Thursday, March 1, 2012

Planetary's Doc Brass and other supermen in comics.

One of my favorite things in Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary is Doc Brass and his league of pulp heroes.
Doc Brass and his crew are all take-offs of famous heroes of the pulp era.
Doc Brass is Warren Ellis' version of the classic pulp hero Doc Savage, the man of Bronze. They are both suppose to be "the ultimate man" or be what man could be if he reached his highest potential. They both have enhanced strength, endurance and intelligence but while Doc Savage was trained by his father, Doc Brass is the result of a breeding program that goes back to Robespierre and the French revolution.
These two characters are not the only two supermen in comics and pop culture. There were many such characters as this in the Golden age of comics least of which being the original comic book superhero, Superman. He wasn't always phenomenally strong, nigh invulnerable and able to fly through the void of space. He started off his career as a person who was strong and relatively invulnerable but was unable to fly. He could only jump long distances with his super strong legs.
After the extraordinary success of Superman's appearance in Action comics everyone wanted their own Superman. Many imitators were created.
Commander Steel is a superman who appeared in Canada's Grand Slam comics. He gets his strength from an "Elixir of Power".
Captain Triumph who appeared in Crack Comics got his superpowers from his dead brother who merged with him when he touched a T shaped birth mark on his wrist.

Nedor's Doc Strange got his powers from a serum called Alosun, a distillate of sun atoms.

He has seen a renaissance of sorts in the last 10 years. Not only was he the bases for Alan Moore's Tom Strong but he also appeared in that mag under the name Tom Strange. But while Doc Strange and Tom Strange got their powers from Alosun, Tom Strong was the product of his dad's experiments raising Tom in a high gravity chamber.
And lets not forget MLJ group's (Archie comics) contribution, Steel Sterling who after partaking in a special serum he jumped into a vat of motel steel miraculously surviving and getting a steel hard skin and super strength in the bargain.
And then there is Arn "Iron" Munroe who has a very interesting history. He started off as a character from The Gladiator, a novel first published in 1930 by Philip Wylie. In it a scientist injects his pregnant wife with the serum and his son is born with superhuman strength, speed, and bulletproof skin. It is surmised that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster used this as the basis for their popular character Superman. A character Iron Munroe later appear in Shadow Comics #1 which may have given Roy Thomas the impetus to use him as a character in his Young All-Stars series.It's entirely possible, having appeared 3 years afterward, the Gladiator could have influenced the creation of even Doc Savage though I've never heard it mentioned before.
This character has been created in so many forms one must call him an archetype. This archetype can also be found in antiquity in the form of Samson, Hercules and other mythical strong men. The modern archetype interestingly shares many common traits. They are generally considered the ideal man, a man who has reached the full potential of what man is capable of; They either receive their powers through training, breeding or some scientific serum; And they usually wear adventurer clothes, with riding pants and boots. But whatever the case what a cool archetype it is!

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