Friday, November 30, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #1 - E-Man!

It was the summer of 1975 and I was freshly graduated from high school and headed for college. I was looking for new ways and means to frame my identity and had grown somewhat bored with the comics from Marvel and DC. I went looking for new things and found the upstart Atlas-Seaboard company fired up and waiting to greet me. It was thrilling finding the debut issues of Ironjaw, Phoenix, and Wulf the Barbarian. But as it turns out Atlas-Seaboard didn't last very long, not even past my first semester in college. What did linger a bit longer was the comic I found with those terrific three new buys, a little gem titled E-Man. Issue six was my first one, but I was quickly on the lookout for earlier issues and never missed any of the new ones.

The amiable alien superhero Alec Tronn and his gorgeous girlfriend partner Nova were everything I wanted in a comic book. Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton were my new comic gods and then there was Rog-2000 by John Byrne. Delightful but destined for brevity. E-Man went away and only returned many years later at First Comics, barely recognizable but still there. Eventually Joe Staton and Nick Cuti returned in tandem and the decades since have been dotted with glimpses of E-Man's greatness.

His final adventure was published just this past year and so I regrettably must say farewell to the delightful creation. But I have all of his adventures still and read them with gusto this past summer. I will read them again I'm sure because E-Man, this amiable stranger in a strange land is my favorite hero.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #2 - Captain Marvel!

Captain Marvel was my first favorite hero and has lingered around that position for the whole of my comic book reading and collecting life. I had read a few comics here and there, but with the purchase an early issue of The Incredible Hulk  and Marvel's Space-Born Super-Hero Captain Marvel #1 I started to be a comic book fan and I have never really ever stopped, though I have shifted focus more than a little bit over the decades. Ol' Greenskin has receded in my attentions as evidenced by his position at the bottom of this countdown, but Captain Marvel in his various guises remains near the very top. There was something about the nigh-impossible mission of Mar-Vell, a misfit in his own society forced to hide among humans and look for weaknesses among us which struck a chord and still does. He was a man apart from his own and from those he often fought to protect, the ultimate outsider. Then his mission changed and so did he, and then it changed again and so did he again.

Change became the nature of the series which even after some amazing transformations in costume and even identity failed to find a firm footing on the racks. The series was cancelled, revived and quickly cancelled again. But then Jim Starlin was given a crack at it and the series became something else entirely, but also became a little bit successful and lingered on around the perimeter of the Marvel Universe for much of the Bronze Age.

Ultimately Starlin took Captain Marvel to the very edge of life and beyond, writing beautifully about his final days and final hours and final moments. Captain Mar-Vell has resurfaced but never been revived totally and now the sobriquet belongs to another soon to burst onto the big screen. But for me there will always be just one Captain Marvel, an isolated soldier attempting fight a war he doesn't agree with in a foreign land far away from the comforts of home who lives and dies for the sake of others.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #3 - Judomaster!

It will come as a surprise to no one that Judomaster is on this list of my favorite heroes given the name and longstanding design of this blog. Rip Jagger fell into my hands when I was a tyke when my grandmother gave me some comics she'd found somewhere. There were two issues of Judomaster in the batch, the two halves of the second Mountain Storm saga and I was pulled into McLaughlin's martial arts mania once and for all.

Frank McLaughlin is the man, a trained martial artist who sought to bring to the comic book page an accurate representation of the skills which have formed the basis for so much exploitation entertainment over the last many decades. The thrill of Judomaster is the novel setting -- World War II. What we have is a re-imagining of the Captain America story minus the super-soldier serum. Jagger is a capable U.S. soldier who due to circumstances becomes trained in martial arts and adopts a persona to better wage war on the Japanese threat in the Pacific Theater. He is joined by a young boy named Tiger and this ersatz Cap and Bucky  proceed to kick butt. Judomaster's WWII setting is at once his blessing and his curse. His adventures felt like little else in the superhero universe at the time, but his isolation in time made his eventual teaming with other of Charlton's "Action Heroes" difficult.

Alas the line did not last long enough for that problem to really develop and eventually Judomaster like most of his Action Hero kin were snapped up by DC and blended into the background of that sprawling universe. Judomaster himself has been barely used but nonetheless multiple versions exist. But for me it will always be the original Rip Jagger stuff by McLaughlin which makes my heartbeat race a little more.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #4 - Manhunter!

I worshiped Archie Goodwin's and Walt Simonson's Manhunter from the moment I stumbled onto the first chapter tucked away in the pages of Detective Comics. The sales of the book had been a little slack since the heyday of the Batman TV show, so Goodwin, a veteran and Simonson, an up and comer were tasked with making it better. Simonson focused all his attention on Manhunter in the back while Goodwin wrote both the lead Batman feature and the Manhunter stories for Detective.

This little mini-renaissance lasted only a year or so with grand critical results, but apparently not great sales increases. The story of Manhunter, a hero stolen from the Golden Age and used for his genetic stock to build a tiny army for a cabal of rich megalomaniacs became their worst nightmare, using all his skills and weapons to defeat their plans. He was joined by an attractive team, but always it was the soul-searing story of Paul Kirk that held the stage.

He was a man who did not want to live and he was bent on destroying the men who had forced him to exist in this strange new world. Ultimately he was joined by Batman and the villains were routed and Paul Kirk was laid to rest again. Manhunter would return, but as far as I know the one and only Paul Kirk remains only a treasured memory.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #5 - The Phantom!

The Phantom is the original superhero, or masked adventurer, or whatever you'd like to call him. But this mysterious creation of Lee Falk's has been a favorite of mine since even before I got into comic books, at a time when I was a wee lad just enjoying the Sunday funnies. I was lucky to grow up with a local paper that had a robust color funnies section with lots of classic strips such as Blondie, Bringing Up Father, Henry, and others. It also carried quite a few adventure strips like Prince Valiant, TimTyler's Luck, The Lone Ranger, and most importantly The Phantom.

Here was a surprisingly domestic though exotic hero, a husband and father who lived in a wonderland version of Africa and who defended his family, his people and even the world. Admittedly the strip was a little dry when I first encountered it, but the magic still worked. When I followed the Phantom over into the comic books, I found a more purely adventurous hero, and when Joe Gill and Don Newton took over the character I found a brand new version of the classic which made me rediscover all the greatness, and imagine more.

I've been a hardcore fan ever since of the Ghost Who Walks. That's true for much of the world where Lee Falk's iconic hero is popular still, though he always seems to find it a little tough to find a foothold in these United States.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #6 - Hank Pym!

Doctor Henry "Hank" Pym is the most flawed of heroes. One of the earliest heroes in the Marvel Universe, only preceded by the Fantastic Four and the Hulk in the Silver Age, Pym in his role as Ant-Man was always it seemed trying to find a better way to express his clear desire to be of help and to make himself useful.

Early on he fell in love with his partner Janet Van Dyne who became the Wasp and ever after the need in his mind to look big in her eyes proved a fundamental weakness in him.

He became Giant-Man, then after a brief retirement he returned as Goliath and then later when his mind snapped he took on the role of Yellowjacket. In that last role he married his love, but the pairing was ill-fated. 

Their marriage was a ragged one to be sure as Pym continued to alter his heroic pose, even at times eschewing it completely. Eventually his lack of self-worth drove him to abuse his wife and she quite wisely left him.

But still the journey to become a hero worthy of that name continued for Hank Pym. He even became the Wasp when Janet died. (Is she still dead?) As far as I know the Pym tradition continues  today.

One thing that I have always found fascinating is how many of Pym's identities have been handed off or perhaps purloined by other characters over the years. First of course Hawkeye became the second Goliath with Hank's blessings.

Later still Bill Foster, a longtime associate of Pym's became the third Goliath, this time with the added "Black" to the name. Foster took on another of Pym's identities some years later when he became the second Giant-Man.

Without doubt the most successful hand off was when Scott Lang stumbled onto the Ant-Man identity and then kept it with Pym's permission of sorts.

Many years later we even got a new Yellowjacket, though she was of a quasi-villainous nature for a bit.  I'm sure I'm forgetting some later ones, but frankly I haven't been paying much attention in the last decade or so. For me the power of Pym though still resonates.

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #7 - Quasar!

I always liked the over-the-top adventures of Marvel Boy, so when this Atlas era hero was revived in the Marvel Universe I was all for it.

At first he was a bit of a joke as part of a special SHIELD strike force called the "Super-Agents" in the pages of Captain America, but he evolved beyond that being the only hero in the lot worth the name. Wendell Vaughn went on to become part of the Pegasus Project in Marvel Two-In-One and took the name Quasar and a new hero was well and truly born.

He was a throwback, a decent guy trying to do good. In the Marvel Universe ruled by Wolverines and Punishers, Quasar seemed quaint and naive, but in the capable hands of Mark Gruenwald, he became something aspirational. He was a hero, a man intent on helping the world become better and he has a nice somewhat retiring  personality to go along with his sincere motivations.

The character went thought many a change and transformation along the years, especially after the untimely death of his co-creator Gruenwald. But during the 90's no superhero spoke to my heart like Quasar, a good and decent man  trying to do the right thing. Isn't that supposed to be what a hero is?

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Friday, November 23, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #8 - Orion!

Orion breaks out in the debut pages of  Kirby's masterpiece New Gods. He comes speeding forth to tell the reader that all they knew has changed and that going forward excitement will be the watchword, that and conflict. Orion is defined by conflict, the wayward son of the demon dictator Darkseid, Orion fights against his own father's mad schemes to enslave the universe.

All the while  he attempting to tame his own wild and ferocious nature, his heritage from his father and mother by putting into practice the lessons learned on New Genesis, his adopted home. Aided by his best friend Lightray he seeks to calm his own passions enough to channel that fury to the benefit of us all.

He is an absolute hero, a mythic hero, a creature we cannot apprehend yet know all to well in the darkness of our own hearts. Orion fights to find himself, Orion fights to save mankind, Orion fights for Earth.

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Thursday, November 22, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #9 - Hawkeye!

When I first tumbled onto the Avengers there were only three members, Goliath, the Wasp and the outstanding Hawkeye the Marksman. Hawkeye is the ultimate no-powers hero, hanging and banging with the big boys against mighty menaces armed with only his arrows, his savage wit, and his unblinking courage.

Hawkeye, revealed to be a man named Clint Barton after I started reading about him, could be an asshole for certain. He was difficult to manage as a part of the team when the fighting was not on, but fiercely loyal when that loyalty had been earned. I even liked the period of time when he wasn't Hawkeye but became Goliath. He eventually returned to his best self, but always he was Clint Barton.

It's too bad they gave much of his tempestuous but witty personality to Tony Stark when they made the movies, because think how popular he'd be if he could be himself on the big screen.

It's actually the second time Hawkeye's fiery nature was ripped off, the first was when DC updated their own bowman Green Arrow long ago.

It took Hawkeye years and years to get his own series and to become what I always knew was his first best mission, the leader of the Avengers. When he married Mockingbird, he became even more of a favorite.  I've always liked Hawkeye.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #10 - Black Knight!

I first fell in love with the original Black Knight in the pages of Fantasy Masterpieces and Marvel Super-Heroes when the Atlas-era adventures of Sir Percy of Scandia were reprinted alongside those of other Marvel heroes. There was something about the stories of the Black Knight which were special, and that was the artwork of Joe Maneely.

Joe Maneely was immediately one of my favorite artists, as his nearly glowing pages, filled with detail told stories with economy and potency. He was a deft hand and I wondered why he was not doing more, then I read of his tragic accidental death. He was reputedly Stan Lee's favorite artist and if he had not passed away, it's entirely likely that instead of Jack Kirby, Stan might've gone a different way when he decided to give the world of superheroes another shot.

The Black Knight's legacy was also developed in the pages of The Avengers as Roy Thomas brought the character back as a hero. The Black Knight had been a villain but Thomas gave us Dane Whitman, a scientist who became a practitioner of sorcery when got the ebony blade of his ancestor Sir Percy. The Black Knight always seemed to be on the perimeter of the Marvel Universe, an Avenger but rarely seen. He was even turned to stone for several years. He eventually became a mainstay and I have to say I usually liked his appearances.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #11 - Space Ghost!

Space Ghost might well have started it all for me and my love of heroes and comics and such. I was ideally ripe for the picking when Space Ghost burst onto the TV screens in the 60's and heralded a surge of superheroes on television and and a revival of the same in comics and elsewhere. The burst was relatively brief, but I was woke in its wake and never have gotten over the thrill of the adventures.

Space Ghost was designed by Alex Toth and in comics no one ever drew him better than the great Steve Rude, a talent who seemed to have imbibed the same elixers that I did back in the heyday. Space Ghost is enigmatic, assisted by two upbeat teenages and an improbable monkey they sail across the deeps of darkest space helping those they find and finding those they help all the while defeating weird menaces from across the void.

It's an ideal concept, one which has been somewhat tapped by DC in more recent years. Alex Ross is another artist who seems to "get" Space Ghost and has done some great work on the character. Space Ghost is ideally named because I truly think he's likely never going to die.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #12 - Mister Miracle!

Scott Free is the single finest name ever given a superhero, and a perfect name for the hero and entertainer and revolutionary named Mister Miracle. Jack Kirby's Fourth World rumbled to life slowly and steadily in those earliest days, a time when the relationship between characters was still mysterious. Who was Darkseid's son, how had a person like Scott Free come to be on Apokolips, what was Apokolips really, and on and on the questions rolled.  They were were mostly answered though the saga itself was never really finished.

Mister Miracle proved to be the most successful of the Fourth World books, lasting a few issues longer than New Gods and Forever People, and Scott Free himself proved a durable hero. He and Barda married, an event which made appreciate him more as I like married heroes.  Eventually after a revival along with the other New God types he showed up here and there and eventually became part of the revived and revised Justice League in a post-Crisis DC universe.

The hero and his wife Big Barda and partner Oberon continue to entertain with a very successful maxi-series coming to an end just this month. I haven't followed month-to-month, but I will likely give the trade a tumble.

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #13 - The Flash!

I really liked the Flash. From the moment I first picked up the comic book above I've been rapt by his story, the complexity of the worlds contrasted with the relative normality of his home life. I loved that Barry Allen was married, though I know that Iris West's backstory continued to get more and more complicated as time drifted by. Barry seemed quite literally level headed (his haircut don't you know) and was a great point of contact for the reader when the impossible adventures of the Flash unfolded. For instance, I was a completely novice reader at DC was not for a moment confused by the multiple Earths concept key to the story above which showcased Earth-Prime for the very first time.

Years later when the creators thought it more interesting that Barry get single again, my interest began to wane. Not only was the book missing the dynamic artwork of either Infantino or Andru, it was missing the core which made it run, a recognizably stable Barry. Eventually Infantino returned and Flash was disappeared to make room for his protege Wally West. Barry's death was a convenient out for me as a reader and I abandoned all DC for many years thereafter. Barry has of course returned as has everyone ever killed off in a comic and it all seems to matter less and less and less as the years tumble by.

But once upon a time I really liked the Flash. Part of me always will.

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Favorite Heroes Countdown #14 - Thunderbolt!

Peter Cannon, The Thunderbolt is the singular creation of Pete Morisi, an artist better known by the sobriquet of "P.A.M.". Morisi was a policeman for much of his career and that job forbid moonlighting so according to stories he obscured his artistic identity. What he could never hide was his distinctive style. A fan of the great George Tuska, Morisi took the particular look of Tuska and refined it even more giving his own work an almost ethereal look. More than most artists, Morisi's images looked like stolen moments in time.

In Thunderbolt he concocted a hero who combined some of the look of the Golden Age Daredevil and the origin of the Golden Age Amazing Man to offer up a low-key hero for the modern age. Peter Cannon was a cool customer and entered the fray with aplomb and absolute confidence, using the skills he'd gained in a remote monastery to protect people in the modern world. He was assisted by a friend named Tabu and often confronted by a foe dubbed the Hooded One, a villain who shared some of T-Bolt's remote origins.

Thunderbolt shifted over to DC during the Crisis on Infinite Earths and even had a series for a time at DC, but ownership of the character reverted to Morisi and his estate and now T-Bolt shows up from time to time at Dynamite Comics. No matter what they do with him though, they will never be able to recreate the amazing essence and charm of those original P.A.M. comics.

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