Forgotten Superheroes: Modulo the Modular Man


Superhero: Modulo the Modular Man

First Appearance: Modulo the Modular Man issue number 6, cover date March 1968 (sales date November 1967).

Final Appearance: Modulo the Modular Man issue number 4, cover date July 1975 (sales date March 1975).

This comic attempted to catch the excitement of the early space race by having its hero, Walter Canton, be an astronaut who gained the superpower of his hands popping off at will (his) as the result of an encounter with space witches. As Modulo the Modular Man he served as a competent entrant in the list of slapping-based superheroes. The attempt to draw young readers’ interest by each issue featuring faithfully rendered depictions of Project Mercury control rooms, testing laboratories, and space capsules was undercut by publisher Canton Instant Classics’ bad luck in timing, as the first issues of the series hit the shelves almost exactly four years after the final Project Mercury flight.

The character was developed with the aid of Professor Wilton Frumpshire, a pioneer of the Honest Slap technique of the 1940s. This, one of the spate of punching-based psychological therapies popular in the time, was advanced as a way of drawing honesty out of people, or at least making the people they interacted with feel better. The vogue for punch-based psychology was controversial even at the time, with critics claiming it was an undue generalization of the principle that one can cause changes in behavior by punching, and it had almost completely passed by 1964. Its legacy can still be seen however in old TV shows where a swift blow to the back of the spine is enough to induce unconsciousness in security guards and other people who might slow the protagonist down. Frumpshire never lost the faith of his research, however, and a key part of every plot was how Modulo could grab one of his hands with the other hand, or vice-versa, and so deliver blows which were just enough stronger than ordinary punching to bring miscreants to their senses.

Modulo’s name, naturally, inspired confusion from logicians, both in philosophy and mathematics departments, which explains why his Rogue’s Gallery was nearly entirely the University Senate. It’s believed that Frumphsire was working out his own career frustrations with this one. The series ran bimonthly, issues 6 through 12, and then dropped to three appearances a year with issue numbers up to 24, then skipped 1971 altogether and resumed running in 1972 with new issue 2; another issue 2 and issue 4 appeared in 1975.

An interesting footnote came with the publisher suing the Martin Caidin and the makers of The Six Million Dollar Man after its made-for-TV movie debuted in 1973. The case was finally resolved in 1979 with an out-of-court settlement in which Universal Studios’ attorneys agreed to stop holding Canton Instant Classics’ attorneys’ heads in the toilet.

In the failed 1998 made-for-TV movie intended to restart the franchise the chief antagonist was changed from a rogue philosopher to a rogue computer scientist — playing again on the fact “modulo” has a meaning in that field, although nobody knows what — who hoped to ruin civilization for everyone by a virus which would delete all disk drives on January 1, 2000. In this interpretation Modulo was able to send his detached hands into cyberspace, there to wrestle the “Y2-K” (sic) virus into goodness. The fandom, at the time mostly represented by a web ring of nearly eight maintained pages, winced noticeably and never spoke of it again. They might be writing me complaints about even bringing it up.

The character was purchased by DC Comics when it acquired the bankrupt Canton Instant Classics in 1982, then sold off in a garage sale later that year, except for video game rights, which were left on Atari’s doorstep and assumed to have been taken inside, a confused legal situation which resulted in the burying of the superhero for many years until Western Publishing realized they had it all along. Western Publishing is now defunct, too. King Features Syndicate prepared an announcement of a comic strip version of it to begin running in 1978, but lost the announcement behind the half-wall until 1986 at which point the project was deemed “not yet fully fleshed-out”.

Nevertheless the appeal of a superhero whose power is that his punches have the force of the punches of someone with marginally longer arms has endured and revived versions in comic book or comic strip form are still sometimes discussed.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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