DC FLASHBACK: "Hourman"

Fri, January 11th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Smith Walker, Guest Writer

Tom Peyer and Rags' Morales "Hourman" was singularly strange and beloved by fans and professionals
Readers of DC Comics' top-selling "Justice Society of America" probably know Hourman as Rick Tyler, happy-go-lucky newlywed and son of the original Hourman.  However, in the early 2000s, there was another Hourman whose adventures were chronicled by two of DC's most acclaimed talents, writer Tom Peyer and artist Rags Morales.

"Hourman" ran for 25 issues from 1999 to 2001 and told the story of an "Intelligent Machine Colony" from the year 85,271, whose "geneware" replicated that of the original Golden Age Hourman, Rex "Tick Tock" Tyler.  While Tyler simply took a Miraclo pill to gain super-strength for one hour at a time, this android Hourman was designed to be nothing less than the master of Time itself. 

Created by Grant Morrison during his legendary run on "JLA," Hourman was introduced as an apprentice to Metron of the New Gods, the explorer whose quest for knowledge spanned all space and time.  Hourman was gifted with the Worlogog, a device that made him virtually omniscient and completely detached from humanity.

On a trip back to the 20th century with the future's Justice Legion, Hourman inadvertently became part of a scheme to destroy the future when he was infected with the Doomsday Virus by the villain Solaris, setting into motion the "DC One Million" Event Crossover.  Humbled, Hourman decided to stay in the past for a while and learn the ways of humanity, which is where his series picked up and depicted the awkward android learning how to order a double espresso.

Tom Peyer, who was recently named writer of "The Flash," was assigned to develop Grant Morrison's concepts into a book.  "I wasn't in the room, but I think it was Grant's idea to spin Hourman off so I could write it, and I'm pretty sure 'JLA' editor Dan Raspler was in on it, too," Peyer told CBR News. "Those two thought I would amount to something.  Grant wrote down some amazing ideas, I added some filler, and we had a proposal.  The best artist imaginable for the job, Rags Morales, threw in, and we were in business."

"Hourman" mixes it up with Amazo in a memorably outrageous storyline
Morales is now a fan favorite for his work on such books as "Identity Crisis," but in 1999, he was fairly low-profile in the comics industry.  He'd just come off a run on "Turok" at Valiant/Acclaim, and wanted to do something for DC.  An Hourman story for "Secret Files" helped get Morales the gig on the regular book. 

"I was trying to reestablish myself in the industry, but I did little mainstream stuff," Morales told CBR News. "Yet, DC liked my designs for the character and saw I was hungry for it, so they gave me a shot. One of the nicest things said to me came from [series editor] Tony [Bedard]: 'Rags, you've gone from being the dark horse on this title to being its shining light.' Awfully nice of him, but Tom's brilliance was what kept me going."

Indeed, Peyer's ideas, which combined Silver Age science fiction with the simple, poignant idea of all-powerful characters struggling to understand human flaws, soon led to the proposed miniseries being expanded into an ongoing title.  "It really was unique and we all thought we'd get a cult audience much like 'Starman' enjoyed, but unfortunately it was more quirky than poignant, and I think in the end that was really what killed the title," Morales said.

"Quirky" is perhaps the best way to describe "Hourman."  Having already driven the JLA crazy with his ability to describe what would happen in five minutes from now (imagine living with Dr. Manhattan from "Watchmen"), Hourman's series began with the android going to live in the small town of Happy Harbor with former JLA sidekick Snapper Carr, who convinced him to chuck the Worlogog and attempt living with limited time powers and under the name Tyler. Snapper, who was unfazed by Hourman's eccentricies due to his own experiences in the JLA, even tried to set Tyler up with his ex-wife Bethany, a perpetual undergrad with a propensity for short pants.

The cast "fights" some demon guys from Hell
Unlike such other android characters as the Red Tornado or the Vision, Tyler wasn't motivated by a desire to be human so much as a desire to understand himself and to overcome his personal flaws. "Tyler didn't yearn to be a human being, so he was different from those characters," Peyer explained.  "In fact, Tyler was already as human as you or I; his genetic software was written from Rex Tyler's DNA, as yours was written from your parents'."

Tyler's quest came with many ups and downs.  His first mistake was trying to understand his roots by reanimating another android, the power-absorbing Justice League foe Amazo.  Swiping part of Tyler's powers, Amazo soon became the biggest thorn in Hourman's side, transforming himself into "Timazo" (with Tyler's time powers), "Humazo" (with the ability to exchange DNA with humans, turning them into androids), and even "Hourmazo" (where he posed as a future, superior version of Hourman and stole all his friends).

These Amazo iterations were indicative of the sheer craziness found in each issue of "Hourman." A typical day for Tyler might find him suffering hallucinations after consuming caffeine before getting stuck in "The Timepoint," a limbo where JLA foe the Lord of Time imprisoned his enemies in the moments after JFK's assassination. The day might end with Hourman reliving the life of Rex Tyler in a Golden Age-styled hallucination. 

All of this insanity was rendered in clear, expressive detail by Morales, who was called upon to illustrate everything from the gray-toned limbo of the Timepoint to pastiches of Golden and Silver Age art styles, often while combining them with a modern style – all in the same panel.  "They biggest challenge was going toe-to-toe with Tom's vision," Morales said. "I busted my gonads on the title and after a while, we really meshed. I'm not sure if Tom is a genius or mad -- or maybe I'm mad, but we worked well and I even brought things in over time that Tom didn't expect.

"I've always researched my titles, but with this book so much of it had to come from my and Tom's gut. This is the least linear title I've ever worked on and to this day, I haven't worked on anything quite as out of left field as 'Hourman.' It really is that stand-alone."

Series artist Rags Morales was called upon to mix multiple styles of art, sometimes within the same panel
Peyer admits his scripts were often a bit left-of-center.  "As far as rules went, I didn't want any," the writer said. "My friends and I felt that comics were strangling on realism, rules and verisimilitude. I was tired of comics that were more interested in limiting fantastic ideas than enjoying them.  If I want to see limitations, I look in a mirror.  It felt like writers and fans were ashamed of superheroes and wanted to make up for that by making them 'serious.'  But they could never be serious, and I wasn't ashamed.  I wanted superheroes who could blow out suns like birthday candles.

"My favorite time travel story is 'The Impossible Mission,' from 'Superboy' #84, December, 1960," Peyer said.  "Superboy flies back to the past to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Once there, he bumps into the adult Lex Luthor, who's hiding out in the past.  Luthor leaps to this crazy, self-centered idea that Superboy is there to apprehend him, so he exposes him to this piece of Red Kryptonite he travels with. The Red Kryptonite paralyzes Superboy like a statue.  A shot rings out from the Ford Theater.  A single, perfect tear rolls down the statue-Superboy's cheek.  Luthor puts two and two together and realizes that he's just facilitated Lincoln's murder.  He gets hysterical; he may be a criminal, but he's also a patriot!  Luthor's self-loathing is reinforced, and Superboy learns the futility of trying.  A perfect story."

Tom Peyer has nothing but praise for Rags Morales' ability to realize his larger-than-life ideas. "Rags' skill gave me the freedom to write anything I wanted," Peyer said.  "He excels at drama and action, real-world detail and wild imaginary stuff.  His people are really alive; they don't strike stock poses, and we don't see them from stock angles.  Rags works hard. My favorite piece of art was early on, a quiet splash of Snapper in bed.  Just brilliant. And, like Tony Bedard and Dan Raspler, Rags was a great morale booster and cheerleader, and a good friend."

Weird

Morales is equally complimentary when it comes to Peyer's writing. "Tom's scripts were consistently outrageous and incredible," the artist said. "It was like a two-year ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl, so to say what was the craziest thing is as ludicrous as saying which spin made you more dizzy."

Peyer also praises editor Tony Bedard, who has since gone on to become an acclaimed writer in his own right.  "Tony was as crucial to 'Hourman' as anyone -- more," Peyer explained. "They could have done the book for two years without me, but not without Tony.  In a period when new titles typically lasted five or six issues, he kept the book going for 25 by selling, conning and pleading with the people who decided which comics lived and died.  He had a lot of creative enthusiasm for the book, too, and offered his share of ideas.  I hope he writes something that makes him a billion dollars."

"Hourman" took readers to a variety of offbeat locations, from the "Tyler Chemorobotics" factory of 85,271, where Rex Tyler was often abducted from the past to work on his future creation, to the Hourman Century, a hundred years of pop culture set aside to celebrate Tyler's heroism. 

Villains included the likes of the Else-Men, beings who fought heroes by creating superior versions of them,;or the Undersoul, an incredibly friendly mystic being who ran Hell dimensions out of shopping malls and bore a slight resemblance to Marvel's Dr. Strange. There were even villains who reformed and became part of Tyler's oddball entourage, including the Golden Age Hourman's mad scientist foe Dr. Togg, and the demon Torcher, who considered the idea of good and evil involving free will after he experienced the wonders of cheesecake.

"Togg and Torcher were both variations on the idea that you don't have to spend the rest of your life being what people think you are, if you were ever really that in the first place," Peyer remarked.

Another foe was the now-heroic Rick Tyler, who at that time was dying of a mysterious disease and unhappy with an android taking on his father's mantle.  Though he was finally cured by "Hourmazo," Rick's thoughts on Tyler were characterized by frequent cries of, "I'll kill him!" 

"Well, how would you feel in Rick's place?" Peyer said.  "His father's legacy brought him ruin even as it enriched this mechanical stranger from the future.  I never thought Rick was unfairly angry."

Scene from the final issue of "Hourman"
Tyler's struggles with his legacy formed the heart of "Hourman." One storyline depicted the future Rex Tyler programming the android Houran to act more like a superhero, leading to his taking on a "secret identity" as a skinny, big-haired teenager. Throughout the series, as Tyler tried to gain confidence in his powers and his ability to use them wisely, his friends also came to grips with their own foibles, particularly Snapper, who was haunted by his accidental betrayal of the JLA and the loss of his space-team, the Blasters.  The series wound down with Tyler taking his friends on one last road-trip through time before heading back to the future. 

Peyer is satisfied with the way the series ended.  "I knew a few issues in advance, I think, so I had space to wrap things up, which I really wanted," Peyer said. "Ever since 'The Sandman,' people think you're a genius if you end your story, so that's what I wanted, people to think I was a genius."

While "Hourman" was never a bestseller, it developed a fiercely loyal fan base.  Mark Waid was known to give out copies at conventions to help "Hourman" build readership, and Grant Morrison was equally vocal in his support.  "Sometimes a book comes out that is at such a high pitch that only a professional can hear it," Morales said. "'Hourman' was widely regarded as a welcome relief from the typical hero book in the professional community. Tom and I are very proud of that."

Scene from the final issue of "Hourman"
As for Tyler himself, he returned from the future in the pages of "JSA" to help save Rick and Rex Tyler, ultimately sacrificing himself when he took Rex's place in what would have been his final battle.  However, the story ended with Rex planning to learn the skills he needed to resurrect Tyler, with the her delcaring, "I've got a clockwork man to rebuild."

As such, there's always the chance Tyler could come back.  Perhaps it'll be to help Booster Gold and Rip Hunter as they police the timestream, or to aid DC's heroes in the Final Crisis, or to help the Legion of Super-Heroes in one of their numerous incarnations. 

Rags Morales says he'd be interested in doing a new Hourman story if he could work with Peyer, and if there was an exciting spin on the material.  "If we could bring a fresh outlook and Tom's brilliance continues to shine, then I'd seriously consider it," Morales confirmed. "Tom is that good, and to work with him is always a treat."

Related
DC FLASHBACK: THE FLASH
DC FLASHBACK: SINESTRO INSTILLS GREAT FEAR
DC FLASHBACK: THE LIFE AND DEATH AND LIFE OF JASON TODD
DC FLASHBACK: THE METAL MEN

Now discuss this story in CBR's DC Comics forum.

CBR News

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.