Dec 28, 2009


So there's been a revitalization of this Filipino superheroine lately:

That's Darna, one of our comic book characters, who has been around since 1947 or 1950, depending on when you choose to start with her confusing publication date. In her original incarnation, she's a kid named Narda who swallows a stone in times of trouble, screams out "Darna," and then she manifests as this alien warrior woman who has the same name. Darna and Narda are not the same person and don't have the same personality. Darna has superspeed, superstrength, flight, and invulnerability.

Now, there's this common misconception that Darna is a rip-off of this internationally-renowned comic book character.

Which is just plain wrong. The trappings are similar, sure - black-haired woman from a different race imbued with superstrength and superspeed and invulnerability, and both wear a good amount of red. Which are all true.

But let's look at how Darna looked in the beginning:

All black, right? Not to mention that she's wearing an ornate headdress of the type that Wonder Woman herself would be sporting decades later in the Justice League cartoon.

As for the powers, superstrength, superspeed, invulnerability - that's nothing. That's pretty much a generic package for that time period, and it all started with Superman. Now, we're not going to start saying that Darna's a rip-off of Superman, because in a very real way, just about everyone's a rip-off of Superman.

But here's the kicker. Darna could fly.

What's that, you say? Wonder Woman can fly, too? Well, yes. She can fly now, but what you might not realize is that she never flew before 1987. That's right. Wonder Woman, created in 1941, took 46 years before she was allowed to fly in anything other than her invisible plane.

I mean, really, if you're going to be calling Darna a rip-off of Diana, then you may as well call her a rip-off of Miss America as well, since Madeline could actually fly.

Before we go on, I think it's actually pretty awesome that Gene Ha drew Darna. I wish he'd draw more Pinoy heroes.

Calling Darna a rip-off of Wonder Woman does a disservice not just to Darna, but to many, many female superheroes. Inevitably, any "premier" superpowered female will be compared to Wonder Woman, just because Wonder Woman is that important.


While Darna may not be a rip-off of Diana, she is almost certainly inspired by these folks:

Granted the powers of the gods by the wizard Shazam, 10-year-old Billy Batson had to only say the wizard's name, at which point he would be stuck by magic lightning and turn into Captain Marvel! (He's the one on the left.) Now, there's this whole dispute with Captain Marvel, considering that he may seem like a rip-off of Superman (this was even taken to court), but I gave my entire side of things over here some time ago.

But wait, you may say. How could Darna, a heroine from the PHILIPPINES, be a rip-off of this ... this ... character that kids today don't even know anything about? Well, you now have to remember that Darna was created in 1947, and Captain Marvel, who debuted in 1940, was an internationally-renowned property. How big was he? Well, let's just say that the number two comic book hero in the Golden Age wasn't Batman. And, for a while, number one wasn't Superman. This may be attributed to the quality of stories (Captain Marvel stories were genuinely well-crafted, Superman stories were generally crude, and I don't think anyone could possibly say that Joe Shuster was a better artist than C.C. Beck), but may also come down to the very core concept. Kids might like the idea of a superhero who actually was a kid more than a superhero who pretended to be meek.

Captain Marvel was so popular that he had Fawcett Comics (his publisher) spin him off into so many other products (actually, to the point where the stories were getting diluted). We start with the guy on the right, who is aptly named Captain Marvel Jr. Junior was a crippled kid who Captain Marvel shared his power with, much like Shazam shared his power with Captain Marvel. So his trigger word was "Captain Marvel!" As such, Junior became the first and then-only superhero who couldn't say his name, because he might change back into crippled Freddy Freeman. Junior's stories were mostly drawn by the legendary Mac Raboy, and were generally of a more serious tone than the Captain's stories, which were full of really fun, Alice In Wonderland-esque whimsy.

Incidentally, you see Junior's collar over there? It inspired Elvis Presley's look. Not kidding. At all. The King was apparently a huge fan of Junior.

We then go to the girl in the middle, who is Billy's twin sister, Mary, and, appropriately enough, is named Mary Marvel. Does she have the same cultural significance as the other two? Probably not, but she did come at least a decade before Supergirl and the first version of Batgirl ever hit the stands. So that's something.

Like Darna, Billy and Cap were two separate personalities to begin with (though in recent incarnations, they're not). And in her current TV show, Darna is now a crippled woman who turns into Darna looking exactly like herself, except superpowered, which is just like Junior. And like Darna, Mary Marvel is, um, a girl.

The Marvel Family would continue to grow and grow, and I'm just gonna name a few right now.

That's Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. Let me emphasize this. Captain Marvel is one of only two Golden Age superheroes popular enough to have a funny animal spin-off. I'll leave the other one for you to guess, although it's really obvious.

That up there is the Black Marvel Family. Black Adam, center, is Shazam's original champion, all the way back to ancient Egyptian times. He was Cap's opposite number, a sort of evil version of himself (though Adam's not really evil) -- again, years and years before Bizarro, Sinestro, Wrath, Prometheus, the Reverse-Flash (though not Rival, who was only a one-shot), Venom, and others were even conceptualized.

The girl on the left is Isis, who made her debut on TV in the 70s, in a show called "Isis," which promptly followed the "Shazam" TV show. Basically, she'd say "Oh Mighty Isis" and then turn into Isis, who had superstrength, flight, superspeed, and invulnerability. The comics version is a Middle Eastern woman who says "Isis" and gets a bunch of powers, including the ability to control the weather and communicate with nature. Or something.

The one on the right is Osiris, whose trigger word is "Black Adam!" He's dead now, but, you know, people've been dead before.

"What's your point, dude?" you may ask. My point is that Captain Marvel's legacy can be felt in so many corners of the comic book industry.

We're going to move away from DC Comics, and hit a bunch of Captain Marvel-inspired homages, spin-offs, and generally just similar superheroes.

We'll start by going back to the Philippines and going to the single most blatant one. Here's Captain Barbell.

Captain Barbell is a school boy (kid) who is given a magic barbell (magic word) by a mysterious hermit (wizard). Lifting it turns him into Captain Barbell, who again has the same bundle of powers that we've been mentioning all through this whole post.

The sad thing is, Captain Barbell is not the most blatant rip-off of an American comics character that we have.

Let's move on to Marvel Comics, with the guy who is the least like Cap, and one of the most famous on the list.That's the Mighty Thor, ladies and gentlemen, the Norse God of Thunder, and one of my absolute favorite Marvel characters. I love Thor because he's just such a pompous ass, and a really legitimate badass. In addition to the usual list of powers, he controls the weather and his hammer, Mjolnir, can do a bunch of deus ex machina stuff... which is awesome. In addition, his costume is ... awesome.

In his most classic incarnation, Thor shares his body with a crippled doctor named Don Blake. Blake would hit his walking stick on the ground and turn into the Mighty Thor, whose personality was completely different. To change back, Thor would hit Mjolnir on the ground. If he was separated from Mjolnir for 60 seconds, he'd revert to Don Blake.

For the purposes of this blog entry, I'm going to cut the Thor paragraph short here, because we'd never end if I talked about all the stuff that was spinned off from Thor, but if you're interested, here are some search terms: Thunderstrike, Beta Ray Bill, Dargo, Thor-Girl, and Woden of the Galactic Guardians.

Sticking with Marvel, we have... Captain Mar-Vell.

Now, back in the Golden Age, the company that owned Captain America and company was named Timely. In the 50s, it was Atlas, and then in the 60s, it was named Marvel. In the 60s, Captain Marvel and his family were in legal limbo, so the name and trademark was up for grabs. Marvel was smart enough to jump on that right away, but instead of buying Captain Marvel, they created their own. Captain Marvel was a Kree warrior whose real name was Mar-Vell, and he had those nega-bands on his wrists that gave him a bunch of powers. More than that, though, he was also linked to eternal sidekick Rick Jones, and they, too, shared a body. Tapping the nega-bands together shifted Rick and Mar-Vell between dimensions, interchanging with each other.

We now go to the most ridiculous one. This guy is also named Captain Marvel.
Back when the original Cap was in limbo and before Mar-Vell, Carl Burgos, the creator of the original Human Torch, introduced this alien robot. He hung out with a kid named Billy Baxton and said the word "split" and then... this happens.

This guy is so fucking ridiculous that I actually want a copy of his comic.

Speaking of ridiculous, and almost definitely, absolutely offensive, we go to Bennie David, whose magic word is:

And thus, he turns into Son-O'-God:

Er. Yes.

The least said about that, the better probably.

We now go to the one that needs absolutely no explanation.

I'll always think of Jughead as the Donald Duck of the Archie Universe: not the lead, but the most famous and the one they use for spin-offs, much like Donald. His Captain Hero is the leader of their superhero universe, which includes Pureheart the Powerful (Archie), Miss Vanity (Veronica), SuperTeen (Betty), and Evilheart (Reggie).

From Hanna-Barbera and the mind of Alex Toth comes The Mighty Mightor! Set in a prehistoric world (actually, the distant distant past of Space Ghost's galaxy, if their one crossover in the 60s was any indication), Tor is a meek human with a pet dinosaur named Tog. By holding his club in the air and saying "Mightor," Tor is transformed into the Mighty Mightor, and Tog is transformed into a flying, fire-breathing dinosaur (dragon?) named... Tog.

Bananaman is a British superhero who acted as a parody of other superheroes. My one exposure to Bananaman was a kids' book I was given for some reason when I was a kid, although my brother attests having seen the animated series. Essentially, young Eric Wimp found a banana one day, which so happened to be laced with "Saturnium," and ever since then, whenever he ate a banana, he would turn into the superhero, Bananaman, with your usual set of powers, including "The muscles of 20 men and the brains of 20 mussels." However, when he came across a moldy banana, he'd be weakened.

What I enjoyed most about Bananaman was the creator, John Geering's blatant abuse of the banana motif, to the point where his capes, gloves, boots, and horns are all banana peels.

In Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon (and spinoff Freak Force) an entity named Mighty Man fights evil throughout the generations by transferring from one host body to another, regardless of gender. When we first meet Mighty Man, his host body is a nurse named Ann Stevens.

In the short-lived but fondly remembered Ultraverse, published by Malibu Comics in the mid-90s, Prime was a Captain Marvel analogue (the Superman analogue was Hardcase). Kevin Green was a teenager who could turn into the superpowered being named Prime. As it was the mid-90s, the transformation was... ickier... than Billy's.

This next franchise had their TV shows produced by Lou Scheimer, the same guy who produced the Shazam and Isis TV shows in the 70s, and done by Filmation, which was also responsible for the very short-lived Shazam! cartoon in 1981. This was one of my favorite cartoons as a child, and I would say it is the one franchise on the list who is definitely more popular than Captain Marvel. (Thor may be more popular, but it's not really a definite, and I say "current" because no one but no one was more popular than Captain Marvel in his prime. Not even Superman . But that's it.)

Prince Adam of Eternia was just a regular, uh, prince. Of Eternia. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to him the day he held aloft his magic sword and said "By the Power of Grayskull! I have the power!" He became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe!

His transformation involves magic lightning, too! It's kinda like Shazam meets Conan, for kids.

Years later, He-Man would find his twin sister, Adora, who herself had another magic sword. She would say "For the honor of Grayskull! I am She-Ra!" Then magic uh, glitter, comes down from the sky to change her into She-Ra. Because she's a girl.

I'm not so sure why She-Ra's magic phrase was so crappy; it's not like Adam says shit like "I am He-Man," but at least she had a flying horse and a much, much cooler sword than He-Man's. Where He-Man's sword was just an all-powerful sword, She-Ra's was a communicator, a mirror, AND it could turn into whatever she wanted it to.

I know He-Man was a hit among young boys; I'm not sure if She-Ra was as big a hit among young girls (which was the intention), considering that He-Man has a complete DVD set of his cartoon while She-Ra only has a "Best of" DVD featuring I think 10 episodes and The Secret of the Sword, the special in which she first appeared.

He-Man was remade later on in 2003. Some changes were for the better and some changes were for the worse, but it just shows you can't keep a good idea down.

He-Man and Mightor are a lot alike.

There are only two left, and we either go with the most significant one or my favorite. Since we started with Darna, we'll end with a girl. So we'll go with the most significant one.

This is Marvelman. When Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel, a UK comic book creator named Mick Anglo who loved the character so much decided to create a blatant rip-off. Marvelman is Mike Moran, who said the word "Kimota!" (say it backwards) to change back and forth into his superpowered form. Like Cap, he had a family.

Kid Marvelman and Young Marvelman.

So why is Marvelman the most significant superhero here next to the Marvel Family? Easy. He changed comics.

In the 1980s, a British writer was given the reins to Marvelman and he had a ball with it. His treatment of Marvelman (Miracleman in the States) was the start of the deconstructionist movement, where superheroes were treated as if they existed in the real world. Part of this movement were things like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and pretty much every comic book in the 80s that is now being made into a movie. The British writer in question? Alan Moore.

Marvelman started a whole trend in comics and introduced a true third dimension to characterization that hadn't really been seen before then in comics. Alan Moore at the same exact time was doing V For Vendetta, which may be a superior work, but it did not change comics. Marvelman changed comics, and it's for that reason that he's probably, on this list of rip-offs, homages, and coincidences, the most significant one.

Here's a link to more Marvelman info if you want it.

We then go to my favorite, a superheroine who debuted 10 years ago.

Her name is Promethea.

Which one of these is Promethea?

Well, they all are.

Promethea is the single most mind-blowing idea I've ever seen for a superhero. Essentially, there is a Middle Eastern child who was saved by the gods in the 5th century. Her name was Promethea and she was taken to the Immateria, the land of collective imagination. (Which is an awesome idea)

Then, people can channel Promethea into themselves or into other people, simply by doing something creative. Charlton Sennett did it for his lover, Anna, by writing a poem about her. Grace Brannagh turned into Promethea by doing artwork of the pulp variety. Margaret Taylor Case triggered her transformation by writing and drawing Promethea for the Sunday comics pages. Bill Woolcott, Barbara Shelley, Stacia Van der Veer, and, mainly, Sophie Bangs all turned into Promethea via one method or another.

The result is the most mind-blowing work in comics in terms of concept and artwork that I have ever seen.

Promethea, like Darna, was often compared to Wonder Woman well before her first issue even came out. But it's really just not a fair assessment; it's just that Diana is the primary female superhero, and Promethea is black-haired, wears gold, and is connected to mythology. There is no similarity beyond the superficial.

Thanks to the Marvel Family Web for some info and images!


Unknown said...

Pretty much all new heroes are 'derivatives' of the earlier superheroes. Much like in music, it is really hard to do something "original" in the true sense of the word.

Duy Tano said...

Oh, I agree; the most you can really do is put a new spin on things. I don't think anything's wrong with coming up with someone like Batman and then taking them into directions Batman's not allowed to go in.

Still, I think it's really telling that a lot of people use the "magic-turns-secret-identity-into-superhero" engine. Even Ben10 uses it. I don't think that the claims that Captain Marvel has no staying power in today's day and age hold any water.

Jericho said...

I know this argument is wrong, since you already proved otherwise, but I refuse to believe He-Man was a rip-off of Capt. Marvel.


I just can't accept it.

I can't.


Duy Tano said...

Well, TECHNICALLY, He-Man was a rip-off of Conan. He was really just going to be yet another barbarian.

The transformation thing came directly from Captain Marvel though. Lou Scheimer was the connecting link.

Post a Comment

All comments on The Comics Cube need approval (mostly because of spam) and no anonymous comments are allowed. Please leave your name if you wish to leave a comment. Thanks!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.