This is the fourth post in a series of posts that compare DC and Marvel non-superhero genres. The first post looked at Westerns (http://foxhugh.com/2009/02/13/dc-vs-marvel-western-heroes/). The second post looked at war heroes (http://foxhugh.com/2009/03/21/dc-vs-marvel-war-heroes/). The third post looked at women’s comics (http://foxhugh.com/2009/04/11/dc-vs-marvel-working-women/). The genre is space opera and the heroes are spacemen. This genre is a little harder to differentiate from the common super hero. After all many superheroes have alien origins. The very first superhero, arguably, Superman is from the planet Krypton but anyone who knows comic books and science fiction would not argue he is a space opera hero. The main characteristic of space opera is that the action is almost entirely in space. Superman has had his share of adventures in outer space but most of his adventures happen on Earth. Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon are some early examples of the space hero in comic books.
The DC spacemen are Adam Strange, Captain Comet, Knights of the Galaxy, Space Cabby, Space Ranger, Star Hawkins, Tommy Tomorrow and Ultra the Multi-alien. All of these heroes were brought together in a three issue mini-series Twilight in 1990. Twilight brought all of DC’s space heroes and characters together in a reboot that is dystopian and very different from the optimistic and naïve tone of the Silver Age originals. Twilight is a precursor of what Vertigo Press will do on a regular basis when this press is formed in 1993.
These DC space comic books were particularly popular in the Silver Age and I would say this was my favorite non-superhero genre growing up. Westerns were ok. I didn’t really get war comics until years later. Women’s comics in the form of Romance comics were rare and far between. The space opera titles on the other hand were comics I would keep an eye out for. Adam Strange, Captain Comet, Space Ranger and Tommy Tomorrow would be the big four of the space men. The Knights of the Galaxy, Space Cabby and Star Hawkins are much more obscure characters. An ancestor of Adam Strange and Space Ranger did appear in a comic book together during the Silver Age in Mystery in Space #94. Mystery in Space was also were most of the Silver Age space men appeared. Cross-overs at DC in the early Silver Age were few and far between and their common genre identity was probably the cause.
The most famous of all the space men is Adam Strange. Adam Strange has a ray gun and a jet back pack but aside from that is a normal Earthman or as normal as any comic book hero can be. Adam Strange is transported to the planet Rann on a regular basis where he has many adventures. He also has a pretty hot girl friend on that planet. Alan Moore did a really good story with Adam Strange titled “Mysteries in Space”, Swamp Thing #57, second series. The title is obviously a take off on the Mystery in Space title. The relative alien identity of Adam Strange was highlighted. Adam Strange was offered membership in the Justice League of America, a first tier DC superhero group while the other space men never ever even met first tier DC superheroes. Adam Strange was also a major player in the recent DC multi-title event the Rann-Thangar War that attempted to flesh out DC space empires in a way similar to the Marvel Kree-Skrull war had many years earlier.
Years later Captain Comet was rescued from comic book oblivion in a Vertigo title but during his original run was very obscure. Captain Comet is a variation on Superman. Captain Comet is a mutant that represents what we will evolve into in the distant future who decides Earth is boring and goes off into space. Captain Comet is nowhere near as strong and invulnerable as Superman but is a fair telepath and telepathy means you know your opponents weaknesses.
A contest between them would be kind of like Kyle XY versus Clark Kent of Smallville and be very interesting. Kyle would know all about Kryptonite and have the super intelligence to use this knowledge for maximum tactical and strategic advantage. Dime a dozen hoods get the jump on Clark with Kryptonite in Smallville so I think Clark is probably toast.
I have not read a Space Cabby story in years but to this day I remember the very interesting premise. The Space Cabby was a cabby but he had a space ship and he could jaunt around the solar system. So if you needed a quick ride from Earth to Mars then he was your man. Space Cabby emphasized humorous adventures and this is in direct contrast to the melodramatic nature of space opera in general.
Ultra the Multi-Alien is the comic book equivalent of a winner of the Rotten Tomatoes award. The comic book was so garish and over the top, obscure and just plain bad that you couldn’t help but like the title. Prez and the Geek would be two other Silver Age titles that merit the same type of award. An Earthman due to a bizarre ray gun malfunction received the body parts of four other aliens. Each body part has a different power. Kind of like the movie The Fly but instead of merging with one insect, the character merges with four insects and of course more is better. I hereby create my own superhero based on this premise!
Beware of Insectoid the Multi-Insect Man! He has the claws of a praying mantis, the wings and eyes of a fly, the stinger of a scorpion and the antennae of a ant that gives him some other super senses that insects generally don’t have. Anyone interested in this character should contact me at email@example.com. Only serious requests will be considered! So I guess that means no requests will considered.
The Marvel list is much smaller and includes Captain Jet Dixon, Captain Marvel, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Speed Carter Spaceman and the Star Jammers. I would consider myself a bit of a comic book historian and I never read or heard about Captain Jet Dixon or Speed Carter Spaceman until I did some research for this post. This is unfortunate since based on my research they are pretty classic space men in the Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon mold clearly fit the premise of this entire post.
The Galaxy Rangers and Star Jammers are Bronze Age space men. They are about a thousand times more relevant and famous than Captain Jet Dixon or Speed Carter Spaceman. The adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Star Jammers do take place almost entirely in space but are still more superheroes than spacemen. The tolerance of fans for non-superhero genres during the Bronze Age of comics was a lot lower than during the Silver Age and superhero elements had to be grafted onto heroes from other genres in order for them to survive. I mention the Punisher as hero that combines war hero and super hero elements in my war hero post and I think this is similar phenomena.
I think the Star Jammers are basically the X-Men set in space and have their origins in the X-Men titles. The Guardians of the Galaxy started more as space men but then evolved into superheroes. The premise is that in the future solar system planets have been terraformed and genetic engineering has been used to make humans that can live in these terraformed planets that are still pretty inhospitable. So you have a crystalline humanoid from Pluto and a super strong soldier from Jupiter, etc. The first issue that premiered caught my eye and they wore futuristic but non-superhero clothing and I liked the premise. Years later the costumes changed and they started hanging around the Avengers, got a ton more members and became the Avengers in space.
Something similar happened to Captain Marvel who was a Kree soldier who wore a very space man kind of costume and used a ray gun but later got one of the coolest superhero costumes ever and lost the ray gun and gained some nega bands and lot of other cool powers to boot. The Kree is a intergalactic empire consisting of thousands of worlds that often is in conflict with the Skrulls. These are very much ray gun and space ship aliens. The Skrulls even use flying saucers. Heroes like the reborn Captain Marvel even have a category in the Marvel Universe and are considered cosmic superheroes.
The adventures of cosmic superheroes take place in space but this is a cosmic space far away from anything Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon could handle. In many ways this cosmic version of space is magical and more importantly mythic. Characters like Galactus, the Watcher, the Silver Surfer, the Elders of the Universe and Thanos have adventures in the cosmos not space. They have no need for space ships or ray guns and can often alter reality through a super science that is the power cosmic. This genre transformation process seems to be a hallmark of Marvel as opposed to DC. The Skrulls may have thousands of world under their dominion but hide like ants when the Silver Surfer was the herald of Galactus in their original appearance in the Fantastic Four Galactus Trilogy that created Marvel’s cosmic space.
DC takes non-superhero heroes and lets Vertigo Press do really interesting things with them while maintaining their core genre identity. All non-superhero heroes in the Marvel universe end up becoming superheroes! Night Nurse, who I mention in my women’s comic post (http://foxhugh.com/2009/04/11/dc-vs-marvel-working-women/) ends up becoming the nurse of superheroes years after her original appearance. I guess if I have a choice of being transported to the DC or Marvel universe then I should pick the Marvel universe since I am about a hundred times more likely to become a superhero in that universe than the DC universe and that was pretty much my life goal until I was six and “grew up”. I put the phrase in quotations since someone writing these posts has arguably not grown up!
So hard choices, do I pick the famous hybrid space men/super hero men of Marvel or the pure space men of Marvel no one ever heard of? I will do a little bit of both. The Star Jammers and Guardians of the Galaxy are superhero teams that are a hundred times more powerful than guys like Adam Strange and Space Ranger and I like these guys to much due to early childhood sentiment to pit them in such an unfair contest without a little tidbit ahead of time. So Captain Jet Dixon and Speed Carter Spaceman just got drafted.
Captain Jet Dixon goes up against Adam Strange and Adam Strange easily beat him to the ray gun draw since he has had a hundred more issues to master target practice. The Knights of the Galaxy go up against the Guardians of the Galaxy because they both have galaxy in their name and the non-super powered knights are easily defeated by the Galaxy Rangers with their numerous superpowers.
The Knights of the Galaxy were space man types with ray guns and space ships that followed a knightly code. The knightly code isn’t going to do them much good against a top tier super hero group like the Guardians of the Galaxy. This mingling of medieval and science fiction is not a first for DC and the Atomic Knights come to mind. I do mention the Atomic Knights in another post on this blog (http://foxhugh.com/2008/05/25/dc-vs-valiant-universe-2-armorines-vs-the-atomic-knights/). I also mentioned in the prior war hero post that the mingling of two non-superhero genres is a hallmark of DC rather than Marvel. DC has weird westerns, weird wars and even haunted tanks, supernatural plus war comic. I love it!
Space Ranger goes up against Speed Carter Spacemen and in a low tone of voice informs him that he is the Space Ranger and nobody’s like Carter should flee and Carter does. The Guardians of the Galaxy then descend on Adam Strange and Space Ranger and give them a space whupping they will never forget.
Captain Comet fights Captain Marvel since they both have Captain in their name. This is actually a really tough fight to call. They both have super strength, invulnerability, and flight. Captain Marvel has cosmic awareness which is kind of like spider sense on steroids but is not an out and out telepath. Captain Comet reads Captain Marvel’s mind and realizes if you slam the nega bands on his wrists together then Captain Marvel is banished to the negative zone and proceeds to do just that. Captain Comet is feeling pleased for about one minute until the Guardians of the Galaxy gang up on him and beat him senseless. The Marvel, kind of, space men win!
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