Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Groove's Countdown: Top Five Groovy Groupies

Just when you thought it was safe to surf the Internet...it's the return of Groove's Countdown!

This time we're gonna take a look at Ol' Groove's fave five Groovy Age characters who were true team players--"Groovy Groupies" if you will. In fact, they were such ardent allies that one rarely appeared solo outside their team's titles...

5) Starhawk: You know of Ol' Groove's weakness for cosmic heroes, so it was only natural that the appearance of "The One Who Knows" in Defenders #28 (July 1975) knocked me out. Here was an enigmatic hero in a cool costume (loved the way the stripes on his costume became stylized wings) with some far-out powers (energy manipulation, precognition, flight, invulnerability, and who-knows-what-else) hooking up with the Badoon-bashing freedom-fighters from the future, the Guardians of the Galaxy. When the GotG got their own feature in Marvel Presents (issues 3-12), Starhawk muscled his way into it, adding power and mystery (why did he sometimes turn into a woman?!?) to author Steve Gerber's already wild-n-wacky cosmic drama. He even took the spotlight with his origin story in issues 9-10, and then with the tragic story of his children in ish 11.

After the demise of Marvel Presents, Starhawk appeared (usually with the Guardians) in Thor Annual #6, several issues of Avengers between #s 167-181, Marvel Team-Up #86, and Marvel Two-In-One #s 61-63.

4) Mantis: "This One" (what was up with all'a this first-person hoo-ha back in the 1970s?) was supposedly a Vietnamese barmaid who inspired the once-villainous Swordsman to change his evil ways and join the might Avengers. Once in the Avengers, Steve Englehart's brain-child became one of the most intriguing and often aggravating characters in comicbook history. In a FOOM interview, Englehart revealed that he had intended Mantis to be a--let's put it delicately--a floozy. She was going to flirt with every Avenger, punching Swordsman's jealousy buttons in a way that would have made the original flirtatious Avenger, the Wasp, blush.

For some reason, though, when Mantis started coming on to the Vision, Englehart found his soap-opera gold. Vision, our android hero (more on him later), had just come to terms with the fact that he had emotions and declared his love for fellow Avenger, the Scarlet Witch. Vision and Wanda didn't have much time to enjoy their "happy couple" status until Mantis crashed the party, throwing herself at our red-faced (no wonder!) hero at every opportunity. Add to that the fact that Mantis turned out to be the Celestial Madonna (cosmic mother to a being of immense power) by way of her upbringing at the hands of Kree priests. And don't even get me started on the fact that she was the love child of a super-villain named Libra! Mantis' story was wild, twisted, original, and ground-breaking. The ultimate fusion of Marvel super-heroic soap-opera and the good ol' "cosmic zap"!  

Mantis appeared in most issues of the Avengers issues 112-137, Giant-Size Avengers 1-4, Defenders 9-11, Captain Marvel 31 and 33, and Fantastic Four #150--always in the company of her fellow Avengers. Her only solo appearance was in the guise of Willow in ish 142 of DC's Justice League of America. Yeah, that Mantis (and Steve Englehart) is a sneaky one!

3) Nighthawk: Marvel's original Nighthawk, who first appeared on the final page of Avengers #69 (July 1969), was conceived as a villainous version of Batman who was part of a twisted version of the JLA called the Squadron Sinister. Soon after his Avengers appearances (Avengers 69-71), Nighthawk showed up in the pages of Daredevil #62 (December 1969) to battle our horn-headed hero. The next Nighthawk sighting was in Avengers #83 (September 1970), but instead of our favorite beak-faced villain, it was actually the comicbook version of uber-fan Tom Fagan in a Halloween costume. I suppose either Stan or Roy (or both) really dug the name and costume, 'cause with Avengers #85-86 (November-December 1970) a new, heroic, alternate-earth version of Nighthawk debuted as part of the heroic, alternate earth version of the JLA called the Squadron Supreme. The bloom quickly fell off that black rose, and it would be over three years before a Nighthawk would show up in the pages of another Marvel comic.

In Defenders #13 (February 1974), the original, villainous version of Kyle Richmond's alter-ego made his comeback, with his fellow Squadron Sinister members in tow. The bad-guys had teamed with a god-like alien called Nebulon, and only the Hulk, Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, and Valkyrie (more on her later, too) stood between them and earth's demise. In Defenders #14, Nighthawk had a change of heart and helped our non-team battle his blood-crazed former compadres, seemingly at the cost of his life. Dr. Strange lived up to his title and made him all better. Nighthawk immediately joined the team, got himself a brand new costume (one of the coolest sets of super-threads ever) and a jet-pack that would let him fly like the night-bird he resembled. Whew! We're only getting started here, Groove-ophiles! Nighthawk's millionaire status would make him an important part of the Defenders, 'cause even a non-team will have bills to pay when they're responsible for the Hulk and his rampages!

Kyle Richmond's background and private life proved to be fodder for some great stories especially when Steve Gerber took over the writing reins. We learned that Nighthawk's corporation was actually the financial backer of the hate-group called Sons of the Serpent. His supermodel girlfriend was also the niece of super-baddie Egghead--a relationship which cost her an arm and her career. A group of villains called the Headmen captured him, took out his brain (!), and replaced it with one of their membership's brains so they could spy on the Defenders. And if that weren't enough, we found that he was the original "poor rich kid", surviving a childhood that would have made anyone turn bad. Eventually Dr. Strange left the Defenders and Nighthawk took over as leader, trying (in vain) to turn the Defenders into a "real" team. With that costume and those story-lines is it any wonder Teen Groove dug Nighthawk so much? Whew, again! Ol' Groove's not even gonna try to head into the weird, post-Groovy Age life of Nighthawk (except to say he died and got better quite often).

Let's just round up the rest of his Groovy Age appearances: Defenders 15-90-and-beyond, Giant-Size Defenders 2-5, Defenders Annual #1, Marvel Team-Up #33, Marvel Treasury Edition #12, Incredible Hulk 206-207, Marvel Two-In-One #34, Avengers #167, Dr. Strange #29, Tales To Astonish #13, and Fantastic Four Annual #14. If you really need more Nighthawk info, just read my Secret Origins: Nighthawk post. Ol' Groove's fingers are tired and we've still got two more Groovy Groupies to go!

2) Valkyrie:  Besides also being a non-member of the non-team the Defenders, Valkyrie has a few other things in common with Nighthawk. The character was co-created by Roy Thomas as the villain for an issue of the Avengers (#83, the very ish Tom Fagan dresses up as Nighthawk for Halloween), and there has been more than one Val. The first, the one that made her debut in Avengers #83 was really Thor's arch enemy, The Enchantress, in disguise. The second Val was society-gal-cum-feminist Samantha Parrington given Asgardian power by the Enchantress to fight the Hulk (?) in Incredible Hulk #142 (May 1971). The Valkyrie who would eventually join the Defenders (with ish #4, November 1972 and would stay on for most issues of the Groovy Age) was the spirit of a real Valkyrie, Brunnhilde, trapped in the body of a madwoman named Barbara Norris. Val's good looks and god-like strength made her a fave, and her level head made her a perfect foil for fellow hot-head Defenders the Hulk and Sub-Mariner. Steve Gerber milked the "trapped in another woman's body" situation by having Barbara Norris' ex-husband, Jack,  follow her wherever her adventures took her in an effort to reclaim Barbara's love. Jack Norris just couldn't wrap his head around the fact that the bod was his ex-wife's but the mind and soul was an Asgardian. Made for some good soap opera, don'tcha know.

Besides her Asgardian roots, Val also had a couple more cool things going for her: an enchanted sword named Dragonfang and a flying horse (a gift from the Black Knight) called Aragorn. What cool visuals she brought to the table! A sword-wielding, opera-threaded chick on a flying horse? The costume (more specifically the "metal bra") was always a source of controversy, so Marvel messed with Val's look a couple of times, but the original would always come back.




Where else did we find Val during the Groovy Age? Avengers 116-118, Giant-Size Defenders 1-5, Defenders Annual #1, Marvel Two-In-One #7, Marvel Team-Up #35, Marvel Treasury Edition #12, and Incredible Hulk 206-207.

1) The Vision: You knew this one was coming, didn't ya, Groove-ophile? Roy wanted to introduce a new Avenger. Stan wanted to introduce a new hero called "Android Man". A compromise was made, with Roy taking Stan's basic "Android Man" idea, tossing in a touch of Mr. Spock, and mixing it with a Golden Age Simon/Kirby/Timely hero called The Vision. When the new Vision appeared in Avengers #57 (July 1968) Marveldom was blown away. Garbed in green and gold, wrapped in a high-collared golden cape with a simple gold diamond on his chest--and in spite of his strangely red face--The Vision totally looked the part of an enigmatic, dramatic, and powerful new hero. His power of controlling his own mass and density was very cool and original. The first time you see Vizh materializing through a wall is, indeed, unnerving. More than a "ghost" though, Vizh could also increase his mass and density to that of a boulder made of diamond. He could fight Thor hand-to-hand, dude! In keeping with the almost-tradition of villains becoming Avengers, The Vision started out as the pawn of Hank Pym's evil robot Ultron. Vizh turned on his "creator", proving himself to be truly good and was welcomed into the Avengers' ranks with the very next issue. Roy's intent was to make a creepy-cool hero with an unhuman bearing that could even give members of our favorite Assemblers' pause...and yet, as The Vision's second appearance closed we saw him shed a tear of joy. After that, Roy kept us guessing. The Vision had the "brain patterns" of (then-dead) former Avenger Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man. So was The Vision "just" a machine who acted human...or was he a human trapped in the body of a machine?

Roy and The Vision grappled with our crimson-skinned hero's identity in many an issue of Avengers in the early 1970s. In Avengers #78 (April 1970), Vision tried disguising himself as a human, complete with a synthetic mask he'd created, but his eyes and voice still creeped normal humans out. In that same issue the villainous Grim Reaper learned that Vision had his brother Wonder Man's brain patterns--a revelation that would lead to some interesting stories down the road. In Avengers #81 (July 1970), Vision showed strong feelings for the Scarlet Witch when he thought she was in danger, leading Wanda to start looking at our synthetic hero in a different light. A light which led to a near kiss (!) in the pages of Avengers #91 (May 1971). Off the beaten path a bit, Roy and Neal Adams had Ant-Man enter the Vision's injured body in the legendary Avengers #93 (July 1971), and Neal gave Vizh's innards a much more mechanical look than we'd imagined. Hmmm. Three issues later (Avengers #96, November 1971) Thomas and Adams had Vizh almost kill a Skrull soldier when interrogating him about the Scarlet Witch's location. In Avengers #99 (February 1972), Vision sat out a major battle to (in the words of Hawkeye) "...play nursemaid to a chick (Scarlet Witch) who just had the wind knocked out of her!" Yeah, "Android Man" was struggling with an crazy little thing called love. In Avengers #102 (May 1972), the Grim Reaper/Scarlet Witch story-lines merged, with the Reaper offering Vizh a chance to inhabit the "long-preserved body" of Simon Williams. As the android Avenger is mulling this over, he sees Hawkeye coming on strong to the Scarlet Witch. Ah, the drama!

When Steve Englehart took over the writing reins of the Avengers with ish 105 (August 1972), he began pushing the Vision and Wanda closer together, having them declare their love for one another in issue #113 (April 1973) and eventually marrying (despite Mantis' throwing herself at Vizh over the course of a dozen or so issues) in Giant-Size Avengers #4 (March 1975). Englehart also gave us the "definitive" origin of The Vision, showing us that Ultron had used the body of the Original Human Torch in the creation of our favorite android Avenger (Avengers 133-135, December 1974-February 1975). In Avengers #137 (April 1975), Englehart and artist George Tuska did the unthinkable--they gave us The Vision in all of his red-skinned glory wearing only a pair of swimming trunks. T'was quite controversial, since he'd always been depicted wearing his costume--even under "civilian" clothing. As the Groovy Age progressed, Vizh pretty much came to grips with his humanity and his role as a loving husband while adding mightily to the power of the already mighty Avengers.

Appearances outside the Avengers, you ask? Okee dokee... Sub-Mariner #8 and #35, Captain America #113, 114, 116, 154, 224, 228, 242, 250,  Iron Man #18,115, 125, Fantastic Four #94,150, 220, Incredible Hulk #128and #153 , Ka-Zar #1, Amazing Adventures #8, Marvel Team-Up #5, 41-44, , Thor #208, 271, 280, Daredevil #99, Captain Marvel #27, 28, 31-33, Marvel Feature #10, Defenders #7, 9-11, Giant-Size Avengers 1-4, Avengers Annual #6-9, Super-Villain Team-Up #9, 14, Invaders Annual #1, Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 and 4, Ms. Marvel #5, 18, Marvel Two-In-One #39, Fantastic Four Annual #14, Black Panther #14-15, Godzilla #23-24, Spidey Super Stories #43-44, Daredevil #164, Tales to Astonish #12, and to infinity and beyond after the Groovy Age. Whew!

There ya have it, Groove-ophiles! The TOP FIVE Team-mates of the Groovy Age! Hope you enjoyed this encyclopedic entry. Ol' Groove's gonna go have a quiet little nervous breakdown now. But I'll be back on the morrow, you betcha! Pax, baby!

16 comments:

  1. Far out groovster! I loved those characters too. Is it possible we could see the epic Avengers mega story. Where they battle KAAHNNN!!! Oh wait, that's not right! I mean Kang & his Legion of the Dead! Rpic stuff by Rascally Roy! Love to see your banner feature the Champions, the Defenders, the Avengers,the Cosmic Three & Marvel & DC's Pulp heroes. The Avenger, Doc Savage, the Shadow, & Man-God Hugo Danner. Got Pulp?

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    1. Articles on the Kang Wars and/or the Celestial Madonna saga are overdue here, aren't they, Mike? I'll have to work on that!

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  2. Tom Fagan was shown as NightHawk because, in real life, he dressed as Batman for the Rutland Halloween Parade and, as you pointed out, NightHawk was the Batman surrogate in the Squadron Sinister/Supreme.
    (In his DC appearances, Tom was dressed as Batman, of course!)
    DC and Marvel did an unofficial crossover between Thor #207, Amazing Adventures #16 (The Beast), and Justice League #103 in 1972, and Tom wore both costumes in the respective books!
    When Jim Steranko appeared in the Rutland Parade in 1970, he did a sketch combining the two characters for Fagan...
    http://cdn.comicartfans.com/Images/Category_4580/subcat_7670/steranko_rutlandhalloweenparade70.jpg

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    1. Your background info on Tom Fagan is right on, Britt! And that Steranko sketch!! Dynamite! Way to go digging that up!

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  3. Some good choices there, although a bit surprising that you didn't choose images of The Vision or The Valkyrie by John Buscema -- or maybe it's just me who always associates those characters with that particular artist.

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    1. I almost did use Buscema for the Vision, Gey, but I decided to use some lesser-known images; images that are really etched into my gray matter. And though John was in on the creation/design of Val, she'll always be Sal's gal to me!

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    2. Not that I'm complaining, mind - you can't go wrong with Neal Adams and Sal Buscema. Remind me, though: who is the artist on the image of The Vision sitting down? I've seen it before long ago, but the artist is eluding me. My best guess would be Rich Buckler, but I wouldn't put money on it.

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    3. Yep, it's Rich Buckler--inked by Dave Cockrum. I couldn't NOT use it, y'know! :D

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  4. What a GREAT countdown! Such a fan of ALL of these heroes;I was always a fan of the Defenders.i remember when Mantis took down Thor with her martial arts.I even liked Swordsman as an Avenger. Seeing the Vision on the beach in his trunks always bothered me!I think I'll dig out my old Defenders issues and relive the memories.

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    1. I wish I'd have used that image of Mantis punching Thor out, Rich! That was a good one!

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  5. Brilliant article and some impressive scholarship in digging up all those issue appearances. The B-characters of the 1970s are personal favorites, which explains my affection of for the Defenders, where so many of those second-stringers found a home. I'd forgotten about the Mantis/Vision/Scarlet Witch triangle, and will look forward to reading that again as my great Avengers re-read continue. And a good choice for the Vision as your #1 character on this list -- it is difficult to overstate what a pivotal character he was in 1970s Marvel books, and I think Marvel really blew it by railroading this character to little profit in their 1980s-era "Vision Quest" series.

    Dunno if it was intentional or not, but it is interesting to note that all your choices were Marvel characters. Was there a DC character that would have come in at #6 on the list or was there just something special going on at Marvel in this era that gave us such a rich cast of supporting heroes?

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    1. Thanks for the kudos, L.G. I had intended to include some DC characters, truth to tell, but there weren't many to choose from--New Gods, Forever People, LSH, Teen Titans--and very few of their regulars were created during the Groovy Age. Besides that, as much as I dig Beautiful Dreamer, Bumblebee, and Tyroc (well, maybe not so much Tyroc), they just don't have the "umph" of the above heroes.

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  6. Couldn't agree more with pretty much everything you said.

    Some of my earliest comics were the Headmen/Nebulon stuff from Defenders and I recall finding Nighthawk pretty awesome (he did, indeed, have a great costume once he became a good guy).

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  7. Avengers /Defenders were my go to comics back in the day.
    When my friends and I played the "Whose super powers would you most want" game I always chose the Vision.

    And someone please explain to me why The Valkyrie still doesn't have an action figure?

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  8. I love that you end your Vision profile in the Englehart years. It is still sad that this beautiful love story and superhero advance got ruined by others later.

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