Wednesday, July 31, 2013
READING RHEUM #3: THE MAGICMAN ARCHIVES
For some reason, though I found and collected most of the comics containing the Silver Age character "Nemesis"-- one of two superheroes to debut from publisher ACG in February 1965-- I never tried to pick up more than token issues of ACG's other costumed cutup, "Magicman." Neither character was particularly successful, and according to Don Markstein the company itself folded not long after the two of them failed to spark any interest in the superhero-happy readers of the middle 60s.
Now, reading the archive edition of all the "Magicman" stories that appeared in the anthology-title FORBIDDEN WORLDS, I don't see that I missed much. Both superheroes were written by publisher Richard Hughes under a pseudonym, but it was more than obvious that during that period Hughes had no taste for superheroes. Hughes' speciality was supernatural whimsy, a breed of "horror" that had sustained the company during the post-Code period, when gore and sex were declared verboten by the Comics Code.
Of the two, Nemesis was the better creation. He was a man killed ahead of his time by mobsters, and the supervisors in the afterlife gave him leave to return to Earth to fight crime with a host of dazzling-- and usually inconsistent-- powers. He struck up a relationship with Lita Craig, a living woman, a relationship doomed to failure because as a ghost he couldn't marry. The strip's overall tone was rather wacky, but this note of melodramatic tragedy gave Nemesis a little more heft.
Magicman, however, had no strong raison d'etre. He was the son of the magician Cagliostro, which meant that he inherited fabulous magical powers. Though born in the 1600s, he aged slowly, and under the name "Tom Cargill" still looked like a 20-year-old man when he went to Vietnam, conjured up a turbaned costume and started fighting North Vietnamese and Communist Chinese. He didn't remain in Vietnam very long, but his topkick comedy-relief Sgt. Kilkenny learned his secret and tagged along as Cargill returned to civilian life and went on fighting assorted menaces, mostly of a magical nature.
The one noteworthy aspect of Magicman was the accidental humor of the interactions between the hero and his comedy relief Kilkenny. One picture says it all:
This also led to a humorous setup in a crossover tale pitting Magicman against Nemesis. While the two heroes are led to fight one another by a mad genius, Kilkenny decides to put the moves on Lita, and she lets him, being mad at Nemesis for some reason or other. After all returns to normal, the story ends with Nemesis scolding his girlfriend for her flirty ways and Magicman doing the same to Kilkenny.
To be sure, Magicman had a couple of encounters with a hot witch-woman named "Dragonia," suggesting that he was as straight as Nemesis, even if he didn't have a regular girlfriend. However, it wouldn't be hard to imagine someone reviving Magicman and targeting him to the LBGT community. Perhaps Alan Moore could be prevailed upon.