Sunday, 9 December 2012

Aunt May Is My Hero: A Baker's Dozen Of Comics Characters Who've Made It Past The Trials Of Middle Age

We'll not hear a world against Aunt May here at TooBusyThinking, as hopefully this post over at our sister Tumblr will reinforce. (Panel by John Romita & Stan Lee, et, from 1967's Amazing Spider-Man #49)
In which the blogger offers up a baker's dozen of comicbook characters who've made it past what you and I would normally understand to be middle age. Whether mortal or not, in the best possible physical shape or falling apart, the following were the first 13 no-longer-at-all-youthful citizens who came to the blogger's mind.

Should you wish to kill a particularly dull moment by playing along, the rules are simple. Take a minute and simply reel off a baker's dozen of comics folks who've managed to make it past 60 or so in ordinary, I-live-on-the-thrid-planet years. Then, scratch Aunt May off your list - since just about everyone will have added the estimable Mrs Parker - and add one final choice to replace her. Huzzah!

1. The Ancient One (Though only as portrayed in the original Ditko/Lee stories in Strange Tales)

Panel by - of course - Steve Ditko & Stan Lee, from Strange Tales #130. 1965. There's an argument for identifying the Ancient One as the greatest champion the Marvel Universe has ever seen, and it's one I'll be making over at Sequart in the next few weeks. In the panel above, for example, he's shown (1) sensing danger before Strange does, (2) deducing that the challenge is too great to resist, (3) levitating forward to defend his disciple at the possible cost of his own life, while (4) encouraging the 500 year younger man to escape.  After awhile, it becomes obvious that Stephen Strange's career is a notable but relatively brief epilogue to the Ancient One's long and glorious career as the Earth's magical defender.

2. Mr Articulate, as a representative of his many fellow senior citizens of Tranquility

Panel by Gail Simone, Neil Googe et al, from Welcome To Tranquility #1, 2006. I'm always amazed by how few people appear to have read the two WTT collections. If you have, congratulations on your good taste. If not, you've got some thoroughly enjoyable reading ahead of you.

3. Judge Chief MgGruder
Brought low by decades of punishing service and mental disorder - including the onset of Alzheimers - Judge MgGruder remains one of Mega City One's most impressive and fascinating protagonists, and that's despite having been killed in action some 16 years ago. (Frame by Pete Doherty & Garth Ennis, from Judgment Day Part 10, 1992, as collected in Judge Dredd The Collected Case Files #17)

4. Vandal Savage, the Immortal Villain       

By Mike Baron, Jackson Guice, Larry Mahlstedt et al, from 1987's The Flash #1 (In Mike Baron's hands, Vandal Savage was a particularly disturbing mix of senility and psychopathy. )

5. Armstrong
Few characters have displayed a more believable approach to eternal life than Armstrong, who simply wants to be left alone to focus on drinking, womanising, and the packing on of the pounds. Bless him. (Frames by Barry Windsor-Smith, from Archer & Armstrong #1, 1992).
6. Count Dracula

Panels by Roy Thomas, Mike Mignola, John Nyberg et al, From Bram Stoker Dracula, Topps, 1993 (It's one of the least mentioned comicbook takes on Dracula, and of course it's an adaption of the Coppola movie, but Mignola's pencils are, as always, well worth a look.)

7. Hercules
Splash page by Roger Stern, John Buscema, Tom Palmer et al, from 1986's The Avengers #273. (The difference between Armstrong and Hercule's approach to living forever always makes me smile. Though both are exceptionally fond of living life to excess, Hercules is an easily-bored if fundamentally well-meaning gloryhound. It's not difficult to imagine Armstrong walking straight in and straight out of any bar that Hercules was holding court in. All that showing off's a tiresome business, and it attracts attention .... )
 8. Granny Goodness
Panel by Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta et al, from Mister Miracle #2, 1971. (Granny's too loathsome a character to even want to stare at for longer than a few moments. Those of us who lived through the eighties in Britain and didn't associate with the status quo may well find echoes of the Iron Lady in those mad eyes, that frozen-for-photocalls hair,. that insane sense of certainty and purpose.) 

9. The God Of The Image Universe

Page by Eric Larsen, from the black'n'white reprint in 2007's Savage Dragon Archives Volume 2 of 1996's Savage Dragon #31
10. Days Of Future Past Wolverine
Coming soon to a multiplex near you, and hopefully in a form that's as close to this as possible, the death of Colonel Logan of the Canadian Resistance Army, as shopwn in X-Men #142, 1981, by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin et al.

11. The Living Mummy

The splash page from the very first Living Mummy story, from Supernatural Thrillers #5.  The long and short of it is that he's a mummy who's alive. It was good enough for me when I was 11 ....
12. Doctor Victor Bergman
Panel by Gray Morrow & Nicola Cuti et al, from Charlton's Space 1999 #1, 1975. The resident boffin on a Moon that had been impossibly thrown out of orbit and into outer space, Dr Bergman could be forgiven for being unable to explain very much at all of what was happening around him. After all, none of it made a jot of sense. He was, however, effortlessly comforting no matter what pseudo-scientific nonsense he'd been given to spout, proving that actor Barry Morse really could make anything sound compelling and distinctly human.
13. The Watcher

Panel by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee & Steve Ditko. from 1963's Fantastic Four #13. (There are learned critics who'll tell you that FF#13 is a lackluster comic featuring uninspiring super-villains, which all goes how wrong some folks can be? What could be more enchanting that the mad Red Ghost and his Super-Apes? Perhaps those who've found this issue wanting have objected somehow to the way in which Ditko's inks transforms the straight lines and jutting angles of Kirby's dynamic art into comforting, rather endearing rounded edges? The effect is rather incongruously endearing, me thinks.
TooBusyThinking will return in the very near future with reviews of recent comics, another chat about Doctor Strange's early career, and, if I can raise the energy to discuss anything to do with DC after today's news about Gail Simone and Batgirl, a look at Superman: Earth One II.



  1. Thank you for another entertaining baker's dozen. Colonel Logan! Now that brings back memories.

    As it took a few more than 60 seconds, I won't say it was as easy for me to come up with an additional twelve plus one. But I started with the seven Endless from Sandman, then moved to Granma Ben from Jeff Smith's Bone, Eddie Campbell's Bacchus, Alfred Pennyworth (he hasn't been de-aged in the DCnU, has he?), and the (old school) Phantom Stranger. I'll argue that Eternity from Dr. Strange (I'm glad I saw your post here so that I went back and carefully read your Sequart post on the good Doctor) would fit the bill, too, and let's finish the list where we started, with Hob Gadling from the Sandman.

    Best, Jack D

    1. Hello Jack:- Thank you! The baker's dozen do help keep the blog alive when I'm working on deadlines for elsewhere. I'm glad this one functioned exactly as it was designed to for you, namely, delivering a most minor moment's distraction.

      I have to say - as is so often true - I prefer your list to mine. Granma Ben and Bacchus in particular are absolutely splendid characters and it says something about my tired old mind that they didn't come straight to it.

      I'm not sure of Alfred's current status in the New 52. When last I saw, he was being brutally beaten by the Joker. Being tired of psychopaths, body trauma etc I've pretty much blanked it all from my mind. But the "old" Alfred - from either Earth One or Two - would do nicely, as would the classic Phantom Stranger. (Of whose "New 52" version it is best I don't stand tooth-gnashing about. Judas indeed :-(

      Eternity? Check. Hob? Oh, honestly. The game is yours. I really DO like your list better than mine :)

  2. Hmmm, I'm not sure the immortal characters belong on this list. What's middle age to an immortal? Half an eternity? I think I just hurt my brain...
    Otherwise, I like the Ancient One (he's not actually immortal is he? Just extremely long-lived I think). I definitely agree with your assessment about him: I would love some kind of old-style 12-issue maxi-series that explores his illustrious career as earth's magical defender against all things sorcerous (I even have my own dream-team for the project: Roger Stern as writer with either Mike Mignola, Paul Smith or Michael Golden doing the art chores). Also love Jack's suggestions of Granma Ben and Alfred. Here's a few, actually a half-dozen, that I thought of:
    The Vulture, Alan Quartermain as depicted in LoEG, Captain Picard (bit of cheat for me as I never read the TNG comics, but I think he should be included), Uncle Marvel, Madame Web, and Oberon (from Mr. Miracle). I kind of wanted to include Robbie Robertson and Tony Stark's secretary, Mrs. Arbogast, but while both are past middle age, I don't think either are over 60 as depicted in most stories.

    1. Hello Edo:- I quite agree with you about the dubious nature of immortals on this list. I was torn, and then, given that I'm juggling four deadlines - which is of course a blessing - I went for the most inclusive approach.

      No, the Ancient One - as Lee and Ditko wrote him - is very much not immortal. Indeed, the implication is that he's at the end of a long and hard life. I'm so glad to hear that someone else finds him interesting. It's been hard not to turn the Doctor Strange posts I'm doing for Sequart into fan-letters to the Ancient One and nothing else. And I so agree with you about the dream-team. Why not four issues by each artist?

      How I missed the Vulture I don't know. The first time I ever laughed outloud at a comic was his second battle with Spider-Man, when he declares that he can't be beaten because he's got wings and Parker responds by saying he'll have a harp by the time he's finished. That kept the ten year old me chuckling for a long time. I did think of Quartermain, but thought that I ought to have a list or two without a Moore character. Good call, of course.

      If I can have Bergman, then you can certainly have Picard.

      I'm not sure Uncle Marvel is in his 60s, but I'm only quibbling because I didn't remember him . I love the character and should have remembered. I don't know Oberon's age, so it didn't occur to me. I'd probably have gone for Granny from the Fourth World anyway, because she's so utterly evil, but that's no disrespect to Mr Miracle's enabler.

      Robertson and Mrs Arbogast are, you're right, not quite right, and yet both are splendid characters who I'd not object to appearing.

      In short, top list. I fear that once again I've been trumped and must concede the floor :)

    2. Good point about immortal characters, but most especially the cosmic types, since a character like Gadling at least started on the same track as the rest of us. But I was trying to complete a checklist, by any means necessary. While the point has been made about comics--especially superhero comics--being centered on "younger" characters, I can't help but feel that the struggle to come up with older characters is an indication of my poor memory (I feel like I'm missing some obvious candidates).

      Best, Jack D

    3. Ah, don't be so hard on your own list - despite my misgivings about immortals, it's got some great characters on it. And count me among those who also like the Living Mummy as well.
      Also, your suggestion regarding my fantasy Ancient One series actually occurred to me after I hit the "publish" button. And now you've got my wheels turning: throw in another artist, say Frank Brunner or Bernie Wrightson, and have four sets of three issues each dealing with a separate period of the Ancient One's life. Oh, man, now I really want this to happen...

    4. Hello Jack D:- Oh, I was creating a conceit by all means necessary. I think it's perfectly legitimate that you should respond to it in exactly the same fashion :)

      I'm not sure that it is a problem with your memory, you know. I'm sure there's lots of older characters; Jarvis and just about all the JSA and their supporting cast circa 1975 onwards, Willie Lumpkin and Phil Sheldon, JJJ, and Perry White and so on. But they're rarely well-fleshed out - those examples above contain some exceptions to the rule, mind you - because, as you say, the super-book is directed a mythical audience of "yufs" who aren't interested in anyone bar their peer group and a few semi-generations above them.

      Pah, I say. Pah.

    5. Hello Edo:- Glad to hear another "yah" for the Living Mummy. A good old fashioned class warrior left entombed for three thousand years; that's an interesting idea, although the "mummy" part of it wasn't going anywhere, I suspect.

      Let's just make the Ancient One a monthly series in three and four issue arcs. We get to choose a rotating cast of creators, and they get to produce wonderful work. Result!

      (Of course, the market would never support it, but what a shame. It's an idea with a great deal to support it, in that fannish "wouldn't-it-be-nice" way .... )

  3. Rom! He was over 200 years old when he got to Earth! :)

    But yeah, Aunt May is the best of the best.

    What about Silvermane or Dominic Fortune?

    1. Hello Mr Oyola:- Yes, of course, Rom belongs there. (He seems to belong on so many of these baker's dozens.)

      Silvermane or Dominic Fortune? The first I know little of since he de-evolved into a baby and then back to nothingness in a Lee/Romita Spider-Man. Yep, THAT's how out of touch I am there. He was certainly old enough before that to qualify. As for Dominic Fortune, I've always been fond of him. I was fond of him when Chaykin called him The Scorpion and had him published by Atlas.

      I'm pretty close - as you can see - for qualifying this list myself, I fear!

  4. Great list as always, Colin.
    I'd like to nominate a few myself.
    Alan Moore's Tom Strong is the first one I thought of. The dude is hitting 80 and is still travelling around the universe with his family and friends.
    Having just finished 20th Century Boys, I so want to nominate Otcho. In fact, just about everyone of Kenji's friends could make the list if not for the age requirement, but Otcho is the most obvious choice.
    Chief Aramaki from Ghost in the Shell may not do much in the field, but his sharp wits is able to do a lot for his black ops team when shielding them from political enemies.
    Only someone as capable as Jenny Sparks could lead Warren Ellis's Authority.
    Having been born during WWII, that would make Hellboy 60+ years old, and Atomic Robo is older still.

    1. Hello Joe:- Thank you! One of the pleasures of doing these momentary distractions is the privilege of being reminded of all the characters I could have added. I suspect that 20 years of work could yield a pretty good psychological profile for the choices a comics reader makes in such a situation. Perhaps it might explain how I managed to forget all the folks you mention here, for example, and why my brain looked elsewhere. Tom Strong I did think of, along with several members of his cast, but as I said above, I wanted to push AM characters aside for a while. (One thing I've learned is that my mind is full up with Alan Moore's work! For good and ill.)

      Despite 20th Century Boys being one of the pleasures of my year - I'm not through it yet! - I didn't think of Otcho. Shame on me. After finishing the list, I did think of "skinhead" in Akira, but I'm not sure that the Colonel's THAT old.

      Your last sentence didn't just remind me of some choices I ought to have opted for, but it also suggested to me that I'd pay Very Good Money indeed for a Hellboy/Atomic Robo team-up series. It just feels like a fine idea :)

  5. What fun! But could you get 13 characters without including aliens, immortals and gods? So there could be Alfred, Leslie Thomkins, the Kents if it's a Tuesday and they're alive.

    Is Agatha Harkness ancient? I can't recall if she actually dates from the Salem witch trials. Willie Lumpkin?

    Mary West! I loved Mary West!

    1. Hello Martin;- Well, if you wanted to use nothing but superpeople, I think it'd be possible. You could heave in the JSA's older three generations, and add the various surviving Marvel WWII characters; Baron Blood, Cap, Subby, Human Torch - if it's Tuesday! - Blue Diamond (?), The Thin Man ...

      But ordinary folks? I nearly said R J Brande, but he's a Durlan. (Is he still?) Agatha Harkness is a GREAT call. I can't believe that Marvel screwed up her simple and effective character and situation; SHE'S A WITCH THAT LIVES IN THE WOODS IN A CREEPY HOUSE AND LOOKS AFTER THE RICHARDS' KIDS! What could be a better idea than that?

      Leslie Thomkins is a top nomination, if she's old enough. (Again, is it Wednesday, and has she been allowing Batgirl's to die or was it all a dream in the shower?)

      Is Mary West old enough? Does she even exist now? If so, Wally's Manhunter dad get's my vote too! (Of course, he'll not be a Manhunter now.) And what about Professor Lang? Memory serves that he was quite old. Then there's Prof Nichols, who invented the time machine that Batman used; he was getting on the last time we saw him.

      I just getting warmed up! Doiby Dickles was seen as a senior citizen ruling another world in the 90s ...

      Stop me, I'm talking about Doiby Dickles ...

    2. Nope, carry on. And mention his 'Princeress' too!

    3. Hello Martin:- And you recall "Princeress"? That had quite passed me by.

      Take 110 points, my good man. You've earned them.

  6. Never heard of The Living Mummy before, but I was quite surprised to see that the first witnesses to his existence are Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Incisive political commentary from a 40-year-old Marvel comic?

    1. Hello Rabbi Joe:- You know, that quite passed me by. I've only been reminded of the character's Seventies adventures recently, as his first appearance is reprinted in one of Marvel's The 70s volumes. I've not actually sat down to read the tale yet, but now I'm very curious about what I'll find there. Memory tells me that TLM relocates to New York within a few pages of appearing. But those might be a rather interesting few pages .....

  7. McGruder's an awesome choice - there's quite a few aging heroes in 2000 AD, from Dredd himself and Anderson (now in her fifties) and Hershey these days, Johnny Alpha and Middenface McNulty (and Wulf before he was dead), Dirty Frank, Stickleback, Katarina Dante...

    I'd also throw in Vas and the Legend from The Boys; there's Hellboy and most of the BPRD crew; Jack Staff; the comic strip Doctor Who; all of the Transformers; Frank Castle; Sgt Stiles from Battlefields; ol' J Jonah; Jack-in-the-Box and Silver Agent and Steeljack and others in Astro City...

    There's a lot more than you'd think, aren't there?

    - Charles RB

    1. Hello Charles:- You're quite right that MC1 and the broader 2000AD universe is full of older characters, and all the better for it. I had thought of adding Nemesis, actually, but couldn't be absolutely sure in the minute I'd given myself just how old he was. The same with Dirty Frank, who certainly isn't young, but may not have passed 60 yet .. But if you mention him, no doubt has!

      There are far many older characters than at first jumped to my mind. You're quite right, as you always are :) If I find myself spinning another list on this topic to keep the blog turning over while I'm writing for elsewhere, I'll have to narrow the range. Elderly superheroes still alive who fought in WWII! Characters definitely receiving a pension! Super-people who once saved Jim Callaghan from the Red Skull!

      That's you, Brian Braddock ....

  8. I'll add the Shade, maybe my favorite immortal in comics.

    If we stick to humans or super-humans with grey hair, my choices would be:
    Max Mercury- I miss Impulse, and the Zen Master of Speed was an excellent adult figure.
    Junkman- My favorite Astro City issue dealt with his story, in which he proved "old" doesn't mean "feeble."
    Ted Knight- As Starman, a decent super-hero. As a retired dad, a great supporting character.
    The barbarian character in BWS's Storyteller- Armstrong mixed with Conan.

    - Mike Loughlin

    1. Hello Mike:- You remind me, I must pick up, or if it's not released order, the Shade collection. I read several issues - perhaps on your recommendation? - and enjoyed. Very much JR at his best.

      And you remind me how much I miss Max Mercury too. Such a fantastic character, and now either unlikely to reappear, or unlikely to be allowed to fulfill his previous role. The bloke-fans might not find that fannishly-edgy enough.

      Junkman and Ted Knight I agree with you about too. Both well-rounded characters, both given touching arcs by creators who weren't out for cheap effect.

      But I'm worried that I can hardly recall anything of the Storyteller series at all. I put aside way back in the mists of time until it was finished ... Time to search out what happened, me thinks. Thank you for the nudge :)