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The Secret Lives of Villains #175
Golden Age Showcase: Thin Man
Confession time. I’m sitting in an airport terminal in Portland Oregon (long story) and I’ve been so busy that I nearly forgot to write an article this week.
Thankfully I’ve got about two hours to kill before my flight leaves so today we’re going to talk about the first superhero who was able to stretch his body and use it as a super power.
Today we’re going to talk about Thin Man.
Origin and Career
The Thin Man first appeared in Mystic Comics #4 in June of 1940.
He was created by artist Polish artist Klaus Nordling (I was unable to find a picture) and an unknown writer.
As for origins, Thin Man was the first super hero who was able to stretch and mold his body into various shapes.
What really sets him apart from a various number of heroes is that while Plastic Man got his powers from a lab accident,
and Reed Richards got his powers from cosmic rays,
Thin Man got his powers from a group of advanced humans living in a forgotten valley in the Himalayas.
Thin Man’s identity was Bruce Dickenson, a scientist who was exploring the Himalayas and discovered the entrance to a forgotten kingdom called Kalahia.
After he faints, Bruce discovers that the inhabitants of Kalahia have the ability to change their shape and size at will and that for some reason they decided to give him this ability without his knowledge or consent.
What I really love about this story is how they completely disregard world changing revelations such as the existence of aliens on Mars and multiple dimensions and head straight to the crime fighting.
Bruce convinces the elders of Kalahia to allow him to travel back to his home, accompanied by the daughter of one of the elders named Ollala, because this is the Golden Age of comics and you only need three panels to do anything.
As you can see above, Bruce builds a highly advanced propeller driven plane that he uses to murder people, because the casual murder of suspected criminals is totally justified and doesn’t require any explanation.
The rest of the story involves Thin Man and Olalla foiling a group of mobsters who are trying to collect protection money from a taxi driver.
Thin Man uses his advanced technology and his ability to become as thin as a piece of paper to foil the hoodlums and bring the boss to justice.
I like to think that if his adventures had continued that plane would have wracked up one hell of a body count.
So what happened?
Sadly, this origin story would be Thin Man’s first and only Golden Age appearance.
However, Thin Man’s career would get a second wind in the 1970’s when he became part of the World War 2 era Marvel team known as the Liberty Legion.
He’s on the right of the panel in the green and yellow suit.
Long story short, the Liberty Legion fought a lot of Nazis and Nazi related schemes.
Thin Man would later reveal to Captain America that he lost his family and connection to his powers after Olalla had returned to her home shortly before it had been discovered and destroyed by a Nazi villain named Agent Axis.
After Agent Axis gloated that he could not be harmed or prosecuted due to his position as a Nazi scientist working for the United States, Thin Man got angry and snapped his neck. He was arrested by Captain America and sent to prison.
In the 2004 series The New Invaders Thin Man was pardoned by the United States government with the purpose of equipping the new version of his old team with Kalahian technology.
Unfortunately this turned out to be a ruse by the Red Skull, who was disguised as the Secretary of Defense at the time.
Thin Man would wind up creating a warship called The Infiltrator which was a massive battleship designed to be able to cloak itself from any scanner and teleport across dimensions.
The ship wound up sacrificing itself to destroy a doomsday device and saving the world from a villain named U Man.
I don’t know if Thin Man was on board the ship or not when it exploded.
Thin Man is an interesting hero for a number of reason. First, he was the first superhero who could stretch himself and change his form at will, setting the precedent for other heroes such as Reed Richards and Plastic Man. Also, he was the ambassador of a new and different world within the Marvel universe, and if they had not been destroyed by the Nazis I’m willing to bet that they would have become an integral part of the Marvel Universe.
The Secret Lives of Villains #173
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The Secret Lives of Villains #168
Comic book showcase: Magnus, Robot Fighter.
So let’s close out the “Gold Key to Valiant Trilogy” (a name I just made up) with the final hero that was published by Gold Key Comics that made its way to Valiant Comics in the 1990’s: Magnus, Robot Fighter.
Origin and Career
Magnus, Robot Fighter was first published by Gold Key Comics in February of 1963.
He was created by comic book writer and artist Russ Manning.
There are a couple things that should be noted about Russ Manning. First, while Magnus, Robot Fighter was his single greatest creation, he rose to prominence in the comic book world with his work on Tarzan comics.
You will also notice that his artwork is jaw droppingly amazing.
Magnus, Robot Fighter was a man born in the future society of North Am, a futuristic mega city that spans the entire continent of North America in the year 4000 A.D.
While humans are nominally in charge of North Am, they have slowly become more and more dependent on a massive robot workforce. One of their own, a robotic police chief named H-8, hates humanity to the point where he wants to take over North Am and rule over the humans.
Into this story steps Robot 1-A, who appears to be a much older and wiser robot than his companions. He raises a boy named Magnus to fight robots with his bare hands and protect humanity from evil robots and humans who seek to use robots for their own wicked plans.
The adventures of Magnus were pretty straight forward. He would find a robot, or group of robots, that was doing something wrong or detrimental to humanity and beat the ever loving piss out of said evil doers with his bare hands.
Magnus had a girlfriend who would assist him in his adventures named Leeja Clane.
She was the daughter of a North Am senator and possessed telepathic powers that she used to help Magnus from time to time.
Magnus, Robot Fighter was a success and I think there were three reasons why he sold as well as he did.
First, the early sixties were a heyday for some of the greatest science fiction ever written. The scene was dominated by “The Big Three” of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Issac Asimov.
One of Asimov’s greatest contributions to the world of science fiction was his work on robotics, specifically one of his most famous books: 1950’s I, Robot.
In the book he introduced his now famous Three Laws of Robotics,
This was important to Magnus, Robot Fighter because Robot 1A, Magnus’ teacher and mentor, mentions the Three Laws and believes in them so strongly that it serves as Magnus’ origin.
The second cultural event in the early 1960’s was the introduction of karate to every day Americans.
American soldiers who had been stationed in Japan and Okinawa had learned karate from Japanese/Okinawan masters and brought it back to the States.
Since it looked cool and was just exotic enough to impress a lot of Americans it found a home in Hollywood where it was used by Frank Sinatra in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate,
and by Elvis.
when you have a comic that combined popular science fiction with a martial art that was used by two of the coolest men to ever walk the Earth, you know you’ve got a hit.
Also, I mentioned at the top of the article that Magnus had been created by a man who made his mark in the comic book industry by drawing Tarzan stories.
When you put Magnus side by side with Tarzan there are a lot of pretty striking similarities. They were both raised by non human parents, they fight other worldly threats, and they both have a pretty lady friend they get to save and treat as arm candy.
Magnus was basically a futuristic version of Tarzan, and I’m okay with that.
So what happened?
Magnus may have been a popular Gold Key character (I guess people just really like robots and karate) but he fell victim to a force more powerful than any mindless robotic automaton: low sales figures.
The series was cancelled when Gold Key started suffering in the 1970’s.
However, the rights were published by Jim Shooter’s Valiant Comics in the late 1980’s along with Turok and Doctor Solar.
The Valiant version of Magnus was pretty faithful to the Gold Key version, although there was a pretty popular issue where Magnus fought the Predator in 1992.
After Valiant’s parent company was bought by Acclaim in 1995, Magnus was rebooted two years later in 1997.
The series was more of a self parody of the original creation and it was not very well received. Acclaim would close its doors in 1999. It was not sorely missed.
Magnus was picked up by Dark Horse Comics and his original stories were reprinted in 2002.
A new original series was announced in 2010 with Jim Shooter writing which lasted four issues until it was cancelled in 2011.
Currently the series is owned by Dynamite Entertainment which bought the rights in 2013 and began publishing a new original series in 2014.
I have the first volume on my phone. It’s a good story, the artwork is fantastic, and I would highly recommend it. In it’s own special way I think it’s come full circle.
Magnus, Robot Fighter was a silly idea with a silly name and only the most basic story lines and motivation. However, the endearing nature of such a wonderfully simple concept (coupled with the fact that it borrowed heavily from established characters and jumped on the two major bandwagons of karate and 1960’s science fiction), made the comic a classic of the medium and ensured that it would be several times better than it had any right to be.
Next week we’re going to be talking about the little comic book publisher that became one of the great icons of horror but was squashed by the ever rolling tide of history.
The Secret Lives of Villains #154
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