You know, I’m really going to have to figure out some way to thank CW because I’ve managed to wring so many articles out of Legends of Tomorrow it’s ridiculous. That’s one of the glorious things about a show with as many superheroes with rich and vibrant heroes as Legends of Tomorrow, though it certainly helps having a lot of avenues to discuss the various heroes on the series. For now it’s time to look at covers once more, this time zeroing in on the leader of the Legends: Rip Hunter.
Originally created in 1959, Rip Hunter enjoyed a fairly successful solo run in the early ‘60s before fading into obscurity till the 2010s when he popped up in the massively successful 52 comic. Since then, Rip has been elevated to a constant of the DCU and the comic book equivalent of Doctor Who, that is until Silver Surfer replaced him in that category but that’s a story for another article. For now, let’s dive into the shallow end and get the cover story on Rip Hunter, Time Master.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way at the start: Dinosaurs. Rip vs. Dinosaurs was pretty much always going to happen from the minute some crazed writer in 1959 sat down at his type writer and tapped out “time travel” as a story starting point. There are a number of covers featuring Rip against dinosaurs but I chose this one because it also featured a sabertooth tiger and was genuinely aware the two creatures wouldn’t have co-existed.
Seriously, given the science of the time these comics come from that’s pretty surprising. What’s also pretty unique is this rendering of a T-Rex, which I really like in its rubbery, cartoon nature. The T-Rex design here is most reminiscent of stuff like Herb Trimpe’s Godzilla designs, especially that snubbed snout and pronounced spine ridging. While a fun set-up this is actually one of the more sedate covers as far as Rip Hunter is concerned.
Now we’re starting to get weird. There’s a lot of great things about this cover but my absolute favorite is the monster design. Even though Rip Hunter was a time travel comic that was more or less an excuse to just have Rip blunder his way into some of the most creative creatures you’ve ever seen and this is a great example of that. The tentacled, giant squid design is a nice attribute but what really sells this bad boy is his angry face. It’s kind of like something you’d expect on one of the Saucer Men or an alien in general; giant skull, big black eyes with no pupils, but that creepy, fanged frown is really what sells it.
After the spectacular creature design I love how ridiculously, almost aggressively anachronistic this image actually is. Nothing about the visual on design adds up, from the giant stone castle to the Bronze Age guards to the Disney kings fighting it out via giant monster. This wasn’t terribly common to the book but every once in awhile Rip Hunter…Time Master ended up in the land of hilariously inaccurate depictions like this.
Funny thing about Rip Hunter…Time Master is that the book came out of DC’s scramble to compete with newcomer Marvel Comics and the Marvel approach to cover construction that emerged out of Fantastic Four. As such, covers like this one are directly influenced by the kind of work Jack Kirby was doing at the time, which is why it’s more detailed and scaled than the average ‘50s/’60s cover. Rip’s scale and the way the cover is diagonally bisected by the action were concepts key to taking comics towards a marginally older readership.
What’s more, covers like this speak to the changing nature of “mystery” covers at the time. It’s the same kind of twist as the normal Silver Age madness but it’s been scaled back from turning the hero into a giant turtle or a sentient Buick to simply Rip demonstrating an ability he shouldn’t normally have. It all speaks to a “less is more” aesthetic that emerged out of Marvel’s competition with DC.
This may be the greatest creature design I’ve seen in a long time. It’s just such a defiantly weird hodgepodge of parts, I can’t even really place what it’s drawing inspiration from. Clearly its hands are like the claws of a crab or a lobster but its body is like some sort of hideous preying mantis/giraffe hybrid, all topped with that shrunken triceratops head. Obviously the creature isn’t an Earth native though that’s where this is taking place as the intertitle suggests. Aside from the great monster design, this cover is very unique for the appearance of the time sphere.
In the comics, and briefly on CW’s The Flash, the time sphere is Rip Hunter’s signature time machine design. Actually, Rip’s time sphere was, for the longest time, his biggest contribution to the DC universe. The visual design was co-opted by the Legion of Superheroes, think X-Men but in the future, for their time ships, which got the entire idea folded into the Superman mythos. It’s a great visual design, predicated on a simple polygon that makes it really stick in the mind though this riveted version slowly gave way to a more smooth and twee design as the years went by.
I swear, that is the cutest alien beast I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s like the exact opposite of the crusty, insectoid monster from last time, all giant and cuddly with the most adorable features. I know they’re trying to make the creature terrifying by giving it glowing red eyes but when you follow that up with the tube ears of a Dr. Seuss character it’s incredibly hard to be intimidated. Add on its soft, furry exterior and that adorable pushed in pug nose how could you not be enchanted by this guy? I know it looks like he’s dangerously charging at high speeds but look at those webbed feet, that guy is not charging anywhere on those clompers.
He’s like a buffalo, duck, pug hybrid, seriously if DC ever made a plushy of this guy I’d totally buy it. As for the rest of the cover, it’s actually shockingly dense. Most early comic covers like to leave big open sky or pavement spaces that don’t need much work but this one has a lot of detail in the various surrounding wilderness. Also, the intertitle makes references to a “Saxon traitor” implying this is set in 5th century Britain, making me wonder if there are many quicksand pits in the UK.
Continuing on our theme of adorable creatures, we double down on the lunacy by having Rip toss that poor dragon flesh-wing through the jungle like a dick. Seriously, I can’t think of a single good reason for Rip to hurl that poor alien animal through the jungle like it’s a deadly boomerang and he’s the Beastmaster. I actually assumed he was throwing the poor thing at those advancing gremlin aliens but he’s clearly just hurling it up into the canopy so maybe he just wanted to be a dick that day.
It’s a real shame too because that creature is just the cutest, right up there with the bison/duck/pug. I like that it seems to have the body of a manta ray but the tiny arms of a chameleon and a face like a luck dragon. Just a side note before moving on, this is the only cover I’ve yet showcased to feature some period slang with that kid exclaiming “JEEPERS!” at Rip’s blatant animal cruelty.
Okay, I promise this entire list isn’t going to just be me gushing over adorable monsters…just this last entry cause that time creature is adorable. By this point in Rip Hunter…Time Master the style of cover was starting to emulate more of the classic Silver Age construction. You can see it with stuff like the non-descript purple background or the way the central twist is Rip turning into something ridiculously adorable. Seriously, there’s just something about big blue monsters that I find innately adorable, but this guy especially with his chubby little hands and snaggle tooth face.
I do wonder what’s up with the freaky purple fisherman guy who’s turning Rip into the time creature as he looks like a weird blend between racist caricature and Samurai Jack antagonist. Another key indicator that this is a later cover is the green uniform Rip is wearing, which was introduced to give him a more spacey look as speculative space sci-fi became a more and more dominant force in geek culture of the time.
Jumping back to an earlier period here for the debut issue of the Time Sphere, at least on the cover anyway. As you can see it’s much bigger than it appeared on cover #9 as it was designed to be a sort of “deep time diving” type vessel, complete with portholes. Like I said, this is an earlier cover and more inclined towards the full bodied design of the Marvel method, which is why the characters are all so fully realized and the cover is easily bisected along a diagonal line. It’s a good example of the style but the thing I like most about it is those titular Bird-Men.
They’re just so wonderfully goofy in their design, with the giant auburn wings and their bright red full body stockings. You can also see really well here how much Rip was initially meant as a chiseled jaw, well muscled, man of action type hero in the vein of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, rather than the thinner time scientist he slowly morphed into over the course of the series.
This is a more transitional cover but I absolutely love it, even if the “flaming man” concept is a little on the nose as far as Fantastic Four rip-offs go. Speaking of, that giant flaming sun God is the whole reason why I like this so damn much, he’s so eerie and well rendered. I love the way his body is shrouded in darkness even as the flames of his form lick higher and higher and fill the air with smoke. It’s a great twist on the visualization of the burning man concept.
As to the rest of the cover, you can already see Rip slimming down as a character and the way that Stonehenge and the ancient Celts are scrunched behind the main action is a regressive approach to fitting as much action on the cover as possible. Still, that burning man an immensely impressive visual and being indicative of an earlier style is not the same thing as being bad.
I’ve mentioned previously that Rip Hunter is very much DC comics’ Doctor Who. That’s mainly because his set-up as a temporal adventure is very similar to Doctor Who and the rise of Doctor Who in modern popularity is part of why DC decided to revive and pump up Rip Hunter again. However, this cover, which features a horde of evil robots who’ve conquered future Earth and are obsessed with turning other humans into robots, is almost identical to the Doctor Who antagonist the Cybermen.
The only real difference between this and the Doctor Who villains is that this cover came out 3 years before the Cybermen debuted. The cover actually owes its origins to 1959 House of Mystery story, in which a man is trapped in a robot factory that uses a beam to transform people into robots. I like this cover even more for the sheer look of terror on Rip’s face and the fact that we actually know him as a character. Add in the very creepy idea that the robots rule 2165 AD, making this future seem all the more inevitable, and it’s a damn creepy image.
Something kind of unique about this cover is that it makes it more obvious that usual how many Silver Age comics aren’t actually meant to be taken seriously. We kind of miss this now because every comic is serious business unless it stars Squirrel Girl or Howard the Duck but for the most part comics of the ‘60s were purposefully fantastical as a ploy to be both fun and funny. The series Rip Hunter spun out of, Showcase, eventually gave way to a whole cavalcade of comedy series.
So, having Rip’s fate dangling in the well-manicured fingers of the Real Housewives of History is a pretty great joke to tell with a time traveler. I like that this isn’t even about the girls competing for anyone’s affection, just trying to show up all the competition they’d have no way of knowing about. I think my favorite part, though, has to be how snarky and catty Helen of Try is, just one look at her face and you know she’s the kind of power mean girl you don’t want to mess with. Rip is pretty much doomed.
Okay yes, it is very strange that my #1 spot is a tie between two separate covers in which Rip Hunter betrays America but you have to understand; that IS Rip Hunter. Maybe it’s something to do with holding the literal rank and title of ‘Master,’ maybe he was just born an asshole, but for whatever reason Rip Hunter is unable to care about anyone’s problems other than his own and those of the time stream.
No matter what’s happening, if it’s “fated” to be, according to time, Rip Hunter is going to make damn sure it happens and if that means betraying America on two separate occasions than by God that’s what he’s going to do. Incidentally, these are the only two historical figures to actually appear in the original Rip Hunter comics. So, the only time Rip Hunter felt the need to actually mess with recorded time it was to try and destroy America because that’s just the kind of superhero he is.