DC Comics History: Immortal Man (1964 - 1967: The New Look)
By Deejay Dayton
April 5, 2020 - 08:00
Immortal Man was an unusual concept for a series, which ran in sporadic issues of Strange Adventures during the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look. The character was not invulnerable. In fact, he would appear to die in every single outing. But he would then be reborn in a new body, with a new identity, and often new super powers. So the series denied the hero any sort of recurring appearance or costume, two major elements in defining a character. Remarkably, as it went on, the strip did manage to introduce a recurring romantic interest for the titular character.
Strange Adventures 177 contains the first appearance of Immortal Man, although the character is never called that in his story. Jack Sparling does the art on this story, intended to be simply a one-shot tale. The hero is barely named. We learn that his first name is Mark, but no last name is given. Mark grows up in an orphanage, and displays a remarkable variety of talents, including bull fighting, cake decorating and a detailed knowledge of historical clothing. But he has no idea how he has picked up all this, until he is presented with an amulet, left with him at the door of the orphanage. As Mark holds the amulet, he sees himself in past lives, going all the way back to caveman times. When a reservoir breaks, Mark suddenly displays the power to fly. He uses this to help evacuate the area. Mark gets everyone to safety, but then a boiler explodes, and he dies in the blast. It's a decent tale, better than most in this book. Reader response was positive enough to warrant a sequel tale.
Wood and Sparling bring back Immortal Man, and do a really good job with his outing in Strange Adventures 185. The story opens in Africa, and the hero from the previous tale finds himself reborn as an adult, Jungle Man. This time he remembers some of his past lives, which makes things much easier for a continuing character, because he has the amulet. The issue also introduces Helen Phelps, who will become a supporting character in the strip, as well as her brother Rodney. They are archaeologists, and Jungle Man saves them from an elephant stampede. Helen and Rodney are searching for a fabled jewelled helmet, but so is a villain, Karat. The helmet turns out to have magical powers, and Karat uses it to conjure up a nasty beast, sending it after Jungle Man and the Phelps siblings. Jungle Man sacrifices himself, defeating the beast. One kind of expects the story to end here, but it doesn't. Instead, the setting jumps to England, and Immortal Man gets reborn as another adult, Mark King. Each body looks completely different from the previous one. Helen and Rodney, and eventually Karat, show up in England as well.
Mark has the amulet again, so he recalls his time as Jungle Man, and has developed a thing for Helen, so he pretends to be an expert in magical jewelled helmets, in order to get near her. Karat messes everything up, stealing the helmet again. As Mark King, the hero is able to fly, and uses this power to get the helmet away from Karat and destroy it, but once again sacrifices his life to stop a missile the villain fired from killing Helen. But by this point, Helen has come to suspect that Mark King and Jungle Man are the same person. Having the two chapters, and two incarnations, of the hero really helps the story work. Immortal Man returns in a couple of months, and finally gets his hero name.
Sparling brings back Immortal Man in a new body and identity in Strange Adventures 190. He is now Kirk Jason, with an innate skill at finding lost treasures. And, as will become clear later in the story, the power of flight again. He runs into Helen Phelps, and cannot resist flirting with her, all but letting her know who he is. An earthquake opens a crevice in the ground, and a weird monster emerges, with the ability to change form and powers. This leads Kirk into action again, which Helen sees. She becomes increasingly convinced that, somehow, Kirk is the same man she had met twice before. One nice touch in this story, Kirk recalls a past life, and a genie in the bottle incident, which he uses to defeat the monster. This helps illustrate his multiple lives, without having to kill him off and bring him back in the same story. Of course, he sacrifices himself at the end again, with Helen watching. Helen is now certain that Kirk Jason, Mark King and Jungle Man were all the same person, and believes he will come back again. And he does, in a little under a year.
Immortal Man takes the cover for his final story, in Strange Adventures 198. Sparling does the art on this story, which becomes a very sad and disturbing one, simply because no others follow. Helen Phelps opens the piece, and her thoughts about how the various dead men that she has met must all be the same man neatly recap the previous stories. She is certain she will meet Immortal Man (not that she calls him this) again, and has been searching for him. She is convinced that paleontologist Anton Carver is the same man. He is. We find that out right away. And he thinks back to a previous life in which he was Marco Polo, and found a valley full of dinosaurs, but died due to a pterodactyl. Clearly a hitherto unknown part of Marco Polo's life. In this story, he dons a mask and uses telekinetic powers to fight against interdimensional super-apes. But the more interesting moments, for me at least, are his scenes with Helen. She seeks him out and confronts him with her suspicions about who he is.
Far from trying to cover his secret identity, Anton openly admits that she is correct. The two begin a romance, and he even proposes to her. Then, as always happens in Immortal Man stories, he sacrifices himself. The story closes on Helen, now absolutely certain that he will return. So she waits for him. And waits. And waits. And waits. And she probably lives a lonely and miserable life, always waiting for Immortal Man to come back to her one day. And that never ever happens. Downer.
Immortal Man does not return until the mid 80s, showing up in Action Comics as the leader of the Forgotten Heroes.
Immortal Man: Strange Adventures 177, 185, 190, 198 (June 65, Feb 66, July 66, March 67)
Next up – Animal Man!
Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25
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