Golden Age Showcase: Mercury

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.

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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.

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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!

Golden Age Showcase: The Turtle

So let’s get back to the Golden Age villains and to start off the week I’d like to talk about rouges galleries.

It think it’s safe to say that a hero is really only as good as the villain he or he fights.  A good villain can provide the perfect foil for the hero, confronting the main character and by extension the reader with challenging questions like what is the true nature of evil?  Can a hero always be “good” or is he corruptible?  Or just how difficult is it to get rid of a bomb?


To that extent it is safe to say that Batman has one of the greatest collection of super villains in comic book history.


Each of the characters is unique, interesting, and provides their own special challenge to the Dark Knight.  But I’m not here to talk about Batman, I want to talk about another rogues gallery that is just as interesting and almost as famous as the caped crusader’s: the rogues gallery of Batman’s friend and everyone’s favorite speedster The Flash.


While the Flash’s Rogues Gallery has gone through several variations over the years villains like Gorilla Grodd, the Pied Piper, and Captain Cold (my personal favorite and what I think is the best thing about the Flash TV show on the CW) have made sure that the Flash has remained a popular and enduring superhero.


With that being said, characters and ideas like this take time to develop and the Flash’s current Rogues Gallery didn’t just spring up over night.  Like everything good there was a lot of trial and error before getting the right collection of super villains together and today I’d like to talk about one of Flash’s stranger and less practical villains: The Turtle.


Origin and career:

The original Turtle super villain first appeared in All Flash #21 in 1945.  This is the cover.


As you can probably guess he isn’t the most menacing super villain on the planet.


His gimmick was simple.  While the Flash was the fastest man alive the Turtle decided that the best way to defeat the Flash was to…slow down.  That was it, he was a super villain who thought the best way to defeat a speedster was to move and act very, very slowly.  It turned out there was a very good reason for this, the Turtle was a smoker and couldn’t move very fast since all those cigarettes had damaged his lungs.

To be fair his logic was somewhat sound (for a comic book) and be believed that since the Flash was moving so fast it would be easy to trick him into making mistakes, especially with enough prior planning.  However, his planning went about as well as you’d expect and the Turtle was captured by the Flash with little to no difficulty.


He would later adopt a turtle themed costume to fight the Flash and was able to give a semi decent account of himself in the 1940’s by tricking the Flash into running into things.


However, by this time the Golden Age was coming to an end and the original Turtle decided to fade into the background of the Flash’s city and slowly build up a criminal empire.

So what happened?

Apparently the idea that a person who was slow and methodical could beat a man who possessed super speed was such a good one that when it came time to replace the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick with the Silver Age Flash Barry Allen

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It was decided that the Turtle, or in this case a criminal inspired by the Turtle, would be the first costumed gimmick super villain the new Flash would face.

Since the original Turtle was still in hiding a bank robber who admired the previous exploits of the original Golden Age Turtle decided to adopt the identity and gimmick of his idol and call himself…Turtle Man.

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While it may seem confusing at first this new villain was quite a bit more competent than his predecessor.  Like his idol Turtle Man was known for slow and methodical planning and for using the Flash’s speed against him.  For example, he painted his silhouette on a wall and tricked the Flash into running into it (and yes it’s exactly like this)


or he once used the Flash’s speed against him by forcing the Flash to run on water and using the shock waves to propel his own boat forward at the same speed.

However, this Turtle Man’s greatest difference is that he decided to apply some Silver Age comic book science to his crimes and used a vast personal fortune and scientific know how to create gadgets that could slow down others around him.  It’s also worth mentioning that in later appearances he adopted at more turtle themed appearance as well.


Interestingly enough, Turtle Man would actually go on to meet his Golden Age idol and the two would be come partners in crime.


The two attempted to take over the Golden Age’s home of Keystone city but were foiled when their underground lab was destroyed with the Turtle seemingly dying underneath the rubble and Turtle Man being taken into custody.

It would later be revealed that the Turtle survived the explosion and in his last appearance it was revealed that he had the ability to steal speed from others and make it look like they were moving in slow motion.

So that’s the Turtle, a lesson in that no matter how strange or inadequate a character can be all you need is time, and a seemingly endless number of re vamps and re writes, to turn that character into a competent super villain.

By the way, I also think that the modern Turtle would make an excellent addition to the Flash tv show on the CW.  Who’s with me?

Golden Age Showcase: The Flash

Today marks the half way point in our series on the Golden Age superhero team, the Justice Society of America.


Today is the day we also get to talk about one of the JSA’s most enduring heroes and greatest legacy to the world of superhero comics, a hero whose name is a titan among heroes and is often uttered in the same breath as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman: The Flash.


Origin and career

Mild mannered Jayson Peter Garrick was but a humble college student who suffered from two problems.  First, he looked and dressed like he was in his 40’s and second, his social life was a wreck because he was a lousy football player.


All that changed one fateful evening when he spilled some incredibly dangerous heavy water in his lab during his smoke break (because it was the 1940’s and smoking indoors was still a thing)


Instead of killing him the heavy water granted him super speed and a generation of young fans were introduced to the idea that playing around with dangerous chemicals in very unsafe ways could actually be a good thing.  After a brief career as a football star Jay decided to fight crime instead and in 1940’s Flash Comics #1 he made his debut as the Flash.


A couple of notes about this Flash (there were future versions of the character that we will get to later).  He was modeled after the Greek god Hermes, the god of travelers and thieves who was known for wearing winged sandals and for being incredibly fast and his helmet was a WW1 style American helmet which he decided to wear in honor of his father.  Also, he was one of the first heroes of the Golden Age to not be a total rip off of Superman.  While this Flash was just as fast as the Man of Steel (and some would argue even faster) speed and incredibly fast reflexes were his only power, forcing him to rely more on wits and quick timing than brute strength.


Flash proved to be incredibly popular.  He was one of the founding members of the Justice Society but left after six issues in order to appear in his own solo series All Flash comics in 1941.


The series would continue until 1948 when it was cancelled after 36 issues and Jay would also have a long and distinguished career with the Justice Society right up until the very end.

So what happened?

The same thing that happened to almost every other superhero from the Golden Age.  Flash’s solo comic was cancelled in the post war decline of superheroes and the JSA wasn’t far behind.  There was an interesting bit of drama later in the 1950’s when it was revealed that the JSA was almost unmasked because they were under investigation by the Senate Committee of Un American Activities (for non American readers and people who don’t know the history the Committee of Un American Activities was a bit of Cold War paranoia headed by a man named Joe McCarthy where a lot of artists and famous people were questioned and accused of being Communist sympathizers and spies) but refused to submit to government authority (it was later revealed to be a plot of a time traveling super villain named Per Degaton).  Jay would take this as a hint and retired to live with his long time sweetheart and wife Joan and devoted his life to science.

But that is not the end of the Flash.  In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Jay Garrick would make another appearance that would change the face of super hero comics forever and save the genre.

In 1956 the company now known as DC Comics released Showcase #4 which featured the Flash with a new look and a new sci fi bent to his character.

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Along with the new look came a new identity.  This new Flash was a man named Barry Allen and he kickstarted what is traditionally known as the Flash’s origin story when a bolt of lightning threw him into a batch of chemicals that gave him his powers.



However, a new Flash with a new mythology created continuity problems for the writers at DC.  If Jay Garrick and Barry Allen existed in the same universe than how come Jay had never heard of the Speed Force and how had Barry never heard of Jay?  Well, DC had an answer for that too and in 1961 it was revealed in the comic Flash of Two Worlds that they actually resided in two separate dimensions.


Barry Allen would go on to be what many people think of when they hear about the Flash.  Everything from the Flash’s popular rogues gallery


To the really far fetched sci fi ideas like the cosmic treadmill


belonged to Barry.  While Jay Garrick would continue to exist as a character within the DC multiverse he was more of a supporting character and father figure to many of the younger heroes and as a fully fledged crime fighter in other universes as well.


The mantle of the Flash would be passed on to others as time went on.  Wally West and Bart Allen are two of the most famous.  But to many fans of comic books, especially DC superhero books, Jay Garrick is and will always be the first speedster of comics.

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