In the summer of 1983, symptoms my grandparents took my brother and me on a road trip down the length of the Appalachians between the Berkshires and a Howard Johnson’s in Asheville, North Carolina. There was no real travel plan involved. My grandfather would drive south — avoiding all major cities — for ten hours, stopping only my grandma and us two kids could get a bite to eat or use a rest area while he sat in the far corner of the parking lot and emptied his piss pot out the window of his giant-ass tan Chevy.
As bizarre as my grandfather’s vacation habits were, I have fond memories of the experience. It was the first time since my toddlerhood that I’d journeyed outside of northern New England, and the mixture of natural beauty (such as Blue Ridge glacier formations and Susquehanna Valley meadowlands) and socio-environmental degradation (such as, well, all of West Virgina) has stuck with me to the present day.
Yet the thing I remember most about the trip was a stopover at a Stuckey’s in eastern Pennsylvania. In addition to all the usual tourist trap bric-a-brac and dubious nut-and-cheese-based comestibles, this particular location sported a spinner rack full of the bundled three-packs of the year-old comics.
That may no sound like no great shakes, but it was heaven for a kid whose spotty access to new releases meant that so many of 1982’s big funnybook events — the Bob Layton’s first Hercules miniseries, the LSH’s “Great Darkness Saga,” the Teen Titans’ trip to Vega, and the big JLA-JS-All Star Squadron crossover — had been left dangling since the previous summer.
Thanks to the random vagaries of the bundling process, there were a few odds and ends mixed into that sweet, sweet stack of serialized closure…
…one of those being the less-than-memorable debut of Colonel Future.
Not to be confused with the Earth-2 super-science mobster who was the arch-villain of the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” back-up stories of the late 1970s, the Reagan Era Colonel Future was a theoretical extrapolationist (that is to say, “future expert”) and Air Force colonel employed by NASA. The Colonel’s given name was “Edmond Hamilton,” a reference to the reknowned sci-fi and funnybook writer who also happened to be a contributor to Mort Weisinger’s “Captain Future” franchise of pulp tales. The cuteness of this referential tribute veered into cloying territory, however, thanks to writer’s need to spend an entire eight panels explaining it in detail to an uninterested audience of eight year olds.
(They even saddled Hamilton with a co-worker named “Lee Brackett,” a masculinized nod to Hamilton’s real-life — and arguably more talented — wife Leigh Brackett. Boy, the DC offices must have damn well shook down to the foundations with all that high fiving going on.)
Hamilton’s transformation from geeky engineer to to Supermanichean antagonist was sent into motion when he accidentally electrocuted himself after spilling his morning cup o’ joe on the office copy machine. As he jerked spasmodically to the beats of the current coursing through his body, Hamilton received a terrifying premonition of Earth getting scoured of all life by a massive solar flare.
Another man may have interpreted the incident as a hallucination caused by a near-death experience, but this is the namesake of the visionary who dared to venture where lesser souls feared to tread. Thus Hamilton the Fictional took it upon himself to use his smarts, his newfound superpower, and his workplace nickname to prevent the predicted cataclysm from taking place.
Having a long way to go yet a short time to get there, Hamilton found it necessary to take some ethical shortcuts in his quest for the technologies required for his world-saving project. As his precognitive powers could only be triggered by the threat of impending death, the self-commissioned Colonel Future whipped himself up an electrified outhouse through which he could bring forth the future’s technological secrets under controlled conditions.
Using the schematics obtained via a series of voluntary near-death experiences, the Colonel assembled himself a diverse arsenal of tools which — in combination with some kicky retro white-and-magenta fighting togs — he used to help him swipe the various components for his anti-solar flare device. Hamilton’s crime spree soon brought him into conflict with Superman, who was as baffled by his opponent’s motivations as he was stymied by his high-tech gizmos.
Superman’s confusion was dispelled after Hamilton activated his world-saving apparatus, at which point he discovered that the predicted solar flare was actually created by the Man of Steel as a means of preventing a greater threat — a Kryptonite-laced asteroid — from impacting the planet. By interfering in Kal’s domain, the well-intentioned engineer nearly brought about the catastrophe he had hoped to prevent.
Judging that Hamilton had been sufficiently humbled for his errors, Superman let him off with a stern warning about the proper use of near-death precognitive powers and sent him on his way.
The Colonel returned a few months later, after another brush with death triggered a vision of the Man of Steel’s impending demise. The ensuing confusion was again straightened out by a slightly peeved Superman, who had to explain to Hamilton what he saw was a sales-boosting marketing stunt destined to take place in roughly ten years, and that the only victims would be the long-term sales figures of the Superman titles and those folks who thought they could purchase a yacht by speculating on the investment value of the comics involved.
Though the hapless Colonel’s pair of appearances were enough to net him a full-page entry in Who’s Who (drawn by the great Eduardo Barreto), the character has remained in limbo for the past thirty-odd years. It’s a shame, really, because there was a lot of potential in the core concept of a self-appointed troubleshooter with a Cassandra complex, especially once removed from the narrative limitations inherent in the pre-Crisis doctrine of Kryptonian Infallibility.
The Colonel’s garish color scheme aside, I’ve always been a sucker for the blaster-and-jetpack crowd of heroes — from Flash Gordon to Captain Comet to Adam Strange to the green-and-white incarnation of Mar-Vell. It’s a classic archetype that calls back to the pulpy roots of superheroic adventure comics. I thought that Colonel Future got a raw deal when I read his first appearance in a Wilkes-Barre Holiday Inn back in 1983 and that sentiment hasn’t changed in the decades since.
So give me a call, DC. I have an entire notebook full of potential ideas for the character and his epic battles against the unholy trio of Darth Vader, Bigfoot (the Monster Truck), and Skeletor that I’ve been holding onto since fifth grade.