Megaton Man (1984) COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: An overlooked, hilarious superhero satire on steroids
Writer/Artist/Letterer: Don Simpson, Colorists: Bill Poplaski, Ray Fehrenbach.
I don’t remember when I discovered Megaton Man, but it was definitely more than a few years after the title debuted in 1984 from Kitchen Sink Press. I probably ran across it in a back issue box at a Local Comic Shop. In the days before the internet, it was much easier for comics to be published without you ever knowing they existed, especially if your LCS didn’t carry them. So I felt like I had found Buried Treasure. Megaton Man was a superhero satire with goofy/hilarious dialogue, spot-on caricatures of famous people, lushly illustrated interiors, and beautifully colored covers…it had GUILTY PLEASURE written all over it. I was immediately hooked, and didn’t rest until I had hunted down every back issue.
My favorite issues of MAD Magazine were when they would do parodies of superhero comics or movies. So imagine Neal Adams and Roy Thomas, both circa 1971…working at MAD…hopped up on steroids…teaming up to create a satire of late Silver Age/early Bronze Age superhero comics, and you get the idea of what Megaton Man is like. But in this case, all the creative wackiness is rolled into one person: Don Simpson (minus the steroids). Everything about the comic is done as it would have been in the late Silver Age/early Bronze Age: the paper is off-white and pulpy, Zipatone effects abound, and the coloring is flat and basic, except on the wonderful covers, where Neal Adams’s moody, sophisticated coloring style is expertly homaged.
Simpson pulls from familiar Silver Age/Bronze Age sources and tropes, including Superman: Megaton Man (MM) lives in Megatropolis, has a civilian identity as Trent Phloog, a mild-mannered reporter for the newspaper, The Manhattan Project—one of many nuclear references to support the hero’s theme. MM himself looks like a combination of an impossibly muscled, hunched-over, red-caped Superman, with the cowl and red visor of the X-Men’s Cyclops. And what holds his disproportionately small red cape to his blue uniform? Why, big yellow shirt buttons of course. MM’s girlfriend, fellow reporter Pamela Jointly, is a hippy version of Lois Lane: braless, wild-haired, idealistic, and constantly falling out of windows.
Whether intentionally or as a parody in itself, Megaton Man is very similar to The Tick; they could be long lost brothers. Both are large, incredibly muscled satiric heroes, both love the exclamation “WOO!”, and both were the Wile E. Coyotes of the comic book world— repeatedly experiencing deadly violence, and always re-spawning and coming back for more punishment in the next scene. And, both got royally robbed in the intelligence department. But where The Tick is more naïve and not quite right in the head, Megaton Man is just plain dumb and oblivious. The most obvious example: when in his civilian identity as Manhattan Project newspaper reporter Trent Phloog, MM (like Superman) wears his superhero garb under his clothes, but he isn’t smart enough to pull back his cowl or put his goggles in his pocket. So everyone knows Trent is MM…some do their best to humor his clumsy attempt at a secret identity, and some don’t… especially when a crisis beckons.
Simpson is also obviously a huge Fantastic Four fan, as Megaton Man is initially as much about Simpson’s satirical version of the FF, The Megatropolis Quartet (MQ), as it is about MM.
There’s even a brilliant in-house full page ad promoting the latest issue of MQ in MM#1. The cover of MQ #73 is accompanied by a banner that screams “ASK FOR IT BY NAME!”, which is impossible for the reader to do, since the giant monster on the cover has eaten the masthead.
Simpson's lush brushwork and over-exaggerated anatomy are at the same time an homage to Neal Adams's realistic style as well as a parody of it, especially in dynamic fight scenes.
Simpson displayed his excellent caricature abilities with appearances of characters based on Jerry Lewis's Nutty Professor, a Citizen Kane riff with Orson Wells, Sly Stallone as Rambo, and Jackie Gleason, and included spoofs on the Cosmic Cube, Spider-Man, Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, and Green Arrow...as well as a few I probably didn't recognize.
Megaton Man ran for a glorious ten issues, later in a limited series The Return of Megaton Man, and a series of one-shots. Find out what you've been missing!