With superhero movies dominating the box office and superhero cosplay starting to dominate Halloween there’s no better time for Balladeer’s Blog to examine Australia’s greatest superheroes.
Debut Year: 1982
Secret Identity: Mark Medula, an astronaut in Australia’s fictional space program.
Origin: Returning from a flight to Mars, Colonel Mark Medula docked at the Threshold Space Station, which had just been seized by the alien warlord Cerellus.
Medula tried to stop Cerellus and the resulting chaos killed Medula’s body, but, amid all the cosmic energies being unleashed, that body became inhabited by both Cerellus’ soul and Medula’s soul.
Mark Medula’s body gained incredible superpowers and went on to battle Earthly and interplanetary menaces as the superhero called Dark Nebula. Cerellus often challenged Mark for control of their shared body, further complicating Dark Nebula’s adventures.
Powers: Dark Nebula has super strength and can fly, both in space and in a planet’s atmosphere. He is invulnerable and wields a combination of potent cosmic energy and dark mystical energy. Those combined scientific/ supernatural forces can be used to fire Darkfire energy beams from his hands and employ force fields. He also has psionic abilities like telepathy and ESP.
Comment: Dark Nebula’s adventures combine the cosmic head-trips of Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock/ Magus storyline with some of the surreal mysticism of Dr Strange at his best.
Arguably the greatest Dark Nebula story arc was the one where he was off in deep space having a “deep” adventure while back on Earth his archenemy the Grandstander (Think of the Joker but with powers on Sinestro’s level at least) was impersonating him to ruin his reputation.
It endangered his marriage, too, since his wife had no idea why the man she thought was her husband never came home anymore after his public escapades. When Dark Nebula at last returned to Earth he had to tangle with the Aussie superteam the Southern Squadron who were out to bring him down for the crimes the Grandstander had framed him for.
When the misunderstanding was finally straightened out the Southern Squadron joined forces with Dark Nebula to tackle the Grandstander. This crossover was as much a milestone in Australia as the Avengers/ Defenders War in the 1970s was in the U.S.
Debut Year: 1970
Secret Identity: Vivian Gale, biologist.
Origin: Vivian Gale and her fellow scientist Professor Beaumont (see Brainmaster) set forth from Australia’s Antarctic station Mawson Base to investigate UFO sightings in the area. They discover the craft and are forced to take shelter inside as a blizzard strikes.
The duo are eventually ejected from the spacecraft as it departs but have in their possession a cylinder from the ship. Back in Australia the cylinder examines Vivian’s body and the body of a nearby fox she is treating.
When foreign spies try to steal the cylinder they fail, but shoot Vivian and leave her to die. The alien cylinder teleports back to its mother ship, taking Vivian with it. The aliens, not understanding human biology, use elements of both the fox and human info in the cylinder to save Vivian from death.
The combination of human and fox DNA in her makeup granted Vivian superpowers that she uses to fight evil as the superheroine called the Vixen.
Powers: Enhanced strength, speed, agility and stamina. In addition Vixen has extraordinarily enhanced senses of smell, hearing, etc like Wolverine (though she came first).
Comment: Depending on who’s drawing her Vixen can be either a Tigra/Wonder Woman sexpot or a more professional seeming fighting femme.
This Vixen came along before the DC comics superheroine called the Vixen. Her original 1970s adventures tended to have color covers but black & white interior pages, like the famous “Canadian Whites” from north of the border.
Debut Year: 1985
Secret Identity: Jack Keegan
Origin: The word Jackaroo is an Australian term for what we call Cowboys or Drovers. Jack Keegan was a free-spirited mercenary and a bare-knuckle fighter in the outlaw, underground circuit of bare-knuckled combat in Australia.
Eventually Jack ran afoul of gangsters like his archenemy Dr Draino, an Asian crimelord in Sydney, Australia. He assumed the identity of the Jackaroo and clashed with various supervillains, criminals and aliens.
Powers: The Jackaroo uses his formidable outback brawling abilities like a kung fu master uses their own unique fighting style. He can outfight multiple opponents at once and his sheer physical toughness lets him survive amazing levels of punishment.
Comment: “Crocodile Dundee as a superhero” has become the overused phrase to describe the Jackaroo, but I have to admit it fits. The Jackaroo’s outfit often gets as torn and tattered as the Spirit’s as sort of a shoutout to Will Eisner.
This down and dirty gladiator has adventures that vary in style from Sin City noir-fests to She-Hulk’s absurd meta-antics. (One of his occasional allies is the humanoid platypus Flash Damingo, a Rocket Raccoon- style Space Ranger) The Jackaroo’s other villains include Feral, Redback, Destructo, Black Opal, the Barnacle and the criminal organization O.G.R.E.
Debut Year: 1983
Secret Identity: Christine Smith
Origin: While “Lieutenant Smith” may sound like a dull superhero name it’s actually a wry little joke on the part of creator David de Vries.
He noted that Captain had become a very cliched rank for superheroes (Captain America, Captain Marvel, Captain Britain, Captain Commando, Captain Canuck, Captain Metropolis etc). Therefore he decided he wanted a superhero instead called “Lieutenant Something” and the rest is history.
Powers: Lieutenant Smith is in top physical condition and is an expert in all forms of unarmed combat. She is also an expert markswoman with virtually any gun and wears an indestructible battle outfit. In addition she can handle any bladed weapons as well as any kind of explosives.
Her fighting savvy and strategic genius made her the ideal leader for the Australian superteam called the Southern Squadron. She has long had a love/hate romance going with her teammate Nightfighter.
Comment: My fondness for neglected Australian superheroes made me a little annoyed with the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe made their Black Widow more like Lieutenant Smith than like the Black Widow was in comic books.
The Avengers movie took away the Widow’s wristlets that shot her “Widow’s Bite” rays and her black web-lines as well as the wall-crawling abilities her costume gave her. Instead she was presented as just a woman who loved shooting guns.
Now if there’s ever a Lieutenant Smith or Southern Squadron movie the character will be criticized as a Black Widow imitation by people unfamiliar with Aussie superheroes. Annoying.
Oh, and the Lieutenant joke in Lt Smith’s moniker may have worn off by now, so a possible name change to “Gunsmith” or something would be pretty cool.
Debut Year: 1983
Secret Identity: Adam West
Origin: The Australian government’s top secret project to develop a super-soldier led their scientists to discover RG-7, a designer drug/ virus that enhances human abilities. Unfortunately all the human guinea pigs treated with RG-7 soon went insane or died from having their brain fry or their metabolism burn out.
Adam West was discovered to have an incredibly rare blood condition that might allow him to survive the introduction of RG-7 into his system. For a massive fee (which lets West live a life of hard-partying luxury in his secret identity) he agreed to let himself be experimented on.
The experiment was a success and West became the superhero Nightfighter and an eventual member of the Australian superteam the Southern Squadron.
Powers: Adrenaline triggers the RG-7 in the Nightfighter’s body, increasing his strength, agility and stamina tenfold and sometimes beyond, depending on how angry he becomes. His short temper is as legendary as his contempt for authority and his love of cricket.
This Melbourne-based superhero often goes into action spouting his catch-phrase “Hold onto your brain cells!”
Comment: I’ve always liked the way the Australian government was depicted being so callous about the human guinea pigs they subjected to RG-7. That type of realistic suspicion of governmental agencies is always healthy in my opinion.
We do that type of story element ad nauseum here in the U.S. so I found it refreshing to see that approach reflected in a few Australian comic books, too.
Debut Year: 1983
Secret Identity: Bertram Davis, fashion designer.
Origin: Bertram Davis’ mutant telekinetic abilities made him the subject of an Australian government project to develop superheroes. Ultimately the Southern Squadron was formed through this project.
Government scientists implanted a microchip in Davis’ brain that amplified his natural telekinetic powers. Even so, the use of his powers drains bio-energy from his body so rapidly Davis is almost always ravenously hungry.
Powers: The Southern Cross possesses incredibly strong telekinetic powers. He can move and levitate heavy objects including train cars and bridges. He flies by simply levitating himself and can reach incredible speeds.
His abilities are so refined that by barely concentrating he also maintains a telekinetic field around himself which deflects objects or energies targeted at him. The Southern Cross’ power cane is not necessary for him to use his powers but the cane focuses and therefore enhances those powers.
Comment: The Southern Cross, in his secret identity of Bertram Davis, was possibly the first metro-sexual character in comic books. He was openly obsessed with grooming, cologne and clothing. In fact if the creative team had jumped in with both feet he could have been the very first gay superhero in non-underground world comic books.
Debut Year: 1983
Secret Identity: Costas Burgos
Origin: Costas Burgos is of Gypsy descent. His father had been experimented on by Nazi scientists during World War Two because he was a werewolf. Burgos’ father survived his ordeal at the hands of the Nazis but passed on to Costas a science-spawned variation of lycanthropy due to the experiments.
Costas Burgos’ abilities prompted him to be recruited by the Australian government when it was putting together its superteam the Southern Squadron.
Powers: At will the Dingo can transform himself from his human form into a were-beast that is like a combination of wolves, dingos and tasmanian devils. In that form the Dingo has incredible super-strength, enhanced healing, super- senses, partial invulnerability due to his thick fur and has strong, sharp claws.
Because of the Nazi scientists’ experiments on Costas’ father his (Costas’) DNA mutated. He can willingly transform into beast form by activating dormant traits that most humans evolved out of long ago. As the Dingo he retains his human mind and self-control.
Comment: I was always a little disappointed that – given Australia’s location in the Pacific – the Dingo’s father wasn’t instead said to be experimented on by Japanese scientists since they, too, performed inhuman experiments on human guinea pigs during World War Two.
Burgos’ father could have been an Australian soldier of Gypsy descent who got captured by the Japanese and the rest of the story would be basically the same. This would have been a nice change of pace from the waaaaaay overdone “Nazi experiments” trope.
Debut Year: 1988
Secret Identity: Astria Blaque
Origin: Astria Blaque and her boyfriend Rickard were running away to Perth to get married. Enroute across the outback desert they came across a supernatural oasis.
Within the oasis was a mysterious woman calling herself Lilith, who granted them both superpowers. She told them to use those powers for the good of humanity, then disappeared. Astria became the superhero called Niteside while Rickard became her partner the superhero called the Rock.
Powers: Niteside controls dark cosmic energy which she can use to shoot potent black-colored energy bolts, to fly and to heal herself from almost any injury.
As Niteside tapped into more and more of the dark energy it became almost like an addiction, with tragic future consequences.
Comment: The adventures of Niteside and the Rock are presented from various time periods. Neither of them age and in the future year of 2028 her powers expand to such a degree that they overwhelm her.
She grows to enormous size and, despite the efforts of the Rock and other superheroes to stop her she destroys the Earth and the other planets of our solar system before annihilating the sun itself.
This grim future hangs over Australian superheroes like the possible “mutants in concentration camps” future hangs over the X-Men. Some stories of Niteside and the Rock deal with attempts to avoid this horrific future but so far have only resulted in the creation of various alternate timelines.
All of this serves as Australian comic books’ combination of The Dark Phoenix Saga with Days of Future Past plus its spinoff tales from the pages of the X-Men.
Debut Year: 1970
Secret Identity: Professor William Beaumont, scientist.
Origin: Beaumont and his colleague, biologist Vivian Gale, set out from Australia’s Antarctic base Mawson Station to investigate UFO sightings. He and Gale sought shelter from a blizzard inside the spacecraft.
Exposure to the alien technology in the craft wound up resulting in Beaumont and Gale gaining superpowers. Vivian Gale became the Vixen and Professor William Beaumont became the Brainmaster.
Powers: The Brainmaster possesses incredible psionic powers like telepathy and hypnotic compulsion. He can also suppress pain in himself and others for limited periods.
In addition his intelligence expanded to an astonishing degree, allowing him to devise scientific solutions to the various dangers that arose in his superhero career: solutions that previously would have been beyond his comprehension.
Comment: Brainmaster may seem dull to a lot of people but I find him an interesting combination of various psychic-powered heroes and traditional big brains like Reed Richards, Henry Pym or even Brainiac 5 from the Legion of Superheroes.
Debut Year: 1988
Secret Identity: Kathryn McPhee
Origin: The Technocrat is a mutant whose abilities manifested themselves in adulthood. Inspired by other superheroes in Australia she designed a costume for herself and set out to fight crime.
Powers: The Technocrat is a technopath and can mentally control machines and technology. In addition to the obvious practical applications of these powers in crimefighting she also employs her powers in flashier ways.
She devised a rocket-powered skateboard that she controls with her mind and flies around on it like the Silver Surfer does on his surfboard. She also has partial body armor which she can mentally command to expand into her fairly skimpy costume.
The Technocrat also employs a variety of gigantic guns which fire conventional projectiles or other weaponry. These too can be controlled remotely by her mind.
Comment: The Technocrat is also known as Forge but I avoided using that name to prevent confusion with the Marvel Comics character called Forge.
The Technocrat has helped the Rock try to avert the grim future in which Niteside destroys the solar system in 2028. In one of the subsequent alternate timelines she herself gets killed in battle with Niteside.
Debut Year: 1989
Secret Identity: Gordon Russell, a radio announcer in 1940s Australia.
Origin: In a clever tongue-in- cheek bit that Golden Age comic book expert Roy Thomas would love there was NO comic book character called the Southern Cross in the actual Golden Age of Australian comics.
The character was launched as an homage to Golden Age superheroes but with a modern sensibility imposed despite the time period the stories took place in.
Radio announcer Gordon Russell longed to take on the forces of evil without endangering the people close to him. To that end he adopted the costumed identity of the Southern Cross and battled criminals as well as Axis Powers villains like his archenemy Agent Nazi.
Powers: The Southern Cross was at the peak of human condition and was a master of unarmed combat. He was also an expert marksman with a pistol.
Comment: The Golden Age Southern Cross started as a backup feature for Dark Nebula and his adventures are a lot of fun. They are intentionally campy and cornball to mimic the style of Golden Age superhero stories.
Debut Year: 1946
Secret Identity: Ralph Rivers, private detective.
Origin: Ralph Rivers was the son of a wealthy surgeon. When Ralph was just a little boy a burglar broke into the family mansion and killed Ralph’s mother. His father then became obsessed with making sure his son could grow up to do something about crime.
To that end he grafted a pair of wings to little Ralph’s body, making them part of his actual physical makeup so they would grow as Ralph grew. As Ralph started to attend school he and his father concealed the wings beneath his clothing, passing him off as a hunchback. (Thanks, Dad!)
After all his schooling was completed Ralph became a private investigator as a cover for his real activities. He secretly donned a costume and began fighting crime as the winged superhero called the Crimson Comet.
Powers: The Crimson Comet’s wings enable him to fly at great heights and at amazing speeds. It can be assumed that his father also modified his lungs to enable him to breathe in the thin atmosphere at some of the great heights he flies to.
Physically the Crimson Comet has the maximum strength a human male can possess, plus he is highly skilled in unarmed combat. His fighting abilities are enhanced by being used in conjunction with his power of flight. His wings can even pummel opponents into submission.
Comment: The Crimson Comet REALLY WAS a Golden Age superhero in Australia, unlike the mock Golden Age Southern Cross. This figure is considered the Grand Old Man of native Australian superheroes.
I included him on this list not just because of his importance in Australian comic book history but because his character was revived in 1983. He was long-retired as a superhero and was now a very elderly Colonel Ralph Rivers, head of the government department that oversees the supergroup the Southern Squadron.
The character was included by the Southern Squadron’s creator as a shoutout to the Crimson Comet’s pop culture significance in Australia. Other Golden Age superheroes have since been revived. Captain Atom (the Australian original from 1941) shared adventures with Vixen and Brainmaster, plus Molo the Mighty battled the Jackaroo in 1986.
( Anyone familiar with the origin stories of both the Avengers and the Southern Squadron will have certainly noticed that the cinematic Avengers’ origin was more like the Southern Squadron’s origin. I have no idea if Joss Whedon is familar with the Southern Squadron or not so I’m not accusing him of anything.
In the comic books Loki’s schemes brought the Avengers together in their origin story. Colonel Nick Fury had nothing to do with it. As for the Southern Squadron’s origin, you had the retired Crimson Comet, Colonel Ralph Rivers, involved as the Australian government rounded up and created superbeings for its Australian Superhero Initiative.
Add the fact that the cinematic Black Widow seems more like Lieutenant Smith than like the comic book Black Widow and it’s noteworthy.)
FOR THE AUSTRALIAN SUPERHERO CALLED DOCTOR MENSANA CLICK HERE
FOR MORE SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE: Superheroes
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