Well, that was almost exactly everything that this series, and I include the Neil Gaiman episode last week, has failed to be. Not quite: there was one almighty wobble in the final couple of minutes, until it was retrieved by one mother of a cliffhanger: John Hurt. The Doctor.
I have history with Doctor Who. I watched the first episode, that long black-and-white time ago. I didn’t see the second episode, not until it was repeated eighteen years later. But I was a regular, throughout the Hartnell and Troughton years, except that I missed both regenerations: I’m old enough to remember that the first time round it wasn’t a regeneration at all, rather a rejuvenation, from about 900 years old back to 700 years.
I missed most of Pertwee and Baker (T), but I did catch my first regeneration with Baker to Davidson. I was a regular then, one of the few who liked Baker (C), but dropped off with McCoy. I watched the movie with McGann, but don’t remember it, and I sat down to Eccleston with anticipation that quickly evaporated. To be honest, the New Who wasn’t my sort of thing, and since I seemed to be one of the few people in the Universe who thought Billie Piper was uninteresting and couldn’t act (I mean, I don’t even find her attractive), it seemed saner to walk away.
I did see the last episode with Tennant, and managed to stay awake during that turgid, overlong, wholly overdone bit at the end where he toured the entire SpaceTime Continuum just to stare meaningfully at everybody who’d appeared over all four seasons so far. But, to be honest, whilst I suspected that Stephen Moffatt would be a far more fun showrunner, I really only tuned in to check out Karen Gillan.
And she was very worth checking out, but the revelation was that Matt Smith was fun, and fascinating as the Eleventh Doctor, and the stories were fast-paced and silly and deep in the right proportions, and Gillan was also bloody good as Amy Pond. And I thought Rory was great too, and it kept hitting emotional points on the button.
And the best of them all was the Ponds’ final appearance, a dull, drear, overhyped effort that was going very badly until that moment Rory stepped up onto the parapet, prepared to sacrifice himself to save the woman he loved and the show just punched a fist through my heart and twisted, until the final moment.
So I was looking forward to the second half of this series, until it happened. Great guest stars, playing great roles. Jenna-Louise Coleman looks great. But it wasn’t working. I enjoyed the first couple of shows, the ones that everybody else hated, and after that, once everybody started enjoying the fare, I just found myself getting less and less interested. Every week, Matt Smith would go totally OTT, gurning, shrieking, throwing himself around, and everyone would praise his performance more and more. And no matter how hard I tried to get interested in the mystery that was Clara Oswin, she remained nothing more than a cardboard cut-out, a dull echo of the far more authoritative Amy.
Because that was it, basically. I was missing the Ponds – which is the great danger with Russell Davies’s notion of focussing on the companions, because they come and go, they always come and go. They gave the series ballast, a solid base against which Smith could play, but Clara had no real substance to her. And without that, Smith was ungrounded.
Until tonight, because the threat was genuine, was real, more real than anything this increasingly feckless series had offered, because it meant the Doctor’s end. The one place in forever where he can’t go, because it’s where his grave stands. It anchors Smith’s performance, keeping him away from the scenery-chewing end of his range, because (apart from the bit where last week’s kids trick him into playing Blind Man’s Bluff, the story won’t accommodate the kind of forced whimsy and ditziness on the past few weeks.
The story is rich. Vastra, Jenny and Strax hold a Conference Call across time and space, conjuring up the ghost of River Song to join them: but not River herself, rather the long ago computer back-up made by Tennant and kept in the TARDIS forever since. Jenny is murdered, apologising for her carelessness, and the Great Intelligence forces The Doctor to Trenzalore, to a dead TARDIS, in which all the bigness is on the outside.
The Doctor is forced to open his tomb by the one word in the Universe he can’t give: his real name. But the title of the show is a McGuffin; Smith shouts something incomprehensible, the door opens, and the apparition of River Song confesses that she said his name. It’s a cheat, but an allowable cheat, since after fifty years no name under the sun could possibly satisfy.
And inside the dead TARDIS, there is a shining construction of light, a spindle of strands, curving and recurving, up and down, in a path incapable of being followed. It is the Doctor’s life, his personal time-line, everywhere and everywhen he’s been, and every body he’s worn, including that undisclosed future. It is an open wound, and, being open, it can be entered. Which is the Great Intelligence’s intention. It will enter the Doctor’s time-line and poison it from end to end, turning every victory into defeat, destroying every achievement since November 23 1963.
The grandiosity of the scheme, which has immediate effects as whole star systems wink out, and Jenny dies again, is matched by Clara’s response. In the beginning we see her popping up around a series of Doctors – old clips of old heroes, blurred outlines of costumes – as Clara debates her own mystery. Now she understands it, understands how she could have met the Doctor twice and died twice. Because she too can step into the open wound, destroying herself, create millions of Claras, millions of Impossible Girls. She will save the Doctor in every adversity. As she steps into the light, she says the words that link everything, beginning to end: “Run, you clever boy. And remember me.”
For a moment, the episode trembles on the brink of greatness. The series began, last year, with the unexpected, wonderfully-kept secret of Clara in episode 1. What matching glory that, with an equal gesture of secrecy and surprise, her story is to end here. And she goes into his life, repeating the cycle seen at the beginning, to which a moment of comic genius is added: as William Hartnell and his granddaughter, Susan, prepare to steal a TARDIS that the Gallifrey technicians have identified as defective (which we recognise with a sage nod), Clara appears to warn them against it: try this one instead, the navigation circuits are knackered but you’ll have fun.
Then it all starts to go wrong. The Doctor wakes up and, instead of getting away as everybody from Clara to the woman on school crossing patrol in Harpenden tells him to do, he’s going in after her. Fur hilven! She’s just made the most meaningful gesture of her life, and you’re going to render it totally pointless and ruin what this episode has built up, what the fuck?
The idiocy is postponed a few moments: it turns out the Doctor has been able to see and hear the River-ghost all along: he has always been able to. There is a short, but beautiful pitch to this conversation, which has the feel of a final, as in final for ever, meeting for this time-crossed pair.
Suddenly, the confident, cheerful, strong, clever Clara falls into a zone of darkness and swirling dust and starts crying for the Doctor. It’s a sudden, hideously misogynistic switch, like that Sherlock episode which reduced Irene Adler to someone who had to be rescued by a superior Sherlock Holmes. It’s truly shit and, needless to say, out of all the places in his long life Clara could be, the Doctor’s found her first go, and she only has to trust in him and jump down to him and she’ll be safe. I may barf in disgust.
And then, from the point of death, Moffatt pulls it out of the bag. The Doctor and Clara are not alone. Someone else is present, stood with his back to them. Clara panics, in fear of who he is, of the fact she’s not seen him, she’s seen all eleven faces but not him. That’s because he’s not the Doctor, the Doctor morosely states. He is the Doctor’s shadow, his darkness, his black sheep, but he did not call himself the Doctor, the name our anonymous hero chose.
The figure speaks, says that his was a choice forced on him by circumstance and necessity. The Doctor draws Clara away, still looking in fear and anger. The figure turns and it is John Hurt. A card appears: Introducing John Hurt. As The Doctor. Continued November 23 2013.
I’m not going to speculate. I haven’t got a clue where this is going and we’ve all of us got six months and five days to wait for an explanation, and to discover whether what Moffatt has up his sleeve for his bow out is enough to justify that truly ham-fisted and shitty little attempt to blow a nearly-glorious episode to smithereens.
For tonight, I saw plenty to delight and excite and surprise and sparkle – who do we know retired to take up bee-keeping? – only for it to be thrown into the balance due to a slice of idiot shit. I hope that whatever secrets Moffatt is keeping are kept secret for six months and five days. I hope that if he’s got any more of that misogynist shit, that someone has beaten him severely round the head until he dropped it.
Because I’d also like to be interested and intrigued in and by the Twelfth Doctor.
I declare a personal interest here. Like the Red Tornado, officially there should be no place in this series for Mr. Terrific. Granted, he appeared in an entire issue of All-Star, not a mere page, but it was emphasised that he was just passing through, helping out, nothing to see here.
But Mr. Terrific was in the very first Justice Society line-up I ever read, and he was regarded there as ‘terrific’ enough to impersonate Batman. He was treated as an equal. And he became a personal favourite: I’m damn well not going to leave him out!
Mr. Terrific was created by Charles Reizenstein and artist Hal Sharp for the first issue of All-American’s third anthology title, SensationComics, and he would go on to appear in every issue (except 37) until ending his run with issue 63.
Terry Sloane was a boy prodigy, an award-winning architect at age 10, a college graduate at 13, an all-round genius and an Olympic athlete. And by his early twenties, Sloane was bored of a life that lacked challenges, and about to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge.
He was diverted from this course by having to intervene to save a young woman menaced by thugs. Wanda Wilson turned out to be more concerned about her younger brother, whom she was bringing up, and the risk of his drifting into a gang. Sloane decided to use his many talents to provide a better role model for young men, a figure who would teach them to respect Fair Play.
As Mr. Terrific, Sloane wore a red top incorporating a pull-over head cowl and eyemask, a green jacket with the words ‘Fair Play’ on a shield across his stomach, black tights and brown boots. He posed as an effete snob to divert attention away from himself, but Wanda Wilson easily saw through Mr. Terrific’s secret and became Sloane’s secretary and aide (and later girlfriend), to help his cause.
Terrific’s sole appearance with the JSA came about as a consequence of the All-American dispute: with More Fun and Adventure off-limits, Mayer decided, logically, to extend All-Star’s ‘catchment area’ to Sensation. The comic’s two leading characters behind Wonder Woman, Wildcat and Mr. Terrific, were to become JSA members, but Charlie Gaines had different ideas and, late in the process, insisted that the more popular Flash and Green Lantern be brought back.
So the two new boys had their dialogue rewritten to portray them as guests. And, given the nature of the story, which placed the emphasis on pacifist Richard Amber and not the heroes accompanying him on his journey through Germany’s history, Terrific didn’t even get the chance to show off his paces, landing no more than a couple of haymakers before the story moved on.
And that was that, as far as the JSA was concerned.
Incidentally, in 2007, DC decided to supplement their All-Star Archive series (twelve hardback volumes reprinting the entire run of All-Star 1-57) with JSA All-Stars Archive Volume 1 (no Volume 2 has appeared, though there was a ten year gap between All-Star Archives 2 and 3). This featured the first five adventures of each of the seven members never to grace the cover of the comic that featured their series.
These are the only Mr. Terrific stories from the Forties that I’ve read and, biased as I am, I found them, and the portrayal of Sloane and Terrific, far better than I’d expected (though anything looks good when compared to the Atom). I’d love to read more.
Terrific’s Silver Age return was in that 1965 team-up, when he was a full member at last. There was nothing in the story to reveal how slim his history with the JSA was: as far as I, a new reader, was concerned, he was on a par with The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom and Doctor Fate – and given the impersonations, he was put on a level with Batman, which was heavy hitting.
But after that prestigious début, Mr. Terrific appeared in only four further team-ups, and nowhere else.
In 1967, he was fully part of the action. The following year, he made only a cameo appearance, among the ‘rest’ of the JSA who were apparently killed by the new Red Tornado operating one of T.O.Morrow’s ‘futurenergy’ guns. In 1972, in a three-parter that featured virtually everybody ever associated with the Justice League and Justice Society, Terrific was one of three heroes to arrive late and go on their own, peripheral mission. And in 1977, he was killed.
I put it as bluntly as that, because that’s as blunt as it was. The story was written by Gerry Conway as a ‘locked-room’ mystery set in the Justice League’s satellite HQ. Conway wanted a body, Mr. Terrific was a nobody that he didn’t give a toss about, and Conway killed him off without a cursory thought, not then or after. And to make matters worse, he let the killer escape and Terrific’s death went unavenged for almost twenty years.
To some extent, Conway was right. Mr. Terrific was an obscure, meaningless character. But even obscure, meaningless characters have their fans (and I am here to attest to that), and Terrific was a member of the very first superhero team. That alone conferred on him a status. If he had to be killed off, that alone demanded a story with some meaning, some closure. Instead, Conway wrote a shabby, demeaning, disgraceful, perfunctory affair from start to finish.
The event itself was clumsily foreshadowed (telegraphed) in the JSA story in Adventure 464, when Doctor Fate has to be dragged away from a spell he is constructing to save someone’s life: and out of nowhere, Mr. Terrific turns up, ready to join the meeting with the Justice League. Once there, he’s moody and silent, until he reveals that, in his job as Professor in English at Gateway University (?!?!?!), Sloane’s just seen his old (freshly-created) enemy, Roger Romaine, aka the Spirit King. Sloane couldn’t stop him then, but has been trailing Romaine ever since, even to this meeting.
The reaction of his colleagues? You could have left him to me (Jay Garrick, fellow-Spirit King foe), and, are you sure you didn’t imagine all of this? (Power Girl). Yes, that’s right, accusations of incompetence and senility, to Terrific’s face, at which he understandably bridles. But not for long because, next thing, a hole is blown in the Satellite, and his body is found in the wreckage. Strangled.
The two teams seal the satellite and the two best detectives, Batman of Earth-1 and The Huntress of Earth-2, lead an investigation that identifies The Flash – Jay Garrick – as the culprit. But no, actually it’s the Spirit King (shock, horror, didn’t see that coming) who’s got in by possessing Garrick and using him to lead Terrific aside. But, in order not to taint Garrick any further than has already been done, the Spirit King emerged from Flash’s body to strangle Terrific himself. If you have given any cursory thought to what the unpossessed Flash was doing all the time his old comrade was being murdered, you have given the issue more thought than Conway.
Who promptly has the Spirit King escape via the Transmatter Cube back to Earth-2 – the one exit none of the heroes had thought of, silly creatures. At least things end on a joke, because the heroes have actually triumphed, by proving that none of them did it. I mean, one of their mates is dead and the geezer wot dun it’s got away with it but, hey, we’re clean, ok?
Even without my personal attachment to Mr. Terrific, it’s pretty shabby stuff, the more mystifying in that, whilst Terrific was not the first Justice Society member to die, after the Earth-2 Batman, a mere six months earlier, he was still among the first to fall – and his death left an absence, unlike that of Batman.
Sadly, it took twenty years, and two complete Universe reboots (Crisis and Zero Hour) before anyone got around to avenging Mr. Terrific. The story was told in Ostrander and Mandrake’s The Spectre 54.
The Spectre, moving inexorably towards Corrigan’s renunciation of his long burden, intervenes to prevent a man from throwing himself off a bridge to his death. Michael Holt, an African-American, is an all-round genius and a former Olympic athlete, but he had recently lost his wife and young daughter in a random car crash, and found it too much to bear. The Spectre intervened to tell him the story of Terry Sloane, and at long last, of his the JSA pursued and defeated the Spirit King, with the intervention of Sloane’s spirit itself, with enough time to be given the respect due to him as a JSA member: as an equal.
Holt was no fool: he knew why the Spectre was telling him all this. And in search of purpose, like Terry Sloane before him, Holt became Mr. Terrific 2, intent on giving street kids a focus away from gangs, just like Sloane at the very beginning.
This purpose did not last long. The new Mr. Terrific appeared again in his street-clothes and shades ‘costume’ at Jim Corrigan’s ‘funeral’ in the last issue of the Spectre, but this was the last of the street level Terrific.
Holt would next appear in JSA 5, a cameo in what was virtually a solo story for Sand. He was dressed in an all new costume, of light blue and black, wearing a black T-mask bonded to his face by nanotechnology, and accompanied by a minimum of three T-spheres – remote controlled, multi-functional orbs, orbiting him. He was working security for Tyler Chemicals in issue 5 and, six months later, he joined the JSA, offstage, being brought in as a secret agent by Chairman Sand. Terrific proved to be so popular that, when a vote came on the Chairmanship, following some willy-waving between Sand and the newly-revived Hawkman, the membership elected Terrific, and he wasn’t even running!
As JSA Chairman, Holt proved a very capable leader. He was regularly referred to as the ‘Third Smartest man in the World’ (the top two have never been named but they’re probably Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor). He was a master of everything: Holt would describe himself as having ‘an aptitude for having aptitudes’. Indeed, his only weakness, and it was presented as a weakness, was his inability to believe in God or the afterlife: yes, Mr. Terrific 2 was an atheist. And everybody kept badgering him about it. But this is America: comics can stretch themselves to gay heroes, but non-God-fearin’ ones?
By Infinite Crisis, Mr Terrific 2’s status had risen so high that he took over the secret agency Checkmate as its Black King, a position he maintained alongside his ongoing Justice Society membership, and come the New 52, he was one of only two Justice Society members to carry over into a Universe in which there had never been a Justice Society.
Oddly enough, from the time that Michael Holt first appeared, the Terry Sloane Mr. Terrific has suddenly been accorded all the respect and stature his fan(s) could wish, even though he’s been dead thirty years plus by now.
The process started in the Justice Society Returns Fifth Week Event that preceded the new JSA series. The overall story ran for three weeks, devised as a giant issue of All-Star. The Justice Society as a whole joined together in All-Star 1 and 2 (nice touch), published in weeks 1 and 3 , whilst in week 2, the team split up into seven pairs to fight individual aspects of the problem (a mad God trying to destroy the Earth in March 1945, if you’re asking).
Mr. Terrific’s role is interesting to observe. In All-Star 1, he’s brought in, alongside Wildcat, as a JSA Reservist, though his only contribution is the stereotypical (and rather bone-headed) cry of “Fair and Square”. By issue 2, he’s the hero who, single-handedly, puts the mad God’s terrifying-machine-to-destroy-the-world out of commission.
What happened between was Mark Waid writing a team-up between Mr. Terrific and The Flash (Jay Garrick). It’s set in Dresden, as the two heroes set about saving people from bombing, whilst pursuing and defeating their enemy. This gives Garrick the chance to assess Sloane and what drives him, and to picture him as a very talented man, driven by a deep sense of fairness, and a desire that everyone should have the best possible chances. Together with Sloane’s all-round break-through genius, and two time-travelling meetings with Michael Holt in JSA, Mr. Terrific’s reputation now stood higher than it had ever been. Far too late, mind you: after all, he was dead.
Post New 52, Mr Terrific 2 gained a solo series for the first time ever, although it only lasted eight issues, and was one of the first wave of New 52 series to be cancelled. Since then, Michael Holt has found himself crossed over to the new Earth-2, where he’s to play a part in the new Justice Society. Meanwhile, Terry Sloan (no ‘E’) has been introduced, but this time he’s a bad guy, a former supervillain. I hardly think I need disclose my opinion on that.
I’ve been meaning to write about Girl Genius for a long while. It’s been around since the turn of the Twenty-first century, if you can remembe that far back, and co-writer/artist Phil Foglio’s been around for at least twenty years before then. Girl Genius started as a bi-monthly comic but, after eleven issues, went web-only, with new pages appearing every Monday Wednesday and Friday. The whole lot is available on-line at Airship Entertainment, the site run by Phil and wife/co-writer Kaja Foglio. Here’s the link to page 1: http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20021104 Just keep pressing next.
The Foglios describe Girl Genius as Gaslamp Fantasy, and it is indeed a steampunk world, an alternate Victorian Europa of Mad Scientists hair-raising adventures, Intrigue and Romance! There’s an ever-expanding cast and multiple stories, back-stories, mysteries and misunderstandings going on all over the place.
So far, the Foglios have collected the series in eleven full-colour, slightly over-sized volumes, each containing between 128 and 192 pages of the story, over 2,000 pages of adventure, excitement and continual jokes. Now it’s time to publish Volume 12, and the Foglios have turned to Kickstarter, to fnd not only the publication of the book, but also the reprinting of other volumes that are in danger of vanising out of print.
This one’s not as urgent as the recent Rick Geary book, as the Foglios have passed their target by a goodly margin already, and with 16 days to spare.
But I still urge you to get in there, support the cause, and treat yourself to a mammoth and mammothly entertaining epic, in which volume 12 is really just the end of Act One. This is one that’s worth catching up to – those 2,000+ pages are worth the read.
When Rachel Herbert took the dais at the end of Free For All, transitioning from Number Eight-Four to Number Two, she became the first woman to take charge in the Village, albeit for only a couple of minutes.
Only three other female Number Two’s followed her. One appeared onscreen for, literally, two seconds in It’s Your Funeral, another, like Herbert, was only revealed in the closing seconds (no spoilers), leaving Mary Morris, in Dance of the Dead as the only female Number Two to be billed as such, and to act with authority.
And she was a late replacement for Trevor Howard, for whom the part was written.
All of which, and more, leads many fans of the series to accuse it of misogyny. After all, doesn’t Number Six say, in the afore-mentioned Dance of the Dead, “Never trust a woman, even the four footed kind.”
How you approach that claim depends, in large part, in what you define as being misogyny. For me, it’s present when women are devalued and demeaned simply because they are women. It need not be actively expressed: there are many men (and not a few women) whose misogyny is subtle and hidden (often from themselves) but can be identified from what they do, rather than what they may say.
But when investigating an historical work, we do have to distinguish between active misogyny and what merely reflects the times. The Prisoner was made some years before the active feminist movement came into being, and reflected attitudes towards women that were fixed by history, and the traditional denying women of opportunities to demonstrate themselves as capable in so many fields.
With refreshing, but very rare, exceptions (such as Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise) thrillers were an exclusively masculine pursuit. Women could be victims, distractions, enemies and assistants, but the prevailing mindset did not admit them as heroes and initiators in their own right. Ultimately, they were there to be rescued.
And the Prisoner isn’t there to rescue anyone but himself. Though Number Six does, in Revolt episodes, act in an altruistic manner, it is generally for the preservation of the community, or to prevent the development of an idea with negative implications for the future. The only exception to this is in Hammer into Anvil, which is in response to a damsel in distress: the basic stereotype.
On that level, The Prisoner is a misogynist show, just like nearly everything else around it. The Prisoner being a thriller, it might have expected that Number Six would become involved with at least one woman who might be on his side, and in The Chimes of Big Ben he does, temporarily, appearing to be ‘courting’ Number Eight. But it’s increasingly obvious that he is using her (albeit chivalrously, in that he is getting her out as well) and that he finds Nadia’s increasingly romantic attitude to him irritating.
With that coming as quickly as the second broadcast episode, and with Nadia revealed as the agent of a complex and far-reaching attempt to entrap him, Number Six’s heightened paranoia towards everybody is enhanced and thus he rules out any further stories on that topic, almost from the start.
Indeed, for the rest of the series, there are only two women with whom Number Six enjoys any kind of friendly relationship: Alison, in The Schizoid Man, towards whom he adopts a somewhat avuncular aspect, until she betrays him, of course, and his fiancée Janet, who he actually kisses in Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling. But he’s wearing Patrick Stock’s body at the time: McGoohan himself would never have done it.
It’s grist for the misogyny mill that, without fail, all the women in the series (except Janet, who is outside the Village) betray Number Six. On the other hand, with very rare exceptions, everybody betrays the Prisoner, so we shouldn’t read too much into that.
One of those rare exceptions is Number Twelve in The General. But it’s important to note that the other is the Watchmaker’s Daughter in It’s Your Funeral. Though she’s manipulated by the Village to draw in Number Six, she is unaware of this. She’s a Village rebel in her own right, and she assists him throughout. So that’s one woman at least who doesn’t betray.
That there is so little of feminine wiles being used to entrap Number Six can be put directly down to Patrick McGoohan. Happily married, with children, the fervently Roman Catholic McGoohan was noted in being a Sixties male sex symbol who avoided sex of any kind. He had already turned down the role of James Bond, before it was offered to Sean Connery, because of the character’s ‘immorality with women’ and on another occasion he went on record about what he saw as television’s responsibility, as a visitor to the home, not to expose children to immoral behaviour.
McGoohan, who had at one point trained to be a priest, was so adamant on this point that he had it written into his contract that, even for the first series of Danger Man, that he would not be required to do any kissing.
Women do take prominent roles in The Prisoner. There’s a strong, influential female presence in all but a handful of episodes, but the most prominent example of an absence of female involvement in the story comes in the final two episodes, when the conclusion of the drama is worked out.
Finally, let’s return to our sole active Number Two, Mary Morris.
Needless to say, perhaps, the role was not written for her. Originally, Trevor Howard was intended to play the part, in which he would have appeared in a Jack the Ripper costume in the episode’s fancy-dress sequence. However, Morris plays the role exceptionally well. Dressing her as Peter Pan exemplifies a certain impishness to her performance that never detracts from her implacability as Number Six’s enemy.
And Morris, a veteran actress, makes use of her harsh voice and her wizened, wrinkled appearance, a look that ought to suggest homeliness and grandmotherly charm, to demonstrate an absolute ruthlessness, especially in the episode’s jarring conclusion. Morris’s age removes even the remotest sexual element from the relationship (one suspects McGoohan could accept her only on that basis). She’s superb but I can’t escape the conclusion that, like Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien, it’s because the role was originally written for a male character.
Overall, and I admit to being biassed by my love for the series, I don’t find The Prisoner consciously misogynistic. I think it’s a reflection of the times in which it was made, albeit heavily influenced by McGoohan’s Roman Catholic beliefs. But there have been reports that McGoohan was genuinely uncomfortable in scenes requiring him to get close to any women on set.
But it cannot be denied that The Avengers, especially during Diana Rigg’s years in the series, did portray Emma Peel as an independent-minded, forthright, strong character in her own right, and I am well aware of the Hellfire Club episode when I say that.
The case against The Prisoner is strong, but not, in my verdict, overwhelming.
Wonder Woman marks another problem. For one, there is her anomalous status within the Forties Justice Society of America: a guest in All-Star 11, taken on as secretary in issue 12 and, two early adventures aside, a permanent onlooker, frequently appearing in only a single panel, for years. Even when the Amazing Amazon finally started getting into the act properly, in All-Star 40, there was never any time when she was granted membership.
The bigger issue is that Wonder Woman was one of the Big Three, the Trinity, the three archetypal heroes for whom there was no break, no discontinuity, but continuous publication that spanned the Golden and Silver Ages, that spanned Earths 1 and 2, before and after they were created. Wonder Woman is one of the unchanging ones, the primal three who, no matter what twists and turns and occasional changes will be made, will always be the one version.
A decade ago I wrote an unpublished essay, poking fun at the convoluted state of affairs that had come into being, whereby there had been a total of five Wonder Womans at that point, but of which three of them had been Princess Diana (errr…) of the Amazons.
I’m tempted to copy and paste it here, although any updating of it would now have to recognise seven Wonder Womans, five of them Diana. But it’s not of a piece with this series, so I will deal with the character in a straightforward manner, though in rather less depth than usual.
Whatever her standing as a Forties member, Wonder Woman is indelibly linked with the JSA, having made her first appearance in All-Star 8, in an unrelated bonus story. She was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston, under his pen-name Charles Moulton, and drawn by artist Harry G. Peter, Marston’s personal choice (over the objections of Charlie Gaines at All-American), although Peter’s contract did not allow him to claim any creative aspect.
Marston, who had already played a large role in creating the Lie Detector Test, was a free-thinker who espoused the principles of free love and of bondage/submission as a cure for human violence (a course he advocated freely through his creation: those old Wonder Woman stories are seriously weird-in-a-not-good way). Wonder Woman came about in part due to the early backlash about comics, their violence and their overall suitability for kids.
Marston advised All-American that they needed a female superhero, to introduce loving authority into their comics. Gaines invited him to create such a character, and agreed a deal whereby Marston retained a proprietary interest in the Amazon: should All-American/National/DC fail to publish her for one month, the rights would revert to Marston or his heirs. Marston originally named his creation Suprema, but Sheldon Mayer replaced it with Wonder Woman.
Marston created his character out of myth. The Amazons, under their Queen, Hyppolita, had retreated from the world to hidden Amazon Island, where they lived in peace and were perfect specimens of womanhood. Hyppolita, a beautiful blonde, longed for a child: the Gods instructed her to form a baby from the clay of the riverbank, into which they breathed life, creating Diana, the best Amazon ever.
In 1941, an American plane, containing Colonel Steve Trevor, crashed through the barriers surrounding Amazon Island. Diana saw, and fell irreversibly in love with, the first man she saw. After learning of the War in Man’s World, Hyppolita decided to send an Amazon representative there, to spread peace. She organised a competition to find a worthy winner, but forbade Diana to take part. Diana entered wearing a mask (that would have fooled no-one) and won. Reluctantly, Hyppolita gave way and allowed her daughter to don the special costume that had been made for the winner – coincidentally consisting of a bustier red top decorated by the American Eagle and blue culottes, decorated with silver stars, just like the American flag.
Diana then ventured into Man’s World with Col. Trevor. Almost immediately, she met Army Nurse Diana Prince, who was identical to her and who was crying because she couldn’t get to the West Coast to be with her fiancé. So Diana gave her the money and took Miss Prince’s ID, to be near her beloved Steve.
The following week, Wonder Woman’s regular series started in the first issue of All-American’s new anthology title, Sensation Comics. Sheldon Mayer had her added to the next JSA story in preparation, in which the JSA disbanded to go to War and Wonder Woman subbed for the Spectre, and invited the kids to vote on her as the Justice Society’s first girl member.
Before the votes came in, narrowly in favour, Gaines had decided that Wonder Woman was big enough to get her own title – faster than anyone before her – which debarred her from membership. So, rather than have her elected directly to Honorary Membership, which would have been silly, Mayer added her as Secretary, which was merely demeaning.
As I’ve already said, it took until All-Star 40 to get Wonder Woman into the action regularly, and by the JSA’s final appearance in issue 57, she was the only member appearing anywhere else, in her solo title, Sensation having bitten the dust as well by then.
Wonder Woman stayed in publication throughout the Fifties. After Marston’s death in 1947, the series was taken over by Robert Kanigher, who softened the bondage elements and, indeed, trivialised the series out of all recognition. I’ve recently had the experience of reading Kanigher’s last two years of work on the title which, according to all I’ve heard, is of a kind with what he’d been doing for years, and it’s underpinned by what I can only describe as utter contempt, for the character and the reader alike. Hardly surprising that, for decades, the series sold terribly, being kept alive by the reversion deal that would have cost National all its lucrative licensing rights.
At some, unidentifiable, point, the series stopped being about Wonder Woman 1, of Earth-2 and became that of Wonder Woman 2, of Earth-1 (see, it’s starting to get crazy already). Wonder Woman 2 was a founder member of the Justice League of America in Brave & Bold 27, and a regular in the series until 1969.
The two versions of Wonder Woman were identical up to that time. The Earth-2 Wonder Woman didn’t appear in any team-ups with the Justice League until 1967, and tended not to appear very often, because no-one could tell the difference, except during the period from 1969 to 1972 when, under Mike Sekowsky’s editorship, the Earth-1 Wonder Woman lost her powers, pulled her hair back into a pony-tail, dressed in white jacket and trousers and took on crime as a Diana Rigg/Emma Peel figure.
When this version failed, Wonder Woman regained her powers but had to undergo a twelve-issue Labours of Diana trial, each supervised by a different JLA member before the League would take her back. Then the series switched to World War 2 and the Golden Age Wonder Woman for a few years, until the success of the TV series and Lynda Carter jumped it back to the present day. In any guise, it continued to flounder.
In the Eighties, her costume, which had undergone periodic minor changes – culottes to tight shorts, boots to laced Grecian sandals, shorts to cycle shorts, back to boots, cycle shorts to swimsuit bottoms – underwent a major and permanent change at the request of a major women’s foundation, with the American Eagle replaced by a stylised WW logo across the most famous breasts in comicdom.
Also, Roy Thomas brought the Golden Age Wonder Woman up to date in Infinity, Inc, showing her as older, married to Steve Trevor, and with a teenage daughter, Lyta, who became the superheroine The Fury.
However, both these Wonder Womans were swept aside in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Earth-2 version being elevated to Godhood, together with her Steve Trevor, as part of the Greek Pantheon, and the Earth-1 version having her chronal pathway reversed, all the way back to the clay of the riverbed.
So, from two all-but identical Wonder Womans, we were down to none. Like the rest of the Trinity, DC were set on a total reboot for Wonder Woman, this time by plotter/artist George Perez. Perez retained the shape of Wonder Woman’s origin but produced a stronger mythic bedrock: Amazon Island became Themiscyra, Hyppolita black-haired not blonde, the Amazons were now the reincarnation of women murdered in hate by men, and Diana was the soul of the child of the only one (Hyppolita) who died pregnant.
Steve Trevor was reimagined as a man in his early Fifties, removing at a stroke the romantic entanglement that had been so hideously and embarrassingly used for so many decades (especially by Kanigher). Diana entered Men’s World as an innocent, with no need of a secret identity, as an Ambassador of Peace.
Wonder Woman 3 (still Diana, although in context, the first Diana of one) was of a different order to her predecessors. The series became a top-seller for the first time since the Forties, and deservedly so.
The removal of a Forties Wonder Woman from continuity left the JSA without a secretary. By a retcon, strongwoman Miss America was eased into that role and all those adventures, though very few stories were told, or retold, with her in that role. It would be superseded in the late Nineties by another, more pertinent retcon.
The new Wonder Woman briefly joined Justice League Europe but tended to go her own way, not returning to a Justice League role until the 1997 reboot. Before this, there were a couple of changes.
After Perez, Bill Messner-Loebs took over as Wonder Woman writer. For issue 0, he had Diana back on Themiscyra whilst Hyppolita re-enacted the contest to be Wonder Woman, only for Diana to be beaten this time by Artemis, a fierce fighter from a more warrior-like strain of Amazons. Artemis went out in Men’s World in the Wonder Woman costume (Wonder Woman 4). She was a full-figured woman with a spectacularly long red ponytail and impossibly long legs (a product of the prevalent artistic ‘styles’).
However, Diana did not take her demotion lying down, and returned herself to Man’s World, without powers, this time dressed in dark blue: jacket, bra and cycle-shorts.
As Wonder Woman 0 followed issue 93, the imminent arrival of the anniversarial 100 suggested Artemis would not be a long-term character, and she duly died in battle in that issue, allowing Diana to resume her rightful role.
Surprisingly, not for long. Incoming writer/artist John Byrne was quick to kill Diana – who was translated to the Greek Pantheon. This time she was replaced by Queen Hyppolita, acting out of guilt over her role in Diana’s death. In honour of her senior status, the Queen’s dignity was preserved by her wearing a star-spangled, but still abbreviated skirt instead of the bathing suit bottom.
Wonder Woman 5 did not last long either (Diana proved to be very unsuited to be a Goddess and wanted back), but did last long enough to go back in time to the Forties with Jay (Flash) Garrick to help him resolve a newly-recollected matter. Jay returned almost immediately, but Hyppolita stayed on an extra half-hour, during which she lived Wonder Woman’s entire Forties career as it had originally happened – bye bye Miss America(n pie) – and set the temporal record on its head.
Though Wonder Woman 5, Hyppolita thus became Wonder Woman 1 (in post-Crisis continuity) as well as Wonder Woman 3 in DC history, whilst Diana now turned out to have been named Wonder Woman due to memories of the Forties career her mother had whilst continuing Diana’s career. Don’t worry, it all makes sense to comics’ fans.
I’m going to draw a veil over the following decade of Wonder Woman’s career, in which changes have occurred (including a radical change of costume that everybody knew was never going to last). But post New 52, we have yet another Wonder Woman, who is yet again a variation on Diana, who we may as well call Wonder Woman 6, and a quickly-killed alternate Diana/Wonder Woman (7) in Earth-2.
There is obviously far more to write about the legacy of Wonder Woman but, excepting those two brief interpolations of Artemis and Hyppolita, neither of whom were ever more than just interpolations, it is one woman and one character’s story. There is no real legacy to be discussed here, any more than there is for Superman or Batman.
Dr Mid-Nite was created by writer Charles Reizenstein and artist Stan Aschmeier (Stan Asch or Stan Josephs) and made his début in All-American Comics 25. The Doctor was a Doctor in real-life, prominent surgeon Charles McNider, who was called in to operate on a witness against mobsters, who had been shot. However, a gang member threw a grenade into the operating theatre, which killed the witness and blinded McNider.
Unable to continue his profession, McNider decided to become a crusading anti-crime columnist, with the assistance of his secretary, Myra Mason. However, whilst sat alone one night, brooding, McNider was disturbed by something entering his rooms and causing havoc. Instinctively ripping off his bandages, McNider discovered that he was actually able to see in conditions of blackness, much like the owl that had accidentally flown in his window. He decided to keep his newfound ability to himself and, after producing a pair of dark lenses that enabled him to see in the light, McNider chose to go out and fight crime, under the pseudonym of Doctor Mid-Nite. He named the owl Hooty and adopted it as his mascot.
The spelling of the good Doctor’s name has been queried but there is no settled explanation of it. The best suggestion is that Mid-Nite’s creation came in the wake of the widely-known radio serial featuring Captain Midnight, hence the different spelling to avoid accusations of copying.
Doc’s costume consisted of a black headcowl, incorporating the black lens goggles, green cape, black long-sleeved top under a red jerkin fastened by half-moon crescents, and brown gauntlets and boots. Although Marvel’s Daredevil became famous, twenty years later, as a prominent superhero who was blind, Doctor Mid-Nite was the first superhero to feature a physical disability.
When Green Lantern left the Justice Society on being granted his own title, Doctor Mid-Nite replaced him, in All-Star 8. Doc appeared in the issue as a guest star, seeking the JSA’s assistance to track down the missing Professor Able. Meanwhile, the JSA are all faced with suspects who have suddenly gone mad under interrogation: each turn out to be victims of a new drug, developed by criminal genius Elba (do not pre-empt the drama by reading Elba’s name backwards). Johnny Thunder gets into trouble and summons the rest of the JSA, but Elba locks himself into a lightless room, causing the JSA to have to call upon Doctor Mid-Nite, who goes in alone and defeats the villain, exposing him as being, shock, horror, Professor Able. The Doctor is offered membership for his efforts.
Mid-Nite remained with the JSA until their final adventure in All-Star 57, putting him third in the overall list of appearances, and his solo series lasted until 1948, when All-American was converted to a Western title after issue 102. Apart from his ability to see in the dark, the Doc carried with him a number of ‘blackout bombs’, little devices that, when thrown down, generated clouds of impenetrable black smoke, in which the criminals couldn’t see, but the Doctor could.
He returned to action in the second JLA/JSA team-up, in 1964, and two years later produced an upgraded weapon, in the form of the Cyrotuber, a multi-barrel gun which used adaptations of modern operation techniques – sonics, cryogenics, lasers – for offensive purposes.
Though Mid-Nite was, improbably, considered for a team-up with the all-powerful Spectre, outside of his JSA appearances, his only other exposure was in occasional guest slots in The Flash, where he became Flash 2’s other-dimensional doctor for things that Barry Allen couldn’t take to anyone in Central City.
Indeed, increasingly McNider’s career focussed on his medical abilities rather than his superpower (which, as he aged, began to slowly fail him). He was included in the first half of the Seventies All-Star revival, but gently eased out during the run, and did not reappear until the early Eighties when he moved to Los Angeles to become, in effect, the private physician to Infinity, Inc.
In that respect McNider took on an intern, in African-American Beth Chapel. With the Crisis looming, and his proposal to retain Earth-2 finally rejected, Doctor Mid-Nite was one of the JSA heroes that Roy Thomas rapidly chose to re-create. Simultaneously with Rick Tyler’s first use of Hourman’s Miraclo, Beth Chapel was caught in an oxygen blast that blinded her, only to find she too was perfectly sighted in the dark. Chapel chose to become the second Doctor Midnight (note spelling).
As Doctor Midnight, Chapel wore a radically different (and completely crappy) costume made for her by her mother. Chapel applied to join Infinity, Inc, but was not accepted until very close to the end of that series. She and Rick Tyler also started a relationship, much against Rex Tyler’s approval.
But Chapel did not last long in the part. After Crisis, she and the new, female, Wildcat were part of a team sent to the Caribbean to bring down Eclipso. It was a total disaster and everyone was killed, which demonstrated the only point of the exercise: cheap outrage and the disposal of another bunch of unwanted characters. The Creeper was subsequently resurrected, mesdames Midnight and Wildcat were never seen again.
The onus came back onto Charles McNider who, at the time, was in limbo with the Justice Society and, although an active member of the 1950 JSA, he was excluded from their mini-series. Mid-Nite did play an active role in the open-ended series: at first concentrating on his role as a physician at a free clinic in New Orleans, with another African-American female intern (who thankfully did not follow Beth Chapel into a horrible costume). But the death of an old favourite Jazz musician had McNider bringing the revived JSA into what became a battle against their old foe the Ultra-Humanite, and Mid-Nite stayed with the team for the rest of the short run.
The highlight of his performance was getting Jesse Chambers to try an old (and acknowledgedly sexist) trick to distract a guard by pulling down the zip of her running top!
McNider’s final appearance, like many others, came in Zero Hour. Like Hourman, he attacked the Extant and, in the same manner, had his ageing accelerated. Sandman, another victim, was saved in hospital, but Doctor Mid-Nite died on the operating table.
Though McNider was dead, his presence was the subject of much fan debate on-line, on the subject of whether Charles McNider may have been gay.
The debate was furious at times, not only from those who wished to defend their favourite old character but, frankly, from the bigoted who would not countenance the idea that a superhero might be gay, or why anyone would ever want a superhero to be gay? Their most ‘objective’ argument was that Doctor Mid-Nite couldn’t have been gay because being homosexual was against the law.
Those proposing this radical departure pointed to a number of elements in the original stories. Unlike every other JSA member, McNider had never demonstrated any actual interest in the opposite sex, not even the fair Myra Mason, who was his constant and devoted companion for the best part of a decade. Indeed, McNider had often been snide and dismissive towards Myra, a kind of anti-female contempt that the proponents suggested were coded messages that those who were meant to understand could read – a necessity for the repressed homosexual community.
Interestingly, James Robinson’s Starman series would reinterpret the JSA adventure where the boys’ places are taken by their girl-friends. Robinson’s version excluded female Atoms and Doctor Mid-Nite’s, and as an amusing nod, has Mid-Nite reacting in horror to Wonder Woman’s mere suggestion.
However, since the turn of the century, retrospective stories have been assiduous to establish that, actually, McNider worshipped Myra Mason but kept his feelings for her secret so as not to endanger her, not that that prevented her from being murdered in the end by one of Doctor Mid-Nite’s (retrospectively created) enemies. (Such stories also tend to portray McNider as something of an effete snob, by the way).
My take on this is that, whilst I don’t believe that Mid-Nite’s stories contained any coded messages, had DC wished to make a stance by bringing one of the longer-lasting characters out as gay – which would have been a tremendous gesture – McNider was ideally positioned for this to be done without the least violation of anything already established about him. I also think that someone felt very uncomfortable about the idea, which is why they moved to stifle that possibility. Which eventually came true with the reorientation of Alan Scott in Earth-2.
Independent writer/artist Matt Wagner – noted for his creations Mage and Grendel, and of course Sandman Mystery Theatre – had long been interested in Doctor Mid-Nite and, in 1999, he created a three-issue Prestige mini-series, reviving the character in his new form, as a much darker figure.
Doctor Mid-Nite 3 was Norwegian-born Doctor Pieter Cross, a radical physician who had established a free clinic in Portsmouth, in Washington State, where there was a severe drug-smuggling problem. Cross used street characters he’d saved in an anti-drugs organisation but, having fallen foul of the drugs bosses, he was kidnapped, injected with an experimental drug they were peddling, made drunk and sent away in a high-powered sports car. Before he could regain control, Cross crashed, killing another driver. Cross had his physician’s licence removed. He also lost his sight.
Whilst brooding on his situation, Cross discovered that the drugs in his system had left him able to see in the dark. Aware of the past existence of Doctor Mid-Nite, Cross decided to exploit his ‘gift’ by taking up the vacant identity. There was no connection to McNider in Wagner’s original story, but subsequent writers have obsessively added details such as Cross having interned under McNider, and then having been delivered by him in emergency conditions. It often appears that the world of superheroes has to be rendered incestuous in its connections: anything less is simply insufficiently ‘real’.
The new Doctor Mid-Nite has not appeared in any other solo stories since Wagner’s series, but was added to the revived Justice Society in (nice touch) JSA 8. He wears a near identical costume to McNider, the principal difference being that the red jerkin has a groin-guard extension. He’s been a regular ever since, in both JSA and Justice Society of America, where he has formed a partnership with the new Mr. Terrific as the two smartest guys in the team. However, like McNider before him, Cross is more physician than superhero, and his participation in the action is strictly limited. It is he who performs the autopsy on Sue Dibny’s body in Identity Crisis and whose identification of the cause of death leads to the unmasking of the unexpected killer.
Doctor Mid-Nite 3 was a character of potential, almost none of which was realised. According to Batman, the drugs affected his sight in far-reaching ways that Cross had not yet begun to suspect, though this was never expanded upon. Indeed, at one point Cross had his sight magically restored, only to discover that the loss of his other vision was crippling, and he was actually glad to have his blindness restored.
Since then, the New 52 has intervened and all the above is meaningless. No Doctor Mid-Nite has appeared as yet. Given the general lack of any real idea of what to do with one over the last fifty years, it may be wise to hold back on creating another.
Despite everything the Football Association have done to fuck over the World’s oldest competition, the most romantic and the most memory-filled Cup of all, the years have just been transcended, and Wigan Athletic – Wigan Athletic! – have won the Cup. The 56th team to have played in the Final, and now the 43rd to have lifted the trophy, the first First Time Winners in a quarter century and every bit as unlikely as the last ones – and bloody hell, but didn’t they deserve it!
I had to be on their side. I’ve always had a soft spot for Wigan. I always shout for the underdog. I always hang in for a First Time Winner. And I’ll support anybody against the Bitters. I thought about punting a fiver on the Latics, and I should have done.
But that flying header, sailing into the net. Biggest cheer of the season for me (well, since van Perfect popped in that late winner at the Etihad).
Oh glory Wigan! It’s like the Cup was still alive. Long may it stay so.
And so to Starman. The Man of the Stars is an interesting case for a number of reasons. Firstly, although the character has only ever been a commercial success in the James Robinson series that ran from 1994 – 2001, Starman has had more incarnations that any other JSA members: depending on exactly how you count them, he is the only one to be in double figures.
Secondly, there are two ways in which to approach Starman’s history. The first is the traditional, chronological account of the different characters and the ad hoc, haphazard manner in which they were developed over the decades.
The second recognises that Robinson’s series, as one of its central elements, codified all the Starman characters into a cohesive Mythos, which, amongst many other things, made profound changes to the numbering that would be assigned by the chronology.
In light of this, I’m going to compromise by giving a streamlined account of events chronologically, without using the usual numbering, before describing Robinson’s series in rather more detail than usual, in order to draw out the Mythos, and record the now ‘official’ order of the incarnations.
By whatever count, the first Starman remains the same: socialite and astronomer Ted Knight, who discovered cosmic energy emanating from the stars and built the fabled Gravity Rod – a gold, sceptre-length cylinder – to collect, store and use those energies to fight crime. The Gravity Rod enabled Starman to fly, and to create blasts or shields of light or heat.
Starman is often credited as being another creation of Gardner Fox, who wrote his stories in Adventure Comics from issue 61, but in truth the character was designed by a committee of editors at Detective Comics, and drawn by Jack Burnley, one of the most sophisticated artists in comics in the Forties.
Now committees are usually (and rightly) traduced when it comes to creativity (A camel, etc.) but in this instance they did a decent job. Indeed, Detective Comics, as I’ve already said, believed they were onto a winner to compare with Superman and Batman, and to promote Starman as quickly as possible, they insisted on his inclusion in the Justice Society of America, at the expense of Hourman.
Starman made his début alongside Doctor Mid-Nite in All-Star 8, in an adventure informally known as “Two new members earn their spurs”. It’s an odd situation: Starman is already a member as a result of unknown events between issues, whilst the Doc operates as a guest until virtually the final page, when he’s invited into membership. Mid-Nite spends his whole time interacting with the JSA whilst Starman, apart from his solo chapter, hangs about, silent and solemn, exchanging not a word with his existing team-mates.
He remained with the JSA until All-Star 23, when he and The Spectre became legally unavailable following the All-American divide. He continued, in phantom form, in issues 25, 26 and 30, each of which had been drawn before the split, and which were made publishable by pasting Green Lantern figures on top of Starman, except in the famous two panels where the Lantern uses Starman’s Gravity Rod. By the last of these, All-American and Detective had merged to form National Comics, making Starman available again legally. But his solo series had been cancelled with Adventure 102.
In passing, let us note that a new Starman, dressed in orange and grey, appeared in a Batman story in 1957, and was revealed to be Bruce Wayne, devising a new identity to enable him to continue his war on crime whilst affected by a temporary phobia about bats.
Starman remained in limbo until the second JLA/JSA team-up, in 1964 when, in a nice nod to the past, he was reintroduced alongside Dr Mid-Nite. In retirement, Ted Knight had improved and upgraded his Gravity Rod until it was renamed the Cosmic Rod. This had an even wider range of applications, so much so that it was, effectively, a scientific equivalent of Green Lantern 1’s power ring. Starman made his appearances in various team-ups, but was more-or-less excluded from the All-Star revival: there was nothing he could do that Green Lantern could not, and the Lantern was the bigger character.
Indeed, Starman’s absence was alibied by his being laid up with a broken leg, following an undisclosed fracas with an unseen villain called The British Bat (I say, what?, Dashed bad form.) Insult was then added to injury by having the Cosmic Rod loaned to the Star-Spangled Kid, a Forties teenager drawn into the future, who subsequently ‘improved’ the Cosmic Rod into a hands-free Cosmic Converter Belt. Not a lot of respect for Starman being shown there, overall.
The All-Star revival was book-ended by the first two attempts to revitalise the franchise. The second Starman made a single appearance in First Issue Special 12 (the penultimate issue of the series). He was blue-skinned, red-haired alien Mikaal Tomas, part of an invasion force based on the dark side of the Moon. Tomas was supposed to lead the infiltration, and was given a crystal that he hung round his neck which he used to fire energy bursts. However, Tomas’s pacifist girlfriend influenced him to turn against his race and dedicate his powers to defending Earth. There was no second appearance.
The third Starman followed literally in the footsteps of the JSA revival, which ended in Adventure 466, immediately after which the series was slimmed down to a standard 32 page comic, with the newest Starman as one of its two leads.
This version was written by Paul Levitz and drawn by the legendary Steve Ditko. Prince Gavyn was an effete, lazy fop, one of two heirs to a galactic empire. Gavyn anticipated inheriting the throne and reversing the tradition that demanded unused heirs all be killed, by sparing his sister. Instead, she inherited and he was thrown out of an airlock. He was rescued by an alien named M’ntorr, who invested him with cosmic power (which he directed through a wooden staff). Disguising himself as Starman, Gavyn aided the Empire, eventually taking over when his sister was assassinated. He was one of the many unwanted characters killed off in Crisis on Infinite Earths, swallowed by the wall of anti-matter as he attempted to save Throneworld.
Meanwhile, Roy Thomas addressed himself to those old discrepancies from the Forties, first painting Starman 1 as a brash, self-confident man who wanted to join the Justice Society, followed Hourman for the chance of meeting the team and found himself pulling the latter’s fat out of the fire when he first began to suffer side-effects from Miraclo. Hourman subsequently took leave of absence and nominated Starman to succeed him.
As for his JSA retirement, this was explained by marriage to an unnamed woman who made him promise to give up his Starman identity, a promise he kept until her death, shortly before Justice League of America 27.
Post-Crisis, the death of Prince Gavyn cleared the ground for the fourth Starman, the first to get his own series, in 1988. Roger Stern and Tom Lyle created Will Payton, a long-haired Arizonan who, while out trekking in the mountains, was transformed by a blast of cosmic energy deflected to Earth by an orbiting satellite. In keeping with the growing lack of imagination about new heroes’ powers, Payton found himself able to fly and shoot power blasts from his hands.
The series, which was bland and unexceptional, ran for 41 issues, ending in 1992, with Payton losing his life whilst taking down Eclipso at the climax of that year’s cross-over series, Eclipso: the Darkness Within.
The most interesting story in the series was the two-parter in issues 26-27, which introduced David Knight. David was the son of Ted Knight who, after his father’s disappearance, had bummed around Europe for some years before returning, along with personal trainer Andy ‘Murph’ Murphy to take up his father’s identity. David was angered to find Payton using the Starman name and challenged him over it. Payton, who’d never even heard of a prior Starman was happy to surrender the name, but David, under the mental influence of Murph, launched into a fight, during which Murph – who was actually the original Starman’s arch-enemy, the Mist, in disguise – was able to siphon off enough energy to change himself into a weather formation calling itself Nimbus.
Naturally, Payton and Knight teamed up (with Payton as the smarter one) to combat and eventually defeat Nimbus/The Mist, during which David Knight broke his Star Sceptre (as Stern has, unnecessarily and idiotically, renamed the Cosmic Rod). David Knight slunk off.
Thankfully, this was almost immediately followed by the original Starman’s return from limbo. Ted Knight had been a surprise element in the mini-series, albeit as an injured figure, wheelchair bound after an assault by Vandal Savage. By the end, Ted had recovered his strength and was talking about rejoining the JSA, though their disbandment in front of HUAC frustrates this.
In the subsequent series, Starman didn’t make an appearance until the final issue, bringing the power of science to defeat the magics of Kulak. And in due course, Ted Knight was aged in Zero Hour until he could no longer continue as Starman.
This was planned to lead in to the new Starman series, by James Robinson and Tony Harris: Ted hands his Cosmic Rod over to his elder son, David, whilst his hitherto unrevealed younger son Jack is glad it isn’t him.
Which is where we turn to the consciously developed Starman Mythos.
Ted Knight, father of David and Jack, is the original Starman, protector of the art deco paradise that is Opal City. Starman has had a long career, though dogged with interruptions, but he has always remained in favour, even during the years when the Justice Society were forced into retirement by HUAC.
In the late Thirties, Ted discovered cosmic radiation emanating from the stars and built the first Gravity Rod. After discovering that his cousin Sandra had begun going out in costume as the Phantom Lady, Ted became Starman, for no other reason than that it seemed right to use his powers to stop crime. He created a costume of a red helmet topped by a green fin, red long-sleeved top and leggings, green trunks and boots.
Ted quickly found friends in the Opal Police: Inspector ‘Red’ Bailey, who would go on to become Police commissioner, and Patrolman Billy O’Dare, who would father a quintet of red-headed cops to follow him. Ted also worked with FBI Agent Woodley Allen and, privately, dated his niece, Doris Lee. To conceal his identity, Ted would pretend to be a bored hypochondriac.
He joined the Justice Society in 1941, staying with it till the War’s end. A scientific rationalist, he did not accept that his team-mates Doctor Fate and the Spectre used magic, but an encounter with Etrigan the Demon in 1944 cracked his certainty. Ted subsequently resigned when he began to be troubled by the role he had played in helping Einstein with work that contributed to the development of the Atom Bomb. Ted suffered a series of nervous breakdowns in his guilt.
The worst of these occurred early in 1951 when, shortly after discovering his secret identity, Doris Lee was murdered. With Opal left unprotected, the Starman of 1951 (Starman 2) took up Ted’s role, wearing a completely different costume so as not to affect Ted’s recovery.
Starman 2 is actually Ted’s former JSA colleague Charles McNider, aka Doctor Mid-Nite. With the assistance of a number of minor heroes in constructing technology, McNider keeps the peace until October 1951, when an incident in his home city calls him away. His place is taken by another figure, whose identity I’ll hold back for now (Starman 3), who takes over until New Year’s Day 1952, when he abruptly disappears. Starman 3’s last adventure is in collaboration with Hourman and a time-travelling Jack Knight. The case spurs Ted back into action when he spots a clue everyone else has overlooked.
Ted resumes his career. Jack persuades him to go to a New Year’s Party where, unknown to Jack, he will meet Adele Doris Drew on her intended final day in Opal: Adele is Ted’s future wife and the mother of David and Jack.
Though the Starman of 1951 is still a public mystery in Jack’s time, Ted has hinted that he knows more than he’s ever let on: before leaving 1951 with the aid of Starman 9, Jack writes an account of everything that he leaves in one of Ted’s books, for him to find, if he ever does.
(This adventure comes right at the end of Jack’s career as Starman 8: in his era, no-one knows that the Starman of 1951 was actually two different people.)
Ted continues his career during the Fifties and into the Sixties. He teams up with Black Canary for a short series of cases. Their teamwork spills over into a brief but passionate affair, which the two decide to end, being in love with their spouses. The timing is fortuitous: the next day, Ted learns Adele is pregnant with David.
Four years later, Jack is born, but when he is very young, Adele falls ill and, after several years in hospitals and sanitoria, she dies whilst he is still a child. Ted is left to bring up both boys himself.
It is not an easy job. Ted’s duties to his science and to Starman mean the boys are frequently left alone. They are chalk and cheese, and though Jack starts off by hero-worshipping his father, he gradually rebels against Starman. His interests lie in the past, in Collectables. He is frequently openly contemptuous of superheroes.
Sylvester Pemberton Jr, the original Star-Spangled Kid, becomes almost a surrogate son to Ted who, at one point, asks Sly to take his role as Starman. Sly considers it but, recognising that there is more to Jack than meets the eye, and believing that he will, one day, justify his father’s wish to be proud of him, declines. He takes the name Skyman himself, but is killed in action not long after.
Meanwhile, Mikaal Tomas comes to the moon as part of the planned invasion force. He turns against them, ready to defend earth, but no threat materialised. Some people call him Starman (Starman 4). In search of thrills and sensation, he enters the mid-Seventies disco scene, indulging in drugs and casual sex. Eventually, he finds the last member of his race pursuing him: the invasion was called off when their home planet was invaded itself. His fellow wants revenge on Tomas and the two duel. Tomas is the winner, but finds his crystal now seared into his flesh.
Hearing of another Starman, Tomas drifts to Opal City, but before he can get himself together enough to contact Ted, he is kidnapped and drugged. He spends the next twenty five years or so circulating among a group of extremely rich superhero fetishists.
Meanwhile, in space, Prince Gavyn (Starman 5) has his career as previously recorded, and dies in the Crisis. Ted follows the Justice Society into their final adventure and ends up in limbo. Officially he is regarded as dead, though Jack retains the belief that his father remains alive during that period.
Whilst Ted is in limbo, Will Payton gains powers and is called Starman (Starman 6) in the press. Ted’s son David, under the influence of The Mist, challenges him for the right to the name, but finds himself outsmarted and his Cosmic Rod destroyed. David gives way with seeming good grace. Payton does visit Opal City on one occasion, but dies in battle fighting Eclipso.
Ted returns from limbo with the JSA, having received another ‘booster’ against ageing, but this and his other rejuvenations are removed by the Extant in Zero Hour. Though Ted retains more vitality than others of his old colleagues, he recognises that he can no longer act as Starman and hands his Cosmic Rod and costume on to his elder son, David (Starman 7).
Jack is still derisive of the ‘family business’, and is openly contemptuous of his brother in their last meeting, a few days into David’s career, just before he heads out on patrol. An hour later, David Knight is shot and killed.
This heralds a crime spree in Opal, organised by Ted’s arch-enemy, The Mist. His son, Kyle, kills David and fails to kill Jack: his daughter Nash destroys Ted’s observatory and incapacitates Ted. Jack, the only survivor, is forced to play Starman until the last Cosmic Rod is broken. However, though Ted gives him leave to flee, to save himself, Jack refuses to go. He is equipped with the original Cosmic Rod prototype, from 1950, which is quarterstaff length, instead of sceptre-sized, and is surprised to find an affinity with it. Kyle dies in battle with Jack, The Mist slips into senility and Nash, a shy, stuttering girl who had allowed Jack to escape out of pity, swears to become the new Mist and get vengeance on him.
Jack agrees to become Starman, on a number of conditions: he won’t wear the costume, he won’t patrol and Ted must now use his science to put cosmic energy to humanity’s benefit, instead of heroing. Ted readily agrees: he is aware Jack intends to ‘cheat’ by not looking for action, but knows that the ‘life’ will find him. Jack becomes Starman 8.
Immediately, he finds himself negotiating an uneasy alliance with the immortal villain The Shade, a manipulator of shadow stuff who, it transpires, is an Opal resident, loves the city and refuses to commit crime here. The Shade believes Jack may be the hero Opal is waiting for.
Whilst looking for Collectibles in Turk County, Jack happens on a circus at which Mikaal Tomas is being used as a Freak. The circus is run by Bliss, an incubus who is feeding off the fear and hatred of all his Freaks. When Jack fights him, Mikaal – who is unable to speak English – assists him in defeating Bliss. Subsequently, Mikaal will lose his powers is defending Solomon Grundy: he regains his ability to speak English but not his memories. These are not revealed until later.
This happens during another crime-wave, this one organised by Nash, the new Mist, now very self-confident. Nash kidnaps and drugs Jack and, whilst he is unconscious, she rapes him and impregnates herself.
Angry that Nash has compared herself to him, Jack tries to do something she wouldn’t do by finding her father’s missing medal. This leads to an adventure with Wesley (Sandman) Dodds in New York, which has far-reaching implications for both Jack and Dodds later on.
Slowly, Jack finds himself adjusting to the life of the superhero, though he maintains his unorthodox approach to it. Every year, by means he doesn’t understand, Jack has a meeting with his dead brother David, at which time David tries to assist Jack in preparing for future events.
Jack’s growing relationship with his girlfriend, Sadie Falk, is threatened by her revelation that her real name is Jane Sadie Payton. She is Will Payton’s sister and believes him to still be alive. Because he loves her, Jack agrees to go into space to try to find Payton. Mikaal joins him, hoping to refind himself.
In space, Jack and Mikaal are bounced forwards and backwards in time. In the Thirtieth Century, they encounter Star Boy (aka Thom Kallor) of the Legion of Superheroes and assist him in dispersing a planet-spanning field of shadow that is found to be the result of the Shade’s powers gone haywire. The Shade reveals to Kallor that he is destined to go to the 2st Century, after Jack has ended his career, and become Starman under the name of Danny Blaine, one of the most famous Starmen in history. Kallor knows every detail of Danny Blaine’s life, including when, and how, he will die.
Jack and Mikaal, who has recovered his powers and his aggression, eventually reach Throneworld, which is now governed as Regent by Prince Gavyn’s former lieutenant, Jediah Rikane, who has married the Queen. Payton is imprisoned on Throneworld and undergoing torture: he was discovered in Throneworld space, displaying an energy signature identical to that of Prince Gavyn.
Inadvertently, Jack sends a signal that starts a revolution against Rikane. Payton is killed, but is resurrected by M’ntorr, who explains that when Gavyn died in the Crisis, his energy was directed to Earth, and it was that which was reflected into Arizona and transformed Payton, killing the young man in the process, but impressing his form and features on Gavyn. Payton protests this, insisting that he is and is only Payton, though his access to Gavyn’s memories, and his powers, rapidly grows. Though he remains unconvinced, he ultimately opts to stay on Throneworld, with Queen Merria: whereas the Starman of 1951 turned out to be two different people, Starmans 5 and 6 are revealed to be the same person.
Back on Earth, Jack faces a final battle to save his city, during which Ted, battling Doctor Phosphorus, receives a lethal dose of radiation. At the last, he uses his advanced Cosmic Ray science to save Opal City one last time: The Mist, his mind restored, has set off an extremely destructive bomb to kill the Knights and their city: Ted uses a hyper-advanced Cosmic Rod to elevate the building, the bomb, the Mist and himself into space, where the bomb explosdes harmlessly, killing two old men but causing no other damage.
Jack, distraught at losing his father, begins to question his vocation as Starman. Nash is dead, killed by her father, but giving their son Kyle to Jack at the last. Sadie has left him: she is pregnant too and, whilst willing herself to share Jack’s life as Starman, will not subject her baby to it.
Jack’s final meeting with David also includes Ted: these visits have been made possible by the post-death magics of Kent (Doctor Fate) Nelson, utilising an ancient curse affecting the Opal, which Jack has helped to lift. Ted gives Jack’s intention to retire his blessing. David, however, has a final surprise for his brother, a journey home via 1951, where Jack inadvertently secures his own birth, and learns the secrets of the mystery Starman – which include the fact that Starman 3, the replacement Starman of 1951, is his brother David.
Again, thanks to Kent Nelson’s spells, David was magically transported from the moment of his death to 1951, to be granted the chance to live out his dream of acting as Starman, to show his quality, and demonstrate that he did, indeed, have what it took. His realisation that Jack has sent their father off to meet their mother is the completion of that spell, and David is returned to the instant of his death.
Jack, unsure how he will return to his own time, is collected by Starman 9, Thom Kallor/Danny Blaine. It is a farewell gift: after dropping off Jack, Blaine is returning to the day of his death.
All that remained for Jack was to pass on his Cosmic Rod. With the knowledge that Blaine was due to appear before long, and with Mikaal restored to active status, Jack chose to hand his Rod on to Courtney Whitmore, the teenage girl who had become the second Star-Spangled Kid. Courtney has continued her career as Star Girl, and may be regarded as Starman (so to speak) 10. (She’s actually destined to be overshadowed by her baby half-sister, Patricia Dugan, who will grow up to become Starwoman, another of the most famous of the line.)
Since Jack Knight’s series has ended, Kallor has returned from the Thirtieth century, adopted the role of Starman and the name of Danny Blaine and been in action as such in the most recent incarnation of the Justice Society, alongside Stargirl. Robinson has returned to comics after a break, writing a number of Justice League series, into which he has introduced Mikaal Tomas. Though the possibility was held out of a further adventure, Jack Knight has retired to San Francisco,with Kyle, to Sadie and his daughter, and resumed painting. He has not been seen since. Which, given the way in which Robinson’s writing has deteriorated in the past decade, is probably a good thing.
How much of this still applies post-New 52 is debatable. Within months of Jack Knight’s series ending, a large part of his space adventure was erased from continuity by a revision of Superman’s background and origins.
To date, no Starman has appeared. Robinson is the writer of the sadly dire Earth-2 series featuring the new Justice Society so we’re bound to get a Starman at some point, but which one, and in what shape is something I am not anxious to learn.
There were rumours last night, late, furious speculation, the sound of tectonic plates shifting, the possibility that the world would change around us, and this morning, the announcement, quick and simple: Sir Alex Ferguson is to step down as Manager of Manchester United. There are only two games left.
His place is to be taken, barring one spectacular hoax, by David Moyes, a man who appears to be cut from the same cloth as the Boss and, before him, Matt Busby, but who’s going to have to go some to prove that he is fit to stand somewhere other than in the shadow of those two men.
It’s a monumental change. For some people I work with, it’s almost an inconceivable change. They have never known a day when Fergie wasn’t the Boss at Old Trafford. I mean, hell’s bells, Ryan Giggs is 39 and has been in the first team for 22 years and Moyes will be only the second manager he’s played under.
I go back further than a lot of these people, far enough to remember Manchester United in those antediluvian, palaeolithic days, Before Ferguson. I remember Ron Atkinson, Dave Sexton, Tommy Docherty, Frank O’Farrell, Wilf McGuiness: I remember Matt being in charge.
But let’s confine ourselves for now to Atkinson. Not without success: winning the Cup in 1983 against Brighton, and again in 1985 against Everton, in extra-time with ten men, and Norman Whiteside’s extraordinary goal curled in from the corner of the penalty box when it looked like nothing would ever get past Neville Southall.
And the following season, United won the first ten games straight, playing football of a hallucinatory brilliance that only those at the games witnessed, because there was no football on television for months and no record of that time. Then it fell apart after that, and a Championship that the media had awarded United in October, ending the long, miserable drought after 19 years, became a desperate scramble to stay in touch and a fourth place finish.
I remember predicting that if United weren’t top six by Christmas, Atkinson would be out.
In the end, he got the expected push at the end of November, although there was no chance of United getting into the top six over the next month.
And in came this unknown quantity, this guy from Aberdeen, Alex Ferguson.
I remember what it used to be like. And for several years, under Ferguson, it was more or less the same. All the dawns were false . Even when the trophies started to come – a record-equalling FA Cup in 1990, Europe once more with the Cup-Winners Cup the next season, even a first League Cup in 1992, what remains uppermost of those years is that long, sad, miserable half-season when we faced off with Leeds United for the last proper League Championship, both teams fumbling and bumbling to the end, neither of them deserving to top the League and at the end we were still not good enough. Not good enough for that one fixated desire: to be top.
They bottled it, couldn’t score, could bring it home for the Silver Anniversary of that long-remembered win. The Premier League arrived, and its first goal was against United. After seventy-eight minutes of the first home game, 3-0 down to Everton, I became one of the first people that season to stand up and shout “Ferguson out!”.
I’ve eaten my words with relish ever since, for that was the year it changed, the year we proved that we had moved on from the bottlers of the previous season, from all the teams of the past twenty-six seasons, the deserving and the inadequate, those who were wronged for not winning that medal, those who would have been flattered out of all their talent to have that medal.
Eric came to Old Trafford, in clouds of suspicion about what was wrong that Leeds would sell someone like him, to be followed by the growing realisation that we had indeed found our King again, the first King since the Lawman. Twenty-six years of loss, twenty-six years of being the butt of jokes, chants of “You’ll never win the League”, vanished in the space of a Sunday afternoon walking in little circles around my living room, listening to Oldham Athletic protecting a one goal lead at Villa that would put the Premiership into our pockets.
It would never be the same again. At work, I prophesied that it wouldn’t be 26 years again, that United would win the League again within the next four seasons, maximum. Instead, we did the Double, I got to the Cup Final, we lost Sir Matt, our universal grandfather, but we experienced the Shrine of Scarves and that unforgettable day, against Everton.
Now it would be the easiest thing on Earth to turn the rest of this into remembrances of the brilliant moments, of twenty years of almost unlimited success, of highs and highs and even higher highs, and a sustained superiority that no-one ever expected, even in that famous moment when Steve Bruce headed in that winner against Sheffield Wednesday. But these memories are public things, created before the eyes of millions. Could there ever be another moment to equal that when Ollie put the ball in the German’s net?
The point is that my memories of these things is not radically different from yours. And I don’t need to list these great times to to demonstrate by how much United, and football and I will miss Alex Ferguson when he walks away from the management of my club after a period of time longer even than the barren years without titles from the Seventies to the Nineties.
Now its going to be up to David Moyes. He’s an unknown quality. He’s done well on limited resources to keep Everton where they are for over a decade, and he knows how to involve himself in all levels of a club, top to bottom, but he’s got a reputation for conservative tactics that doesn’t fit Old Trafford. How much of that is a response to restricted resources is impossible to tell, but even if he’s now in a position to break out and play expansive football of the kind United fans demand as of right, to what extent has he been conditioned by a decade’s necessity.
But then, for me, the last few years at United have been poor ones, even though they’ve included two Premierships – putting ourselves clear of Liverpool and, this time round, taking our trophy back from the Bitters, but it’s been increasingly joyless stuff. Since Christiano Ronaldo left, United have lost the majority of their pace: they have also lost almost all their pace of thought. The team itself has started to play very conservatively anyway: the emphasis is on retaining possession, which is no bad thing in itself, but it is shackled to an overwhelming urge not to take anything resembling a risk. With rare exceptions, United seem to be unable to race forward with the ball, turning a defence to run with it. Instead, they will go thus far, before turning back, waiting for support, but allowing their opponents to build their defence, close down options and avenues. Then United will play the ball back into their own half, where it is safe.
Some individual performances have declined: Tony Valencia is a classic case in this season. The abiding symbol of our year is the sight of Valencia running thirty yards with the ball and then stopping dead, the ball at his feet, a defender standing opposite him – and having no idea what to do next.
Wayne Rooney is no longer as essential as he seemed to be, as he was. If you want a superb forty yard ball sweeping out to Valencia or Rafael on the wing, he’s your man, every day. If you want him to find a red shirt from ten yards, be ready to funnel back and halt the counter-attack, for he gives it away over and again. His first touch is abysmal, he cannot take the ball past players, he is far from full fitness.
What summed it up for me was the second half of the game against Aston Villa, a couple of weeks ago, when United actually won the title. The first half was brilliant: fast, decisive, effective: the game sewn up. The second half was dreadful. Villa were there for the taking: another three goals could have been added with little effort, a show put on for the fans, a triumphal procession to the final whistle and the celebrations.
Instead, United did what United always do now. They played around, passed the ball, keeping possession between their penalty area and the half-way line, and avoided the risk of going into Villa’s half no matter how good, how clear the opportunity to move forward may have been. They would not attack, would not go forward. They sucked all the fun out of the game, left it miserable and drab. When the whistle went, I simply got my coat and went home.
So if Moyes wants to play conservatively, there’s a precedent for it in how United have played this past couple of seasons.
Was it time for Fergie to retire? We’d all have wanted it to have come after another European Champions League Final, but that doesn’t look particularly likely. Mourinho’s probably going to be back at Chelsea, setting a new challenge, and Fergie’s facing a hip operation that would take him out until, probably, October. Plus he’s starting to get a little obsessive about keeping our older players in the team. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Ginger Genius and when he first retired I regretted the fact I’d never see him again worse than any other footballer I’ve known, and whilst I don’t go far enough back for Besty, I do for Eric and I include him as well.
Giggsy, I saw his first goal, and now he’s got more honours than anyone else ever in the game, including as many League titles as the third most successful Club. But Rio Ferdinand as well? These people are not immortal (ok, maybe Giggsy) and we need to move forward.
I think it’s right. A new face, a new motivator, new ideas. and please, more emphasis on putting in the goals against the teams when we can score them, instead of knocking in a couple and switching off for eighty minutes.
Whoever it is, he’s attempting the impossible. Of course he’ll fail, in comparison to Fergie. In our hearts, we know it. But in our hearts, I hope we’re sane enough to expect this, and give the new guy time, like Fergie had time. We’ve had trophy-less seasons before (the Charity/Community Shield does not count) and we came back.
Some of you who read this will look back on my issues with the way the team’s played and conclude I’m just a typical, arrogant United fan, with a superiority complex. Maybe I am. I’m lucky to follow a club for whom it’s not enough to win. We are brought up to expect that win to be thrilling, to excite and astonish us as well as give us silverware. If we’re arrogant, I can only say that so would you be if you had our history and our heritage.
Twenty years ago, I had no idea, no anticipation of what would follow. We’ll win the League again within the next four years, I promised.
So, I’m ready for the future. In the last twenty years I have had unbelievable fun. I have memories that I can turn to in a flash, as if I were still standing there. Alex Ferguson’s given me more to celebrate than I ever dreamed possible, and he gave me injury time in Barcelona and the most unbelievable thing that ever happened on a football field. It’s not the end, but if it were I have nothing but gratitude to him and nothing to complain about if it all stops here.
Thank you for so many things, Alex Ferguson. Thank you for twenty years I could never have expected. May your final selection do you proud. We have twenty Championships, but only three managers who’ve brought them to Old Trafford. Here’s to Moyesy making it into the exclusive club with you, Matt, and the long-forgotten Ernest Mangnall a century ago.
And make sure that we don’t have to repeat that long, amazing day against Everton any time soon.
If it hadn’t been for Gardner Fox’s last Justice League/Justice Society story, I wouldn’t be writing this. It’s very debatable as to whether I should be anyway, but the old Reynard’s final contribution to DC opens a door that must at least be considered before being slammed firmly shut.
The story, in which the Justice Society and Justice League operated independently, without meeting, featured the former Flash 2/Green Lantern 2 villain, T. O. Morrow, a scientific genius who based his crimes on his initials and future science. He had apparently died in the coils of some great machinery a couple of years earlier, only to have used these as a cover for vibrating into Earth-2.
Morrow’s futuristic computer told him that the only way he could succeed in his plans was to create a new/old member to infiltrate the JSA. Morrow therefore created the new Red Tornado, an initially faceless android with the power of transforming his body, or any part of it, into a high speed tornado. In order to get him into the JSA, Morrow programmed him to believe that he was the original Red Tornado, a difficult task, given that there was not a single point of correspondence between the two.
Red Tornado 2 would, indeed, bring the JSA down, his whirling tornados being so disruptive, that he inadvertently ‘killed off’ the whole team. However, with the assistance of the Justice League, the Tornado restored them and was elected a member (on exceedingly slim grounds, I have to say).
The new Red Tornado was the second post-Forties member to join the JSA, following the adult Robin the previous year. He did not have a good time of it.
In 1969, he summoned the Justice League to save the Justice Society, but was warned to stay out of the battle because of the danger he posed. The following year, anxious to impress, he actually made himself into the cause of the danger to Earths 1 and 2.
Then, in 1972, when heroes all around were arguing over who should sacrifice themselves by using the Nebula Rod to destroy the Hand squeezing Earth-2 to death, it was the Red Tornado who sneaked away quietly and actually ended the menace, but killed himself in the process.
Except that, six months later, and with eyes, nose and mouth carved in by T. O . Morrow again, the Red Tornado reappeared, having only been blown across the dimensional barrier into Earth-1, from where he was unable to return. So he joined the Justice League instead. Well, if you had a potentially interesting and successful character, would you leave him in the Justice Society, to be seen only once a year among a crowd of others seen only once a year?
I don’t propose to go into Red Tornado 2’s career in anything approaching the depth I’ve done earlier in this series. His origin has been rebooted at least twice – once to reintroduce the obscure JLA ally/enemy The Tornado Champion/Tyrant as the motive force in the android, and once to make him into an Air Elemental. He’s also spent one period in a human body, before it got damaged beyond repair.
But any such description is predicated on whether or not the original Red Tornado, The Red Tornado 1, was ever actually a member of the Justice Society.
I will present the facts. The Red Tornado 1 attended the JSA’s début meeting in All-Star 3, coming and going in a single page, drawn (and probably written) by All-Star editor Sheldon Mayer. The Tornado climbed in through the window, shuffled around nervously, refused the courteous offer to take ‘his’ cape, then left hurriedly, revealing that ‘he’ had had his longjohns ripped off by a nail on the windowsill.
And this was the career of the JSA member that the android Red Tornado believed constituted Justice Society membership.
But who was the Red Tornado? The Tornado 1 was a supporting character in Shelly Mayer’s own series in All-American Comics, Scribbly, the Adventures of a Boy Cartoonist, a purely comic series based to some extent on Mayer’s own experiences, who went on to virtually take the show over. Scribbly Jibbet and his younger brother Dinky were always at Ma Hunkel’s, a brawny New York housewife and grocery store owner, whose daughter, Sisty, was the same age as Dinky. At one point, Dinky and Sisty were kidnapped by crooks. Scribbly mentioned how Green Lantern could get them, and Ma quizzed him as to who and what the Lantern was. Next thing you know, the kids are being rescued by this costumed brawler, wearing red longjohns and long-sleeves, green shorts, a yellow top, a curtain for a cape, big gloves and a helmet made out of a saucepan with eyeholes cut into it.
The Red Tornado turned out to be a very active local figure. Oh, and of course, the Tornado was Ma Hunkel. Often mistakenly referred to as the Red Tomato, incidentally. All Brawn and No Brains.
To be serious for a moment, the original Red Tornado was a genuinely historical figure in comics. Not only was she the first ever superhero spoof but, predating Wonder Woman by several months, Ma Hunkel was the very first female superhero.
Just to round the Red Tornado 1’s story off, she and her connection with the JSA has been taken more seriously in the modern era. Geoff Johns revealed that Martha Hunkel had, long ago, revealed her identity to testify against gangsters and, as a result, had been hidden in Witness Protection for decades, unable to contact her family (over whom the JSA had watched), until at last the final member of the gang that had sworn revenge on her died. Ma came out of hiding to become a motherly figure to the JSA, and their caretaker, and after Infinite Crisis, her granddaughter, Maxine Hunkel, was found to have natural wind controlling powers, and joined the Justice Society as Cyclone, to train.
And that’s the story of the Red Tornado(s). But I still don’t think she was ever a member of the Justice Society in the Forties.