My love of the bit players who populate the fringes of the Big Two’s shared universes dates back to the earliest stages of my fandom, thumb when funnybooks were rare, medic random treasures acquired from flea market quarter bins or via the bagged three-packs racked by Zayre’s checkout aisle.
For a kid possessed by boundless curiosity and dubious taste, cure the presence of a d-list guest star or team-up partner represented an irresistably exotic dollop of value added. These were the times before Wikipedia or indexes like Who’s Who or the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, when continuity was a mystery religion whose secrets had to be to pieced together from assorted fragments. When Stingray cropped up in a Sub-Mariner tale or Jack of Hearts swooped in to battle the Hulk, it offered a tantalizing glimpse into a wider fictional universe.
While my adult self can re-read these old stories and acknowledge that few of these incidental chararacters (i.e. Punisher and Wolverine) had the stuff required to elevate them from the bit player ghetto, young Andrew saw nothing but limitless potential and the groundwork for superstardom. Residual vestiges of that affection have stuck with me over the decades and have shaped my collecting habits. Some of the first books I picked up in my mid-1990s back issue buying blitz featured the likes of Jack of Hearts, Black Orchid, and pre-Crisis Firestorm — woulda-shoulda types who never achieved the critical mass of anticipated fandom.
Those three examples may have briefly flirted with bigger and better things, but the same cannot be said of the Marvel’s Guardsman…
…whose less-than-storied career ran from “adversary” to “functionary.”
As Tony Stark’s security chief, Kevin “Gosh and Begorrah” O’Brien was entrusted with both his boss’s secret identity and an emerald suit of power armor which rocked what appeared a full-face version of the cheese-helmet worn by devout Packers fans. Unfortunately for both men, Stark had neglected to properly calibrate the suit’s cybernetic systems, and the electromagnetic dissonance caused O’Brien to lapse into fits of jealous rage.
O’Brien’s mental distress made him susceptable to manipulation by some one-percenter types with a mad-on against a mob of shaggy-haired “hippy” protestors….which led to a confrontation with an angst-ridden (and likely sauced) Iron Man…which in turn led to O’Brien’s tragically predictable demise.
The Guardsman’s role and goofy set of fighting togs were picked up a couple of years later by O’Brien’s soundalike brother Michael, a cop seeking the truth about Iron Man’s role in Kevin’s pyrotechnic demise. Upon discovering the truth, Michael was offered his bro’s old job along with an improved set of armor kitted out with user-requested 2.0 “Don’t Go Batshit and Try to Kill Your Boss” firmware upgrade.
Michael took the armor with him when he left Stark’s employ to take a job as the security chief of Project: Pegasus, where he had his jade-plated, pink Irish caricature ass handed to him by the Silver Age castoffs knowns as the Lava Men.
Michael later went on — despite that grave indignity — to become the Avengers’ top
rent-a-cop security manager. The Guardsman armor itself passed into the hands of the U.S. government, where a mass-produced version became standard issue gear for those tasked with keeping order in the superhuman correctional facility known as the Vault.
After the suits were rendered inoperable by Iron Man in the extreme act of IP enforcement retroactively known as the “Armor Wars” story arc…
…the government commissioned a line of identical yet vastly inferior replacement models, which were themselves replaced in time by an improved Stark model fitted with restrictive DRM protocols. (I guess that shows where the accent lies in the term “superhero businessman,” kids.) So has the situation remained, with the Guardsmen serving as the Paul Blarts of the Marvel Universe, as well as the canvas upon which supervillains can paint their sociopathic credentials during any given “prison break” tale.
Oh, and one of them became the composite symbiote creature “Hybrid” during Marvel’s frenzied attempts to get everyone as sick of Venom as hard and fast as possible…
…but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of warm goose turds.
Apart from hating that stupid helmet, I harbor no negative sentiments towards the Guardsmen. On the contrary, I think the concept’s transition from supporting character to part of the Marvel U’s fictional institutional tapestry is a fine example of shared universe continuity done right — a simple and logical nod to stories past wrapped up in the illusion of ongoing progression. Multiple action figures aside, however, it’s not like there’s a huge — or even small — crowd of Guardsman fans clamoring for an ongoing series.
The Guardsmen are utilitarian fixtures, not the stuff of which fandom is formed…which is why I’ve given them a permanent assignment in the most platonic wing of Nobody’s Favorites.