Jan 10, 2018
3 insane forgotten superheroes that need a reboot
The Golden Age of Comics was a different time, when copyright was just a friendly suggestion and no one seemed to know how to draw. Not that it would have mattered if they did, since the paper quality of the time was just a small step below gas station toilet paper and would disintegrate if you turned the pages too quickly.
The unexpected success of Superman led to a virtual explosion of imitators, but also an explosion of new characters that weren’t really copies, but instead just bat-shit insane. See, another iconic aspect of the Golden Age is that there wasn’t really much in the way of quality control; publishers were just trying to cash in on the superhero fad as quickly as possible, sort of like the zombie fad of a few years ago, but with terrible costumes instead of rotting flesh. Of course, once this tights-obsessed gold rush ended, it left behind countless characters that, while not exactly good, are so completely fucking bonkers it’d be a shame to let them disappear into obscurity. I mean, further into obscurity.
The article continues after these advertisements...
1. Stardust the Super Wizard and Fantomah
In 1939, an obscure artist named Fletcher Hanks made a move into comic books as a response to the popularity of Superman, but in his defense, he didn’t just straight-up trace a Superman comic and give him a different haircut like everyone else. No, instead, his inspiration appears to have been “passing out from absinthe in a snow drift and then drawing the ensuing nightmares,” because there is no other goddamn way to explain his creations. Thus, the world was exposed to the twin nightmares of Stardust the Super Wizard, and Fantomah.
I’m making this a double entry, because otherwise this whole article would end up being about Fletcher Hanks’s rage against a sinful world. Stardust the Super Wizard is introduced as “the most remarkable man who ever lived” and just sort of shows up on Earth one day to fight crime. That’s it; that’s all we’re ever told about him, other than that he’s from somewhere in space and has a really disturbing penchant for technically-not-murder-because-they-magically-live-through-this human mutilation. This was kind of Hanks’s trademark, as Fantomah liked to do the same thing. Either that, or Hanks didn’t know how the human body works at all; he seemed to think we’re all made of Play-Doh.
Fantomah was mostly the same, though with more deliberate horror than the accidental insanity of Stardust. Dubbed the “Mystery Woman of the Jungle”, Fantomah is never given a real origin either; we’re just told that she uses her reality-warping powers to protect her jungle home. While that’s all well and good, her punishments tend to fall more on the side of something Freddy Krueger might dream up than any superhero. And the skull face doesn’t do her any favors either.
While Fantomah eventually got new writers and was overhauled into something less Twilight Zone-y, Stardust’s adventures would essentially become the most disturbing magnus opus of all time, as Hanks would draw 51 stories about the guy, all of which revealed that readers in the 1940s apparently had a real taste for cruel and ironic mutilation. In fact, just so you can share in my trauma, here are a few highlights of Stardust’s career.
For some reason, Stardust wasn’t among the many superheroes that got revived when the Silver Age rolled around, and he quietly slipped into the public domain where he remains to this day, to terrorize anyone foolish enough to dig too deep into the half-forgotten annals of comic history. Fletcher Hanks would move on from comics and take up his true calling as a penniless, alcoholic drifter. That’s not a joke, by the way; the guy who drew these horrors froze to death on a park bench in 1976. If that’s not the setup for a horror movie, I don’t know what is.
2. Red Rube
By the mid-’40s, Superman found that he was no longer the hottest thing in goofy tights. Hell, he didn’t even have the goofiest tights anymore, because Fawcett Comics had managed to strike it rich with Captain Marvel, who differed from Superman in a very important way: he didn’t spend all his time psychologically torturing his friends.
While DC would eventually go on to destroy Fawcett in a lawsuit for daring to invent a character who vaguely sort of resembled Superman, there was a time when Captain Marvel was the biggest name in superhero comics. So of course, rival comic publisher MLJ decided to copy the copy. Thus, Red Rube was born.
Red Rube is so lazily plagiarized that he was like the video game sprite webcomic of his era. Originally appearing in Zip Comics (not to be confused with Zap Comix—for god’s sake, do not confuse the two!), Red Rube is actually an orphan named Reuben who can magically transform into an adult superhero named… Red Rube. I’ll give MLJ credit for not copying Captain Marvel’s iconic lightning bolt emblem. Instead, Red Rube doesn’t bother with a shirt at all.
Just like Captain Marvel, Rueben got his powers from a weird old man, but unlike Marvel, his powers come from the ghosts of his ancestors rather than a grab-bag of mythological figures chosen mostly so they’d spell out “Shazam”. Meaning that in the case of Red Rube, the name doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. Well, it means someone who’s easy to fool, which isn’t really the kind of thing you’d like to imply about your superhero persona, unless it’s supposed to be a subtle jab at the people who paid 10 cents to read this crap instead of buying a war bond like a good patriot.
However, poor Red Rube didn’t get to stay in the public eye for very long, as Zip Comics only lasted another year before folding and that was the last anyone ever heard of him. Despite many other old MLJ characters getting revived in modern comics, no one has yet shown any interest in Reuben. However, he did leave us on this high note.
3. Major Domo and JoJo
We all remember the wartime adventures of our favorite heroes, even if most of those adventures revolved around telling us to slap whatever ethnicity we were at war with. But there was a problem for foreign fans of American comics; namely, there was a giant-ass war on and comic books didn’t exactly count as essential mail. The solution? Artists in Canada and the UK produced their own superhero comics.
The UK would create Marvelman out of repurposed Captain Marvel comics, which would eventually be rebooted in the ’80s as Alan Moore’s incredible Miracleman series. Canada, however, doesn’t seem to have fared as well. But they totally could, if they ever decided to bring back Major Domo and his sidekick JoJo!
Created right at the end of the war, Major Domo is a crime-fighting special agent working for the newly created United Nations to weed out any surviving Axis agents. The only problem is he doesn’t have any arms, having lost them while fighting in Europe. That’s where his assistant JoJo comes in, as the diminutive sidekick functions as Major Domo’s missing limbs, allowing the two to serve as a kind of non-apocalyptic Blaster Master team. While I don’t doubt their badassnsess, it’s tough to be armless and a secret agent. You simply can’t blend in very well when you’re carrying around a midget with a giant mustache to be your hands.
The duo’s exploits were relatively short-lived once the war was over and Canada could import American comics again. But you can’t argue that this team isn’t a dozen times more memorable than the generic superhero clones churned out in the US during the war. Not to mention, Major Domo is effectively the first handicapped crime-fighter, two decades before Professor X would start recruiting adolescents to throw at his evil ex.