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The senses-shattering, Kane-infused debut of Major Mynah, Ray Palmer’s pet/sidekick/boat anchor – The Atom #37

December 1, 2012

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Superman had his dog Krypto. Batman had his hound Ace. Supergirl had her horse Comet. J’onn J’onzz had whatever the hell Zook was. There was a time when a part and parcel of being a superhero was maybe having a cute animal sharing in the crimefighting hijinks. (Okay, okay, Zook was more alien than animal, and he- You know what? I don’t really want to talk about Zook right now. MOVING ON.) If you were going to have guys and gals running around in tights and capes and God knows what else, equipping them with pets that also had powers, and that would display intelligence far beyond their creature kingdom peers, wasn’t much of a leap. More of a lateral move, actually. As with most comic book editorial decisions, Why not? was the order of the day. People love their animals. Why not?

The pet partners listed above had some staying power, and get dredged up every now and again for certain stories, when a plot’s recipe calls for a little dollop of nostalgia. Krypto even had his own Saturday morning cartoon not too long ago, which featured frequent guest-spots by fellow canine Ace. Yet for every venerated pal, every (Super)man’s best friend, there were others that showed up for one or two issues and then disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. Like the Atom’s pet bird, Major Mynah.

Yes, Ray Palmer waded into battle for a short spell riding a squawking mynah bird.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Major Mynah? If that’s the case, allow me to make the introductions, aided by Gardner Fox’s script, Gil Kane’s pencils and Sid Greene’s inks. Pull up a perch.

Major Mynah was a native of Cambodia (he and his mimic-happy cousins are natives of Southeast Asia), and made his debut in issue #37 of The Atom, as Ray trekked there to take part in an archeological dig. Just as our hero is cataloguing an important find, the good Major pops in to swipe the goods and preview what would be his trademark “repeat what you say while flying all over the damn place” brand of mayhem:

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Ray changes into the Atom and gives chase, but the mission of retrieval quickly turns into one of rescue when the bandit bird is menaced by the hawk from the cover. Major Mynah is injured and plummets into a hidden temple, where the Atom discovers even more priceless relics. The bad news is that there are Viet Minh soldiers passing through the area, and they too stumble onto the temple. They get into a fight with the Tiny Titan (mistaking him for a demon), and he’s knocked unconscious at one point. That’s when Mynah first displays his penchant for nick-of-time heroism:

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MYNAH DOWN! MYNAH DOWN!

The Atom recovers and subdues the soldiers (U S A!), and then returns to the states with the finds and the newly monikered Major Mynah. But poor MM has two crippled wings, so the Atom turns to his closest hero friend for help. It’s a good choice, because Carter Hall/Katar Hol/Whatever has a skillset uniquely tailored for such a case:

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I guess there’s some light irony here that a hawk put the little guy down for that count, and a dude in a hawk outfit is the one that makes him the Six Million Dollar Mynah. Hawkman — Alien, Hero, Veterinarian. (Also, did they amputate Mynah’s useless wings? If so, OUCH.)

Mynah’s new Thanagar wings, which allow him to travel at high speed (better, stronger, faster), come in handy in no time, as thieves try to steal the newly acquired Cambodian treasures and the Atom tries to stop them:

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This next sequence has nothing to do with Major Mynah, but I include it simply because it’s a fine example of a GIL KANE GOOFY FACE:

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The crooks are subdued, but that isn’t the end of the action, since Mynah isn’t just a crime-fighter. He’s also a take-home pet, and here is after a hard day’s work meeting psycho hose-beast/future murderer Jean Loring, and inadvertently getting his pal in hot water:

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Ray explains this (rather roundabout) identity reveal away with the excuse that Major Mynah was watching The Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC and got his Atom info that way. Domestic scene averted, and there our story ends. (Man, just look at those soul-icing eyes and that unbalanced eyebrow. Iris West is in many respects the queen of Silver Age Bitches, but Jean’s fiery displeasure can really give Mrs. Flash a run for her money. You look at that glare in the last panel and the whole Identity Crisis arc doesn’t seem too far away. HIDE THE SHARP OBJECTS. Now that I think of it, Major Mynah’s disappearance in a few issues is taking on a whole new angle. Did Jean make any unusual tasting stews around that time? Was there a Fatal Attraction moment?)

Major Mynah would make his final appearance three issues later (having in the interum gained a new crimefighting disguise activated when Ray turned into the Atom), in the newly retitled Atom and Hawkman #40. His absence was unexplained, with no ballyhoo. No doubt this stage left exit was in part a simple byproduct of the Atom title getting cancelled around the same time, wrecking any chances to bring him back, but Mynah’s continuing exile in limbo is a tad perplexing. The ranks of old characters never once repurposed are wafer thin, after all. I suppose the Atom is himself a side-character — though a core one, if there is such a hybrid — and therefore it’s clunky to bring back all his baggage.

And yet Major Mynah wasn’t so bad. He didn’t have time to wear out his welcome, granted, and that echo of his might have grated over a long run. But he fit right in with the comedic ethos of the Atom book, all driven home by Kane’s art (at its usual dependable level here), which never failed to accentuate the wide-eyed wonder of low-level crooks as they got into fisticuffs with a little guy that they just couldn’t keep track of. A mini-man riding a back-talking ball of feathers slid right into that groove. Maybe this little black bird wasn’t the greatest mynah ever in fiction, but he wasn’t an atrocious, cringe-worthy sidekick (WE’RE LOOKING AT YOU, ZOOK). He wouldn’t have to hang his head in shame around Krypto or Ace.

You mean to tell me they couldn’t have made him a Black Lantern or something? Do I have to think of everything around here?

Major Mynah, we hardly knew ye.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2012 4:39 am

    excellent article, really enjoyed it; I had this very issue when I was a kid in the UK – snatching up ANY odd issue of ANY odd comic title that managed to get shipped over here and recycled in the exchange bookshops. You’re right, the Atom was only ever a second-grade character, but then in the ‘why not’ juvenile world of DC (as you point out in your intro) ‘why not’ was as fibrous as editorial decisions were going to get … it seems DC decision-making remained wholly in Eight Year Old BoyLand during the early 60s (which fitted in perfectly with the flavour of advertising run in the comics during this time – as you often showcase) at the time when Marvel were graduating to Twelve Year Old Boyland (and sneaking in Twelve Year Old Girland stuff as well) …

  2. wordsmith permalink
    December 2, 2012 12:29 pm

    Hawkman’s mentioning the duck hawk reminded me of something Dave Barry said, and I paraphrase: “The fastest creature in the animal kingdom is a cow that’s been pushed out of an airplane.”

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