Sunday, July 09, 2006

Mighty Samson #5

Mighty Samson #5, March 1966, K.K. Publications/Western Publishing Company

Have you heard? Korea is testing nuclear missiles with the potential to reach the United States. Larry King is talking about it. The Los Angeles Times is dissecting it. The American people . . . couldn't care less. Hey, it's summertime. Can't a guy watch America's Got Talent in peace?

Why isn't the common man in fear for his family? Building fallout shelters? Wondering what to do if he grows a tail? Could it be he's heard it all before, and aside from a change or two in the world's political climate, his life was fairly unaffected? His fears were for naught? Or perhaps because the Silver Age of comics has offered a road map for a world "razed by nuclear war." Yes, that's it. We shan't worry about nuclear fallout, because we have a plan. We have Mighty Samson.

Mighty Samson, his liege the scientist Mindor, and Mindor's daughter Sharmaine, are heroes in the post-nuclear city N'Yark, doing their best with the remnants of a lost world to save this "second Stone Age" from the ramifications of its past. For instance, in issue #5, pockets of radiation, or "death-glow geysers," are bursting through the earth, and Mindor dedicates himself to their eradication before innocent lives are lost. Their mission is temporarily interrupted when Samson rescues an adrift stranger, Vaxar, who, unbeknownst to his new friends, changes into the beast Oggar when exposed to a death-glow geyser. Despite his many attempts to sabotage Mindor's efforts, Samson defeats him, and in a seemingly lonely world, Mindor and company lose a potential ally. Yeah. It's sad.

In my last post, I mentioned my desire to plunge more into comicdom's past, and a visit to a hobby store this afternoon offered that window, with inexpensive Silver Age comics aplenty. (Mighty Samson #5 and the other issues I snagged put me back a buck each, and their damaged covers add to their charm, you ask me.) I looked for books beyond the DC and Marvel universes, and although Samson boasts the Gold Key logo on its cover, the first page's fine print credits K.K. Publications and Western Printing and Lithographing Company, with no other creators' credits throughout the issue. Ah, the good old days, when characters and content sold comics over their frequently rotating creative teams.

But I digress. Frankly, Samson's artwork looks like a great John Buscema imitation, if it isn't Buscema himself. The story is a little wordy but otherwise entertaining, with tongue-in-cheek commentary like, "How clever, Samson . . . using one of those old-time matches father found!" Very Planet of the Apes in its references to the "old world," except we the readers are Heston, shouting our damn-yous at every other page.

Question. A few days ago, I reviewed Image's Casanova. Here we have a protagonist named Samson. Is our generation incapable of coining a new name for our characters, or are we too dependent on myths of the past to encompass our new heroes' trademark traits? Samson is cunning in a crisis, but clearly Mindor possesses the smarts of the group. I mean, his name is Mindor. The He-Man villain that never was? Is that the best we can do?

Again, digressing; back to the issue at hand. Interestingly, the inside covers boast "modern" facts that set-up or reinforce the plot fairly effectively, in this case, about the Empire State Building. If this is an ongoing feature, I like it. N'yark is obviously New York, and this insight into the author's research and inspiration is both an anchor and an eerie element of realism for the reader . . .

. . . which gets me thinking. You know, the post-apocalyptic thing, or the parallel-doomed-world-that's-really-Earth thing, has been done so often now that I wonder how readers reacted when the concept was new. First of all, to Samson's credit, this story isn't too dated; with some modern vernacular, this tale could be a natural reaction to today's news. But in the chaotic '60s, what were these artists thinking? Were they simply spinning an epic adventure, or did they want their readers to think about it? What would you do if America cowered in the crosshairs of a nuclear attack? What if Samson wasn't there to save you from magnetic eye monsters and flying swordfish?

The concept makes for a cool comic. Reality . . . not so much. I would visit Samson's world again, but I hope it doesn't become mine.

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