February 26, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #114: Hourman

The Man of the Hour, a Justice Society mainstay, hasn't been seen in a while. Does someone have a problem with a hero who gains his superhuman abilities due to popping pills?

As I’ve said before many times, the original purpose for both the Justice League and the Justice Society was not to be the big all-star teams they are today.  Originally, these teams were set up to shine the spotlight on lesser-known heroes owned by DC Comics.  The big ones–Superman and Batman–while ostensibly members, were rarely seen or only mentioned in passing as too busy with their own cases to come help out.  Only gradually did that change.

DC has also rebooted the old Justice Society with the New 52, but done so while skipping a few of its stalwart members, such as the Man of the Hour, Hourman.

That’s him in the yellow hood.

There’s been a couple different version of Hourman, so let’s focus on the original.  Hourman was chemist Rex Tyler.  One day he developed a pill called Miraclo.  Some sort of super-vitamin, Rex discovered Miraclo could grant him a single hour’s worth of enhanced strength and speed.  Donning a colorful hooded costume, Rex became the Hour-Man, later just Hourman, and fought the forces of evil as is the wont of generally benevolent scientists who discover super drugs that could benefit all kinds of people but the scientist only takes himself.

That’s the problem with superhero scientists.  Many times, they keep their discoveries to themselves.  It’s probably why Reed Richards hasn’t cured cancer yet.

But there may be a good reason for Rex withholding the drug.  It may have only worked for him.  And I mean “may;” Miraclo isn’t exactly a consistent drug.  Sometimes Rex could only take a dose a day.  Other times he had to wait just one hour to pop a second pill.  And sometimes he could pop one as soon as he powered down.  And sometimes the drug only worked on Rex and various descendants.  If that last one is true, then withholding the promise of Miraclo from, oh, everybody is a bit more excusable.

But since Hourman wasn’t a big name hero in his own right that could carry his own solo comic, he got to hang out with the Justice Society.  When DC writers and artists revived the JSA as a concept on Earth-2, Hourman was often there to help out as needed with other heroes.

Here’s a nice panel with the heroes labeled.

Considering most of the JSA were guys with simple gimmicks, like flawless night vision or simply being an excellent boxer, having a guy with actual superpowers comes in handy sometimes.  Then again, arguably the most powerful member of the team that actually showed up consistently was Wonder Woman, and she was named team secretary because that was the 1940s, and Silver Age Wonder Woman wasn’t even allowed to drive Steve Trevor’s freakin’ jeep.

Like a lot of these Golden Age heroes, Hourman disappeared until the Earth-2 thing started, and unlike the Flash or the Atom, DC didn’t create a new version of the guy.  He would eventually get a son to carry on his legacy, Rick Tyler.

Seen here embarrassing Misplaced Hero Damage.

Rex was actually killed at one point.  The story was Zero Hour, and the Justice Society went to deal with the villain messing with the time stream.  They met Exant, who wasn’t quite that guy, but might as well have been.  Now, Marv Wolfman used a simple rule when he wrote the original Crisis, namely that he would not kill off any character older than he was.  Zero Hour writer Dan Jurgens apparently felt no such compulsion, and the Justice Society, its members kept younger than they should have been due to a wide range of reasons, were rather easily dealt with by Exant, who remember wasn’t even the actual villain behind it all but was just a minion.  Rex was one of the heroes killed in a rather short, lop-sided, and bloody battle, while the surviving members of the venerable team were aged up to something closer to their actual age.

Fans weren’t happy with that.  Killing off a hero isn’t necessary a problem, but making a massacre out of a group that had been around since World War II didn’t sit well with many fans.  Some characters got better.  The Flash, for example, didn’t age as badly and was still around, as was the original Green Lantern.  Hawkman and Hawkgirl reincarnated as was their wont.  Starman Ted Knight had a more dignified final battle a few years later after largely passing off his superhero duties to his sons.  But for Hourman Rex Tyler, there was some truly impressive work done to bring the man back.

As it was, there was a third Hourman from a far-distant future, an advanced android with time-based powers.  Seeing a connection to the Tylers, that Hourman used his abilities to simply take Rex’s place in the nano-seconds between the start of the battle and Rex’s death.  And since that Tyler was a machine, the returned Hourman went into retirement with, among his plans, to rebuild the advanced android with whatever parts were left over.

That…seems like a much better way to send a character off.

However, for whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be an Hourman of any kind in the New 52 or Rebirth.  Will that change?  I don’t know.  Maybe DC doesn’t want a superhero who gains his powers from popping pills.