So the Boston Marathon was today.
I know this because I live right by the Marathon starting point, and I spent the last six hours praying to every god above that I didn’t have to deal with the traffic (long story short, I did…it wasn’t fun). Anyway, spending all that time thinking about running got me thinking about comic book speedsters and provided the inspiration for today’s article.
Anyone with even the the most basic comic book/pop culture knowledge can probably name one speedster.
It’s an incredibly useful power to have and many of these heroes who possess super speed are capable of going toe to toe with opponents who, at least on paper, are even more powerful than they are.
But here’s the thing, I’ve already covered two Golden Age speedsters: the first and original Flash from DC Comics.
and the spectacularly named “Whizzer” from Timely Comics, who got his power from mongoose blood (swear to God, not making that up).
But here’s the thing, the Whizzer was not Timely’s first attempt to imitate the Flash and create a speedster. That honor goes to the original god of speed himself: Mercury.
Origin and Career:
Mercury appeared in Red Raven Comics #1 which was published in August of 1940.
Mercury’s first and only Golden Age appearance was actually pretty important to the world of comics. For starters he was created by writer Martin A. Burnsten and the man, the myth, and the perpetual loser of hard earned credit, Jack Kirby.
Mercury was also one of the first instances of Timely Comics using actual mythological gods from history in their comics since Mercury was the Roman name for Hermes, the original speedster from antiquity.
This is a strategy that would pay off big for Marvel in the future.
Anyway, in Timely’s story the Greek god Zeus looked down on Earth and saw it was being ravaged by war. It’s worth re iterating that this comic was published in 1940.
Zeus deduced that his evil brother Pluto (you may also know him as Hades) was the one responsible for this madness and sent Mercury down to Earth in order to make things right.
Mercury meets his uncle who is posing as the power mad dictator of “Prussialand” (subtle Kirby…really subtle) and when talk fails the god of speed proceeds to wreck Prussialand’s plans despite the best efforts of a Prussialand spy named Thea Shilhausen and does such a good job that Prussialand effectively surrenders and peace talks begin.
The comic ends with peace being restored and Mercury returning to Olympus.
So what happened?
Red Raven Comics would only last one issue. The very next month it was replaced by a new hero who would go on to become a Timely Comics staple: The Human Torch.
But the idea of having a Greek god in Marvel’s library wouldn’t go away and and over thirty years later it would come roaring back.
See Kirby was a HUGE fan of ancient gods and mythology and it would be a huge influence in his later work. Probably his most famous example was when he left Marvel in 1971 to work for DC. The reason? Well, Kirby had spent the 1960’s creating many of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes with Stan Lee.
Bear in mind, this is just a small sample of what Lee and Kirby created but unfortunately there was some disagreement over who did what and Jack wasn’t too happy with what Marvel was paying him.
When Kirby came to work for DC he created a comic book series called “The Fourth World” which branched off into titles such as “New Gods”.
The Fourth World Saga is a massive heady mix of mythology and modern culture and to talk about it would take an entire book on its own. Unfortunately, the Fourth World didn’t sell as well as Kirby’s Marvel creations. However, he was responsible for creating one of DC’s most iconic and dangerous villains in the entire DC universe: Darkseid.
Kirby would return to Marvel in 1976 and it could easily be said that his time at DC had a profound effect on his work. Marvel let Kirby create a series called The Eternals and it’s fairly easy to see the similarities between The Eternals and The New Gods.
Like the New Gods, the Eternals were a group of god like beings who possessed incredible powers and long lives. They fought against groups such as the Deviants
and to go any further would be getting into Marvel’s cosmic history which, like the New Gods, is incredibly complicated and dense and would require much more time to explain here.
One of these Eternals was a being named Makkari.
Makkari was an Enternal who had spent quite a lot of time on Earth. In the series he helped teach writing to the Egyptians, learned philosophy from Plato, witnessed the reign of Vlad the Impaler, and even taught Elvis a few tricks.
But most importantly he was sent to Earth by the Eternal Zuras
under the aliases of Mercury and Hurricane, which was the name of another Marvel speedster from the 1940’s.
In a stroke of genius Kirby had changed his original 1940’s work from a one off tale about a Greek god coming to Earth to thrusting him into the middle of a rich and complex celestial story that still has a tremendous impact in the Marvel Universe today.
Seriously, Kirby was the man!