Super heroes were becoming big business as the Silver Age of Comics kicked off at the beginning of the 1960s. As the decade progressed, all sorts of companies developed and launched their own costumed characters in an attempt to find success and profit. Some of these characters have been long forgotten by this point. One of the most obscure was the Mercury Man, who only managed two appearances in Charlton’s SPACE ADVENTURES title in 1962.
The Mercury Man was the creation of prolific Charlton writer Joe Gill and artist Rocco “Roche” Mastroserio, and he seems to be a feature designed to take the place of the Captain Atom strip, which had ended its initial run in SPACE ADVENTURES shortly before this. In concept, there’s a lot of overlap between the two characters, and Gill’s involvement in creating both of them means that it was no accident. This may simply reflect his thoughts on superhuman heroes overall.
The Mercury Man was an alien from the stars, whose own civilization on the planet Mercury had been destroyed in the wars his people wages upon one another. As the last survivor, he comes to Earth in the hopes of preventing the same thing from transpiring on another world. And while he’s given a blue costume and regular fleshtone skin on the cover, the Mercury Man’s body is as metallic as his namesake, and he wears relatively little.
Even among his own people, the Mercury Man was a novel specimen. His great powers weren’t inborn, but rather the result of his own experiments working on metals, which granted him the ability to transform his own body into pure Mercury. The Mercury man explains all of this to his one supporting character, Dr. Erika Penn, a female scientist whose study of the stars is what drew him to Earth in the first place.
And the Mercury Man has come just in time! Because, wouldn’t you know it? On the other side of the world, a new dictator has come to power behind the communist Iron Curtain, and this madman is determined to wage war against the ideologically more pure Democracies. He’s a suicidal lunatic who doesn’t care if the entire world goes up in atomic fire. In other words, a very subtle and rounded character portrayal. It’s up to the Mercury Man to bring the conflict to a halt and prevent the Commie missiles from reaching the United States and other friendly countries.
This, the Mercury Man does, destroying all of the aggressive weapons from both sides (but not the American weapons–that’s a country that can be trusted to use its power wisely!) In the end, the Mercury Man wants to make Earth his new home, and he submits to a procedure that will restore his physique to flesh and blood again–though he’ll be able to transform into his superhuman state whenever necessary. It’s at this point that the initial adventure ends.
The Mercury Man would be seen only one more time, in the following issue. By that point, he had acquired a snazzy red costume that made him look much more directly like a super hero–an outfit closer to the manner in which he’s depicted on the #44 cover. The second story is drawn by Charles Nichols, and one gets the sense that he wasn’t given any copies of Mastroserio’s work on the feature. Everybody looks different, in particular Dr. Erika Penn, who has lost her glasses, grown out her hair and dyed it red. The Mercury Man hasn’t bothered to adopt an Earth name (or to reveal his own native Mercury name either.) He’s simply called either Mercury or Merco all throughout the story, in both his costumed and civilian forms. In once again attempting to stop a war, Merco gathers up the evil leaders of all of the Communist nations and flies them out to Mercury, where they can witness the cost of such warfare. When they accidentally destroy the ship that he brought them there in, he coldly strands them on Mercury, figuring that they can do no further harm. Ouch!
There isn’t all that much to recommend the Mercury Man, but he is an interesting curiosity from this period–and one that was never revived or referred to again. AC Comics reprinted his origin story years later in their MEN OF MYSTERY series, and it was again reproduced in the Charlton fan comic, THE CHARLTON ARROW later still.
Panel 4 here presents what must be the most chaste kiss in the history of the medium. It looks like nothing so much as the pair simply staring brainlessly at one another. Even the Comics Code could surely find nothing wrong with such an absurd shot.