Thursday, July 28, 2011

Groove's Countdown: The Top 5 Marvel/DC Should-Have-Beens of the Groovy Age

Let's kick off our fourth year with something new, Groove-ophiles! We all love countdowns, don't we? Ol' Groove has loved 'em ever since he discovered Casey Kasem counting down the pop-rock hits on his weekly Top 40 radio show. Now, I ain't planning to count down 40 of anything (yet), but for today, I do plan a top five countdown of Marvel and DC characters who should have gone on to be long-running superstars instead of one-shot duds.

So welcome to this week's countdown, Groove-ophiles as we count down...The Top Five Marvel/DC Should-Have-Beens of the Groovy Age!

5. Seeker 3000 made its one and only Groovy Age appearance in Marvel Premiere #41 (January 1978). Created by writer Doug Moench with art by Tom Sutton (do I remember reading cover artist Dave Cockrum designed the costumes and ship?) as Marvel's answer to Star Trek, this "hard" sci-fi strip could have been a contender. A multi-cultural cast of astronauts who are "...forced to depart a doomed earth and find new salvation for humankind in the stars" sounds kinda like Star Trek on steroids, but with Moench at the writing helm, I'm betting this series could have been an excellent vehicle for him to tackle the humanistic issues and adult characterization he was famous for on Master of Kung Fu. The concept was revived in a mini-series a few years ago, but it, too, was doomed to oblivion.

4. Starman was a "grand old name" at DC even back in 1975, so it was a no-brainer for creators Gerry Conway and Mike Vosburg to infuse new life in it. And with cosmic comics like Captain Marvel, Warlock, and Guardians of the Galaxy doing fairly well at Marvel, it was high-time DC got into the space-born super-hero game. Blue-skinned Mikaal Tomas had a unique look, a cool weapon (the pendent always reminded me of Prince Planet), and an intriguing back-story. The one-and-only Starman saga in 1st Issue Special #12 (December 1976) ended with a cliff-hanger and had Young Groove hankerin' for more--but alas, t'was not to be. It's a shame, because it seemed like Conway was using the Captain Marvel template (alien from warrior world trying to save earth from annihilation) and mixing in the down-and-dirty street vibe of Omega the Unknown to create something that could have been special. The character was tweaked and revived in the 90s Starman mag.

3. Woodgod from Marvel Premiere #31 (May 1976) is one of the wildest concepts to have come out of the 1970s (or any decade for that matter). A Frankenstein-style creature who looked like a mythical being but created in a sci-fi setting was enough to garner interest, but add in the child-like (okay, Hulk-like) temperament and power? Woodgod could have taken the misunderstood-monster-on-the-run schtick  into places the more conventional Jade Jaws could never have gone. Heck, most of us FOOMers would have bought a Woodgod mag for the Keith Giffen/Klaus Janson art alone, with creator/writer Bill Mantlo's mondo-freaky concepts being the icing on the cake. Mantlo would revive Woodgod in the pages of (where else?) Incredible Hulk in the early 1980s, but by then he had a very different vision for the character.

2. Atlas the Great was one of the last koncepts kreated by Jack "King" Kirby for his tenure at DC. Appearing in the first issue of 1st Issue Special (yeah, only in the Groovy Age, baby!), Atlas combined a lot of Kirby's Fourth World ideas with his future worlds of Kamandi and Omac and added a dose of (can you believe it?) Conan the Barbarian. Atlas could have been a truly mind-blowing series but for a few factors stacked with the weight of a dozen elephants against it: 
  • It was Kirby getting yet another of his gazillion creations out of his system.
  • Kirby was playing out the string on his soon-to-end DC contract, so his energies were being stored up for his move to Marvel.
  • Though the inherent concepts were pretty far-out, they seemed kinda watered down compared to the Fourth World stuff we'd been accustomed to.
  • DC didn't seem to have any real interest in it. 
Can you imagine, though, what David Michelenie and an artist like Keith Giffen (him again?) or Marshall Rogers could have done with Atlas? DC did finally revive Atlas the Great a few scant years ago--with the obligatory concept-tweaking--as a villain for Superman. Yeah, Superman

1. Monark Starstalker should have become a superstar just based on the name alone. Created by Howard Chaykin for Marvel Premiere #32 (June 1976), Monark Starstalker was the bridge built from Chaykin's Iron Wolf  for DC and his  "ground-level" hero (for Star*Reach, natch) Cody Starbuck that lead to his most successful creation, American Flagg. With each character, Chaykin was slowly jettisoning any fantasy elements, bringing his vision of the future a more traditional sci-fi edge. He was also toning things down a bit, conceptually, from galaxy-spanning to planet hopping. He kept the things that made his stories edgy--especially the politics and the sexiness--and grounded MS with touches of the Old West and the hedonistic society he saw in our world's future. Monark himself was a bit of a departure from Chaykin's other heroes in his ethnicity and maturity, being the most businesslike and serious of Chaykin's usually devil-may-care heroes. So with all of Chaykin's talent and careful planning behind crafting Monark Starstalker and his world, why did he and Marvel so quickly abandon such an original and potentially successful hero? Ol' Groove believes it might have had something to do with a dude named George Lucas wanting Chaykin to draw the adaptation of his upcoming flick... 

Marvel finally brought Monark Starstalker back recently in an issue of Nova, but Chaykin wasn't involved in it. Maybe now that Chaykin is at Marvel MS could get another chance? Hmmmm...
 That's Ol' Groove's Top 5, Groove-ophiles! Agree? Disagree? Who would you put in your Top 5?

12 comments:

  1. i was just saying at comicon last weekend that i wish someone would continue ATLAS. that would be a definite dream job. it's one of my favorite issues that kirby made during his tenure at DC. some of d. bruce berry's best inks ever, too!

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  2. We obviously share a lot of the same tastes, Groove, at least when it comes to stuff introduced in Marvel Premiere. I liked Woodgod, too, and thought Seeker 3000 was a Star Trek pastiche/homage with real potential: superficially similar, but with quite a few workable original elements.
    And Monark Starstalker - yes, yes, yes. My single favorite issue of Marvel Premiere, hands down. However, though, I'm not sure if the reason it was never spun off into a series had as much to do with Marvel's editorial staff or the upcoming Star Wars series. When I met Chaykin last year (at which time he signed my copy of MP#32 and drew me a sketch of Monark Starstalker), I asked him if that issue was a test balloon for an ongoing series and he basically said no, it was just a story he wanted to do and then move on to other things.

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  3. Agree with all those choices, if Howie was to do a Monark Starstalker graphic novel, I'd be one happy fanboy!
    I'd also say The White Tiger should've had a much longer shelf life, along with Daughters Of The Dragon ( by Marshall Rogers ), Satana, and of course Star-Lord.

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  4. Hey Groovster!
    I also loved Wood-God & Atlas. another two characters I wish had been given their own titles. One was the Scarecrow from Dead of the Night #11 & Marvel Spotlight. I wish Mike Ploog & or Bernie Wrightson had been the artists.

    The other also premiered in Marvel Premiere. The 3-D Man, he could had been a great character & era to dive into the 50's! HHHEEYYYY!!! Hey I couldn't help myself. I grew up & am from Milwaukee,WI!

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  5. OK, Groove, you’ve sold me! I think all of these would have been intriguing series. For some reason, Seeker 3000 hooks me in the most. The ship does look suspiciously like the Enterprise, though. The story almost seems like a cross between Space: 1999 and Starblazers, which ain’t a bad thing.
    Didn’t Woodgod appear in the pages of Marvel Two-In-One during the Project Pegasus saga, then get transformed into a new character, with far greater intelligence and a more human, in fact a rather “Age of Aquarius” type of look?
    Oh, Keith Giffen in the 70s - great stuff! Keith Giffen in the 80s and beyond? Not so much.
    It’s too bad that Chaykin goof pulled away from MS, but I think that other mag he got to work on did OK for Marvel. ;-)

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  6. My wish would have been for SKULL THE SLAYER to have not only continued, but continued on a coherent path. The pulpy excitement of a group stranded in the Bermuda Triangle with dinosaurs and aliens and robot dinosaurs and time travel and other craziness would have surely kept me as a reader for years!

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  7. I think you're thinking of Wundarr, who became The Aquarian, dbutler. Might be wrong 'tho, but I don't remember Woodgod being in Two-In-One.

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  8. Groovster, You rule!
    Except for Starman (which I'd never heard of before), I had picked up all of these when they were released, and was subsequently disappointed that they were all "one-shots."
    While Atlas struck me as more (always welcome) Kirby kraziness, the other three books struck me as more like something Heavy Metal would have published (after adding more gore and boobs).
    Hopefully, you'll be including some of these titles in the future.
    Thanks,
    Ivan

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  9. I agree with John Skull the Slayer was too short. I loved that series! As for Wood-God in Marvel Two in One. Never happened Wood-God appeared in one issue of Marvel Team Up with the Hulk & Spidey by John Byrne.

    I think he's mixed up with possibly two different characters. One was indeed Wundarr/The Aquarian & the other was a male character created to be another Him. By the Hive in I believe Hulk annual #6. The showed up in MTIO as Her with a cameo by Adam Warlock.

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  10. pete doree, you're absoutely right, it was Wundarr I was thinking of. THanks for the correction.

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  11. Thanks for the info re: your meeting with Chaykin, Edo!

    Mike M., I still have a 3-D Man post in the wings. Just waiting for the stars to align properly...

    dbutler16, Woodgod appeared in Marvel Team-Up issues 53-54 (which I forgot to mention in the article--my bad). The character you're thinking of is Wundarr, Steve Gerber's version of Superman who first appeared in a Man-Thing story. He later became a supporting character in Marvel-Two-In-One (the Thing sort-of adopted him, since he had the mind of a baby after spending years in a rocket with no human interaction), and eventually became The Aquarian during the Project: Pegasus storyline. Whew! I should'a just done a Wundarr article! ;D

    Joplin John, I actually pitched a Skull the Slayer revival back when Marvel had their bi-weekly "Presents" mag. I LOVE Skull!

    Ivan, I probably won't do Atlas, since that story was recently reprinted by DC, and I there are posts up about Monark Starstalker, Woodgod,and Starman (dunno why I didn't put the links in the article--you can find the links in the index, though). Seeker 3000 will (hopefully) show up sometime soon.

    Mike M., the character from the Hulk Annual was PARAGON, who became HER, and finally KISMET. She was trying to bring back Adam Warlock, no less, in a Marvel Two-In-One three-parter shortly after the Project: Pegasus saga. Hey, there's another article I need to write!

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  12. Re: Monark Starstalker -- big Chaykin fan myself, think this and the Nick Fury one-shot in Marvel Spotlight are two of the best art-jobs that he ever did. Love his other stuff too-- Iron Wolf, Cody Starbuck, Scorpion, American Flagg etc -- but the Monark and Fury stories are amazing purely from a graphic art standpoint. Each page is beautifully designed, the figures are dynamic and the finishes are Chaykin at his most Toth-like, with crisp, bold spot blacks.

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