While the Space Race turned the imaginations and attention of the American public towards the stars science fiction writers have been just as interested in what possibly lay below our feet as well as above our heads. Some of the more famous examples include Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth,
the reptilian Silurians who live under the Earth’s crust from Dr. Who,
and the gloriously cheesy yet surprisingly touching 1951 movie Superman and the Mole Men.
Why do I bring these two examples up? Because they all ascribe to the idea that there is an entire world living underneath our feet just like today’s Golden Age superhero: Rockman.
Origin and Career
Rockman first appeared in USA Comics #1 in August of 1941.
The name that is credited in the first page of his origin is Charles Nicholas, which was an in house pseudonym for several artists including the legendary Jack Kirby but the majority of Rockman’s stories were written and drawn by Basil Wolverton
and one of Rockman’s stories was signed by Stan Lee himself.
Rockman was actually a member of the mysterious underground kingdom of Abysmia, a kingdom under the surface of North America and allegedly founded by the first white settlers of the continent. Rockman is the leader of the Abysmians and realizes that in order to protect his kingdom he must ascend to the surface because the vibrations he was reading told him that the surface dwellers were at war.
Once he got the surface Rockman used is incredible strength, speed, and ability to withstand incredible pressure and lack of oxygen to do what all Golden Age heroes did best: beating the crap out of Nazi and Japanese caricatures. His first menace was to fight and defeat the nefarious Zombo, a man who was capable of hypnotizing other people to do his bidding and was running around the Pacific sinking ships.
His third adventure (which was actually written by Stan Lee) had him defeat an army of pixies who also lived underground,
and his final adventure had him facing off and defeating the villainous Le Barbe who made the grave mistake of trying to take over all the gold mines in Alaska.
So what happened?
Despite the fact that Rockman had some top tier talent behind him he only lasted four issues, probably falling victim to the same issues of lack of interest that the majority of his Golden Age compatriots suffered.
There was also the problem with Rockman being a bit…bland. Sure he was a king with a secret kingdom and sure he had advanced technology and gadgets, and sure he had a cool idea behind him but there just wasn’t a whole lot of nuance to the character. He was the kind of hero that was fun for a couple of stories but not much after that.
Rockman would later be revived in the 2007-2008 comic book mini series The Twelve where a lot of that would change.
The new Rockman got a face lift from artist Chris Weston where he looked a lot more intimidating.
He even got to keep some of his gadgets like the Digger Car.
However, all the gadgets in the world couldn’t save Rockman and the rest of the group when they were captured and placed into stasis by Nazi scientists only to be discovered over sixty years later.
We’ve been covering the Twelve for a while now and one of the things that has fascinated me the most about the series is how Michael J. Straczynski turns the story into a deeply poignant tale about recovering lost identity and re discovering your place in a world that has moved on. For some members of the twelve this works out perfectly.
However, Rockman was one of the hardest hit by the change.
Even though the group was moved to a mansion in upstate New York Rockman spent most of his time in the cellar beating his fists against the ground in a vain attempt to contact his long lost kingdom of Abyssia.
However, it turned out that Abyssia may have not been a real place and that Rockman was actually suffering from something much darker than homesickness.
While it was never confirmed in the series proper it was strong hinted that Rockman wasn’t actually a being from an ancient kingdom but a former miner by the name of Daniel Rose.
According to a woman named Danielle Rose, a woman who claimed that Daniel was her great uncle,
everything about Rockman from the equipment he used to the kingdom of Abyssia, was a coping mechanism designed by Daniel to cope with the loss of his family and friends to a mining accident.
Daniel had been a coal miner in West Virginia where he had attempted to form a union but when a local boss threatened to hurt his family Daniel and the miners fought back, causing a horrific accident that somehow released a mutagen gas that gave Daniel super strength. Since he was the only survivor Daniel was wracked with guilt and spent the rest of his days pining for his lost kingdom and not remembering the family he once had.
While he never discovered his true identity and never found is old home Rockman died a hero, protecting his colleagues trapped in the mansion after another of the heroes named Dynamic Man attempted to kill them by lighting the house on fire.
Rockman is an interesting case in the study of Golden Age superheroes. On one hand he is presented as a king, ruler of his own lands and a steadfast warrior who fought to protect his people and the world above him but on the other hand he is presented as a mentally scared and unbalanced man who was given superpowers and used them to cope with the death of his family. It’s actually kind of funny, on one hand he’s like Aquaman and on the other he’s like Batman.