MAGICMANMedium: Comic books
Published by: American Comics Group (ACG)
First Appeared: 1965
Creators: Zev Zimmer (Richard E. Hughes), writer; and Pete Costanza, artist
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The comic book scene is littered with magic-wielding superheroes, who tend to have names like Zatara the Magician, Sargon the Sorcerer and
Ibis the Invincible. In exotic company like that, a guy with a name as prosaic as "Magicman" really stands out. While eminently descriptive, it didn't put across the idea that a great deal of original thought went into creating the character.
Nor did it. Editor Richard E. Hughes had been involved with several 1940s superheroes who did show a spark of originality, such as The Woman in Red (arguably the first female superhero), Super Mouse (the first ongoing funny animal superhero) and Fighting Yank (a Shield/Captain America style "patriotic" hero who did not make his costume out of an American flag). But by the '60s, he apparently thought all the originality had been wrung out of the genre, and frequently said so in the letter columns of his American Comics Group. (John Force, a 1962 hero who "sort of" had super powers, scarcely counts.) When he finally gave in to reader demands and added a couple to the line-up, he didn't prove himself wrong. Nemesis was of the spook-type sub-genre pioneered a quarter-century earlier by DC Comics' Spectre, and Magicman was exactly what the name implied.
Magicman debuted in the 125th issue (February, 1965) of Forbidden Worlds, a horror comic from before The Comics Code Authority had put an end to horror comics, which had survived into the '60s by eliminating its horrific elements. His 12-page origin story was credited to writer "Zev Zimmer", but Zimmer, like other credited writers at ACG, was merely one of many pseudonyms Hughes used. It was drawn by Pete Costanza (Captain Marvel, Captain Tootsie), who handled that job throughout Magicman's run.
His secret identity was Tom Cargill, whose powers were inherited from Cagliostro, the 18th century wizard/charlatan/whatever, who, despite the gap in time, was Tom's father. At first, there was a smidgeon of difference between him and the other superheroes, in that his series was set in Vietnam, which hadn't yet become as unpopular a war as we now remember it. But that was negated after a few issues, by ending his tour of duty and bringing him home. His military superior, Sgt. Kilkenny, who seemed to bear a good deal of hostility toward Tom in the service (and vice versa) inexplicably became his roommate in civilian life. In both capacities, he provided the kind of comedy relief that had scarcely been seen in superhero comics since the early '40s (probably because the public had stopped liking it).
Magicman made only two crossovers during his brief existence. In the 136th issue (July, 1966), Nemesis made a guest appearance. As if to show they were typical of their genre, they got into a fistfight. And in Herbie #14, Nemesis and Magicman together came up against The Fat Fury, who, equally naturally, clobbered them both.
ACG's superheroes illustrated the marketing maxim that people don't really know what they want, as despite all the earlier demands for such characters, neither succeeded in selling comics. Magicman disappeared from the Forbidden Worlds cover with its 139th issue (October, 1966), and disappeared altogether after #141 (February, 1967). Shortly afterward, ACG went out of business.
The company's properties, including Magicman, eventually fell into the hands of an entrepreneur who also owns many Charlton characters and a few miscellaneous items. He's been the subject of occasional reprints, but doesn't seem a likely candidate for a full-scale revival.