Tag Archives: silver age

Harvey Comics vs. DC Comics


What would happen if the heroes of the Harvey Comics universe meet their equivalents in the DC universe?  That is the goal of this article.  The challenge is finding the Harvey Comic equivalent character in the very different DC universe.  Also, the Harvey Comic character deserves to meet the most famous equivalent character.  DC characters that had their own title are considered more important than characters that did not have their own title.  If more than one character type had their own title then the character that had more impact on the history of the DC universe is picked as the “adversary” for the Harvey character.

1) Archibald the Talking Wishing Well vs. Haunted Tank

Archibald the Talking Wishing Wellis a very, very minor character in the Harvey universe but I have a soft spot for sentient objects.  I even wrote a book on the subject called Household Fables.  Archibald the Talking Wishing Well is a supporting character in the Casper universe.  Hot Stuff’s trident is also sentient and capable of doing magic.  Unfortunately while the Casper universe is overrun with, one-shot, sentient objects this is really not something that is done in the DC universe.  However, there is the Haunted Tank which is a tank haunted by the ghost of Robert E. Lee and this is pretty much the foremost sentient object in the DC Universe and actually almost the only sentient object in the DC universe that is not a one-shot.

The Haunted Tank gets lost in a back story of Tales of the Unexpected, just before Lee’s fight with the other ghost Captain Fear, and finds himself in the Casper universe.  Archibald asks the Haunted Tank if he wants a wish.  Robert E. Lee wants his body back!  One can assume that Archibald can see and hear ghosts since Archibald communicates with Casper.  Archibald gives the transformation a try but just doesn’t have the juice for such a giant magical spell.  Lee starts to wheel himself back home but Archibald yells “stop”.

Archibald has been a sentient magical well for thousands of years and is sick of his existence.  Archibald gives and gives and sometimes doesn’t even get a thank you.  Archibald realizes that the Haunted Tank is the only being he has ever met in the Casper universe that has the guts to do what has to be down.  Archibald tells the Haunted Tank in piteous voice, “Please kill me!”  Lee understands the pain of the wishing well since he has been trapped in a similar manner.  Lee realizes that Archibald’s plight is far worse since it’s been his lot for thousands of years not just a little over a hundred.  At least the Haunted Tank has mobility and adventures.  Lee slowly lowers the turret of the Haunted Tank and blows the well to bits.

2) Baby Huey vs. Rubberduck

I have written about anthropomorphic animals before at:


The anthropomorphic animals of DC include Alley-Kat-Abra, American Eagle, Bulldog Drumhead , Captain Carrot , Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew, Dodo and the Frog, Doodles Duck, Fastback, Flippity & Flop, J. Rufus Lion, Little Cheese, McSnurtle the Turtle, Nutsy Squirrel, Peter Panda, Peter Porkchops, Pig-Iron, Racoon Kids, Rubberduck, Tito and his Burrito , Three Mouseketeers, and Yankee Poodle

Baby Huey deserves to fight another anthropomorphic duck.  The foremost and actually only anthropomorphic duck of the DC universe is Rubberduck.  Rubberduck is a supporting character of a second tier title, Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew.  Rubberduck was trying to visit Superman with his interdimensional vehicle but ended up in the Harvey universe instead.

Baby Huey thinks Rubberduck is so cute and tries to give him a big sloppy kiss.  Rubberduck mistakes this attempt at affection for an attack.  Baby Huey effectively has super strength and has been known to toss cars around.  Rubberduck can stretch his body like Mr. Fantastic or the Elongated Man.  Rubberduck wraps his body around Baby Huey and starts the big squeeze.  Baby Huey almost passes out but with one gigantic push of his arms manages to snap out of Rubberduck’s grip.  Baby Huey then whirls Rubberduck around and around by his legs and finally lets him go.  Rubberduck falls into a convenient lake unconscious.  Baby Huey jumps into the lake but remembers that he can’t swim.  Rubberduck drowns.  Baby Huey cries and cries until Papa Duck calms him down.

3) Casper vs. Spectre

DC doesn’t have that many ongoing ghost characters.  Ghosts in DC include: Dark Angel, Dead Boy Detectives, Deadman, Gentleman  Ghost, Haunted Tank, and the Spectre .  The Dead Boy Detectives, Deadman, Haunted Tank and the Spectre have all had their own title.  However, the Spectre has been around since the Golden Age and is generally considered the archetype of the ghostly superhero that abounded in the Golden Age.

Casper hears the meowing of the Phantom Zone Cats and follows the meowing to the Phantom Zone.  Casper is surrounded by evil Kryptonians that have been sentenced to the Phantom Zone.  The Kryptonians are mean and scary, far scarier than the Ghostly Trio, and Casper begins to cry.  The Spectre hears the crying of the ghost child and takes him by the hand and leads Casper back to his own universe.

4) Hot Stuff the Little Devil vs. Etrigan the Demon

The following is a list of demons in the DC universe:  Anton Arcane, Asmodel, Azazel (DC Comics), Belyllioth, Blaze and Satanus, Blue Devil, Chantinelle, Demons Three, Dreamslayer,Etrigan the Demon, First of the Fallen, Great Evil Beast, Heggra, Jeannette (comics), Lucifer (DC Comics), Mazikeen (comics), Mnemoth, Nebiros, Nekron, Neron, Onimar Synn, Raven (comics), Sabbac, Trigon (comics) and Yuga Khan.  Hot Stuff is technically a devil not a demon but these terms are interchangeable in the DC and Harvey universes unlike the Marvel and more especially the Dungeon and Dragon universe.  Hot Stuff should meet DC’s foremost demon since DC appears to avoid the appellation of devil, probably for religious reasons.

Only the Blue Devil, Etrigan the Demon and Lucifer had their own titles at one time or another.  The Blue Devil is an odd little second or even third tier character that is currently in comic book limbo.  Lucifer is one of the most powerful characters in the DC universe and could probably wipe out the entire Harvey universe without much trouble.  Poor Hot Stuff would be hopelessly over matched in a contest against Lucifer.  Therefore, Etrigan the Demon emerges as the champion of the DC universe.

Hot Stuff wanders away from Deviltown and encounters a section of hell he has never seen before.  Etrigan is considered one of the more powerful demons even in the much darker recesses of hell.  Etrigan is probably stronger than any demon in Deviltown.  Hot Stuff is a baby that wears asbestos diapers.  Hot Stuff takes one look at Etrigran and runs back to Deviltown.

5) Nightmare the Galloping Ghost (Casper’s horse) vs. Comet the Super-Horse

There are not a lot of important horses in the DC universe.  Bat Lash has a horse named DaisyVictory and Vanguard are flying horses used by the Shining Knight.  Comet the Super-Horse is Supergirl’s horse and the most famous DC horse and just about the only DC horse even hard core DC fans can name.  Comet was once a human but was turned into a horse and then a super-horse by Circe.  Circe is generally a bad witch but will do good deeds if a good looking blonde hunk is involved.  Comet has all the super powers of Superman and Supergirl but none of their weaknesses.  Comet is immune to Kryptonite and does not lose his powers under a red sun due to the magical rather than Kryptonian origin of his super powers.  A horse is stronger than a man and a super horse is stronger than Superman.  Superman alone can defeat Supergirl but Supergirl astride Comet can defeat Superman.  Super-Girl with Comet beating on Superman is more or less a story line in more than one Silver Age Superman family issue.  Krypto managed to survive the destruction of the Silver Age continuity by DC during the Crisis on Infinite Earthsbut Comet and all the other super pets  that included Streaky the Supercat and Beppo the Supermonkey did not so this adventure takes place in the Silver Age exclusively.  When is HeroClix going to create a Supergirl plus Comet miniature using their Brave and Bold combined hero system?

Casper has disappeared and Nightmare follows his astral trail to the Phantom Zone.  The Phantom Zone Cats telepathically tell that Casper was in the Phantom Zone but was led back home by the Spectre.  You can see the DC Earth easily from the Phantom Zone and Nightmare sees Comet.  Nightmare’s heart beats like her heart has never beat before.

Nightmare thinks, “That’s one fine stud!”

Nightmare descends from the Phantom Zone to the DC Earth and offers her haunches to Comet.  The two can communicate telepathically.  Comet once was a human but has been a horse for a very, very long time.  Normal horses are not as intelligent as Nightmare and break easily.  Nightmare’s fluffy mane is like nothing Comet has ever seen before.  Nightmare’s Disney style eyes give her an exotic look that Comet finds irresistible.

Nightmare and Comet begin a torrid love affair.  Will Nightmare ever return to Casper?  Will Casper care?  Will Supergirl become jealous of Nightmare?  Will Superman become jealous of Nightmare?  What will Lois Lane do?  What convoluted plan will Lex Luthor come up with in order to use Nightmare to destroy Superman?  How will the editors at DC transform Jimmy Olsen into a male version of Nightmare?  Will there be a Nightmare/Ace the Bat-Hound team up against a Comet/Krypto team up?  Stay tuned for another day in the lives of the Silver Age, Super Family.

6) Richie Rich vs. The Green Team: Boy Millionaires

The Green Team is a team of rich kid adventurers.  The entry fee for the club is a million dollars.  The Green Team hates Richie Rich!  They are millionaires while Richie Rich uses millions of dollars to make common place objects.  Richie Rich has slept on a sleeping bag of hundred dollar bills (Richie Rich Dollars and Cents #11).  Richie Rich exercises with a jumping rope made out of precious jewels (Richie Rich Dollars and Cents #23).  Richie Rich made a bridge of dollar bills (Richie Rich Dollars and Cents #30).  The list goes on and on.  The Green Team is in DC comic book limbo and in this state have metafictional awareness.  The Green Team is aware that they are a poor copy of Richie Rich.  They tried to bribe Animal Man (Animal Man #25) into getting them out of comic book limbo but failed.  If the Green Team ever escapes comic book limbo then Green Team plans to buy DC Comics and get Richie Rich to join their team as a butler that works for them!  Of course if they get out then their metafictional awareness will disappear.  The Green Team is aware of this and have tattooed directions on their bodies as to what to do in case they ever escape DC comic book limbo.  Where Harvey comic book characters go when their title and even their comic book company is gone is unknown.  Oh they end up on my blog!

7) Sad Sack vs. Sgt. Rock

I have written about comic book war heroes before at:


The DC heroes include Blackhawk, Boy Commandos, Captain Storm, Creature Commandos, Enemy Ace, G.I. Robot, Gunner & Sarge, Haunted Tank, Hunter’s Hellcats, Johnny Cloud, the Losers, Mademoiselle Marie, Red, White and Blue and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company. Sad Sack is sadly assigned to Easy Company and has Sgt. Rock has his NCO.  Sgt. Rock takes one look at Sad Sack and knows what he has to do.  Sad Sack is put on point and taken out by a German sniper shortly afterwards.  Even two days later, no one in Easy Company even remembers Sad Sack.

8) Stumbo the Giant vs. Colossal Boy

Stumbo is a giant and logically should fight the foremost giant of the DC universe which is Colossal Boy.  Colossal Boy wanders through a dimensional rift and finds himself in Tiny Town, the home of Stumbo.  Stumbo has once against accidentally destroyed a house in Tiny Town.  Colossal Boy surveys the destruction and decided Stumbo is some sort of evil giant that likes to destroy houses of those smaller for fun.  Colossal Boy grows to the size of Stumbo and loses some self control because at that size his intellectual capacity is diminished.  Diminished capacity or not, Colossal Boy has had extensive Legion martial arts training plus years of fighting experience.  Stumbo almost never fights enemies and mostly has accidents in Tiny Town.  Colossal Boy starts the fight with quick Karate chop to the jugular followed by a Judo throw.  Once down, Colossal Boy get Stumbo in a neck choke and chokes him out.  The small natives start throwing rocks at Colossal Boy and he is confused.  Fortunately, Braniac 5 has found Colossal Boy and uses an interdimensional transporter ray to bring Colossal Boy back to the DC universe.

9) Wendy the Good Little Witch vs. Zatanna

Wendy deserves to fight the foremost witch of the DC universe.  There are a ton of witch choices in the DC Universe including: Alley-Kat-Abra, Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, Circe (comics) , Dark Angel (DC Comics), La Encantadora, Enchantress (DC Comics), Glorith, Jinx (DC Comics), The Mad Mod Witch, Madame Xanadu, Madame Zodiac, Manitou Dawn, Lyta Milton, Morgaine le Fey (DC Comics), Queen of Fables, Raven (comics), Satan Girl, Silver Sorceress,Tala (comics), Titania (DC Comics), Traci Thirteen, Warlock’s Daughter, White Witch (comics), Witchfire (DC Comics), Yellow Peri, Zatanna, and Zealot (Wildstorm).

Only Madame Xanadu and Zatanna have had their own series.  Zatanna has been an important member of the Justice League of America.  Zatanna even appeared in the Superboy TV show Smallville!  Zatanna is also famous for her costume and especially her fish net stockings.  Zatanna wins the DC witch wars.

Wendy accidentally creates an interdimensional portal that takes her to the DC universe.  Wendy is flying around Gotham City with her broom and literally runs into Zatanna.  Wendy is used to ugly adult witches with green skin warts and ugly purple robes.  Wendy can magically sense that Zatanna is a witch like she is but the sort of witch she wants to be when she grows up.

Wendy, “You are beautiful”.

Zatanna responds in a maternal voice, “You are pretty cute yourself kid but do you mind if I give you some fashion advice?”

Wendy, “Please, please, please!”

Zatanna uses her magic to give Wendy a makeover.

Wendy is overjoyed.  Zatanna helps Wendy get home and promises to visit her someday.  Casper meets the new Wendy and feels a strange sickly sweet nausea that disturbs him to his astral core.  Suddenly Casper doesn’t feel so friendly towards anyone that looks at Wendy.  Casper has been lonely ever since Nightmare disappeared but this new Wendy more than makes up for the disappearance of Nightmare.

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Batman Family vs. Superman Family

Bat-Mite and Mister Mxyzptlk are having yet another argument about who is better, Batman or Superman?

Bat-Mite states “Well you have to admit Batman has more interesting enemies”.

Mister Mxyzptlk responds, “Ok I will give you that.  I am practically the only enemy supes has who has any style and I have to admit I like the Jokers moves.  Man and that Catwoman, meowr! However, Superman has a better family”.

Bat-Mite, “Family?”

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Family is something the four dimensional observers created.  The supporting cast but the really close supporting cast.  The family is the opposite of the enemies but not just allies like the Justice League.  It was a big Silver Age concept.  Kind of soap opera meets superhero story.  Oh and for the record we are both family members.  You are part of the Batman family.  I am part of the Superman family.

Bat-Mite, “Well I am friend of Batman but you are an enemy of Superman so you shouldn’t be part of his family.

Mister Mxyzptlk, “You know and I know I am so powerful that if I didn’t like supes then I could just clobber the guy.  I just think supes gets bored and needs some mischief to stay sharp and Kurt Swan agrees. See I am in his picture of the Superman family.

Bat-Mite studies the picture and states, “Well if a creator says you are part of the Superman family then you are part of the Superman family.”

Mister Mxyzptlk, “I found this Bob Kane picture in my interdimensional library and the Batman family is a lot smaller in this picture but let’s go with the creators idea of the families.  How about a contest between the two families but matched by category and of course the Silver age versions since it’s a Silver age idea?

Bat-Mite: “Ok!”

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Let’s start with the female version of the superheroes: Supergirl vs. Bat-Woman but I think a fight would be too boring.  Supergirl is almost as powerful as Superman and Bat-Woman is not as smart as Batman so no way she carries around kryptonite in her utility belt just in case like Batman.  How about a kissing contest!

Bat-Mite: “Oh that would be great!”

Mister Mxyzptlk causes Supergirl and Bat-Woman to appear in a stupor but with their sex appeal intact.  Supergirl kisses both Bat-Mite and Mister Mxyzptlk and then Bat-Woman does the same.  Bat-Mite faints after the kiss from Bat-Woman.

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Man that Batwoman is one hot chick.  Maybe Supergirl will season with age but Bat-Woman has my vote.”

Bat-Mite, “I am in love with Bat-Woman.  I was her publicity agent in Batman #133.

Mister Mxyzptlk, “I almost married Supergirl in Action #291.  The families were practically incestous back in the Silver age.”

Bat-Mite, “Bat-Woman never interacted with Supergirl in the Silver age.  However, since then there have been endless Supergirl/Batgirl team ups and below is the earliest one which is from the tail end of the Silver age.”

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Have you noticed how we met in the World’s Finest Comics #113 and 13 is a magic number and we are magic beings?  Now let me point out that the girls meet in World’s Finest Comics #169!  And we all know about girls and that number.  Tell me this is all a coincidence!  Ok next up the sidekicks, Jimmy Olsen versus Robin.

Mister Mxyzptlk causes Jimmy Olsen and Robin to appear in a stupor and get into a fight. Robin wins in less than ten seconds with one punch.  The imps then try contest after contest and Jimmy Olsen loses to Robin in chess, hula hopping and even tiddlywinks.  The imps scratch their heads to find something Jimmy Olsen can beat the boy wonder at and try more and more contests but finally give up since Jimmy just keeps losing and losing. Finally in desperation they try a drag queen contest and Jimmy Olsen wins handily.  They are both sent away minus any memory of the incident.

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Robin has hotter legs but Jimmy was the better package overall! ”

Bat-Mite,  “You know I have been reviewing the 5th dimensional database and Jimmy has gone in drag in Jimmy Olsen #67, Jimmy Olsen #84, Jimmy Olsen #95, Jimmy Olsen #159,  and All-Star Superman #4! Maybe Fredric Wertham was on to something.  Can you imagine, Robin was once stupid enough to team up with that loser Jimmy Olsen in World’s Finest Comics #141!”

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Ok battle of the father figures. Perry White vs. Commissioner Gordon.  You know they once were turned evil by smelling a spilt formula and teamed up against Batman and Superman in World’s Finest Comics #159.  Boy those Silver age stories got pretty crazy!”

Mister Mxyzptlk causes Perry White and Commissioner Gordon to show up in a mind control stupor and fight it out.  Gordon pulls out his police special .38 and shoots Perry White cleanly between the eyes”

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Oops! Well fortunately five dimensional beings can easily fix such messiness. Ok battle of the dogs.  Incredibly the Bat-Hound and Krypto never had any solo adventures in the Silver age but boy once Krypto got his own animated series in 2005 the Silver age super-pets like Bat-Hound came out of the woodwork.  A really good article about super pets by a surprisingly smart 4-D being is at http://foxhugh.com/2010/01/20/dc-vs-marvel-battle-of-the-super-pets/ ”

Mister Mxyzptlk summons Krypto the Super-Dog and Ace the Bat-Hound and they are each given the illusion the other is a cat on the attack.  Krypto tears Bat-Hounds head off.

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Well I guess Krypto wins that round.  I will reattach poor Bat-Hounds head later.  Batman has a smaller family than Superman and all Batman has left is Alfred and Batgirl.  Batgirl was like in three issues and her appearance in the Bob Kane picture is a historical fluke.  Alfred is not a sidekick like Robin but a partner.  Does Superman even have any close partners besides Batman?

Bat-Mite, “I got it.  Batman doesn’t really have a girlfriend like Lois Lane.  I mean Vicki Vale never even got one solo story and Lois Lane got her very own comic book.  I would argue that Lois Lane is more than just a girlfriend but a partner in that she helps Superman fight crime when not trying to uncover his secret identity.

Mister Mxyzptlk, “Hmmmm, Lois Lane versus Alfred the Butler?  It’s not as clean as the other contests but I don’t see as we have much choice.

Mister Mxyzptlk summons Alfred and Lois Lane and a vicious fight ensues.  Lois Lane knows the Kryptonian martial art of Klurkor.  Alfred has combat experience in the trenches of WW I and is a boxer.  Lois Lane is a woman and not as strong as Alfred but Alfred is a lot older and not as quick as Lois.  Both have heart and guts!  The fight lasts for hours.  Blood flows freely and the imps are transfixed by the sheer brutality of the fight.  Lois delivers amazing kicks but is matched almost blow by blow by Alfred’s powerful roundhouses and jabs.  Both Lois and Alfred have had to be taken seriously by the likes of Superman and Batman and they did this by having courage and most of all never ever giving up.  Alfred clutches his heart and dies of a heart attack.  Bat-Mite and Mister Mxyzptlk look at each other guiltily.

Mister Mxyzptlk, “I think this was a really, really, really bad idea and I think we should erase this entire event from this continuity.

Bat-Mite:  “I whole heartedly agree”

Both imps disappear to go wherever imps go to forget their guilty deeds.  Vegas!

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The Myth of Superman Revisited

The Myth of Superman

When I was ten years old I lived in Caracas, Venezuela. My parents were both professors and liked to frequent bookstores in Caracas. I saw a cover that interested me because Superman was on the cover. The Spanish title of the books was Apocalípticos e integrados ante la cultura de masas by Umberto Eco. My parents bought me the book and I struggled with the Spanish but mostly looked at the pictures. Years later I would return to the subject matter of the book again!

Umberto Eco (Eco, 1972) analyzed the Superman myth in a very important article that makes several assertions about the Superman mythos and comic books in general.  I assert that this analysis is based on how the Superman story used to be.  Since then, the Superman story has undergone extreme changes that contradict Eco’s analysis.  This paper is an attempt to provide an updated analysis of the Superman mythos.  I agree with Eco that the Superman myth is of great importance.   The Superman mythos is perhaps the most important mythos in modern American culture.  Perhaps far more people can tell you the story of Superman than the story of Hercules.  Eco’s paper in turn is the most important analysis of this mythos and thus deserving an update.  This paper will also attempt to explain why the Superman mythos has undergone so many extreme changes since the time Eco analyzed the mythos.  The changes in the Superman myth tell us a great deal about how society has changed.

Eco asserts that Superman develops in an oneric climate were the reader does not know what has happened before.  Superman does not consume himself.  This cryptic phrase means that Superman unlike a character in a novel does not change from story to story and does not develop as a character.  Superman shares a timelessness with other mythic characters such as Hercules.  There is an illusion of “continuous present”.

This was true of comic books from their inception in the 1940’s through the 1970’s but market forces forced a change in this plot system.  The price of paper went up dramatically and so did the price of comic books.  Comic books became too expensive for young readers that outgrew the product.  According to a survey by DC Comics in 1995, the average age of comic book readers was 25 years of age.  Older readers do not like stories set in an oneiric setting but instead obsess over what is referred to in the comic book industry as continuity.  Superman is also a product of a particular comic book company, namely the afore mentioned DC Comics.

In the sixties Stan Lee revamped a comic book company called Marvel Comics that produced such titles as the Amazing Spiderman and the Fantastic Four.  One of his practices was to insert the comic book equivalent of footnotes!  The reader was given information in the form of a small box about prior comic books.  For example if Thor and the Hulk fought again.  Thor might mention their last battle and the box would have comic book issue information in a small box.  This practice soon became cumbersome and is rarely used today but the readers came to expect continuity in their comic books.  DC did ignore the Marvel continuity system for many years but eventually tried to deal with continuity issues in its own way.

One DC plot device was the creation of parallel Earths.  The Superman of the 1940’s had a very different history than the Superman of the sixties. DC explained these differences in continuity by telling readers that the Superman of the 1940’s came from Earth 2.  The Superman of the sixties was from Earth 1.  The two Superman’s could and did meet on occasion.    Readers and writers alike became more and more self-conscious of the issue of continuity and this has been a widely discussed topic in the letter’s column of comic book issues and comic book conventions. There are whole websites that feature elaborate explanations of how this issue or that issue might have occurred in Earth1 or 2 or some other Earth. The number of Earths became cumbersome for DC and there was an attempt to meld all the Earth’s in the Crisis of the Infinite Earths (1985) story arc that involved all of the DC titles.  An explanation of this story arc is beyond the purview of this paper but the point is that comic books are anything but oneiric since the time Eco wrote his critique.

Eco makes several claims about the civic consciousness and political consciousness of Superman.  Superman could take over the government rather than using his cosmic level powers to combat petty street crime.  Superman could effect the causes of crime i.e. social causes but chooses not to.  This is a fair characterization of Superman from his inception all the way through the 1970’s.  The actions of Superman are absurd.  Superman literally saves cats while watching the world burn.  The shift in the average age of comic book readers led to readers that recognized this absurdity and Superman had to be changed to fit the needs of these readers.  Superman was depowered.

John Byrne was given the task in 1986 to write a miniseries, The Man of Steel, that would reboot the Superman mythos.  Can a rebooted mythos be a mythos?  The new Superman that was much less powerful than the Superman of the sixties which in comic book jargon is referred to as the Silver Age Superman.  John Byrne destroyed one of the essential features of the Superman mythos.  Superman does not kill!  Superman will go to absurd lengths to even avoid killing animals!  Byrne had Superman kill (Superman, vol. 2, #22, 1988)!

Superman #22

Superman is on an alternate Earth that is the home of the Silver Age Superboy.  The Byrne version of Superman did not develop powers until much later and did not go through a Superboy stage.  The modern Superman faces Silver Age Kryptonians super villains from the Phantom Zone.   The Kryptonians  are far, far more powerful than him and have already destroyed the Earth of the Silver Age Superboy.  The modern Superman does not have the power to contain the Silver Age Kryptonians and must take radical action to prevent his own Earth from ever being destroyed.  Superman accepts the utililatarian logic of war that the lives of billions outweigh the lives of three villains.  Furthermore, the villains have killed billions already and deserve the death penalty.

The modern Superman is immune to the Kryptonite of this Earth and uses the Kryptonite of this Earth to kill the three evil Kryptonians.  One of the Kryptonians is a woman!  Superman kills a woman!  Does this mean Superman is not myth?  I would argue that the Superman mythos is so powerful that if you asked a dozen people if Superman kills that most of them would say “no” and that the mythos is more powerful than the comic book.  While this reboot was dramatic, Superman had undergone changes in the past and Eco was probably unaware he was largely dealing with the Silver Age Superman rather than the Golden Age Superman.

The Superman of the 1940s and part of the 1950s was referred to as the Superman of the Golden Age.  The Golden Age superman could leap over a building.  The Silver Age Superman could leap into a space.  The Golden Age superman could lift a battle ship.  The Silver Age Superman could move planets.  The Golden Age Superman was less powerful and also much more likely to take the law into his own hands.  The Golden Age Superman was not a boy scout and even killed.  In Action #2, 1938, Superman does kill a villain.  Eco is obviously unaware of this part of the Superman story.  The Golden Age Superman was actually a fugitive because of his vigilante activities until 1942.  Eco is therefore not discussing Superman but the Silver Age Superman.   The Golden Age Superman slowly became the almost all powerful boy scout of the Silver Age.  The Silver Age Superman was too powerful and too much of a boy scout for the eighties.  The Modern Age Superman is much less powerful than the Silver Age Superman and much more critical of his heroics.

The absurdity of the still very powerful Modern Age Superman following the orders of a US President almost to the letter rather than taking a more critical political role was explored in the Dark Knight Returns (1986). The Dark Knight Returns is a seminal miniseries about Batman.  In this series Batman starts to question whether or not super heroes should use their powers more directly to shape the social and political landscape.  The arguments between Superman and Batman become the argument between the absurdist Superhero Eco describes and a post-modern self-conscious hero in the form of Batman.  The Dark Knight Returns was a huge hit and led to a whole series of comic books that explored the theme of a modern versus post-modern hero.  Batman argues that in some cases super heroes have a duty to disobey governmental authority but what are the limits of such disobedience?  In the same year another title at Marvel explored this issue more directly.

In 1986 the 12 issue miniseries called the Squadron Supreme was published by Marvel and featured a thinly disguised Justice League of America.  Hyperion is the Superman of this group and he decides the Squadron Supreme needs to take over the world!  The Batman doppelganger is Nighthawk and he opposes this move by his former teammates.  Nighthawk is the President of the US who was under the mind control of an alien and created the horrible conditions of that Earth due to that mind control.  This is reversal of the roles of Batman and Superman in the Dark Knight Returns.  Still the Squadron Supreme will not kill.  When Nighthawk dies in a battle with the Squadron Supreme, Hyperion decides the Squadron Supreme has gone too far and Nighthawk wins a pyrrhic battle.

By the year 1999 the world is ready for a super hero team that goes further than the Squadron Supreme.   The Authority has a team of super heroes flat out taking over the US government.  Again, if super heroes stage a coup are they still heroes?  The Authority is not presented as a rogue super hero team but rather as a super hero team that has decided to rebel against its absurdist role and are sane in an insane world.  The Authority does kick the Chinese out of Tibet.  The Authority does overthrow dictators violently.  Most of all, the Authority does terminate super villains, often brutally, rather than put them in jails that can’t possibly hold them.  The Authority occupies the Wildstorm universe that is part of the DC imprint but not part of the DC universe and is very much a “mature” title.

The absurdity of Superman’s boy scout persona was dealt with directly in DC universe in the Kingdom Come (1996) story line.  Magog kills the Joker after the Joker poisons all the workers in the Daily Planet including Lois Lane the great love of Superman.  Superman arrests Magog.  Magog is later acquitted of the death of the Joker by a court of law.  Presumably, the jury realizes the absurdity of trying to imprison someone like the Joker who will not stay imprisoned.  The legal system commits a blatantly illegal act.  In this story line, Superman then retires when faced with this fact.  This is assumed to happen in a parallel Earth rather than “real” Earth that the “real” Superman occupies

Overall, the extent to which a super hero crosses or does not cross two lines that define a super hero becomes a major theme of comic books in the new millennium.  One line is obedience to authority.  Super heroes obey the law.  Super villains do not obey the law.  This consensus was made official policy with the introduction of the comic code authority (CCA) that was adopted in 1954.  The CCA prohibited the presentation of “policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions … in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.”  This code was adopted due to the fact that the readership largely consisted of youngsters.  The first defining characteristic of super heroes has been explored in the new millennium on a large scale.

The one enemy Superman cannot defeat!

Marvel had a multi series story line called the Civil War (2006-2007) that looks at how super heroes and communities of super heroes react to a superhuman registration act.  I found the story line a bit silly since the government does not attempt to ban super humans and super heroics but instead register super humans and have them work for the government the same way a policeman or soldier would.  Iron Man is the main proponent of this act and proposes this legislation to stop the banning of super heroes altogether.  The compromise strikes me as very reasonable and very American and I absolutely did not buy into the plot line extension that has Captain America leading the rebel super heroes who fight the act.  Worse, you have Nick Fury the ex-director of SHIELD, the Marvel equivalent of the CIA and the FBI put together, aiding the rebels instead of the government.  What hero was on what side of the Civil War plot line seemed fairly arbitrary.  The fact that the numbers were almost equal was also ridiculous.  More people will follow a law than not follow a law all other things being equal.

Plus, wouldn’t most super heroes prefer to get paid for their work rather than risking their lives for free?  The financial woes of Marvel super heroes is one of the themes that Marvel pursued early on rather than DC.  When the King Pin discovers Daredevil’s real identity in the Born Again plot line, he destroys his civilian identity professionally and therefore economically!  In the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man attempts to join the Fantastic Four for a pay check since he is teenager making minimum wage when he can even get a job and promptly leaves the Baxter Building, home of the Fantastic Four, when he finds out there really isn’t a salary.  One of the heroes that joins the government initiative does mention looking forward to getting health insurance for a change!  Under the super human registration act, the super heroes even get to keep their secret identities, they just have to reveal them to the government.  We are supposed to believe about fifty percent of all super heroes will rebel against the government and turn down a paycheck.

The second line a super hero cannot cross is not killing.  Super heroes do not kill!  This is what makes them heroes and not soldiers.  The fact that super heroes do not kill has a history.  The Golden Age Superman and Batman did kill!  As mentioned, Superman beat a robber to death in one of the earliest issues.  Batman killed a villain in his very first appearance.  However, a consensus was reached at DC that super heroes did not kill and more especially Superman did not kill.   A similar consensus was reached at Marvel Comics.  One and only one major super hero in the Marvel Universe, the Punisher, will cross the second line and kill super villains.

Captain America beats the crap out of the Punisher when he joins the Civil War rebellion because the Punisher kills some super villains that want to also join the rebellion and arrive with a white flag.  Turns out the government is employing pardoned super villains to bring down the rebel super heroes so it is a fight fire with fire situation.  For Captain America you can cross the first line and disobey the government but cannot cross the second line and still be a hero.  Cap is a rebel but only to a point.  So lets get this straight Cap, violate Federal law ok, turn down pay check ok but kill scum not ok?  I think it would have been more interesting to see a third rebel group led by the Punisher.  Hey we are outlaws anyway, why not go all the way and do it right and kill the scum who the jails can’t hold anyway.

A really radical rebel hard core minority of super heroes armed to the teeth and trained by the Punisher versus a superhero establishment majority would have been an interesting story line.  Maybe it can be a What If graphic novel in the future.  What if the Punisher had led the rebels during the Civil War instead of Captain America?  A much more interesting exploration of crossing the second line, killing super villains, happened a year earlier in the Batman #635 and #636 over at DC.

In the Under the Hood (2005) story line, Batman faces an ex-Robin, Jason Todd returned from the dead in the form of the Red Hood who argues that Batman is a paper tiger since his rule about not killing is literally a fatal error.  The rogues gallery of Batman is one of the scariest around and I do have a hard time believing that his opponents care about a busted nose or going to jail at all.  If Batman is not a deterrent then how effective is Batman?  Any one over the age of ten realizes that ninety percent of law enforcement is about deterrence, via the threat of punishment, before the crime rather than punishment after the crime.  This is precisely the argument that the Red Hood makes.  Psychopath maniacs like Two-Face and the Joker think Batman’s code of honor is a joke pun intended.

When the Red Hood was Robin, the Joker killed him and the Red Mask was resurrected via cosmic means.  The Red Hood has “really” died in the Death in the Family (1988) story line.  Readers voted to have him killed!  The Red Hood hates the Joker and the demise of the Joker is one of the big goals of the Red Hood.  The Joker was the original Red Hood in the Killing Joke, often considered the best Joker story ever, by Alan Moore.  The Killing Joke may or may not be part of the current continuity, so there is a bit of inside Joke with Jason adopting this persona.  Incredibly, Batman tries to stop the Red Hood from killing the Joker.  The Joker is a mass murderer with hundreds of deaths under his belt largely due to mass poisoning who escapes from Arkham Asylum with ease.  He has shot the original Bat Girl for a lark and made her a permanent cripple.  The Joker has not just killed innocents but permanently injured one member of the Batman super hero family and killed another.  Sorry I am with the Red Hood on this one.  Kill the Joker!

The Red Hood is basically DC’s version of the Punisher.  DC tried a character rip-off of the Punisher called the Vigilante but he was pathetic.   I do think the Red Hood is a much more interesting character than the Punisher.  The Red Hood uses ironic dialogue while attacking Batman and blowing up bad guys that is much more interesting than the Punisher’s pseudo noire cinema dialogue.  The Red Hood, like the Punisher uses firearms but also uses exotic melee weapons that are not the Punisher’s style.  I find the armory of the Red Hood more interesting than the armory of the Punisher.  Go Red Hood!  I do a DC versus Marvel series on this blog and sooner or later will have to pit the number one vigilante of  the DC Universe, Red Hood, against the number one vigilante of the Marvel universe, the Punisher.  Comments ahead of time are welcome but back to the main topic.

Eco makes two errors of fact in his paper.  Eco asserts that comic books are published weekly.  American comic books are published monthly and bimonthly.  Certainly this is the case with Superman and all the other comic book titles he mentions in his paper.  Generally, US comic books are reprinted weekly in Europe and this leads to problems since the entire series is quickly reprinted.  Eco mentions a comic book named Devil.  There is no such American comic book and the author suspects that perhaps Eco is referring to Daredevil.  Daredevil in Italian is titled Diablo or Devil but this is not the name of the title in English.  These are minor factual errors and do not detract from the general validity of his thesis.

Finally, is the story of Superman actually a myth?  A myth is timeless and the fact that the Superman story has been changed to make the story more current and marketable suggests the Superman story is an intellectual property driven by market forces and is not timeless unlike a myth.  On the other hand, many persons familiar with the Superman story may only be aware of an archetype, Silver Age, version of the Superman story that may be timeless because it affects some core element, Jungian(?), of the reader’s psyche unlike revisions of Superman.  The Superman Eco describes may be in fact the Superman most of the world still knows and identifies with.  I would assert that not all comic book heroes are mythic especially in the present but if there is one comic book hero that is mythic then that hero is Superman.


Eco, Umberto. “The Myth of Superman.” Diacritics. Vol. 2, No. 1. (Spring, 1972), 14-22

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