Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Men Who Would Be Headmen

With the introduction of the criminal outcasts known as the Headmen, some of you might remember a letters page notice which mentioned that three of them had appeared previously--and it was left up to readers to uncover the source. (And needless to say, without the aid of Google--ye gods!)

    Okay. So now you've met the Headmen--Dr. Nagan, Jerry Morgan, and Chondu. But you probably didn't realize all three of these characters have appeared before! No, not in THE DEFENDERS... not even together as a team... but recently, in a Marvel mag published during 1974.
    So guess what? It's contest time! We'll award a special prize--and a no-prize as well!--to the first reader who's able to tell us where and when Nagan, Morgan, and Chondu last appeared. (And when you figure it out... hoo boy, are you gonna be surprised!)

To the best of my knowledge, it was never divulged by Marvel whether someone chimed in with a correct guess, or even if anyone participated in this contest at all. No replies were seen in subsequent letters pages--and I'd be willing to wager a free comic book that the Bullpen Bulletins page wouldn't have bothered with allotting an ITEM! segment to it. But thanks to a moderate amount of curiosity on my part, you're going to see a post on it, ladies and gentlemen.

Which naturally takes the form of yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

Just which comic or comics offered our first look at the Headmen?

With the contest's wording specifying that we focus on "where and when Nagan, Morgan, and Chondu last appeared" (emphasis added), and having been given a clue that the mag in question was published in 1974, the contest answer would have to be the December 1974 issue of Weird Wonder Tales, one of several contemporary (i.e., circa early Bronze age) titles which reprinted mystery/horror stories from the 1950s and early 1960s. Yet while the stories of all three characters appear in that issue, their original versions date back as far as 1954. Why don't we take a look?

Tales Of Suspense #9 - May, 1960

Known only as "Chondu" at that time, the character reminds me a little of Dr. Druid, with his focus on the power of the mind, though Chondu also lectures on the ways of mysticism and yoga. As with his 1975 appearance, the Chondu of 1960 is also regarded by some as a fake; but unlike the Headmen member who's somewhat bitter at the reputation he's acquired, the earlier figure accepts the label with amusement, since the abilities he displays for the reader clearly validate his talents.

Case in point: Joe Parker, an escaped convict who is unlucky enough to intercept a man whose mind indeed works in mysterious ways.

No doubt Immortus will one day have a few choice words for Chondu on sending a crazed convict to his realm for company.

Mystery Tales #21 - Sept. 1954

*Is there any other way?

To be honest, when I first came across Arthur Nagan, I wondered if he was based on this character who appeared in one of the earliest comics I picked up in 1971:

Yet the claim to fame for this story's character--Dr. Franz Radzik, a completely different person--was in inventing a device that allowed him to exchange his personality with any other living creature. But in doing so with a gorilla, he reckoned without the strength of the beast's own personality, which allowed it to have greater control of Radzik's body than he expected--refusing to give up his human body, and consigning Radzik to the body of a gorilla for the rest of his life.

Dr. Nagan, however, specializes in surgical transplants, which unfortunately don't take into account the trauma inflicted on the bestial organ donor.

Yet during his search for more apes, Nagan mysteriously disappears, as do several search parties sent to find him. Finally, another party meets with success--only to meet the fate of those unfortunate enough to locate the new Dr. Nagan.

We probably don't even want to think of how many human-headed gorillas were created before someone wised up and stopped sending out search parties.

World of Fantasy #11 - April 1958

Strapped-for-funds Jerry Morgan has the bad fortune of having a criminal, contemptuous step-brother who has no interest in or sympathy for Jerry's latest scientific project. Nor does Sam Morgan want anything to do with Jerry's offer of help when he's ratted out to the police by one of his collectors and has to skip town until the heat dies down.

Little does Sam suspect that he's going to become more familiar with Jerry's project than he would have wanted. Tsk, tsk, Sam--things might have turned out differently for you if only you'd forked over a little rent money and a sandwich.

We've already seen evidence that Jerry eventually did perfect his shrinkage vapor to achieve the desired effect--though one glance at the face of his older self makes clear that there are still a few bugs to work out.


Big Murr said...

Well, props to Gerber for that sort of research and recycling of obscure comic characters!

Of all the Headmen, I'm guessing Nagan has had the most exposure over the years. He's practically in Luke Cage's Rogues Gallery!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if "research" is quite the right word for writers remembering old stories from their youth (that last panel from It Walks Erect would probably stick in a kids mind, right?), but definitely props to Gerber for having a more interesting taste in old comics than Roy Thomas.

Btw Comicsfan, I haven't commented recently, so belated wishes for the New Year - hope you have a good 2020.


Comicsfan said...

Thank you, sean, and the same to you, my friend. :D