Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Wrenching Misadventures of Capt. Sprocket

Precisely because melodrama and farce are merely two sides of the same coin — like opera and musical comedy — superheroes have been prime targets for parody from the start.
The concept was parodied even before Superman arrived with characters like Popeye, and immediately afterward with characters like the Red Tornado (Ma Hunkle) and Supersnipe, “the boy with the most comic books in the world.”
The 1940s saw funny animal parodies like Mighty Mouse, Super Rabbit and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and, in 1952, the superheroes were among the first targets of Mad Magazine.
Captain Sprocket bowed in Archie's Madhouse 25 (April, 1963). That title offered mostly lighthearted science fiction and monster parodies, Sabrina the Teenage Witch being the most famous example. The Universal film monsters of the 1930s and 1940s were immensely popular then, having been introduced to a vast new audience of youngsters through the late shows on local television.
At 9, I enjoyed the misadventures of the mildly inept but ultimately effective captain, who began as a red-suited super-spaceman. The name “Sprocket” suggested the space-age term “rocket” while remaining suitably silly. He swiftly evolved into an orange-suited, caped superhero of a deliberately generic brand.
In fact, I subscribed to Archie’s Madhouse because of Captain Sprocket, even though his appearances were irregular. By age 9, you can still be awestruck by superheroes while also recognizing their inherent absurdity, and I believe I found Captain Sprocket to be a means of splitting the difference.
“Captain Sprocket may be the superhero who had the longest continual run at MLJ/Archie Comics, though it’s possible The Shield, who had a surprisingly long career in the back pages of Pep Comics, edges him out,” observed comics historian Don Markstein. “But most of the company's ‘40s stars, who came and went in a couple of years, aren’t in the running. Nor is their biggest ‘60s star, The Fly, who ran longer than most of the company's super guys but had a gap between incarnations. And yet, Sprocket has never had his own title, never been a member of The Mighty Crusaders, and isn’t taken very seriously by either readers or creators.”
Captain Sprocket did, however, inspire at least one more superhero parody. When Archie Andrews became Pureheart the Powerful in the superhero boom of 1965, his costume turned out to be almost identical to the good captain’s.
Captain Sprocket finally found himself on a super team in Archie 655 (May 2014). In this parody of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Sprocket joined with other notably obscure Archie Comics characters like Cat Girl, Super Duck, the vegetarian vampire Captain Pumpernik and Cosmo the Merry Martian (as well as Archie and Jughead) in the Good Guys of the Galaxy.

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