Q: Aside from laying groundwork, most Golden Age stuff I've read is not very good. Are there any must-reads from the era? -- @TheKize
A: Listen, if you're having trouble getting into Golden Age books, I do not blame you. I've read my fair share of them over the years, and while I definitely think it's worth tracking down some of those early superhero comics if you're looking to broaden your horizons a little bit, I'll be the first to tell you that they can be hard to get into for a variety of reasons --- and as you said, chief among them is the fact that a lot of those old comics are just not very good.
Of course, you could say that about pretty much any era of comics and you wouldn't be far off from the truth. More than that, though, I think there's a big barrier that keeps the average reader from getting into those comics, and it has a lot to do with when, how, and why those comics were being made.
In putting together this summer's superhero-themed SpongeBob Comics Annual-Size Super-Giant Swimtacular #2, United Plankton Pictures dug deep and left-of-center for inspiration and riff material. How deep, and how left-of-center? Well, the book includes, "I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planktons!", a rather meticulously assembled homage to the work of Golden Age oddball artist Fletcher Hanks and his Stardust The Super-Wizard, by Paul Karasik and R. Sikoryak.
That story follows a few featuring more traditional targets of parody, like a Western-themed story starring SpongeBob regular Mermaid Man, who is basically just Silver Age Aquaman with sea shells over his nipples and a starfish in the middle of his face, and another in which Squidward becomes Batman parody the Squishy Knight and SpongeBob becomes "Multi-Purpose Sponge, the hero with a different costume in every panel" (which allows for panel after panel of SpongeBob dressed as various Marvel and DC superheroes).
Until a few years ago I'd never heard of Fletcher Hanks. But ever since I came across I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! and You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!, the Fantagraphics collections of the Golden Age cartoonists' work, I've been semi-obsessed. Hanks' most famous creation, Stardust The Super Wizard, is a twisted version of Nietzsche's Übermensch. His stories read like fever dreams, with a near omnipotent Adonis flying through the sky and handing out his flat out messed up version of justice to criminals -- turning them into rats, crushing their torsos with one hand, or throwing their heads into the deepest corners of space. Equal parts bizarre and fascinating, the stories somehow manage to tap into many of our subconscious fears. Basically, I love them.
And now collectible toy company Goldenagefigurines.com is making a dream of many Hanks fans come true, as they've created a figurine of Stardust, and have announced upcoming statues of other Hanks creations, including The Black Terror and Fantomah, believed to be the first comic book superheroine.
A while back, I wrote about a Kickstarter for the Golden Age Bakery, a business in Chapel Hill built around making edible versions of classic Golden Age comics by printing them on cookies. I can think of no better cause...
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