In 1977, the reporter Robert Mayer wrote an odd novel named Superfolks. The novel was a heady mix: the story of a retired, middle-aged metahuman adventurer who comes out of retirement for one last battle amid a world that has passed him by. The novel contained references to many comic book heroes, prominent figures of the 1960's and 1970's, and much other spoof and satire.
What is most peculiar about the novel is that many of its ideas were later picked up on by Alan Moore and other comic book writers. Part of this website will discuss how this reciprocal influence took place. Also, what comic book characters were used or adapted by Mayer for the novel will be discussed.
This link is an excerpt from Superfolks, as published by About Comics.
For his novel, Mayer created many characters who serve as analogs to well-known comic book heroes. Although actual comic book heroes such as Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, the Marvel Family, and Wonder Woman are mentioned as having existed in the world in which the novel took place, Mayer does not extensively use them, probably due to copyright issues.
The main character of the novel is basically a Superman analog. Curiously, we find out his real name on his home planet-Rodney-and the name his Earth foster parents gave him-David Brinkley, but we do not find out what his code-name as a costumed adventurer was. (On page 46, a diplomat refers to him as "Overman" but whether this was David Brinkley's codename as an adventurer or is used as a generic term is not clear; as for his code-name being "Indigo", again, it is unclear if that was his codename as an adventurer, or whether that is a codename that the government used for him for one situation since his costume was blue.) David Brinkley's supporting cast and enemies imitate many of Superman's characters. Despite some reports, David Brinkley's costume does not have an S on it. On page 97 it only mentions that he has an emblem that he got from a dream he had. Later on page 101, a criminal describes a copy of the costume, and only refers to "that weirdball emblem on his chest" - obviously not an S, or else the criminal would have just said that. We don't get a good look at the emblem from the cover.
1.For example, he was born on the planet Cronk (Krypton) and is thus sensitive to a substance called Cronkite (Kryptonite), grew up in a town called Littletown (Smallville; page 50), where he had a love interest named Lorna Doone (Lana Lang; page 128). The name of the Lois Lane analog (per page 74) is Peggy Poole.
2. He has encounters with "Logar, the mad scientist", Univac, and Pxyzsyzygy "the elf from the Fifth Dimension" (page 43), mirroring Superman's Luthor, Brainiac, and Mxyzptlk. Although Mayer suprisingly did not use Logar and Univac much in his novel, despite the prominence of Brainiac and Luthor in the Superman stories, Pxyzsyzygy is elaborated upon as wearing a "violet bowler" (page 197), and the speaking of a special word banishs him from the Earth's dimension for a set period of time. (Mxyzptlk wears a purple hat, and has been banished from the Earth's dimension by the speaking of his name backwards.)
3. David Brinkley's other enemies include Hydrox, Oreo (possibly a reference to Bizarro; page 98), page 99 refers to the Blob, who was "overindulged by his Jewish mother", and Green Slime "who was discriminated against because of his race", but I can think of no analogous Superman charachers.
Mayer makes a very specific reference to the first Superman story on page 43. David Brinkley thinks "He remembered his first case. It was the first day he had gone to work at the newspaper. He had saved a man from the electric chair. The man had been falsely accused of murder. He had found the woman who was guilty. She was a dancer, at the Mafia club. He remembered with a start the name of her victim; the name of the man she killed. It was Jack Kennedy". In the first Superman story in Action Comics #1-which, if you would like to see a much better drawn version of by Roy Thomas and Wayne Boring, I can recommend Secret Origins #1 (April 1986)- Superman saved a man named Sims and a woman named Evelyn Curry from being wrongly executed for the murder of labor leader Jack Kennedy (yes, it is eerie that later John. F. Kennedy became president). The true murderer was Bea Carroll, a singer at the Hilow Night Club, who served as Kennedy's mistress, but killed him for being unfaithful.
Another character Mayer references much of is Captain Marvel. His counterpart is Captain Mantra.
1. Captain Mantra's real name is Billy Button (Billy Batson; page 59), and his sister Mary Mantra is Mary Button (page 59). Much as Captain Marvel is called the Big Red Cheese, Captain Mantra is called the Big Green Fruit (page 61), while Captain Marvel's enemy Doctor Thadeus Sivana is imitated with Doctor Piranha Spock (pages 1 and 191).
2. A character called the Demoniac forms a grisly amalgam of two of the Marvel Family characters: Captain Marvel, Jr. and Black Adam. The product of incest between Mary Mantra and Captain Mantra, the Demoniac is Fred News (page 193), a boy with a permanent limp who sells newspapers; similar to Captain Marvel, Jr. who is crippled newsboy Freddie Freeman. (Mayer may have got part of the idea for the Demoniac from the film The Brinks Job, in which a person snidely calls Captain Marvel, Jr. the son of Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel.) Much as Captain Marvel, Jr. says "Captain Marvel" to transform, the Demoniac says "Captain Mantra" (page 194). As with the villain Black Adam-a renegade ex-follower of Shazam-the Demoniac wears a uniform that is black with a yellow lightning bolt.
Finally, it should be noted that Captain Marvel, Jr. is not the only character whose counterpart is a villain in Super-Folks. Plastic Man is mirrored in the novel by a villain called Elastic Man. (An odd connection; M.F. Enterprises published a short-lived series called Captain Marvel in the 1960's. One of this Captain Marvel's villains was called Plastic Man in his first appearance, before DC sued M.F. Enterprises. The result? The villain was renamed-Elastic Man.) The origin of Elastic Man is essentially similar to the origin of Plastic Man from Police Comics #1; he was a criminal who attempted to rob a chemical plant, but whose attempted theft was stopped by the police (in this case, Kojak; see Appendix) whose bloodstream was exposed to unknown chemicals that mutated him (page 136-137). Unlike Plastic Man, Elastic Man (whose real name is Stretch O'Toole, just as Plastic Man is really Eel O'Brien; see page 70) did not reform, but remained a criminal, using his stretching power for crime.
Super-Folks and Alan Moore
In July 1990, Grant Morrison had a column for the magazine Speakeasy published which alleged that Alan Moore appropriated many of the ideas for his most famous works from Super-Folks. He pointed out that key plot points and themes in Superfolks anticipated Moore's work.
The three works of Moore cited by Morrison were Marvelman/Miracleman, Watchmen, and "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (the two part out of continuity story Moore wrote for the last issues of Action Comics (#583) and Superman (#423) with Julius Schwartz as editor). Miracleman, the earliest work of Moore's cited by Morrison, had the following similarities with Mayer's novel;
Superfolks began with the same quote from Nietzsche that Moore used for his first Marvelman story "Behold, I teach you the Superman: he is this lightning, he is this madness!" (from Thus Spake Zarathustra).
Demoniac is a warped version of Captain Marvel, Jr. The villain in Moore's Miracleman stories was Kid Marvelman/Kid Miracleman/the Adversary, Johnny Bates-a younger version of Miracleman who became a villain.
Kid Miracleman is defeated when he says "Miracleman" by accident; the Demoniac is defeated when he says "Captain Mantra" by accident.
As for Moore's other works, Watchmen involved a conspiracy against superhumans that utilizes a complex web of subsidiaries; earlier in Superfolks, the hero is similarly targeted by a corporate conspiracy (see pages 148-149 and 180). "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" involved Mxyzptlk, the mischievous little trickster from the Fifth Dimension who had previously only been a slight nuisance, become a vicious murderer. In Superfolks, the Mxyzptlk analog Pxyzsyzygy-an elf from the Fifth Dimension-becomes a calculating mastermind behind the assassinations of various politicians and costumed heroes. "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" is annotated (in Spanish) at http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Labyrinth/1588/wh2.html
It is peculiar that a work that was a pastiche of comic book heroes ended up being influential on some very highly regarding comic books published after it. This reciprocal relationship is something one wonders if Mayer anticipated. Mayer, by writing a novel in homage to comic book heroes, inadvertently ending up affecting the development of comic books subsequent to the publication of his novel.
Appendix: Comic Book Heroes Mentioned as Existing in the Novel
Strangely, while Mayer's David Brinkley and Captain Mantra serve as counterparts to Superman and Captain Marvel, Superman and the Marvel Family are also mentioned as having existed in the world in which the novel takes place. However, due to copyright reasons undoubtbly, Mayer mentions only briefly in passing actual comic book heroes, and most of the ones he does mention are said to have died before the main action of the novel took place.
"Batman and Robin were dead, killed when the Batcar slammed into a bus carrying black children to school in the suburbs" (page 1). [Mayer references the busing controversy of the 1970's-and accidentally calls the Batmobile the Batcar.] Page 10 mentions that Batman worked in Gotham, as his comic book version does. Page 61 mentions that Batman was the most loved costumed hero on this world, "because he was all human".
"Superman was missing, and presumed dead, after a kryptonite meteor fell on Metropolis" (page 1). (Curiously, on page 180-181, it is noted that Cronkite, which serves as David Brinkley's kryptonite as it is "huge meteors from the exploded planet", was the object of the corporate conspiracy; acquiring contracts for scientific probes in deep space, the conspiracy found large meteors of the substance, which was then introduced into Earth's environment by placing minute portions of it into consumer goods. One wonders why they went through such an elaborate conspiracy with Cronkite when they killed Superman by just sending one huge meteor of kryptonite at Metropolis! It is also worth noting that Mark Waid's Superman/Captain America amalgam, Super-Soldier, suffered a deterioration of his power levels over the years as a result of a villain's filtering small amounts of Kryptonite into the atmosphere - whether there is any other evidence that Waid is familiar with Mayer's book is unknown).
The Marvel Family are mentioned as having died on page 1 by being hit by lightning.
Wonder Woman is mentioned as the only surviving DC hero still in the public eye. However, she swore never to use her metahuman powers for combat again. Instead, "using her real name, Diana Prince, she was a leading spokesperson for women's liberation, an associate editor for Ms. Magazine, a frequent guest on late-night talk shows". [Mayer here apparently references how Wonder Woman has appeared in real-life on the cover of a couple of issues of Ms. Magazine, an actual periodical. She appeared on the very first issue of Ms. Magazine in July 1972. Murphy Anderson drew the cover. On pages 52-55 of that issue, Joanne Edgar wrote an article about the character, with a two-page reprint of Wonder Woman's origin. In July/August 1997, Joe Orlando drew another cover of Wonder Woman for Ms., showing her reading the July 1972 issue of Ms.] On page 10, Mayer references Paradise Island. [Note:Wonder Woman's real name is NOT Diana Prince; Diana Prince is a woman whose identity Wonder Woman assumed upong entering "man's world", and in current continuity she used the alias "Diane Prince" when allied with Deathstroke the Terminator in Wonder Woman Special #1 (1991) but that was modeled on the obnoxious Myndi Mayer, a post-Crisis talent agent.]
On page 112, a group of kids don't recognize David Brinkley's costumed identity since he has been gone for so long. They mistake him for Captain Video, Captain Midnight, and Captain America. This is the only reference to a Marvel character in the novel. Does this mean Captain America had a counterpart on this continuity? Maybe....or could just have been a fictional character (after all, Captain Venture's stories took place in the next century and his adventures plainly would be fictional). Still, since otherwise Mayer mostly only uses DC characters or their doppelgangers (admittedly, Captain Marvel and Plastic Man were not originally DC characters ... and neither was Captain Midnight), this could liven things up a bit. [Note from Mikel Midnight: imagining an emblem which could be mistaken for both Captain Midnight's and Captain America's led me to propose the "weirdball" design displayed above.]
Kojak plays a part in Elasticman's origin, and also is one of David Brinkley's neighbors. Although Kojak is not a comic book hero, but rather a TV hero, an odd connection exists between Kojak and comic books. For this reason, a summary of Kojak's history is in order.
On August 28, 1963, two women, Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie were brutally slain in their apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The crime was referred to as the "Career Girl Murders", and police claimed that a black youth named George Whitmore, Jr. confessed to the crime. But Whitmore later recanted his confession claiming he had beaten into making it. In fact, further evidence did indeed exonerate Whitmore-costing the police much credibility.
The report Selwyn Rabb wrote a book about this incident called Justice in the Back Room. Abby Mann, a television writer, adopted this into a docudrama called the Marcus-Nelson Murders, inserting a fictional policeman named Theo Kojak who was played by Telly Savalas. The tv movie was so successful that Kojak received his own TV series.
I will note that Marvel Preview #9 did an adaption of the novel Gladiator by Philip Wylie. This novel was an important influence on Superman. Janice Wylie, one of the murder victims in the case, was the niece of Philip Wylie.
Incidentally, Robert Mayer, author of the novel Superfolks, according to the book jacket, was (and maybe is) married to painter Carol Mothner. In the novel, Kojak and David Brinkley/Indigo attend an art exhibit of the work of Kojak's niece.....Carol Mothner. [pages 134-135]
The Mxyzptlk character in Super-folks plays an important part in the novel, so a brief history of Mxyzptlk is in order. This Superman supporting character has an odd history.
Mxyzptlk grew out of a character called Mxyztplk who was created for the Superman newspaper comic strip by Whitney Ellsworth and Wayne Boring in February 1944. A magical trickster from the Fifth-Dimensional Land of Zrfff, Mxyztplk first appeared in the comic books in Superman #30, September, 1944, in a story by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster/Ira Yarbrough. Mxyztplk wore a purple suit with green spats, was 2'11 tall, and weighed 36 pounds. He was defeated by making him say the word "Klptzyxm".
As time went by, Mxyztplk evolved into a new character. The difficulty of spelling his name led to him at times being referred to as both Mxyztplk and Mxyzptlk in Superman stories. Also, Al Plastino created a new costume for Mxyztplk in Superman #103, February 1956. This costume was mostly yellow and more science fiction looking.
Finally, in Superman #131 (August 1959), the Mxyzptlk spelling was used exclusively. It was eventually decided that Mxyztplk was the enemy of the Earth-2 Superman, while Mxyzptlk was the enemy of the Earth-1 Superman, having first menaced him as Superboy. (It was declared that the Earth-2 Superman had never been Superboy.) Mxyzptlk's Zrfff was not the same Zrfff as Mxyztplk, and he was taller (3'9). Also, Mxyzptlk, while bald, had a fringe of white hair on both sides of his head, while Mxyztplk was completely bald. Mxyzpltk was defeated by being tricked into saying his name backwards.
Interestingly, Mxyzptlk still exists in the post-Crisis DC universe (reintroduced in Superman (second series) #11, but some odd revelations have been made about him. It has been revealed that the Fifth Dimension of the post-Crisis Mxyzptlk is also the home of the derivative character Bat-Mite who similarly annoys Batman, and also Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt!
Article by John McDonagh
Thanks to Dave Duxbury for his work in designing the main character's chest insignia.