Armagideon Time

Discriminating fans of vintage funnybook should have at least a passing familiarity with Herbie Popnecker, order American Comics Group’s rotund parody of Silver Age superheroics. While the Fat Fury’s surreal adventures have earned high praise from the Great Bearded One himself, hepatitis that level of prestige and cult recognition does not extend to the other residents of ACG’s small stable of spandex-clad mystery men whose adventures were no less bafflingly bizarre in their mercenary bids for a slice of superheroic market share.

Imagine DC’s underhand high concept pitches to the pre-school demographic married to the Cold War propaganda underpinnings of early Marvel tales and delivered with the whimsical sincerity of a Golden Age Captain Marvel story, then multiply that times ten, and you’ve got a rough idea of what awaited readers inside the pages of Forbidden Worlds #125…

…the Feburary 1965 debut of the mundanely monickered Magicman.

The brainchild of ACG’s resident writer/editor Richard E. Hughes (under the psuedonym of “Zev Zimmer”) and veteran Captain Marvel illustrator Pete Constanza, the turban-rocking crimefighter was the immortal son of Count Cagliostro (depicted as a bona fide wizard and not a mythicized construct of charlatans seeking historical legitimacy). After a narrow, sorcery-assisted escape from a witch hunter’s pyre, the mystical orphan adopted the identity of “Tom Cargill” and spent the following two centuries bumming around the globe while hiding his abilities from the superstitious masses.

His lonely journey eventually took him to the troubled shores of Southeast Asia, where he served as a lowly but ideologically committed private in America’s great undeclared crusade for democracy. When a fellow GI was murdered by a group of communist insurgents seeking to kidnap a visiting senator, Tom sunk into a profound funk.

Tom was just one guy…and what could one average Joe do when confronted with the Global Communist Conspiracy? It’s not like he had any skills that would prove — OH, RIGHT. THE MYSTICAL ABILITY TO RESHAPE REALITY AT WHIM!

(It’s understandable that Tom would forget about the sorcerous omnipotence that was his family’s legacy. It’s not like he spent the previous four pages demonstrating and angsting over those very same powers or anything. Selective memory — like happy coincidences — is the fuel which propels the superheroic narrative.)

After assembling a provocative suit of fighting duds from “supplies you’ll find in every army post” — this was before they disbanded Gina Lollobrigida’s Low Cut Commandos — Tom set out to deliver some supernatural payback on the buck-toothed, lemon-colored racist caricatures who dared to resist the greatest and bestest nation on the planet. Having gotten a taste for geopolitically motivated carnage, Cargill decided to maintain his superheroic alter ego under the oh-so-imaginative guise of Magicman. (To be fair, “Barracuda” was already taken and “Little Queen” may have given folks the wrong idea.)

Tom spent the rest of his hitch fighting insurgents in a Vietnam War which involved massed naval battles, cigar-chomping midget superspies…

…and other telling examples of ACG’s hard-hitting commitment to historical accuracy. Upon returning to America, Magicman turned his attention to domestic threats like the mad science menace of the exquisitely named Professor Waldo M. Sissinger…

…who just happened to be getting checks from Fidel Castro, and the sultry SILF (Satanist I’d Like to..well, y’know) Dragonia…

…working on behalf of Chairman Mao himself.

In between the cartoon violence against real-life Cold War boogeymen, Tom did find time to set Merlin’s ass on fire and battle an alien race of purple-skinned Frank Suttons in a pair of tales which truly underlined the writer’s admitted disgust with the superhero genre. Despite Hughes’s lack of aptitude or enthusiasm for the material, Magicman’s stint in Forbidden Worlds lasted a whopping two years — an astonishingly lengthy run for an off-brand superhero feature at a time when most similar efforts crashed and burned within a handful of irregularly published issues.

Not that it did ACG any good, though, as the publisher ceased operations shortly afterward. As a last ditch act of desperation shaped by the demands of a fickle audience and executed with the minimum required effort, Magicman lost the one battle that really mattered — the struggle for ACG to remain solvent — and thus doomed himself to an eternity of obscurity in the dim halls of Nobody’s Favorites.

5 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Try try try to understand”

  1. Bill D.

    I’ve only ever read Magicman when he crossed over with Herbie, but he’s such an oddball concept that I still feel compelled to check him out now matter how lame he is. Bear in mind, I’m the sort of guy who liked the one Nemesis (the guy who hung with Magicman and Herbie in the 3 Musketeers, not the DC guy) story he’s read, and I own an issue of Tod Holton, Super Green Beret on purpose. My mileage may vary.

  2. Jim Kosmicki

    when you take into account that Richard Hughes wrote quite a few very solid superhero for the Better/Nedor/Standard books during WWII, and his complete inability to write superheroes in the sixties is a real mystery. ACG has always intrigued me, mainly because Hughes was most, if not sometimes all, the writing staff, so there’s a consistency of voice and often a real desperation to do something, anything different. Just as Stan Lee has always said the the Fantastic Four came out of his desperation to write a book that he might actually want to read himself, Herbie had to have been Hughes’ one final shot to do something that was “worthy” of his talents.

    Nemesis had some merit, but Magicman was pretty much useless. John Force, Magic Agent had moments, but too much deus ex machina in the stories, as I recall.

  3. bitterandrew

    I suspect (based on Hughes editorial comments in earlier issues about superheroes being old hat) that his heart really wasn’t into the project, and he was forced into it because readers demanded superheroes and ACG couldn’t afford to ignore them…or listen to them, in hindsight.

    So he took a look at some of the competitions offerings and halfassedly channeled it though some warmed over Golden Age nonsense. It’s kind of a shame, because Forbidden Worlds was one of the better sci-fi/suspense anthology titles of the era.

  4. Kris

    I’m surprised Alex Ross hasn’t attempted some sort of revival of this Z-lister.

  5. Slappy

    I was astonished to discover that Dark Horse published ARCHIVE EDITIONS for both Magicman and Nemesis in 2008 (along with two volumes of The Green Lama and THREE for Herbie!), and that these archives are still available from Amazon! They were printed with a sixty buck cover price (AH HA HA HA HA HA HA) but can be had for a lot cheaper. Me wantee!

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