…and we’re back again for a look at another semi-contemporaneous “precursor” to Charlton’s age of “Action Heroes.” The focus this time around falls upon the mighty (derivative) Son of Vulcan.
The character was the brainchild of writer Pat Masulli and artist Bill Fraccio (with Joe Gill later assuming the writing chores), made his debut in Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #46, released a month before Captain Atom’s returned to active duty.
After accusing the gods of ignoring the evils in the mortal world, one-legged war correspondent Johnny Mann was whisked off to Olympus to answer for his blasphemous impudence. While the bellicose Mars wanted Mann obliterated on the spot, he was spared from Jupiter’s wrath by the intercession of by the empathetic Vulcan. Sensing a kindred spirit in Mann, who shared a similar physical disability and sense of justice with the forge god, Vulcan adopted the mortal as his own kin. He also granted Mann the ability to turn into a vaguely Roman superhero whenever some evil needed to be thwarted.
These sweet boons did not come without some obligations, however, and required periodic performance reviews by the staff at the Olympian head office. While Marvel’s mighty Thor was the obvious inspiration for Son of Vulcan, it’s interesting to note the dash of Captain Marvel Jr. that also got thrown into the mix.
The Son’s second appearance in Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds kicks off with an entirely healthy and not-at-all nauseating portrayal of domestic life.
Harried academic and henpecked husband Leonard Lambie finds himself dreaming of a more heroic life away from the poverty and marital misery. As an expert in ancient mythology, he is especially fascinated by news reports of Son of Vulcan’s initial exploits in the mortal realm and wishes he could obtain similarly supernatural powers.
Across town, a pissed-off Johnny Mann has had his shuteye disturbed by yet another summons from his Olympus. His divine overlords at least had the courtesy to arrange a ride for Mann in the form of a sneering Mars and his flaming war chariot. After making Mann sweat a little during his performance review, Jupiter declares him worthy-for-now and (presumably) goes off to sex up some mortal virgin as a swan or golden shower or something.
Mars is less than pleased with this decision and decides to mess with Mann by slipping Lambie a pair of transmutation gloves formerly owned by King Midas himself. Lambie uses the gloves to convert a garbage can into pure gold. When this fails to impress his wife, Lambie transforms her into a gold statue as well.
The pieces have been placed on the board, but how will they interact? By way of a third principal player, silly — the sinister Mr. Zoloto, a notorious precious metals broker who combines the looks of Silver Age Lex Luthor with the interior design sensibilities of Donald Trump.
Mann wants to interview Zoloto for an article about the gold shortage. He is promptly escorted out of the Big Z’s office, right past a waiting Lambie hoping to cut some sort of deal with the robber baron. Recognizing a (ZING!) golden deal (GET IT? GET IT?) when he sees one, Zoloto strings Lambie along in hope of making the magic gloves his own.
A suspicious Mann stalks Zoloto’s goons as they approach Lambie’s apartment. He confronts them as the Son of Vulcan, only to be transformed into gold by Lambie (who has since decked himself out in the most absurd yet plausible supervillian get up ever).
The helpless hero, along with Lambie’s wife and various household objects transformed by Lambie’s touch, are carted back to Zoloto’s lair. Lambie’s objections to this plan only result in some physical humiliation by Zoloto and a telepathic dressing-down by the still-immobile Son of Vulcan.
Fortunately, the demigod is the first thing loaded into the smelter and the flames free him from Midas’s magic. His surrogate pa beams him down a magical mace, which he uses to go sickhouse on both the furnace and Zoloto’s legion of goons.
The fleeing Zoloto tries to asphyxiate the survivors with a hidden deathtrap, but is transformed into gold by a repentant Lambie before he can full activate the device.
Lambie turns over the magic gloves to Son of Vulcan, the transformed being revert to normal, Zoloto is carted off to prison, and Lambie is sentenced to a lifetime of domestic dysfunction. Upon returning to Olympus, Son of Vulcan presents the gloves to Jupiter, who praises the hero’s valor and cusses out Mars for his scheming.
The end…or is it?
Compared to Blue Beetle #50, the Son of Vulcan story in Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #47 almost flirts with competence. All the pieces of a good story are present. The hero is mildly interesting and poor Lambie rocking too-large crown over a bathrobe and pajama bottoms was a truly inspired concept as far as these things go. None of it really gels together into something which rises above adequate, though. Whether by accident or design, the story lacks that extra touch of self-aware panache that drove Marvel’s line of early Silver Age superheroes. Things like, well, the actual goal of Mars’ convoluted scheme are left unaddressed outside random panels of the war god gloating and summarizing the obvious from afar.
It’s a case of a miss being as good as a mile. Yet even if the tale landed square on the target, it still would’ve ranked as a second-rate knock off of a lesser Thor story. It’s something that would continue to dog Charlton’s Action Heroes line even during its brief glory days.
“The Golden Curse” from Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #47 (July 1965); script by Joe Gill, pencils by Bill Fraccio, and inks by Tony Tallarico.