Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Comic Book Beard: Mighty Samson

Far left: Mighty Samson #2 (1965),
Middle and Far Right: Project Superpowers #4 (2008). 
Finding comic book characters with beards is not as easy as it sounds. In an effort to avoid posting only a variety of poses and iterations of the same two to three characters commonly shown bearded by the Big Two (DC and Marvel), I find myself digging very deeply into my collection (and memory). In addition to simply showcasing a whiskered warrior, it is also an opportunity to revisit some characters of yesteryear who may not get as much recognition on the recent "New Releases" table as he may once have. Take Mighty Samson, for example.

Cover to Project Superpowers #4
(2008) by Alex Ross.
Cover to Mighty Samson #2 (1965),
no art credits given.
Originally created wa-a-a-ay back in 1964 by writer Otto Binder and artist Frank Thorne to be a member of Gold Key Comics stable of characters, my own introduction to Mighty Samson came from the considerably more recent  2007 Dynamite Entertainment series, Project Superpowers. Project Superpowers, from artists Alex Ross, revived many Golden Age comic book characters. The visual design of the character was inspired by the Gold Key Comics version from the mid-Sixties. Less well known than other more iconic Gold Key comic book characters then and now, Mighty Samson's lack of name recognition outside a small group of fans is best attributed to the absence of any licensing featuring him to other media; he has never appeared on television, in theaters, or as an action figure.

A beardless Mighty Samson
attempted a comeback in 2010
lasting 4 issues.
Mighty Samson as rendered
on the cover to SuperPowers:
Meet the Bad Guys
#3 (2009)
by Alex Ross.
Despite simplistic "costuming," Mighty Samson has a unique (in comic book terms, anyway) "origin." With no secret identity, Mighty Samson is a direct descendant of the biblical figure. Like his ancestor, Samson had immense strength and endurance, but could lose his powers when his hair was cut. Samson only learned about his heritage when he was a grown man, after his mother revealed his ancestry.

The Project Superpowers character (an amalgam of both Gold Key's and the even older Fox Feature Syndicate version) was the first time he is depicted with a beard. This is an older, more experienced (and completely--not just his left eye--blinded) version of the character who's beard is used to reflect the wizened perspective. As was the case with the majority of Golden Age characters re-introduced to the comic book collector with both SuperPowers' series (as well as one-shots and minis), Mighty Samson was rarely afforded the narrative spotlight but was more often than not used as background fodder. This is not to suggest the characterization was weak, just that here were so many characters vying for time in a book featuring over twenty Golden Age superheroes in any given issue.

As uncommon as unshaven super men are in comic books now, it makes sense that those published during the Golden Age would be even less likely; the negative association attributed to those with beards (as well as the adolescent comic book fans' inability to emulate any whiskered favorite character) would make such a characterization nuance difficult to make profitable. Perhaps someday, as the no-shave aesthetic becomes more mainstream, the comic book world will be ready for the first full bearded superhero!