The Nature of Things

I hope you’re sitting someplace comfortable because this might take awhile. It all started when I was working on the 13th volume of the Lazarus Gray series. I’ve always loved public domain characters and I was aware that Fawcett’s Marvel Family was partially in the public domain – you could do stories with them as long as you didn’t veer into trademark territory by naming them on the covers and so forth. I had the fun idea of having an amnesiac Billy Batson show up in Sovereign City, eventually remember his magic word, and become Captain Marvel… though I considered having him adopt a new name since most of his memories wouldn’t be restored. My longtime friend, Sorella Smith, had another idea — why not substitute the potentially troublesome Captain Marvel with another character that was far safer to use. She suggested that I look into Nature Boy, an old Charlton character that starred in Nature Boy issues 3-5 (1956). The series had some really early John Buscema artwork and featured a Nature Girl in a one-page appearance in issue 5, as well as a Nature Man in issue who may or may not have been an adult Nature Boy. The potential for a “Nature Family” was right there. I loved the idea, commissioned Gilbert Monsanto to do updated costumes for both Nature Boy and Nature Girl, and set to work bringing Nature Boy into volume 13. Nature Boy later returned in a novel I wrote called Omnium Gatherum and this time he brought Nature Girl with him. A lot of people thought they were twins so they were often referred to as such but in actually Nature Boy was the older of the two. This is how Nature Boy explained his origins in Omnium Gatherum, keeping in mind that all references to Sovereign City and Dorcas Rose were mine:

“My full name is David Crandall. I was the son of a wealthy family who, when lost at sea, was saved from drowning by the gods who rule each of the elements. They each gifted me with their powers – from Neptune, water; from Gusto, winds; from Fura, fire; from Eartha, earth; from Allura, love; from Azura, the skies; from Electra, electricity; and from Friga, ice. I was eventually returned to my family in Sovereign City and I became Nature Boy, using my powers to fight crime. In the early days, I had to ask the gods to let me use their abilities but later on, they drifted away and trusted me to do what was right. It wasn’t all good times, though – my father was badly injured by an evil woman named Dorcas Rose and my mother was never really the same after. Over time I found that I don’t age like other people do… so even though I’ve thought about changing my name to Nature Man a few times, it just never sticks!”

Now in the original comics Nature Girl’s true name was never given so I decided to call her Darla. This was her origin, as she explained in the same book. Note that this origin was all mine as she didn’t have an origin in the old comics:

“After his dad was hospitalized, his mom was looking for something to keep her and Davey going so they adopted me. At first, I didn’t know that David was sneaking out at night to play superhero but when I saw him crawling out his window one evening, I followed him and learned his secret. The gods decided to give me the same powers so I could help him! Because we look so similar, people often referred to us as the Nature Twins… but he’s really older than me, which I never let him forget!”

Simple enough, eh? Well, I’ve never been one to leave well enough alone so it was revealed that both Nature Boy and Nature Girl were actually products of the same experiments that developed the Black Terror and the British hero known as Intrepid. A scientist named James Anderson was to become an integral part of the Nature Twins’ story.

In 1932 he was brought onto a military project as a consultant. His speciality had been herbology and at first he couldn’t fathom why the United States government wanted or needed him for Top Secret work.

Then he discovered that Uncle Sam was in the midst of trying to grow their own super-powered beings. In recent years, a number of masked vigilantes and well-known adventurers had captured the public’s attention and there were rumors that other nations were trying to create their own special agents of the same sort. Since all of the American-based heroes operated outside of government control, there were concerns about their trustworthiness and effectiveness – after all, men like Leonid Kaslov and The Peregrine had saved the nation’s bacon on many occasions… but Kaslov was a Russian and The Peregrine was deemed a loose cannon.

The process of making superhumans was mostly a theory when Anderson came aboard but it quickly became a reality. The idea was to take human cell tissue and bond it with plantlife, allowing them to grow pods that would contain an outwardly human being within. The pace of growth could be stimulated or slowed based upon the amount of hormones and sunlight that were given to the pods… and, more importantly of all, false memories could be implanted into the plant/human hybrids so that, for instance, they might remember having human parents, lovers, and more.

The experiment had yielded a major success in 1934 with the ‘birth’ of a hybrid that believed itself to be a human being named Bob Benton. In Benton’s mind, he was a chemist that had discovered a compound he dubbed ‘formic ethers’ and became a costumed vigilante known as The Black Terror. He was even given memories of a fictitious girlfriend and kid sidekick, along with a strong patriotic nature.

At first it had all gone perfectly: the Black Terror had been dispatched on one mission after another, smashing communist cells, bootleggers, and more, all in the name of the good ‘ol U.S.A. When he returned back to the plain, barely-furnished room that he lived in, he’d have a new set of updated, manufactured memories implanted — new dates he’d gone on with the fictitious Jean Starr, bonding experiences with his young ward, Tim Roland. It was all designed to give him the impression that he was a living, breathing man… and not simply a weapon to be rolled out when the time was right.

Eventually, however, The Black Terror uncovered the truth… and he fled from his government handlers. Encountering Lazarus Gray and his Assistance Unlimited team, the hybrid joined them and remained with them for several years, even aiding them in 1937 when they encountered another rogue creation of the American superhuman program: a madman dubbed Titan. In the aftermath, Bob Benton used the technology that had been used to create him to make ‘real’ versions of Jean Starr and Tim Roland, implanting them with memories to ensure their similarity to the ‘people’ he had known.

In 1938 the English equivalent was unveiled – a modern knight in shining armor known as Intrepid. Unlike the American versions, this one proved loyal and true. Wielding his sword (which the public believed to be the legendary Excalibur), the original Intrepid defended England well into the early 1960s.

It was 1943 before the United States had its first loyal test subject… and it came about after Anderson and the entire project had come under the auspices of Project: Cicada, a shadowy government agency that was American’s answer to the Nazi’s Occult Forces Project, which had produced dozens of superpowered agents. Cicada had divisions dedicated to occultism, mentalism, and every known branch of parapsychology… which led to some effective cross-pollination. One division had found the remains of an alien being several years before and it had been Anderson’s idea to mix that DNA into the cocktail used to create the Black Terror and Titan.

What emerged from this was a young man with an almost godlike-aura of goodness that surrounded him. With implanted memories of having been granted powers over nature by a plethora of gods (some of whom bore rather silly names in Anderson’s opinion), Nature Boy was released on his first mission towards the end of the year. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse as a strange alignment of the stars wreaked havoc with Nature Boy’s implanted memories and for a brief time he wandered Sovereign City as an amnesiac. After teaming with Assistance Unlimited to save the city from a reborn Egyptian pharaoh named Rama-Memnon, Nature Boy was returned to the Project’s control.

He was pure of heart and eager to please but this led to some problems – he was not suited for certain missions because of his morals. When some people wanted to try and change his personality, Anderson had stepped in and protected the boy. In fact, he urged Project: Cicada to create other agents for those darker jobs… they should embrace Nature Boy for what he was: a loyal and heroic young man with tremendous power. There was something innately divine in Nature Boy and Anderson couldn’t help but wonder if this was because of the myth they’d spun in the boy’s false memories or if it stemmed from the alien DNA that was part of the proverbial soup from which David had sprung.

Anderson won the fight and was given control over the Nature Boy project. The first thing he did was create a sister for him, a Nature Girl, that would only solidify his feelings of loyalty to the program. The so-called Nature Twins were trustworthy agents of the American Government well into the 1970s… when changing politics resulted in Project:Cicada being shut down. Both Nature Boy and Nature Girl were designated for disposal but Anderson hid them away in suspended animation at an abandoned Cicada lab… and that’s where they remained until 2021 when they were awakened by a couple of teenagers, Jazlyn and Jimmy Tompkins. The Nature Twins were reunited with Prof. Anderson and aided a group known as E-Force in repelling an alien invasion.

Shortly thereafter, the siblings accepted a position overseeing the Tartarus Super-Prison on behalf of Assistance Unlimited. They were working at this job when Lady Grimdark was released.

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