"LOOK! Up In The Sky!"
By Michael Hutchison
Art by Simon Brown, Christian Moore and Jas Ingram
For all of recorded history, mankind has wished it could fly. To soar, glide and dip like the evolution-advantaged birds. How different it must be to be in a world where humans use jetpacks, wings, anti-gravity belts and various other means to slip the bonds of Earth.
In the DC Universe, where mythological characters actually lived, Daedalus and Icarus used wax and feathers to fly. In the age of magic and ancient civilizations, numerous people discovered means of flight which were lost to later human civilization. The African city of Kor even possessed flying ships, but the entire kingdom was destroyed in a battle between Felix Faust and Nommo (later known as Dr. Mist).
In the sixth century AD, one of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, Sir Justin, was given a flying horse by Merlin the magician. However, he was temporally displaced following his first adventure and no one ever saw him flying, so this barely counts.
The balloon was invented by the Montgolfier brothers in the 1700s, although no superhero would use this as a superpower until the Blimp of the Inferior Five.
The dawn of the twentieth century saw two bicycle mechanics launching the modern age of flight at Kitty Hawk. Planes were used a decade later as weapons of war. The Enemy Ace and Balloon Buster were two of the exceptional pilots who emerged at this infant stage of the airplane. Another generation later, the Blackhawks became the premiere aerial team of World War II. Captain X, with his experimental transparent plane, also defeated many Axis fliers.
But the skies of the 1940s weren't only filled with planes, barrage balloons and bombs. It was around this time that "mystery men" began flying of their own accord.
The first flying men were Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Spectre all of whom belonged to the Justice Society (or the Justice Battalion as it was called during WWII). They were soon followed by a slew of flying characters, including Dr. Fate, Johnny Quick, Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt, Hawkgirl, Flying Fox, The Shining Knight atop his flying horse, Winged Victory, The Ray, Black Condor, Bulletman and Starman.
So, was the world stunned that men could now, apparently, fly? No, because it was not widely known. As "mystery men", most of their appearances weren't public and witnesses were few in number. Indeed, although the JSA had a public headquarters and reported directly to President Roosevelt on numerous occasions, their actual activities were rarely seen. Due to the rarity of cameras and film crews, the adventures of the JSA were rarely captured on film. Thus, while few doubted the existence of Dr. Fate or Green Lantern, the scope of their abilities may not be known by the common man.
Some doubters even attributed their abilities to gimmicks, wires and mirrors. Many people thought that Winged Victory was merely a machine until they saw the horse up close. And the 1940s were a tumultuous time. War dominated the front sections of the newspapers, new inventions and scientific discoveries were appearing often and the public, while dazzled by the high-profile Justice Society, had more pressing concerns than a few people in gaudy dress.
Really, is there much difference between flying using a glider and flying using wings or a cosmic rod? Both are amazing inventions improving man's ability to fly, but it's not the same as self-propelled flight or levitation. The few characters with that particular ability (Spectre, Dr. Fate, Flying Fox) were shadowy figures rarely seen by the public.
Following the end of World War II, many of the All-Star Squadron's mystery men retired. The Shining Knight, along with the rest of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, disappeared during a battle with the Nebula-Man. The JSA's adventures also depleted in number, reducing their visibilty. They were last seen in public during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, at which time they refused to unmask and disappeared. With the best and brightest mystery men chased into hiding, no other metahumans were seen for several decades.
During this time, two flying characters both operated in secret. Plucked by a teleporter from his home planet, J'onn J'onzz became the Martian Manhunter, fighting crime in human guise and hiding his true appearance. Captain Comet, the DCU's first mutant, was born with the abilities which humans will most likely possess after several eons of evolution. He adopted a costume and fought crime, but many of his adventures took him into outer space. On Earth, aware of the fears of metahumans, Captain Comet fought crime away from the human eye.
Decades after J'onn and Captain Comet began their activities, a NASA space plane was being transported to an airfield in Metropolis. The space plane was hit by a private aircraft which violated the airspace and began to lose control. As it started its plunge towards the Earth, a handsome, muscular man in the crowd of spectators suddenly leapt into the air and hurtled through the sky, grabbing the aircraft and guiding it to the tarmac. That man hurriedly fled the scene, but he reappeared in the skies of Metropolis days later, clad in a bright costume reminiscent of the early mystery men. Reporter Lois Lane, one of the space plane's occupants, dubbed him "Superman."
The shocked world watched the footage and gazed at the photographs of a man flying through the air at great speeds, something almost unheard of. Here and there, a grandmother might relate the story of how Green Lantern had once flown through the air to save her as she fell from a skyskraper, or a British veteran would tell of how a knight in shining armor on a winged horse had accompanied their fighter wing in a duel against the Jerries above London. But for the public at large, the sight of Superman supporting suspension bridges and carrying school buses sparked the imagination, and the word "superhero" entered the mainstream vocabulary.
In those first months following Superman's appearance, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Martian Manhunter and Blue Beetle also appeared in the skies and humans began to accept the sight of people flying. Many of the flying Golden Age heroes came out of retirement. Adam Strange was teleported to Rann, where he received a jetpack; however, he rarely utilized it on Earth. Numerous supervillains, including the Trickster, Sinestro, Star Sapphire, Skyhook, Brainstorm, Hector Hammond (in his chair) were able to levitate or fly. Flight, however, was still an uncommon ability amongst the growing number of superheroes.
Antigravity and improved jetpack technology, although terrifically expensive, became viable products. Many superteams, such as the Metal Men, began to utilize high-tech hovercraft for transportation. Lex Luthor developed Team Luthor, a group of flying defenders of Metropolis, and his company has made numerous advances in antigravity/levitational technology. And in the tiny European nation of Modora, sonic science led to the development of flying sonic sleds. The nation has been described by Elongated Man as a country that jumped from the 19th century to the 21st.
Several years later, there was a boom of flying superheroes. Wonder Girl/Troia, Power Girl, Captain Atom, Firestorm, Blue Devil, Zatanna, Silver Scarab, Fury, Geo-Force, the Earth-based Green Lanterns Corps, the Marvel Family, the Ray, Fire, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle's Bug ship, Wonder Woman, Dr. Light, Red Tornado, Azrael of the New Teen Titans (a winged alien mistaken for an angel) and countless others filled the skies. Every superteam has at least one, if not several, members who are able to fly. Flight has evolved from an oddity to the norm for superheroes.
In fact, flight has become so commonplace that characters whose ONLY ability is that they can fly, such as the new Black Condor or the recently-arrived Thanagarian Hawkman (Katar Hol), are pretty ineffectual. Zauriel, the fallen guardian angel who is now a member of the JLA, also has a sonic cry
To be sure, the average citizen will always get a thrill at seeing a person suddenly spring into the air. But it will take a lot more than the ability to fly to stand out as a superhero in today's clogged supersociety!
All scanned artwork is and © DC Comics