Cover to Nukla #1

Nukla #1, October-December 1965

Following the acrimonious split with Western, Dell began publishing comics under its own name (Western went off and started the Gold Key imprint). In common with all other comics publishers, once it became clear that Marvel was having a degree of sales success with super-heroes, Dell decided to put out its own line of super-heroic characters. The big problem was that Dell had next to no experience of putting comics together — Western used to package the comics for them — and so the results were… mixed, to say the least. When you’ve got a comic called Brain Boy you really ought to realise you’re in serious trouble, and Neutro is possibly the worst comic ever published — and, yes, we’ll get around to those fellows in time. Today we’re going to look at another of Dell’s ill-fated super fellows: Nukla.

Matt Gibbs is a high-flying espionage agent for the US — literally high-flying, as he’s a U2 spy plane pilot. Filled with a fierce streak of social justice and a love of freedom, Matt become increasingly frustrated with all the rights abuses he sees while spying on Red China. The evil General Mu spots the plane and orders the firing of a host of nuclear missiles. Gibbs’s plane is vaporized in the explosion, but his will is so strong that he reconstitutes himself and his airplane. Amazed by his luck, he waves a hand at Mu far below and a sudden nuclear explosion obliterates the General and all those with him (including, presumably, the innocent living nearby — but lets not dwell on that, eh?).

“I can direct atomic power at will!” cries Gibbs.

He turns to head for home, but waves a nonchalant arm at China’s stockpile of missiles before he goes. The resulting nuclear blast fills an entire panel, and the population are probably still glowing in the dark to this day.

Over Siberia he is attacked by Russian aircraft, but he turns invisible and forces the pilots to land somewhere in Canada. The American authorities are suspicious of Gibbs, and he has to flee for home. Back at CIA headquarters, his boss, Jim Clarke, doesn’t believe his wild story, but Gibbs turns invisible and creates a small nuclear explosion on Clarke’s desk (!) to convince him. Impressed, Clarke offers Gibbs the chance to take out Luis De Mal, “the world’s most evil man.” He also supplies Gibbs with a new moniker: Nukla! He’s to be America’s new top secret weapon.

The remainder of the issue details Nukla’s struggle against De Mal. Along the way he’s bitten by a panther and a snake and dies as a result of the poison in his bloodstream. Luckily, his powers prevent there being any more damage (!) and Nukla pulls through. He turns invisible a lot, destroys De Mal with a nuclear blast (this is becoming a theme), destroys his bombers with a nuclear blast, then turns his atention to taking out De Mal’s hired hands who are intent on bombing a capital city (it’s never specified which one). Nukla kills ‘em all and defuses the bomb before flying off. Yes, flying — somewhere along the way, he’s taught himself how to fly.

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Written by Joe Gill and drawn by Sal Trapani, this is a complete mess of a comic. The story makes very little sense, and you get the feeling that it was made up as Gill tapped away at the typewriter. Nukla’s powers are inconsistent: at one point Gibbs realises that he can only utilize his gifts while invisible, and yet, on the previous page, he was shown waving his atomic hand while still in human form. And where his power of flight comes from by the end is anybody’s guess. One thing that was reasonably interesting earlier on was that Gibbs flew everywhere in his specially-equipped U2, by the end he’s flying around under his own steam while he hides the plane in some bushes — as you do.

It is quite interesting to note that the basic origin of Nukla — a man destroyed by a nuclear blast reconstituting himself from stray atoms by sheer force of will — is very similar to the birth of Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen several decades later. But, then again, that in itself is not so different from the born-in-an-atomic-blast origin of Marvel’s Hulk.

Trapani’s art is actually fairly accomplished, with some lovely figure work. A few panels here and there seem to bear the hallmark hand of Dick Giordano, which, as Trapani was Giordano’s brother-in-law, may not be that surprising.

Image ©2010 Dell Publishing/the respective copyright holder