Friday, March 13, 2020

Thinking Out Loud: Stardust in their Eyes

Regular readers will probably already be aware of my affection for the comics of Fletcher Hanks, especially Stardust the Super Wizard, a unique and inscrutable relic of the Golden Age of Comics. Hanks himself was a drunk, abuser and probable murderer, but his works, especially Stardust, evoke a sense of almost-divine justice and American Fascism that used to be found only in the inter-war period. Stardust, the character, is often compared to the Superman of the period, having such a vast array of powers that he strides like a god through his comics, rather than ever struggling or fighting to have to right wrongs. Stardust often turns up after the damage has been done, when bodies lie broken, wealth has been stolen or cities razed, he brutally punishes the wrongdoers before setting things right with a wave of his hand and vanishing into space again. The comics are quite singular and bizarre, I highly recommend reading a couple, they can be found online without too much difficulty as the character is now Public Domain. I own the complied works of Fletcher Hanks, Turn loose your death rays and kill them all! which is worth a look if you like Golden Age comics. 

What surprised me slightly was the love for Stardust that can be found online, with fan-comics, fan art and several archives of the original comics all out there to find. Check out some of the work at Super Wizard Universe, it varies in quality, but the passion is admirable. Even Image Comics, in their "Next Issue Project" published a new Stardust story, so there's still some genuine affection for the character even though he was last published in 1942. What bothers me is that I don't think the people writing "new" works with Stardust really get the character. Now, I don't mean to sound dismissive of the people that put a lot of work into their comics, but the tendency is to paint Stardust as a kind of Superman figure, compassionate and just, which is simply not indicative of Fletcher Hanks' work. Stardust does not seem to care too much about people getting hurt, only turning up to set things back to status quo after people are already hurt or dead, despite being omniscient and capable of both faster-than-light travel and teleportation. So long as the evil fifth-columnists and mobsters are dead or otherwise punished by the end of the comic, Stardust has done his job and off he goes. 

If I had to put it down to something, I think the appeal of writing Stardust stories isn't so much the character himself, who is highly problematic as a "hero" archetype, but in having a blank-slate version of the Superman "Paragon" to work with as a writer. The Stardusts that can be found in "Attack of the Super Wizards", "Super Wizard Returns" or "Next Issue Project" have more in common with Hyperion, Plutonian or Mister Awesome than they do with the original Hanks creation, which I find a bit of a shame. Sure, I'm very much in favour of postmodernist takes on classic superhero archetypes, but there is so much potential in Stardust as he was written by Hanks, as a mad god with a skewed idea of justice, that it feels like a shame to make him just another take on Superman. Superman has shifted with the times to be something that fits in with the society we have now, whereas Stardust has been frozen in time since the 1940s, an anachronism from a time gone by, that's what makes him interesting and the comics of Hanks unique.

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