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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Canary in a timeline

As I've noted here, the official editorial technique for keeping comic book characters 'contemporary' with the world outside the comics is to, essentially, 'roll up' history behind the characters as the present continues to advance. This is for, essentially, two intertwined reasons -- comic book companies perceive that their audience wants to mostly read comics books that are set in a reasonable approximation of the world they see around them every day, and, that same audience will not welcome characters that are elderly.

This means the monthly (or less regular) titles must continue to be written as if the stories are taking place in the contemporary world of their audience... a fancy way of saying, if a comic book appears on the racks for initial purchase in 1986, the background, characters, and plot elements should all be consistent with that particular year in the particular social setting that the target audience is part of. A comic appearing this month, in late 2006, should exhibit characteristics consistent with the world the readers know.

There should be nothing anachronistic in it; the characters should not be inexplicably driving around in 1920s Model Ts, nor should they be speaking to each other on hologram-projecting wrist devices (unless some explanation is offered as to why such jarringly out of place devices are present). The characters should not speak or behave in any manner that belies the contemporary setting, their clothing should fit the time, as should the details of the background presented.

Comic book characters continue to exist as long as their publication is profitable, though, and some of the most profitable comics characters have now been in more or less continuous publication since the 1940s. In the year 2006, this would mean such characters are at least 60 years old, plus however many years they may have seemed to be of age in their first appearances (generally, at least 10 to 20).

Nobody wants to buy the adventures of an 85 year old Superman or Batman, though. Therefore, comics companies have to somehow reconcile this. They tend to do this one of two ways:

(a) somehow, the character retains extended youth to all appearances and functional requirements, despite the fact that he or she is actually established, within the fictional context, to be of a very advanced age

(b) the character, and the established events of the character's past, are continually repositioned in space-time so as to remain credibly close to the ever advancing present day.

An example of the first is, well, pretty much all of the members of the original Justice Society of America, and specifically, the Golden Age Green Lantern. The JSA are all date-stamped; their early crime fighting careers took place in or around WWII, and WWII is an event of such overwhelmingly charismatic and heroic social significance to our culture that DC does not want to give it up, by redefining the members of the JSA as having had early careers that took place during, say, the Vietnam War, instead.

Thus, the Golden Age Green Lantern is known to have been a young man in the 1940s. We can jigger with his age a bit within those somewhat loose parameters, as suits us, but still, we can't plausibly make his date of birth be much later than 1925 (in which case, he would have been in his late teens for much of WWII, and even that seems somewhat difficult to believe). Assume he was actually born in a rather more likely 1920, or even 1918, and he's closing in on being 90 years old as of this year... and he'll continue to age year for year, as long as he remains in publication, and the character isn't revised to eliminate his involvement in historical events with specific date stamps that cannot be modified for the emotional convenience of the character's target audience.

The JSA is also date stamped by the well established historical fact that the team originally disbanded in response to HUAC hearings – and while you can play with this timeline to some extent, also, as HUAC was effectively blacklisting Hollywood personnel from 1947 to 1954 here in the real world, that 1954 date remains solid as being the last year that McCarthyism could have been reasonably expected to be powerful enough to force the JSA to retire en masse, rather than publicly unmask.

In point of fact, it was Roy Thomas who first came up with the idea that the JSA could have been forced to disband due to investigation by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee on Earth-2. Here in the real world, HUAC mostly limited itself to ruining the careers of suspect film stars and other workers in the film industry, due to its members' fanatical insistence that Hollywood had been 'infiltrated by the Reds' and was therefore making 'subversive movies' that were undermining American values. However, on Earth-2, Joe McCarthy apparently decided to flex his muscles against the post WWII 'mystery men' community as well, with the result that the JSA disbanded... in 1951, the actual year that All Star Comics originally discontinued publishing the JSA's adventures. Thus, all the original members of the JSA, from the Golden Age of comics, are 'date stamped' with the year 1951, as well.

When a character that is still appearing in contemporary adventures has been portrayed as being present, and involved, in two such prominent historical episodes as World War II and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings, there is no real way you can ‘roll up’ the timeline behind them to keep them young. They have to be the age they would logically be, if they were involved with such events and are still alive today; which means, you have to find some way to keep them cosmetically and functionally youthful – otherwise, pragmatically, they are too old to reasonably fight crime, and even more pragmatically, your target demographic won’t buy their adventures, because they're 'geezers'.

This is true of the Golden Age Green Lantern, Wildcat, Dr. Fate, the Spectre, the Golden Age Flash, Hawkman, and other DC characters, as well as Marvel’s Captain America and Sub-Mariner. With all of these characters, the various editors and writers in charge have contrived various different mechanisms to retard their apparent aging – GL is a mystic entity whose physical body is composed entirely of some sort of unknown energy; Dr. Fate and the Spectre are pretty much the same, in addition to which, both represent a sort of cosmic office that keeps being passed down from one generation to the next, and, anyway, each of them are nearly all powerful supernatural beings, so their physical bodies need not age if it’s not convenient; the Golden Age Flash ages more slowly than normal humans due to a serendepitious accident that occurred to the entire JLA back in the 1940s, Hawkman… don’t even get me started on Hawkman.

Over at Marvel, the Sub-Mariner simply has a mutant metabolism granting him vastly extended youthful vigor, and Captain America was frozen in an ice floe for a period that keeps growing longer and longer with each passing year, measured from the end of WWII up to about ten years prior to whatever the current present day in the Marvel Universe may be.

But what about Black Canary?

An obviously youthful female martial artist and costumed crimebuster, Dinah “Black Canary” Drake first appeared in FLASH COMICS #86 in 1947. As with most comics characters, and especially female comics characters, no definitive age was established for her at that time, but it seems safe to assume she couldn’t have been younger than, say, 17, at the outset. This would give her a birthyear of 1930.

Black Canary joined the Justice Society within a year or so of her first appearance, in ALL STAR COMICS #38, which is noted to have taken place on or around October 25, 1947. The JSA ceased appearing in ALL STAR COMICS in 1951, so let’s say that this was the year HUAC forced them to disband rather than publicly unmask. This would mean Black Canary was only active for four years during the Golden Age of comics before retiring. Again, if we assume a birthyear of 1930, she would have reached a ripe old age of 21 at the point she hung up her fishnets and blonde wig alongside the hoods, capes, helmets, cowls, and nth metal wings of her comrades in arms.

In real time, Black Canary stayed out of the limelight, presumably, in retirement, until Justice League of America issues 21, August-September 1963, and 22, October-December 1963. When her husband, Larry Lance, was killed in JLA #74, (September, 1969), Black Canary switched universes and teams, joining the JLA at the age of, by this particular timeline, 39 or thereabouts.

Various ret-cons over the years have established that when Canary went into retirement, she married Larry Lance, her long time paramour, and had one daughter, also named Dinah, at some point in this interval. Prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths removing multiple timelines from DC continuity, it was established that this daughter grew to physical maturity while in a mystically induced coma, and when her mother was dying of radiation poisoning from the same event that had killed her father, Johnny Thunder’s Badenisian Thunderbolt transferred the original Dinah Drake-Lance’s memories and persona into the daughter’s physically mature, but otherwise mindless, body.

Keeping to the established timeline, this story primarily requires that Dinah the Younger be physically mature – let’s say, at least 16 years old – prior to the story in which it was later ret-conned her mother’s original body died of radiation poisoning. If we continue to set this story in its original appearance year (1969), then young Dinah needs to have been born in 1953 – which works, since it’s two years into her mother’s initial retirement.

All of this is simply by way of finding a place to put our feet. The whole Earth 1/Earth 2 dichotomy, and all such subsequent ret-conning based on it, was wiped out by 1985’s Crisis On Infinite Earths. In Secret Origins #50, Alan Brennert established what has remained as the template for the Black Canary’s history and origins in the new, post Crisis, single timeline – namely, that the modern day Black Canary, currently fighting crime in the Birds of Prey series along with teammates Huntress and Oracle, is the daughter of the original Black Canary, who fought crime during or just after WWII, and retired from her brief career as a masked mystery woman in 1951.

My mighty Google powers are, at this moment, inadequate to pin down exactly what year Secret Origins #50 appeared in. However, it couldn’t have been any later than 1988. In 1988, a contemporary female martial artist/member of the JLA born in 1953 would have been 35 – and if we assume that Brennert didn’t feel bound to the timeline I’m laying out here (as he most likely didn’t) he could very well have pushed all the Justice League Black Canary appearances to much later along (to, say, the early 80s) and could have set the birthyear of the second Canary as late as, say, 1963. This would have given us a Black Canary, in 1988, in her mid 20s, which would have been perfectly acceptable.

We should also understand that, by dividing the events of Black Canary’s life up into two separate lifetimes – those of the mother, and those of the daughter – we have to decide which events (stories) happened to (featured) which version of the character. The easiest way to do it is to accept the original, pre Crisis division point (which is why I’ve been at such pains to establish it) – the Golden Age stuff happened to the mother, Dinah Drake, prior to 1951; the Silver Age stuff, and onward, happened to the daughter, Dinah Drake Lance… sometime well after 1951.

There are a few problems evolving out of all this, and I’m sure you can see the shape of them… but let’s toss into the mix this… a little comic called Green Arrow – 1975 – The Wonder Year.

While a quick Googling shows that all actual references to the year ‘1975’ have since been removed, at least, on all the cover reproductions of reprint editions currently available, I remember this series distinctly from when it came out, mostly because of editor Mike Gold’s obnoxious assertion, in a first issue editorial, that ‘ignoring continuity is always a pretty cool idea, when the fans will let you get away with it’. In this particular issue, the Green Arrow/Black Canary romance, a staple of the Silver Age all through my formative years, is going strong. Therefore, I'm throwing the date out there as yet another marker in the Black Canary timeline, this one labeled 'period when Dinah and Ollie were involved as a couple'.

Various other Black Canary fans have done hero's work trying to reconcile all of this with the current Canary appearing in current DC Comics -- a pretty good attempt at which can be found here. However, when you get to a certain point, well, most people just have to give up, as you can see from these passages I’ve excerpted:

At this point, the history of the Black Canary becomes particularly tortuous. Pre-Crisis, Black Canary decided to move to Earth-1 to overcome her grief over her lost husband. En route, she was revealed to be dying of radiation poisoning and transferred her memories to her comatose recently recalled daughter. The daughter then spent many years under the assumption that she was her mother and moved onto Earth-1 (revealed in Justice League of America #219-220).

Post-Crisis, Black Canary did not die shortly after her exposure to the radiation that killed her husband, and her daughter was neither comatose nor unrevealed. At some point in the past, both Black Canaries had active crime-fighting careers simultaneously. After the death of Larry Lance, Black Canary became less active and eventually retired altogether. She developed cancer as a result of her exposure to Aquarius's radiation in later years and died while her JSA comrades were in limbo (revealed in Secret Origins vol. 2 #50 and Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #3).

Post-Zero Hour, the history of the Black Canary is uncertain. The JLA was formed in 1986, nearly 40 years after the Black Canary joined the JSA; therefore, the tale of Larry Lance's death must be greatly altered. Also, since Black Canary was not among those who received the long-prolonging effects of Ian Karkull's radiation, there is some question as to the relation of ages between mother and daughter Black Canary; the original must have been in her 40s or 50s when the second was born. These and other questions will need to be answered before Black Canary's revised history can be fully understood.

Yeah. To say the least.

So, here’s the problem – the original Black Canary was born in or around 1930, started fighting crime in or around 1947, retired as a crimefighter in 1951. She had a daughter, who is currently in her mid 20s (she can’t be any older than that; for one thing, she doesn’t seem to be, and for another, her fan base won’t accept it).

That daughter is currently fighting crime in a contemporary setting in the DC Universe on a monthly basis. This means that (right now) the current Black Canary can’t have been born any earlier than 1982. Which means her mother, the original Black Canary, was around 52 years old when she was born.

Not impossible, but, well, hardly very likely.

If we stick to the date stamps we’ve been thrown like bones over the years, then we also have to factor in here that the current Black Canary was having a well established, long term monogamous relationship with Green Arrow in 1975 or thereabouts. Which is hard, since this would have had to take place around seven years before she was born. (The fact that Green Arrow stated that he was 50 years old in the original Wonder Year miniseries, which would make him 81 now, doesn’t much matter, as he’s died and been mystically resurrected at least once during this time period, and I have no difficulty believing that his resurrection had the beneficial side effect of rejuvenating him to a more youthful physical state, as well.)

Now, obviously, we can just accept what DC has done in abstracting the date stamp from the “Wonder Year” Green Arrow arc, and assume that it actually took place much, much later on in the timeline… probably in the late 80s or early 90s. Still, to fit in a romace with Dinah that lasted at least a few years, and that doesn’t end up giving us a Green Arrow our contemporary society would be forced to revile as a child molester, and to keep Black Canary young enough to suit her fans, well, she and Ollie must have started dating maybe six years ago and broken up maybe four years ago… meaning ‘the Wonder Year’ was 2000. And will continue to be shifted forward, as our own calendar continues to roll inexorably onward.

Here’s what I’m going to propose – let’s add another Canary to the mix.

We keep the original, Golden Age Black Canary. She retires in 1951, has a child in 1953 – which is all in accord with the original, pre Crisis timeline. Her daughter grows up and, against her mother’s wishes, takes up the Black Canary mantle in, say, 1971, at the age of 18. She fights crime in the 1970s, and while I know the contemporary DC Universe timeline will never allow the Justice League to have appeared this early on, still, I find it pleasant to contemplate that the whole ‘Satellite Era’ actually took place when I remember it taking place, in the late 60s to late 70s, and there was a Black Canary who was a part of it.

Even leaving the JLA out, we can keep the Black Canary/Green Arrow romance, and allow Green Arrow to be 50 years old in 1975, which would mean he was born in 1925, and could very well have had a Golden Age career with the original Seven Soldiers of Victory, and had all those goofy Golden Age adventures (or something vaguely like them).

Again, this is all made possible for GA by the fact that he’s died and come back to life at least once, and thus, his contemporary biological age doesn’t have to reflect the reality that it should.

Hal Jordan has recently had a similar mystical resurrection, so, under this theory, the classic O’Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories could still have taken place in the 1970s, and Black Canary could very much have been a part of them. Of course, if Roy Harper was a teenage sidekick hooked on heroin during this time period, then he himself has to be getting rather longer in the tooth by now than his own fan base is going to want to accept – in fact, he’d be just about my age (nearing 45). But, you know, one ongoing timeline problem at a time. Maybe the current Roy is the son of the first Speedy. (In fact, if we assume that the current Green Arrow is the original Green Arrow as well, he must have had several sidekicks named Speedy over the past several decades… hmmm… food for thought, there.)

Anyway, so we have the second Black Canary, born in 1953, taking on her heroic role in 1971, fighting crime throughout the 1970s and perhaps into the 1980s. Sometime prior to 1988, she retires, for some as yet unknown reason – maybe because she’s pregnant? And has a daughter she names Dinah, also. Who is the current, contemporary Black Canary appearing in JSA and Birds of Prey.

I like the idea for a lot of reasons. One, it preserves a lot of the continuity I am familiar with, in the era where that continuity originally took place. Second, it gives us an entirely new Black Canary to speculate about. We know the details of many of her adventures, but – why did she retire? Who is the current Black Canary’s father? The obvious guess would be Green Arrow, but what if the obvious guess is incorrect? What if the reason she and Green Arrow broke up is that the current BC’s father was someone else? If so, who could it be?

Obviously, this would require some quickly ret-conned explanations – any Black Canary who has appeared in the last decade or so and been romantically linked to Green Arrow would have had to have been the second BC, not the current one. The current one may well have some kind of relationship with GA – but does he think he’s her father? Or is he angry with her because he knows he’s not? Is the current BC angry with him, because she assumes he is, and he abandoned her mother?

There are, I have no doubt, endless reasons from endless Black Canary, Green Arrow, and related character appearances over the past three decades that this couldn’t work, but I suspect worse continuity implants have been put into place before.

Me, I really like the idea of ‘Black Canary’ being a generational identity, rather like The Phantom, with each Black Canary raising a successor to the role.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

FREAK OUT -- The Funkiest Superhumans of the Silver Age (part 1)


By John Jones, Manhunter from Marathon, IL

MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: This article, if it must be presumed to have any purpose beyond helping me kill time at work, is simply to entertain. It is not meant to be a scholarly, well annotated and footnoted, or even particularly well researched, work, full of useful details regarding the actual dates and issue numbers wherein certain characters have appeared, and who created and drew them, and what certain editors were thinking about at this time, and exactly which big name no-life letterhacks had LOCs in those issue. What it is, is, a thinly disguised excuse for me to ramble all over the place in a generally derisive (if often affectionate) manner, about a bunch of characters that may or many not be among your personal Favorites (or the opposite) Of All Time.

I'm not going to say there will be no annotations of issue numbers; if I can remember such, I may note them. (Where I do, I may be wrong.) Similarly, I may well list certain comic book creators as being responsible for the initial calling to existence of a particular super-freak, and I may do that erroneously, too. Mark Gruenwald is dead, and I do not claim anything like his authority, expertise, or even scholarship in this four color field we all seem to share something of an obsession with. I just like to bullshit about useless nonsense I happen to love. As Wong once said on another subject entirely, if this is a problem for you, then you must resolve it within yourself.

Additional annotation: while writing some sections below concerning the characters and creations of Tony Isabella, I did send 'sieur Isabella an email asking for his clarification of a few points I was vague about, and offering to allow him to proof a draft of this for accuracy prior to me sending it off to Steve Tice. If you're reading this, then that means good ol' Tony the Tipster didn't bother to respond (as, to date, he has not). I only note this to show that, given a chance to try to be a bit more authoritative than normal and actually Go To A Source, I did my best, and if I got anything wrong in the sections where I beat up on good ol' Tony, It's Not My Fault.

Having said all that, let's get funky what it's all about:

Everybody loves a freak show. And there is no freak show in the history of humanity more colorful, chaotic, or discordant than that presented by the peculiar fantasy sub-genre of superhero funny books over the course of the Silver Age. (Well, actually, the Modern Age has its share of freaks, too, but they're mostly sad, often gruesome, and generally not very funny.) What this article will do, aside from kill time at work, is present a list of what I consider to be the freakiest superhuman characters of the Silver Age - characters that are just SO darned weird, strange, and otherwise straight out of a polka-dotted banana tree that they stand out from even as motley a crowd as comprises any of the coherent comic book universes from this time period.

And as we're speaking of coherent comic book universes, we may as well start with what was, for an all too brief and shining moment (that actually lasted from 1961 to 1974 or thereabouts), the most coherent comic book universe of all - the Original Three Dimensional Metareality that changed everything for everyone forever - the Silver Age Marvel Universe.

One of the primary differences between the Marvel Universe and its greatest competition, DC, is that at DC, the freaks tend to be second or third string characters who could never support their own titles, and are rarely given a chance to try. In the MU, on the other hand, the freaks owned the whole damned cruise ship. As we'll see with our lead off hitter:

The Amazing Spider-Man -

One of the most successful and influential superhero characters, and arguably, fictional mass media characters, in human history, the Amazing Spider-Man, during the Silver Age, supported at least three different monthly superhero titles - AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and MARVEL TEAM UP - and is probably the prototype for the teen-age, angst driven superhero icon that has come to dominate the marketplace. (Stick that in yer hat and wear it, Wolverine fans.)

It's interesting to note that Spider-Man's powers, while designed to be suggestive and evocative of those of a spider, really bear no resemblance to the natural abilities of said arachnoid entities. While spiders do demonstrate disproportionate strength to the extent that some of them can jump great distances and most manipulate masses far in excess of their own bodyweight, it's important to remember that spiders weigh an insignificant amount, so such measurements are deceptive. Spiders also gain their 'strength' from the superior leverage ability provided by the fact that they are exoskeletal creatures, have many legs, and can anchor themselves firmly to surfaces. Thus, Spider-Man's mid level super strength can hardly be attributed to him actually gaining the 'proportional strength of a spider', since he has only the normal human amount of limbs and is not, so far as we know, exo-skeletal.

Spider-Man's most interesting and controversial powers are his ability to maneuver freely in defiance of normal gravity while in contact with sheer planes, and his ability to sense danger. Over the years his maneuvering ability has been defined and redefined in different ways, including Peter David's seemingly authoritative statement that he somehow harnesses static electricity to create friction. However, the simplest and most consistent explanation would be to state that, as with most superpowers, Spider-Man's are psionic (in this case, psychokinetic) in nature. He clings to sheer surfaces psychokinetically, and the power manifests that way because his subconscious believes it should, since the 'trigger' for his superhumanity was the bite of a radioactive spider.

The psionic explanation is also the most useful way to explain his danger sense, although this is difficult to quantify, since it has been depicted somewhat inconsistently over the forty years Spider-Man has existed. Nonetheless, calling it a limited form of clairvoyance is about the best anyone can do, especially given that at various times, various events have managed to rob Spider-Man of this extrasensory perception for limited periods. It goes without saying that neither his gravity defying wall crawling nor his danger sense are actually 'spider' powers, since spiders scale sheer surfaces via tiny, very strong, spikey hairs that cover their legs and provide them with enormous friction (a physical feature Spider-Man demonstrably does not share with actual spiders, or I'd imagine Mary Jane would have said something) and spiders simply don't have a 'danger sense', or no one would ever have successfully swatted one.

(Spiders are somewhat sensitive to vibrations in their immediate environment and have inhumanly wide ranges of vision, but they can be successfully attacked and killed by surprise... and Spider-Man has never demonstrated a particular sensitivity to vibrations or an enhanced visual range. He simply senses danger - and, in some stories, can apparently find his way around in darkness or dense mist easily - with his 'spider-sense'.)

What makes Spider-Man truly freaky, though, beyond his rather icky super powers and the hyphen in his name (meant, according to Stan Lee, to differentiate the character from Superman) is that he's the first superhero character to be motivated by guilt. Prior to this, most superhero characters didn't really have any heroic motivation other than general altruism or a sense of civic duty. Batman was a clear exception to this; traumatized by bearing witness to the violent murder of his parents when he was very young, he grew up full of rage, determined from an early age to avenge himself on the criminal underworld that had shattered his childhood. The vast majority of Golden Age characters, and DC's few Silver Age characters that appeared prior to Spider-Man, however, had no such motivations; they simply did what they did apparently because they thought it was the right thing to do.

(One of the many fundamental differences between metarealities and our own more mundane universe is what 'civic duty' comprises. Here, civically motivated people work for the Red Cross, help build housing for the homeless, join the military, or run for public office. Across the dimensional gap, at least a few of them dress up in tights and run around beating the crap out of random strangers they don't overly much care for.)

Many, over the years, have mistakenly said that Spider-Man is, in many ways, simply a rip off of Batman, at least to the extent that they have the same heroic motivation. This is a misperception, although the difference between a hero who is motivated by rage and a need for vengeance, like Batman, and guilt and a need for redemption, like Spider-Man, can be subtle. Batman is out to 'get even', and he never really can, making him an obsessed and ultimately unstable character (although I personally think that most of Batman's heroism lies in his constant battle to control and channel his rage and remain lucid and rational and even compassionate in his fight against injustice, rather than in the way the modern Batman, under Frank Miller, has been allowed to indulge and exult in his rather sociopathic fury against all forms of non-conformity instead). Spider-Man, on the other hand, is simply out to redeem one tragic failure of character, to live up to the high moral standards of his murdered, gentle Uncle Ben. Batman must constantly fight his rage, Spider-Man his desire for a normal, more self centered life not constantly devoted to dangerous, unpaid, unappreciated public service.

It's also worth noting that Daredevil also originally had a guilt motivation, which later on, under McKenzie and Miller, was transformed into the less subtle rage/vengeance motivation . Kevin Smith, of late, seems to have restored Daredevil somewhat to his thematic roots, although in so doing he's injected an often intrusive element of religion into the book, making DD's guilt very Roman Catholic in nature.

Getting back to Spider-Man for a moment, one of his freakier career moments was the three issue story in which he attempted to cure himself of his spider-powers (what a maroon; as if every fanboy on the planet wouldn't kill to have those abilities) and wound up with four arms, instead. Naturally, he wound up going to Michael Morbius for help, with, as they say on TV, whacky results.

In the annals of Spider-man's often overly freaky career, few moments are quite so transcendently absurd as those which feature:

The Spider-Mobile -

Okay. Some guy, who obviously had gone completely off his medication for weeks prior to this moment I'm about to describe, flagged Spider-Man down while Spidey was web-slinging past a rooftop at one point, and offered him a ton of cash for the rights to various entirely hypothetical pieces of stupid Spider-Man merchandise. Spider-Man, not being an idiot, said "Sure thing, friend!" and grabbed the money, but there was a catch... this moron wanted Spidey to get himself a Spider-mobile and drive around in it in public, so he could market miniature models of it to dopey little kids. (No, this is not a Fred Hembeck story, this really happened.) So Spidey, naturally, went to the Human Torch and asked him to build him a Spider-Mobile ('wait,' you say, raising your hand somewhat desperately, 'what part of that was natural?') and the Human Torch, naturally, said "sure, what the hell", and, I don't know, five issues later, came up with this blue and red dune buggy thing that, like, fired webbing from behind its headlights and drove up sheer surfaces and Jesus Christ somebody just kill me now.

Anyway, eventually someone... I think it was Hammerhead... drove the goddam thing into the East River, and I sincerely hope it's still there.

In other freaky Spider-Man moments we have this whole clone mess, but I'm not even going into that here.

And while we're on the subject of arachnoid adventurers in the Marvel Universe, we may as well mention:

Black Widow -

One of the Marvel Universe's major babes, Natasha Romanoff also has one of the more interesting and complicated backgrounds of a putative 'superhero'. She also seems to be unusually promiscuous for a female good guy... well, actually, since most superheroines rarely are shown to have explicit sex lives at all, the fact that Tasha has been shown to have reasonably casual sex (I'll grant you, with guys she's known for a long time) makes her nearly unique in the annals of spandex clad crusaders.

Trained as an espionage agent by the former Soviet Union (and one wonders how long it will be before that gets ret-conned), Natasha Romanoff, in addition to having all sorts of sneaky spy skills, is also an Olympic level athlete and gymnast, and an extremely skilled and deadly hand to hand combatant. Although she was supposed to be a spy, for some reason her bosses tricked her out in this insane blue supervillainess outfit when they sent her to America to steal defense secrets from Tony Stark. Equipped with gloves and boots that allowed her to walk on walls (I don't even want to know how) and a wristband device that fired some sort of offensive weapon she called her 'widow's bite' (over the course of years, it's been defined and redefined, but it seems most consistently to be some sort of taser-like weapon that fires a short range electrical bolt), the Black Widow was a wildly unlikely intelligence agent, but somehow (mostly through using Hawkeye as a front man and stooge) managed to survive as an Iron Man villain for a reasonable length of time.

Eventually, Hawkeye reformed and became an Avenger and because she was supposed to be in love with him (this was never portrayed all that consistently) she reformed, betrayed the U.S.S.R., and became an Avengers groupie.

Despite the fact that she has no super powers at all, she has on occasion done some pretty amazing things, like fight Spider-Man to a stand still (idiotically, she went out and picked a fight with him to prove which of them was the most powerful spider-motif'ed hero, and no, I'm NOT kidding). She's switched costumes three or four times over the four decades or so she's been around, but the one fans seem to like the most is her skintight black spandex jumpsuit with the kischey belt of gold oval links (that reportedly holds spare 'charges' for her widow's bite). She's been known to cling to sheer surfaces and swing around on a 'wrist cable' which she can apparently fire out of her clunky gold wristbands. One assumes she's in amazing physical shape and is a simply godlike martial artist, given how long she's managed to survive in the uppermost levels of Marvel's superhuman conflicts. She's served as Avengers leader, was briefly the leader of the abortive and misbegotten Champions, and has generally managed to kick ass and take names despite the fact that realistically, you wouldn't think she could possibly keep up with the company she not only keeps, but often actually bosses around.

She used to hang around with some big Russian named Ivan who was more or less her sidekick, and who spoke like Nick Fury, because he learned all his English from old gangster movies. We haven't seen him in a while, and for all I know he's dead. She was married to the first Red Guardian, has been romantically involved with Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Hercules, and was also partnered with Daredevil for a few years (to the point where she was actually added to the cover logo of DD's mag for a while, although not to the indicia, which costs money to change). In addition to that, we've seen her and Tony Stark (whom she's aware is Iron Man) indulge on occasion in a casually sexual relationship, and she's made it pretty clear, when Bob Harras was writing the Avengers, that Captain America can have her little Russian ass any time, any place, any way he wants. The Angel also apparently had a crush on her when they were both in The Champions, and honestly, who can blame him?

'Tasha either colors her hair now (red) or used to in her first appearances (when it was black). Virtually all superhuman chicks are comely wenches, but I've always thought Tasha transcends even the distinctions of her genre, managing to be an utter babe regardless of who draws her, from admitted masters of good girl art like Don Heck, Gene Colan and George Tuska, to more mundane, straightforward artists like Bob Brown and Steve Epting. Her codes of ethics and personal morality are complex, and I think she's one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel Universe, as well as one of the sexiest fictional women in comic books, and clearly, one of the most astonishingly competent. I don't believe she's currently appearing as a regular character anywhere, which is simultaneously a pity and a relief, given how badly many characters are being handled at Marvel currently.

While on the subject of the Black Widow, it seems worthwhile at this point to note that 'tasha was involved in one of comics all time freakiest moments in the mid 70s, when Tony Isabella (I believe) and Don Heck somehow managed to sell the managing editor at Marvel Comics (who may have been Roy Thomas, but I sure couldn't tell you for sure) on publishing what is, without a doubt, the goofiest, silliest, and ultimately, freakiest mainstream superhero title of the entire Marvel Silver Age -


My college mentors, both of whom have gone on to become well known pros, once noted to me that "If we'd somehow managed to propose THE CHAMPIONS to Marvel in 1972, we'd have been laughed out of the offices". This seems a fair and accurate statement, and as good a way to introduce a section on The Champions as any.

While I've been known to call the Defenders "the Team About Nothing" (and believe I do that very thing further on in this article), and I think that's an on-target phrase for the Non-Assemblers, one could almost equally employ it in describing the clueless, direction-free, almost amazingly fanboy-ish non-concept that was The Champions. Prompted, apparently, by nothing other than some vague desire by Marvel to have 'another superhero team', the Champions was a grab bag of second-string losers who had no connection to each other, and who, after coming together due to the random circumstance of all being in the same place at the same time when Pluto... did something... weird... involving monsters and demons and demi-deities on a California campus (honestly, that's about as coherent as the plot got), most credibly should have simply split up again without a backward glance.

However, Marvel wanted a series, and a series they got, and if no one in their right mind ever managed to grasp just WHY the Black Widow (and Ivan), Hercules, the Angel, Iceman, and the Ghost Rider all decided to stay together AFTER the hordes of Pluto retreated to the netherword (there, most likely, to convulse in laughter at the motley mortal fools who had just confronted them), well, it didn't really seem to matter. Together they were, and 25 years later, they make fine, fine fodder for an article about Silver Age super freaks.

In order to really get a grasp on just how freaky the Champions, as a team and a concept, were, we need to examine the five charter members that made up the original squad, all of whom were more that a little freaky in their own individual rights. As we've already glanced at the Black Widow (and honestly, I could look at her all day), we may as well take a look at the (in some cases, considerably) less comely members of the group, as well:

Hercules - Prince of Power, demi-god, son of Zeus and some mortal chickie, this particular character originally showed up... I don't know where, actually, though I'll bet someone else's kidneys it was THOR.. but I first became aware of him in the early, meandering days of Roy Thomas' run on AVENGERS. I didn't like Hercules there (honestly, he's not a very likeable character, assuming one sees little to admire or respect in a drunken lout who likes to beat people up and break their property with his enormous superhuman strength) and I've never really warmed to him since, as he seems to me to pretty much concentrate all Thor's more objectionable qualities into a mixture leavened by none of Thor's positive traits, and which is, in fact, alloyed only with alcoholism and jock-like stupidity. Hercules' main reason for continuing to hang with the Champions seems to have been wanting to bang the Black Widow (and reading between the dialogue in later AVENGERS issues under Bob Harras, it would seem that he got to, a lot, something else that does nothing towards making me like him any better), and while that's certainly understandable, it hardly makes him a solid addition to any team.

Angel - oh, please. I never liked this guy in the original X-Men, deeming him all but useless, and I certainly didn't like him in CHAMPIONS. The major problem with Warren Worthington III, as far as his powers go, are two-fold - first, they're physically ridiculous (his wings have to, by physical law, be merely ornamental, leaving his real flight, as with the Sub-Mariner, to be explained as autokinesis), and second, any team that has the Angel in it must from that point on exclude any other member who has the ability to fly, for fear of making the Angel redundant and more obviously ridiculous than he already is. As many far better characters fly (and have other, more useful powers, as well) this is basically like tying a ball and chain around your team concept's neck from the opening panel onward.

What in the name of God Isabella was thinking of in putting this character in the team originally I simply can't figure out. Being generous, I'll assume he was a big fan of the classic X-Men and wanted to see a couple of their mostly unused characters given some sort of forum again, and perhaps he didn't know Don Heck, one of the least appropriate pencillers in the world for drawing fantastic visual elements like humans with big white wings, was going to be assigned to this title. I'll also go so far as be willing to credit him with, perhaps, planning to use Worthington's fortune as the financial basis for the Champions, a development Bill Mantlo actually implemented a few issues further down the road. Yet, nonetheless, the fact remains, here we have a team concept that is already saddled with one character that has no superpowers at all and another one who is almost iconically nothing but a muscleman. In a five member team of balance, do we really need to give up one of the three remaining slots to a spoiled rich brat with big white wings?

It's worth noting, while discussing Worthington's role as the Champion's financial 'angel', that he makes a much poorer fit for this role than his obvious thematic predecessor, the Avengers' Tony Stark. First, while Warren was always depicted as coming from an affluent family, the kind of money required to fund a modern day superhero team simply seemed beyond the means we'd also previously seemed to see established for him. Given that, in fact, Warren funded the Champions' brand new skyscraper headquarters that was ostensibly fully equipped by modern superhero standards with cutting edge, high tech equipment, including Avengers-type quinjets and mucho other gear, one would have to assume that the financial outlay was immense... and since superhero teams traditionally don't turn a profit, I myself simply can't see any way that Warren could have floated this to any commercial banking entity as a business proposition.

Therefore, traditional methods of leveraging an initial, credible investment of a few million into the vast amounts necessary to set up and run the Champions simply couldn't be an option, all of which means that Warren probably had to pony up $30 million or so to get the team started, and was looking at continuing cash outlays of, I'm going to assume, $20,000 or so a month - bare bones, presuming that, say, Ulik the Troll doesn't show up and rip the upper four floors of the HQ into confetti - to keep the team going. Tony Stark had a thriving international hypercorps to do this for the Avengers. Warren had a family fortune. Note that past tense, 'had'.

Second, Tony was far, far more than simply the Avengers financial patron. As a galaxy class scientific synthesist and electronics/cybernetics armaments designer and engineer, Tony could credibly (to the extent that we willingly warp that term within the confines of a superhero metareality, anyway) provide the Avengers with fantastic technology whenever they needed it, in addition to loads of bread on demand. Warren, on the other hand, was simply a playboy and general parasite who relied on his general manager, Cameron Hodges, to take care of all cumbersome budgetary details. Making him the financial backer for a venture that, from a fiduciary sense, would have to be seen as nothing but an incipient, and then later, ongoing, fiscal disaster, was far fetched enough; when you add in the fact that all you're conceptually getting out of the deal is stretched credibility and a character who will keep future writers from recruiting more effective team members for fear of making the Angel look even stupider than he always does anyway, well, it simply seems like someone, at some point, should have said, "The Angel? You want the ANGEL? What the hell FOR?"

In terms of freakishness, however - the man has big white wings. If that's not enough for you, for the first twenty years or so that the character existed, we were expected to believe that he could strap those wings down to his body in such a way as to wear expensively tailored suits without the slightest telltale bulge. Yeah, right.

Iceman - perhaps the inclusion of the original X-Men's other mostly forgotten member (at this time, anyway) Bobby Drake, helps to explain why the Angel was also tucked into CHAMPIONS... maybe Isabella (or someone) saw the two as a package deal. Iceman is, actually, potentially quite an effective character, although I, for the life of me, cannot even remotely grasp how his powers actually work. He's freakish simply in having perhaps the most astoundingly ridiculous superhuman abilities I've ever seen (which is saying something; I've seen Morrison's DOOM PATROL) yet, while it's nearly impossible to get a grasp on them conceptually (whatever it is he makes, it isn't 'ice' as our current physics understands 'ice' to be defined; there isn't enough water vapor anywhere in the atmosphere of the Earth, even in the center of a monsoon, to condense into the amount of 'ice' that Bobby Drake whips up simply so he can run across the skyline when he needs to get somewhere), they work well and are susceptible to fairly simple, instinctive definition through visualization. There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of including Bobby Drake as a character in a new team, although, thematically, besides his conceptually ridiculous and potentially godlike powers, he brings little to the table. I myself, were I ever a writer or an editor at Marvel, would tend to avoid any mention of Iceman on general principles, since honestly, he's a character that should freak anyone out, given even the slightest knowledge of how physics actually works and the merest increment of thought about what he regularly and casually does. Nonetheless, if the Champions had to be, Iceman wasn't a bad choice to shove into the roster... nowhere near as bad, anyway, as the Angel was, or the final addition to the team:

The Ghost Rider - Marvel has had many characters with this name, ranging from strange Western gunfighters dressed up in sheets for reasons no one could ever adequately explain, to the most recent incarnation, which seemed to be a peculiarly deranged version of Billy Batson. This particular use of the logo was affixed to Johnny Blaze, a stunt cyclist who had the ability to invoke the powers of a demon that seemed to be in somewhat half-assed possession of his body (at this time) and upon being transformed into one of the most truly freakish looking super-characters of all time (a flaming skeleton in blue riding leathers) would promptly use his frankly outrageous powers to whip up a motorcycle made out of hellfire (this all seems so surreal from this distant remove) and go zooming around on it fighting evil.

See, when you're 11 or 12 years old and you've been reading comics since you were maybe 4, you simply don't question things like this. What's on the spinner rack when you wander into the drugstore or cigar shop with your couple of quarters or maybe even a buck that you made shoveling sidewalks or glommed off your mom with puppy dog eyes is simply what's on the spinner rack, and if you think it looks cool, for whatever reason, you buy it. But the realm of funny books in the early 1970s as presented to a kid with some change in his pocket was a vast, varied, and, by any adult standard, completely and insanely chaotic one, in which a purveyor and potential buyer was presented with choices that ranged from Archie and Harvey comic books through various monster and magic titles to sword and sorcery (Conan was just getting big back then) and, of course, which included many, many superhero titles. Something like GHOST RIDER, well, if you were 11 or 12 in 1972 or 1973, you just took it in stride; hell, it really seemed no weirder than MAN-THING or MORBIUS THE LIVING VAMPIRE or SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPERVILLAINS or, (in what has to stand as my all time favorite comics title to envision a 21st Century mainstream funny book company trying to get past the local PTA) SON OF SATAN.

It's only in retrospect, many, many years later, as a not overwhelmingly mature but hopefully somewhat rational adult, that you look back on concepts like Johnny Blaze, Satanic Stunt Cyclist With Demonic Powers, and you say to yourself "Jesus H. Christ what were they SMOKING?"

Even accepting, with a child's unblinking willingness to swallow an endless number of truly deranged concepts without a second thought, the existence of a comic book devoted to the ongoing adventures of such a thoroughly bonkers and utterly hallucinatory character, I have to admit that I myself kinda wondered at the tender age of whatever I was way back when CHAMPIONS came out just what in the fugg this Ghost Rider guy was doing in the team. I mean, yes, the rest of the group (including Venus, Goddess of Love, who helped fight off Pluto in the opening two parter but didn't actually join the Champions... and I've never been sure whether to be glad of that or not... ) was freaky, but this guy... this guy was a super-freak indeed. Demon powers. Stunt cyclist. Motorcycle made of hellfire. Bolts of fire from his hands that didn't actually cause physical damage to people, but simply subjected them to enormous, agonizing, torturous wallops of pain. I mean, seriously, dude, what the hell is UP here.

Looking back over the five core members now, I have to wonder if perhaps THE CHAMPIONS was nothing more or less than a somewhat addlebrained attempt on the part of Marvel to take a lot of individual concepts that they really wanted to do something with, and in fact, had tried, within the last few years, to do something with, and keep them (or put them back) in the public eye. The Black Widow had had her own series in AMAZING ADVENTURES long before, and had just fallen out of a longish cover logo partnership with Daredevil. The Ghost Rider's first book had just been cancelled. A small, deranged contingent of letterhacks were clamoring for the return of the X-Men. Hercules, I'm kind of recalling, had recently been given a two issue try out in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT, I believe. Maybe someone simply thought that if you took all these odds n' sods and tossed them together in one spot, some magic would occur and you'd get something worthwhile.

If so, it's hard to imagine how Marvel could have mishandled it any more efficiently than they did. Tony Isabella is never a bad writer, but also rarely a good one; in fact, along with the likes of Bill Mantlo, John Warner, David Michelinie, the Friedrichs (Mike & Gary), Bob Rozakis, Elliot S! Maggin, and perpetual fill in scripter Steven Grant, I'm gonna say he very nearly defines the term 'mediocrity' as a comic book writer, at least, towards the tail end of the Silver Age.... the sort of workhorse writer who was really one of the unsung foot soldiers of the circulation wars, crunching out page after page of mediocre super-fodder that hundreds of thousands of fans would read once or twice, blink a few times, and promptly forget about, tossing the comics to the back of their closets or under their beds with the rest of the various bizarre non-notables of that time, like SAVAGE TALES and WEIRD WAR STORIES and SUPERMAN FAMILY.

I should note, right now, before I pass on, that nearly any generic and, at the time, forgettable seeming story from this period about Ka-Zar, or the Sons of the Tiger, or the Unknown Soldier, or the Freedom Fighters, if dug out of an old cardboard box in the attic and reread today against the juxtaposition of the appalling creative and conceptual abyss that is, for the most part, today's comic book marketplace, would seem like a comparative qualitative supernova. These comics seemed mediocre at the time because the ones we REALLY remembered and were talking about and would reread to tatters were by Cary Bates, and Steve Englehart, and Steve Gerber, and there were a lot of Stan Lee reprints on the stands, too, so whaddya want? The only person currently working in comics on a level with those guys is Alan Moore (Tom Peyer occasionally approaches it, as well, depending on the projects he's handling at any given time) and it's worth noting that the writers ranked just below Moore, bunched up in a group just down from him on the Wizards Polls, people like Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison and James Robinson and Kurt Busiek and Kevin Smith, are all people who write just about as adequately and generally acceptably as the 'mediocre', reliable scripters of the Silver Age I've mostly listed above. It's just that in the Modern Age, our standards have slipped so much that these guys seem like geniuses. Or, in the case of Grant Morrison, he's managed to con a large audience into thinking morose and psychotic drivel is interchangeable with actual good writing.

Of course, one might think average, middle of the road mediocrity (for the era) would be a fine qualification for the utter embodiment of mediocrity that was THE CHAMPIONS, but, well, in point of fact, if ever there was a concept that needed a touch of genius, this would have been it. (The senseless floundering of THE DEFENDERS, for example, which had gone nowhere under the well respected Roy Thomas and the always amazing, yet in that case misplaced, Steve Englehart, was given that much needed touch of genius by Steve Gerber and under his authorship, became one of the legendary series of the Silver Age.)

Isabella simply wasn't good enough to divorce the essential CHAMPIONS non-concept from its fundamental aura of absurdity and futility, and under Mantlo, while it got more interesting (artwork by a rookie John Byrne late in the run sure as hell helped), poor choices for thematically defining sub plots kept anyone from ever being able to really get hyped about the team, and wound up with the group continuing to look like exactly what they were... a strange, mainstream version of the Inferior Five utterly lacking in anything remotely approaching a sense of humor.

(Unintentional humor abounded, though, as with original characters like "Rampage, the Recession Born Supervillain Who Could Be You!", and a later battle between Black Goliath and Stilt-Man that I'll describe in more detail a bit further on, in another section.)

Poor choices for writers were exacerbated by the spectacularly inappropriate assigning of Don Heck to the book's first few issues. While there is no bigger Don Heck fan than I, it must be admitted that Mr. Heck does not draw fantasy elements well, and CHAMPIONS, especially the first two issues, was redolent with stuff that clearly Don simply had no idea what he was supposed to do with. It was a concept almost designed to showcase everything Heck did badly without giving him the slightest chance to show off the vast range of techniques and visualizations he does well, and while Heck, probably gratefully, departed the title at the end of the origin story (along with Isabella), nonetheless, the artist who took over (whose name forever escapes my mind, but he's not very good, and only looked adequate on CHAMPIONS due to inking by a freshly hired Bob Layton) was barely an improvement... nor, for that matter, were a few issues by George Tuska.

It wasn't until Byrne took over fairly late in the run that one could actually manage to look at the book with anything like pleasure, and by then, plotlines about how their headquarters was falling apart, none of the expensive equipment would work, and the best the team could do for a resident super-scientist sort was Bill Foster had imprinted the Champions for all time with the indelible smear of second raters. By the time the book was finally cancelled, no one was really sorry to see them go.

All told, the Champions stand out freakishly in the history of 'mainstream' superhero funny books by being perhaps the most notable example of a concept that seemed to have absolutely no conceivable raison d'etre or thematic justification behind it. There have been many other lousy super-teams before and since, and doubtless will continue to be for the brief period that comic books continues to survive as a viable commercial medium, but in every other case I can think of, one can see either the market forces behind the creation and publication of the concept (as with NEW TEEN TITANS and NEW WARRIORS), or the personal drive and desire of the influential pro responsible for bringing the concept into existence (as with THE INVADERS and INFINITY, INC. and X-CALIBUR).

Even BROTHER POWER THE GEEK can be more or less understood, if not condoned or in any way supported, and the simple explanation "We wanted something like PLANET OF THE APES" is more than enough to put something like KAMANDI, THE LAST BOY ON EARTH in meaningful perspective. Yet what possible explanation can be offered for THE CHAMPIONS? What, in fact, was whoever came up with the concept, and whoever else green-lighted it for publication, smoking?

Black Goliath -

Somebody I went to college with... maybe the Late, Great Jeff Webb, or perhaps Kurt Busiek... used to like to grumble, whenever this character's name came up in conversation, that he 'sounded like a porn star'. That seems apt. And yet, Black Goliath was more or less a logical outgrowth of Marvel continuity, in that his secret identity, Bill Foster, was a scientist who had helped Hank Pym work on his size changing serum for a while in the late 1960s under Roy Thomas, so it was reasonable that, at some later point, he might dose himself with said serum and become, however briefly and bizarrely, a superhero in his own right.

(Look, fella, you got samples of size changing serum laying around in your garage, you gotta, at some point, swill one of 'em down and go blundering through your neighborhood thirty feet tall and looking for trouble. This simply isn't something any red blooded, true blue comics fan needs to have explained to them at any great length. It's when you put on a funky yellow and gold outfit that for some completely insane reason has a square cut out over your abdomen and you go fight the Circus of Crime in order to impress your ex-wife that you lose me completely.)

B.G. is one of those characters, like so many in written up in this article, that from the safe, sane remove of many decades (and at least some maturation) later, really makes you wonder exactly what his original creators were thinking when they typed up the first precis and actually, seriously, with no intention of satire or practical joke, handed it to a real, professional editor for his consideration as an actual commercial series. Was Marvel just really hot for more black superheroes in that era? Did someone think that THIS time, regardless of the terrible track records of giant characters in the past, THIS one would fly?

Or did some comptroller somewhere just discover a warehouse full of rotting rolls of blank newsprint that needed to be used up on anything that might possibly be sold for any amount of money, no matter how inconsequential or incremental?

I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that, after a guest starring appearance in POWER MAN in which he and Luke Cage fought the Circus Of Crime (an inauspicious beginning that should certainly have put the character on anyone's Approach With Tongs list), Bill "Black Goliath" Foster was given the go ahead for his own, thankfully brief, run as title character in his own series.

Scripted with a nearly insane and almost delusional disregard for anything remotely approaching conventional common sense by an apparently high as a kite Chris Claremont, Black Goliath, in his brief career as a title character, fought the eye-poppingly idiotic menace of Atom-Smasher, tussled with Daredevil's old (bad) villain the Stilt-Man, wound up on a distant planet confronting the Stranger, and, after his series' mercifully swift cancellation, ended up guest starring in the last few issues of THE CHAMPIONS.

Shortly thereafter, it was discovered he had cancer, and he spent most of the 1980s intermittently dying, and occasionally coming out of retirement to team up with the Thing or guest star in other obscure places, generally wearing even worse costumes than his original blue and yellow, abs-baring horror, often changing his name from "Black Goliath" to the less exploitative "Goliath" to "Giant-Man", to no apparent avail. Last I heard he'd been cured and sworn off growth serum forever, and what he's doing now I have no idea.

The Whizzer -

There have actually been several super speedsters at Marvel with this name, and not ONE of them had the power of super-pissing. Can you believe it?

All of them are, in one way or another, freakish. The first one, the Golden Age Whizzer, whose real name was Bob Frank, gained his superspeed from the bite of a radioactive mongoose (really!). He, like, fought crime and Commies during the post WWII era, although later ret-conning by Roy Thomas gave him a wartime career, as well. For a while, Roy tried to con us into believing that this Whizzer and his wife, the Golden Age heroine called Miss America, were the natural parents of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, but that was later overset by other writers with different (if not better) ideas.

However, the idea did last long enough to let Bob Frank move into Avenger's Mansion at the behest of his daughter, where he remained for, apparently, years if not decades, ending up apparently entirely forgotten by succeeding AVENGERS writers (Englehart never referred to him once, although he was living upstairs for much of his run). He even, apparently, kept living upstairs long after Wanda and Pietro were both moved out of the mansion, as he later showed up long enough to spook Count Nefaria the first time he gained his Golden Age Superman levels of power.

What has happened to him since I have no idea, knowing only that, to my knowledge, Roger Stern, Bob Harras, and Kurt Busiek have never mentioned the character in their longish runs on AVENGERS. Maybe he's dead.

The other two Whizzers were, apparently, other dimensional analogues of each other. One was a modern day supervillain speedster who was a member of the Squadron Sinister, and I know little more about him than that. The other looked just like him, but lived on an alternate Earth where he was a member of the Squadron Supreme, that Earth's premiere superhero team.

Eventually, the Squadron Supreme went corrupt and evil, when their American government was dominated by corporate profiteers being controlled by the Serpent Crown. The Avengers shamed them into reforming, and they beat up their corrupt President (Nelson Rockefeller) and freed their native world... after which they decided to create a Utopia, in a long, interestingly conceived but badly written and drawn mini-series by Mark Gruenwald and that lousy artist I already mentioned not being able to remember his name on CHAMPIONS. Finally, they wound up trapped on the Avengers' Earth for a while, where they hung out at Project: Pegasus and presumably had some sort of adventures we never saw, in between being used as pawns by cheap, lousy supervillains to beat up the Avengers.

Finally, the Avengers got really sick of having them around and it occurred to them that they could have Thor use his hammer to whip up a portal that would send the Supremors somewhere else. (The Avengers told them the portal went back to their native Earth, but honestly, who knows.) The otherdimensional Swordsman and his weird chickiepoo Magdalene went with them, and thank God for that, too.

The White Tiger-

I know very little about this character except that he was a martial artist who gained his 'powers' from a mystic piece of jewelry comprised of three different pieces of a jade tiger statue. I think. I also think he got machine gunned early in the Modern Age. And I believe his real name was Hector something, and he was Puerto Rican. I know he had a really boring costume. And I'm under the vague impression that the three piece amulet he got his 'powers' from was originally worn (one piece each) by the Sons of the Tiger.

What qualifies poor old Hector for inclusion as a 'freak' is none of the above, which is all rather generic, but rather, the fact that (a) he's one of the few Silver Age heroes to (I think) actually be gunned down on panel and die and (b) he's nearly the only case I can think of where a hero gets a learned skill (martial arts) from a magical amulet, and in fact, he becomes so martial artsie that he ascends to the lowermost levels of superhumanity.

This last strikes me as really strange. Skills are things people learn, that they acquire through study or practice. I can more or less get my mind around the idea of a magic amulet (or super soldier serum, or the radiation of a yellow sun, or whateverthehell) giving someone enhanced strength, or speed, or even intelligence. But... skills? This is weird.

For a possible explanation, however, we go to:

The Sons of the Tiger-

A poorly conceived martial arts superhero team comprised of one white guy, one Asian guy (I'm not sure his actual ethnicity was ever specified) and one black guy. I believe they were all accomplished martial artists who somehow found their abilities to be boosted into the superhuman range by possession of three separate 'tiger' amulets. The white guy's name was Bob Diamond, which I only know because Mary Jo Duffy used him as a supporting character in POWER MAN/IRON FIST. (Kurt Busiek later used him to disprove Claremont's self-titillating aspersions on Colleen Wing's sexuality, by having Collen and Bob hump like crazed weasels at the drop of a gi.)

It's worth repeating here that I have no idea how a magic amulet could convey high levels of a difficult skill as a superhuman power to its wearer. It would be more sensible to assume that the magical tiger amulet in fact provided 'tiger' powers... i.e., heightened strength, speed and vitality... and the fact that it was worn primarily by people with advanced martial arts skills is the reason why it seemed to convey those abilities as a superpower. Or, if the White Tiger had no martial arts skills prior to putting on the amulet (I really don't know), then it's possible that the previous owners (the Sons of Tiger) somehow imprinted their pieces with their own martial skills when they owned it, and thus, Hector somehow gained access to them, as well as the 'tiger powers'.

I have no idea what happened to this amulet after the White Tiger was machine gunned. Sure as shit no one gave it to me.

Marvel Team Up Villains -

Marvel Team Up was, in many ways, a nadir for Marvel's superhero comics line of the 70s and 80s. Generally used as a try out spot for rookie writers like Bill Mantlo or, at the start of his terrifyingly unkillable career, Chris Claremont, and usually assigned to dependable artists like Ross Andru or Sal Buscema, MTU was a reliable sales performer simply due to Spider-Man's usual presence in the book as a near-constant guest star. Many MTU stories featured real, mainstream Marvel super-villains who had actually appeared in other places and were apparently slumming (the Trapster, the Puppet Master, the Mole Man, the Sandman... for some reason, MTU seemed to feature a lot of FF villains, although I recall the Grey Gargoyle showing up a couple of times, too), but MTU was also often a pit for the generation of some of Marvel's worst villains ever... at least, that appeared outside the pages of early DAREDEVILs or Don McGregor POWER MANs.

MTU's original villains generally weren't just BAD, however, they were also decidedly frickin' freaky. As witness the following three utterly bizarre losers culled from the depths of my aging memory:

The Orb - Spider-Man and the Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze, circa 1973 or so) teamed up to fight this whackadoodle... a stunt cyclist who had been tossed off his speeding motorcycle during a race and skidded four or five miles (seemingly) on his face. Annoyed with all of mankind over this unfortunate vehicular mishap, he somehow managed to get hold of a special helmet that looked like a giant eyeball (look, I just report this stuff) that had the effect of hypnotizing anyone who looked at it. Kind of like the Circus of Crimes' Ringmaster, but, you know, ickier. This issue of MTU (I'm thinking it was #8, but that could be waaaaay wrong) was notable not merely for being, you know, terrible and stupid (actually, that's not really notable for MTU) but also for being one of the few cases where, for at least a panel, Marvel descended to the sheer graphic gross out level of an EC horror comic. The panel of what the Orb's face actually looked like when he took his helmet off... ew. Nightmares for weeks. I'm pretty sure he went under a subway train at the end of the story, and I don't think anyone's ever brought him back (praise Jayzus).

The Basilisk - one of my favorite truly terrible and freaky loser villains, the Basilisk was actually an inept jewel thief named Basil Elks (see comment above about me just reporting this stuff) who was stealing a couple of big space jewels from a museum (what the hell, he muttered to himself as he just kept on typing) when... something weird happened, I can't remember what... and he was transformed into the Basilisk. MarVell, Kree Captain, who never had much to do with himself after he kept Thanos from becoming a god the first time, happened to be wandering by, as did Spider-Man. It turned out the two space gems (just not gonna think about it, nossir) were the Alpha and Omega Stones, or some such utter tripe, and had weird powers, but screw them, this is about ol' Basil, who found himself with a really fargin' ugly costume, sallow green skin, and the ability to project various different sorts of eyebeams, including one that somehow allowed him to fly through the air, looking completely ridiculous as he fired this beam at the ground and rode it backwards like it was jet exhaust. (However you're picturing it, he looked stupider. And this was drawn by Gil Kane, so one can only imagine how it would have looked drawn by someone who wasn't an utter master of sequential graphics like Kane was.)

I was once told by Jeff Webb that the Scourge (one of them) later shot the Basilisk, and it's hard to blame him. But he was so truly, slobberingly, mind bendingly awful that I really liked him.

Equinox the Thermodynamic Man - a real goober who showed up for the first time in one of the rare MTU issues that didn't feature Spider-Man. Any time Spidey wasn't hangin' out in MTU, they used the Human Torch as a guest star instead for reasons man may never know (or that may be as simple as, Spider-Man and the Human Torch were the first characters to star in an MTU story, so it may have just been thought of as a tradition). In this issue of MTU, the Torch teamed up with Iceman (fire and ice, get it, it's 'high concept', it's... it's... oh, never mind) and they fought someone who seemed to have both their powers... Equinox, who could project either fire or ice from a body that sort of shimmered with alternating fire and ice motifs. The Torch noticed at one point that Equie only fired ice when he was flaming, and flames when he was covered with ice, which was apparently meaningful to the plot, but I sure couldn't tell you why.

They beat him up but he got away, and later came back to mess around with Spidey, Yellowjacket, and the Wasp, in a two parter by Claremont & Byrne that was notable for the fact that (a) we saw Hank and Jan getting' it on for the first (and maybe the only) time in Marvel Universe history and (b) it was the appearance that upgraded the Wasp from cute little bug-girl with compressed air stings that no one really gave a shit about to flying powerhouse capable of laying out Drax the Destroyer with a single mighty bio-energy blast.

(Claremont simply can't stand an ineffective female character; unfortunately, not being particularly imaginative, or particularly knowledgeable in the sphere of real life feminine behavior, his idea of making female characters 'effective' is 'make them more like men'. A character who shrinks to three inches or so in height and flies around very quickly and precisely can be devastatingly effective with just a pinch of intelligence applied to her battle tactics; give her compressed air stings and she can be out and out deadly, assuming she's smart enough to use them on her opponents' eyeballs, eardrums, testicles, etc. But no, Claremont had to make her 'effective', meaning he had to make her strong enough to tear a metal grate in two and powerful enough for her energy blasts to sink a battleship. Most writers seem to have forgotten the increased strength since then, and thank God.)

All of which is a sidebar. During this story, Hank Pym came up with some sort of energy harness that short circuited Equinox's powers, leaving him just a normal, psychotic teenager with these really gross flanges of flesh sticking up from his forehead. As far as I know, that's the last we've seen of him.

On the subject of freakishly bad villains in the Marvel Universe, I just can't leave out:

Mind Wave And His Awesome Think Tank -

One of my favorite comics in during adolescence was Marv Wolfman's DAREDEVIL. I enjoyed the series and looked forward to it month after month, as for probably more than a year, Wolfman had DD embroiled in what seemed to me to be, at the time, a fascinating continued story arc featuring a villain called the Jester, who was using advanced technology to manipulate the media in such a way as to control local elections and make everybody think Daredevil was a rotter. (Being generally whacked out, the Jester also simply played with people's heads at random by planting false news stories, seemingly back up by actual videotape, indicating that John F. Kennedy was still alive, and other wildly unlikely things.)

Eventually, Daredevil beat the Jester up and sent him to prison, as superheroes are wont to do, but once the Jester story was over, Wolfman seemed to have no real clue what to do with the book or the character, and the stories fairly quickly became so cluelessly bad that even I, at the age of 14, noticed how awful they were. There were stories in which Daredevil teamed up with Nova for no good reason, where Mr. Hyde and the Cobra launched Daredevil from a giant crossbow into Manhattan Bay, where Daredevil battled the Man-Bull at Rockefeller Center... and there was this story, where Daredevil teamed up with mentalist Uri Gellar to battle Mind Wave and his Awesome Think Tank.

See, whenever I type that out, people think I'm kidding. Hell, whenever I type it out, I think I'm kidding. But in point of fact, this really happened; Daredevil really did team up with Uri Gellar, and he really did battle some yutz named Mind-Wave, who had a giant, mentally controlled armored battle wagon that he referred to is his Awesome Think Tank.

Mind Wave and his Awesome Think Tank seemed to be not so much an enemy of Daredevil, or even all mankind, as he was really annoyed with Uri Gellar, which makes him even freakier, as perhaps the only arch-nemesis of an Israeli psychic known to comics.

A few other villainous loser-freaks:

The Tumbler -

Fought Captain America, ineptly. Killed by Moonstone I, from ambush, in order to frame Cap. Largely unmourned.

Batroc ze Leaper -

It's hard to describe Batroc ze Leaper to an audience ignorant of his excessive absurdity, mostly because after typing the phrase 'Batroc ze Leaper', I tend to stare at the screen in disbelief making strange goldfish-like gawping motions with my mouth for thirty or forty seconds while my mind wanders in appalled incredulity at the fact that this guy was actually created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. Nonetheless, Batroc is a French master of savate, ze art of fighting wiz ze feet, (no, really) and generally, whenever he's dumb enough to crawl out of his hole and fight Captain America yet again, he gets beaten like a big brass gong and lapses back into obscurity for another decade or so. In his most entertaining appearance to date, Batroc nominally teamed up with Mr. Hyde, only to betray him and fight alongside Captain America in a fun Stern-Byrne story in which he got about the best dialogue he's ever likely to.

(MR HYDE: Bah! I'm far more powerful than either of you! BATROC: Zen we will have to hit you a great many times, non?)

Last time I saw Batroc he was being written by Mark Waid and back to being a really bad villain and half assed terrorist again, and once more got beaten like a big brass gong, not just by Cap, but by Hawkeye, too.

The Kangaroo -

Oh, geez. Originally, a guy from Australia who >choke< spent a lot of time in the Outback roving with packs of wild kangaroos, until he discovered he could somehow... leap... like them... {beating >AUGH< head >OW< against >YAGH< the wall >NGGH<]... Naturally, he decided to go to New York City and be a super-villain. Spider-Man just waded in and punched the living crap out of him, and he really should have sunk into much deserved and blissful obscurity, but Len Wein just HAD to bring him back ten years or so later, when some nutball criminal doctor bionically augmented him, giving him, I don't know, compressed air jets in his ass or something, and he decided to get revenge on Spider-Man. Spider-Man beat his face in once again, and the Kangaroo was so distraught over it that he ran into the core of a nuclear reactor and melted. And about damn time, too.

On the subject of freakishly bad villains in more or less mainstream superhero comics, one cannot discourse lucidly or long without coming to the Silver Age Daredevil Rogue's Gallery, or the pack o' losers various writers (including, sadly, Stainless Steve Englehart, but most notably, Don McGregor) have inflicted on Luke Cage, Power Man over the years. The Black Panther has had a couple of truly whacked out losers, too.

So, let's dive on in:

The Stilt Man -

Leader of nearly anyone's pack of not only lousy villains, but truly freakish ones, the Silver Age Daredevil Rogue's Gallery, this guy built himself a set of powered armor whose main gimmick was these really long extensible legs that allowed him to change his height upwards of, I don't know, I'm gonna guess eighty feet or so. (It's hard to get real linear when a character is drawn by Gene Colan.) He also had an experimental 'Z-ray' blaster that did unpredictable things, too (such as, on one truly bizarre occasion, sending Black Goliath, along with two people who were just standing nearby, off to a distant planet). Nobody ever hit this guy hard enough (you gotta figure, since he kept coming back), but he was part of perhaps mainstream's comics funniest moment, a televised super battle that took place in a CHAMPIONS issue in which, in the words of the reporter doing play by play: "Wait, folks... in a startling new development, Black Goliath has ripped Stilt-Man's leg off, and is beating him with it!" Life don' ged much betta dan dat.

I seem to vaguely recollect that there was actually more than one Stilt-Man... somebody else once stole the original Stilt-Man's costume and used it for their own crime rampage... but I could be making that all up in the depths of my easily fuddled mind. Still, this is comic books and that idea is so stupidly deranged it seems plausible to me. "I know," sez some genius wannabe supervillain, "here's a costume worn by a guy who got beaten unconscious by Daredevil the Blind Superhero With No Super Powers! I'll wear it and go on a rampage!" Yeah. I can picture that.

The Leap-Frog -

Dressed in a frog costume. Had springs on his feet. I'm not going to dwell on this further.

Okay, I am, but only to note that sometime later, some fat kid named Eugene found Leap-Frog's costume and wore it to fight crime as the Fabulous Frog-Man. Proving that there is no character so friggin' lame that some small, pathetic troop of geeks somewhere won't adopt him, her, or it as their own, the Frog-Man seemed to accrue a small, deeply disturbed following after his (fortunately) few appearances in really bad Marvel Team Up stories written by J.M. de Matteis with undeservedly excellent art by Kerry Gamill.

The Matador -

Dork with a cape and a sword and one of those funny three cornered hats. In a moment of near perfect madness, he rather later on fought the Man-Bull, and then teamed up with him against DD. I sincerely hope he's dead.

The Owl -

Supposedly a crimelord of New York. Had Wolverine type hair long before Wolverine did, and the ability to fly (somehow) and lots and lots of thugs with guns. Drawn by Gene Colan he actually managed to look scary, once in a while, although every couple of panels you'd realize just how goddam dorky he actually was even with 'the Dean' doing his best. Drawn by anyone else (even Wally Wood) he was just laughable. There's something to the notion of a merciless, predatory villain with the power of fast, precise flight (I think he wore claws on his shoes, too) being extremely dangerous to a 'costumed athlete' like Daredevil, and perhaps, with a less Burgess Meredith on a bad hair day look to him, and a better name (Raptor might have worked) he could have been considerably less dopey. As it was, though, he was simply a freakish dolt.

The Crusher -

A professional wrestler whom something weird happened to that made him grow really large and say 'the Crusher!' over and over again, until Daredevil managed to beat him unconscious.

Angar the Screamer -

Whenever he yelled, he created an illusory 'mindstorm' of strange, psychedelic, telepathic images that apparently sort of simulated an acid trip. Looked like a hippie. One of Steve Gerber's more embarrassing creations on DD, along with -

The Ramrod -

A cybernetically enhanced construction worker with an exoskeleton and very little intellectual prowess. Talked like the Thing. Needed to be hit many, many times. Often was.

The Mandrill & Nekra, Priestess of Darkness -

Now, an argument could be made (not a coherent one, but still) that many of the above mentioned villains, while stupid and awful and generally embarrassing, are not really 'freakish' especially against the motley four color backdrop of a superhero comic book continuum. I obviously disagree with that argument and feel that any grown man who dresses up as a bullfighter to commit crimes, or who builds an exoskeletal costume that allows him to be really, really tall, qualifies as a freak in anyone's book. Nonetheless, that argument could be made about some of the villains I've already listed, but surely only someone high on crack or some other distilled and concentrated opiate could possibly attempt to posit that the Mandrill and Nekra were not, in fact, freaks of the first water and finest kind.

Both these fine, fine folks are mutants, whose super powers, and freakish appearances, are directly attributed in their origins to the atomic radiation their parents were exposed to. In the Mandrill's case, it caused him to look like a big gorilla, complete with distinctive mandrill-like features.

But don't feel too sorry for him, as in addition to anthropoid strength and agility, the Mandrill's mutant genes also burden him with the unbelievably annoying and irksome power of causing all women to fall madly and irretrievably in love with him. And I don't just mean "I love you, but I must still fight you" kind of passion, I mean "Oh my god just let me die in childbirth bringing your heir into the world" type love. "Please let me slaughter my entire family and kill myself to prove my adoration" type of love. The kind of love where Daredevil's partner and girlfriend the Black Widow, veteran slut and former KGB agent, unhesitantly zaps DD in the back with her widow's bite and delivers his helpless, unconscious body to a big hairy ugly guy that wants to kill him, and is happy about it. After, you know, being in a room with the geek for about ten seconds. Gee. Sucks to be the Mandrill, huh.

Nekra, on the other hand, is this albino vampire-looking chick (who is sometimes drawn with fangs, and sometimes not) with long black hair and whose mutant power is that the angrier she becomes, the stronger and more invulnerable she is. Also, she seems to be able to make Rich Howell fall in love with her. Don't ask me why. Devil Dinosaur had this power, too.

The Purple Man -

He's purple. He has mind control powers. Sucks to be HIM, too. Still, somebody who's just, you know, naturally bright purple most likely deserves to be annotated on any list of superhuman freaks, so here he is.

There are probably more really bad and freakish Daredevil villains I'm not thinking of right now, but if so, through the magic of electronic text editing, I'll put them in later and you'll never know. Moving right along, then, to Really Bad Luke Cage Villains -

Luke Cage seemed to be a character that brought out the bad in a lot of otherwise good writers. Even Steve Englehart, while briefly writing this character in the early 70s, seemed more miss than hit with him, at least as far as the creation of villains went. Under Englehart's brief tenure, we were introduced to:

Black Mariah -

Gigantic fat black female Harlem crimeboss. Sort of Oprah's evil, trash talking twin. You simply couldn't do a character like this in today's PC environment, and, well, I'm normally not a big supporter of political correctness, but everything has a silver lining.

Big Ben -

Hulking black trash talking Harlem lawyer who thought Cage had slept with his bee-atch. (Cage hadn't, but the mistake was understandable; George Tuska was drawing the book at the time, and you couldn't really tell Big Ben's bee-atch from Claire, the nurse Cage WAS sleeping with, without expository captions or word balloons.) Despite the fact that Cage had superhuman strength and was pretty damn invulnerable, this shyster managed to actually knock him around somewhat. Mean lawyers in Harlem, don't you know. Later became Cage's lawyer, until such time as Cage began working with Iron Fist and was represented by Jeryn Hogarth instead.

Lionmane -

Kurt Busiek's theory is that Englehart wanted to use Kraven the Hunter as a villain and got told no by his editor, so he just made up this vaguely Kraven-esque loser instead. Even Kurt, the most ardent Englehart fan and 'tributer' in the history of Modern Age Comics, hasn't brought this idiot back, and that should tell you something. He, like, had machines that allowed him to mentally control lions, or something.

Shades & Comanche -

Idiots Luke went to prison with. Kurt Busiek later (at my suggestion, but I'm not sure I want that to be generally known at this point) gave Shades a visor that projected an energy blast and Comanche trick arrows like Hawkeye. Up until then, they were just what we'd call these days 'thugz' and 'playaz' who, for some reason that man may never fully comprehend, dressed up like supervillains. And I'm not entirely sure Englehart created them; it may have been whoever followed him on the book (which I'm thinking right now was Tony Isabella, but I could be wrong).

Rackham -

Fat white Southern ex-prison guard who hated Luke Cage and called him 'boy' a lot. I'm pretty sure he was actually created in HERO FOR HIRE #1 as a brutal tormentor for Cage who was instrumental in Luke's originally gaining super powers (he turned up the energy flowing through the weird experimental pressure cooker metabolic tank thingie that Cage was suspended in, as part of a medical experiment using convict volunteers that was, apparently, designed to give sociopathic career criminals unstoppable super powers). However, he came back later, kidnapped Big Ben's bee-atch (again, like Big Ben, mistaking her for Cage's real squeeze, since all those George Tuska women looked alike to him) and eventually got run over by an ambulance. Not a supervillain, but perhaps freaky enough for inclusion here if only by being one of the few openly racist characters ever depicted on modern mainstream superhero comics, even if he was fat, white, and Southern.

Stiletto -

Neo Nazi type arch conservative who fancied himself a superhero, Stiletto was, I think, also created by Tony Isabella. He had these spigots on his wrists that fired barrages of miniature knife-like flechette blades, an attack as hellish as it was physically ludicrous (his costume was skin tight and there was no evident reservoir for the tons of ammunition he would have had to have been carrying around with him). He also had a bunch of gimmicky knives, rather like Hawkeye or Green Arrow's shafts, including one that provided powerful electroshocks and another that delivered a walloping cryogenic blast, don't ask me how. Stiletto, being merely a white boy, folded up like cheap cardboard when Cage finally managed to smack him one, and later returned in company with his equally whacked out brother, Discus. Notable as perhaps the first modern Aryan Nation sort in comics, and mostly included as a 'freak' here because of his awful hair style and truly weird leg-baring costume with a pair of trunks cut so high and tight they were practically Speedos.

Moving on to the rather later Don McGregor era, we find ourselves coming into a time period dominated by supervillains so freakish they seem like refugees from a Hunter S. Thompson hallucination. McGregor seemed to vary between two rather bizarre villain-fetishes, creating bad guys based around phallic weaponry on the one hand (Spearr and Harpoon) and using an utterly delusional fish motif on the other (Piranha Jones, Tobias Whale, and the hideous Mr. Fish).

Come to think of it, Mr. Fish might have been a Bill Mantlo character.

As to the Black Panther, there are two T'Challa villains that stand out in my mind as being particularly worthy of freak status. One can best be summed up (and dismissed) by quoting a recent bit of Chris Priest dialogue put in the mouth of the Panther's ex-squeeze Monica something or other, who said "I was even kidnapped by someone named Man-Ape. First name Man... second name, Ape." I really think that says it all. The second, however, requires more detail:

Klaw, The Master of Sound -

Originally a Caucasian (I think maybe South African) mercenary plundering Wakanda (despite the fact that Wakanda's location is supposed to be secret) with a lot of armed troops to exploit the sacred Vibranium Mound, he had this device that allowed him to create objects made out of 'solid sound'. Now, that's stupid enough, but nooooo, Stan and Jack couldn't leave it there. Instead, they allowed Klaw to create not only objects made out of 'solid sound' (whatever the hell that might be), but actual animals... elephants and gorillas and such like... made out of 'solid sound', which were rampaging around Wakanda trampling on patches of sacred heart shaped herbs and sacred heart shaped huts and I don't know what all.

Eventually, the Panther gave Klaw an ass-whuppin', which was fine, but then Klaw was so distraught that he leapt into his sonic chamber and got himself recreated as (you got it) solid sound himself. After that, he had no nose. (How did he smell? Terrible! Sorry, some things you just have to type.) In addition to having no nose, he apparently felt no obligation to continue to conform to normal physical laws, and since then, he's demonstrated an ability to do pretty much anything a lazy plotter wants him to do, at any particular time that's considered desirable. He's also been clobbered by virtually every single superhero in comics at one time or another, including Daredevil. Once, he teamed up with Solarr, one of Steve Englehart's weaker villainous creations during his time on CAPTAIN AMERICA, for reasons no one will ever manage to fully grasp, and between the two of them they came up with the brilliant plan of getting the Black Panther by attacking Avengers Mansion. (That's just what I'D do.)

It's worth noting at this point that this completely deranged and utterly sense-free notion of 'solid sound objects' continues to be an ongoing legacy at Marvel through the normally more sensible offices of Kurt Busiek, who has given similar 'solid sound' powers to his apparently favorite character in the whole wide world, Songbird, who is due, any time now (according to future continuity established in AVENGERS FOREVER) to shoehorn her way into the Avengers. I don't mind Songbird as a character so much (although it's instrumental to remember that she was originally a villain called Screaming Mimi who appeared in a truly rotten Macchio & Gruenwald baddie group called the Girl Grapplers, and I am not either kidding!) but these solid sound powers have simply got to be stopped, and then expunged, from Marvel continuity. It's just embarrassing.

T'Challa has fought some other freakish folks over the years, especially those hanging out in Killmongor's Krew, like Venomm and Baron Macabre, both of whom are damn ugly. But both those characters are fairly standard super-villain thug types, so I'm not giving them much of a write up.

However, no discussion of freakish super-villains, much less really bad ones, would be complete without mention of:

M.O.D.O.K. -

The Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing would have qualified as a freak simply on that name alone, even if he were in fact physically identical to Richard Gere. However, given that he was basically a 20' x 12' talking head with a tiny little body that floated around in a rocket chair ranting at AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) goons who, for some utterly deranged reason, had invented him in the first place (I believe to kill Iron Man, but honestly, I couldn't really tell you), well... he not only gets on the Marvel Freaks list, he practically blasts his way screaming into the Top Ten Of All Time with very little effort on his part at all.

Various writers keep killing MODOK off and various other writers, all of whom must have some sort of serious emotional problems, just as regularly resurrect him. I think that, like SHIELD, the acronym that is MODOK's name has been re-defined in the modern day to (one would HOPE) make it less mind-shreddingly stupid, but if so I have no idea what it has become. Aside from college in-jokes about having Iron Fist use his iron fist to hit MODOK right in one of his eyes, thus necessitating him wearing an eyepatch and, in a fit of madness, changing his name to ODOK and the name of AIM to ASGARD (it just gets even weirder from there), there's little of interest about this character, but he is definitely one of the premiere freaks of the Silver Age.

MODOK also fought the Hulk fairly often (he's sensible that way), and in one of those excursions into utter irration, when scripted by Steve Englehart of all people, he turned Betty Ross briefly into a big green bird woman named the Harpy who fired nuclear hell-bolts out of her fingers. I know, I know, there's only so much any sane person can take before they just start gibbering, but I don't think you've quite reached that threshold yet, so let's move on to -

Egghead - one of the major reasons Hank Pym may never really have gotten the respect that he so richly deserved was that, where Spider-Man has the Green Goblin for an arch villain, and the FF have Doc Doom, and Cap has the Red Skull, Hank has this yutz. Egghead did, indeed, have a head that looked much like a big fleshy egg. In addition, he wore little round glasses and was a super-villainous scientist sort who was probably as annoyed at having Ant-Man as his arch foe as Pym was being stuck with him. Freakish mostly for his appearance, although he also seems to be one of the few super-villains who, after managing to come back from certain death the usual number of times, finally died and stayed dead in a long ago issue of AVENGERS, when Hawkeye fired an arrow into the barrel of his ray-gun as he was about to kill Hank Pym with it.

On the subject of super-villains, many of them at both DC and Marvel are ugly or deformed enough to qualify, by most sane standards, as freaks. Certainly, given that I've written up Egghead, for God's sake, you'd think I wouldn't hesitate to give at least brief paragraphs to the likes of the Leader, the Abomination, the Rhino, the Man-Bull, the Cobalt Man, and, over at DC, various truly bizarre sorts like Two-Face, the Joker, the Key, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Prankster, the Toyman, and, for God's sake, Starro the Conqueror.

But to me, while they're freaky, they're just not freaky enough. Oh, sure, I could have fun talking about how the JLA defeated a giant starfish from space by spreading lime on it, but in the context of DC's early Silver Age, when Superman often was 300' tall or had the head of a rat from one issue to the next, a giant starfish from space just doesn't seem that weird. Similarly, in the context of Marvel's Silver Age, you've really got to be someone like the Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing, or the only supervillain known to man to actually die and stay dead (so far), to really be noteworthy (assuming you're not a Silver Age Daredevil villain, I mean).

So, while I'll probably think of some other freakish supervillains worthy of note here before I finish this thing, if I ever do, for now I'll move back into the range of at least putative heroes, to talk about --

The Inhumans -

These guys are pretty much the definition of freaks. Although there is, in fact, a whole race of Inhumans, many of which look a great deal like any random segment of the population at Tampa's annual Gasparilla Night Parade, only these guys aren't wearing costumes and they look like that all the time, we tend to refer to only the Royal Family of The Inhumans when we use the trademarked phrase like that. Said Royal Family is composed of:

Black Bolt - handsome and considered extraordinarily wise, mostly because he can't talk, Black Bolt is the regal and kingly natural leader of the Inhumans. He flies, he's really, really strong, and he has a tuning fork sticking out if his forehead that allows him to harness 'ionic energy' or some such stupidity and focus it into massive power bolts he hurls from his eyebrows. And while he can actually talk perfectly well, he doesn't dare, because the merest whisper from his sculpted, pretty-boy lips will shatter cities like so much cheap carnival glass and send continental shelves careening wildly in their magma beds like vast, Cyclopean go-carts. One sincerely hopes he doesn't talk in his sleep, or have a tendency to yell his wife's name while she's giving him head.

It may be worth noting that when they were first introduced to us, the Inhuman Royal Family was this weird group of bizarros skulking around in a New York City slum, whom the FF became embroiled with after Johnny Storm ran into this hot redhead on a city street and she turned out to be one of them. It was later explained that they were in hiding, on the run from someone called The Seeker (who turned out to be a total lame-o when he finally showed up) who was hunting them for mysterious reasons... that were also later explained as being no less than that these guys were a royal family in exile from their hidden city, because the throne had been usurped by Black Bolt's evil half brother Maximus the Mad, and if Maximus could ever track them down, he'd just kill them.

I say it may be worth noting this because, when Maximus finally did track them down, have them captured, and brought helplessly before him, Black Bolt broke his bonds and slapped Maximus around a little bit, took the big stupid crown off his head, and that was the end of the threat of Maximus the Mad. Honestly, it seemed very anti-climactic, and made you wonder what the hell the Royal Family had been running away from the whole time.

Medusa - Black Bolt's wife and cousin (this is only weird by human standards; the Inhumans know a great deal more about genetics than we do and anyway, a two headed kid would fit right in there) Medusa was originally introduced to the Marvel Universe as Madame Medusa, a member of the Frightful Four who really seemed rather mean and nasty at the time, but later became nice, for reasons that passeth understanding. Medusa can control her hair, to the point where she can wrap it around people or objects and pick them up and break them or hurl them into walls with great force or what have you. She was, for a while, Sue Storm's replacement in the FF and probably she and the Human Torch got it on at least a couple of times, although if they did it was all off panel.

Karnak - really dopey character with an overlarge head, spindly body, and the 'Inhuman' power to sense the weak points of any object or entity and then DESTROY THEM!!! with a single deftly placed karate chop. No, really. Where the hell this guy was when Galactus was setting up his cocktail mixers at the top of the Baxter Building I don't know. You'd really think someone would just shoot this guy in the head and spare writers the necessity of having to explain this really badly conceived 'power' over and over again, but noooooooo.

Gorgon - has hooves and horns and generally looks like a faun on steroids. Strong, tough, and fast, and when he stomps his feet, he makes earthquakes. Now that's a power I want; opening faultlines and fissures in the ground I'm standing on. Yay.

Triton - fish-man. When he first showed up, he looked rather fishier than in later appearances, as he had, in addition to green scales, this big eel-like fin-ridge running down his head and back, and hands and feet which looked a lot like flippers. Kirby eliminated those features the next time Triton appeared, making him look like little more than a scaly green weightlifter. Fairly early on, Triton had to live in a tank, but Reed Richards was nice enough to design a suit for him that kept him irrigated enough so he could walk around in the air like a real boy. Triton later paid Reed back by rescuing him from the Exploding Area of the Negative Zone, which was nice of him.

Crystal - like Marilyn of the Munsters, Crystal is only freakish looking by the frankly deranged standards of her nutball people. In point of fact, she's a major, major babe; without a doubt one of the all time hottest fictional creations of a sub-genre noted for its utterly hot chickie poos. However, Crystal attains somewhat freakish stature on her own by being the first superheroine ever to commit adultery, and not only that, but with a real estate salesmen who looked enormously like Rich Howell, as well. (This was the final straw that drove her husband Quicksilver crazy and evil for a while... not just that she'd slept around on him, but done it with such a frickin' dweeb.) Once introduced as a slut, writers seemed happy to continue Crystal in that characterization (lord knows I liked it) and she then proceeded to do her level best to wreck Johnny Storm's marriage to a Skrull pretending to be Alicia Masters (don't ask), after which she messed around for a while with the otherwise entirely boring Black Knight during the Bob Harras run on AVENGERS. Currently, I believe she's back to trying to make her marriage with Quicksilver work, although as Quickie is back in AVENGERS and she's nowhere around, maybe they've finally given up on it. Wouldn't THAT be a relief. Where do I apply to be the Elemental Inhuman's rebound relationship?

Lockjaw - Crystal's dog. John Byrne tried to tell us for a while that Lockjaw was actually a real Inhuman, just one that looked like a dog, but those of us who had seen Crystal hanging all over the big mutt in the past, and watched him licking various members of the FF and their hangers on with a tongue the size of a bath towel, simply found this too disturbing for words, and Peter David later (wisely) told us that this 'revelation' had simply been a practical joke being played on the Thing by Karnak and Gorgon. As far as I know, that's still official - that Lockjaw is really a dog, just, you know, an Inhuman (Incanine?) dog, who is roughly the size of a cottage and has the ability to teleport. If Joe Quesada has decided to go back to the Byrne version, it's simply another reason someone should defenestrate him as soon as possible.

Moving on from Kirby's whackiest Marvel creation other than Devil Dinosaur, we come to:

Iron Fist - Strangely, Marvel's only solidly Caucasian offering in their gauntlet of kung fu exploitation titles, Danny Rand, Last Son of lost K'un'L'un, (okay, he wasn't, but it sounds good) actually broke quite a lot of rules. For one thing, he's breaking the primary guideline of this piece, in that he not only had his own title for quite a while (I believe his last issue was #15), but he later shared space with Luke Cage in a renamed POWER MAN & IRON FIST title (renamed on the cover, not in the indicia, where it would have cost money) for over forty issues.

Nonetheless, no listing of really freaky Silver Age comic book characters would be complete without Iron Fist, in my opinion. For one thing, he had his own trademark sound effect - SH-KOW! - and how many characters can say that? (Mar-Vell and Rick Jones had K-TANG! Nightcrawler has BAMF! Wolverine has SNIKT! I can't think of any others, unless you want to credit the TV Robin with any ridiculous phrase starting with "Holy".)

What made IF so freaky was a conglomeration of stuff. First, while Marvel had quite a few kung fu heroes running around, Dapper Danny Rand was the only one who really qualified as a classic superhero. He wore a costume, with a mask. He had an actual super power, and a secret identity (kind of, he didn't work too hard at it). He had a cool sounding superhero name. He beat up on actual (if somewhat stupid) supervillains. He teamed up with Iron Man and Captain America, fer chrissake. I grant you, he didn't actually realize he was a superhero until a particularly annoying supporting character asked him if he was one and he had an epiphany... but he was one, which was a lot more than you could say for Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, or any of the Sons of the Tiger.

Danny's origin was also weird, for both the adventure and superhero genres. Son of a millionaire industrialist, infant Danny was on a Himalayan vacation with his mom and pop when his father's best friend and business partner, the eeeeeevil Ward Meacham, kicked Danny's dad right the hell off the mountain they were all climbing (or something equally weird) and sicced a wolfpack on Danny and his mom, who were, at the time, running like mad bastards for this mystical bridge thingie leading to the extradimensional city of K'un-L'un, which only phases into contact with our Earth once every twenty years, or something like that.

Danny's mom, you see, was a long lost princess of K'un-L'un who had somehow met Danny's dad (maybe on AOL, I don't know) and married him, and they were bringing Danny up into the mountains so he could meet the magical royal whackjobs on his mom's side of the family, who hung out in another dimension and studied kung fu and talked to dragons and like that.

So Danny's mom sacrificed herself to the wolfpack in order to let Danny survive, and he was adopted by his K'un-L'unian uncle and taught the ways of the Force... er... the mystic martial arts of K'un-L'un... and when he was a teenager with a shaved head, he went off and did this ritual thing that apparently, K'un-L'un used as a covert way of keeping their rebellious youth in hand, as it involved attempting to subdue a sentient, magically powered dragon with his bare hands and stealing its mystic powers for himself. Danny became the first person in like the entire history of the universe to do this, thus gaining the power of the Iron Fist, and sometime later, he crossed the newly reappeared mystic bridge and went back to Earth to seek vengeance on his parents' killer.

See, even for a superhero, that's WEIRD.

It later turned out that in fact, Danny's K'un-L'unian uncle, whose name I forget, but who was this big sorcerer-priest guy who ran around in an outfit that looked kind of like a green Ku Klux Klan robe and hood with oriental trim, had conspired with Ward Meacham to kill off Danny's parents, because he didn't want them coming back to K'un-L'un, either. What a rat, eh? And then there was some other guy, who had trained all his life to go beat up on the dragon and steal the power of the Iron Fist, but Danny got in there first, so he was pissed off, and he followed Danny back to New York City and kicked him around a little, too.

Along the way, Iron Fist met a lot of really bad Chris Claremont characters, like Jeryn Hogarth, a vastly rich lawyer who only hired amazingly competent, amazingly beautiful women (the post Crisis Lex Luthor seems to have borrowed this motif, which isn't surprising, since John Byrne drew IRON FIST for much of its run), Colleen Wing, who was this half Asian redheaded chickie poo who thought she was a samurai despite the fact that there haven't actually been any for at least several centuries, Misty Knight, a black former street cop with a bionic arm and a really big gun and a letch for white meat (in fact, for veal, given that Danny was probably 17 when they started doing the wild thing), Chaka, who despite his African name was the kung fu'ed up leader of an Asian street gang who all dressed like they were in the movie THE WARRIORS, Alan somebody or other, who was this redheaded Irish guy who used to be a bomber for the IRA but reformed, Rafe somebody or other, who was the local police lieutenant that Iron Fist hung out with when he needed to talk to local police lieutenants, and, I don't know who all else.

Oh, wait, Sabretooth was in there, too, and the issue he debuted in (#8) is like the only pricey IRON FIST issue ever. Iron Fist also fought established, really bad Marvel villains like Angar the Screamer, Boomerang and the Wrecking Crew, and some all original hoseheads like Scimitar and (my personal favorite) Halwani bruiser Kumbala Bey.

Iron Fist's inter-racial romance with Misty Knight was, as far as I know, a first in comic books, and despite the fact that both plots and scripts by Chris Claremont are really kind of painful to try to re-read these days, the art by John Byrne is beautiful stuff and the series and character both had an eccentric, unique, and goofy charm.

Alas, it seems to have been a charm that was specific to a certain era, as these days, even former PM/IF writer Kurt Busiek gets rather snotty when someone suggests maybe Danny would make a good Avenger. (Snottiness over ANYone being an Avenger, from the guy who brought back D-Man, recently jammed the Jack of Hearts into the team, and is planning on bringing in Songbird fairly soon, strikes me as being really off base, but everyone has their favorites.)

Various writers, including that guy who did BOOSTER GOLD and who is currently writing THOR - Dan Jurgens, that's it - and John Ostrander - have tried to revive IRON FIST in the last decade or so, with no great luck. Danny was also considered dead for quite a while, but he got better. I believe right now he's running a Heroes For Hire super-detective firm, but since he doesn't appear regularly in any comics, he's kind of fallen through the cracks.

There is, I suppose, some doubt as to whether Iron Fist is even a legitimate Silver Age character (by my weird definition of when the Silver Age ended) since I can't recall right now if he actually appeared before the New X-Men did. I'm pretty sure he did, though. Even if he didn't, he still qualifies for this article, because I say so, and that's good enough.

It's worth noting that, years and years and years after Iron Fist's first cancellation, DC did a brief revival of an obscure Charleton character named Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, and I found out for the first time that apparently, Iron Fist had been 'inspired' by this character all along, as the conceptual similarities between them are really too vast to be coincidental. However, PC Tbolt has a spectacularly shitty costume and honestly seems to be sort of a wank, and anyway, he later changed his name, became really really rich, and blew up New York City in WATCHMEN, so I like Iron Fist better.

I suppose I should mention that Iron Fist's power was, as you might expect, the ability to 'summon his chi, to channel his internal power down his arm into his fist, until that fist became like unto a thing of iron'... in other words, he could make his fist glow with a powerful, apparently unstable energy that went off like a bomb when he punched someone with it.

The energy was apparently mystical and caused no backlash to Danny himself, nor did their seem to be an leakage of energy into anything but sound and light. Danny seemed to have a finite reservoir of mystic energy to draw on and couldn't use the Iron Fist too often, and it's power, while vast, wasn't infinite, as could be seen by the fact that seriously tough characters like Power Man, and Thunderball of the Wrecking Crew, took point blank hits from it without being more than shaken up for a second. (Both were blown dozens, if not hundreds, of feet away by the impact, but neither was actually harmed.) Some fans with more juvenile senses of humor used to speculate on whether Danny could only focus his chi into his fist, or if, in fact, he could make other portions of his anatomy 'like unto a thing of iron'... which was, I grant you, small minded of us.

Under Claremont, the mystical energy Danny drew on to create the Iron Fist (which, remember, he had originally hijacked from a dragon) had other, largely undefined, applications as well... for example, Danny used it to create a mind meld at one point between himself and a brainwashed Colleen Wing, to keep her from killing him, by somehow melding his essence with hers, in such a way as to make them both intimately aware of every tiniest detail about each other's lives and personalities.

(For some reason, this did indeed make Colleen stop wanting to kill him. I myself, suddenly faced with an onslaught of alien experiences, much of which one assumes would have to do with eating K'un-L'unian burritos, lighting the resultant farts, and whacking off while looking at shaven headed models in K'un-L'unian underwear ads, would probably have simply killed Iron Fist faster. But that's just me.)

However, Mary Jo Duffy never did much of anything towards exploring any of the Iron Fist's mystic potential, and Kurt Busiek actually sneered at the whole idea, stating that an entry in Marvel Universe that referred to these largely undefined powers was 'a lot of horseshit I'm going to completely fucking ignore'; an example and creative policy that has been adhered to by everyone who has handled Iron Fist since.

Hank Pym -

I love Hank Pym, but let's face it, the man is a freak. Even if you disregard a great deal of his more excessive dialogue as being, in the wonderful phrase of Mike Norton, 'bad reporting', you're still left with a guy who devoted a large part of his early scientific career to learning how to communicate with ants, and shrink objects (including living human beings) down to 'ant size'.

As I say, application of logic and reason tends to indicate that when Roy Thomas has Hank start babbling about how he's 'heard the death scream of an ant, mister' and 'that's a sound [he] never want to hear again!', it's Roy being self indulgent... mostly because Hank's primary fighting style for much of his career has involved siccing entire colonies of ants on various bad guys, and I'd imagine if the death scream of a single ant really traumatized him that much, he'd simply be catatonic the first time he heard the dying shrieks of several thousand of them as the Porcupine activated his pneumatic anti-insect jet streams, or some damn thing, thus committing sudden ant-genocide, at least, within a five or ten foot radius of his brownish-yellow haystack-like ass. Ants dying by the millions would be something I'd expect to be a normal accompaniment to deploying insect forces against, say, the Whirlwind, as well.

Therefore, I'm going to continue to assume that Hank is nowhere near as frickin' goofy as he is often portrayed by excessively wasted-seeming and pedantically 'hip' writers like Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich.

Nonetheless, Hank Pym is still a guy who changes sizes, talks to ants and bees, smacks his wife around, and builds evil robots as a hobby, when he's not busy doing anything else. Even more freakish is the fact that he used to grow and shrink using gas that he released from his belt, which always made me wonder why everybody and everything else in his immediate surroundings didn't also grown and shrink along with him. Alas, that no one ever thought to do a story about a 'shrink gas leakage' in the Avengers' early years.

However much a true Pym fan tends to hate it (and I do) nonetheless, it must also be grudgingly admitted that Hank has had a rough life, and at various times during it, has been one of the premier whackadoodles of the four color set. After his first psychotic break with reality he turned into the schizoid Yellowjacket, and rather later, under Ultron's influence, he lost his mind briefly and attacked a small group of latter day Avengers as Ant-Man, under the delusion that they were interlopers in Avenger's Mansion.

His darkest hour, where he completely lost all sense of himself and actually struck his wife, while immersed in a truly brainless scheme to make himself look good in front of the Avengers by having them be attacked by a robot he'd built himself that only he would know the secret method of destroying, has been well detailed in other areas, including my own previous articles.

Hank's recovery and road to redemption has been a rocky one, but at long last, he seems to have finally emerged as a somewhat whole and emotionally healthy individual, in current issues of AVENGERS under Kurt Busiek. However, even in his new apparent wellness, he's still a guy who can change his size, talk to bugs, pull a quinjet out of his sock, and cobble together a self aware computer program or vacuum cleaner with ten spare minutes and an old set of socket wrenches, so under no circumstances should anyone ever mistake Hank Pym for anything remotely like normal.

The Scarlet Witch -

There are just SO many reasons why the Scarlet Witch is a freaky character that it's hard to know where to begin. One of the rare characters in comics that has a very well known family (her brother is the super speedster Quicksilver, and her father is Magneto), she's also... well, no matter how you look at her, she's just 'One Of The Very Rare Characters In Comics Who'.

She's been married (to an android), had kids (by the android), had those kids vanish into nonexistence (don't ask), been taught magic by a real, magic wielding witch who is apparently a member of a race of genetically altered magic using witches (again, don't ask), has a natural power that, for the most part, defies description, is a reformed villain (who has, occasionally, lost her temper for a while and reverted to villainy again, for short periods) and... well, geez. She's got two different sets of foster parents, one of whom are wandering gypsy peddlers, the other of whom are patriotic WWII superheroes from the Golden Age. She has a foster brother who is literally a gigantic radioactive moron. She is, supposedly (although I don't believe it) the Nexus Being For Our Cosmos, whatever the fugg THAT means. And she's currently dating (or has just broken up with) her former brother in law... sort of.

That's... that's all just WEIRD.

Wanda has kinda been at her freakiest under John Byrne, during a period when apparently we were supposed to accept that not only did the newly rebuilt Vision have no nads, but in fact, he'd never had any... a conclusion Byrne more or less made inescapable simply by not having Wanda comment on the fact that clearly, he DIDN'T have any, now that he was back and running around with no underwear on in public. Since then, however, it's been more or less established, without actually saying it overtly, that the Vision did, actually, used to have a dick, so Wanda isn't quite as freaky as Byrne clearly wanted her to be.

All of which is a relief, since, had it still been accepted in the Marvel Universe that the Vision had never had either spear nor magic helmet, this would have made Wanda not only a freaky character, but a dangerously disturbed one as well, as it would have pretty much transformed her into a woman who resolutely rejected the affections and advances of every man who ever came onto her, until she finally met one she would, demonstrably, never have to do the nasty with. The ramifications and consequences to her characterization of finally giving birth parthenogenetically to children by a husband who had never actually penetrated her would frankly be way too freaky for me to want to contemplate, and I'm just as happy that I don't have to.

Despite never having evinced the slightest talent or inclination for leadership at any point in her long and colorful career in the past, Wanda has recently taken her apparently inevitable turn as Big Dominant Liberated Chickie by assuming the post of Avengers Deputy Leader.

This really can't be seen as consistent with her long established characterization, and is one of the few outright lapses in that area that I think Busiek has made on the book, but, on the other hand, it is apparently important in mainstream comics that we continually demonstrate that absolutely every single superhuman girl is just as darned good as any goddam lousy man, thank you very much, and doubtless, we can look forward in the future to seeing Firebird, Songbird, Warbird, (hey, that's a whole lotta birds), and perhaps even a newly resurrected Mockingbird take their turns as Heap Big She Boss of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes. God forbid there should ever be a superheroine who DOESN'T want to be all alpha male-ish; they'd have to drum her out of the union.

Carol Danvers -

Without a doubt one of the weirder female characters in comics, if only for her own convoluted history, and the fact that no one, even her current writer, Kurt Busiek, seems to have a coherent grasp on her superhero origin and the nature of her powers. However, that's never stopped me, so I'll do my best to figure her out:

Carol originally showed up as a supporting character, and apparent potential love interest, in early issues of CAPTAIN MARVEL (waaaaaay back when Cap was still wearing the goofy green and white Kree military uniform with the fin on the helmet and the belt-rockets). She was, I believe, a security officer for the Air Force base that Cap hung around at a lot back then (why, I couldn't tell you). Early CAPTAIN MARVEL continuity is a blind spot for me, since I've read maybe one issue from that era and don't remember it well, but I don't think much of note was ever done with the character.

Carol resurfaced from obscurity when someone... Gerry Conway, I think... plucked her out of Marvel's back story to be turned into Ms. Marvel, a truly badly conceived attempt on the part of Marvel Comics in the late 1970s to capitalize on trendy feminism and make up for years of depicting all superheroines as weepy, quick to faint, and mostly useful for make out scenes and being taken hostage by Dr. Doom. Ms. Marvel's origin has been ret-conned a few times and, as I noted, even Kurt Busiek, in private email, admits that it's 'unclear', to say the least, but basically, she seems to have somehow, after being exposed to a Kree military device called 'the Psyche-Magnitron', gained both Kree DNA, and superhuman powers. (The relationship between the two is vague at best, since Kree do not seem to have any natural, biological powers that are outside of normal human parameters, and Ms. Marvel did, and Carol still does.)

These powers as demonstrated by Danvers in her early issues included flight, superhuman strength, and a 'seventh sense' ability to get weird visions at unpredictable intervals, as well as sense danger. (Her super strength seemed to increase over the course of her own title, from a point where she was barely able to subdue the Scorpion early on to a capacity to pick up and throw tanks later on. Naturally, this increase in power happened immediately upon Chris Claremont taking over the book. What a coincidence, eh?)

Donning a feminized version of Captain Mar Vell's more familiar blue and red costume, she fought a whole bunch of losers (the only one of which I can remember right now being the Scorpion), got a much better costume design by Dave Cockrum later in her run, and was, mercifully, cancelled a few issues later. (It may be worth noting at this point that although Ms. Marvel was stridently, even obnoxiously liberated, this did not keep her from wearing a typically tight and skimpy superheroine costume, both at first and later on after she got her new one. In fact, the second, Cockrum designed costume showed even more skin than the first one, being essentially a one piece blue swimsuit with a yellow lightning bolt on the chest and a red sash around the waist, and over the years since, that costume has been continually, if subtly, modified, to the point where it shows a whole lot of the sides of her -- apparently bare, underneath the tunic -- breasts on each side, and most of her asscheeks. As an ex girlfriend of mine once commented, 'I know strippers who wouldn't wear an outfit like that out on stage, even knowing they were gonna take it off in the next two minutes'.)

Ms. Marvel had, prior to her comic being cancelled, spent some time guest starring in a few Jim Shooter AVENGERS issues (contrary to everyone's belief, she never officially joined the team) and this set the stage for the next development in her character, where David Michelinie rather unwisely, in a truly, wretchedly written AVENGERS ANNUAL, had Carol become pregnant and give birth over the course of a day to a baby who then grew up to physical maturity within a few hours and revealed that his name was Marcus, and he was, sort of, his own father, in that... um... geez... this is really awful and convoluted, but unfortunately, Kurt Busiek seems to be using it in his current Kang storyline in AVENGERS, so I guess I've got to go into it... somehow, he and Carol had had a romantic relationship in Limbo previous to this, which Carol had mostly forgotten about since returning to the real world, so he had used this deeply weird method to bring himself into the real world, so he could remind Carol of their love and bring her back with him into Limbo.

This... disturbing and frankly disgusting... story ended with Carol 'following her heart' and, despite the fact that Marcus had mentioned (probably in a low voice and rather hurriedly, but still) that he had used 'emotional adjustment' machinery to make Carol love him originally, accompanying Marcus back to Limbo. Exactly what medication Michelinie had forgotten to take for the last several weeks prior to plotting and scripting this godawful thing I couldn't tell you, but it's worth noting that this Annual has gone down on several fans' lists as one of the Worst Marvel Stories Of All Time, and it's not hard to see why.

Granting that Carol was most likely still under the influence of Marcus' 'emotional adjustment machinery', the only conclusion we're left to draw from the Avengers' actually hearing him admit to using such devices, and then still allowing an obviously mind controlled Carol to stroll off into the sunset with this guy (whom, let us recall, had also demonstrably just put Carol through a monstrously invasive and undoubtedly health/life threatening artificially accelerated pregnancy) was that they were all being mind controlled, too. (Which, come to think of it, would explain a lot of Michelinie's truly lousy dialogue.)

After this, Carol vanished for a while, until a year (or maybe a few years) later, when Chris Claremont somehow managed to inveigle permission to write an AVENGERS ANNUAL (normally, Marvel's editors were sensible enough to confine Claremont's creative damage to the X-books, or obscure stuff no one read anyway like SPIDER-WOMAN, but not this time) and in the course of getting Michael Golden to draw as many good looking women in tight costumes holding hands, hugging, and kissing as possible while the plot unfolded, depicted a tale in which Ms. Marvel returned from limbo righteously pissed off because the Avengers had allowed Marcus, who had confessed in their hearing to, basically, raping her, to take her off to Limbo (when, obviously, she was being mind controlled) and rape her all over again.

The Avengers were spared having to reply to this remarkably reasonable outrage (Chris gets it right sometimes, just not often, and he never writes it well even when he does) because right then, for no sane reason anyone will ever understand, Mystique and her idiotic Brotherhood of Incompetent Mutants attacked Avengers Mansion and got beat up real bad.

However, in the course of THAT, Rogue (in her debut appearance, looking MUCH older than the age Claremont later hastily decided she really should be in X-MEN, and behaving in a FAR nastier fashion than would become typical for her once Claremont later decided on how he really wanted the character to be) grabbed Carol and sucked all her powers out of her, apparently going overboard to the extent that not only did she get Carols powers, she got them at a highly magnified level (Rogue is MUCH stronger than Ms. Marvel had ever been) and also got Carol's memories, too.

After this, somehow or other, Carol became Binary, a hugely powerful character with, basically, 'star powers', who joined the Starjammers for a while. It was all awful and comics fans with functional brain cells just sort of shudder when it comes up and change the subject. Eventually she came back to Earth and her Binary powers seemed to fade over time, something she concealed from the Avengers when she rejoined them originally (at the start of Kurt Busiek's run) and which got her into trouble with Captain America, eventually leading to her quitting before she could be suspended.

Busiek also made the questionable move of retroactively making Carol an alcoholic, something I myself can remember absolutely no evidence of in the character's long prior existence in the Marvel Universe, but maybe I missed it. Assuming Busiek made it up out of whole cloth, he most likely did so to give the character some much needed depth and to generate an interesting arc for her to follow, but to me, it always seemed much too obviously spontaneous and opportunistic to be believable, or even really acceptable, since the storyline was mostly played out in Busiek's run on IRON MAN, and that was a title in which 'alcoholic superhero' plots weren't exactly innovative.

Nonetheless, as things stand now, Carol is and always has been an alcoholic, although she seems to be recovering nicely. (Perhaps I should point out here that, to the best of my knowledge, although Rogue absorbed Danvers' memories and for at least one issue of X-MEN, wigged out and behaved as if she were Carol Danvers when the memories drove her temporarily crazy, she never showed the slightest symptoms of alcoholism. But such are the perils of ret-conning a long established character.)

In terms of her superpowers, the episode with Rogue seems to more or less permanently have drained Carol of her original, 'Ms. Marvel' superpowers, wherever the hell they came from, although she still has her Kree DNA, as has been established in an early AVENGERS story by Busiek. She now seems to be operating on her Binary powers, at a considerably reduced level which more or less simulates her original Ms. Marvel power array, with the addition that she can still manipulate any electromagnetic energy that she comes into contact with, converting it into other forms of energy and firing it as blasts, or what have you.

Personally, I suspect that Carol's current, reduced power levels are a consequence of her spending a lengthy period on Earth, and if/when she gets back out into space again, she'll quickly find her 'natural' connection to nearby fusion sources (i.e., stars) regenerating, allowing her to manifest the vastly increased capacities she had as Binary. What amazes me is that neither Carol nor any of the supergeniuses in the Avengers seem to have figured this out yet.

While Carol's original superpowers no longer seem of pragmatic importance to the character, it's interesting to try to work out exactly what they were and where they came from. For a long period, I myself assumed that Carol had no actual super powers at all, but that the Kree DNA she had somehow gained in her funky origin had given her the ability to use nega-bands with the same facility shown by Mar Vell, and thus, she got her 'powers' from the same source he did.

Given that her powers seemed identical with Mar Vell's, this seemed a fairly safe assumption (although it didn't take into account the imperfect duplication of Mar Vell's 'cosmic awareness' in Carol's own unpredictable 'seventh sense', but hardly anything is perfect). However, in recent email discussions with Kurt Busiek (note: any reference to email with Busiek should always be assumed to have taken place under a pseudonym, since Kurt detests me and won't respond to my email if I write him from an account he knows is mine) about the character, he assures me she never had nega-bands. As all my Silver Age comics are in storage up north, I can't pull my few old issues of MS. MARVEL or the Shooter AVENGERS she showed up in and check this. My memory says he's wrong (or, at the very least, she was wearing SOMETHING on her wrists that LOOKED like nega-bands in her first appearances) but until I can actually check for myself, I'll trust that the current AVENGERS scribe is correct in this.

If in fact Carol never had nega bands, then we're thrown back on the fairly weird situation that a character who was clearly based on and derived from a male character (and, strangely, not a very popular one, unlike other male models for female spin offs, like the Hulk and Spider-Man), and who had super powers that seemed similar to those of her prototype, nonetheless, and regardless of appearances, actually had entirely different super powers. If we take the nega-bands out of the mix, then we're left with, basically, an incident with an alien power source that, after long delay, manifested changes in a normal Earth human, giving her superhuman powers, and, strangely, alien DNA which seems to have had nothing to do with those superpowers.

Busiek has suggested that Carol may have admired Captain Mar Vell and wanted to be more like him and the Psyche Magnitron basically granted that wish. Since Carol didn't know that Mar Vell actually had no powers, and harnessed energy through the nega bands to fly and boost his strength, her subconscious fueled this wish in such a way as to awaken similar 'natural' super powers of flight and superstrength in herself. Her 'seventh sense' (which since seems to have vanished, probably when Rogue drained her, although Rogue has rarely shown any psychic capacity either), rather than being an imperfect copy of Mar Vell's 'cosmic awareness' (which I doubt Carol knew about, even if he had it at the time of the Psyche Magnitron incident, which I'm not sure of), could simply be a strange side effect of her empowerment, given that her superpowers, like those of most superhumans, were most likely psionic in nature.

Again, with those 'original' powers long since drained away from Carol, apparently permanently, all of this means little. It means rather more to anyone who has to write Rogue, but Rogue isn't a Silver Age character, and has been largely created and mishandled over her existence by one of the worst writers in comics, so honestly, I don't care, except when I have to explain her to some acquaintance who has only seen the X-MEN movie and wants to know why they put such a useless character into the film team.

Still, I would like to take a look at some early MS. MARVEL issues and see if she's wearing nega-bands...

Mantis -

Mantis has shown up so much, in so many different comic book universes (all written by Steve Englehart) that she's practically Elrician. She was first introduced in Englehart's generally exemplary AVENGERS run, became the Celestial Madonna, married a tree, and went off to fornicate (pollinate?) throughout the heavens, leaving the Avengers behind to fight Roxxon and various other interesting things. When Steve jumped ship to DC, she showed up again, late in his interesting but generally misbegotten run on JLA, flirting it up with an eternally depressed Atom and generally being very annoying.

Later, she made appearances in Englehart's SCORPIO ROSE and COYOTE, proving that you just can't keep a good Celestial Madonna down, and still later, when Englehart returned to Marvel for a while in the 1980s, she had a fling with the Silver Surfer (Norrin Radd, Slut of the Spaceways, seems to have balled nearly every Marvel superchickie or hanger on who has ever ventured beyond the Coriolanus belt, despite the fact that he's encased in skintight silver protective foil and seems to have no genitalia at all), showed up in an Englehart FF for a truly, monumentally bad story about Kang (Englehart really had an off decade writing for Marvel in the 80s) and, oh yeah, I'm completely forgetting an utterly awful appearance she made in WEST COAST AVENGERS, too.

Mantis is now back once more, in a special miniseries Englehart is writing for Marvel, and Englehart seems to have addressed many of these previous, truly lousy stories of his, by removing them pretty much entirely from continuity. He's done this through the expedient of explaining that the Mantis' (Mantises) involved in them were some sort of etheric phantasms, which eventually faded away and, when they did, took all memories of their existences with them... thus establishing that those previous, lousy, post Silver Age stories Mantis was in now, effectively, 'never happened'. Yay. (This is the sort of thing that, had any other writer done it, I would have taken as a monstrous impertinence; but having Englehart do it to his own work seems a much needed and overdue adjustment.)

Mantis first showed up, rather shockingly, as the Swordsman's girlfriend, a Vietnamese bar girl and chippie from Saigon (what the Vietnam war movies tend to refer to as a 'numma one blowjob girl'). This was doubtless a rather startling thing for the Avengers, and any readers of the book at that time who were adult enough to realize exactly what Mantis' former job had been.

As I was probably around 12 at the time, though, I just vaguely grasped that she was some chick the Swordsman had met in a bar, and since clearly she could fight (I'd already seen her try to clean Dr. Strange's clock in a DEFENDERS issue by the time I started reading AVENGERS, it was that crossover that got me buying AVENGERS regularly; previous to that, I hadn't like the characters much, they seemed goofy to me) her presence in a superhero teams was something I just took in stride. I wasn't aware of all the back story with the Swordsman then, or I probably would have wondered exactly what the hell the Avengers were doing letting this creepy crook and his slut girlfriend into the house... but, as noted in my Vision entry (now it's own separate article!), it's always been easy for super-villains to get into the Avengers, simply by claiming they've decided to go straight and want to make up for their previous evil acts.

Anyway, Mantis was all mysterious and like that, and had cool martial arts powers, and wore this really, really strange outfit, and called herself 'this one', and all that was fine, but then, all of a sudden, she's dumping the Swordsman (can't blame her, now HE was a whiney wank if ever there was one) and making a play for the Vision (which I thought was weird, I mean, he's an android; what's up with THAT?) and generally sowing outrage and discord everywhere she went.

Along the way she did cool stuff like dive into a wall to get some magic stones back while the Avengers were fighting the Collector (it's... complicated) and throw Wong across the room and like that. And then Libra, one of the members of the Zodiac, showed up and said he was her father, and things got really freaky, because it turned out that Mantis had actually been raised by the Priests of Pama in some long lost Temple, and they trained her in all these weird martial arts, and worshipped her as a goddess, but then she wound up in Saigon with traumatic amnesia, because some Vietnamese crime lord who was Mantis' uncle showed up, slaughtered all the monks with flame throwers, blinded Libra, and... I don't know what all. It was deeply weird.

Looking back on it from this late remove, it may have had plot problems (all this came right after Englehart's big Zodiac story in AVENGERS, which was a time period when Steve tended to get a little bit knee deep in the hoopla of a superhero book and kind of overlook little things like common sense and internal logic a lot - hey, he's a GOD, but he's not PERFECT, shut up) and I might have a bit of a hard time if I went back and re-read this stuff today. But as with all Englehart stuff, the primary driver was characterization, and Mantis' characterization was always strong, three dimensional, and interesting, even if the plotting got awful wonky on occasion.

Eventually, Kang kidnapped Mantis, along with the Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness, because they were the only three women in the mansion at the time that a big star started burning in the heavens directly ABOVE the mansion, signifying that the Celestial Madonna was to be found within. (There's just so much wrong with that entire sequence of events, I'm not even going to go into it here.) See, Kang, being from the future, knew that the Celestial Madonna would one day give birth to - The One!!! - probably not the Rick Veitch character, or the guy in the new Jet Li movie, but you never know. So his plan was, kidnap the Madonna, forcibly... um... er... ah... 'marry' her... nudge nudge wink wink, say no MORE... and through their child, rule the heavens!

(This is pretty much all Kang told us about The One! - that he was the child of the Celestial Madonna, and through him, Kang planned to rule the heavens. Okay. Can't argue with that, guy. Can't understand it either, mind you.)

Naturally, the Avengers fell on him like a basket full of wet laundry (well... kind of... the Swordsman and Hawkeye did, along with a guy in a trench coat who turned out to be a future version of Kang himself, look, I told you, this is complicated) and beat him up (he'd kidnapped three women and stuck them in big glass test tubes while using the Vision, Iron Man, and Thor as power batteries in his big pink robots; obviously, he had to be stopped, even if no one could really comprehend his actual scheme), and while they did, everyone somehow psychically became aware that Mantis was really the Madonna (everyone had previously figured it was the Scarlet Witch).

The Swordsman died heroically saving her from Kang's final shot, and, many many MANY issues later, Mantis finally wound up marrying... um... a tree, whose cosmic spirit was animating the reanimated corpse of the Swordsman. (Okay. All together now: EWWWWW!!!)

Mantis then, thankfully, left Earth, but now she's back, and while the new miniseries seems pretty cool, I'll just have to wait and see where it's going.

The Swordsman -

What a goofy guy. He, like, fires ray beams from his sword. I mean, seriously! He used to be just this master swordsman, but then the Mandarin wanted him to fight Iron Man, and Swordie, not being a complete moron, said "Yeah RIGHT", so the Mandarin said "Well, I'll program all this cool stuff into your sword so you have a chance".

Now, at this point, you or I or even Mr. T might well demand to know "How the hell are you going to 'program' anything into a sword, it's, like, you dig, a SWORD, you know, metal blade, wooden pommel, like that?" But the Mandarin, like Thelma and Louise, doesn't live in that kind of world, and for that matter, neither does the Swordsman, so the Mandarin somehow built all these high tech gimmicks and ray beams into the Swordsman's sword (I don't believe it, either, but you just have to kind of learn to roll with this stuff if you're going to be a Silver Age fan), and therefore, the Swordsman managed to survive fighting Iron Man a few times (I'm not saying he ever gave Shellhead a real battle, mind you), and then he joined the Avengers. (What? What? What?) Of course, he only joined the Avengers in order to betray them (the Avengers never saw that one coming, having completely spaced on the whole Wonder Man thing), which he did, so they beat him up and he left.

And, about a kazillion years later, Roy Thomas decided to write a plot for AVENGERS #100 featuring everyone who had ever been a member of the team, which is kind of a cool idea (although even back then, there were a few losers clunking around the bottom of the roster, like Hercules, and, you know, the Swordsman) and sure enough, Swordie showed up.

By that time, Roy had already given us a back story in which it turned out that long before, Swordie and Hawkeye had been carnival hands together, and Swordie had taught Hawkeye how to use a bow and arrows ("I'm a master swordsman! So I'll teach you how to use this bow and arrows!" "Um... okay.") and although we still didn't know the Swordsman's actual name (I can't remember if we ever found out what it was), we were still fairly sure he was a rotter (in fact, under Lee and Thomas, he'd had pretty much that same, sinister 'bwa ha ha' dialogue that all their 'master villain' types, no matter how dopey, seemed to have... actually, when Hawkeye had been an IRON MAN villain, he'd had it, too).

Yet, strangely, Englehart decided to keep him around, pleading gruffly with the Avengers after that anniversary story to give him a chance to redeem himself (the Swordsman was pleading gruffly, not Steve Englehart... although I'd pay good money to see that, actually) because after years wandering the globe as an amoral and unscrupulous (and often drunk) mercenary, he really had no friends, way too many enemies, and quite sincerely, nowhere else to go. (Again, the Swordsman was wandering the globe as an amoral, unscrupulous, and often drunk mercenary, not Steve Englehart. Although, in his freelance days... ) (Only kidding, Steve. Lighten up.)

Englehart, as was not only his wont but his own particular talent, (talent? Nay, True Believer, say rather, super power) took an obscure two dimensional character with a hopelessly contrived, convoluted, and mostly nonsensical background and made him three dimensional and interesting. Never convincingly heroic, what was touching about the Swordsman was how palpably a loser he actually was, not only in his failures as a supervillain, but in his ongoing attempts to somehow remold himself into an effective superhero, and more than that, an A list superhero worthy of the Avengers. Englehart more or less wisely downplayed the various, often idiotic, technological gimmicks built into his weapon that Swordie had demonstrated in the past under Lee and Thomas, limiting him pretty much to occasional 'energy blasts' from his blade, and playing up Swordsman's brilliance with the weapon, and the various shady skills he'd picked up over a long, hard life outside the law.

Englehart also focused on the tragedy of Swordsman's love for Mantis, the Vietnamese bar girl (and Asian Mystery Woman in the best Caniff tradition, a literal Madonna/Whore combination) who had accompanied him back to the United States, and then quickly abandoned her loser of a boyfriend once she got a look at something better (in this case, the trim red android ass of the Vision). And while the Swordsman never succeeded, at least in his own eyes, in performing any really spectacular feat while in the Avengers to really prove his worth, it's worth noting that in many more subtle ways, he wound up being a key player, not only against Kang (he was the first contact between the Avengers and Rama Tut, and the seed around which the successful resistance effort to Kang came together), but even earlier, when the Avengers and Defenders were finally facing Dormammu (he used heat rays from his sword to fuse quicksand that most of the team had fallen in into solid islands, allowing the few flying heroes to continue on).

Ultimately, the Swordsman was undeniably a failure... a perpetual loser, whose greatest moment was his tragic and heroic sacrifice to save the life of the woman who had spurned him (a moment that is probably, by the way, the greatest death scene ever written and drawn in four color graphic melodrama, by Steve Englehart and Dave Cockrum). Englehart's obvious purpose in using the Swordsman as such a long term part of the mosaic he was constructing in AVENGERS was to lend an air of much needed humanity and credible, mundane reality to the team.

As the Avengers are generally composed of A list characters with their own titles, many of whom are often portrayed in a two dimensional and iconic fashion, none of them could ever really be shown to have the sort of common, human frailties, or checkered pasts full of (to put it kindly) moral and ethical lapses such as the Swordsman clearly manifested (and, to make sure we understood that THIS guy was not your average superhero, Englehart had him show up with a girlfriend who was, in no uncertain terms, a Vietnamese hooker... talk about street cred!) The Swordsman, simply by being in the book, constantly enmeshed in his own sweaty, desperate, pathetic struggles at redemption, gave the Avengers an earthy, lucid grounding in the every day, mortal world that, more than anything else, may have been the primary gift that Englehart, and in other titles, Steve Gerber, brought to Marvel in the '70s. Although the Avengers certainly fought colorful, often even ludicrous supervillains and became embroiled in cosmic, sometimes ill-plotted, storylines, the presence of the Swordsman kept things real in a way that Lee and Thomas had never managed... although, to be fair, Lee never even tried to make any of his 1960s work 'real' or 'relevant', and Thomas, unfortunately, seemed to think that the way to go about that was by having the Black Panther teach in a Harlem school and Hank Pym give his ants topical names like Crosby, Stills, & Nash.

For the sake of anal completism, I should note that Bob Harras, most likely unwisely, brought an analogue Swordsman from another dimension into the Avengers during his own run. Busiek used the character, and Mantis surrogate, Magdalene, in his own big 'every Avenger who has ever lived except Deathcry is here somewhere' three parter, and then, thankfully, sent the two of them off to explore alternate dimensions with the Squadron Supreme, or something, a few issues later. It's just as well. There can really only be one Swordsman, and like Gwen Stacy and Bucky Barnes, he should pretty much stay dead.

Thor -

Modern superhero fans have become so accustomed to the presence of Thor, Norse God of Thunder, as a member of the Marvel trademark set that I really think it's worth pointing out here just how amazingly freakish this particular superhero character is. You literally have to wonder just how drunk Stan and/or Jack were when they came up with the idea of incorporating an ancient Viking deity into their extremely young superhero universe, and just as it's sometimes illuminating to try to step back away from ourselves and attempt to experience the name 'Fantastic Four' as if we had just heard it and it was completely unfamiliar to us (at which point, we realize just how dopey and juvenile it really sounds), so too is it worth attempting to juxtapose Thor, The God of Thunder, against the backdrop of the actual Marvel Universe, to recapture a sense of just how singularly bananas this character really is.

Of course, in the beginning, Thor wasn't REALLY the Norse God of Thunder, he was Dr. Don Blake, who found an old stick in a cave that, when he smacked it really hard on the ground, turned him INTO the physical guise of Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. (Yeah. THAT makes more sense.) Stan and Jack seemed to realize fairly early on that this really lacked something in the area of sanity, so eventually they established that there never had been a Dr. Don Blake, and in fact, he was actually Thor himself, under a spell of amnesia imposed by Odin, and set to wander the Earth as a human in order to learn humility. (Turning someone into an American doctor doesn't strike me as the best way in the world to impose a lesson in modesty, especially since Dr. Blake was, like all superhero secret identities, The Best There Was At What He Did... but you can't expect Odin to keep track of all these petty little details. Besides, what should he have done, turned Thor into a crazy homeless person? Now there's a series I want to see. "Goddany change? No? Screw ya, then. Gimme my magic stick. I'll teach ya.") Eventually, Thor recovered his memory and much later, Odin phased out the Don Blake identity entirely, although it was a standard element of the series throughout the Silver Age.

Thor is one of those concepts that only ever seemed to work when Kirby was plotting and drawing it, and that just faltered and fell apart under nearly everyone else who ever took a shot at it. One notable exception is the Walt Simonson run, that briefly seemed to inject some heart and soul back into the series in the early 1980s, but in hindsight, I have to wonder how much of that simply came from the frankly amazing Simonson art, since I lost absolutely all interest in the book the instant Simonson stopped drawing it, despite the fact that he kept writing it for a year or two afterwards, and I normally like Sal Buscema's artwork fine.

As a general rule, it's hard to fault any writer for not knowing what to do with the ongoing saga of a Viking weather god wandering around New York City fighting crime, especially since Thor's connection with the Avengers pretty much requires him to stick around in that context at least part time (and besides, on the occasions Thor has spent lengthy periods of time in Asgard or other worlds having fantasy type adventures, the fans have quickly grown even more bored than normal). When the concept works at all, it seems to be fueled by the contrast between the modern technological world and the weird, mythic backdrop of Asgard... but I myself am simply not convinced it can really work, long term. Perhaps it would be best to simply cancel Thor's own comic permanently and keep him around as a fascinating regular character in AVENGERS instead.

Late breaking update: Having seen the first issue of Kurt Busiek and Steve Rude's THOR project, "Godstorm", I have to say, so far I'm really, really impressed. The art, it goes without saying, is amazing, and Busiek is doing what he seems to do best - lovingly recreating the best aspects of the early Silver Age in a story that embodies the absolute apex of the character and concept he's working on, while adding yet another dimension of depth through a detailed and well realized historical back story that places Thor very believably into actual Viking history.

Unfortunately, next issue we have to deal with a storm-powered super-villain named 'Torrent', and I'm really not sure I'm ready for that, but this issue, at the very least, was a welcome and wondrous return to a long gone era of Lee-Kirby greatness.. including an untold tale of the early Silver Age Avengers, where they fight some guy who looks a lot like an escaped Silver Age Flash villain! You gotta love it, or if you don't, you gotta stop reading my stuff. Mad props to Rude and Busiek!

Back when I was in college, Scott McCloud used to like to point out how strange it was that Thor would do things like swing his hammer in front of him to deflect bullets, when he should certainly have been tough and strong enough that he wouldn't be hurt by them (given that he was often stepped on by frost giants and thrown through mountains by Ulik the Troll and didn't seem to mind terribly).

This does seem weird, but on the other hand, and given some further reflection (it's not that I'm smart, but I've had twenty years or so since then to work it out) it would also seem weird for Thor to just stand there and LET people rake him with automatic gunfire, too, at least, prior to him actually experiencing bullets bouncing off him. After all, finding out if you're bulletproof isn't something most people would be willing to determine via direct experimentation. (Besides, it might hurt.)

Thor also used to occasionally whack mortal opponents with his hammer, something that you'd think would render them into a gruel-like substance near-instantly, and yet, somehow, it never did. Perhaps he was using the much vaunted temporo-spatial powers of the mighty mystic weapon to somehow... um... shunt most of the kinetic force of the impact off into some nefarious nether dimension, yeah, yeah, that sounds good.

As if Thor isn't a freaky enough character in his own right, there have been, over the years, several other Thor-like figures enacted in Marvel continuity, including a future-Thor who fights corporate evil and aliens centuries from the modern day with the aid of the mystic walking stick he found in the rubble of a ruined building that may or may not have once been Avengers Mansion, Beta Ray Bill, an alien who grabbed Thor's hammer off him during a fight and was found worthy and thus, transformed into a Thor-like being, and some guy named Eric, who took over Thor's title for a while, then got his own as a separate, Thoresque character named Thunderstrike, and then died. Even Steve Rogers was once transformed briefly into a Thor-entity, all of which has to make you wonder just how the christ Odin defined 'worthy' when he first created the spell.

Currently, Thor once more has a mortal secret identity, although it all seems very stupid to me and I don't read it, and it doesn't matter for purposes of this article, anyway, because the Silver Age is dead, except for occasions when people like Busiek, or Tom Peyer, bring it back briefly.

The Golden Age Human Torch -

Now, it may seem to you, the discerning, elite Martian Vision reader, that a character with 'Golden Age' in his superhero name (to distinguish him from the Silver Age/Modern Human Torch, who is a member of the Fantastic Four) should not, by any circumstances, be included in what purports to be a listing of 'The Funkiest Superhumans of the Silver Age'. To you I say boo, and feh, and pshaw, and other nonsense syllables adding up to scornful dismissal, because, while one does have to contort logic to a slight degree to include the Golden Age Human Torch as an actual Silver Age character, it is possible, because (a) Lee and Kirby brought him back to beat up on the Silver Age Human Torch in an FF issue, and (b) Roy Thomas wrote a long historical ret-con series called THE INVADERS, set in WWII, in which the G.A. Human Torch played a significant part, and that series was published in the Silver Age, thus (oddly) making the Golden Age Human Torch a Silver Age character. (Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of this hat!)

Anyway, what cannot be lucidly denied is that the Golden Age Human Torch, as the world's first android hero, is a first degree freak, an interesting and convoluted character, and certainly worthy of mention in this here compendium of the weird, the strange, and the bionically bizarre. (I needed a 'b' word. Sue me.) Created at some point in the late 1930s by the ever whacked out Professor Phineas Horton, the Torch was an experiment in creating an entirely synthetic human being... which, according to Horton, worked like a charm, except for one little problem... whenever the Torch was exposed to oxygen, he burst into flames!

Now, superhero comics books are, as a medium, somewhat redolent with truly freaky character origins (the premiere origin sequence, in fact, being rather silly, as it posits that a humanoid from another planet would, due to that unEarthly birth, somehow have super-strength and the ability to bounce bullets off his skin while here), and the Golden Age, being an era in which relatively little was known about science, and what little WAS known was largely ignored by fantasy writers, had more than its share of deeply weird character concepts. Still, even amongst four color folk like Dr. Midnite, whose main battle tactic was punching people when they weren't looking, and the Atom, whose primary super-power seemed to be that he was short, the Human Torch had to stand out as particularly wonky. I mean, this mad scientist type builds an artificial humanoid who is a completely successful simulation of human life... except that when he's exposed to oxygen, he bursts into flames? That's... yeah, that's a little frickin' peculiar, Prof!

Naturally, when Horton demonstrated his amazing invention for the scientific community and the press, they reacted poorly (frankly, I'd have been freaked out myself), and within a panel, Horton was dropping his glass encased creation into a tank full of wet concrete, while vowing that he would master the metabolic flaws that had created this problem and show his greatness to the world once and for all! Of course, somehow (don't ask me how) oxygen got to the Torch anyway, and he burst out of his would be tomb and went on a mostly unwitting rampage. Eventually, he learned to control his flame and became more or less a superhero, even gaining (somehow) a boy sidekick who could flame on, too, named Toro. Just prior to WWII, he helped form The Invaders (along with a young Namor and a just created Captain America and Cap's own boy partner, Bucky) and had a good time tearing up Axis-occupied Europe on the behalf of an, at that time, still neutral America.

It's important to note that the whole "Invaders" thing is a modern day ret-con, and did not actually exist, as such, in the Golden Age Human Torch's actual original adventures. In them, although he met the Sub-Mariner several times, it was always in combat, as Namor, in his own Golden Age appearances, was generally only heroic when defending his undersea race against bizarre threats, and in his frequent clashes with the surface world, he was usually cast as a hot headed menace (if one with generally justifiable grievances).

Still, this article is meant to discuss Silver Age characters, and it's pretty much as he existed in THE INVADERS that the original Torch qualifies as one of those. Therefore, it's worth pointing out that Roy Thomas, in INVADERS, was at pains to depict the Human Torch as being fully human, despite his own doubts on the matter due to his strange origins, and Thomas did this through interesting expedients such as having the Torch give a blood transfusion to the young British woman who later became Spitfire, and even fall in love with her.

It seems inarguable to me that if the Torch has a fluid running through his veins that can be given to a human being as a blood transfusion without killing her (in fact, it gave her superpowers), he must be, in fact, an 'android' or 'synthezoid'... in short, a true artificial human, whose body might be constructed of synthetic materials, but who would have artificial surrogates for all the normal human organs... heart, liver, brain, kidneys, bones, testicles, etc. This squares poorly with the fact that Torch demonstrably doesn't need to breathe (he was entombed in concrete, and later, beneath a swimming pool cover by a gangster, for long periods, and it didn't bother him; besides that, I can't see how ANYone could possibly 'breathe' while turned into a mass of humanoid flame), yet, nonetheless, it seems inarguable... the Human Torch, although in fact artificial in nature, and probably constructed of man-made materials, had a body that perfectly mimicked normal human functions... albeit one with an inexplicable superhuman ability to generate and control flaming plasma, and go without respiration for extended periods.

Thomas seems to have had trouble keeping this straight, however, as later on, he introduces the character of Adam-II, Horton's second successful attempt at creating an artificial humanoid, who is undeniably robotic, since when he's later destroyed, his shattered body leaks motor oil. The scientific disciplines that would be required to create a working biological construct simulating human metabolic function, and those necessary for the creation of a plastic and metal mechanism in the shape of a human that could think for itself, are remarkably different... but then, Hank Pym was also such a synthesist, and broad-based scientific geniuses are hardly new to comics. It even makes a bit of sense that given the unfortunate results of his first effort, Horton might have taken a completely different tack with his second.

This gets more confusing when one takes a look at the Vision, who has been defined as having been built from the dead body of the original Human Torch, and yet, on several occasions, has been shown to be made out of plastics, metals, and circuits, rather than biological components. Still, there can seem to be little doubt that the Golden Age Human Torch was an artificially created biological being (with a very weird design defect), and given the inherent contradictions in the character of the Vision, it's probably unwise to extrapolate backwards from the later character to his predecessor.

I lightly touched on the rather weird fact that the Torch picked up his own sidekick, Toro, at some point in his career, something that frankly bewildered me when I was reading THE INVADERS. Given that Thomas frequently recapped the Torch's origin as a synthezoid, I had to wonder what the hell Toro was... were we simply supposed to assume that Horton had built a teen age version of the Torch as well, for some truly deranged reason, or had the Torch somehow had a kid, or... what?

Thomas, very late in the INVADERS run, did give us Toro's previously untold origin (I'm going to assume that in the original Golden Age comics, Toro just showed up one day, and no one cared where he came from) and it turned out that he was a mutant, whose parents had been exposed to asbestos, and who had no real ability to flame on by himself, but who was merely impervious to flame, while, at the same time, having the ability to transform himself into living flame if a sufficient power source was nearby (like the Torch).

This origin always struck me as problematic, since even in INVADERS, there were several occasions when Toro used his powers without the Torch around to fuel them. Clearly, however, Thomas was trying to contrive a way to explain why Toro himself had never had any sort of crimefighting career in the Marvel Universe on his own, even after the Torch vanished, and this rather lame explanation was what he'd come up with. Given that one more Human Torch-like character possibly being active in Marvel's early Silver Age would most likely have been confusing, it's hard to blame him... but something better could have been contrived.

Thanks to John Byrne, and the careful, mincing, remarkably diplomatic ret-conning of Busiek and Stern in AVENGERS FOREVER, the Golden Age Human Torch is currently alive and well in the modern Marvel Universe, although he seems to have lost his super powers (again, most likely to prevent fans from getting confused with two Human Torches running around). Last I heard, the Torch, in his 'human' guise as Jim Hammond, was running Heroes For Hire, the super-detective/troubleshooter agency funded by Danny Rand.

The Hulk -

Few creations of any era, leave alone the Silver Age, are freakier than ol' Jade Jaws. Dr. Bruce Banner, as well we all know, got clobbered by gamma rays, and now turns into the Hulk (ain't he unglamorous). Obviously created as a modern day Jekyll-Hyde character with a tie-in to the then rampant public fears of the A-bomb, the Hulk was the story of a scientist - alternatively named 'Bruce' and 'Bob' by an absentminded Stan Lee, and later christened 'Robert Bruce' just to get around that -- who had invented 'the Gamma Bomb' for the Defense Department, and just as the first test warhead was about to be detonated, had to run out to save the life of a particularly witless teenager named Rick Jones, who had driven out onto the nuclear testing range (!) because his friends had dared him to.

While good ol' Bob heroically managed to hustle Rick to a shielded ditch in time to spare the lad the awesome onslaught of a high energy particle bombardment, he himself was a tad too slow, and so it was that, when night fell that evening, he found himself being transformed into a brooding slab of grey skinned muscle that a hapless soldier lost no time in dubbing 'the Hulk', while firing his weapon at him and then running away screaming.

At first, the Hulk was gray, fairly intelligent (if downright mean) and only came out at night, but Lee and Kirby quickly turned him green, made him dumb, and allowed Banner to transform into him any time he grew emotionally agitated. Although it took several tries at serialization before the Hulk finally clicked with an audience, once he found his niche he never gave it up, and has since then proved to be one of Marvel's most enduringly popular characters regardless of what ridiculous 'new directions' dumbass, clueless Modern Age writers inflict on him this week.

Truly freakish back in the Silver Age, the Hulk was, for some reason Stan Lee himself has never been able to clearly articulate (perhaps because his lawyer has cautioned him against admitting to severe amphetamine abuse back in the early '60s), actually a founding member of the Avengers.

No one who has not been a 'gee whiz' level Marvel zombie since Spider-Man's first appearance can actually manage to believe that when they're first told it, but it's true; somehow or another, Stan and Jack decided to include the Hulk in the first issue of AVENGERS as a founding member of the team. Quickly sobering up by the second issue, the Fathers of Three Dimensional Super Heroes managed to contrive what still stands as one of the most utterly deranged and hallucinatory AVENGERS stories ever, following which, suddenly realizing that his fellow Avengers actually hated him (and, for perhaps the only time in his life, caring) the Hulk leapt off to the desert to sulk like a great big green baby.

Over his next several appearances he (somehow) met the Sub-Mariner and decided to team up with him as they issued, via radio, a challenge to the Avengers for a battle to the death on the rock of Gibraltar. (What? What? WHAT? Never mind, just roll with it.) After that, the Hulk, having been a monster, an Avenger, and an Avengers villain, became the morose protagonist of his own feature once more, wandering the Southwestern deserts evading the Army, becoming entangled in the plots of Soviet spies and saboteurs, and generally having strange, aimless adventures of a sort pretty much unique in four color fiction of that or any time.

The Hulk is also signally freakish in that he is, in my opinion, about the only A list Marvel character that Stan and Jack didn't do particularly good work with. I'm tempted to let them off the hook by saying that in fact, the Hulk is the sort of concept that defies anyone, no matter how talented, to do good work with, but alas, ten years or so later, Steve Englehart came along and did a relatively brief series of frankly amazing issues of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, introducing into the book an entire range of new characters and sub plots so interesting and vital that they remained part of the Hulk's ongoing thematic tapestry for two decades after Stainless Steve left the book.

Unfortunately, although Englehart injected the Hulk with a badly needed dose of creative vitamins, no one has consistently come close to equaling his excellence in the thirty years that THE INCREDIBLE HULK has been published since then, although Peter David did do some interesting stuff on his own lengthy run back in the early 90s.

(It should be noted that Englehart is a hard act to follow nearly everywhere. It took 20 years for someone to come close to his quality levels on CAPTAIN AMERICA, and then, Stern and Byrne only managed it briefly before leaving the book, and it wasn't until Kurt Busiek started writing AVENGERS in 1998 that anyone got remotely back into the same ballpark as Englehart on that title. Englehart was pitching, catching, batting clean up, playing right field, manning all the bases, coaching, and driving the team bus to road games compared to Busiek's plucky, just-up-from-the-farm-team-
and-determined-to-do-good rookie pitcher, but still, Busiek is at least playing in the same league and for the same team, which is far more than can be said for anyone else who has written AVENGERS since Englehart left.)

The Hulk was also one of the founding 'members' of The Defenders and a mainstay of the Team About Nothing throughout much of its existence, and is currently one again. DEFENDERS writers never did a lot of interest with the character, though, since the Hulk always had his own book and any really interesting developments happened there. (Rarely.)

In the Modern Age, the Hulk went through a longish period where all his various personalities were integrated into one really disturbing whole, and now he's entirely schizoid again, with Banner turning into any of several different versions of the Hulk for nearly any reason whatsoever, apparently depending on the whim of the whoever is currently writing the book.

Dr. Strange -

Boy, is this guy weird. Once an arrogant elite surgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange got into a car accident which did enough nerve damage to keep him from ever practicing his trade again. In despair, he hit rock bottom, becoming a derelict and drifting around feeling sorry for himself, until some fellow sot happened to mention hearing about this guy named the Ancient One, who had strange mystical healing powers. Somehow managing to travel to Tibet and scale the Himalayan peaks, Strange finally found the Ancient One, who said he wouldn't cure Strange, but he would teach him how to cure himself, if he was willing to stick around that long. Eventually, seeing no other choice, Strange agreed, setting out on a path of enlightenment and redemption that would eventually culminate in him being chosen as the Ancient One's mystical heir to the mantle of our dimension's Sorceror Supreme (thus cheesing off the Ancient One's other disciple, Baron Mordo, no end).

It's notable that Dr. Strange is one of the very few members of any superheroic panoply that has ever actually earned his superhuman attributes through hard work and study. (Just off the top of my head, Batman is the only other one that comes to mind.) Where most superheroes get their powers from some freak, if fortuitous, accident, or through being experiments in some secret experiment, Strange had to work his ass off for years to even attain the rank of Master of the Mystic Arts, at which point, the Ancient One let him go back out into the outer world and begin his new career as an occult protector to Earth and humanity, warding us blissfully ignorant mundane types from the horrible otherdimensional and mystical threats that most of us would be driven mad were we to even suspect their actual existence.

Strange is also odd in that while he is one of the most naturally powerful super-characters ever devised, and rather casually does shit like erasing all knowledge of himself and the Defenders' existence from everyone currently alive except the Avengers, he also actually has no super powers, and in fact, his whole character concept fairly clearly implies that nearly anyone could become a Master of the Mystic Arts if they could simply (a) find a Sorcerer Supreme to teach them and (b) study hard at his feet for several years. In point of fact, it seems more likely that Dr. Strange has, at the very least, an innate and nearly unique natural talent for the magical arts that few if any others have ever possessed, and that very nearly qualifies as a super power in its own right.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that Dr. Strange, in and of himself, has no superhuman capacities, and whenever he does something beyond the range of normal human ability, he has to call on some mystical entity or occult power, which means that basically, he relies on other power sources to do things that he himself cannot do, and his own 'power' lies only in the scholarly knowledge of occult lore that allows him to understand who to call on and what they will be willing to give him. In the early 90s, Len Kaminski did an interesting story arc in which Strange was forced to renounce his various pacts and contracts with his supernatural patrons (they had decided to utilize him as a soldier-wizard in a vast, supernatural war off in a distant dimension, which would have interfered in Strange acting as protector of humanity, not to mention his sex life) and was thus, for a time, limited to much more minor cantrips and spells that required no specific contracts or pacts to perform.

Strange is one of the few... perhaps the only... character to have benefited from long periods of being written by the two best writers to ever work for comics in the Silver Age, Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber, and although their approaches to the character were necessarily somewhat different (Englehart wrote Strange in his own title feature, while Gerber wrote him as the leader of the Defenders), what emerged was an oddly unified and coherent image of an enlightened, benevolent, charismatic, courageous and heroic figure, whose only real power (however vast it may have pragmatically been) lay in his enormous knowledge and wisdom.

Strange was mentor, teacher, leader, warrior, wizard, student, seeker after enlightenment, and protector to all who needed his guardianship. Under Englehart, he rose and advanced from the rank of Master of the Mystic Arts to Sorcerer Supreme, filling the position left vacant by his master, the Ancient One's, death. Even from there, he continued to evolve and grow, gaining immortality in one episode, and a Captain Marvel-esque cosmic awareness in another.

Under Gerber, Strange's constant experiences with the Defenders, and his constant immersion in their more material (and deeply weird) adventures caused him to lose some of his natural harmony and one-ness with nature, with the result that his spells became erratic in their function... yet another affirmation of the need for the Sorcerer Supreme to continually strive to keep himself in balance and expand the range and sphere of his own enlightenment and knowledge. It's also worth mentioning that in a brief sequence in DEFENDERS, Gerber established almost light heartedly that apparently Strange had used his mystic prowess to cure his nerve damage, as at one point, he agreed to perform delicate brain surgery as a favor for an old medical acquaintance.

Since the Silver Age ended, Dr. Strange has undergone a lot more stuff and been dead, and resurrected, at least twice that I can think of, and maybe more. Currently, the only regular appearances he seems to be making are in Busiek & Larsen's DEFENDERS, where he seems to be kind of pissy and alienated from mankind in general, for whatever reasons.

Prince Namor, the Savage Sub-Mariner -

While there are far, far too many resemblances between this character and the Direct Competition's Aquaman for one not to be pretty much an irrefutable rip off of the other, authorities still argue vociferously as to which one came first. So fuggit. Regardless, Namor is a far better conceived and more three dimensional character than good ol' Arthur Curry, so I like him better, anyway.

Half-human, Half-Atlantaean, Namor was sort of the love child of a human military explorer named, I believe, Bill Prentiss, and an Atlantaean princess whose name escapes me. (Exactly how these two... er... interacted... is rather enigmatic, since humans can't breathe water, Atlantaeans can't breathe air, and this all took place in the Arctic, where the water is kinda too cold for nude swimming anyway.) But, regardless, Namor was eventually born in the usual way, a horrible pink skinned mulatto freak who was, nonetheless, more or less warmly welcomed by his Atlantaean forebears and even designated as an actual 'Prince' and heir to the throne of Atlantis.

Somewhat confusingly, Marvel continuity insists that Namor is a 'mutant', while, at the same time, establishing that actually, a human-Atlantaean crossbreed is known as 'a Sub-Mariner'. In fact, Namor often called himself 'the one true Sub-Mariner', although why, I couldn't tell you, since back in the 1940s, there was a female version of him called Namora running around who was, apparently, his cousin, and in the modern day, Namorita (who, I believe, is Namora's daughter, by who, I have no idea) also calls herself 'a true Sub-Mariner', although you'd think that in point of fact, she would have to be either 1/4 human and 3/4 Atlantaean, or the opposite.

Leaving aside the fact that 'Sub-Mariner' is really a rotten name (not that 'Aquaman' is any great shakes), we're still left with the notion that if Namor, and Namora, and Namorita, are all actually mutants, they're the weirdest mutants we've ever seen, in a Marvel Universe which is lately lousy with them. If Namorita is, indeed, the daughter of Namora, then it would seem that human/Atlan crossbreeds are fertile, which... is just weird, genetically... but of more interest than this is the consistency of 'mutant' features across the Sub-Mariner sub-species. All Sub-Mariners are pink-skinned (although I've seen Namorita depicted with blue skin on a few occasions lately, and don't know what's up with that), they all have little white feathered wings on their ankles (which John Byrne has noted can't possibly actually support them in flight) and the ability to fly, they can all breathe in air or water, and they all have enormous levels of super strength that fades quickly when they are out of water.

This is, without a doubt, the most oddly consistent 'mutation' ever seen in Marvel Comics, and given that radioactivity doesn't seem to have anything to do with the appearance of physical features and super powers not present in either parent, the most idiosyncratic, as well.

Moving on beyond the freakishness of Namor being considered a 'mutant' simply because he is, in fact, a crossbreed, we come to the fact that Namor, in both depth and breadth, is without a doubt one of the most three dimensional characters ever depicted in the Marvel Universe. While the Marvel Universe itself is the first true Three Dimensional Metareality (or so I've argued in previous articles on this subject), there are only three Silver Age characters that have sufficient moral and ethical complexity to really be considered 'realistic' or 'credible' characters, even within the greater developmental depths generally attained in the Marvel Universe: Namor, Dr. Strange, and the Hulk (who, by odd but probably random coincidence, make up the primary Defenders).

Like these other two, Namor is neither truly a hero nor truly a villain (by the admittedly simplistic moral standards common in even the Marvel Universe of this time), but can only be defined as such contextually and culturally.

Namor is a creature of two worlds, the surface, where he interacts primarily with the United States, and the ocean depths, where he acts primarily as royalty of Atlantis. Much of the complexity in his character comes quite simply from him being defined in relatively simple, but utterly contradictory, terms, over the course of his long career as a superhuman protagonist, by different writers with different agendas. Originally created, written, and drawn by Bill Everett, Namor was a hotheaded young adventurer who flew off the handle at nearly everyone and everything, but who was often embroiled in Atlantaean intrigue (his cousin, Byrahh, was continually scheming to disgrace and supplant him as heir to the throne) and who generally only interacted with the surface world in a destructive manner, when he was angry at them for encroachments on Atlantaean undersea interests.

This was a very three dimensional portrayal, more in the tradition of adventurer characters from the newspaper comic strips than actual four color superheroes. Yet when Stan Lee revived the Sub-Mariner in an early issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, he chose to make the character a super-villain for his earliest appearances in the Silver Age, both in FF and AVENGERS, albeit one who had an interesting and somewhat justified grudge against the surface world, which he extended surlily and bitterly to the surface world's superheroes that opposed his various schemes for revenge and destruction in the name of his lost people.

Over time, Namor was once more given more depth than this, though, shown to be a truly noble scion of Atlantis once he found his wandering merfolk again, and later in the Silver Age, made 'heroic', to an extent, by his inclusion in team ventures like The Defenders and The Invaders. Yet even in books like this, the more careful writers deftly portrayed Namor's complex personality, showing that while he was noble and loyal to his friends, he was also arrogant, quick tempered, and unforgivingly hostile to those he saw as enemies.

While Namor was handled to his credit by Stainless Steve Englehart both in early issues of DEFENDERS and later, in an all but forgotten but entirely brilliant scripting tenure on SUPERVILLAIN TEAM UP, Marvel's other immortal master of Silver Age characterization, Steve Gerber, seems not to have liked Namor, as he dropped him entirely from his long and legendary run on DEFENDERS. Although I may be speaking too soon, as it occurs to me that Steve Gerber did write Namor for a while towards the end of Subbie's first Marvel series, and was the fellow who, for a long while, cursed Namor to running around in what one particular fan wag labeled on a letters page as 'Black Bolt's spare costume', in an apparently desperate move to shake up established Sub-Mariner continuity and give the character the kind of tragic flaw that had provided an essential central conflict for many more successful Silver Age Marvel characters.

Gerber's attempt basically cause the Sub-Mariner to be unable to live out of water without the special uniform (hastily designed by Reed Richards), and it endured for years, although honestly, it didn't really seem to add much to the character and actually only annoyed the few fans Subby still had left. After the Silver Age, other writers of the character have tried inflicting similar 'flaws' on Namor, including Byrne's truly wretched attempt to show that the Sub-Mariner was actually a manic depressive requiring anti-psychotic medication to prevent him from going on periodic, insane rampages (thus completely subverting the character's moral complexity and innate nobility and replacing them with an idiotic plot contrivance), and later inflictions on Namor of a 'mystic amulet' that he needed to wear in order to either maintain his sanity, or be able to breathe out of water, I'm not sure which.

Namor is currently seen only in DEFENDERS, as far as I know, and seems to be pretty much his old Silver Age self again, thank God.

Nighthawk -

Originally created as a cheesy knock off of Batman, so Daredevil could beat him up in an issue of his own magazine, Nighthawk was Kyle Richmond, deeply bored millionaire playboy, who came across an arcane formula for a magic potion in an old book that, supposedly, would 'double his strength' when the moon was full. Being a complete lunatic, he mixed the crap up and, in Roy Thomas' deathless words 'quaffed it in one hasty gulp!'. Where you or I or even Dr. Doug Ross would have immediately found ourselves writhing on the floor in probably fatal toxic shock, Kyle merely became a dopey super-villain in a really dumb looking beaked mask and wired up cape, swinging around New York City stealing stuff and robbing banks and generally raising a hullabaloo, until Daredevil showed up and said something like "Buddy, I'm BLIND and I can tell your costume stinks", beat Nighthawk unconscious, and dragged him off to the kalabazoo, as superheroes are wont to do.

Somewhat later, Roy brought Nighthawk back, this time teamed up with a whole pack of other bad characters who were meant to be obvious doppelgangers of Silver Age Justice League members, so they could fight the Avengers. Called the Squadron Sinister, this batch of bozos also got their asses kicked in record time, and it was explained in this go-round that actually, the Grandmaster (perhaps the most astonishingly blatant plot device ever created by the mind of mortal man) had actually been surreptitiously behind Nighthawk's origin, as well as that of his teammates Hyperion, Dr. Spectrum, and the Whizzer. He'd wanted a team of champions to put up against the Avengers in order to win a bet with... I don't know... someone else. I suppose he learned that it's a really dumb idea to bet against the Avengers, at least, in their own comic.

Rather later, Nighthawk was contacted again by the newly reformed Squadron Supreme, who had this brand new plan, and were now working with some cretin named Nebulon, the Galactic Ponce, or something like that. What the hell these guys wanted Nighthawk for I'll never know, since between them, Hyperion, Dr. Spectrum, and the Whizzer pretty much had enough power to drop kick SouthEast Asia into the Pacific if they wanted to, but want him they did.

Nighthawk, since his last appearance, had reformed and grown a more interesting personality (prior to this, he'd had the same 'bwa ha ha' supervillain speech pattern as all Stan Lee and Roy Thomas bad guys do), but he went along with them 'to find out what they were up to' (and also, to keep Hyperion from tying his spinal column in a knot). However, later on, Nighthawk decided he didn't want to help them with their plan (melting the polar ice caps with a damn big laser) and went to the Avengers to rat out his buddies.

But, Dr. Spectrum had anticipated that Nighthawk might be y'aller, and had put a weird thingie on him whereby if he came anywhere near Earth's Mightiest Heroes, he would become invisible and intangible. (Handy.) However, the Avengers were, at the moment Nighthawk tried to talk to them, speaking amongst themselves about the Defenders, so Nighthawk (whose intangible eardrums nevertheless still registered vocal vibrations, apparently) hied himself off to Doc Strange's Greenwich village digs to talk to them, instead. (Good thing Doc Spectrum's mystic hoodoo didn't know the Hulk was a founding Assembler, I guess.)

After this relatively sense free adventure, Nighthawk at some point got a much better costume and 'joined' the Defenders (in as much as anyone could) full time. (His original costume, with its really dorky looking beaked mask motif, apparently was seared into the Hulk's brain by then, as to this day he still calls Nighthawk 'Birdnose'.) His original powers, which were basically that he had the strength of TWO men... two, count them, TWO... when the moon was full (don't look at me, Roy Thomas came up with it) were augmented by a spiffy jetpack, the origin of which I have no clue about. His major combat move for the next fifty issues of DEFENDERS was then to fly really fast at someone and punch them while he was zipping by.

Steve Gerber did do a pretty cool story in a GIANT SIZE DEFENDERS in which the Grandmaster got into another bet with some other cosmic guy and came looking for the Squadron Sinister once more to use as pawns. All he found was Nighthawk, so he made the Defenders play, instead. It was a pretty cool story, notable for being the original source of the character Korvac, who later got turned into a pretty major player by Jim Shooter in AVENGERS.

At some point after I stopped buying DEFENDERS, Nighthawk got sick, and then was paralyzed except at night, and started wearing an exoskeletal version of his costume that was loaded with weapons, and then he died. I think. Now he's back again, in the current DEFENDERS, and has gotten seriously into mysticism. Oh, yeah, apparently he had demon powers for a while, too. I don't know what was up with that.

Valkyrie - what can you say about a busty blonde who wears metal shell casings over her healthy, zaftig secondary sex characteristics and carries a sword? What I say is 'hubba hubba'.

Valkyrie was one of the Marvel Universe's more profoundly weird characters. The first 'Valkyrie' to show up, wielding a damned big polearm of some sort, turned out to be the Enchantress in disguise, casting a glamour to infect all the female Avengers and a few other female hangers-on from other groups with serious attitude problems, and get them organized into a group of 'ultra-feminists', as Bradford Wright described them, who called themselves the Lady Liberators.

This remarkably clueless title, which was almost a parody in its own right (albeit doubtless one unintended by the generally humorless Roy Thomas) was merely a harbinger of how lousy the story itself was going to be. The story is also rather senseless in terms of continuity, since other stories have established quite well that the Enchantress' spells don't work particular well on women (the Enchantress being apparently in deep and fanatical denial about any latent bi-sexual tendencies she may have possessed; personally, I suspect some sort of suppressed childhood trauma involving her hot sister Lorelei).

Anyway, apparently the visual image of 'the Valkyrie' struck a chord in Steve Englehart, since a few years later, when the Defenders found themselves embroiled briefly with the Enchantress (along with Dane Whitman and the Executioner), 'chantie took the opportunity to do some sort of transformation spell on a crazy blonde woman who was with the Defenders at the time (Barbara Norris, who had been driven insane when Dr. Strange used his magical spells to forcibly divorce her essence from that of the extradimensional deity she had been just as forcibly joined to sometime before, the Undying Ones - I think).

Norris' whacked out mind was immediately subsumed beneath the warrior personality of The Valkyrie, a take no prisoners, super-strong, 'kill them all and let Odin sort them out' kind of warrior woman who, in the hands of Chris Claremont, would have been utterly insufferable, but whom Englehart, and later Gerber, managed to keep quirky, more or less warm, and generally intriguing.

Val was an interestingly existential character; for all we, she, and Dr. Strange knew, her 'conscious' personality had been created on the spot, out of whole cloth, by the Enchantress' spell, as she had no memories prior to the moment of the transformation from Barb to Valkyrie, and felt no kinship whatsoever with the Barbara Norris identity.

She was, as noted, stridently feminist and alarmingly macho; yet where someone like Claremont would have turned such a character into a one dimensional man-hater with absolutely no need for anything masculine, Englehart, and later Gerber, invested Val with a touching vulnerability and insecurity underneath the blustering exterior.

Although she rarely admitted it, she felt lost and alone once the Defenders convinced her that her creator, the Enchantress, was evil and should be opposed, and her drive to have a place to belong was one of the first forces that strove to unite the non-team of the Defenders into something stronger. She was, for the most part, unsuccessful (at least, in terms of getting the Defenders to adopt any sort of coherent structure) but for the next hundred issues or so, she was a constant fixture of the Team About Nothing anyway, as without anywhere else to go, she wound up being pretty much a permanent houseguest of Dr. Strange, and while she strangely never seemed to be around for adventures occurring in Strange's own feature, she was always on hand for the Defenders stuff.

(Over the course of the mid to late Silver Age, Dr. Strange wound up with a lot of permanent and intermittent houseguests, most of whom rarely or never showed up in his own title. He was practically running a boarding house for weird and obscure supporting characters at one time.)

Before leaving DEFENDERS, Englehart did some interesting work with Valkyrie. At one point, the Red Ghost's evil mind control manipulations somehow forced the Valkyrie personality into remission and allowed the mad, Barbara Norris persona to take over Val's superstrong body. (Fortunately, all Barb ever does is sit there and scream, so it could have been a lot worse.) Englehart also, in a fashion typical of the man who was simply the Silver Age's finest writer of characterization, gave Val depth and breadth in interesting and subtle ways, such as her response to an aggressive, unsought kiss by Hawkeye - she swung on him with her sword and called him a male chauvinist pig, but afterwards thought to herself "it wasn't COMPLETELY unpleasant..." with a wicked little smile that is probably about the best expression work I've seen from Sal Buscema.

Gerber continued to develop the character in rather fascinating ways, having Barb Norris' previously unknown husband, Jack, show up looking for her, which caused Val to do a lot of soul searching as she tried to figure out exactly what relationship she actually had (if any) to the woman whose body she was wearing. What would most likely have turned into a really complex and controversial ethical problem worthy of a David Kelley TV show was curtailed when Gerber left the book shortly after the climax of the Headmen story, and succeeding writers ignored it, until J.M. DeMatteis got around to telling us that in fact, the Enchantress had really just summoned up the spirit of an actual Valkyrie from Valhalla named Brunhilde (or Hildegaarde, or something like that) and imposed it by force on Barb's deranged mind and healthy physical form. Apparently, the trauma of the transformation gave Val amnesia for years, but she finally remembered who she was, and went back to Valhalla. (What happened to Barbara Norris I have no idea.)

The latest development in the Valkyrie saga is that yet another version of the character, to all intents identical with the previous one, has been conjured up in the current DEFENDERS revival, by the Enchantress' even sluttier sister, Lorelei, under similar circumstances to the creation of the first Valkyrie.

This new version of Val has, once more, decided to hang around with the Defenders because she has nowhere else to go. While an old Silver Age fan like myself must, to a certain extent, applaud Busiek and Larsen for the painstaking manner in which they are reassembling the original Silver Age contextual mosaic of the Defenders (up to and including only allowing the green skinned version of the Hulk to show up in DEFENDERS stories), I'm not sure the addition of a virtually identical version of Valkyrie isn't crossing a line from 'tribute' to 'tired rehash'. Exactly what Busiek and Larsen can do with this character that far, far better writers haven't already done with her predecessor I don't know. Given that Quesada is rumored to be hot to cancel DEFENDERS because of its 'retro' feel, though, we may not have time to find out.

Most superheroines in the Golden and early Silver Age were fairly chaste, although Marvel loosened those standards somewhat by the mid 60s with the astonishingly libidinous PDA's of Sue Storm and Reed Richards, and by 1970, many of Marvel's female characters were making out fairly often on panel with their costumed paramours. Val wasn't one of these; other than one incident where Hawkeye grabbed her and kissed her, and Val nearly knocked his head off for it (after which Clint hastily apologized) and another time when her 'husband', Jack, tried to kiss her, which she more or less endured (she felt sorry for the guy), she didn't mug it up at all during her Silver Age existence.

We're fairly certain Val wasn't gay, either, since she spent a day or so in a woman's cell block and had plenty of opportunities to indulge any such curiousities she might have had, and wound up getting tossed in solitary for throwing a bull dyke across the room instead. Valkyries, apparently, don't have much sex drive.

Son of Satan -

Just trying to imagine what any modern American PTA member would do if they found a comic book called SON OF SATAN on any drug store spinner rack, or in their 13 year old's bedroom, with art by Jim Mooney and a Comics Code Seal of Approval on the cover, is honestly enough to give me giggling hysterics... although, in a way, it's kind of sad that we've come so far backwards from the 1970s, when for a brief period, this character actually did have his own title and really was on spinner racks across America, available to any kid with two dimes to spend and a hankering to read the adventures of a bare chested, tendril haired, pitchfork armed exorcist with a big damned pentacle burned into the skin of his torso.

Yes, Daimon Hellstrom, snappily clad expert in the supernatural, was actually a real, honest to... er... not God... spawn of the Devil, sired by said Mephistophelean figure on a hapless mortal wench and apparently one day intended to reign in his infernal daddy's place way down yonder in the innermost pits of Hell. Naturally, Daimon had rebelled against this literally infernal destiny and set himself to the task of roaming ceaselessly across the face of the material Earth, working to undo the evil machinations of his wicked pop.

Giving it some further thought, it's likely that in fact, it's not that we've regressed socially that would make it so difficult for any mainstream company to publish a comic boldly emblazoned SON OF SATAN for an adolescent audience these days. Actually, it's simply that parents are snoopier these days, and far more willing to look for quick and easy scapegoats to blame the fact that their kids are alienated, sociopathic little monsters on, so they won't have to reflect on their own lousy and apathetic jobs as mentoring authority figures instead.

And even that may be an oversimplification, since historically, that search by disgruntled parents of the post WWII generation for a quick and easy scapegoat for THEIR kids' inexplicable behavior was a powerful repressive force that near singlehandedly killed off the crime and horror comics of the 1950s, as well, so this is nothing new. It does, however, seem to go in cycles, and apparently, the lucky kids are the ones who fall into the troughs, when parents are just too busy doing whatever it is that they're doing (for my mom, it was working two shifts to pay the bills, and, you know, every once in a while, sleeping) to pay a whole lot of attention to TV shows their kids are watching, and the funny books their kids are reading.

However, that's a whole separate lecture, and getting back to SON OF SATAN - a peculiarly goofy concept, even in the occult-horror-monster book boom context of the early to mid 1970s, Son of Satan was interestingly written (at least, for one issue I can remember) by Steve Gerber, and competently if somewhat boringly drawn by Jim Mooney. S.o.S. wore red tights, big yellow boots, a red, flame motifed cape, and nothing on his manly, pentacle scarred upper body. He carried a trident that he could fire mystic 'cold flames' out of (don't ask me) and that he could focus his will through to fly for short distances (for longer distances, he had a chariot he'd apparently borrowed from his dad and never given back, as it was pulled across the sky by two big blood drooling demonic looking horses). He apparently knew virtually every demon and devil by their first names, which is bad news for demons and devils, since true names have power, as all pop culture scholars of the occult well know.

Since he was written by Steve Gerber, if only briefly, in his own feature, Gerber apparently had little compunction about bringing him back later on in DEFENDERS for brief cameo roles. However, while nobody ever really belongs in the Team About Nothing, the Son of Satan belonged there even less, and glaringly so (although, admittedly, including the Son of Satan as a heroic opponent to the Sons of the Serpent was an interesting irony) so Gerber pretty quickly dropped him again, although rather later, J.M. DeMatteis brought him back and married him off to Hellcat, most likely just on their similarly themed character names.

Long after that, he got a brief, reasonably well written title by Len Kaminski called HELLSTORM during the whole Marvel Midnight Sons supernatural revival, after which he went evil, killed his wife, and took over Hell from his dad, which he now rules. Which just goes to show you that regardless of how nice and handsome he seems, you should never really trust anyone named Son of Satan.

Hellcat -

This character would be freakish simply for being the only case of a successful crossover from Marvel's chick-oriented, ARCHIE style comics of the 1960s, featuring Patsy Walker and her clique of Riverdale-type friends, to their more mainstream superhero titles. However, once she did become a superheroine (of sorts) she quickly became freakish in her own right, so I really have to write her up here.

True continuity mavens would point out that Steve Englehart did not actually pioneer the notion that the events depicted in various mags like PATSY WALKER and MILLIE THE MODEL were actually legitimate entries into the Marvel Universe continuity. Stan and Jack, in fact, opened the door to this when they showed Patsy and her friend Hedy Lemarr waving from the crowd during Reed Richard and Sue Storm's wedding.

(Continuity obsessives such as myself often necessarily overlook the guest appearances of Stan and Jack themselves that close out that story, although I myself have little trouble believing that there are actually dimensional analogues of Stan and Jack in the Marvel Universe, where they probably invented the entire idea of 'authorized' comic books presenting fictionalized versions of the MU's real life superheroes, and as such, considered themselves to be legitimately connected to the FF, which they probably wrote and drew the authorized comic concerning, and thus, were miffed to not be invited to the wedding.)

Whatever the case may be, while Englehart may not have been the first person to come up with the idea, he brilliantly exploited the notion when he first started working for Marvel, first bringing in security officer Baxter (I want to say his name was Ted, but that has to be wrong, doesn't it?), and his wife Patsy, as characters in the Beast feature Englehart wrote for AMAZING ADVENTURES, and later reviving those plot lines in order to conclude them during his later run on AVENGERS.

Englehart probably originally intended to do nothing more than 'tribute' the characters when he gave them those names in AMAZING ADVENTURES, but by the time Patsy Baxter showed up again in AVENGERS, demanding that the Beast make good on his promise to turn her into a superheroine (extorted from him in the earlier series, when he needed her help to escape from her hubbie), Englehart had it all worked out. In a lengthy flashback, Englehart brilliantly interwove the previously separate worlds of Patsy's Riverdale-esque small town and the larger Marvel Universe, showing that as a girl, she'd hero worshipped various superheroes and had a big crush on Mr. Fantastic, keeping his picture right next to that of her high school heart throb, Biff (?) Baxter. Naturally, she'd also had many daydreams of becoming a superheroine herself, which was why, when a wounded Hank McCoy wound up on her doorstep needing shelter, she had extorted a promise from him that somehow, someday, some way, he would help her to attain superhumanity.

This, in retrospect, seems an unlikely fantasy for a young girl or later adult woman to have, but it certainly struck a chord in me, and I have no doubt, most other AVENGERS readers at the time, the vast majority of whom would have been male. I myself have never met even a female superhero comics fan... rare though they are... that would ever admit to having superheroic fantasies (women, lacking the brain softening glandular secretion testosterone, tend to find the aggressively confrontational and overly violent power fantasies that provide the foundation for superheroic fiction to be generally stupid and annoying, and when they read superhero comics, they usually do so for the characterization and the mushy stuff... in short, the soap opera elements... which is why, generally, those superhero comics that have the most elaborate, character driven continuities, like anything by Englehart or Gerber, and the X-books, and Doug Moench's MASTER OF KUNG FU, have many female fans), but still, to the adolescent male fan, Patsy's fantasies certainly seemed reasonable.

God knows I've never understood why Rick Jones doesn't simply march into Avengers Mansion and damned well DEMAND that one of the super scientists on the team provide him with some sort of superheroic capacity, given the manner in which they seem to rather casually dispense such largesse to others... but anyway, it certainly seemed perfectly acceptable to me that Patsy would want to be a superhero, and would assume that the Beast could get her into the club, if he put his mind to it.

In order to discourage her from her entirely laudable and desirable goal, the Beast requested permission to take Patsy along with him on the Avengers invasion into Brand Corps corporate headquarters that night, and the Avengers, insanely, said 'okey dokey', with the end result that, while the Avengers were wandering around the labyrinthine factory interior trying to avoid getting another beating from the Squadron Supreme (who were, strangely, working for Brand), they came across the costume that had once belonged to Greer Larsen, The Cat (who, by that point, I think, had become Tigra, but no one knew that).

In a fit of complete derangement consistent with the level of behavior that all the male Avengers generally showed around Patsy, Cap and Iron Man asked her if she'd like to play Cat. To give them credit, they immediately retracted the request, apparently (if only momentarily) coming to their senses, but Patsy said 'gimme', grabbed the costume, and thus, the Hellcat was born.

Patsy herself professed to be rather astonished at the new strength, coordination, and agility afforded her by the Cat-suit, which was later defined as being loaded down with 'movement enhancing microcircuitry' that somehow contrived to boost her already high levels of athletic prowess to make her, in her own words, 'Olympic material'. This is inconsistent with CLAWS OF THE CAT #1, which clearly depicted Greer Larsen receiving chemical treatments that enhanced her own natural abilities to a superhuman level, and said nothing about the suit doing a goddam thing except showing off her ass and having built in claw-cable thingies. However, Englehart clearly wanted to turn Patsy into a superheroine (of sorts) and he most likely figured that of the ten or twelve people who had actually red COTC #1, few if any would mind the ret-conning.

Patsy comported herself more or less well against Roxxon and the Squadron Supreme, managing to single handedly defeat... some fish guy whose name I don't remember, but he was the Aquaman surrogate... by dodging out of the way when he leapt at her (he knocked himself unconscious slamming into a building) and Tom Thumb, the Atom-equivalent, by dragging his hover-module out of the sky and smashing it on the ground with her cat-claws. (Okay, the Beast helped.) I should note, at this point, that the battle between Cap'n Hawk, Tom Thumb, and whatshisname the Aquaman guy, vs. Hellcat and the Beast, is without a doubt one of the most hilarious ever written in comics, mostly because of the subtly satirical dialogue Englehart inserts into the Squadron Supreme members' word balloons. (Amphibion! That was the fish guy. Geez.)

After this, Patsy tried to join the Avengers during the big line up shift that was the last thing Englehart scripted (he was, even at that point, going through a big acrimonious behind the scenes tussle with the newly ascendant Gerry Conway, and in fact, 2/3s of his final script was reportedly deliberate, and often hilariously surreal, nonsense, necessitating running a reprint for half of issue #150, and Conway getting script fills in by himself and Jim Shooter for much of #151, to supplement the usable material they had from Englehart at that point).

Moondragon said Patsy wasn't ready to be an Avenger yet, and took her off to the moons of Titan (I guess) for more training. After this I get very fuzzy on the character, but I know that somehow she wound up being a mainstay of the Defenders (for issues I mostly didn't read), and during that time, she fell in love with Daimon Hellstrom, eventually married him, opened up a supernatural/superhero exorcism agency with him (which was probably not called What The Hell?, but should have been), gained demonic powers, and was eventually betrayed and killed by her increasingly corrupt and evil hubby, who currently rules part of Hell. Since then she's escaped from Hell and come back to life in a 3 issue mini by Englehart that wasn't bad, and I have no idea what she's doing now, although Kurt Busiek gave her a central role in a fairly bad AVENGERS ANNUAL for either 1999 or 2000, I can't remember which right now.

I'd planned to, at this point, include a brief paragraph on that truly freakish non-team, The Defenders, given that I've basically clumped up most of the core membership in the paragraphs above. So, I may as well. In addition to the people mentioned above, the ranks of the Defenders have also included, over the years, such stalwarts as the Silver Surfer; Hawkeye (very briefly); Luke Cage, Power Man (Nighthawk put him on retainer); Yellowjacket (just for one or two adventures); Tania Belinski, the second Red Guardian; and doubtless a few others I'm not remembering right now.

The Defenders continued as a concept, more or less, after the end of the Silver Age, going through a truly horrible incarnation under (I believe) Peter Gillis as a group that was actually 'defending' some government installation (it was awful) and that was comprised of Angel, Iceman, the Beast, Moon Dragon, and... someone else, I don't know who. After that creative abortion was quickly cancelled and hopefully forgotten, roughly the original team seemed to reform, for a longish run under J.M. DeMatteis and Don Perlin, which was pretty much as awful as you'd expect it to be with such a truly terrible creative duo at the helm.

The Defenders at this time, as far as I can tell, were pretty much the old team - Doc Strange, Silver Surfer, the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk, Nighthawk (when he wasn't dead), the Valkyrie, Hellcat, and Son of Satan - with the addition of a truly appalling original character of DeMatteis named The Gargoyle, about whom the less said, the better. If the Defenders had any history between THAT truly awful stretch, and the current Busiek/Larsen revival, I'm unaware of it, and it probably sucked.

Man Thing -

Deserving of at least a short entry, although as I write it, I'll be forced to admit ruefully that this particular character really cannot be seen as anything except a blatant rip off of DC's then successful horror character SWAMP THING. Still, after a fairly shaky start by, I think, either Roy Thomas or Gerry Conway or one of those guys, the original strip (in a former horror comic called ADVENTURE INTO FEAR, I believe) was rather gratefully tossed to a rookie writer named Steve Gerber.

Gerber seemed to take several issues of the strip to find his footing, giving us, at first, three or four well penned and even moving, but still, fairly generic, social satire issues in which Gerber addressed, often in groaningly bleeding heart terms, some of the liberal issues of the day (the early 1970s) in which Man-Thing generally only showed up towards the end, to act as a catalyst for the morality play resolutions that Gerber wanted his stories to have. However, Gerber's strengths as a writer developed quickly on this book, and over the course of these early issues with Val Mayerik as artist, he introduced what would become some of his most enduring concepts in the Marvel Universe, including the idea that the Florida Everglades were a sort of nexus between dimensions and thus, rife with occult forces, and, well, Howard the Duck.

Once Gerber fully hit his stride, he began crafting a full blown occult and social mythology in Man-Thing, in which he addressed such overall issues as religious hysteria, vigilantism, the reduction of human pain and emotion to a commodity consumed by otherdimensional demons, rampant commercial development's impact on the ecology, pacifism and non-violent protest, the sometimes tragic consequences of bullying in school, censorship, the spiritual ramifications of suicide, and various others.

While Gerber's Man-Thing remained, for the most part, little more than a catalyst, shambling in and out of stories whenever a big pile of animated moss-muck was needed to move the plot along, nonetheless, what Gerber managed to do in his fairly long run on the character (and it's companion title, the hilariously named GIANT SIZE MAN-THING) was nothing short of both extraordinary and amazingly original. Even in an era when social commentary was rife in four color comic books, Gerber's was often deft, subtle, and understated (although there were other times when it was pretty loud and in your face, and the sense of humor displayed in MAN-THING was considerably blacker and more sardonic than that in, say, HOWARD THE DUCK).

Rip off or no, Gerber's MAN-THING completely effaced its prototype, and remains to this day one of the finest continued creative efforts in the history of comics. Rather later, a MAN-THING revival was entrusted to Chris Claremont, and it was, predictably, awful, and since then, I believe a few more have been tried, been awful, and sunk to the bottom of the swamp without further comment. At this point, I'm not even sure if Man-Thing still exists in the Marvel Universe, but it seems unlikely that the character will ever be handled well, much less this brilliantly, again.

X-Men -

One can't get funky in the Silver Age Marvel Universe without mentioning the Uncanny X-Men, although, if truth be told, the title was simultaneously as original (and trendsetting) to superhero comics as it was, er, to be generous, 'inspired', by several classic SF novels of the time, mostly Henry Kuttner's MUTANT and Stanley Wierbaum's CHILDREN OF THE ATOM. Lee & Kirby took the themes of these novels, dressed them up in garish superhero costumes, and threw them willy-nilly at the American comics fan who was already grabbing up big double handfuls of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, MIGHTY AVENGERS, and FANTASTIC FOUR.

The themes Lee & Kirby lifted - Kuttner's rather thoughtful, if paranoid vision of a future world in which a sub-species of bald, telepathic mutants was fighting for racial survival against a suspicious, hateful human majority, and where one faction of those mutants was striving to prevent another faction from going to open war against the humans, for fear of being wiped out, coupled with Wierbaum's rather more low key visualization of a group of supergenius kids who found their own private academy in order to locate and provide a haven for other radioactively mutated, supergenius children like themselves - are powerful and compelling ones, and perhaps were a bit too ahead of the curve for the comics fans of the early 1960s, who had already been asked to swallow a big heapin' helping of conceptual innovation with Marvel's more three dimensional approach to the whole Masked Folks In Tights And Capes theme.

X-MEN picked up an avid cult following but in those pre-direct sales days when newsstand and drugstore driven circulation numbers were still high, the X-MEN's relatively low numbers weren't inspirational of much support. After 50 issues or so that saw creative teams of steadily decreasing quality succeeding each other on the book (Lee-Kirby giving way to Thomas-Adams, after which Adams was replaced by Don Heck, after which Arnold Drake took over the scripting chores for a truly bad half dozen issues with an artist whose name I can't remember) the book imploded and became a reprint title, after which it was mercifully cancelled and stayed cancelled until GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1 came along around 1975 to signal (at least, in this particular grumpy old man's eyes) the Death of the Marvel Universe Silver Age.

What made the X-Men freaky was that, well, they were freaks... even in a universe populated by irradiated adventurers such as the Fantastic Four, blatant weirdos like the original Avengers line up, and insect-powered angst-experts like Spider-Man, the X-Men were not only weird, not only outsiders, but they were outlaws, emotionally if not actually. Although Lee gave us some truly poorly judged dialogue early on in the run involving the X-Men having a poorly conceived FBI liaison of some sort, early fans paid no attention to such drivel, since clearly, the X-Men were, as it was later deftly encapsulated, 'hated and feared by a world they are sworn to protect'.

It may have taken another 22 years for Frank Miller's Dark Knight to snarl "Of course we're outlaws... we have to be outlaws!", but the X-Men had that concept down from the start. After all, when your arch enemy takes over all the ICBMs on a military missile base and is threatening to blow up the entire human race with them, there's just no time to wait around for the red tape to unwind... you need to go wing-beating, barefoot bounding, TK floating, ice-bridge building, and eye beam blasting into action right this minute, bubbie, and if that means unauthorized trespass on a Federal military installation, unlawful aggression against U.S. military troops, and illegal destruction of government property, well, hell, honeybunch, that's just the price that has to be paid to keep a maniac from blowing up half the planet and irradiating the surviving half in the utterly insane attempt to turn every living sentient being on the planet into a mutant.

Two of the original X-Men, Angel and Iceman, we've already examined at some length under our entry for 'The Champions', and one of them, Marvel Girl, is unfortunately in no way, shape, or form particularly freaky... she's sweet, she's nice, she's gorgeous, she's got HUGE... tracts of land... but freaky, she isn't. (Chris Claremont would do his level best to make her freaky a few decades later, but that's New X-Men b.s., Modern Age by definition, and I don't gotta deal with it here.) So we turn out attention to the two remaining Original X-Men, plus maybe a few extras -

Cyclops -

Deputy Leader of the original X-Men (Professor X was, during the Silver Age, the Man With The Plan, but Cyke was his Able Right Hand), Scott 'Slim' Summers was a tormented soul indeed, for the good and simple reason that his eyes fired fargin' particle beams, baby, any time he had them open, unless he was wearing his prescription ruby quartz eyegear.

In costume, he had this bitchin' visor that had the benefit of being firmly strapped to his head, but in his civilian guise, he simply wore these cool looking dark red wrap around shades that, as seemed to happen every three issues or so, could fairly easily be knocked off his head by someone bumping into him on a crowded street. This had a tendency to cause ol' Slim to feel rather alienated from the common, madding hordes of humankind, and generated a whole lot of angst in the first dozen issues or so, as he nursed a secret, brooding crush on Marvel Girl (like everyone didn't want to jump into HER pinafore), telling himself that as long as he was a menace to society, Their Love Could Never Be. (It never seemed to occur to Cyke that as long as he was a menace to society, he might want to, you know, not go out on crowded city streets with only a pair of Foster Grants between the populace and sudden bloody death.)

Somewhere later, Roy Thomas wrote a truly extraordinarily bad series of back ups in X-MEN detailing the individual origins of each member, and we discovered that Cyclops had been found and used to criminal purposes by some evil mutant whose name I can't remember (but it was stupid... Diamondhead, maybe?), prior to him being rescued by Professor X.

And of course, this seemed to set a tradition in place for Scott, as Roy went on to give him a younger brother who was also a mutant (with a truly stupid power) who probably deserves his own write up, simply because his power is somehow linked with that of a truly dorky Roy Thomas villain called The Living Monolith (I mean, jeeeeez). And all this set the stage for Chris Claremont heaping enormous indignities on the Summers brothers much further down the line, by inflicting on them the noxious notion that their father was actually some godawful dork who led a godawful Claremont group of interstellar buccaneers called The Starjammers. But that crap, again, is all Modern Age, and thus, need not be detailed here.

Despite my casually jeering tone throughout much of the above, I should note that Scott Summers' natural decency, clear competence, and unstinting valor as leader of the X-Men made him one of my all time favorite childhood super-characters, and watching what various Modern Age writers have done to the lad is one of the major reasons I simply can't even look at an X-book these days.

Professor X -

Charles Xavier, Baldo Calrissian for the entire Silver Age Marvel Universe, was the X-Men's nominal leader and mentor for the entire Silver Age. Professor X was a powerful psychic with vast telepathic abilities that he often used in remarkably unenlightened ways early in the book's history, brainwashing poor innocent bystanders with mad abandon and casually altering the thought patterns of nearly anyone who moved such an urge in him. Xavier was, as so many of Stan Lee's characters are, a study in pathos and contrast, as the man with the mind that could range across the Earth and empty space itself was physically confined to a wheelchair, due to paralysis suffered at the hand of his evil step-brother, Cain Marko, better known as the Juggernaut.

Obviously, this character is more than a little freaky.

In addition to being an overwhelmingly puissant telepath, Xavier was also a brilliant super-scientist of the maddeningly non-specialized variety so prevalent in comics at the time. Xavier's stand out scientific invention, as all watchers of the X-MEN movie well know, was Cerebro, his computerized mutant detecting scanner thing, which was employed as a plot device for at least a third of the X-Men's Silver Age adventures, even though it was notoriously erratic, as in the story where we saw it for the first time, when it erroneously (and at high decibel) identified the encroaching Juggernaut as a mutant, when in fact, he's a mystically altered superhuman.

Whenever Xavier wasn't rearranging the neurons of some poor government bureaucrat who thought it might be nice to actually inspect the grounds of a so called private academy for gifted youngsters, removing the memories of some hapless suburbanite family who just happened to see the X-Men whaling on the Blob while out for a picnic in a State Park, or tinkering with Cerebro so it would stop going 'REEEEEEEEE' like a mad banshee at obvious non-mutants, he was... ahem... 'tutoring Marvel Girl in the use of her own latent telepathic abilities'.

Anyone who thinks this apparently involved a great many unpublished scenes where Jean seemed to be hastily leaping to her feet out of Professor X's lap as Iceman or the Beast came bursting into the Prof's private study unannounced is doubtless spot on in their perceptions, although, alas, the rather moralistic conventions of early Silver Age publishers kept us from actually SEEing any of that, and we could only infer it all from the shorthand of Scott Summers occasionally thinking, darkly "Jean and the Professor spend so much time together in private... is he... IN LOVE with her?" Given the Professor's propensity for utilizing his telepathic abilities in a ruthless and rigorously unenlightened manner in the early Silver Age, I myself would venture to guess that while the Prof might not have been in love with Jean, Jean almost certainly was passionately in love with him... during their private tutoring sessions anyhow, the actual events of which she perhaps not strangely could never clearly recall afterwards. Although she did tend to keep a lot of towels handy in her private locker for some reason she never gave much conscious thought to.

All of which just goes to prove that even bald, middle aged telepaths with non-functional legs can be relentless, scurvy old horn dogs, and I say 'hubba hubba' to them, too.

Mimic -

I can't remember this guy's real name, but he has the unique status of being the X-Men's only non-mutant member. Where he got his powers from I also can't remember, but he wasn't a mutant. However, he did have the ability to absorb the super powers of anyone lurking about within a certain range of him, which meant, when he was hanging around with the X-Men, he was telekinetic, telepathic, super-agile, super-strong, had big white wings, could fire particle beams from his eyes, and could create ice and manipulate cold. As most of the X-Men's enemies were also mutants, he could absorb their powers, too, which made him a fairly useful fella to keep around in the roster.

He was also really really arrogant, and eventually, over in AMAZING ADVENTURES, or maybe it was INCREDIBLE HULK, he died pretty horribly.

The Beast -

Saving the best, or at least, the most successful of all the original X-Men, for last, we come to Hank McCoy, the bouncing baby Beast, as he liked to style himself. Not merely bouncing was our Beastie, but a most bodacious boinker of beauteous bevies, indeed, once he got into his blue-furred Casanova stage under Jim Shooter, late in the Silver Age or early in the Modern, depending on exactly where that particular run of Shooter-Perez AVENGERS appeared in relation to GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1. However, before we get there, we have to start somewhat further back:

For most of the 1960s, Mssr. McCoy was a somewhat freakish looking fellow in that his hands and feet were disproportionately large, which served his anthropoid mutant powers of super-strength and super-agility well. While he was the apparently inevitable 'strong man' to the X-Men's team of balance, he was the least strong of all the various Marvel teams' such characters, and his primary focus was his agility, which he showed off to great effect through his unique and trademarked mannerism of bounding around the walls and ceilings of any enclosed chamber he might find himself inside, which allowed him to attack the X-Men's unfortunate enemies from virtually any angle, beating them viciously about the head and shoulders with his overlarge fists and feet.

Hank was also, next to Professor X, the X-Men's resident brain, continually spouting erudite elocution of a sort seemingly specifically calculated to bedazzle, baffle, bother and bewilder his more conventional teammates. Later on, Hank's elaborate eloquence would become the basis for an apparent genius-level talent at the biological sciences, which would be put to good effect in an AVENGERS story arc where an overstressed Hank Pym's size changing particles went wildly out of control.

However, back to our humble hero's more historical origins: After the cancellation of the main X-MEN title, most of Marvel's merry mutants had to languish in limbo for years prior to the team's revival, but Hank was rescued from publisher's purgatory by the authorial offices of rookie writer Steve Englehart, who scooped him up and plopped him down in his very own feature in AMAZING ADVENTURES.

Here it was revealed that Hank had joined the ever-villlainous Brand Corporation as a biochemist studying human mutation, mostly as a cover, to give him lab facilities so he could try to figure out exactly why he himself had mutated further, from the more human state we'd seen in X-MEN to his current form as a grey furred, rather monstrous and more truly bestial figure in which his already astounding strength and agility had increased substantially, and he had also gained an astonishingly accelerated metabolism that allowed him to heal from nearly any wound in a miraculously short period of time.

(Naturally, to keep his bosses at Brand from suspecting his mutant nature, Hank wore a more human looking disguise most of the time, something that comic book characters are able to and quite often do, although here in the real world, virtually any third grader would immediately spot the pull over rubber face mask and false hand-gloves that Hank employed in this dubiously deceptive enterprise.)

Hank's strip was short lived, despite Englehart crossing it over into his more popular HULK title at the time, although in its relatively short existence Englehart re-introduced old Marvel girl-comic character Patsy Walker to the mainstream Marvel Universe (we'd last seen her waving from the crowd at Reed & Sue's wedding), killed off loose end character The Mimic, and created one of the Marvel Universe's most enduring corporate villains, the Brand Corporation and its parent company, Roxxon. While Englehart's writing was fun, deft, and enjoyable even where his plotting may have had problems, it should be admitted that the artwork on the series almost certainly didn't help its longevity, as the artist, whose name I can't remember, always looked to me as if he drew while holding the pencil in his teeth.

After the AMAZING ADVENTURES strip went tits-up, the Beast lapsed once more into limbo only briefly, before Englehart tossed the character into his other continuing title at the time, THE AVENGERS, in a move that many at the time (regardless of whether they'll admit it now) thought was rather inappropriate, but which proved to be over time enduringly popular. Many fans still list The Beast as one of their all time favorite Avengers, and although in the Modern Age the editorial mandate seems to be that the Beast belongs firmly in the X-books, there continues to be a clamor among certain fan contingents for the character to return to the more mainstream A-team.

Regardless of that, under Englehart, the Beast flourished in the Avengers, gaining official status as an Assembler in #151 (one of the few issue number citations I can actually remember off the top of my head). The Beast proved a popular character not only for A-fans but for the writers of the book as well; even Gerry Conway, who normally puts dialogue into his characters' mouths that one can only pray is forgettable, because otherwise it's generally obnoxiously awful, wrote a pretty enjoyable and entertaining Beast, and under Jim Shooter, Hank McCoy truly bloomed into a superhuman adventurer of note, with the nascent and predictable self pity that both Englehart and Conway had cultivated in the character in the tradition of the Thing falling by the wayside as Shooter played up that in fact, women in the Marvel Universe seemed to find the now blue-furred Avenger to be sensually sexy and all but irresistible.

Perhaps this made sense and perhaps it didn't, but either way, it gave Hank McCoy an entirely unique characterization for a superhuman of such outre appearance, and that, along with Hank's characteristic cry of "Oh my stars and garters!" may well be Shooter's most enduring contribution to the Marvel Comics mythos.

Eventually, in the Modern Age, McCoy did a lot of other stuff, but honestly, who cares.

Banshee - a conceptually interesting character, until Chris Claremont got hold of him and drained all the life right out of him. Originally created by Roy Thomas as a reluctant aggressor (working with The Ogre, of all people) against the original X-Men, Banshee wound up retreating from the field of battle when the Ogre started becoming a little more murderous than our Irish screamer could stomach. We didn't see him again (as far as I know) until rather later in CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON, when Cap and Bird-Boy showed up to try and prevent the Banshee from being kidnapped by the Secret Empire (see, the S.E. had this machine that was powered by mutant brainwaves, and they were going around collecting up all the various mutant characters that the Marvel Universe wasn't using since the X-Men's book had been cancelled, to put to work as batteries).

There was, naturally, a misunderstanding, and the three 'heroes' - well, Banshee wasn't really a hero then - had a big, cool fight, featuring the Falcon climbing a lamp post in order to get enough height to use his new jet tipped glider wings (he hadn't figured out how to take off from a standing start on the sidewalk yet) and then power diving on the poor mutant sap. ("Me jaw!" Banshee said, after getting up off the sidewalk dizzily. "Ye've bruised my jaw and I canna' scream!")

Although Banshee had had little personality in his previous appearance other than an Irish brogue, a mercenary temperament, and a lack of bloodlust, Englehart added the rather fascinating datum that he was fan of country music... something Claremont abandoned utterly and that, as far as I know, has been completely forgotten since.

In X-MEN, Banshee reverted to his previous characterization, which is to say, he had a thick Irish brogue and ate Lucky Charms. Yay. Claremont, as was his wont, established that all of Banshee's relatives were superhuman too (his brother was some idiot named Black Tom with the mutant power to fire energy out of wood... no, really!... and his daughter had inherited Banshee's own powers and called herself Syren) and then pretty much abandoned the character to the fates. I have no idea if he's dead, but I have little doubt he'd prefer it to being written once more by Chris Claremont. However, as anything Claremont ever did on X-MEN is by definition a product of the Modern Age, we certainly don't need to dwell further on the Banshee here.

Werewolf By Night -

Just DARNED freaky, this weird little souvenir from Marvel's mid 70s monster mania concerned itself with the adventures of Jack Russell, a fairly nice young fellow who had this unfortunate tendency to turn into a ravening, bestial creature of the night whenever the full moon rose, and run around on all fours howling and slaughtering anyone who got in his way. Fortunately, he kept getting involved with other monsters and evil sorcerers and stuff, so he rarely ripped the naughty bits off anyone truly innocent. After his first dozen or so issues, he started to be more and more clearly established as living in the mainstream Marvel Universe, at which point, he began encountering various superheroes and villains, as well. (The modern character Moon Knight is actually a WEREWOLF BY NIGHT spin off, originally created to fight and kill Russell's werewolf form.)

Originally blessed with clean, concise artwork by Gil Kane, followed by a longish run under mood-master Mike Ploog, eventually WEREWOLF BY NIGHT settled into the steady, reliable, relentlessly boring hands of Don Perlin, and would have quickly become absolutely unreadable if not for the deft, quirky plots and dialogue of a not-yet-entirely-burnt-out Doug Moench.

Although Doug was clearly saving the best material he had for fan favorite MASTER OF KUNG FU in this period, he still came up with some interesting stuff, and Jack Russell's ongoing soap opera... as he tried (and eventually, failed) to prevent his younger sister Lissa from succumbing to the same lycanthropic family curse as afflicted him, and pursued one of the more winning romances in comics with the entirely hot mystic witch/psychic chickie Topaz, always riveted the attention... well, my attention, anyway. A crossover with fellow monster mag TOMB OF DRACULA worked well, also, although I was never happy with the idea that TOD also took place in the Marvel Universe (one werewolf, and a bunch of mean wizards, in the MU is one thing; the entire vampire ridden backdrop of TOMB was quite another), something we've since had irrefutably jammed down our throat by poorly conceived stories in latter day DR. STRANGE issues.

Late in the run, faced with flagging sales as the supernatural fad seemed to be fading (something that doubtless wasn't helped by the spectacularly tedious artwork of Perlin), Jack Russell went through a brief phase where he gained the ability to turn into his werewolf form at will, and maintain conscious control over his behavior, although he still involuntarily became a mindless beast under the full moon.

At this time the comic was brought more firmly into the Marvel mainstream, as Jack teamed up with Iron Man to fight the Masked Marauder and did various other more straightforwardly superheroic things. However, none of it helped much, and in the end WEREWOLF BY NIGHT went down to the same dusty death as Marvel's other supernatural titles, although the characters left imprints and echoes in the minds of many fans and professionals, and thus, their sagas were later taken up in various other obscure places, like in the pages of Englehart's lackadaisical WEST COAST AVENGERS, where Jack was shown to have been cured by Michael Morbius, and I believe Topaz helped the Left Coast Assemblers do a mystic spell that took them into the mystic realm of the Cat-People. (For more on that particularly moronic addition to the Marvel Universe, see my next entry.)

Even later than this, when the supernatural made a comeback in the early 90s, Jack was re-afflicted with his werewolf curse for a revived run under Marvel's Midnight Sons... or so I'm told, anyway, since you'd be hard pressed to catch me reading any of those things not written by Len Kaminski, even if you followed me around into subway tunnels and things. The last time I saw the character, I believe he was a member of a monster hunting crew that also numbered among its members Blade and... um... someone else I don't recollect at the moment. Exactly what the character is doing in the modern Marvel Universe at this moment I have no idea, but I wouldn't be surprised if whatever it is, it's still pretty freaky.

Tigra the Were-Woman -

Mention of the Cat-People, above, prompts me to recall this other WEREWOLF BY NIGHT spin off, a rather freaky character in her own right in nearly every particular. Scripted by Tony Isabella and drawn by (sigh) Don Perlin, Tigra's debut came in a GIANT SIZE whose full title I can't recall, other than that it was something to do with CREATURES or CHILLERS or something like that. However, it featured Werewolf By Night, more or less, caught up in a particularly witless adventure whose primary purpose seemed to be to create and inflict this amazingly clueless she-critter on all of Marveldom Assembled.

Give Isabella some credit here: while, as with most of his characters and concepts, I can see little valid reason WHY Tigra, the Were-Woman had to be brought into existence, he at least tied into some existing continuity loose ends and did vaguely interesting stuff with them (as opposed to THE CHAMPIONS, where he tied into nothing remotely resembling a continuity loose end and accomplished a lot of really stupid boring stuff with them).

Tigra's real name was Greer Larsen, and in the late 70s, she had been featured in one of Marvel's several short lived experiments in creating comic books for hypothetical female comics readers. Greer was a star athlete and martial artist (I'm not sure, but she may have been a policewoman) who was picked, in classic superhero comics tradition, as the test subject for an experiment to create a superhuman. In Greer's case, she was given treatments that gave her superhuman strength and agility, a special, striking yellow and blue costume, and the name The Cat. About the only variation from standard in the book was that, as THE CLAWS OF THE CAT was supposed to appeal to female readers, the obscure but astonishingly innovative scientist in question was a woman, although the inevitable black hats who wanted to exploit her discoveries for evil were all men, of course. Naturally, after dosing Greer good and giving her the costume, the doc wound up getting killed (or so we thought) and Greer went on to become a superhero, after foiling the male villain's plan to build an entire army of shapely, mentally controlled superhuman beauties to help him take over the world. (Personally, I like the way he thinks.)

COTC didn't last long (three issues, I think), and Isabella plucked the character out of nothingness to transform into Tigra, revealing that gradually, her health had started to fail, so she'd been contacted by her supposedly dead mentor and informed that this super scientist was actually a member of an ancient race of Cat People, who had 'evolved from cats, just as humans did from primates'. Her experiments all along had been attempts to fuse the essence of her race with those of their human cousins, and now, Greer's human body was rejecting the process... which would surely be fatal, unless Greer were mystically transformed fully into a Cat Person.

At the age of 15, I wasn't remarkably discerning in my tastes for comic book entertainment, but I have to admit, even I flinched a little bit at this... er... conceptual exuberance.

For one thing, I'd read enough SF by that time to know that evolution simply doesn't work like this; cats have been around for hundreds of thousands of years at least, and while the feline species has differentiated into hundreds of different breeds, they haven't 'evolved' a whit in all that time.

For a species to evolve into humanoid forms and a race that could be called Cat People, as pictured in this and several succeeding comics, the root stock would have to be considerably closer to the human norm (as mankind's hypothetical primate ancestors must have been) in terms of, most likely, having opposable digits (cats have none), the capacity to walk erect (cats can't), to have binocular vision (cats don't), some rudimentary capacity at tool use (cats have a hard time figuring out kitty doors), and, most importantly, much more brain mass. The idea that cats could evolve into sentient, furry humanoids in the same time frame that, supposedly, lesser primates have evolved into homo sapiens, is simply laughable on the face of it, even in the admittedly flexible and somewhat absurd context of any superhero metareality.

Even if I hadn't noticed this, Isabella rather foolishly underlined it himself in a really regrettably wise ass text piece (in which he seemed to be trying to sound as much like Steve Gerber as possible, and failing miserably) by mentioning, at one point, that as he was plotting the issue, he had run into a brick wall coming up with a villain... "and an idea for a race of Rat People was making [him] groan", as he put it. As I say, even at 14 or 15 years old, I just stared in stupefied disbelief at that passage. He's putting someone down for suggesting a race of Rat People, after he himself inflicts the concept of Cat People on the Marvel Universe? I mean, like Rat People would have made it substantially WORSE?

Eventually, Isabella settled on using the hordes of HYDRA as a villain, which is... inspired. Yep. Suuuuuuure.

However, the die was cast. Cat People existed, and Greer Larsen was duly and mystically transformed into one of them, although she was also given a convenient magic cat's head ring, that would, at least temporarily, allow her to change back and forth from Tigra to her more normal human form. (As she generally ran around in either form in a scanty blue bikini, her infrequent transformations back to comely humanity were usually greeted by me with big adolescent 'hubba hubba's. Now, if only Gene Colan or Wally Wood had drawn the book, I would not, at this moment, be bitching and whining about the Isabella script, because I would not, most likely, have ever bothered to read it.)

The rest of the plot really doesn't matter. She and the Werewolf beat up on HYDRA, for some reason (they're HYDRA! They dress funny and have ray-guns! What do you WANT?) and then she goes off with the Cat People, until a while later, when she got her own series (sort of) in some Marvel showcase title, and then disappeared again until quite a while later, when Jim Shooter, in a move of utterly blinding stupidity, stuffed her into the Avengers.

At that point, Shooter also unveiled what he may well have thought of as a brilliantly Alan Moore-esque characterization development, showing that Tigra had, somewhere along the line, been overwhelmed by her feline instincts and, well, become pretty much a slut. (She's in heat all the time, get it? Like a cat. Yes, it's that dumb.)

While I myself would think this would lead inevitably to a stampede of male Avengers applicants (hell, I'd put on a dopey costume and go try out myself), it didn't, nor did it lead really to anything much more interesting than that. To Shooter's credit, eventually he, and Tigra, both came to their senses and she left, although Roger Stern brought her back for WEST COAST AVENGERS and she hung around that team for an awfully long time, doing little of note except having a brief romance with Hank Pym (while he was estranged from Jan Van Dyne) and eventually going back to the Mystical Land of the Cat People, where I believe she still is. But I could be wrong.

Leaving aside everything ELSE freaky about her, one should also understand that the German phrase 'were' means, basically, 'man', so in point of fact, Tigra is The Man-Woman. But don't tell her, she's likely to get cranky.

Oh, and as a further note, Roger Stern, Marvel's master of sensible and interesting retroactive continuity, later managed to make The Cat People a little less insanely stupid by explaining that in fact, they didn't evolve from nothin', nohow, but were instead mystically created out of housecats by some whacked out wizard of the ancient world, as cheap slaves and to give to his friends as... er... pleasure... pets. (I'll take two, females, housetrained and spayed, please.) Of course, they bred like mad little bastards, and in order to keep them from overrunning the entire planet, this wizard eventually had to blast them all into their component atoms... uh, no, no, for some reason he didn't do that; instead, he gathered them all into a darned big pentacle and magically teleported them to some mystical nether dimension.

So, as Stephen King once noted about a postal clerk with a mechanical foot, THAT was all right, then.

Man-Wolf -

Continuing in our tradition of furry super-folks on a rampage in the Silver Age Marvel Universe, we come to John Jameson, the Man-Wolf.

John is one of those characters who is just doomed from their very first panel. The son of J. Jonah Jameson, John first showed up in Spidey's very first title story, where Jameson's space capsule went all freaky and Spider-Man had to go do something to keep it from crashing.

A little later, John was infected with a space spore (or something) that made him really strong and hard to hurt, and his father wanted to turn him into a superhero to show up that annoying Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the spore also drove John nuttier than a bathtub full of helicopters, and Spidey had to punch his lights out for him. In fact, John Jameson never showed up just to say "Hi, dad, how ya doin'?"; no, if this guy popped his head into the office in one panel, you could pretty much guarantee something horrible was going to happen to him within three more pages and somehow, Spidey was gonna be on the hook for it.

However, John Jameson's ultimate transformation, as far as I know, was when he found this glistening alien jewel on the surface of the moon (at some point, someone should write an article about all the alien gemstones that have gotten people into trouble in superhero metarealities over the years) and it wound up fusing with his throat, which you'd think would suck enough without it forcing him to transform into a raging grey-furred werewolf under the full moon. But... you guessed it... that's exactly what happened. The first couple of times, Spider-Man smacked John around a good bit, at one point even ripping the jewel out of his throat (ickie). However, somehow or other John always got the gem back again, with predictable (and whacky!) results.

John had a brief series of his own in CREATURES ON THE LOOSE, written, I believe, by Dave Kraft and drawn by George Tuska. Kraft (if that was really the writer) did some fun things with the character, like having Kraven the Hunter show up for a running battle leading from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty... although, the more I think of it, the more I think Steve Gerber wrote MAN-WOLF in COTL, and Dave Kraft wrote the later two parter that wrapped up loose ends, in MARVEL PREMIERE (or SPOTLIGHT, one of 'em).

In that two parter, it was revealed that the Man-Wolf was some sort of cool extradimensional, vaguely Moorcockian hero-warrior, and John Jameson went over there and kicked ass and, I don't know, ate cereal and married a princess. Or something. It was nicely drawn by George Perez and badly scripted by Dave Kraft and I don't remember much of it, and have no clue what, if anything, John Jameson is up to in the Marvel Universe these days. However, if he's dead, someone should bring him back as a zombie. It's the sort of thing that just happens to John Jameson.

Guardians of the Galaxy -

That the Guardians of the Galaxy were freakish from the very beginning can not be coherently denied. Whomped up in a throwaway issue of MARVEL PRESENTS (I think, maybe it was MARVEL EATS A STICKEY BUN, or something) in the late 1960s by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, the Guardians were clearly a disposable, fairly thought-free alliance between superhero team concepts and bad 50s type SF pastiche, boiled down to a level where the average comics fan of the time would find it palatable. According to this single issue, Earth had been taken over by an evil alien race and the only possible resistance came in the form of four roughly humanoid beings banding together to battle, for no good reason anyone could ever see, the alien armada's awful evil otherworldly onslaught. (Say that ten times fast.)

Consisting of Vance Astro, a time-lost refugee from the 20th Century who had traveled three hundred years into the future in a suspended animation space ship; Charlie-27, last free member of Earth's Jupiter colony, Martinex, similarly the last free member of Earth's Pluto colony, and Yondu, a blue skinned guy with a big red fin on his head from Alpha Centauri who was a genuine alien (the other three were either human or genetically altered humans originally of Earth stock), this happy go lucky bunch ran around like insane beavers battling alien tyranny and like that. The Arnold Drake script was, like nearly all Drake's work for Marvel, weird, often clunky, and sometimes wildly incoherent, while the Gene Colan art was, well, Gene Colan art, which means it was pretty amazing stuff.

The Guardians pretty much sank into obscurity after this one issue, until fan interest was revived by a Marvel Two In One story (I think) in which Captain America and the Thing traveled into the future and met the gang for a 22 page romp against the Badoon, who had since been established somewhere or other as the aliens who had taken over the Earth in the 23rd Century. I can't remember if Steve Gerber wrote that particular story or not, but a bit later, he decided to revive the Guardians again for a time travel story in DEFENDERS.

Gerber sent Doc Strange and the rest of the Team About Nothing hurtling into the future (this was before Marvel went insanely berserk about the 'many possible alternate future' nonsense that Claremont and Byrne were to inflict on the continuity in the early 80s, and there was still generally only one Marvel timeline, past, present, and future) where the Dynamic Ones teamed up with Vance, Charlie, Yondu, and Martinex, who were now accompanied by a mysterious (and highly annoying) messianic figure named Starhawk, who didn't seem to have much in the way of actual superpowers, but who billed himself as 'one who knows' and generally behaved in a thoroughly insufferable fashion.

The adventure wasn't exactly a high point for Gerber's run on DEFENDERS (but then, we Gerber DEFENDER fans tend to skip right over all the stuff he did before the first Bozos/Headmen storyline got underway, anyway), but it seemed to rekindle some fan interest in the Guardians (or maybe Steve just really liked them). Anyway, Steve somehow talked an editor into giving the Guardians a shot, and so they picked up their own title, sort of, in a re-booted MARVEL PRESENTS.

Gerber used the title to mostly replay the same riffs on the same sociological satire he was doing, for the most part better, in MAN-THING, DEFENDERS, and HOWARD THE DUCK. Workmanlike art by Al Milgrom didn't hinder the proceedings the way everything Milgrom seemed to do from his U.S. 1 days onward did (back in the 70s, on strips like this one and Englehart's CAPTAIN MARVEL, Milgrom had no more talent than ever but seemed to have a lot more enthusiasm for his work, and honestly, who can blame him), and the strip was generally enjoyable, if seemingly repetitive to those of us who were buying Gerber's other work at the time.

Steve did some expanded character work on Vance Astro (who became an avid hero worshipper of Captain America) and started laying the groundwork for an eventual explanation of the still annoying, but growing more fascinating by the moment, Starhawk (who was now revealed to have some deeply weird metaphysical bond with a hot blonde named Aleta who seemed to switch bodies with him from time to time, and who also seemed to have something to do with three cute kids being menaced in a distant farmhouse by a big monster).

Gerber also brought in Nikki, a cute, flame headed young teenage girl from Mercury, who added super-agility and dead on accuracy with a blaster pistol to the Guardian's repertoire of super-abilities, which at that point included psychokinetic bolts from Vance, enormous superstrength and durability from the massive Charlie-27, a capacity to hurl cold or heat beams on the part of Martinex, and Yondu's vaguely racist seeming bow and arrows made out of yaka metal, which responded to his mental commands.

It's worth noting at this point that in his original appearance, rendered beautifully by Colan, Charlie-27 was not only superstrong, but possessed of astonishingly fluid superspeed, as well, a consequence of his being in a much lower gravity field as undeniably logical as his increased relative strength and durability. This made Charlie a startlingly original character; while nearly all superhero teams have a 'muscleman' for pure raw physical power, a strongman who could also whip around at high velocity like Quicksilver was pretty much unheard of.

In nearly all Kirby-esque teams of balance, superspeed and superstrength are always assigned to separate characters, and even characters who possess both, like Superman, tend to primarily put a focus on their strength, not their speed. (Despite the fact that Superman is nearly as fast as the Flash, he only ever employs his super-speed briefly, usually in an entirely convoluted, silly, and indirect manner, to service plot contrivances. Having him use his superspeed intelligently, which is to say, all the time, would simply make him into a sort of Uber-Flash and have the general effect of making the Flash himself seem pretty useless and pointless.)

Gerber chose to remove Charlie's superspeed, turning him into a more typical strongman character, the anchor of a balanced superteam's raw physical power. Perhaps Gerber was aware just how difficult it is to write a superspeeding character credibly (realistically, there should be little that can credibly present difficulty to such characters except other superspeedsters). Whatever the case, with Charlie's speed and agility made obsolete, it cleared the way to add Nikki, a super-agile hand to hand fighter and superhumanly accurate shot with a blaster pistol, to the team.

Gerber's abrupt cessation on GUARDIANS came at the same time his abrupt cessation on all his titles (DEFENDERS, OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, HOWARD THE DUCK) occurred, for reasons that have become so much a part of professional comics mythology that the actual truth may never be known.

Suffice to say that both of Marvel's premiere writers at that time, Steves Gerber and Englehart, left all their titles behind pretty much simultaneously, for whatever reasons they both may have had (although, honestly, the fact that Gerry Conway assumed editorial control over both DEFENDERS and AVENGERS, and apparently neither Steve enjoyed a good rapport with Conway, seems indisputable).

Whatever the case, while some have argued that the Silver Age ended the moment Gerber and Englehart walked away from Marvel (and it's a compelling argument, if one I ultimately reject), it's certainly a fact that the Guardians of the Galaxy stopped being written by Gerber in, I believe, MARVEL PRESENTS #8 (I'm going from memory, here), at which point, Roger Stern took over the scripting for another few issues before the series was cancelled.

(Of all the immediate successors to Gerber and Englehart's various stories that were left dangling in mid-arc by those two's sudden defection from Marvel, Stern is without a doubt the person who did the best with the material suddenly dropped in his lap. Conway himself took over writing DEFENDERS and AVENGERS and both books immediately became comparatively dismal; Bill Mantlo, I believe, was given the unenviable job of continuing HOWARD THE DUCK, which simply became startlingly pedestrian almost over night; Chris Claremont did a yeoman's job of making Englehart's complex storyline on CAPTAIN MARVEL utterly unreadable; Marv Wolfman came in and liberally plastered Englehart's sublimely subtle, esoteric, erotic, and occult storyline on DR. STRANGE with utter mind numbing banality; and, thankfully, OMEGA THE UNKNOWN was just cancelled, as I shudder to think what would have happened to it in the hands of, I don't know, John Warner or Tony Isabella or Mike Friedrich or someone.

And on that subject, similar hosannas must be offered unto The Great Pumpkin that MAN-THING had been cancelled shortly before all this, because God knows who they would have dumped that particularly weird strip on had it still been going when Gerber left. Chris Claremont's later revival of the character leaves all thinking fans in little doubt of just how awful such a strip in his hands could and would be, though.)

Stern did a few issues of light hearted space opera with the Guardians that displayed none of Gerber's heavier, more satirical overtones or, alas, interesting insights, and then the whole thing imploded, which was pretty much the last we saw of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Silver Age, until Jim Shooter brought them back in the mid-70s for his badly executed Korvac story arc in AVENGERS.

(Which 1970s Marvel storylines are Silver Age and which are Modern Age is something I tend to be fuzzy on, mostly due to my insistence on placing the end of the Marvel Silver Age firmly at the publication date of GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1. I have sound emotional and thematic reasons for that choice, but since I don't have a coherent mental grasp of just when that comic was published in comparison to many other Marvel Comics of that era, I tend to go emotionally by what I feel. As such, I get inconsistent 'hits', mainly based on how much I enjoyed them, from various different comics.

To me, the AVENGERS are Silver Age up until Michelinie took over writing them, as even under Conway, and later Shooter, they retained their Silver Age 'feel'. Under Michelinie, the A-team was not only dreadfully written, but were dreadfully written in a manner I cannot help but feel is inarguably an artifact of the Modern Age, which is to say, it mostly blithely ignored all past continuity and characterization in favor of whatever style of overwrought melodrama was selling to the fans at the time.

On the other hand, the Fantastic Four doesn't go Modern Age until Byrne takes over, although I hasten to add here that the FF pretty much hopped in the toilet way back when Conway took over the book from Thomas, wedged itself firmly into the sewer when Wolfman and Pollard grabbed it, and was just painfully godawful for the rest of the Silver Age. It briefly seemed to get comparatively better under Byrne, then got worse again once Byrne stopped regurgitating old Lee-Kirby plots, and has cycled between being mostly horribly unreadable and occasionally interesting if only for brief periods ever since.)

In the Modern Age, Jim Valentino helmed an execrable new GUARDIANS series that saw some success, in which apparently, every 20th century fan favorite Marvel hero or villain had had descendents who all had his or her powers and who all went off and colonized some distant world. Coming up with a 'science fiction' concept that is actually discernibly less intelligent than anything Gene Roddenberry inflicted on SF fandom in STAR TREK is actually something of an accomplishment, if not exactly one to boast of, and that's exactly what Valentino's GUARDIANS book did.

Beyond that, it's also worth noting that in point of fact, Vance Astrovik, the teenager who is an alternate future would/is going to grow up to be Vance Astro of the Guardians of the Galaxy, has become, in the current Marvel 'present day' continuity, a telekinetic mutant who fights evil in the superhero guise of Justice. Originally a New Warrior, Justice and his girlfriend Firestar (whose origins as a cartoon character on an obscure Spider-Man kid's show from the 80s are nearly as obscure and convoluted as Justice's) have since become full fledged Avengers, giving Vance the opportunity to fight alongside his long time hero Captain America, in what is one of Kurt Busiek's more interesting and enjoyable characterization/continuity developments.

As far as I know, though, somewhere in some variant future, the Guardians of the Galaxy are still roaming the spaceways encountering yet more planets populated by peoples who all have adamantium skeletons, bristly hair, and pop out claws. ::shudder::

Having reached the end of our compendium of the greatest super freaks of that greatest of all Silver Age metarealities, the Marvel Universe, I'm struck, and moved to mention at least in passing, the distinction that this article underscores between Marvel and DC.

At DC, as we'll see, the freaks are mainly second and third string characters who either never got a shot at their own titles, or couldn't support them no matter how many chances they were given. DC's mainstream, big gun, A list Silver Age characters are all, for the most part, relentlessly conformist icons of a white, conservative, compassionate middle class America that the corporate controlled media was universally extolling as being the actual reality of the United States, in willful and even blissful ignorance of rising tensions between races, creeds, and even generations just under the surface of the seemingly prosperous post-WWII era. For much of the 60s, DC continued to maintain the illusion of a world that not only had never actually existed, but in fact, even the semblance of which had pretty much vanished within the past decade.

Marvel, on the other hand, had created a universe in which pretty much every character was a freak of some sort or another (whether they rose to a level of freakiness sufficient for me to include them here or not). The Fantastic Four's powers, for example, were all not only highly visual, but in use, made them visually bizarre to a near horrific degree.

Other Marvel A-list characters followed this pattern of nearly monstrous visual oddity, and although we old time Silver Age fans have long since become accustomed to the rather weird appearances of the early Iron Man, Hank Pym's various strangely sized and garbed incarnations, the peculiar visual whackiness of the Wasp, the weirdity that is Thor, God of Thunder, and the sheer underarm-webbed conceptual derangement that is The Amazing Spider-Man... not to mention the horn headed strangeness of Daredevil and the off-the-scale freakishness of the original X-Men... it should be mentioned that at the time these characters debuted, they were pretty frickin' strange. Perhaps it was merely the fact that the company which became Marvel had been publishing monster mags all through the 50s, but whatever the case, whatever the initial Marvel super-offerings were, conventional was not a word that could possibly be seen to apply.

In Direct Contrast (heh), we'll see just how deeply buried below the mainstream DC's own freakish folio was during the Silver Age, in our next installment.

* * * * * * *

If you're filled with hatred and contempt for the Manhunter from Marathon, IL, over this article, in which he either horribly insulted your Favorite Character Of All Time, or worse, didn't even mention him/her/it despite their undeniable freakiness (or maybe just the fact that you like them a whole lot) then by all means, go soak your head. However, if you have something intelligent or interesting to say to me, then feel free to leave a comment below.

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