Space Heroes

Space Heroes

(pop culture)

Space may be the final frontier, but some superheroes traverse the intergalactic skyways and explore perilous planets, boldly going where the Terran hero has never gone before.

Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, the headstrong Earthmen who rocketed into futuristic and/or otherworldly adventures, are the prototypical space heroes. Both originated in newspaper comic strips—Rogers in 1929, and Gordon in 1934—and were immortalized beyond the funnies in movie serials, Big Little Books, motion pictures, television series and cartoons, and comic books. Largely forgotten today is the earth-bound Flash-and-Buck variant named Blue Bolt, who fought outlandish menaces and secret societies underground and, in 1940, became the first character collaborated on by the soon-to-be-legendary Joe Simon and Jack Kirby team.

Lacking superpowers, unique costumes, and codenames, Buck and Flash were not themselves superheroes. However, the colorful costumes, exotic locales, and larger-than-life menaces in the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comic strips were a major influence upon the first superhero, Superman (actually a “strange visitor from another planet” himself) and upon the burgeoning comicbook industry.

With Julius “Julie” Schwartz—the founder of science fiction fandom and a former sci-fi literary agent—in the editorial pool of DC Comics, space heroes dotted DC’s publishing starscape of the 1950s. Strange Adventures #9 (1951) premiered Captain Comet, actually Adam Blake, an evolutionary fluke—comics’ first mutant—centuries ahead of his time. Captain Comet fought crooks and aliens with ESP flight, and psychokinesis; for example, in Strange Adventures #28’s (1953) “Devil’s Island in Space,” Comet’s “super-normal senses detect danger,” but his eyes cannot see the invisible invaders encircling him. Schwartz’s best-remembered, and most enduring, sci-fi superhero is the jetpacked Adam Strange, premiering in Showcase #17 (1958) and sporadically appearing in a myriad of comics, including Justice League of America. Schwartz’s Silver Age version of Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, who debuted in 1959, though based on Earth, is a member of the Green Lantern Corps, an organization of lawmen from thousands of worlds who protect the universe.

Editor Mort Weisinger’s Legion of Super-Heroes, introduced in 1958, is comprised of young superpowered heroes from many different worlds, who have adventures ranging throughout the universe.

DC editor Jack Schiff unveiled the Space Ranger in Showcase #15 (1958). The Ranger had a secret identity—business heir Rick Starr—and donned a red-and-yellow spacesuit, with a bubble helmet and a rocketpack, to fight futuristic bad guys (the Jungle Beasts of Jupiter and the Alien Brat from Planet Byra, among others) with a cutesy alien pal, Cryll, by his side. Ultra the Multi-Alien, commencing in Mystery in Space #103 (1965), was a bizarre DC hero whose ragtag body was composed of four ethereal life forms.

The “space race” between the United States and Russia encouraged a trend of star-spanning superheroes during the 1960s. Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer flew into the pages of Fantastic Four #48 (1966), first as the herald to the world-eating Galactus, then as a superhero in his own right. Mar-Vell, a military officer from the Kree empire, trekked to Earth in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (1967), where he became known as Captain Marvel, fighting aliens and supervillains for years, before dying of cancer and being succeeded by his son, Genis. The Guardians of the Galaxy—Vance Astro, Charlie-27, Yondu, Starhawk, Martinex, and Nikki—was a superteam that premiered in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (1969), waging war against serpentine soldiers that enslaved future Earth. In 1967, Hanna-Barbera introduced the animated hero Space Ghost, who used his power bands to battle Brak, Moltar, and other galactic antagonists.

In Marvel’s Fantastic Four #66 and 67 (September and October 1967), Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created “Him,” a godlike being who was genetically engineered by scientists in a weird complex called the “Beehive.” Then in Marvel Premiere #1 (April 1972), writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane gave “Him” the new identity of Adam Warlock. In this story “Him” encountered Lee and Kirby’s master genetic engineer, the High Evolutionary, who created Counter-Earth, a duplicate of Earth orbiting on the opposite side of the sun. But the High Evolutionary’s devilish creation, the Man-Beast, corrupted the human race of Counter-Earth. In a science fiction parallel to the story of Christ, “Him,” as Adam Warlock, descended to Counter-Earth to become its savior. This launched the story line of his first series, The Power of Warlock (1972–1973), which concluded in The Incredible Hulk #176-178 (June-August 1974) with Warlock’s death and resurrection.

Subsequently, Jim Starlin, the writer and artist most associated with the character, brought back Warlock in Strange Tales #178-181 (February-August 1975) and then in a revival of the Warlock series (1975–1976). In this period, Starlin depicted Warlock’s adventures in outer space, most notably his clash with his alternate future self, the evil Magus, and his tyrannical Universal Church of Truth. In Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (both 1977), Warlock was slain by the mad Titan Thanos, but his spirit turned Thanos to stone.

Starlin resurrected Warlock once more in The Infinity Gauntlet (1991), and Warlock thereafter headed a superhero team in Warlock and the Infinity Watch (1992–1995). Adam Warlock played a major role in other Starlin cosmic epics, including The Infinity War (1992), The Infinity Crusade (1993), and The Infinity Abyss (2002). In recent years, Adam Warlock joined the new present-day Guardians of the Galaxy. Adam Warlock was killed yet again in The Thanos Imperative #2 (July 2010), but it seems unlikely that this death will be any more permanent than his previous demises.

Writer Chris Claremont and artist Bill Sienkiewicz co-created another Marvel space hero called Warlock in The New Mutants #18 (August 1984). This Warlock is a shapeshifting “techno-or-ganic” alien, who joined the New Mutants and starred in his own 1999-2000 comics series.

Writer Steve Englehart and artist Steve Gan created Peter Quill, the cosmic adventurer known as Star-Lord, in Marvel Preview #4 (January 1976). Recently, Star-Lord became the leader of the present day Guardians of the Galaxy.

Writers Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, and artist Jim Mooney, created the short-lived, enigmatic Marvel series Omega the Unknown (19761977). This series had two protagonists. One was Omega, an alien superhero who came to Earth after robots wiped out the rest of his race. The other is James-Michael Starling, a precocious, emotionally disconnected young boy, whose seeming parents turn out to be robots and are destroyed. Both Omega, who rarely speaks, and James-Michael come to live in the then rundown Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan, and the series tantalizingly hints at a strange, undefined link between the two of them. The series was canceled with its tenth issue, in which Omega dies. Steven Grant wrote a resolution to the series in The Defenders in 1979, but how Gerber and Skrenes would have solved Omega’s mysteries remains unknown, as Gerber passed away in 2008. Award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem and artist Farel Dalrymple collaborated on a new Omega the Unknown series (2007–2008) that retold and considerably revised the original storyline, taking it to a different conclusion.

Writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude created Nexus, a superhero who lives on another world 500 years in the future, in Nexus #1 (January 1981), published by Capital Comics. Nexus dreams about mass murderers, whom he then hunts down and executes, He draws his superpowers from the fusion energies from within stars. Later Nexus stories have been published by First Comics and Dark Horse.

Marvel’s 1987 Comet Man series was co-created by actors Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer, who wrote the comics, and artist Kelley Jones. The title character is Dr. Stephen Beckley, an astrophysicist who travels in a spaceship into the tail of z comet. There he encounters an alien named Max, who recreates Beckley, endowing him with superhuman powers such as superstrength, telekinesis, and the ability to teleport himself.

Wendell Vaughn, the superhero known as Quasar, served as the “protector of the universe” in the Quasar comics series (1989–1994), co-created and written by the late Mark Gruenwald. Quasar’s weapons are the Quantum Bands he wears on his wrists, which can project quantum energy, in the form of heat, force, or solid constructs (not unlike those created by Green Lantern’s power ring), and project different forms of electromagnetic energy as well. Although Vaughn was apparently killed off in the miniseries Annihilation: Nova (2006), he has since turned up alive and joined a new cosmic superhero team, the Annihilators

Created by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning in The Thanos Imperative: Devastation (2011), the Annihilators is a team of cosmic warriors that includes Beta Ray Bill (an alien version of Thor, created by Walter Simonson), Gladiator (the leader of the Shi’ar galactic empire’s Imperial Guard), Quasar (Wendell Vaughn), Ronan the Accuser (the chief law enforcer of the alien Kree), and the Silver Surfer.

Other superhero/science fiction comics series are set in dystopian futures rather than in outer space. Jack Kirby created the 1974-1975 DC Comics series OMAC: One Man Army Corps, which was set in the future, “The World That’s Coming.” In it a nondescript worker, aptly named Buddy Blank, is transformed by the orbiting satellite called Brother Eye into the superhumanly powerful OMAC. In this form he serves the Global Peace Agency to combat threats to world security. OMAC guest starred in “When OMAC Strikes!”, a 2009 episode of the animated TV series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In September 2011, DC launched a new OMAC comics series, written by Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen, and drawn by Giffen, in which Kevin Kho becomes the new, modern day OMAC.

Marvel’s original Deathlok is Luther Manning, a cyborg warrior, part man and part machine, who was originally set in an alternate post-apocalyptic future (in 1990!). Created by artist Rich Buckler and writer Doug Moench, Deathlok debuted in Astonishing Tales #25 (August 1974). Deathlok #1 (July 1990) introduced a contemporary version of the character, a pacifistic African American scholar named Michael Collins, who was converted into a cyborg warrior against his will.

It can be argued whether Britain’s famous Judge Dredd qualifies as a superhero. Created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra in IPC Media’s 2000 A. D. #2 (March 5, 1977), Judge Dredd is the most prominent of the “Judges” who enforce the law, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, in Mega-City One, an American metropolis in the twenty-second century. Known for his catchphrase “I am the law,” Judge Dredd is famously harsh even against minor lawbreakers. Sylvester Stallone played the title role in a poorly received 1995 live-action Judge Dredd movie; the live-action film, titled Dredd, starring Karl Urban in the title role, is scheduled for release in 2012. —ME & PS

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