Golden Age Showcase: Atomic Man

The Golden Age of Comics gave us our first modern superheroes and established the idea of the modern day origin story as an important part of any superhero’s lore.  There were plenty of ways for someone to decide to become a superhero.  He/she could be naturally endowed with great power,

He/she could have suffered a great personal tragedy,

or a person could have gained powers from some sort of magical incantation/device or scientific experiment.

But one of the most popular ways for a superhero to gain powers was a little known plot device called radiation.

It should be noted that while radiation can kill you in real life, a lot of comic books saw the wonders of the real life Atomic Age and decided that this,

could give you superpowers.

The list of superheroes who gained their powers from some form of radiation is extensive and makes up some of comic’s greatest heroes.

Most of these characters were products of the Silver Age of Comics, a time period between 1956 and 1970 where comics became heavily influenced by science fiction and the brave new world that gave us the Space Race and Tang.

However, the heroes of the Silver Age were not the first superheroes to gain powers from strange radiation.  Comic book writers had known about atomic energy since the end of World War 2 and responded accordingly.

Today I present the first hero of the Atomic Age, a man known simply as…Atomic Man.

Origin and Career

Atomic Man first appeared in Headline Comics #16 in November 1945.

There are two things worth mentioning here.  First, while the Atomic Man doesn’t appear on the cover he is used in its advertising and second, this comic would have been published mere months after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War 2.

The character was created by comic strip artist Charles A. Voight,

who began work as a cartoonist in 1908 and was most famous for a strip called “Betty”.

Voight created the Atomic Man as a scientist named Dr. Adam Mann, a scientist who made it his life’s work to study this strange new nuclear science.

Sadly, Dr. Mann fell victim to a lab explosion while experimenting with uranium 235, the type of uranium which makes atom bombs go boom.   The explosion embedded radioactive shrapnel into his right hand.  However, instead of killing him the shrapnel gave him incredible powers including super strength, flight, the ability to manipulate minds (somehow), and energy blasts.

Naturally, Dr. Mann was somewhat terrified of his newfound power, not just because he had the ability to do great damage to the people he cared about, but because of the damage it could cause if it fell into the wrong hands.  As a result the doctor would wear a lead lined glove on his right hand while in his civilian identity and take it off whenever he needed to call upon his powers.

It should also be noted that his costume simply appeared once he took off the glove.

So what happened?

Atomic Man would appear in five more anthology issues and had a pretty good run for a Golden Age hero, even making the cover of Headline Comics three times.  He spent his time fighting various science fiction threats, criminal enterprises, and communists.

His last appearance was in September of 1946, his creator would die in 1947.  Atomic Man himself would be phased out of the Headline Comics title when the comic transitioned away from superhero comics to crime stories that were written by Captain America co creators and comic book legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

While Atomic Man has faded from memory his legacy is an important one for comic books.  I mentioned before just how many superheroes gained their powers from radiation and Atomic Man was the first hero to accomplish this.

But there is something more to the hero than just a cool origin story.  Atomic Man represented a change that wasn’t just occurring in comic books, but in our society as well.  We had just witnessed the awesome and terrifying power of atomic energy,

and we had so many questions and concerns.  How dangerous was this thing?  What if it got into the wrong hands?  What were the true effects of radiation on the human body?  Will this new idea elevate us to a new Golden Age or plunge us into the apocalypse?

Yes a comic book hero as silly as Atomic Man got quite a few things wrong about radiation and yes, maybe a children’s comic book wasn’t the best place to be asking these sorts of questions.  But whether its audience knew it or not, Atomic Man did ask these questions, putting it at the forefront of some of the most important issues of our time.

Golden Age Showcase: Namor the Submariner

Today I would like to talk about the original super hero trinity.

No, not that one.

Back when Marvel Comics was known as Timely Comics the company had their own Trinity of superheroes: Captain America, the robotic Human Torch, and the hero we’re going to talk about today: Namor the Submariner.

Origin and Career

Namor was supposed to premiere in a magazine called Motion Pictures Funny Weekly in April of 1939.

It was supposed to be a giveaway promotional project that would be handed out to movie theater owners.  Unfortunately the idea fell through so Namor’s creator, the legendary Bill Everett,

decided to send the project to another client, Timely Comics.  Timely liked the idea and in December of 1939 they published Namor as a part of their first ever comic book Marvel Comics #1

Fun side note: Bill Everett would later go on to help create the modern day Daredevil for Marvel Comics so…there’s that.

Namor is an important part of comic book history due to the fact that he was the industry’s first anti hero.  In his very first appearance Namor was actually a bad guy who had a short temper and decided to declare war on the surface world of man.

Namor was the child of a human father named Leonard Mckenzie and a princess named Fen who was the daughter of the king of Atlantis.

the man grew up as the heir to the throne of Atlantis and had a rather nasty temper.  Things would come to a head when he battled the Golden Age Human Torch in 1940 while threatening to sink New York under a tidal wave.

In another historical first this was the first fight between superheroes in all of comic books.

Despite his hostility towards the surface world and his seemingly villainous behavior Namor was well received by comic book fans in the 1940’s.

Despite everything Namor did, no matter how cruel or vicious, he did it in the name of protecting his people.  He was viewed as less of a savage villain and more as a noble anti hero and in February of 1940 he made his first cover appearance in Marvel Mystery Comics #3.

I think it’s pretty obvious whose side Namor was on during the Second World War.

From 1941 to 1949 Namor would remain one of the biggest heroes in Timely Comics’ lineup.  He kicked his fair share of Nazi butt during WW2 (it should be noted that during the Golden Age he was much more of a solo act and only during the 1970’s was it revealed that he had worked with Captain America and the Human Torch),

and like all superheroes he suffered from a lack of interest after the war had ended.

However, unlike many superheroes Namor actually survived the 195o’s and experienced something of a revival.  However, his home would be destroyed and his family killed when a villain named Paul Destiny,

used a magical helmet to destroy Atlantis and give Namor amnesia.

So what happened?

Namor was too popular and too important to the Timely Comics Universe to disappear for long.  After Stan Lee revived the superhero genre for the newly named Marvel Comics with his 1961 comic The Fantastic Four,

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the new Human Torch discovered Namor the Submariner living as a homeless man in the middle of New York.

Namor would regain his memory and return to his home of Atlantis, only to discover that it had been destroyed by nuclear testing.  Naturally the man was a bit…upset and attempted to conquer the surface world with a giant worm named Giganto.

Thankfully the Fantastic Four were able to defeat him and it even turned out that Atlantis hadn’t been completely destroyed.

Over the next several decades Namor would continue to play a major role in the Marvel Comics Universe.  Despite the attempts of his people to bring him back as their king Namor would continue to wage war on the surface.  This led him to several team ups with some pretty shady characters like Doctor Doom, Magneto, and the early Hulk.  All of them ended poorly.

In a rather interesting bit of history, Namor’s adventure with the Hulk led him to discovering the frozen body of Captain America, who was being worshiped as a god by a group of Inuit.

Over time the Submariner would abandon his villainous ways and become a true hero, using his vast wealth and power to help create the superhero team The Defenders,

and became heavily involved in the business of superheroics with his self funded company Oracle Inc.

Namor is still going strong as a superhero and is an integral part of the Marvel Comic Book Universe.  He’s so prolific that to describe his entire history would take way more space and time than we have here.

Namor is one of the most fascinating and enduring characters in all of comic books.  As the industry’s first anti hero and literal King of the Seas he is interesting, complex, and a definite force to be reckoned with.

Golden Age Showcase: The Human Torch

So after a long look at the first superhero team put together by what would eventually become DC comics I thought it would be nice to take a break and look at some of Marvel’s heroes from the Golden Age.

Now it should be noted that before Marvel Comics became the Stan Lee powerhouse publisher that we all know and love they were originally known as Timely Comics.  It’s important to know this to avoid any potential confusion.

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With that being said, let’s take a look at one of the their earliest and most popular superheroes, one of the biggest names that Timely had on their roster of superheroes: The Human Torch.

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No, not that one.

Origin and Career

The Golden Age Human Torch was rather unique in that he wasn’t actually human.  He first appeared in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939 and was an android developed by a scientist named Phineas T. Horton.

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While demonstrating his latest creation at a press conference his robotic creation decided to demonstrate a massive design flaw at the worst possible time.  It turned out that when his skin was exposed to oxygen the robot would burst into flame all while remaining unharmed.  Unsurprisingly people were terrified of this strange robot and demanded it’s destruction.

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Not that hard as to see why.  Anyway, Dr. Horton couldn’t bear to destroy his creation and attempted to encase the robot in concrete.  However, a crack in the encasement allowed the Torch to escape and in its confusion it laid waste to a large portion of New York.  After nearly killing his creator the Human Torch vowed to control his powers and to use them to benefit humanity.

After building a special oxygen damper the Human Torch adopted a more human persona and enrolled in the NYPD as a man named Jim Hammond.  During this time he had what was probably his most notable claim to comics fame, his encounter and subsequent fight with Timely’s great anti hero: The Sub Mariner.

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The fight was a hit and the two would later become on again off again rivals/frenemies.

After his first battle with Namor the Human Torch would fulfill his patriotic duty and head off to Europe to go kick some Nazi butt.  Before he would do that he would pick up a sidekick named Thomas “Toro” Raymond, the son of two nuclear scientists who had mutated into…someone who could control and manipulate flames in the same way the Human Torch could.  I’d also like to take this moment to mention that one of their biggest foes was a super villain named “Asbestos Lady”.

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That’s both of them with their WW2 superhero team comprising of Namor, Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Miss. America, and the Whizzer (we will be doing articles on all of them) and they kicked a serious amount of ass in both Europe and the Pacific.  Probably the most notable achievement was when the Human Torch immolated Hitler and ended the war.

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So what happened?

The All Winner’s squadron was disbanded in 1949 after defeating the world’s first nuclear terrorist but the Human Torch continued to survive.  After a brief solo career he and Toro were kidnapped by mobsters and were doused with a chemical that paralyzed him and blew out his flame.  Believing him for dead the mobsters buried the Human Torch in the desert and sold Toro to the Soviet Union.  But in 1953 a nuclear bomb tested near his burial revived him and he returned stronger than ever.

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Sadly, his power was to great and too unstable so in 1955 he flew out to the desert and blew himself up so he wouldn’t hurt anyone.

The Golden Age Human Torch would remain destroyed for the rest of the 1950’s.  However, superheroes would make a roaring comeback with the publication of Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 with an all new, and all human, Human Torch.

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Thanks to the revitalization of the genre the company now known as Marvel just couldn’t leave one of their greatest heroes by the wayside, so in the 1960’s a villain called The Mad Thinker rebuilt the original android and programmed him to fight the Fantastic Four.

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Naturally the robotic Human Torch was too much of a hero to remain under the control of a supervillain for long so he would eventually free himself from the Mad Thinker’s control only to be extinguished, had has hist body stolen by another evil robot name Ultron, and turned into a little known hero called Vision in 1975.

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However, it turned out that this WASN’T the case and the Vision’s body was actually made up of spare parts from the Human Torch.  The real Torch was revived, lost his powers, and would go on to be a mentor and guiding hand for most of the Marvel Universe before blowing himself up again in order to stop a H.Y.D.R.A sleeper agent named Tara.

The Human Torch would continue to exist as a robotic android in one variation or another up until the modern day. He was one of Marvel’s first and greatest superheroes, and continues to be a mentor and inspiration to most of the Marvel Universe.

The Primordial Soup: Let’s talk about the Fantastic Four

So this movie came out not too long ago.

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The reviews have been…not stellar.  Granted I haven’t seen the film yet but looking at this,

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I think it’s safe to say that it’s a pretty crappy movie.  But I want to do something different with the Fantastic Four.  They’ve had a massive streak of horrible luck when it comes to movies

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So instead of reverting back to the same angry outbursts and the same tired old jokes let’s talk about how we can make the Fantastic Four better.  Here are three ways we could put one of the greatest superhero teams into a movie that could actually be half way decent.

1. Embrace the insanity

The Fantastic Four was created by legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby.

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Jack Kirby was the artist who worked with Stan Lee to create such icons as the Hulk, The Black Panther, and Thor, who is especially interesting because Marvel’s Thor is probably the best representation of one of Jack Kirby’s favorite tropes/theories: The Ancient Astronaut Theory.

Basically the theory goes like this: A long time ago aliens visited Earth and had such advanced science and technology that the humans who observed them thought they were gods.  They preceded to tell everyone they saw about these gods and that is how beings like Zeus or Thor came into being.  Kirby was a big fan of this theory and it showed up in his work which is why Thor is a living being from another dimension.

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That’s the sort of thing that needs to be in a Fantastic Four movie.  The Marvel Universe is filled to the brim with strange and crazy alien races with all sorts of weird powers and abilities and would make for fantastic stories.  You have one of the Fantastic Four’s greatest foes, Galactus (who is NOT a goddamn cloud monster like the movies dammit!) who is a being of cosmic power that eats planets, not out of spite or malice, but simply because he’s hungry.  If the second Fantastic Four movie had this on screen with more time to explain his motivations.

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You’d have an amazing movie.  The point is that the Marvel universe is home to some of the strangest alien beings ever seen in literature and most of them became known through the Fantastic Four.

2. For the love of all that’s holy fix Dr. Doom!

Dr. Doom is one of the greatest comic book villains of all time.

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In the comics he is a mad scientist, a master of magic and the black arts (his mother sold her soul to the devil), and the leader of his own country.

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He is not, and never has been, a childhood friend to any member of the Fantastic Four who winds up being a whiny little pushover when it’s time to beat someone.

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Forget all the grand strange cosmic threats that the Four have faced over the years, just having someone as powerful as Dr. Doom threatening to take over the world and having a massive battle with armies of robots and black magic would be worth the price of admission alone.  Heck, you could probably make a better movie about the origins of Dr. Doom alone.

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In fact, holy crap why haven’t they made a movie about Dr. Doom yet?!

3. There should be more to a Fantastic Four movie than just the Fantastic Four.

It’s no small secret that Fox and Sony are engaged in something of a bitter feud with Disney over the fate of many of Marvel’s superheroes that is something tantamount to a four year old shoving match on school playground.  While Disney owns most of the Marvel Universe and is working on re introducing Spider Man after Sony borrowed him for a while, Fox is still bitterly clinging on to the two franchises it still has control over: X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

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This brings us to an uncomfortable fact about the Fantastic Four: their best and most memorable comic books usually involve appearances from other, better characters.  The simple truth is that the Fantastic Four haven’t been the kind of superhero team that can carry a comic on their own, what they are really good at is introducing and working with or against other characters.  Besides Dr. Doom here’s a sample of the other characters the Fantastic Four helped introduce.

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The Black Panther and the Inhumans are two movies that are going to be released by Marvel in the not too distant future and they owe their existence to the Fantastic Four.  Then there are the cameos and team up issues which are just too numerous to list here but here are some of the most noteworthy:

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Some of the team’s best stories were created with other characters which is a prospect that, between the long string of crummy movies and the current business climate, seems highly unlikely.  Maybe it’s time for Fox to throw in the towel and let the rights revert back to Marvel, or maybe they could have the Fantastic Four team up with Fox’s other property the X-Men (which could be cool) but either way it is important to remember that the oldest superhero team in comics usually works better with others.

What do you think?