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Stardust the Super Wizard

Amazing Heroes
by yo go re

A lot of weird, inexplicable ideas appeared in comics during the Golden Age, but none like Stardust the Super Wizard.

Stardust the Super Wizard debuted in the pages of Fox Publications' Fantastic Comics #1 in December, 1939, created by cartoonist Fletcher Hanks. Populated by grotesquely drawn characters, Stardust is the epitome of wonky Golden Age comics, as he uses his magic-like powers to transform and decimate his enemies.

Fletcher Hanks has been described as the Ed Wood of comics, for his unique blend of enthusiasm and ineptitude. Stardust was a scientist (not a wizard) who lived on his own private star (or maybe he was the personification of a star) and had equipment that would detect crime on Earth. He'd then show up in a burst of energy (or, when Hanks often forgot to draw the character in the center, as a burst of energy) to punish the wicked in completely goofy ways, then would disappear back to his observatory before anyone could thank him.

The Amazing Heroes Kickstarter was about taking old comic characters who have entered the public domain and giving them toys inspired by Mattel's '80s Secret Wars line. The sculpt is therefore very simple - it's muscular, but not as exaggerated as superheroes we get today, and there's no kind of texturing or even sculpted lines to suggest where the edges of his costume would be. After all, all the figures use the same body, so while Stardust may have bare hands, sculpting a line at the wrist wouldn't work for a character who wears long gloves, would it?

One thing that is not shared among all the figures is the head - everybody gets their own unique sculpt up there, and Stardust's is quite nice. He's got wavy blonde hair, as he did in the comics, though the likeness falls a bit short by virtue of being the right size for the body. See, Fletcher Hanks' command of proportions was bad enough to unwrite every joke ever made at Rob Liefeld's expense, so Stardust was often drawn as a bloated giant with a tiny little head. He also had a square jaw and a huge forehead that this toy lacks.

Stardust wears a gray costume, detailed with a yellow starburst collar and a wide yellow belt with two lines of red dots all the way around. One of the few consistencies in the art was that the jagged lower edge of the belt was a three-dimensional feature, not just a change in color - it cast shadows - but that doesn't work here. They might have put a black line on one side of each spike all the way around, but that probably would have been too expensive.

For all the fever-dream inventiveness involved in Stardust's adventures, the art was very stiff. The hero himself had just a few stock poses that were repeated over and over, such as flying without moving his body at all. So with its distinctive squatting stance and five points of articulation, this figure actually feels more dynamic than the art which inspired it.

Stardust had whatever powers the story called for, and meted out punishments even more exotic than the Spectre's: he'd turn people into icicles or rats, or launch them into space, or shrink a man's body until only his head remained, then throw that head into a black hole where a headless demon lives, and the demon grabs it and puts the head on its own shoulders; it was all pure insanity, but the moral was simple - be a bad person, and bad things will happen to you.

Maybe that was Fletcher trying to atone for his own sins. He started out painting murals for wealthy New Yorkers, but would immediately spend his earnings on alcohol. He was a drunk who abused his wife and children, and when he finally abandoned them, he stole the money his son had made selling vegetables. No one knows why he completely dropped out of the comics industry, but his alcoholism probably had something to do with it. He died January 22, 1976, having frozen to death on a park bench in New York. But like Ed Wood, his lack of skill wasn't an impediment to creating something that has maintained notoriety even after his death. Stardust the Super Wizard only appeared in 15 issues before Fletcher stopped working on him, but now he will live forever in plastic.

-- 02/20/16


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