Monday, September 12, 2011

Surviviors of the Golden Age!

The Golden Age has little to do with the Elongated Man; however, a little reference could help understand the Silver Age, which is the context of the character. Besides, the Golden Age is the is the historical dawn of the superhero genre. Without Superman and the golden age of superhero comics, there would be no Elongated Man.
After a couple of Jewish kids from Cleveland managed to convince National Allied Publications (DC's name back then) to publish the adventures of their super powered man in blue tights with a red cape and underwear over it, dozens of similarly dressed super heroes popped up in the then-booming American comic book industry. Comics already existed, so did characters like Slam Bradley and Dr. Occult, but Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's creation was largely the inspired some of the most notorious DC characters:
  • National ComicsBatman, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Speedy, Robin, Crimson Avenger, Zatara, Sandman, the Spectre, and the Guardian, Hour Man, Robotman, TNT, Dan the Dyna-Myte, etc.
  • All-American Publications: Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Dr. Mid-Nite, Sargon, Johnny Thunder, Black Canary, Wildcat and the humorous Red Tornado.
All-American added a lot of properties to the market, but was absorbed by National Comics in 1944. One way or another, the most notorious properties of both teamed-up as the Justice Society of America.

Likewise, a lot of companies were doing the same. Some were bought by National Comics at different during the silver age (I mean, before 1985):
  • Fawcett Comics: Captan Marvel and the Marvel Family, Spy Smasher, Bulletman and Bulletgirl.
  • Fox Comics: Blue Beetle.
  • Quality Comics: Plastic Man, Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, Manhunter, Doll Man, Doll Girl, Human Bomb, the Blackhawks.  
Additionally, there were the characters of Timely Comics (eventually Marvel), Nedor Comics, Centaur Comics and Archie Comics.

By the late 40s the industry started shrinking, a lot of characters and titles were cancelled, including a lot of National Comics' and  almost all of All-American's, with Wonder Woman as its big exception. The most notorious survivors of the Golden Age of DC Comics were:  
  • Robin Hood and the Sherwood characters (New Adventure Comics #23, January 1938).
  • Superman (Action Comics #1, June 1938), along with him Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lex Luthor, the Prankster, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Toy-man, the Puzzler.
  • Batman (Detective Comics #27, May 1939), aong with him Comissioner Gordon, Hugo Strange, Robin, the Joker, Catwoman, the Scarecrow, the Penguin, Two-Face, the Cavalier, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mad Hatter, the Riddler. Alfred was switched from Beagle to Pennyworth at some point. 
  • Wonder Woman (All-Star Comics #8, Dec. 1941), along with Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, Ares (often "Mars"), Cheetah, Dr. Psycho, Giganta and Angle Man.
  • Aquaman (More Fun Comics #73, Nov. 1941). 
  • Green Arrow and Speedy (More Fun Comics #73, Nov. 1941). 
  • Congo Bill (More Fun Comics #56, Jun. 1940).
The titles or features of those characters survived through out the 50s, in which the industry was damaged even more by McCarthism, the efforts of Dr. Fredric Wertham and the Comics Code Authority, all of which caused the comics to be heavily censored. Plots became childish and often ludicrous. Additionally, by the mid 50s the focus concentrated on space and sci-fi, do even Batman started to fight alien invaders. This is the early Silver Age period, and it's around this point, 1956, that National Comics (known as "Superman - DC") decided to reintroduce the Flash. Only this time they decided to change his identity. The original Flash was last published in 1949, so the man responsible for this, editor Julius Schwartz felt that it was necessary to reintroduce the character to the new readers of the time. He also felt the need to update him for the 50s. Consequently, the new Flash kept his powers, name and even started his adventures with one of his main villains (the Turtle became Turtle Man); however, his secret identity wasn't Jay Garrick, the college student from Keystone City, but Barry Allen, the police scientist from Central City.

After the success of Flash, National revived old properties in the same fashion with different identities: Green Lantern (1959), Hawkman, Hawkgirl and the Atom (1961); all of them were All-American characters and the the sources of their super powers relied more heavily on sci-fi elements. 
Hawkman and Hawkgirl (Flash Comics #1, Jan. 1940) got almost identical Earth-One counterparts for the Silver Age in 1961, including very similar uniforms and the same civilian names, only their back-story was completely changed. In the Golden Age, they are reincarnated royalty of ancient Egypt; in the Silver Age, they were aliens. One of their enemies, James Craddock a.k.a. the Ghost, also got an almost identical counterpart, this time called the Gentleman Ghost.

New characters created around this era include the Martian Manhunter (1955), the Challengers of the Unknown (1957), Adam Strange (1958), Speedy, Aqualad, the Elongated Man (1960), the Metal Men (1962), the Doom Patrol, Mera (1963), Zatanna, Teen Titans and Wondergirl (1964) and Metamorpho (1965). Zatanna is a very curious case, since she was daughter of Zatara, a Golden Age character.

Another important revamp of this era is the Justice League of America, which took the premise of the Justice Society to a grander scale, starting its roster with the most popular superheroes of DC at the time (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern) and then increasing it with the best next characters (Green Arrow, the Atom, Hawkman and eventually Black Canary, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Hawkgirl, Zatanna and Firestorm).

The practice of creating new versions of the Golden Age heroes slowed down after the creation of the new Atom. The probably because, exactly the same month, August 1961, Jay Garrick was reintroduced in the pages of Flash. It was then explained that the adventures of the contemporary superheroes took place on a reality "Earth-One" and that the old Golden Age ones were alive on "Earth-Two". The characters from Earth-Two started their superheroic careers between 1938 and 1943 and the ones from Earth-One around 1954.

The creation of this alternative realities allowed DC to keep using its old properties without the need for much introduction. Black Canary, for instance, became a member of the JLA simply by moving permanently from Earth-Two to Earth-One. However, as we have seen, the occasional revamp was still done after this point:
  • Robotman (1963)
  • Red Tornado (1968)
  • Manhunter (1973), and 
  • Sandman (1974). 
DC also did the opposite with Power Girl. After the concept of Earth-One and Earth-Two was introduced (along with many more Earths that conformed the 'Multiverse'), they eventually started doing stories completely set on Earth-Two, so they decided to create Power Girl, counterpart of Supergirl, a widely popular character, originally created as supporting cast of Superman during the Silver Age. They are both the cousin of the Superman of their respective Earths, only PG is older and has a bigger and more voluptuous body. Huntress is perhaps the analogue of Batgirl, only with a completely different background as the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.

It's important to consider that a number of characters debuted in the late 40s and the 50s and kept appearing at least during the early silver age. The transition was gradual:
  • Tommy Tomorrow (Rea Fact Comics #6, Jan. 1947). 
  • Pow Wow Smith (Detective Comics #151, Sept. 1949).
  • Deadshot (Batman #50, Jun 1950).
  • King Faraday (Danger Trail #1, Jul 1950).
  • Darwin Jones, Chris KL-99 (Strange Adventures #9, Aug. 1950).
  • Killer Moth (Batman #63, Feb 1951).
  • Captain Comet (Strange Adventures #9, Jun. 1951).
  • Phantom Stranger (Phantom Stranger #1, Aug. 1952).
    Rex, the Wonder Dog (Rex the Wonder Dog #1, Jan. 1953).
  • Detective Chimp (Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #4, Jan 1953).
  • Space Cabbie (Mystery in Space #21, Aug. 1954).

Additionally, some Golden Age characters disappeared during the early Silver Age, but returned before it ended (c. 1986):
  • Vigilante (1970, created in Action Comics #42, Nov. 41), along with the Dummy.
  • Wildcat (1970, created in Sensation comics #1, Jan. 1942).
  • TNT and Dan the Dyna-mite (1978, Star Spangled Comics #7, Apr. 1942).
So, there, that's the context in which the Elongated Man and his wife were originally created. He was the partner and best friend of the 50s version of a character from the 40s. Some people believe he was meant to be the silver age version of Plastic Man, a Golden Age character that as already property of DC by the time Ralph Dibny was created; however, Julius Schwartz always denied so.

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