You haven’t heard of Captain Triumph. He lives on the fringes of the comic book landscape, a footnote in the historical record of modern comics. He occupies an evolutionary dead end, a hero with not one but two secret identities, one living, one dead.
Every now and then you may catch a glimpse of him, out of the corner of your eye, in a DC encyclopedia, a cameo in some third tier title. There he is, on the cover of All-Star Squadron, an unselected candidate for the Nazi-fighting super-team. In Grant Morrison‘s Animal Man, he appears in a flashback, punching a supervillain and vanishing into the gutters between the panels. If you look closely, you can spot him, there, in The Titans: Lance Gallant, the living half of the pair, a has-been, and his brother Michael, a murderous ghost. There is never the straightforward heroism of earlier adventures, the complex drama of love and jealousy between the brothers, one living, one dead, who together make a single hero.
Captain Triumph deserves better. Captain Triumph deserves to be remembered. Captain Triumph deserves a movie.
A Forgotten Hero
In 1943, at the tail end of the superhero boom, Quality Comics, publisher of the popular Plastic Man, took a chance and introduced a new hero to its flagship title, Crack Comics. This hero, Captain Triumph, would prove so popular that he headlined every issue of Crack Comics until its demise.
Captain Triumph was not a typical hero. His costume was a simple t-shirt and jodhpurs, and he wore no mask. Even more unconventionally, his secret identity was not one man but two — twin brothers Lance and Michael Gallant, a daring reporter and daring military pilot respectively. When Michael is killed in an act of Nazi sabotage, Lance finds that he can see his brother’s ghost, who the Fates (yes, the ancient Greek ones) have returned to earth and empowered to fight evil. By pressing their matching T shaped birthmarks together, the living and ghost twin brothers fuse to become the flying, invulnerable and occasionally invisible Captain Triumph.
It is, as origin stories go, rather simple, but it represents an evolution in the genre of super heroes. Clark Kent removed his glasses and shirt and became Superman, two aspects of one whole person. Billy Batson shouted SHAZAM and turned into Captain Marvel, a child replaced by the world’s mightiest mortal. Captain Triumph takes a step beyond, a melding that would not be repeated until the creation of Firestorm in the late ‘80s. He was a syncretic hero, a fusion of Lance Gallant’s meticulous reporter skills and Michael’s brash pilot persona. Captain Triumph symbolized the needs of America in a time of world war, a syncretic fusion of knowledge and power, of American intellectual prowess with the military might needed to defeat the Nazis.
In his 35 issues of fame, the Captain covered astonishing ground. He befriended a clown named Biff, fought colorful villains (Hypnotic Eyes Khor! The Porcupine! Mr. Pointer!), struck oil, dealt with the problems of sibling relationships, and the love between woman and ghost. Sadly, his adventures did not last. DC bought Quality Comics in 1957, and though other heroes like Plastic Man found their way into the canon, Captain Triumph was condemned to cameos and references, a bit player, almost a nothing.
A Co-operative Hero for a Conflicted Age
Why? You may ask, why should Captain Triumph of all superheroes be afforded a movie, there are so many other heroes out there who more accurately reflect our current moment, who have something contemporary to say. This is, in a way, true. I myself would much rather see a Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur movie than another paint-by-numbers of a blond man punching baddies.
But there is something to Captain Triumph that transcends its temporality, its datedness. The core elements of Captain Triumph still matter, and these elements deserve a public hearing in our modern world: the discourse on duality, the troubles of a sibling relationship, the predicaments of an earthbound ghost. In a world so defined by conflict and dichotomies, a superhero who is himself a partnership can be a potent symbol of the power of working together. The best super hero films of the past decade have offered action and also dwelt on the emotions and relationships between their characters, and this is something Captain Triumph provides better than most. The original comic focused as much on the friendships between Lance, Michael’s fiancé Kim, Biff (current butler, former clown) and Michael’s ghost as it did on fighting villains like the Porcupine.
Besides, Captain Triumph need not be blonde, he need not even be a he: a female version of the character made a brief appearance in a recent issue of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. The character, unburdened by any form of recent canon, is ripe for updates and re-interpretation, the protagonist of a story that can be pursued with complete artistic freedom.
Here are a few suggestions for a Captain Triumph film: make the Gallants immigrants, make Michael a protester, a victim of Neo-Nazi violence and Lance a reporter trying to get the story. Make them sisters. Or make Lance gay — he was already heavily coded as such in the comics. Focus on the relationships between the characters, the tragic loss of Michael, the eeriness of him returning as a ghost, the potential jealousy of his still-alive brother, and the grief Kim experiences after losing her beloved and having to look everyday at her best friend — a spitting image of her lost love.
Captain Triumph can be anything, do anything, he is the kernel of an engaging story, a bundle of themes to be expanded upon, to be molded into something befitting our times. Do what you want to the trappings. As long as the core elements of the story stay, it is guaranteed to be a rousing tale. If DC doesn’t do it, guess what, he’s technically in the public domain. We have it in our power to bring back this golden age golden boy, to allow him to Triumph in a new age, to tell the stories he was always meant to tell.
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