Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mess and Supermess.

I was a longtime reader of comic books, as you may be aware, but started to phase out of it when I was in college and was broke all the time. I know I had to buy books and things, but really, I can't imagine what I was spending my money on. Maybe my studies of chemistry.

Nowadays when I see superheroes on TV screens, movie screens, apps, and fan pages, I sometimes think about those characters whose adventures I followed so assiduously, and I wonder if they're still around. As I've noted on this space before, over the decades the lives of comic book characters have become hopelessly complex. Reasons for this include:

1. Time: Characters born in the 1930s and 1940s have to have some reason for being around now. For example, Captain America was frozen in ice from the 1940s to the 1960s, as his excuse for surviving from World War II... but that was 50 years ago.

2. Endless publication: A-listers like Batman have thousands of adventures every decade; that makes for a lot of villains, allies, death traps, subplots, and whatnot that have to be accounted for. Eighty years on, that's a hell of a lot of complexity.

3. There's a constant pressure on writers and artists of comics to innovate, but also to protect copyrighted and trademarked properties.

We usually hear about any changes to famous characters, but the B- and C-listers don't get that kind of attention, and as they are not well known outside the fan world, are often altered in unspeakable ways. Every now and again I get curious about an old favorite hero or villain (maybe a good guy like Hourman or a bad guy like Killer Moth), and read something like this:

Wowie Comics Database

Created: 1940

Occupation: Superhero

Premiered: Blurg Comics #27 

Origin: The original Mutton Man, Steve Pate, became a costumed vigilante following the theft of his sheep from the lawn of his mansion in midtown Square City. Pate, frustrated by the inability of the police to find the rustlers, donned the costume of Mutton Man for the first time to bring the thieves to justice. He had no superpowers except for the hard shell and horns on his helm, which he could use in combat, to break down doors, and at least on one occasion to stop a moving Studebaker. From 1943 on, Pate was often accompanied by Daniel, a trained combat sheep. Most of his early adventures involved fighting gangsters, Nazi or Japanese spies, mad scientists, themed criminals enterprises (e.g., "The Arithmetic Crimes!" Blurg Comics #79, June 1944), or the occasional costumed villain like Honey Bee or Checkers Man. 

Blurg ceased publishing in 1950, and its characters, including Mutton Man, were purchased by Wowie Comics. Wowie brought an older version Mutton Man back in 1963, as an inadvertent foe of Wowie's popular hero, the Blue Puncher ("Enter... THE MUTTON!" The Unbelievable Blue Puncher #45, September 1963). Mutton Man (in an updated capeless costume) and several other Blurg heroes appeared in one-off adventures in the Cavalcade of Wowie series throughout the sixties, which also revived Checkers Man and some of Pate's other enemies. Daniel did not return.

Steve Pate was killed along with several other heroes in the 1982 series Challenge of the Battle of the War, which pitted every Wowie hero against every Wowie villain. In the fourth issue, Mutton Man was stepped on by Biggy Gorilla during combat, "shattering 205 of the 206 bones in his body" and killing him.

In 1989, Pate was brought back to life by arcane villain Doctor Mischegoss, "using the heroic power in that 206th bone," but Pate was under the villain's control. Infused with the dark power to command ruminants, Pate was given the name Bellwether. He attacked New York City with every sheep, cow, goat, and moose in the Tri-State area. He was defeated by superheroes and freed from the control of the evil doctor ("Night of the Sheep!" The Chastisers #298, January 1989). Pate, still looking about as old as he did in 1963, retired to the country. 

In 1993, Pate returned as Bellwether, this time to aid the Chastisers against aliens from Dimension Kronq ("Calling All Heroes!" The Chastisers #348, May 1993). He and his battle sheep were destroyed stopping Kronqian forces from crossing the Bronx River Parkway. This time even his 206th bone was broken. 

An undead Steve Pate was seen in the four-issue special series The Inimitable Mr. Faze, when Doctor Mischegoss sends a host of dead heroes' ghosts after the occult hero Mr. Faze. Pate appeared in ghostly form as Mutton Man, but didn't do much.

A new Mutton Man appeared in 1998 as a part of the New Chastisers. Alexander Pate, Steve's great-nephew, donned the horned helm, calling himself Muttonhead. Using a mechanical titanium exoskeleton and mechanical titanium horns, Muttonhead had a number of powers, including flight, superstrength, and ramming. In 2001 Alexander was transformed in a bio-electrical accident while fighting Thingamabob of the Organization of Indefatigable Villains; following this, he could turn from human to mechanized Muttonhead form at will ("The Villains Return Again!" New Chastisers #37, July 2001). But Alexander was killed in 2006 when Earth was attacked by Goglagloglagul (Wowie Showcase #89, May 2006). 

A new Muttonhead, with similar but advanced powers, was created in 2011, when genius Natasha Akbar, a handicapped black female lesbian socialist Muslim with psoriasis, re-created the Muttonhead suit. An evil government agency, trying to assassinate her, accidentally effected the same circumstances that gave Alexander his powers. Natasha joined the Social Justice Society (SJS #4, March 2011). 

When evil billionaire Milo Mentos declared war on humanity in 2015, he used his mental domination to transform Natasha into the AutoMutton (SJS #59, October 2015), increasing her power and causing her to wreck Hoover Dam and destroy Las Vegas, killing millions. Once the SJS killed Mentos, she reverted to normal. Saddened by her experience, and wanted for questioning by the Senate Un-American Destroying Activities Committee, Akbar went into hiding, vowing not to use her powers again. 

It all starts to get depressing after a while. You should see what they did to Checkers Man.

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