Thursday, September 1, 2011

Secret Origins

Here's another random issue that popped out during the comics cull. This is Secret Origins issue 16 from DC comics in July 1987 featuring origin stories for three of their lesser known characters.

First up is the Warlord written by Michael Fleischer with art by Adam Kubert, the son of legendary comics artist Joe Kubert. The Warlord is American spy pilot, Travis Morgan, who flies through a hole in the earth's crust somewhere in Alaska and finds himself in a lost world. The land of Skartaris is a jungle world populated with fairly primitive tribes of people and with dinosaurs. The Warlord was created by Mike Grell in 1975 and contains obvious nods to Conan Doyle's Lost World and to Edgar Rice Burough's Pellucidar. This origin story deals with Morgans' early life and, in particular, his encounter with a school bully who will gain revenge on him in later life by sending him on the doomed mission which leads to his crash. The art is quite good but the story is fairly so-so. How many times have we seen the school bully trope?

So onwards to a single page origin story for one of DC's strangest characters, 'Mazing Man. This bizarre chap featured in a fairly well known 12 issue mini series by Bob Rozakis and Stephen DeStafano. 'Mazing Man was the secret identity of Sigfried Horatio Hunch III, a chap who worn a million dollars in a magazine competition and then spent his life dressing up in a home made costume and performing little acts of kindness in his New York neighbourhood. It was a weird but somehow charming comic strip and here we get a single page showing how Sigfried finds his super-hero helmet discarded in a trash can. There's a nice panel where he contemplates the letter M on the helmet and tries out several possible super-hero names including Miracleman and Marvelman before settling on the always apostrophised 'Mazing Man. This was in 1987 after the success of Watchmen so the creators would have been well aware of Alan Moore and the legal dispute between Marvel comics and Warrior magazine that led to Moore renaming Marvelman as Miracleman. It's an amusing nod to the troubled naming of comic book characters.

I suspect the 'Mazing Man page was the reason I bought this issue of Secret Origins. It was not a comic I normally read but I have all the 'Mazing Man appearances and this issue will go back into the box with them.

Finally, we have the golden age Hourman by Roy and Dann Thomas, with art by Michael Bair and Mike Gustovich. This is golden age as in the period from the 1930s when comics sold in their millions up to the 1950s and Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent which caused so much trouble for the comic book industry. Roy Thomas is a well known enthusiast for the golden age heroes and was apparently dismayed when many of them were forgotten or written out of history in DC comics Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985. He wrote many of their origins for this Secret Origins series which must have been one of the last things he did for DC before moving to Marvel in 1987.

Hourman is a mild mannered chemist who invents a wonder drug called Miraclo that gives him super strentgh and speed for about an hour before reurning to normal. In this issue he finds his costume in a circus changing room and first uses his powers to fight crime. This wonder drug introduces two interesting features to the standard super hero origin. The first is of course the time limit and Hourman would come up against the problem of his waning powers on several occasions. The other catch is the addictive nature of the drug which is teased at in this story. Roy Thomas could always find ways to make the golden age heroes relevant to a modern audience.

So it's a nice spread of stories. The art is nothing special but it survives in my collection due to that single page of 'Mazing Man.

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