Friday, November 16, 2007

Stardust/The Twelve/Black Dossier

Stardust is one of the more obscure golden-age heroes out there. He was the brainchild of Fletcher Hanks, one of the oddest artists of the Golden-Age, ranking up there with Basil Wolverton (Space Hawk, Powerhouse Pepper) and Harry G. Peters (Wonder Woman, Man O’Metal). His style seemed to be a combination of primitivism, art-deco, and some kind of bad acid trip. The stories were outlandish with all sorts of bizarre punishments inflicted on the guilty anticipating the 70’s Spectre stories by several decades. Hanks himself seems to have been a low-life, an alcoholic and child and wife abuser if a recent book is telling the truth, the kind of person deserving the kind of divine retribution that Stardust regularly dished out. He worked under a several pseudonyms, but his distinctive style always stands out. And, he created Fantomah, one of the big contenders for the first woman superhero and is every bit as unique as Stardust. Despite this, Stardust has been reprinted online here and there, he popped up at one of Bill Black's bw reprint comics. Which seems to have generated a bit of interest in the character. Some local people actually borrowed a copy of my reprint in order to do some research on writing a new Stardust story. A large book has been devoted to reprinting various Fletcher Hanks stories including Stardust and Fantomah.

And, as part of Image's anthology The Next Issue Project he will be revived along with other public domain characters in new stories. Stardust is being done by Mike Allred of Madman fame. Now, I've never been a big fan of Allred, his work is too pop-art, too self-aware of its artificiality for me. However, that works for him here, his work is every bit as stylized as Hanks' (the chief difference being Allred's is more deliberately stylized and polished). It ought to be an interesting combination. I fear it may tip the story towards being more pastiche though, a little too much effort being spent on capturing another creator's form and style and not really the character himself. It's instead of trying to doing the best Batman story possible, trying to do the best Dick Sprang type Batman. So, part of me would like to see someone that actually does strange horror be the one to take him on, like Guy Davis, Walt Simonson, or Mike Mignola. All artists that are heavily stylized but with very different sensibilities.

Allred's version of the character.
Who is Stardust?
Stardust: December 1939, Fantastic Comics #1 (Fox). Despite being billed as “the Super Wizard,” Stardust didn’t have magical powers. He was a wizard in the sense that through his super-science, he could do almost anything from flying through space unaided like a comet to a variety of rays that can make things big or small, levitate items, turn invisible, etc. Then he has the gadgets such as crime detectors that alert him to evil and crime and his costume that provides protection against a variety of destructive forces. Stardust maintains a base on a private star and fights various outer space menaces but also holds a fondness for America and is quick to defend her against crime and Fifth Columnists. Stardust himself seemed to vary in size, a huge man with arms like tree-trunks and a bull neck and is very formidable in a fight even minus his powers.

But, despite all of these powers, Stardust wasn’t seen after 1941, his last adventure recorded in FANTASTIC COMICS # 16, never gracing the cover.

The Twelve
Also in December is coming a preview issue of The Twelve. The upcoming mini that's casting them in a more modern and realistic (read gritty, dysfunctional and complete with deaths) style by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Chris Weston. The Zero issue will feature the origin story of Rockman from USA Comics #1, 1941 by Charles Nicholas and Basil Wolverton; Laughing Mask from Daring Mystery Comics #2, 1940; and the Phantom Reporter from issue 3. Also included are character sketches by Weston and some preview pages to the upcoming mini. 48 pages in all and at a very affordable $2.99. I'm looking forward to this more than the actual mini since I've not plopped money down for any of Marvel's GA hardcover volumes. It is interesting to note that the comic they are looking at is Daring Mystery #3, where the Laughing Mask after his one outing took on the identity of the Purple Mask and is on the cover.

The Black Dossier
Jess Nevins has already put together a remarkably lengthy and complete annotations to Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The Black Dossier, the latest sequel to League of Extraordinaly Gentlemen. I've not cracked open the book yet, I'm sure it's just as excellent as always, but it sounds like it's far more metatextual than the other two, almost a travelogue through the nature of heroes in fantastic literature in the 20th Century than an adventure story with everything and the kitchen sink thrown in, but ultimately bogged down by the all-inclusive conceit of the original concept. If it wasn't for Nevins' annotations, I doubt I'd appreciate the stories as much, seeing all the stuff one misses while reading through and patting yourself on the back for the ones you caught.


Paul Karasik said...

I imagine that some of your readers do not even know about my book on Fletcher Hanks: “I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!”. It is a collection of the greatest twisted superhero stories of all time PLUS a real-life mystery!

The response to this book has been remarkable. First the indy-comics fans embraced, and now the more mainstream superhero fans appear to be catching on. The book was released in July and we are already running a third edition!

For a taste of this madman, slide over to the BONUS page of the website for a full-length Fantomah story that does NOT appear in the book.

You’ll understand why Kurt Vonnegut (yes, THE Kurt Vonnegut) wrote, ““The recovery from oblivion of these treasures is in itself a work of art.”

Go to:

-Paul Karasik

cash_gorman said...

It is a great book. I was surprised when I saw it in the store since I didn't even know such a thing was in the works. It was a definitely a must purchase moment. While most of his stuff just strikes me as odd, I really like the Fantomah character. A classical beauty one moment and a fightning female fury the next, she strikes me as being a natural for bringing back from obscurity.

Glad that the book is a success.

Now if we can get you to do one for H.G. Peters and some of his non-Wonder Woman work...

Yo said...

I have Paul's book and I agree it is a 'must buy' especially for the lovely job he does on the final section of Whatever happened to Fletcher Hanks? Lovely work Paul. I managed to find the last copy of the first printing in Toronto this past summer. It took several phone calls and a long trip across the city to get it but it was worth it!

Thanks again for all your work. Any chance of us seeing more scans that didn't make the book for whatever reason?