Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Skivvied Superheroes ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post! ~~ Part One

There won't be any set format for the Comical Wednesday posts, but whenever possible, I'm going to throw in only a small offering of my usual, personal observations, and "drown" you in comic images instead. So, let's see how I do in this second installment!

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From Stan Lee's introduction to the very first Spider-Man story, in Amazing Fantasy #15: Like costumed heroes? Confidentially, we in the comic mag business refer to them as “long underwear characters”! And, as you know, they’re a dime a dozen! But, we think you may find our Spiderman just a bit… different!

(And I should mention that in that very first Spidey story, Stan himself couldn't seem to decide whether it was "Spiderman" or "Spider-Man!")

"The Skivvied Superheroes" will not be about Spider-Man, however! I'll be talking about my favorite eight heroes whose outfits consisted of their actual underwear! (And, since listing eight characters and their various qualities got too lengthy -- in spite of my good intentions -- I've split this sucker into more than one part!)

Ever since Superman debuted in 1938, a lot of costumed heroes have been shown as wearing their costumes under their street clothes. (That's gotta be one of those things we only accept as "realistic" when it's used in comics, like the "fact" that all it takes is a pair of eyeglasses and a slight change of hairstyles for Superman to make us think that the face of Clark Kent doesn't look just like his own. When I first started wearing glasses for reading, no one ever exclaimed "Hey! Who are you?" when I put them on.) Try wearing two sets of clothes in real life, and you're gonna sweat like a pig, and look kinda fat.

And another thing: If you do wear a superhero suit under your street clothes, do you wear "real" underwear under that? If not... ummm... ew. Sounds rather unhygienic, if you ask me. "Thanks so much for saving me from falling off the cliff, Superman, but... What is that awful smell?"

Anyway, I know that they still make neck-to-ankle-length, red flannel underwear, with the convenient drop-down, buttoned flap in the back, but they certainly aren't fashionable nowadays. Not so in the 1940s, evidently. So that explains why more than one parody of the "long-underwear characters" wore real long underwear as part of his -- or, in one notable and brilliantly-executed example, her -- costume.

Okay. Enough damned background.

And now, without further digression...

Captain Klutz

Our first "hero" technically wore two sets of underwear! Captain Klutz was the star of a series of paperbacks released by the publishers of MAD Magazine. His stories were written by various authors, but all were drawn by "MAD's Maddest Artist," Don Martin (1931-2000), whose characters were known for having huge chins and "hinged" feet.

The Captain was a perennial loser (and comic book reader, naturally, since parodists often poke fun at their own audience) named Ringo Fonebone...

Ringo's attempt at suicide-by-hanging was thwarted when the towel tied to his neck tore on his way downward. As the hapless Ringo zoomed toward the pavement, he obtained the final piece of his superheroic costume.

Ringo survived the plunge, of course. His fall was broken when he landed on a bank-robber who had been running from the police. The enraged criminal screamed "Why, you klutz!" even as the police who'd been pursuing the robber ran up to the two men. Before taking the robber into custody, the leader of the policemen asked Ringo his name. Still disoriented from the fall, Ringo replied "I'm... a klutz, captain." The officers mistakenly thought he'd said his name was Captain Klutz... and now the accidental hero had a nom-du-guerre.

In his first book, the Captain fought the following villains...

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Captain Nice

Some of these "long underwear" heroes didn't always stay in their underwear.

Uhhh... Maybe I should re-phrase that?

This entry's about a guy who's only a "comic book" character by default -- explanation forthcoming, of course -- although the inspiration for all caped and non-caped super-beings can be traced back to Superman anyway!

Captain Nice was a short-lived NBC TV show from 1967. It debuted on January 9th, 1967, the very same night that another parody superhero, Mister Terrific, premiered on CBS! In fact, Mister Terrific came on at 8 pm., Captain Nice at 8:30! Somebody up there liked ten-year-old me! (For a few months, anyway. Both shows aired their final episodes on the same night as well, May 8th, 1967!)

Captain Nice was created by Buck Henry of Get Smart fame. He was really mama's boy Carter Nash, who had a serum that gave him powers, including flight (although he was afraid of heights).

The first time Carter ingested the serum, there was a huge explosion which destroyed most of his clothing, revealing quite a bit of his long underwear. However, his mother sewed him a predictably-tacky outfit which he wore in all subsequent appearances.

Some recall the show with fondness, some... not so much. The program stands out in my mind for introducing me to actor William Daniels, who played the title role.

The Captain's foray into comics consisted of a one-shot comic book (cover pictured above), and a series of seldom-seen Topps trading cards with brief comic strips -- many (if not all) drawn by comics legend Wally Wood -- on the back. The less said about both, the better.

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Lt. Hercules

Here's one that's slightly different, if for no other reason than it's a Golden Age series which I'd never encountered until recently!

Lt. Hercules was a feature that ran as a back-up to the eponymous hero of the Green Lama title (whose stories were breathtakingly drawn by the incomparable Mac Raboy [1914-1967]).

As it happens, there is precious little information available about the Lt. Hercules feature.

Lt. Hercules, a hero-for-hire created by H.L. Gold and Irv Tinman, was the alter ego of young Wilbur Klutz -- presumably no relation to Captain Klutz, haha -- and had gained his powers through a strange liaison with the famous wizard Merlin, who was also the Lieutenant's business manager!

Yep... The "magic word" that changed Wilbur to his superhero form was actually a loud "Bronx cheer!" (And by the way... Notice, if you will, that Lt. Hercules' "H" insignia is on his stomach, rather than his chest, which is where most superheroes have theirs. In fact, don't just "notice" it. Remember it. I'll tell you why in a later installment! Heh. Trust me.)

In one two-port episode, the Lieutenant visited "Comic Land," where he (and the reader) encountered knock-offs of comic strip characters like Dick Tracy, Li'l Abner's Daisy Mae...

...and Little Orphan Annie!

And that's really all I have to say about Lt. Hercules. As I said earlier, I'm still learning about the character, myself!

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'Mazing Man

Finally, fellow babies (for today, anyway)...

Did you ever see King Creole, starring Elvis Presley? There a scene in there where the character of Danny Fisher (played by Elvis) tells the femme fatale Ronnie (played by a pre-Morticia Carolyn Jones), in response to her spoken desire to be "charming" -- and I'm quoting from memory, here -- "I think you're charming. It's not a word that I use..."

Well, "charming" isn't a word that I use with any regularity, either, and certainly not in my day-to-day conversations. Having said that... 'Mazing Man, a DC Comics character who first appeared in the premier issue of his very own title, was a charming character, in a charming series.

"Maze," as his friends called him, was in reality a "benignly deranged" man named Sigfried Horatio Hunch III, who found a helmet in a dumpster and was inspired to become a very down-to-earth superhero. The helmet had a large "W" on it, which was loose, and it suddenly inverted to become an "M." Sigfried then dubbed his superheroic persona "[A]mazing Man." He didn't have a secret identity per se. He ran around the neighborhood doing good deeds like babysitting children, unclogging drains, and the like.

'Maze wasn't exactly a superhero parody. Created by Bob Rozakis and Stephen DeStefano, and debuting in 1986, the 'Mazing Man series featured mostly-realistic situations with a slightly surreal tone. (To list one major example, his best friend, a comic book writer named Denton Fixx, was perfectly normal except for the fact that he quite literally looked like a dog!)

The 'Mazing Man series ran for a year. It was never a huge seller, but developed a large following of hardcore adherents (including myself) nonetheless. In fact, comic writer/artist Frank Miller, shortly after he'd helped re-define comics for the era with his epic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns mini-series, was a fan of 'Mazing Man, and contributed the following illustration to help boost sales.

And here's what Miller's illustration looked like when it finally saw print.

If you're an open-minded comic fan, and never saw 'Mazing Man, I strongly suggest you find some back issues. (Luckily for you, they'll be pretty cheap.) Hopefully, you'll be hooked.

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Well, fellow babies, dat done dood it for now! Make sure to come back here next week, for my new Comical Wednesday post!

Thanks for your time.


  1. dude, fun post...enjoyed the little romp through some comic history...and had some of those roos a long time ago...

  2. I remember you saying in one of your Harvard University lectures that the similarity between the tight-wearing super-heroes of the twentieth century and the similar tight-wearing heroes of many a Shakespearean play is no coincidence. Fascinating stuff, Professor.

  3. @Brian: Glad you liked it. The next installments will be predictably odd, I promise.

    @Alan: Yes, yes, yes! I also recall your point (during the post-lecture question and answer session) about the "secret identity" aspect of Portia and Nerissa, posing as Balthazar and Stephano in The Merchant of Venice.

  4. Damn never heard of any of them, guess Superman in the comic realm I'm not..haha...leave that up to you, nice walk down history lane, now I can at least name some actual underwear wearing so called superheros..haha

  5. I always thought it interesting that many of the earlier superheroes looked like flabby, middle aged men. No muscles! They don't look like they could run down the street much less fly through the air and fight the evil ones. :)

  6. Saw your new profile picture on Pat's blog and had to come over and say that I like it! :)


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