Zatara, it Turns Out, is Incredible

 Zatara is one of those characters that haunts the corners of the DCU, usually showing up just in time to sacrifice himself for the greater good. As such, I’ve never had a real feel for the character.

“Oh hey, it’s Zatara! I bet he’ll get some magic-style ass-kicking done soon and… oh, he exploded. For the greater good.”

Obviously the guy is the sort of super-power dynamite that you have to write out of your story a quickly as possible to keep him from mucking things up, but just what is it about him that makes him so threatening? Seems all I needed to do was to start reading Golden Age comics, such as Action and World’s Finest, where Giovanni Zatara got his start - I am now convinced that Zatara is awesome. It’s not just that he combines his magician’s showmanship with his nigh-unlimited powers to do everything in the most mind-bendingly entertaining way possible:

No, it’s the fact that despite the fact that he has no secret identity (easily spotted), no invulnerability or extraordinary strength (easily knocked out) and widely-known weaknesses (just tie the guy up and gag him), he is essentially unstoppable. I’ve seen him knocked out, tied up, turned into things and catapulted into alternate dimensions and whatever scrape he’s in he always gets out of it, usually by pulling something like this:

I think that Zatara might be Magic Batman – the guy is completely unstoppable. Not only can he escape your Death Maze using only a piece of twine and some pocket lint but he will then animate the maze, have it chase you down the street while shouting labrynth-based puns and then throw you in jail.

What’s more, because he always wears a tux, sometimes his solutions get a bit… suave. Like the time that he was stranded on an alternate world on which two nations were locked in war and his solution was to, well, get their queens to forge a binding peace, if you know what I mean.

Oh for the life of a magic man.

Forgotten Characters of Yesteryear: Mighty Hawkhat

It's time for a little forgotten history, friends! A character so obscure that I guarantee you've never heard of him: Hawkman's long-discarded sidekick:


Mighty Hawkhat was one of those strange storytelling elements of the early days of comics, things which might merit an entire story arc to explain today but that had no origin at all. How archaeologist and reincarnated Egyptian prince Carter Hall acquired what was evidently a living creature resembling a giant, tentacled hawk's head was never addressed, nor was it explained why such a creature was worn by hall while in his role of Hawkman. It was all just part of the experience.

Hawkman and Mighty Hawkhat shared a number of adventures together. Initially, Mighty Hawkhat could not speak and contributed his opinions of the proceedings through exaggerated facial expressions, though curiously these expressions seldom matched the tone of the story.

In fact, Mighty Hawkhat usually seemed to be grinning and winking at the events that were going on around him, as if to break the tension of the often-violent mysteries that Hawkman would find himself embroiled in.

If he was attempting to court favour with his young audience, however, Mighty Hawkhat failed miserably. Readers evidently hated him, sly grins and all. In an effort to salvage the character, he was given a more ominous aspect:

He was also given a voice, though in an effort to steer the character away from his light-hearted beginnings that voice tended to be even darker than the already serious Hawkman's own:

But the change in character did nothing to change how the fans felt about Mighty Hawkhat. In fact, one of the aspects of the personality makeover served to further alienate the reading public. The revamped Hawkhat was inexplicably jealous of Shiera Saunders, Carter Hall's love interest:

... his constant barrage of disparaging remarks and dirty looks served less to liven up the series that to derail it into panel after panel of tedious "banter".

Mighty Hawkhat eventually proved to be more of a hinderance than a help to Hawkman's war on crime and was discarded, never to be heard from again. Hawkman invested in an inanimate hawk headdress and never looked back. Probably for the best, but one always wonders what might have been.

Rest in Peace, Mighty Hawkhat.

Why I Love Golden Age Superman

I like Superman. I like Silver Age Superman and Superboy with their ridiculous adventures. I like 90s Superman despite the way he looked. I like Supergirl and Krypto the Superdog and Beppo the Super Monkey.

But there's just something about Golden Age Superman. I think I like him the best.

Golden Age Superman and all of those other guys do have a lot in common - the costume, the unwavering dedication to justice, the ability to do just about anything (even if GA Supes was technically less powerful). I think that the key difference lies in their respective attitudes.

After all, Superman was brand spanking new, the bastard child of pulps and comic strips and movie serials, and he definitely didn't act the Big Blue Boy Scout. His pursuit of justice was by virtually any means necessary, including some that went against the letter of the law. Much like Batman (and a whole lot of other costumed vigilantes, of course), Superman was wanted by the law for the first part of his career, probably because of the many times that he broke people out of jail in order to prove their innocence.

You also get the impression that Superman is really enjoying himself in these early adventures. He spends a lot of time thinking up ironic ways to scare the hell out of wrongdoers, like the time that he flew an unscrupulous munitions manufacturer to a war zone and forced him to join the army - selling weapons to both sides in order to prolong the fighting no longer seemed quite so fun for the poor guy.

Or the time that he shot a trigger-happy Fourth Columnist from point blank range, only to catch the bullet at the last picosecond. The man had a sense of humour!

Of course, it didn't last - as comics found their place and started creating their own cliches and then the Comics Code emerged from the underworld Superman evolved into the Ultimate Do-Gooder that we know today. As I said, I like that guy - his Silver Age adventures are some of the most surreally weird and entertaining examples of what made that time great - but I do miss the swaggering, laughing, leaping-over-tall-buildings guy who probably delighted in making as many crooks as possible soil themselves. Uh, for justice.

Always for justice.

Oliver Queen and the Forest of Plot-Points

I'm feeling a bit sub-human today, so this post's going to be nice and simple.

So: I recently read More Fun Comics No. 105, from waaaaaay back in 1945, when the air was clean and little birds danced on command, and I found myself particularly taken with the Green Arrow story "The Miracle of the Mistaken Miser", for two whole reasons.

First off, the plot, though not extraordinary, is facilitated by what must be the most magical forest in the DC Universe. I believe that the best way to illustrate this is with some old-fashioned cropped images:


Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen and Roy "Speedy" Harper are making the best of a nice day by... standing stiffly in the woods in blue pants. Little do they realize, however, that these are magic woods and they want to show our heroes a good time.

Now, as far as I can tell, Roy and Ollie don't move an inch during the following series of events. Well, maybe they pivot.

First, a confrontation between young lovers and disapproving parent:

"Dad, we'd like you to come to the woods with us - there's something that we need to talk about."

I would be willing to bet that they were planning to hit him with a shovel if he said no, but nobody remembered to bring one. I assume that nobody would miss... what was his name again? Ah. Mr. Havemor.

Good lord.

And then, turning gently to the left, the Wizard Archers get to watch Mr. Havemor try to wheedle a survivalist miser type out of a small chunk of his land, so that he can build a housing development. Because there's nothing that a society-hating hermit loves more than a subdivision next door.

Nothing doing, though. That miser is sitting tight on top of his gold nuggets that he really shouldn't be yelling about all the time. No land for poor Mr Havemor.

I'm sure that you're thinking something along the lines of "That's fine, Johnathan, but maybe Havemor came to the woods to talk to the old guy and the kids were just seizing the day. The whole thing's just a coincidence - there's nothing magical going on."

Well, feast your eyes on this:

Just as soon as Havemmor leaves, crooks show up to steal the gold. I mean, I'm sure that the old guy was distributing fliers reading 'I AINT LEEVIN MY LAND ITS FULL OF GOLD I HAVE SOM NUGGETS' throughout the county on a regular basis, but still: this is a powerful coincidence. The only real conclusion that one can draw is that the forest itself is sentient and is seeking to please its inhabitants and visitors with magical powers, like some unlikely planet on the original run of Star Trek.

The rest of the tale concerns Green Arrow and Speedy battling hermit-robbers, but the real star of the piece for me is Monk, the leader of the gang. Check him out:

Purple suit, huge head, wee little shock of hair up top... this guy's got it all.

It's his facial expressions that really make him a champ, though. Look at that grin - that is the epitome of the degenerate humanity that DCU thugs were blessed with in the Gold and Silver Ages. Annd his bucktoothed pal ain't bad either.

But this:

This is his greatest moment, as he draws things out before shooting the helpless GA and Speedy. He concentrates so much dull-witted evil into one face... the man's a savant, I swear.

He does drag things out a bit too long, though.

Anyway, things turn out okay: the crooks are thwarted, the land is sold to Mr. Havemor and that one guy ends up with a thousand dollars somehow and so gets Havemor's blessing.

Well, close to a blessing, anyway. And Mr. Havemor went on to build a magical subdivision, until it became troublesome and he hired some men to destroy the magic.

And then he had the hermit killed so he could expand his operation.

Good night everybody!

Miss Fury is Awesome

Miss Fury was a serialized superhero comic strip that ran throughout the 1940s. Not only did it star a female superhero, but it was created, written, and drawn by a woman. June Tarpe Mills, using the pen name Tarpe Mills to conceal her gender, debuted her character, Black Fury, in 1941. Like all good superheroes, Black Fury was a bored wealthy socialite (Marla Drake). She happened to have a panther skin that was brought back from Africa for her as a gift, and thus her life of costumed crimefighting was born.

The serials were eventually collected into a very short-lived comic book series by Timely Comics (you might know them as Marvel Comics).The first three issues of the comic were thankfully reprinted in a book by Pure Imagination Publishing which isn't the easiest thing to find, but can be purchased from their website. I was given this book as a gift a couple of years ago, and I can tell you that it is awesome.

Not only does Mills hold her own writing and drawing adventure comics for men in a man's world, she totally throws down some of the craziest shit I have ever seen in comics. Stone cold badass craziness.

But you don't have to take my word for it.










In conclusion, this collection of comics is definitely worth hunting down. As you can see, the art is awesome. And these panels are just a taste of what goes down. I mean, half of the story takes place in Brazil! I didn't even get into that!