It’s October folks!
The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing, and the weather is getting cooler.
Normally, most forms of entertainment start churning out the horror and scary stuff around this time, and in the near future we won’t be so different. However, I thought it might be nice to give the sun one last hurrah and talk about a bright and colorful superhero from days of yore.
She’s also a lady so here’s another chance to showcase a hero that didn’t get a whole lot of attention back then.
This is Sun Girl.
Origin and Career
Sun Girl made her first appearance in her self titled series Sun Girl #1 in August of 1948.
While the writer of the comic is uncredited, the art was done by a man named Ken Bald.
Ken Bald was actually one of the more prolific and successful artists of the Golden Age and did a lot of work as a staff artist at Timely Comics where he drew many of Timely’s most popular heroes. He is also known for his comic strip work, such as a strip based off of the 1970’s tv show Dark Shadows.
A couple things of note. First, hooray we actually managed to tie in some horror into an October post! Second, if the name Dark Shadows isn’t familiar to younger readers all you need to know is that they tried making a modern movie based off it starring Johnny Depp.
It wasn’t well received.
Anyway, in an age where comic book super heroines were surprisingly independent and capable Sun Girl…was not. Her civilian name was Mary Mitchell and she started life as the secretary and love interest of the original Human Torch. When the Human Torch’s original sidekick Toro takes a leave of absence she insisted that she becomes Torch’s sidekick despite having no superpowers. The Torch is not pleased and responds with stereotypical 1940’s male talk.
But…she knows judo so that fixes everything I guess? Also, she had a “sun beam” gun that shot bright flashes of light. Honestly, there were better superheroines out there at this time.
Her lack of powers and crazy weapons didn’t stop her from having something of a career. After her three issue solo series she appeared in the Human Torch series for three issues,
and she guest starred in Captain America and Submariner books.
Thankfully, during her short career she wasn’t entirely useless. She would often bring a more human and compassionate side to her superhero work and was able to make an impact on the Human Torch’s career. Perhaps her biggest achievement was helping the Torch prove a wrongfully accused man innocent.
So what happened?
Toro came back from his leave of absence and Mary went back to being the Human Torch’s secretary. Then the comic book industry went kaput and Timely Comics re branded to eventually become Marvel Comics and the Human Torch became a character who didn’t need a secretary.
However, Sun Girl didn’t just fade away into obscurity and become a tiny little footnote in comic book history. She had enough fans and people who remembered her to bring her into the modern era. The first appearance of the new and improved Sun Girl was in Superior Spider Man Team Up #1 in June of 2013.
Right off the bat the new Sun Girl has a more independent and interesting origin. She’s an engineer named Selah Burke who developed a suit that gives her the ability to fly and two light blasting pistols. Also, she’s the daughter of Edward Lanksey, an out of work college professor who became a super villain.
Her next appearance would be as part of the Marvel Comics team called the New Warriors in 2014.
Sun Girl is an interesting comic book super heroine, but not for the reasons you might expect. She didn’t have any extraordinary powers, she didn’t have a very long career, and she didn’t have the impact on popular culture that many of her other female colleagues had. With that being said, she was smart, courageous, always willing to do the right thing, and has one of the most comprehensive and fulfilling post Golden Age careers of any female superhero.
You know what I really like about comics? The scope and scale of the medium.
Sure, in any artistic medium you can tell big stories, but in comics? Comics are the new mythology, giving us larger than life characters that serve as brightly colored allegories for the larger world.
The Golden Age of Comics had their myths and legends but let’s be honest with ourselves…they were somewhat limited.
It makes sense I guess. After all, a lot of people were pressuring creators to churn out new superheroes as quickly as possible and there are only so many ways you can copy heroes like Superman or Batman. Plus, our country was faced with an actual larger than life event known as World War 2 so those heroes were tasked with winning the war, but surely there had to be some way to inject a little grandiosity into the comic book scene.
Where’s the magic? Where’s the ridiculousness? Where’s the cosmic scale of it all?
Oh, this’ll be interesting.
Origin and Career
Stardust the Super Wizard, a giant space magician with super strength and a tiny head,
was first published in Fantastic Comics #1 in December of 1939.
The title was published by Fox Features Syndicate, who published the first Blue Beetle, and created by writer and artist Fletcher Hanks.
Hanks is also responsible for creating one of the first female characters in comics, a woman named Fantomah.
Hanks was something of an elder statesman for a comic book industry that was dominated by teenagers. He specialized in creating supernatural characters who had no qualms about wrecking terrible revenge against their antagonists and Stardust was no exception.
His origins are simple. He’s a mysterious super being who descends from the stars to wreck terrible retribution on criminals everywhere. Everyone knows this this due to a strange radio broadcast that tells them everything.
What’s his backstory? Where does he come from? Nobody knows.
What we do know is that his powers are seemingly limitless, and he demonstrates his power against two thugs who are just about to assassinate the President.
It’s pretty clear that our hero is a giant and has more powers than Superman did at his height.
It’s worth mentioning that Stardust also partakes in one of the hallmarks of the Golden Age of comics: the hero murdering hoards of criminals and evil doers in brutal fashion.
The first story sets the tone for most of the Stardust stories as the hero defeats a series of increasingly over the top and surprisingly well equipped enemies with unimaginable violence. While he would only last for 16 issues, each one of them is pretty epic and worth checking out.
It’s worth mentioning that Stardust didn’t just police Earth, he dedicated his life to busting crime all across the solar system from his private star base.
He had enemies with creative names like Kaos of Venus, the Brain Men of Mars, and Yew Bee.
My personal favorite is the story where our hero faces the evil machinations of an arch criminal named De Structo, who plans to use an oxygen destroying ray to suffocate the political leadership of the United States.
No I’m not making any of that up.
Stardust captures De Structo and punishes him by removing the villain’s head, keeping it alive, and throwing it to an alien beast known as a “giant headhunter”.
Funny how the headhunter alien looks suspiciously human. Also, that is not a good way to go.
So what happened?
As I stated above, Stardust only lasted for 16 issues. I have no idea why he didn’t last longer and can only assume that people were allergic to fun and epicness.
Thankfully, all was not lost and it turned out that Fletcher Hanks had developed something of a cult following. All of his Golden Age stories were collected into anthologies and are currently published by Fantagraphics Books.
Also, it turns out that Stardust is a superhero that has greatly benefited from being in the public domain since he has actually appeared in a lot of other independent projects.
Some of his more notable appearances have been in Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,
He also had a cameo in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon #141.
He’s also been used in a genre that we don’t talk a lot about on this blog: table top games. His name was used as an example of how power corrupts in The Super Villain Handbook by Fainting Goat Games.
Stardust the Super Wizard may have had a short career in the Golden Age, but it was a career filled with memorable events and villains. He’s remembered fondly today and his reputation is well deserved.