While I know you’ve all been enthralled by my heroic tales of acute bowel dysfunction, ampoule I think it’s time to get things back on track with a much-delayed examination one of the lesser-than-lesser lights of Charlton’s 1960s superheroic stable.
Meet Merco, for sale the Mercury Man!
A scientist from our solar system’s innermost planet, dysentery the Merc-monster made his debut in the pages of Space Adventures #44 (September 1962). Not only was Merco from Mercury, but his body — as the result of some self-experimentation conducted as his race wiped itself out in an atomic war — was also composed of the toxic heavy metal which shared the name of his birthworld.
(What’s that, now? That the planet and the element share no relationship apart from both being named after a classical Earth deity which would likely be unknown to an extraterrestial civilization? I’m sorry. If you’re looking for logic and lucidity, you might want to check someplace — anyplace — other than a Silver Age Charlton sci-fi story.)
The miraculous metallic transformation also granted Merco a conveniently vague set of superpowers, which he used to navigate the spacelanes in search of sentient companionship. He eventually (after a brief dust-up with the Soviet air firce) finds it in the form of Dr. Penn, an American scientist who is not only a (SHOCK! HORROR!) lady…
…but also a staunch supporter of Sen. Barry Goldwater.
The prim hottie uses her feminine wiles and archconservative worldview to convince the pacifistically inclined alien that the best road to peace involves smashing up Russia’s entire stockpile of nuclear weapons.
After completing that totally consequence-free and well-considered task, Merco then headed off to “Africa” to prove his commitment to the interventionist crusade by saving some fezzed up natives from rampaging Nazi bikers (a.k.a. the Second Chad-Pomona Outlaws M.C. War of 1962).
As a reward for Merco’s efforts on behalf of a terror-stabilized Pax Americana, Dr. Penn used her considerable smarts to whip up some science-y nonsense which would allow her alien dupe to transform from flesh to Mercury at will…
…and thus allow the pair to knock boots without Penn falling victim to severe toxic metal poisoning.
Merco continued (and thus far concluded) his adventures in violent pacifism in the following issue, in which he (with JFK’s plausibly deniable approval) spirited away transparent analogues of Khrushchev, Mao, Castro, and some “greedy, war-profiting international financiers for a tour of war-ravaged Mercury. When the object-lesson-via-abduction failed to achieve its desired end, the unsympathetic Merco left the intransigent warmongers behind to starve amidst the radioactive ruins with the hope that they would be be replaced by “more reasonable” leaders.
In short, these are comics written for (or by) that habitual letter writer whose batshit political screeds have filled countless column inches in any given small town newspaper.
Though the timing of Mercury Man’s introduction suggests an effort by Charlton to ride the initial surge of Marvel’s dynamic reinvention of the superhero genre, the stories themselves hearken back to the black-and-white geopolitical morality of early Golden Age superheroes (Stardust, the Spectre, the “social crusader” incarnation of Superman) even as they anticipate the revisionist “superhero as an ambiguous/terrifying agent of radical change” trope associated with recent decades.
However, Mercury Man’s significance as a historical footnote shouldn’t be confused with the quality of the actual stories, which suffer from the confusing pacing, non-intuitive transitions, and laughably banal dialogue which made Charlton’s Space Adventures material make the boilerplate puerility of DC’s Silver Age sci-fi tales seem like Incal by comparison.
I’ve had a rough seven days, and it should tell you something that reviewing Mercury Man’s short career ranks right up there next to agonizing gut pains and 5:00 AM trips to the hospital. At least I could make some contextual sense of the latter two events, which is why I’ve decided to void ol’ Merco into the stained chamberpot of Nobody’s Favorites.