Comet Man #1-6
Issue(s): Comet Man #1, Comet Man #2, Comet Man #3, Comet Man #4, Comet Man #5, Comet Man #6
At least to my elementary school science teachers. You might think that with all the scientific focus on the comet in 1986 it would be the wrong time to come up with a wild story where the comet is really an alien space ship that turns an astronaut into a super-hero, but you would be exactly wrong about that.
Writers Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer were both Hollywood actors, with Mumy being best known for playing Will Robinson on the Lost In Space television show. If you want a Marvel connection, Miguel Ferrer eventually played Vice President Rodriguez in Iron Man 3. This is the first of a few scattered stories that each will do for Marvel, including a return to Comet Man for Marvel Comics Presents. Along with artist Kelley Jones they are credited as creators of Comet Man in addition to being the writers, so my assumption is that they came to Marvel with this idea. It's worth noting that, with a cover date of Feb 87 for the first issue, unless my timing is completely off, this series seems to have missed the boat for the height of Halley's Comet mania. I'm also not sure if the "star power" of Mumy and Ferrer helped with sales at all. The series doesn't advertise itself as "from Danger Will Robinson himself!" or anything like that on the covers. The covers themselves, which feature some toned-down-for-him but still pretty wild Bill Sienkiewicz art, might also not have helped with a general audience.
There does seem to be an abrupt shift to placing this in the Marvel universe with issue #3, after some stuff in the earlier issues that seem to exclude it. More on that below.
We begin with a lone astronaut in space, Dr. Stephen Beckley, preparing to observe Halley's Comet as part of a joint effort of NASA and MIT. Beckley is in an observatory probe that was dropped off in the asteroid belt by a space shuttle. His probe is said to be "the most sophisticated manned information gathering probe ever created".
Back at Cape Canaveral, along with NASA scientists, Stephen is observed by his wife and former astronaut Ann and son Benny, and Ann's old boyfriend David Hilbert. Hilbert still has a thing for Ann, something that you can't help notice.
Halley's Comet suddenly makes a sharp change in its trajectory and crashes directly into Stephen's probe. David moves in on Ann immediately.
It turns out that Stephen isn't exactly dead. We learn that Halley's Comet is actually a spaceship, piloted by an alien named Max. Max has rebuilt Stephen from his scattered molecules, although he had to "make quite a few changes" when putting him back together.
If this were a Marvel universe comic from the start, you might have expected Reed Richards or Tony Stark to be involved, or for the probe to have been launched by Peter Corbeau's Starcore One. Their absence doesn't prove anything, of course. But the line from Max saying that his people from Fortisque "seeded this galaxy" coupled with the fact that they return every 77 years to check on its progress suggests an origin for life in our galaxy that i don't think Marvel editorial would want to be applied in the Marvel universe. In retrospect, "seeded this galaxy" might mean anything, but surely the intent with that line was to say that life on our planet is derived from the Fortisquians.
Anyway, Stephen is now a "fully evolved humanoid" thanks to Max's reconstruction, and Max suggests taking him back to Fortisquian space to learn the implications of that. Stephen, however, has family at home and doesn't agree...
...so Max reluctantly drops him back into space. He realizes that he can breathe in space (which he attributes to his suit) and fly, but when he starts thinking about getting back to his base, he suddenly finds that he's teleported himself there.
The first person he talks to is David Hilbert, who, since he wants to keep Ann for himself, tells Stephen that he needs to be kept in quarantine for a period of time, and he meanwhile allows Ann and Benny to continue to think that Stephen is dead.
While in quarantine, it's determined that in addition to flight and super-strength, Stephen also has telekinesis, and he demonstrates ESP capabilities as well.
We'll also learn that his suit is resistant to fire. Stephen is drugged and imprisoned, his wife and son are kidnapped, and we see that Hilbert is actually working for a shadowy "Superior"...
...that runs an organization called the Bridge, a "covert intelligence" agency that recently had some bad press because "we get all the dirty jobs that no one else will touch". The Bridge is also intending on hunting down the alien Max.
The Bridge agents' uniforms look very similar to SHIELD's, and i find the fact that SHIELD isn't even mentioned (yet) to be another clue that this story wasn't intended to be part of Marvel continuity.
Stephen continues to demonstrate new powers as he escapes from Bridge, and even more later, when he forces Rocket Raccoon's unevolved cousin to bring him some dinner.
Ann, meanwhile, shows exactly how a capable former astronaut escapes custody.
Women of the world, i don't know how you stand us.
She does get a nice kick in...
..but then she runs into a high voltage fence and dies.
David Hilbert is shaken when Ann dies, but he continues to take orders from the Superior. And Bridge is experimenting on Benny Beckley, trying to replicate the process that gave his father super-powers. And Stephen is recaptured by the Bridge.
We meanwhile check in on Max, who is absorbing Earth's pop culture.
Then, suddenly, the Hulk.
The Hulk breaks open the Bridge truck that was transporting Stephen, and Stephen reluctantly gets into a fight with the Hulk.
So Big, So Fast alert.
Stephen eventually subdues the Hulk by using his ESP powers to transform him back into Bruce Banner...
...but that's ruined when someone in Mandroid armor continues the attack.
However, the Hulk jumps away.
Kelley Jones' art is similar to his work on the Micronauts but his action sequences are tighter - the fight with the Hulk is pretty nice.
This battle, covered by the press, is when Stephen is dubbed Comet Man. It also attracts the attention of Mr. Fantastic.
It turns out that not only do Reed Richards and Stephen Beckley know each other, but Stephen was instrumental in helping Reed get his powers back in Fantastic Four #197. So not only, beginning with issue #3, does the Marvel universe come crashing into this series, but Stephen is given some retroactive cred to make him part of the Marvel universe (although i assume he wasn't working for Dr. Doom!).
Despite his new super-hero name and powers, he rejects the idea that he'll become a costumed super-hero. He's focused on finding his family. Reed contacts Nick Fury, who agrees to investigate the Bridge.
Meanwhile, Mr. Fantastic helps Stephen learn about his powers. They concentrate on the ability to teleport, which should allow Stephen to materialize wherever he wants. His first attempt lands him in the shower with She-Hulk.
After that nonsense is settled, Comet Man tries again, trying to hone in on his wife. And that's when we get to the darkest scene in the series.
Man, that's up there with the most gruesome of the EC Horror comics, and those types of things usually happen to bad guys.
Mr. Fantastic and the Thing retrieve Comet Man after he has an understandable freakout, and then Nick Fury gets back in touch to reveal that the "Superior" of the Bridge is actually Stephen's half-brother, information that we simultaneously learn from the Superior himself. The Superior is unhappy because his and Stephen's father did not acknowledge their relationship (Awwwwwww!).
And the Superior's vengeance involves experimenting on Stephen's son to gain the Comet Man powers, with the idea that since he shares genetics with them, he himself could gain those powers as well.
It's not the best revelation. The idea of a shadowy government agency doing illicit things to learn about alien technology works well enough on its own without complicating matters with an unlikely personal connection (what if any other astronaut had been up in space when Halley's Comet struck?), and the idea that the Superior is related to Stephen and Benny shouldn't really matter since there wasn't anything special about Stephen's genetic materials; he just happened to be the guy that Max reconstructed. Nonetheless, this gives Comet Man a specific arch-villain.
Mr. Fantastic gives Comet Man a device that allows him to teleport with less effort, and after a pep talk from the Thing...
...Comet Man is convinced to try again, this time focusing on his son. And he learns that his son has already been given powers...
...but he's on the verge of dying from the experience, and he quickly become catatonic. David Hilbert has been going through a personal crisis after the death of Ann and the torture that Benny has been going through, so he tells Comet Man that the Bridge has sent the ships after the alien Max and that he'll take care of Benny while Comet Man helps Max.
Back out in space, not aware that a fleet of Bridge spaceships are closing in on him, Max finds himself corrupted by the triple threat of Rambo, Yngwie Malmsteen, and that favorite of Earth pasttimes, Troll Wrestling.
The idea that the Fortisquians have "seeded" our galaxy seems to have been dropped. Now they just came eons ago to examine us.
By the time the Bridge agents and Comet Man arrive, Max has completely lost his mind.
Comet Man is able to bring Max back around. Meanwhile, though, Hilbert confronts the Superior but fails to stop him, and the Superior triggers a nuclear weapon that the Bridge agents brought along with them. Comet Man and Max teleport away at the last second, but we don't see them again, and we're left with an ending that has a catatonic Benny left as an unwelcome ward of a sister of Stephen's named Rosemary.
Whatever the sales situation, it's not a bad series at all. It's a bit overt in the character motivations and maybe a little rough in the scripting, but it develops an interesting story and is surprisingly mature and very dark.
That does again suggest an audience mismatch. I'm assuming a general audience was the idea. Even ignoring the fact that this was by (minor) Hollywood stars, the fact that the series is named "Comet Man" suggests a kid-friendly book, and then couple that with the Halley's Comet connection, seems at a high level to make this book attractive to a younger audience. But it has some gruesome art and adult themes, and a very downbeat ending (possibly due to low sales causing the series to get cancelled early?). Still, it's a good read with nice art by Kelley Jones.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: For the Fantastic Four, this has to take place after Fantastic Four #296, when the Thing rejoins the team, and issues #297-298 take place before any other FF appearances, so i've placed this after FF #298. For the Hulk, this fits awkwardly between Hulk #323-324. A footnote tells us to "see current issues of the Incredible Hulk" to learn why he has the improved vocabulary, but by "current" issues, Bruce Banner was the grey Hulk and Rick Jones was a long-haired Hulk (and this Hulk is definitely Banner). See the Considerations for both FF #296 and Hulk #324 for my reasoning.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showBenny Beckley, Comet Man, Hulk, Invisible Woman, Max (Fortisquian), Mr. Fantastic, Nick Fury, Rosemary Beckley, She-Hulk, Superior (Bridge), Thing
Marvel Age previewed this as a Limited Series.
These titles are lyrics from the following songs: #2--"Light My Fire" by the Doors,#3--"Somebody To Love" by Jefferson Airplane, #5--Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain" covered by the Rolling Stones.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 12, 2014 4:53 PM
#4 is presumably from "The needle and the damage done," by Neil Young, and #6 is from the death scene of Hamlet, incongruously.
Posted by: Andrew | March 7, 2015 8:13 AM
Is there a compelling reason to keep this story in continuity? Or do I have to use the "Hulkbot" exemption?
Posted by: TheBruce | May 31, 2015 9:33 PM
In EARTH X, it'll eventually be revealed that The Skull is Benny, Comet's Man son.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 31, 2015 9:36 PM
Comet Man and Max appear in Fantastic Four #313-317 after this, with references to these issues. So it's definitely in continuity.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 31, 2015 9:39 PM
I hope that one of these days Marvel reprints the Comet Man miniseries and the follow-up serial from Marvel Comics Presents into a trade paperback. It's an unusual, unsettling story by Bill Mumy & Ferrer. Plus I really enjoy the offbeat artwork by Kelley Jones & Gerry Talaoc.
Besides, if Skull the Slayer can get a collected edition, why not Comet Man!
Posted by: Ben Herman | August 1, 2015 3:23 PM
I'm just totally agog from finding out that Special Agent Albert Rosenfield has some Marvel co-writing credits!
Posted by: George Lochinski | November 20, 2016 3:35 AM
George Lochinski: I thought it was Vice President Rodriguez who co-wrote this miniseries!
Posted by: Ben Herman | November 20, 2016 12:36 PM
I never realized how distinctive Gary Taloc was/is as an inker because this looks exactly like the issues of The Incredible Hulk he inked, right down to Comet Man himself looking like Bruce Banner at times. Speaking of which, I do think the writing is a little stiff at times- the soldier thinking "If only this alter-ego, Bruce Banner was in control- the sane, rational side of the Hulk-" etc. Miguel Ferrer is (in my opinion) somewhat more recognizable than Bill Mumy actually, as one of those "hey, it's that guy"s in movies, I especially remember him in THE STAND mini-series when I was a kid.
Posted by: Wis | December 15, 2016 2:28 AM
Miguel Ferrer died tonight; I was wondering if he was ever interviewed or discussed his (albeit brief) comics work on this title.
Posted by: Wis | January 19, 2017 11:26 PM
@Wis: Very sad news. As soon as I heard about Ferrer's passing, this miniseries was one of the first things that popped into my head. Unfortunately I don't think Ferrer ever discussed his comic book work in interviews.
Even though he only worked on a few comic book projects, he did continue to have other connections to the genre. In addition to his role in Iron Man 3, he did voiceover work for various comic book related animated projects. Among the characters he voiced were Martian Manhunter, Vandal Savage, Deathstroke, Aquaman, and Silvermane.
Posted by: Ben Herman | January 20, 2017 10:28 AM
Probably most will already have spotted this, but in the panel Fnord includes where Max is listening to rock & roll, "Fish Heads" by Barnes & Barnes is one of the radio transmissions. Bill Mumy, co-writer of this series, was also one of Barnes & Barnes, along with his friend Robert Haimer.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | September 26, 2017 2:28 PM
Skull the Slayer had a collected edition??
Posted by: Wis | October 26, 2017 2:14 AM
Only 7 left in stock - order soon. But don't get your hopes up that it makes any more sense when collected. Issue #7 was one of my first comics, and I still think that issue stands up very well by itself, but the rest...
Posted by: Andrew | October 26, 2017 2:30 PM
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