01 October 2018

Silver Age Superheroes (DC and Marvel)

What led me to write my kind of novels? As a child growing up in the 1960s, I was fired up by sci-fi ideas, alien worlds, and superheroes battling villains of every form. Much of that was down to the Silver Age of comics inaugurated by DC and Marvel. The heroes of that era were not just outstanding in protecting the defenceless against powerful enemies, they stood for a new hope that justice and fairness could prevail over deceit and domination. I can still recall the excitement of finding the latest issues appearing on the comics stand …

There were Superman & Captain America, the ultimate Red, White and Blue heroes, whose idealism extended beyond the US, as they regularly led from the front, fighting for the world against the most serious threats wherever these emerged. Back in the 1940s they helped to defeat the Nazis, and through the 1960s they continued to stand ready to deal with any powerful megalomaniac.

Then at the first sign of trouble, Batman & Spiderman would literally swing by and knock any villain out cold. Yet beneath the mask, each carried a deep psychological scar. Bruce Wayne as a boy watching his parents shot dead by a street mugger, and Peter Parker realising a criminal he didn’t stop went on to kill his beloved Uncle Ben. But the pain made them stronger and more resolute.

With Wonder Woman & Thor, the powers of Aegean and Nordic divinities flowed through them. They could hold off an invading army, match Hercules in strength, and defeat those who sought victories through lies. The warrior from Themyscira could make any deceiver reveal the truth, while the prince of Asgard would repeatedly foil his brother Loki, the god of deception.

Aquaman & Namor the Sub-Mariner were both mixed progeny of the land-based human race and the sea-dwelling race of Atlantis. The two races had mistrusted each other, but in Aquaman (in the DC universe) and Namor (in the Marvel universe), they found common cause in having a noble hero who would fight for all of them in repelling real enemies who threatened their existence.

While one abnormal explosion released energy that turned Barry Allen into the fastest person in the world, another one changed Bruce Banner into the strongest human being on Earth. But the Flash & the Hulk never had it easy. With unexpected shifts in timeline for one, and anger-fuelled disorientation for the other, they both had to keep working on controlling their powers for the sake of others.

Oliver Queen fought for social justice as well as against common criminals; Matt Murdoch hunted down gangsters and as a lawyer defended the wrongfully accused. As Green Arrow & Daredevil, they did not have super speed or strength, but they developed their combat skills through relentless training. To make things even more challenging, Oliver had a sidekick with a drug addiction problem, and Matt was blind.

Green Lantern & Doctor Strange took us to completely different realms. Hal Jordan was chosen by the cosmic Green Lantern Corp to be their champion on Earth, and given the power ring. Stephen Strange was chosen by the Ancient One to be the sorcerer supreme on Earth, and given the amulet that housed the Eye of Agamotto. The projection of will power as a solid force and the casting of mystical spells were awesome to behold.

Hawkman & Iron Man came closest to being modern knights in shining armour, even if Katar Hol’s was made of Nth metal while Tony Stark’s was made with Nitinol. Suiting up gave them the power to fly, withstand the hardest blows, and take to the offensive against any criminal whose latest weapon acquisition might otherwise have given them a deadly advantage.

The Silver Age was the age of science, and Ray Palmer and Hank Pym were two of the greatest scientific minds (of the DC and Marvel universe), and they worked out how to shrink objects and enlarge them, and became the Atom & the Ant-Man respectively. It was surprising how being tiny could overcome fearsome enemies, though being super smart was a more predictable asset.

J’onn J’onzz or Norrin Radd, better known perhaps as the Martian Manhunter & the Silver Surfer, were alien beings brought to Earth against their will, and unable to return to their home world. Possessing greater powers than most of the superheroes mentioned above, they coped with their own predicament stoically while tirelessly helping the people of their adopted planet.


In addition to the 10 pairs of solo superheroes from DC and Marvel I looked back on above, I was a huge fan of teams such as the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Justice League, and Avengers. But I’ll save my reminiscence about them for another day.