Catching the Infectious Lass Fever

As with virtually all Legionaires and affiliated characters, my introduction to Infectious Lass came from the Who's Who in the Legion of Superheroes series.  Consequently, this is her classic look as far as I'm concerned:

Okay, so she wasn't much to look at (unless you're into mucous) but I found her power set--and especially the backstory--terrifyingly cool.  Drura Sehpt (IL's real name) came from the planet Somahtur, where the dominant sentient life form gained its position not by conquering and destroying "lower" forms of life (i.e., bacteria, viruses, etc.) but through complex symbiotic evolution with them.

The upshot was that every Somahturian became a walking CDC virology lab.  Unfortunately, Somahturian symbiosis didn't play too well with off-worlders.  Your average Somahturian could  "quickly [and fatally] infect other living bio-organisms." (Infectious Lass. Comic Vine) So it's easy to understand why the United Planets kept a pretty tight quarantine on the planet, not allowing access to anyone other than a handful of select medical personnel. (Think about standard global protocols towards regions experiencing an Ebola, for example.)

Drura was atypically adventurous for her race, becoming one of the few to venture off-world.  Her would-be galactic road-trip suffered a delay, however, as she was confined for sometime to Medicus One...due to her [species' aforementioned] health risk to others. (Infectious Lass. Comic Vine)

When Drura was finally released she bee-lined it for a Legion of Superheroes tryout where she demonstrated her power by making Star Boy terribly sick. Unfortunately for Drura she had more power than control, and the Legion rejected her application due to safety concerns.

Superboy #201 MAR 1974

The Long-Term Substitute
Following her rejection by the regular Legion, Infectious Lass was recruited into the Legion of Substitute Heroes by Polar Boy.  She appeared pretty infrequently after that until the "Five Years Later" jump of1989.  Below is a listed compiled from Comicvine (excluding Who's Who and  other such "encyclopedic" appearances)
Possible inspiration?
Infectious Lass's 1974 debut may support a suspicion I've long-harbored--that her appearance owes something to the Andorians of Star Trek, who made their first appearance six years earlier in the episode "Journey to Babel."

Note the blue-skinned, antennaed chap in
the right background
Of course, blue skin and antennaes aren't exactly unprecedented tropes in science fiction.  I make no claim to have proven anything. This is only a speculation...but what say you?  Does it plausible to imagine that the Somahtur doesn't fall far from the Andoria?

The two faces of the Crimson Avenger (Lee Travis)

The Crimson Avenger has the distinction of being the first masked hero produced by Detective Comics.  His debut came in October 1938 with Detective Comics #20.  While costume changes aren't exactly unprecedented in the superhero genre, they typically represent slight variations on a basic model. (Think, for example, of all the many costume changes the Wasp has had over the years.)

In the case of the Crimson Avenger, however, we see a pretty dramatic style change in either Detective Comics #40 (if you believe Wikipedia) or #44 (if you rely on Dave's Comic Heroes Blog). Unfortunately, as I am unable to access the innards of either of these classic tomes, I can't say definitively which is correct.

Regardless of when the change took place, I've only ever heard one explanation. It's claimed that the Avenger's altered duds were the natural response to popular taste shifting away from costumed vigilantes, and towards superheroes. And so, we went from this:

the more or less original look
to this:
the new look as of Detective Comics #40 (or #44)

While it's certainly possible that this was the rationale motivating the editorial decision, it doesn't make much sense to me.

First, marking a line between "costumed vigilantes" and "superheroes" strikes me as a distinction without a difference.  (Unless one were to define the difference as being violent vs. non-violent, or super-powered vs. non-super-powered individuals.)

Second, it seems to me there were a great many "costumed vigilantes" who remained as popular as the Crimson Avenger, without surrendering the business-attire-influenced look.  For example:

Adventure Comics #60 MAR 1941
(though Sandman had
his own costume
change by May of the
next year)
Universal Studios poster

Smash Comics #54 AUG 1944

The Spirit
The Spirit #22 AUG 1950

So, essentially, I'm curious if anyone has ever heard an alternative explanation for the costume change; or at least a fuller fleshing out of the standard explanation to account for why it was felt Crimson Avenger had to change, when these other guys clearly didn't.

Unapologetic appreciation for Hauptmann Deutschland (Vormund)

To the best of my recollection, Captain America # 393 (JAN 1992) was my first glimpse at the character originally--and supremely, in my opinion--known as Hauptmann Deutschland.

This was a classic case of me being seized by the cover.  I had no idea who the guy on the front kicking Cap's shield was, but I knew I wanted to know more.

As it turned out, Hauptmann was yet another national super-hero built in the mold of Captain America.  (See my post on the Red Guardian for the Soviet counterpart).  In this case, the Hauptmann had a name that essentially translated to "Captain Germany."  Once you know that, the color scheme of his costume makes perfect sense.

This issue was part of a larger story arc in which Hauptmann, with fellow German heroes Blitzkrieger and Zeitgeist (man, I love these names!) were seeking to capture the Red Skull and his cohorts and try them for war crimes.  (I'd like to point out, here, that Hauptmann was fully convinced that this Red Skull was the Red Skull, even before Cap was!  Bear that in mind when assessing the merits of ole Hauptmann.)

Much like the Captain America #353 storyline, which featured the Red Guardian,  we again see a case of villains impersonating the Avengers (in this case, bioplastoids created by Arnim Zola).  The faux-Avengers demand that Hauptmann Deutschland and friends remand the Skull and his gang into their custody.  The German heroes reluctantly do so, though one wonders why.  The overall demeanor of the Americans--Cap especially--seems suspiciously out-of-sync with their public personas.

Back in America, a phone call comes into Avengers HQ inquiring about the status of the Skull's prisoner transfer. When Cap tells Jarvis he doesn't know any "Hauptmann Deutschland," der kapitan assumes he's been had, hangs up, and hops the next available transatlantic flight.

This, naturally, sets up the classic case-of-mistaken-identity-fight, when both Captains indepedently arrive at the Skull's former Washington D.C. base.

While it's reasonable enough to conclude that the Captain America that took the Skull wasn't legit, one wonders why Hauptmann didn't stay on the horn a bit longer with the least to give the real Cap a courtesy, "Hey-there's-some-dude-impersonating-you-just-thought-you-should-know" warning. 
Unfortunately--and despite my great respect for German quality control--the fight is rather one-sided. 

That face you make when Steve Rogers starts gratuitous trash-talking...
This is actually, rather a shame.  I feel like the Red  Guardian gets more respect despite being a virtual one-to-one parallel of Captain America in strength, skills, weapons, and costume.

At least Haupt is sans a shield and has his own unique (if somewhat low-level) superpower. 
[Hauptmann Deutschland] possesses the ability to absorb kinetic energy and redirect that energy at an opponent. By aiming this energy at an opponent's heart, he can kill them. Under normal circumstances, he uses this energy to provide himself with greater endurance in a battle, increase his speed and strength, and to repel attacks. On one mission, [Hauptmann Deutschland] wore a vest containing a variety of weapons, including a metal net encased in a ball, ball bearings coated in oil, and a cable gun. (Vormund. Comicvine)
I like that powers were subtle, but still enough to make him a respectable challenge (though, as I lamented above, the fight in Cap #393 was more one-sided than I felt justified).

So what's in a name...really? 
There's apparently been a fair bit of debate over the years about the best name for ole' Hauptmann Deutschland.  I'm just gonna say right off the bat that I prefer the original name.  He's a nationalistic knock-off of Captain America.  There's no reason his name shouldn't reflect that...nor is there any reason that simply being modelled on Cap means he couldn't develop in his own dimensions and be an interesting character.  Consider the Superboy knock-offs that populated the Legion of Superheroes (e.g., Mon-El, Ultra Boy, et al.)

Despite my opinions, the original name was abandoned.  The general consensus online is that this was due to German cultural sensitivities about having any German hero with a militaristic name.  That sounds moderately plausible...but I would suppose that German does still have a military of some sort, right?  They've got police.  Presumably, at least some of these law enforcement officials are respected.

As with the various name-changes doled out to the former Supreme Soviet, the transition to "Vormund" was a horrible screw up, in my opinion.  First, it doesn't roll-off-the-tongue any easier than Hauptmann Deutschland.  At least the very length of the original name signals that you're dealing with an official code name.  Vormund sounds like it could be the personal name of a barbarian warlord...or maybe "he-who-must-not-be-named."

Even if you try to examine the name from the perspective of a German, this change still doesn't make much sense.  First, I've read that the name Vormund in German actually means something like "legal guardian."  It's been proposed that a more faithful translation would be Wachtner.

Third, if the concern is that Hauptmann Deutschland was nothing more than a linguistic plagiarization...a formulaic adaptation of "Captain America," then I still don't get how Vormund is an improvement.  Remember, both Marvel and DC already have heroes named Guardian.  How is this a horrible transition:

But this is deep and meaningful?




Dreams for the Future

In addition to restoring Hauptmann Deutschland's original name, I'd love to see a mini-series entitled Patriots featuring Captain America, Hauptmann Deutschland, Captain Britain, Red Guardian, Collective Man,  et al.

While you might think that's nothing more than a pipe dream, I never would've guessed that Hauptmann Deutschland (yep, I refuse to use this stupid new name) would end up in a LEGO Superheroes feature, but here we are...

Murder is no joke! : Midnight in Smash #45


Smash Comics # 45 (August 1943)

Murder Isn't Any Joke! [title supplied]

The story begins with bankrupt socialite J.T. Horgan calling up one friend after another asking for a loan.  As it just so happens, one of his acquaintances is our own Doc Wackey.  Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly) Doc can only scrounge up about twelve cents.  Needless to say, this is much less than the good Mr. Horgan needs.

Bet Doc's wishing he hadn't given away the patent on that atom reviser now

Amply demonstrating why he has come to his present financial state, Horgan concludes that since he's headed to the poor house, he should "throw one last bang up party...for my fairweather friends."

Golly.  D'ya think the bald accountant's comments might be foreshadowing?

When Horgan sends out the RSVPs to his bankruptcy, one finds its way into the hands of Doc Wackey.  (Of course, not attempt is made to explain why Horgan has apparently failed to invite his "old friend" to any of the numerous parties he previously threw at Crazy Meadows...I guess we're just supposed to accept that this is one of the things one does when facing financial insolvency.  On the other hand, maybe Horgan simply knew his Bible and had taken to heart the Parable of the Dishonest Manager.)

Though excited to receive the invitation, Wackey is initially reticent about attending on account of his dearth of appropriate attire.  Sniffer offers to let the Doc borrow an old dress suit, with the proviso that he and Hotfoot be allowed to tag along.  (Again, nary a thought is given to explaining: (A) why it should be assumed that an invited party guest is free to extend his own invitations to whomever he will, and (B) why, if particular attire is required for Wackey, anyone would assume that Sniffer Snoop wouldn't be subject to the same wardrobe triage.)

Dave gets wind of these plans and decides to invite himself--or rather, he decides that Midnight "ought to be able to attend the party without an invitation.")  Whoa.  Somebody's ego is growing faster than Horgan's creditor list.

When Gabby, Doc, Sniffer, and Hotfoot arrive at Crazy Meadows, they're greeted by a bat-swinging doorman who looks for all the world like he's trying to take someone's head off!  Of course Wackey and company don't take this lying down.  Fortunately for the kid, before they can really get to pummeling, Horgan intervenes and explains that this was "one of the eccentric welcomes we extend to guests at Crazy Meadows."  Satisfied with that explanation, Wackey lets Horgan lead him off to the "Prussic Acid bar" for a quick drink.

Apparently, this is was to be yet another "shock value" feature of the Crazy Meadows soiree.  Things get all too real, however, when one Bill Thompson orders a straight...and then promptly clutches his stomach and collapses dead!

Due--I'm supposing--to concern that the high drama of this moment would be too heavy for kids, Midnight is suddenly reintroduced to the narrative by way of an insanely-stupid camouflage gag.

After an implausibly simple answer to Wackey's question, Midnight sniffs the interior of Thompson's flute and pronounces it formerly contained genuine Prussic Acid.  As our hero begins interrogating Horgan, Sniffer Snoop--naturally--skips straight to the accusation phase.

Meanwhile another guest, John Henry retreats from the ghastly scene with his starlet companion into a nearby room made up to look like a medieval torture chamber.  Apparently having learned nothing from the events of the last five minutes, Henry insists on placing himself on the rack for "a little stretching exercise," when--of course--he too dies horribly.

Sniffer reiterates his charge that Horgan has masterminded these murders with the evening's party as an elaborate ruse.  For his part, Midnight is beginning to think Sniffer could be right this time.

Midnight begins to question Horgan himself about his involvement in the homicides, when a secret passageway silently opens and Sniffer is hauled into its recesses by a gloved hand.

Horgan's accountant, Fenley, fortuitously arrives back on the scene just in time to add his weight to the accusation against Horgan.  This prompts his soon-to-be-erstwhile employer to turn the charge right back on his traitorous bean-counter, and middle-aged fisticuffs ensue.

Midnight steps in to break up the Clash-of-the-Middle-Aged-Body-Types.  Meanwhile, Wackey notices Sniffer's gone missing.

When he notices that Hotfoot is sniffing and scratching against a seemingly-brick wall, Midnight asks Horgan if it contains a trick panel.  Upon turning around to find out why the portly host isn't answering, Midnight discover that Horgan and Fenley have vanished as well!

Eventually, Midnight locates a release and the hidden panel opens to a passageway. Midnight and company proceed through its darkened corridors until:

This issue's implausibly convenient ending occurs when Hotfoot--distressed at the sight of his master bound hand and foot--charges forward knocking the hooded figure off-balance and enabling Midnight to charge and overpower him.

Convinced that he's narrowed down the killer to either Fenley or Horgan, both Midnight and the reader are a bit surprised to discover:

Wow.  Talk about your "Scooby-Doo endings." 

All-Star Squadron: Amazing Man

As with Midnight, the first time I saw DC's Will Everett version of Amazing Man was in the pages of  Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe Update '88 #1 (AUG 1988)  Again, like Midnight, the character's look, background, and powers instantly appealed to me.

His Costume

First, I liked the visuals of the green and yellow outfit.  Though not unprecedented, this wasn't a color combination that you saw all that frequently even in the late 80s.  (I'm sure it also helped that this color scheme of the school I attended at the time.)

His Race and Backstory

Second, I liked his ethnicity and back-story.  Though one didn't necessarily hear a lot of calls for more minority heroes in the late 80s, in retrospect I think one of the reasons Amazing Man struck my fancy was precisely his race.  (I also suspect this because when I think back to my earliest memories of seeing superheroes in things like Challenge of the Superfriends, my favorite on the team included Apache Chief, Samurai, and Black Vulcan.  I remember being bummed when they didn't return for the "Galactic Guardians iteration of the SF.)

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics
Even more important than his skin color, though, was Will Everett's backstory.  Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway did a great job crafting a 1940s hero who was modeled--it seems to me pretty blatantly--on an actual heroic black American of the time period, Jesse Owens.  Will Everett had been a stand-out athlete in the 1936 Olympic games who returned to the U.S. after winning multiple awards, only to face job discrimination based on his race.  Will finally found work as a janitor for scientist Terry Curtis.  As fate would have it, this fateful decision contributed directly to the next thing I loved about Amazing Man:  his powers!

Though the Jesse Owens comparison was evident from the moment I read Amazing Man's backstory, only later did I learn that AM benefitted from yet other fictional and non-fictional inspirations.  Comic Vine relates:

For inspiration, [Creator Roy] Thomas drew upon a real 1940’s hero: Centaur Comics hero Amazing-Man. In homage, Thomas named his Amazing-Man Will Everett, after the Centaur Comics’ Amazing-Man’s creator Bill Everett

His Power Set

Third, I was attracted to the power set--more specifically, I was attracted to both versions of his power set. Amazing Man's initial superpowers were essentially the same as those of Marvel's Absorbing Man.  In Everett's case, however, rather than arising from a mystical source, they were the product of scientific experimentation by the Ultra-Humanite.

Having successfully imparted the absorbancy powers to Everett, the Ultra-Humanite blackmailed Will and Dr. Curtis into doing his bidding by holding the latter's baby daughter, Terri, hostage. Of course, Terri was eventually freed, allowing her father and Will to defy the Ultra-Humanite and aid the All-Star Squadron in defeating him.

Curiously, the only powers Comic Vine seems to recognize for Amazing Man were his initial absorption ones.  However, Who's Who in the DC Universe Update '88 explicitly says that some months after initially helping the All-Star Squadron defeat the Ultra-Humanite:
...exposure to a super-powerful electromagnet permanently altered Everett, replacing his matter-mimicking ability with magnetic powers...[specifically] the power to repel magnetic objects with his right hand and attract them with his left hand.

I'd always like magnetic-power characters (e.g., Magneto, Cosmic Boy, etc.) but Amazing Man had a nice (and I thought aesthetically symmetrical) restriction in that he could attract ferrous objects with one hand and repel them with the other.  This gave him just enough power to be really impressive, without being so powerful that writers had a hard time coming up with real challenges for him.

Thanks to good folks in the JSA, All Stars and Earth 2 Facebook group, I now know that this power shift took place in Young All-Stars #14 (JUL 1988).  I'm still curious, however, just why it was executed.  Were there some sort of copyright or trademark dispute (a la the great Captain Marvel vs. Superman battle)?  Did DC think Amazing Man needed to be "spiced up"? 

Catching the Infectious Lass Fever

As with virtually all Legionaires and affiliated characters, my introduction to Infectious Lass came from the Who's Who in the Legion o...