After much reading, writing and wrangling, Max comes to the end of The Action Heroes Archives Vol. 2 and reads the final Silver Age appearances of Captain Atom, Blue Beetle and the Question by Steve Ditko! But what’s going on with these characters now?
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Entry Written 1/16/12
I have finally finished The Action Heroes Archive Vol. 2 tonight! It’s about time too, though I have enjoyed relishing this book. Since I have written about it so extensively already, I will glaze over the remaining stories.
The remaining four Blue Beetle issues (there are five full issues in color and six issues all together) feature him fighting The Madmen for the first time who would prove to be longtime foes for him even in the DC Universe. The Madmen story deals with the mysterious power of his gun, which of course only BB can fire with his microchip activator fingertip. The Madmen however steal it and use it to hold people hostage and threaten ungodly effects with it when even they don’t know what it does. Turns out it’s just a flash gun (wherein the DCU it also has some sonic qualities I believe) but BB gets blamed in the media for creating such a doomsday device until he can capture the colorfully costumed Madmen and clear his name.
Then Dan Garret returns somehow, but an adventure later reveals he’s a fake in disguise. Then Blue Beetle must take on a disillusioned hippie in a statue costume and almost has a team up with the Question, as Vic Sage is in town and runs into Ted Kord. Disappointingly, their alter egos do not meet. In the final issue, the Question’s tech man, Professor Rodor is visiting a lab that Ted is visiting at the same time. It’s an interesting touch I suppose, but no team ups here either. What a wasted opportunity! The Question does run into the same art critic in his backup that Blue Beetle does in the main story of BB#5 though. Still, it’s not quite the team up that could have been…
Interestingly, even though Ditko left Marvel over disputes of scripting credit, Ditko denied himself the scripting credit on the Blue Beetle and Question stories. Despite writing them himself, Ditko credited the scripts to the pen name “D.C. Glanzman.” It’s weird, because the stories are great, especially the Question ones. It’s not just cool stuff like the Question letting a couple crooks drown in one story as much as it is Vic Sage’s cool demeanor and unwavering morality that make these stories so great. Apparently, the Question was a very personal character for Ditko, and he’s far and away a favorite of mine of his creations—especially after reading these original stories.
It’s worth examining how Vic Sage transforms into the Question. As you can see in the picture below, Vic Sage transitions into the Question by applying a flesh covered mask to his face that he can see through but gives the appearance that he has no face. He attaches his mask and changes the color of his clothes and hair by releasing gas capsules in his belt; his clothes, hair and the mask are chemically treated to react to the gas this way. The mask, the chemical treatment for the clothes and the gas capsules are all inventions of The Question’s associate, Professor Rodor, who helps Vic Sage fight crime from behind the scenes. Another interesting fact about the gas capsules that enact the change: they provide the smoke that came out of the Question’s glove that the crooks were so afraid of that I was confused about in Entry 4. To crooks, it’s just harmless smoke because they are not chemically treated in any way—though this does not stop The Question from threatening criminals with it!
Captain Atom’s final appearances round out the volume, with the last color issue featuring Atom taking on both the Ghost and a masked magician called 13 and his feline familiar Faustus in a battle over a mysterious missile. Ironically, while Cap’n Atom’s friend Gunner continued to get more and more generic, the final colored issue has him looking more like his original appearance—though shows everyone in the USAF wearing Gunner’s trademark hat! The ending provides a cool twist, but its cliffhanger about what would happen next would not be realized until eight years later when Charlton got Roger Stern and John Byrne to dialogue, ink and letter Ditko’s pencils to finish the final issues of Captain Atom and release them in 1975 in Charlton Bullseye #1-2. Those issues wrap up the Captain Atom/Ghost rivalry and include Nightshade with her exhibiting new powers (a black light beam from her belt) but that’s about it.
The volume ends with a black & white Question story by Michael Uslan and art by Alex Toth. It’s pretty cool to see Toth’s take on the Question, as I’m more familiar than his Hanna Barbara work than anything he’s done in comics. It rounds out the volume nicely and collects pretty much all of these characters’ appearances—at least the ones drawn by Ditko. So no Judo Master, Peacekeeper, Thunderbolt or other non-Ditko Charlton characters here. Is it too much to ask for an Action Heroes Archives Vol. 3 featuring some of those guys, DC? Probably. Again, with DC eager to milk the Watchmen characters for all their worth, isn’t more Charlton material viable for reprints now? Although the rights for the Peter Cannon Thunderbolt character have reverted to the estate of his creator Peter Morisi since his death in 2003, DC could perhaps license the character. Even without him, there are plenty of other stories they could use. They could even market them as the characters that inspired the Watchmen. Not to mention it certainly wouldn’t be as controversial.
At the end of both Action Heroes Archives I am a bit relieved, for Vol. 2 is probably one of the biggest books I’ll be reading for this project. It is definitely one of the most expensive in my collection, as it retails for $75 (though through some hookups—nothing illegal mind you—I was able to get my copy for less than $20). I’ve wanted to read the Action Heroes Archives for a long, long time as I’ve always loved these characters, but they’ve sat of my shelves forever. Now I can consider them read and move on; I’m digging this project. I don’t think I’ll be spending as much time on other books, but who knows? I’m just going to see where things take me.
Up next is Adam Strange, and not only do I have a slew of modern appearances to read, I’ve got three more Archive editions to tackle first, featuring Adam Strange’s first appearances!
NOTES FROM NOW (7/15/12): While I doubt we’ll ever see an Action Heroes Vol. 3, it would be nice. While I propose that DC license the rights to Peter Cannon Thunderbolt in this entry, I have just recently learned that the comic company Dynamite has now licensed Peter Cannon Thunderbolt, and that he is apparently getting his own series of some kind, complete with an Alex Ross cover. That’s nice, but I wonder why DC let the rights go in the first place? At any rate, ever without Thunderbolt, DC could do a great Action Heroes Vol. 3 archives.
Like I said last time, Captain Atom and Blue Beetle have had New 52 series, (although Blue Beetle features the teenager Jaime Reyes and not Ted Kord) though Captain Atom has been confirmed for cancelation. It seems Ted is still dead in the New 52 DCU, which is unfortunate, though was featured in some time traveling stories in the recent Booster Gold series. I’m also looking forward to reading some Blue Beetle & Booster Gold adventures when I finally get to my Justice League International collections. The Question’s fate in the New 52 DCU is even more confusing. It is unknown whether Vic Sage is alive or dead, and it is also unknown if the second Question, Renee Montoya is alive or dead also. The Question also seemed to be a part of the Trinity also comprising of Phantom Stranger and Pandora, the strange woman who appeared in every DC New 52 #1 issue, as seen in DC’s Free Comic Book Day offering, New 52 #1—but this may not be the Question at all, especially seeing as that guy was more of cosmic figure than a street vigilante. Weird stuff. Nightshade has also yet to pop up in the New 52 DCU, but I’m sure she’ll show before long. All the Charlton characters are great, so here’s hoping we see more of them!