The Legion of (Missile-Riding) Superheroes
Of all the highlights from Stanley Kubrick’s classic Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove (1964), its surreal final scene remains its most memorable. While on a B-52 bombing run, the buffoonish Major T.J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) rides an atomic bomb rodeo style, whooping and hollering all the way down to nuclear obliteration (click on the screen below to watch it).
However, as memorable as Slim Pickens’ turn as an Atomic Age cowboy has proven to be, it should be noted that Major Kong wasn’t the first fictional character to fly the friendly skies while straddling a missile, bomb, or rocket. While researching previous Cover to Cover columns, I’ve come across several comic book superheroes who also rode the High Explosive Express, some of them several decades before Kong’s famous flight.
Our first bomb-riding superhero appears to be none other than Captain Marvel himself, seen here on the cover of the first (and only) issue of Special Edition Comics (1940).
Considering the United States wouldn’t enter World War II for at least another year, it’s not clear who the missile and its costumed rider were aimed at. In addition to that, despite the famous line that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, one can’t help but notice the rather obvious…er…”Freudian shadings” of the missile-riding phenomenon.
Captain Marvel’s young protégé followed suit on the cover of Captain Marvel Jr. #19 (1944), making the bombing of a Nazi munitions factory look as fun and fancy-free as a carnival ride. “Wheeeeeee!”
Taking missile-riding mirth (and child endangerment) to a whole new level was Uncle Sam on the cover of National Comics #30 (1943), as he and his sidekick Buddy personally deliver their warmest personal regards to "Uncle Adolph".
Decades later in Superman (vol. 2) #54 (1991), it’s a Nazi Atomic Bomb our time-traveling hero finds himself riding, saving the day in the proverbial nick of time (no pun intended).
Instead of Nazi bombs, Wonder Woman grappled with a bomb cobbled together from Amazonian technology, unleashed by the evil Velma (not to be confused with the Velma of Scooby-Doo fame) in Wonder Woman #12 (1945). Aided by Queen Desira and her Winged Maidens of Venus, the Amazing Amazon stops the bomb and captures the evil Velma…who is then forced to wear an Aphrodite Submission Girdle as her punishment. In other words, just another average day in the wonky, freak-a-licious world of the Golden Age Wonder Woman.
Weird War #109 (1982) served up another flavor of freak-a-licious with The Creature Commandos, a squadron of monster soldiers created during World War II….including a bomb-riding Frankenstein, a.k.a Eddie “Lucky” Taylor.
The Incredible Hulk #125 (1970) featured a rare tandem missile ride, as the Jade Giant and the Absorbing Man duked it out in the stratosphere.
Even characters that weren’t necessarily A-list superheroes or famous monsters were known to ride the “bombshell bronco”, such as the Z-lister Captain Flash on the cover of his debut issue (1954). Before we let Captain Flash slip back into the mists of obscurity, a question: Is there anything more painful than jumping out of a moving jet and landing crotch-first onto a speeding metal missile? Answer: Not likely. Captain Flash…we salute you!
Fellow Z-lister (and Spirit knock-off) Midnight has a rip-roaring time defying all known laws of physics on the cover of Smash Comics #79 (1948). Though technically not a missile or bomb he’s straddling, his sheer Slim Pickens-like enthusiasm earned him a spot in my little survey.
That, and I never pass up a chance to use the phrase “Smash Comics”.
A fireworks rocket becomes a makeshift missile in The Atom #6 (1963), allowing the Mighty Mite to capture The Highwayman, scourge of 18th century London.
Not every superhero missile-rider did so willingly, as you see here on Captain America Comics #43 (1943). Cap’s desperate rescue attempt is made all the more dramatic by the cover’s frenetic wall-to-wall chaos, a hallmark of Timely Comics’ WWII covers.
In a similarly desperate scene, we find Iron Man (actually Tony Stark's estranged friend Michael O'Brien) struggling to free himself from a “Rocket to Doomsday” in Iron Man #99 (1977). As a gloating Mandarin monologues in the background, it occurs to me: Why don’t these supervillains just shut up and pull the switch?
Suffering Sappho! Is that Wonder Woman strapped to a missile with her very own magic lasso? Yes, Wonder Woman #205 (1973) finds Diana hog-tied and hurtling over the New York City skyline, clipping off the top of the Empire State Building in the process!
Topping them all with not one, not two, but three captive rocket rides was Mister Miracle, the “Super Escape Artist” created by Jack Kirby in 1971. Rest assured, true to his name and otherworldly abilities, Mister Miracle escaped the trio of high-velocity death traps.
As our highly-explosive expose’ comes to an end, whether they were willing passengers or not, the missile and bomb-riding superheroes quite literally elevated the danger level and reckless abandon of comic book action to dizzying new heights….and maybe…just maybe…inspired the hilarious spectacle of Dr. Strangelove’s Cold War cowboy.