Monday, January 11, 2010

Secret Origins Annual #1: "The Secret Origin of Captain Comet" (1987)

Cover detail by John Byrne

Golden Age comics weren't nearly as sanitary as most folks seem to think, but writer/historians like Roy Thomas managed to regurgitate their tales through the filter of bland Silver Age Comics Code Approved drivel throughout the 70s and 80s, spoiling these greats for a generation or two.

While DC celebrated its 50th anniversary with character deaths and revision/deconstruction, sometimes documented in the front of Secret Origins, the back was devoted to dry recitation of yellowed tales about characters dismissed as too inherently dated to rate an update. Instead of the most dynamic and lush artists of the Golden Age drawing these heroes, Secret Origins had bottom feeders whose clinical, impersonal styles had fallen out of favor at DC after twenty years as an anchor around the company's neck.

For instance, there's Captain Comet, appearing in a tale by Thomas and Ron Harris with poorly meshing inks by the usually swell Bruce D. Patterson. Following a revised Doom Patrol origin by Paul Kupperberg and John Byrne in his prime, Comet couldn't have been more offputting and pedestrian.

The retelling opens in 1951, with a grim, more detailed description of the onslaught of the giant tops that were originally set-up at the end of Strange Adventures #9: "The Origin of Captain Comet!" (June 1951). Captain Comet then makes a more visually dramatic debut, crashing through a police barricade at super speed. At a sprawling Midwestern university, Professor Emery Zackro heard the news on the radio, and launched into a fairly faithful flashback to Comet's first story (which was told in chronological order.) Now, the first version was drawn by Carmine Infantino, and though not as expressive as he would be in later years on The Flash or Adam Strange in Mystery In Space, was still a beaut'. Harris' take could only have been more bland if he didn't have Patterson's embellishment, and his mustache on Zackro is so long and straight it breaks panel borders. Running the same number of pages as Comet's two-part debut, this version still seems drawn out and slow moving. There's greater detail being imparted, but it proves unnecessary baggage. Also, the gangster's bullet bounces off Adam Blake's brow instead of his chest, all the better to fit it in long, skinny panels. Though quite faithful to the original's plot, the storytelling here lacks the bounce.

Another important distinction is that the seeming subtext of Broome's seminal story is dialed down to a barely audible hum. Look at Broome's opening captions and Blake's emotionally troubled reaction to his mutation separating him from all of humanity. However evolved Blake may be, he's clearly lost something essential to modern man that plagues him. Whether he was gay, had a micropenis or hid a skirt under his spacesuit is unknown to me, but at least by 1951 standards, there has got to be something "wrong" with Blake for him to whine at a Stan Lee reading level. I lean toward closeted homosexuality, myself. For instance, Blake saves a hot blond from a dangerous fall with his telekinesis, and then proceeds to not score with the chick, who never appeared again. What red-blooded hetro would allow such a bird to escape? But no, Blake runs to Prof. Zackro, an apparently unmarried older fop with dandy Victorian facial hair. Zackro helps instill in Blake a fear of ever revealing his terrible "secret," and how the media attention it would cause would ruin his life.

Combining a belt with suspenders wouldn't be the choice of a queer eye, but his asymmetrical winged buckle was to die for! That belt sure doesn't get in the way of Blake's casually disrobing in front of Prof. Zackro, with whom he soon comes to live. Yep, just two straight guys, living together, teacher and student, sharing a "secret" they mustn't share, and all with no women in sight. Sure. Move over Northstar, because the granddaddy of metaGLBT wants to finally out himself, right?


mathematicscore said...

While I am supportive of gay rights and culture, I am usually against retconning characters to be gay. That being said, I would totally buy this. You make a convincing argument, albeit in a "flip" fashion. Tell you what, when we're DC editorial we'll swing this one for the fences.

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm sayin'!


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