December 11, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #274: Max Mercury

A forgettable Golden Age speedster becomes one of the most important speedsters in DC history...for a little while at least.

The Golden Age of comics saw a lot of publishers trying to do their own superheroes, and many of the more forgettable ones were knock-offs of more successful heroes.  But rights get passed around, and once in a great while, something can be made of these forgotten characters.

That leads me to Max Mercury.

Max Mercury was a Golden Age hero published by Quality Comics’s National Comics #5 in November 1940.  And…he wasn’t much.  He actually went by the name of Quicksilver, and he had superspeed.  Oh, and his real first name was “Max”.  That’s about all there was.  He was a knock-off of Jay Garrick’s Flash, and that was it.

Of course, that just means that future creators can actually, you know, do something about all that.  Writer Mark Waid, a guy known for, among other things, an encyclopedic knowledge of comic book characters, did something with the character.  He was writing the adventures of Wally West’s Flash, and during a storyline where a particularly dangerous foe appeared, Jay Garrick put together a team of older speedsters.  That team was Jay himself, Johnny Quick, and some guy named Max Mercury that no one else seemed to recognize, but a guy implied to have been something of a past mentor to Jay himself.

And, for what it was worth, Max was presented as a very formidable speedster in his own right, someone who combined acrobatic agility with his speed in his earliest appearances.

And while Max was never the fastest, he could do tricks the others couldn’t, acting as something of a mentor figure to Wally.  When Wally activated Johnny Quick’s speed formula to increase his speed, he found himself moving so fast that the rest of the world froze around him, Max was the only one who could–briefly–move fast enough to help him calm down.  Essentially, if Barry was a mentor who taught Wally about the scientific and practical applications of speed, Max was all about the zen philosophy of the Speed Force itself.

Hence, the reason he was also known as the Zen Master of Speed.

And then, finally, Waid gave Max a backstory.  You know, beyond renaming the character Max Mercury to avoid copyright disputes.  Max, for one, was a lot older than he looked.  He was a 19th century US Army scout who befriended the local Indian tribe, but one of his commanders had different ideas.  Max discovered much of the tribe dead, but a dying shaman gifted Max mystically with speed powers, allowing Max to run off and rescue the last of the Indians and preventing deaths on both sides.  Calling himself Windrunner, he protected all the people in the area no matter who they were.

Max Windrunner

One day, he heard a thunderstorm that gave him the urge to run as fast as he could.  And like many DC speedsters, he got sucked into the Speed Force…almost.  He didn’t make it, bouncing right out again and many years after he started running.  Max had skipped forward in time.

And that, in a nutshell, was Max’s whole story.  Every so often, he’d try to run into the Speed Force, Speedster Heaven after all, but he never quite make it and would bounce out years or even decades later.  In the present, he even discovered he had an adult daughter that came about from an extra-marital affair he had with a married woman (Max was a philosopher, not a saint).

But along the way, he developed a very calm philosophy and became, well, the Zen Master of Speed.

Naturally, Waid’s next trick was to give Max a student who was every bit the opposite of Max, namely Bart “Impulse” Allen.

Naturally, Max and Bart were opposites in every way, but Max was easily the most patient of speedsters and the only one who could possibly be patient enough to be a mentor to Bart…you know, until future writers decided to change Bart from Impulse to Kid Flash and let him leave Max’s nest.  Then again, I am a little fuzzy on the chronology, and Max might have been sucked into the Negative Speed Force after he’d been possessed by the spirit of Jay’s version of the Reverse-Flash, a guy called Rival.  Barry Allen’s return in Flash Rebirth (the mini-series, not the DC line-wide rebranding) saw all of DC’s speedsters, including Max, showing up to help Barry defeat his own Reverse-Flash, bringing in the Flash Family of Speedsters that was very much something that Waid built when he made characters like Jay and Max supporting characters in his Flash adventures.

And then the New 52 came along, and Max didn’t make the cut.

Well, you know, until he bounces out of the Speed Force again or something.