Sunday, July 14, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 8 (Issue #8)

I'm skipping issue #7 for two reasons. One: The headliner is a Mighty Man story in the vein of a 70s Marvel Captain Marvel story, and no offense but it didnt' interest me for a second. Two: #8 is an absolute blast. Whereas most Big Bang stories and characters are straight pastiches, aping the style of old DC material without making any comment on its quality, this one is pure satire, mocking the various "ages" and trends of the superhero genre very openly.

The cover is a really cool wraparound number that sort of communicates the idea of the issue right off the bat.

Our hero is Mr. US, who as you might imagine is based on Captain America quite heavily. This makes him one of only a scant handful of Big Bang heroes to be based on a Marvel Character -- the only other I can really think of is the Badge, who is only half Captain America. There's a little more to it than that, but you'll see later.

The comic is presented to us as an excerpt from a book, "Mr. US: 50 Forgotten Years", with a forward written by "Prof. Emil Garbanzo". It's only appropriate that a pastiche of a blond ubermensch should have a spoof of Miracleman's Emil Gargunza writing about him. Anyway, the idea is that we're going to see snippets of Mr. US stories from across his 50+ year character history - from the 40s to the 90s. And let me tell you, it's pretty hysterical stuff.

I'm going to try to post stuff other than the big action scenes for once, too.

The original Mr. US was Caspar Milquetoast, a 4-F weakling with flat feet. He was approached by scientists working on "Project Nazi-Stopper", and was turned into a cyborg. His enhancements include  mechanical arms, a mechanical leg (right), a radio built into his head, and stainless steel arches in his feet. However, one of the scientists, Henry, is secretly a Nazi spy named Heinrich. Caspar notices something suspicious about Henry and decides to follow him -- wearing the costume Project Nazi-Stopper designed for him, of course. He busts up Heinrich's spy ring, and takes a stray dog as his sidekick Dogtag. This seems fairly standard and unironic, except for the part where Mr. US makes up Dogtag's name on the spot.

Oh, and the casual racism; both before and after becoming Mr. US, Caspar makes a couple of comments about "Nips". He also hates "Ratzis", but that's a fairly popular sentiment.

After superhero comics lost popularity, Mr. US wasn't seen again until 1963. This time he's 18-year old Dave Donovan, more a parody of Peter Parker than Steve Rogers. He has relationship troubles and nobody really likes him. In the hospital to get his tonsils removed, a mix-up with his chart has him instead enhanced as the subject of the top-secret Project Patriot.

The scientists who enhanced Dave stop him as he leaves the hospital and explain the mix up to him. They're Doctors von Bismark and Tokai, a German and a Japanese (although both or either of them might be that and -American) -- people Caspar Milquetoast wouldn't have been caught dead talking to.

However, their assistant Evan is secretly a Soviet spy named Ivan. Sadly, he doesn't look much like Heinrich. While Tokai and von Bismark talk to Dave about his employment possibilities with the government, Ivan steals Dave's clothes, hoping to find a wallet so he can know what address to kidnap him from later. Dave sees the whole thing, and gives chase wearing the costume seen above. He busts up the Soviet spy ring, before realizing he's late for the school dance, where it turns out his crush Polly ended up going with that asshole Bart.

The mid-late 60s went with the camp ridiculousness often associated with the Silver Age (as the introduction to this segment puts it, they tried to "duplicate popular TV shows that thought they were duplicating comics"). Anyway, Mr. US and his sidekick US, Jr. are held captive on a space station by some talking gorilla with four arms and medals on his chest.

Yeah, B.A.D.G.U.Y.S. Mr. US and US, Jr. are members of G.O.O.D.G.U.Y.S., naturally, the Government Organization for Organized Defense of the United (Yeeha!) States. And lookit that Bob Haney, early Teen Titans slang. Like, you're steppin' on my pride, Clyde! This Mr. US, name unknown, has an origin like Dave's (and most of the same enhancements, except the transistor is replaced with "infrared" eyes and ears), except he deliberately caused the mixup that turned him into Mr. US. No spy involved this time, and this Mr. US mostly fights colorful costumed bad guys like the Money Manipulator and Harry Horrid.

Anyway, blah blah, he defeats the evil gorilla guy, but he and Jr. need to get off the space station in 20 minutes before "the missiles" are launched... and that's the end. Halfway done!

This next one is my favorite, because it's based on something very dear to me: Mark Gruenwald's Captain America.

This is specifically based on the storyline where Steve Rogers quit the position of Captain America and adopted the identity of Nomad, the Man without a Country, and trekked across the land to get in touch with 'the real America'. The US Government and military were the bad guys for once, so Captain America couldn't be the establishment anymore.

This Mr. US is Brett Kowaski, a college student and draft dodger who was beaten by police at a "no nukes" protest and callously scooped up by the army as the test for Project Perfect Patriot. Brett, with little exaggeration, doesn't really like America, and is disgusted when he wakes up and is shown the Mr. US costume.

Told he'd be killed if he refused, Brett acted as the army's strongarm, fighting the establishment's definition of "bad guys" -- real threats like aliens and supervillains, and harmless dissidents like he used to be. Eventually, he got sick of it and quit, deciding he'd be happier running from the military than serving it. Brett's changed his mind about America by now, and like Cap-as-Nomad, he wants to find it, to understand it -- and one day, represent it earnestly. It's implied he even still has the costume, but isn't wearing it at the moment.

Okay, second-to-last is, I think, the most uproariously hysterical thing I've seen in a while. It's the 80s, but the late 80s -- and what says late 80s comics like Watchmen? Yeah, that's the spoof here; dig the 9 panel format.

I think I may like this too much to explain what's so funny about it. I doubt anyone else even seen this as particularly biting satire, but I think it's brilliant. This Mr. US seems to be a re-envisioned version of the original -- he's Casper Milquetoast, a long-retired superhero with a horribly dreary life, some pretty serious depression, and a marriage that's barely keeping him sane. He's got narration text boxes with screwed up edges, like Rorschach. Unlike every version of the character before him, he's nearly totally cybernetic, but with Terminator-like skin on top. Or so it seems...

I don't mean anything against Watchmen, because I love it to death, but this is a great parody of it and its imitators -- it's a too-serious comic that doesn't understand how ridiculous it is. It's exactly what Morrison talked about in Animal Man: trying to dignify a costumed lunatic. Of course, Morrison's equally guilty of that in Animal Man -- which is why this segment is also in part a parody of the early Vertigo line, with its gritty, emotional revamps of established DC heroes like Swamp Thing and Shade the Changing Man. You may not remember the less successful revamps of characters like Brother Power, because they were exactly like this.

Finally, what else, 90's Mr. US.

This one's easy to tell you about; Mr. US shakes down some goon about the location of mobster Freddy Lorenzo, whom he then kills. When asked about his origin, Mr. US replies that he has no idea what he is or where he came from. Narration says he doesn't even care -- he's a butt kicker, he kicks butt, simple as that.

Mr. US never appeared again in any Big Bang story; I think he might be fictional within the context of the Big Bang universe, meaning that Carl Kelly could wind down from a long day as Ultiman and read a Mr. US comic.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to write about this issue, and for getting what we were doing so well!

    I do have one small factual correction. While Mister U.S. was not intended to be part of the Big Bang universe (this material was actually intended for a separate book which got scrapped; Gary generously offered to include the issue in Big Bang), he did show up later. Once was in a big crossover issue, where the creative team were apparently unaware that Mister U.S. was not a Big Bang character and slipped him in. The next was on the back cover of the Giant-Sized Ultiman Special #1, where Mister U.S. stars in a parody of a Hostess ad. All of Mister U.S.'s later appearances are outside of the Big Bang context.

  2. (Forgot to sign the previous comment: --Nigel, er NAT Gertler.)

  3. Oh, uh, my mistake then. That said, cool to know you read this, that's crazy.