Nemesis ! My life on the D-list

Comic book publishing is littered with the bodies of D-list heroes, characters who just never caught on. Maybe their powers too closely resembled other more established heroes. Maybe they fell victim to too many clichés of the genre to hold readers attention.

Publishers, for a few years now, have re-discovered the philosophy there are no small characters, only small stories. All those forgotten heroes have been given new life with increasing frequency since DC’s Crisis story arcs had long forgotten D-listers cropping up on alternate earths, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons conceived the Watchmen (based upon Charlton Comics second tier heroes).

In 1965, American Comics Group (ACG), a small but steady comics publisher launched a new hero named Nemesis in their Adventures into the Unknown title. Forty years later I found Nemesis’s origin story in the bargain bin of a comic book store for $2.50. His costume seemed as if someone had gone through all the rejected capes, and leotards in a hero’s tailor shop. Hmmm, lessee, what’s left, stripped briefs, light blue buccaneer boots…Hey! did anyone pick an hourglass as a chest emblem ? A hood?

(Above, top left) Adventures Into the Unknown # 154, the first appearance of Nemesis, through issue #159.

(Above, top left) Adventures Into the Unknown # 160-#165.  All images of Adventures Into the Unknown © Roger Broughton

Justice Department detective Steve Flint becomes Nemesis after his death at the hands of mobsters. He then ascends to the great beyond where the Grim Reaper grants him paranormal-super powers.  Nemesis revenges his own death and goes on to fight crime, communists, Satan, dinosaurs…you know the usual suspects. The art is not bad at all. There are only 17 issues of Adventures Into the Unknown that featured Nemesis. He was drawn by Pete Contanza and later Chic Stone. Peter Constanza, a golden age artist who had previously worked at Fawcett (Captain Marvel), and also worked for Classics Illustrated (think Kipling, and James Fenimore Cooper) and eventually would work for DC in 1966 drawing Jimmy Olsen. Pete also drew Magicman for ACG. Chic Stone inked Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four Pencils as well as the X-men and Thor. He too had previously worked for Fawcett on Captain Marvel.

One of the things that endeared Nemesis to me was reading the letters to the editor section titled : “Let’s Talk it Over”  (p17 in issue 154) one letter bears repeating, here is the gist of it. The complete letter  and reply is just too long to post.

“Dear Editor,

I have been reading your comic book since it’s earliest issues and I hate to say it, but you have been steadily declining. Both artwork and stories get worse every issue. Your Writers are not very good, but neither are any comic book writers today. Changing public taste has made it permissible for a writer to turn out a bad story and still have it acclaimed as good….  Fire your present art and writing staff-to be frank they stink. Get some of the old writers of the early fifties to do your stories! ”

yowch! Nothing hurts worse than articulate criticism, yet the letter  was actually published. Boy that takes guts. The rest of the letters vary , some critical (much more honest then I’ve ever seen in Marvel or DC), most praising. Keep in mind that Adventures into the Unknown was made up of a collection of Twilight Zone-esque stories, so there where at least four separate stories each with a different writer (supposedly). It’s interesting to mention that some readers go on  complimenting on one writer’s superior qualities over another in the book, well from what I understand at this point (1957 and on) in time at the book there was always just one writer using different pseudonyms … Editor Richard Hughes (Born Leo Rosenbaum?). Hughs  wrote as Shane O’Shea, Zev Zimmer, Ace Aquila, or Kurato Osaki among others. Hughes had in the 40’s created a number of D-list heroes : The Black Terror (with Dave Gabrielson),  Fighting Yank (with Jon Blummer) that have since reappeared in present day story arcs. Sooo, the way I figure it Nemesis is next. C’mon, the man is sporting a hoodie for Pete’s sake, it doesn’t get anymore modern than that.

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