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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
Nature Boy was a super-hero, who only lasted three issues of a comic book in 1956: Nature Boy #3 - #5.
1956 is often listed as the beginning of the Silver Age, the time in which super-heroes began to be revived after they fell out of favor in the late 1940's. The revival of the Flash, in "Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt" (Showcase #4, October 1956), is often cited as the Silver Age starting point, although some prefer the creation of J'onn J'onzz, in "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel" (Detective Comics #224, November 1955). The creation of Nature Boy occurred after J'onn J'onzz, but before the Flash revival. It today is a little remembered part of the same historical phenomenon. Nature Boy was created for Charlton Comics, while the Flash revival and J'onn J'onzz appeared in DC.
While not one of Siegel's classics, the Nature Boy tales are pleasant and enjoyable. They have marks of Siegel's individuality. Jerry Siegel was always an inner-directed writer. He created ideas out of his own head, instead of trying to imitate other people.
Cover (1956). Art: John Buscema. Buscema's cover shows a detailed portrait of Nature Boy. It emphasizes his elegant good looks, and his costume of yellow tights, shiny black boots and black trunks, that match his black hair, and blue and white belt. He has no cape, which is perhaps related to the fact that he does not typically fly, but rather rides bolts of electricity through the air. Nature Boy's black hair links him to Superman. So do the blue and red clothes he frequently wears in his secret identity - these are also the colors always associated with Clark Kent.
The Origin of Nature Boy (1956). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Buscema. Young Crandall is given powers of being aided by the elements, such as the wind, sea, fire and electricity.
While Nature Boy is a pioneering Silver Age hero, many of his characteristics seem Golden Age in style. Nature Boy is the scion of a wealthy, indulgent family. In this, he is like Siegel's earlier youthful hero, the Star-Spangled Kid. Such wealthy characters were common in the Golden Age, but much less frequent in Silver Age stories, whose characters were conspicuously middle class. It is odd to see Nature Boy and his parents dressed in 1950's fashions, the sort worn by a million middle class TV characters and comic book heroes, yet live in a big Wayne Manor style mansion with servants. Our hero is definitely not a Clark Kent style nerd in his secret identity - he is more like a glamorous, younger version of Bruce Wayne.
Similarly, Nature Boy gets his powers from mythological beings, who dress and talk like characters out of Greek and Roman mythology. Their names are not those of actual Greek gods and goddesses, but they much resemble them in style and powers. This too resembles such Golden Age characters as Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Hercules and others. Such mythological origins would be far less common in the Silver Age.
However, Nature Boy's actual powers are strictly scientific in their behavior. This is typical of the way Siegel sometimes blended science fiction and fantasy. Here fantastic elements (the gods) and science fictional elements (the powers) are in one seamless web of a story. Siegel's The Spectre also partakes of this approach.
Siegel would go on to create many of the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Like them, Nature Boy is an idealistic, mature, capable teenager, with a series of specialized powers. He is a responsible person who plays a leadership role in the world of grown-ups.
The phrase Nature Boy had a long history before this comic book, but it is hard to express exactly what it meant. Partly, it indicated a nature lover and outdoors type, such as our hero here, who loves being outside. Partly also, it perhaps suggests an earthy, direct, romantic type. It is an oddly romantic and suggestive title for a super-hero.
Nature Boy does not control the elements, in the detached way Superman, say, controls his powers. Instead, the elements are his friends, and carry out his wishes. This is a bit like Aquaman, and his underwater sea animal "friends".
The hero's gentle love of nature is unique, and so is the gratitude he expresses towards Nature. Nature Boy would perhaps be far more popular among today's ecology minded readers, than he was in the 1950's.
The Dictator of Utopia (1956). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Buscema. (Unlike the other two tales, this story's splash is not signed by Buscema, and one is relying on the Grand Comics Database for the artist identification.) Nature Boy investigates an American suburban city, which is under the strict control of a dictatorial town boss. This story is highly unusual, politically. Its message is completely admirable - it is one of the huge number of comic book stories that attack dictatorships. However, its sociological coordinates are like little else. The town here is under control of a brutal manager and his guards. It is like something out of a totalitarian state. Yet it is supposed to be just another brand new suburban development, of a kind springing up all over 1950's America. But it is not depicted as typical of America, either. One never gets the feel that Siegel is trying to make an anti-American political point, for example.
One is used to tales of Kentucky mining towns, whose poor inhabitants are controlled by brutal reps of the company that owns the mine and everything in the town. This story has something of the same feel. Yet this is a middle class looking suburbia. The victimized characters here are referred to as "workers". The town claims to be a paradise for workers - but it actually oppresses them. The dialogue wittily echoes George Orwell's anti-Communist dystopia, 1984. Perhaps Siegel is making an anti-Communist statement. Still, he has chosen an highly unusual setting. The town boss also has something of the feel of a corrupt urban politician of the 1930's. And also of gangsters who ruled their turf in that era. There is also a suggestion of an anti-Nazi allegory, recalling Siegel's many anti-Nazi tales of the 1930's and 1940's.
Buscema's guard uniforms are most macho looking, crammed with tough detail. They have a 1930's militarized feel. The trousers have rear patch pockets, like those of a US Marine's khakis, and huge flared hips. They are worn with boots, and a Sam Browne belt. Buscema is always elaborate with his men's trousers: the slacks worn by Nature Boy here, and his father Floyd Crandall in the previous tale, are elaborately pleated. The guards also have very short, aggressive looking hair.
The Terrible Torrent (1956). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Buscema. Nature Man stops a flood from destroying a city. The protagonist of this story, Nature Man, is apparently the grown up version of Nature Boy. This is never explained anywhere in the tales. The story is quite short and minimalist. One can speculate: was Nature Man the first version of the character, and Nature Boy the refinement? Or vice versa? Was Siegel inspired by the popularity of the Superboy / Superman pair of characters? Or did some comic company editor order him to experiment with a grown-up version of the character, as a trial balloon? Siegel would go on to create adult versions of his teenage Legion of Super-Heroes: see "The Legion of Super-Villains" (Superman #147, August 1961).
In issue #5, Siegel will have a brief story about Nature Girl, further extending the series' possibilities.
The splash page of this tale is separated from the rest of this story, and put at the beginning of the comic book. This is an atypical placement. However, it has the advantage of showing an example of Nature Man's powers right away, as he stops the tidal wave from flooding the town. The following story, "The Origin of Nature Boy", doesn't show its hero much until the end. So the splash would introduce readers to the character and his powers immediately.
One can also make a bad joke: this tidal wave image gives a new meaning to the term "splash page"!