Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Reboots will occur this night

Reboots have been around almost as long as comics. In the Golden Age, for instance, we had Doctor Fate turning from a mysterious helmeted sorcerer into a wise-cracking, two-fisted crimebuster. In the course of my Silver Age reread I’ve seen Ant-Man become Giant-Man, J’Onn J’Onzz give up his secret identity to battle the Idol Head of Diabolu, the original Avengers replaced by Cap’s Kookie Quartet—Avengers Cap's Kooky Quartet Captain America Hawkeye Quicksilver Scarlet Witch

—and Hal Jordan throwing away his supporting cast after Carol Ferris dumps him. Today I’m looking at added reboots from 1966.

Martian Manhunter switched to fighting the Idol-Head monsters when he jumped from Detective Comics to the monster book House of Mystery. In 1966, the HOM format changed from J’Onn’s adventures mixed with supernatural anthology stories to having J’Onn as backup to Robbie Reed, the original H-Dial kid.That meant Manhunter’s battles with freaky supernatural threats didn’t fit the book so after smashing the Idol Head once and for all in House of Mystery #158, J’Onn rebooted again. In #160, the government recruits J’Onn to crack the international crime combine SPECTRE — er, Hydra — er THRUSH — no, wait, it’s Vulture! Led by Mr. V who due to his concealing mask is known as — Faceless (Lord knows I’ve heard worse noms du crime).The Manhunter’s only lead on the crime cartel is Marco Xavier, jet-set playboy and freelance underworld courier. While trailing Xavier, the Martian sees him die in a car crash. Rather than lose his only lead, J’Onn assumes “Manhunter’s New Identity” (by the strip’s regular creators Jack Miller and Joe Certa) in hopes of cracking Vulture from the inside. That battle would keep J’Onn busy until Joe Orlando took over House of Mystery a couple of years later and dumped superheroes for the anthology format that would define the book from that point on.

This hardly improved on the Diabolu era but it wasn’t any worse. Most fans would say the reboot of the Blackhawks that began in Blackhawk #228 was far, far worse than what came before; it’s infamous as one of the all-time rock bottom bad comics calls. It starts when both the U.S. government spy group G.E.O.R.G.E. and the Justice League declare the Blackhawks are so old-school they’re “Junk Heap-Heroes” (by Bob Haney and Dick Dillin).A couple of issues later the Magnificent Seven have fixed that by transforming into a team of superheroes led by Blackhawk under his new code name of Big Eye.As someone who finds DC’s Silver Age Blackhawks as dull as ditch-water I’m not sure this was that much worse. It’s very much off-brand for the Magnificent Seven, however, so I can understand why fans were up in arms (I cannot understand why there were any fans of the book left by then, but YMMV). The solution? In #242, Black Mask — Black Hawk’s supposedly dead brother, brainwashed by Nazis — wipes out G.E.O.R.G.E. and the Blackhawks go back to their old ways. The book bit the dust one issue later, returning in the Bronze Age with a better but no more successful reboot.

Wonder Woman’s reboot started in late 1965 but didn’t prove a winner either. In Wonder Woman #156 (Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito), the Amazon drops in on a comic-book shop run by the Dream Merchant and picks up a copy of an old Wonder Woman. She finds herself inside the comic book experiencing the adventure as if it was real. This wasn’t unusual — Kanigher did a number of WW stories that involved dream or illusory adventures — but the ending hints Diana will return to the Dream Merchant’s store for more Golden Age adventures.

Sales must have been really good because two issues later Kanigher calls the WW characters into his office and fires the supporting cast, except Steve and Hippolyta. From now on the book is going back to the Golden Age! Which means Hippolyta with dark hair; a retelling of WW’s origin; and the return of Diana’s Rogue’s Gallery, including Dr. Psycho, Cheetah, Paula von Gunther, Mars himself.

The results, unfortunately, show Kanigher was no William Marston. Marston’s Cheetah was a “nice” girl whose criminal split personality manifested the fury she repress; Dr. Psycho was an incel before the term existed; Paula was a ruthless Nazi spy who eventually reformed. Here the two women are generic crooks and Dr. Psycho is as much sad as misogynist (he even dances the Batusi with Wonder Woman in one story). It doesn’t help that Kanigher also imported tropes from romance comics to juice sales, unaware that genre wasn’t long for this world.

While Kanigher never formally undid the reboot, post-Golden Age characters of his (Angle Man, Egg Fu) began turning up again before long. That didn’t improve things (Egg Fu never improves anything). Small wonder we wound up with a much more drastic reboot after Kanigher left the book.

My final reboot example is an odd one because “World That Vanished” (Gardner Fox, Murphy Anderson) rebooted Adam Strange two years after his series ended. However it’s a reboot that, unlike these others, works.

In the opening, Hawkman gets a panicked message from Hawkgirl on Thanagar that the alien Manhawks have broken jail, then the transmission goes dead. While Hawkman heads into space to investigate, we shift to Rann where Sardath has finally found a way to keep Adam with them permanently. The catch? If he sets foot on Earth again, he’s doomed. But Alanna’s on Rann so Adam has no qualms about staying for the rest of his life.

It turns out Sardath’s anti-Zeta beam tech has the side effect of amping up the Manhawks’ powers. They ruin the Adam/Alanna wedding when they arrive on Rann to steal the device and secure their new abilities.Hawkman, however, tricks them into flying to Earth where the anti-Zeta energy inflicts the same doom on them that it would on Adam, reducing them to living statues.

This was a nice way for Julius Schwartz, Fox and Anderson to give a character they worked on for years a happy ending. Still, given how integral Adam’s jumping back and forth to Rann was in his series, I count it as a reboot. Subsequent DC writers who used Adam as a guest star just ignored the new status quo, however, until Cary Bates delivered a genuine sequel, and the wedding, in Justice League of America #120 and #121.

There are more startling changes ahead at both Marvel and DC before the Silver Age ends. Stay tuned.

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney, Joe Certa, Dick Dillin (x2), Ross Andru and Murphy Anderson.

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