similaries in two underrated publishing universes,it seemed appropriate to start with their Men of Steel. Really, it was a Man of Steel (although not identified by that term until years after his debut) which really kicked into high gear the superhero craze that still exists today.

Both had their way with the women. In Steel Sterling's 1980's Red Circle series, he had a personal assistant, publicity agent, and fellow gym rat all coveting a kiss with the Lips of Steel. Sarge had his way, as well, as you'll no doubt note his suave technique as he proceeds to "steel" the kiss of his femme fatale the Lynx.

John Sterling debutted in Zip Comics #1 and had a healthy if undistinguished run under the MLJ inprint. He was of note for being the first documented "Man of Steel" before someone else took the title offer. Here is how he received his powers (no rocketships required):

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Sarge received a steel appendage the old fashioned way...his original left hand was blown of while serving in Vietnam. Or so he claims, there is no definitive take on his origin like that of his MLJ forebearer. While he cannot claim superstrength as can Sterling (although that fluctuate at times with the ambient "solar flares" that described inaccuracies in his portrayal during later years) at least Sarge had a superstrong pinky...always an attractive feature. And what he lacked in prawn he made up for in his judo skills, in fine display in Fightin' Five and Judomaster featurettes.

While neither can hold a candle to the man that made the definitive claim for the steel title, each endured and had respectable runs in the mid-60s, and occasionally mixed it up with superheroic teams (Sterling attempted to join the Mighty Crusaders in their issue #4, Sarge while brainwashed tried to styme the Sensational Sentinels in Thunderbolt #57 and 58). Both reappeared in the 80s under new imprints though they eventually faded into the background tapestry of their respective worlds as private investigators that truly loved the ladies.