Bronze Age Beginnings

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Top Bronze Age Heroine

My favouite fanzine (though it was professionally published) in the 80s was Amazing Heroes; and my favourite articles were the ' Hero Histories'. Didn't matter who they were, or where they were from, they were always a source of interest.

My recent Frankie Raye post was very much influenced by those articles, and it's something I would like to do more of - the only problem is who to do?

With that in mind, I've set up a little poll in the right-hand column. Vote for your top Bronze Age Heroine, and I'll write about her. I should say, I took a few liberties: The Cat and Tigra are essentially the same person, but very different heroines, and though Jean Grey was a heroine during the Silver Age, Phoenix was very much a Bronze Age creation,

So vote!

There's no rum in this punch! Nuff said!

This one says vote for me!

I was bald before it was beautiful, baby!

Yeah, blue-eyed Ben Grimm is the one for me!

This female fights back! OK?

Spider-Man? Spider-Man who?

Crotch shots weren't in that Marvel Monster makeover contract!

I am fire! I am life incarnate! I am so dead!

What's that you say? We're going down to the cellar?

I was teenage jailbait, but I've got a dragon!

Yeah, I can chew gum and walk at the same time. So what?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

A girl named Frankie Raye

Face it tiger...oops, wrong redhead.

When John Byrne took the Fantastic Four Back to the Basics with Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #232 (cover date July 1981) it was a rather apt title considering his stance, in interviews at the time (if recall correctly), that nothing that came after Jack Kirby left the Fantastic Four with Vol. 1 #102 (cover date September 1970) ‘counted’, essentially ignoring the previous decade; or, to put it another way, the entirety of what we now fondly refer to as the Bronze Age of Marvel Comics. Byrne had sole responsibility for shaping the future of the Fantastic Four as both artist and writer, so he had to trust in his creative instincts; but it still seemed a tad disrespectful of all the other creators that came before him.

 It was a little odd, then, that in his first issue he used a character created by Roy Thomas and George Perez in Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #164 (cover date November 1975); Johnny Storm’s red-haired flame (pun intended), Frankie Raye. Frankie was Johnny’s only Bronze Age romantic entanglement after Crystal left the team (and later married Quicksilver), but only appeared a handful of times (the last being Vol. 1 #204 March 1979 – more than two years prior to the start of John Byrne’s run). Could it be that Byrne had been told something about the creation of Frankie Raye - that she was originally intended to be the daughter of Toro, the original Human Torch’s sidekick* - that he felt he could repurpose her for something else he had planned?** Do all red-haired girls have to ‘go bad’ in the end?

Johnny’s first date with Frankie (a’ lonely U.N. translator’ he met in a ‘ 2nd Avenue singles bar’) starts well as they wander from Art Fairs to Rock-Joints in New York’s Greenwich Village, but all good things must come to an end as The Crusader attacks. Johnny resists flaming-on - not wanting to reveal who he is to Frankie - but his hand is eventually forced; Frankie’s reaction shot by George Perez is a portent of what is to come.

The next time Johnny and Frankie meet up is in Fantastic Four #171 (cover date June 1976) at Central Park Zoo. They discuss why Frankie ran off the last time, and she explains that seeing Johnny become the Human Torch freaked her out. Unfortunately, just as Johnny tries to convince her that he is considering giving up the superhero life, and that she might just be the one, a spaceship lands and out comes Gorr – a giant golden gorilla. Johnny immediately flames-on, but then reconsiders and returns to Frankie, as the ‘police can handle that overgrown ape, soon as they get some heavier guns.’

A short time later, at Frankie’s apartment, Johnny overhears on the radio that his fellow teammates are helpless before Gorr, so with Frankie’s protestations ringing in his ear he flames-on and leaves. Frankie ‘suddenly knows the truth at last…that all this has happened to her…before!’

I wonder what that could mean?

It is another ten issues, in Fantastic Four #181 (cover date April 1977), before Frankie makes another appearance. Johnny is hanging around Greenwich Village in the hope of seeing Frankie again, and when he does she’s with another man. Johnny and Frankie argue, with Johnny making light of her fear of fire, so Frankie leaves. Johnny flies off, promising to ‘find out why you’re so traumatised by fire…if it takes forever!’

Considering this was Roy Thomas’ last issue, Johnny might be waiting some time.

Len Wein picks-up the Frankie and Johnny (non) relationship another ten issues later, in Fantastic Four #191 (cover date February 1978), when Johnny calls on Frankie - hoping to rekindle their romance - but is called away by the Fantasti-Flare before she can answer the door.

It is only another 13 issues until Frankie makes her last appearance during the Bronze Age, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, in Fantastic Four #204. Johnny bumps into her while enrolling at Empire State University, and while they discuss why they never quite got together in the past, Frankie gives her reasons as ‘never liked dating a superhero…or got used to you standing me up…or rushing off halfway through a date…or’ before being cut-off by an emergency call from Reed.

Presumably her next line was going to be ‘… or you turning into a human matchstick, and I hate fire’ but I suspect that plot point was being quietly buried.

Anyone that has read John Byrne’s 5 year + run on Fantastic Four knows that he eventually revealed Frankie to be the step-daughter of the original Human Torch’s creator, Phineas Horton. At the age of 14, she’d been accidentally doused in chemicals that gave her the power to burst into flame, but Horton hypnotised her into forgetting these events, while giving her a costume that mysteriously only appears when she is naked. Yeah, that never made complete sense to me, but it did give Byrne the chance to show the slightly salacious scene of Johnny gawping at a slowly disrobing Frankie.

Byrne teased his readers with the idea that Frankie might join the Fantastic Four, but over a few adventures he had Frankie show a disturbing propensity for violence and callousness, that ultimately culminated in her accepting a new job as Galactus’ herald, receiving the power cosmic, and becoming Nova.

While Frankie/Nova is apparently dead in current continuity, Byrne did originally intend to have Nova become the next Galactus, after another Big Bang at the culmination of his ‘ The Last Galactus Story’, the ending of which remains unpublished today.

I ask again, do all red-haired girls go bad eventually? Frankie’s sad fate has an echo of that other red-haired girl gone bad, Jean Grey/Phoenix, and I sort of wish that Roy Thomas had seen his plot for Frankie Raye through. Who knows, she might even be in the X-Men now, as the mutant daughter of Toro.

*I have only seen this referenced once online, as told to John Byrne by Len Wein, but can’t find anything else to corroborate it. It may be false, but given Roy Thomas’ predilection for using Golden Age characters and stitching them into then current continuity (see Giant-Size Avengers #1)…it has a ring of the truth to it.

**At a later date, Byrne also made reference to Frankie being Ann Raymond and Toro’s step-daughter in Avengers West Coast #50, so while it probably negates Roy Thomas’ earlier intent, it does at least acknowledge the connection.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


If you’re a regular dweller within this particular dusty, dark, corner of the comic blogosphere, you’ll no doubt have seen other celebratory posts this weekend about Britain’s very own superhero.

Captain Britain No. 1 was released the week ending October 13 1976. I was 11 years old, and the power of TV advertising (plus the lure of a free Captain Britain mask) worked its magic. I plunked down my 10p and prepared myself to be thrilled by the full colour exploits of the hero we’d all been demanding (apparently).

Well, not quite. Despite a personal message from Stan Lee informing us that nearly a full year was spent ‘creating the characters, developing the themes, and producing the greatest possible stories and illustrations!’ it wasn’t particularly evident within the seven slim  pages written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Herb Trimpe (inked by Fred Kida).

Brian Braddock was a pipe smoking physicist working at the Darkmoor Research Centre, a top secret nuclear complex, when it was attacked by Joshua Stragg…THE REAVER! Fleeing the scene on a motor bike, Brian was startled by the flashing lights of a passing hovercraft causing him to drive off a cliff. Still somehow alive, but battered and broken, Brian is given an ultimatum by a couple of floating heads. Choose either the sword or the amulet…life or death…and…


Well, we already knew what he choose, because the comic opened with two pages of Brian Braddock, as Captain Britain (wearing the amulet), fighting THE REAVER (brandishing a sword). Obviously it was decided that the Special Origin Issue! should open with some senses-shattering action, but it killed the cliff-hanger ending dead.

I wasn’t very impressed, and the lie was put to the claim that a year was spent producing the greatest possible stories and illustrations, by the two superior reprints included in the issue. A John Buscema drawn Fantastic Four, and a Jim Steranko Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Beat that Cap!

Still, I gave Captain Britain a chance and bought his comic for a few more weeks, but I was never that interested. It took a few more years, and the talents of Alan Moore and Alan Davis, to make me finally like Britain’s own superhero – and for that alone it is worth wishing Captain Britain a very happy 36th birthday!

Buy Captain Britain No.1 at My Comic Shop

Saturday, 13 October 2012


With the announcement this weekend that the final roster tally for the re-launched The Avengers is expected to be 30 plus members, I’m reminded of a time during the Bronze Age that The Avengers expanded to such an extent that it took a government employee to knock some sense into them.

In The Avengers #181 (cover date March 1979) The Avengers were up to 23 members and assorted guests, prompting a revocation of their priority status and an intervention by Henry Peter Gyrich. The result? A much diminished membership of 7, and one very pissed off Hawkeye - rejected in favour of The Falcon and equal opportunities, a federal government requirement for The Avengers priority status to be reinstated.

It was an audacious twist on the Old Order Changeth theme, written by David Michelinie and superbly drawn by John Byrne (inks by Gene Day), that gave us a series of classic reaction shots, not least Hawkeye’s. Say it again Clint…

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