Wonderman Jr.

Here we go with another update on a Public Domain superhero, originally known as Wonder Man.

This character is particularly interesting to me as it was one of the first (if not the first) imitations of the then-newly created Superman. Legend has it that a man who ran a publisher called Fox Publications saw Action Comics #1 on a newsstand & immediately decided to rush out his own version of the character. He hired legendary writer/artist Will Eisner to create a new superhero for him, and within six weeks Eisner had turned out a 14-page introduction story for this new character and Fox published it in a new ongoing series. 

Despite the relative speed in which the character was developed, I give credit to Eisner for creating a pretty well-developed character (as opposed to later Superman ripoffs, like Master Man).  He is described as Fred Carson “a timid radio engineer and inventor” who works for a gruff businessman named Mr. Hastings at a radio station, and who has little regard for Fred’s inventions. While on a trip to Tibet, Fred met an old yogi who gave him a ring which, when worn, gives Fred great powers (similar to those of Superman: strength, invulnerability, speed, and super leaping ability), and charges him to become “a champion of the oppressed,  defender of the week, and relentless foe of all that is evil and unjust.” Mr. Hastings has a daughter who is named Brenda when she’s first introduced, although halfway through the story she’s suddenly referred to as Nora (no doubt a result of the speed in which this was created and published). She has no interest in Fred, but finds herself very impressed with Wonder Man when she first encounters him, and is dating a wealthy playboy named Reggie Berold, a cowardly snob who, in that first story, takes credit for Wonder Man’s success.

So right there, in that story, I think Eisner had created a somewhat fully-realized world, with lots of potential for future stories. But DC wasn’t going to let this slide, and immediately filed a lawsuit against Fox which resulted in this character being suspended for publication, and eventually falling into the public domain due to disuse. You can read about the lawsuit HERE and you also read the full original Wonder Man story HERE. A few years later DC would launch Wonder Woman, and then eventually Marvel Comics would introduce their own character called Wonder Man.

Ever since I first learned of this character’s existence, something about it resonated with me, more so than many of the other early Superman knockoffs that I’d heard about.  First, there’s the cache of being an original Will Eisner creation.  Plus, as I said, I liked the background that Eisner created for the character, along with supporting cast. The timid alter-ego, the angry boss, the potential love interest and a romantic rival. Lots of drama could be mined from this premise. So originally I had the idea of revamping Wonder Man himself, and I commissioned an image from Celina Hernandez.

I suggested a few slight alterations to the original costume, mainly adding boots and gloves. The redesigned chest emblem was Celina’s idea.

I know I usually tend to race-swap or gender-swap (or both) PD characters when I update them, just as a matter of habit, because I think we need more POC superheroes, but I decided to leave Wonder Man as a White male because I thought giving him red hair would fit with the color scheme of his costume (and yes, I know, non-White people can have red hair too, but this is more natural).

My original idea was to come up with an All Star Superman-type take on this character. Like imagine him as if he hadn’t been dropped by Fox, and they’d continued to publish his adventures over the decades, similar to how Superman has been, complete with stylistic changes over time (goofy Silver Age stories in the 50’s and 60’s, attempts at socially relevant stories in the 70’s, grim and gritty tales in the 80’s, “extreme” stories in the 90’s, an “Ultimate” revamp in the 2000’s, etc.)  and now this would be a tale in Wonder Man’s later years, his last big grand adventure.

But then rather soon after getting that image from Celina, I got a completely different idea. A lot of other creators have done their own takes on reviving this character over the years, with more in planning stages.  This includes Lucky Comics, who introduced him as a Nazi supervillain called Wundermann in their series Fox Force.  There’s also Standard Comics, which includes a revamped Wonderman in their ranks. Artist Jon Pinto has posted several different updates on the character, and even did a little animated clip, which I think would make an awesome cartoon.

So wanting to make my version really different than other versions, I decided to re-imagine him as a teenager. And then I decided mine would be the son of the original Wonder Man, whom I was calling Wonderman, all one-word, like most others who updated him and instead of tagging him Wonderboy, which just sounds silly, I’d call him Wonderman Jr.!

Contacting Celina again, she was kind enough to provide me with two images of this new character.

The background is that Fred Carson and Nora Hastings eventually married and had a son, Fred Carson Jr. But a few years later Fred, as Wonderman, disappeared on a mission, and is presumed dead. Nora eventually rekindled her romance with her ex Reggie Berold and they married. Fred Jr. grew up resenting his stepfather, and always wondering what happened to his real father, whom his mother rarely talks about (and never told him that he was Wonderman). But things changed when Fred Jr. turned 15, and his latent super-powers kicked in. Apparently he was conceived while Fred Sr. was wearing his special ring, and thus Fred Jr. now naturally possess the powers of Wonderman and decides to carry on the legacy of Wonderman as the costumed superhero Wonderman Jr.

In between fighting supervillains, and going to high school, with all the drama those two activities bring, Fred is also determined to solve the mystery of what really happened to his father, whom he suspects might still be alive. . .