Legends of the DCU: The Ages of Wonder by Jerry Whitworth
Given the popularity of the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow which loosely adapts the comic book series Time Masters (featuring Rip Hunter traveling through history to combat the immortal Vandal Savage), a spotlight has been shone on the impressive history of DC Comics. While the superhero-rich Silver Age is the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs (which has largely been retooled to produce the Bronze, Dark, and Modern Ages wherein the last sixty years our time represent roughly ten years in the comics), DC’s Golden Age and non-superhero material is also rich with fertile creative ground. Lets then take a look at some of the most dense eras in DC’s history beyond the Silver Age of superheroes and its reinventions.
Cavemen are certainly not uncommon in comics (DC or otherwise). However, undoubtedly the most known such character in DC is also one of its earliest such characters. Vandal Savage was born some 50,000 years ago where he was a neanderthal named Vandar Adg that was bathed in the radiation of a crashed meteorite. Evolved to have mental faculties far beyond his fellow tribesmen, Adg became a conqueror where he would unite or destroy all intelligent life he encountered. Taking many names throughout history, Adg would best be known as Vandal Savage where he continued to try and conquer well into the 853rd century where it’s believed he would finally meet his demise in a nuclear explosion. Over the years, several characters were introduced to act as nemeses of Savage. Such included chief Klarn of the Bear Tribe (whom fashioned an amulet from Savage’s meteorite to become the resurrecting Immortal Man) and the Hawk Avatar (an entity that empowered one of Adg’s tribesmen and later others throughout history). Another notable caveman would be Anthro. Known as the “first boy,” Anthro was the first Cro-Magnon who was born to neanderthals. Son of chief Ne-Ahn, Anthro would give birth to the human race with his mate Embra. In the pages of Final Crisis, the New God Metron would venture back in time and provide the gift of fire to Anthro which he used to become history’s first hero. As the chief of the Bear Tribe, Anthro fought Adg and his Blood Tribe. Living to be an old man, Anthro died protecting the flame given him by Metron. Other notable cavemen include Java (Metamorpho’s neanderthal enemy thawed out in the present), Gnarrk (time-displaced neanderthal member of the Teen Titans), and Kong the Untamed (Cro-Magnon exiled by his father chief Trog the One-Eyed only to return to seek vengeance).
The origins of Atlantis developed from a confluence of two significant elements. The first was the colonization on Earth by an alien species known as the Hunter/Gatherers. The second was the presence of the Darkworld, home dimension of a cosmic entity whose mystic energies bled into our world. The offspring of the Hunter/Gatherers and humanoids of Earth formed a society on a small continent in the North Atlantic Ocean called Hy-Brasil where the bleed from the Darkworld was strongest. Eventually, Hy-Brasil would be called Atlantis as its people became powerful sorcerers, perhaps none more so than Calculha and Dark Majistra. Despite being essential opposites of each other, the sorcerers would mate and bear the children Ahri’ahn and Garn Daanuth. Deciding to each raise one son separately, Calculha reared Ahri’ahn and Majistra instructed Daanuth. Eventually, conflict would arise from both sides that saw Ahri’ahn sacrifice his life as Majistra was destroyed, Calculha banished to the Darkworld, and Daanuth drained of all color from his body. Some 100,000 years passed as science overtook sorcery in Atlantis and Daanuth had become the greatest sorcerer on Earth (one of the few to even wield magic remaining). Daanuth sought to conquer Atlantis as Calculha managed to escape the Darkworld and resurrected his son Ahri’ahn with the help of the Atlantean soldier Wyynde. Taking the name Arion, Calculha’s son teamed with Wyynde and his senior officer Lady Chian (and occasionally the shapeshifter Mara) against Daanuth (who had destroyed his father following Arion’s return). At some point, Vandal Savage and Garn Daanuth would form an alliance that became the basis of the Illuminati. From Atlantis arose places such as Gemworld and Skartaris.
Several notable characters in DC Comics find their origins in ancient Egypt. This is likely best represented in a tale from the series JSA. Therein, Captain Marvel, Hawkgirl, and Mr. Terrific were transported back in time to around 1260 B.C. where they are greeted by Prince Khufu (a past life of Hawkman), Nabu (Lord of Order that later empowers Dr. Fate), and Teth-Adam (champion of the wizard Shazam who became Black Adam). They learn Khufu is at war with the man they know in the present as Vandal Savage who wields the mystical artifact the Orb of Ra (which would later transform Rex Mason into Metamorpho) and controls the Metamorph (formerly the priest Ahk-Ton). Savage would be defeated when the heroes summoned Ra to transform their foe into an infant. Other notable characters with Egyptian roots include Ibis the Invincible (Prince Amentep who wields the Ibistick that put himself and his wife Taia in suspended animation in order to save her life) and Pharaoh Kha-Ef-Re (who wielded a Reach Blue Scarab augmented by Nabu’s magic that later formed the basis of the Blue Beetle legacy).
Tales of King Arthur and his magician Merlin, beloved Guinevere, and Knights of the Round Table such as Lancelot, Galahad, Percival, Kay, Gawain, and Tristan in the kingdom of Camelot made for some of the most iconic stories in human history. It is then no surprise such tales would find their way into DC Comics. One of the earliest such characters was the Shining Knight. A knight of the round, Sir Justin discovered and rescued Merlin and was rewarded with invulnerable golden armor and shield, a sword that can cut through anything, and his horse adorned with large wings for flight. Soon after, Justin and his steed would be frozen in ice only to emerge around the time of World War II where they joined the All-Star Squadron. Another one of Arthur’s knights was the Silent Knight. Brian Kent would witness his father die in a joust. The youth would then become a squire but by chance discovered a trunk of armor with a sword in the Forest Perilous. Trying the suit on, Brian heard travelers being threatened and came to their aid. Dispatching his foes, Brian remained quiet when asked his name by those he saved (fearing his voice would give away his age). Seeing an opportunity to follow a double life as a squire masquerading as a knight, Brian became the mute Silent Knight and would fight beside Arthur. Toward the end of the conflict between Arthur and his half-sister Morgaine le Fey, Merlin would summon a demon named Etrigan to serve him. Wanting to keep such a powerful ally in his service, Merlin would attach the demon to the knight Jason Blood in turn giving him immortality. Able to summon the powerful demon with a chant, Blood lived throughout the centuries into the present day in pursuit of justice. Vandal Savage would emerge in Camelot at several times, once to impersonate Merlin and another as Arthur. In the series Demon Knights, Etrigan, a female Shining Knight (born some 8,500 years earlier and given immortality by the Holy Grail), Madame Xanadu, and three others were enlisted to help rebuild Camelot following its demise (Vandal Savage was a member at one point before betraying the group). DC Comics would publish a maxi-series in 1982 entitled Camelot 3000 which featured Arthur awaken to return to save England in the year 3000 as his allies were reincarnated to assist him.