Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Complicated History of the Stalwart Kid

The Complicated History of the Stalwart Kid

By Dr. Mike Desing

Originally published in the Comics Inquirer #317, August 1997

(“The Doc Stalwart Issue”)

Throughout the history of Doc Stalwart’s comic adventures, many characters have seen sudden changes, revisions, or outright retcons in the chase for a unified continuity. For no character has this process been more jarring, or more problematic at times, than that of the original Golden Age Stalwart Kid, Chesterfield “Chet” Stalwart. 

First of all, it is important to distinguish this Stalwart Kid (the Stalwart Kid of Alter Earth 1 - often called Stalwart Kid I) from the Silver Age Stalwart Kid (the younger version of Nathaniel Stalwart, who grew up to later become Doc Stalwart - often referred to as Stalwart Kid II - and a backstory mainstay throughout the Silver Age), or from the later clone of Doc Stalwart who became a hero on his own (Stalwart Kid III). 

The original “Chet Stalwart” version of the Stalwart Kid first appeared in the Astounding Doc Stalwart #4 in April, 1937. The nephew of Doc Stalwart, he accidentally found a piece of Meteor X (the same meteor that had given Doc his powers), and quickly assumed a place at his uncle’s side, fighting crime. He appeared in almost every issue thereafter, as Doc’s faithful sidekick.

The end of Doc’s Golden Age series appeared to be the end of this character. However, Lord Synchronous, the Master of Time (who first appeared in Mighty Doc Stalwart #111, the beginning of the “Doc of Two Worlds” storyline) revealed that there was another Doc Stalwart (Doc Stalwart I), who had a sidekick named the Stalwart Kid, but that this Stalwart Kid had “died at the hands of Lord Synchronous the Time Master”. This appeared to finalize the fate of the original Golden Age Stalwart Kid.   

However, it was later revealed (Mighty Doc Stalwart #163) that the Stalwart Kid I of the Golden Age world of Doc Stalwart (referred for the first time here as “Alter Earth 1”), had actually survived. It was soon revealed that Lord Synchronous the Time Master, who was attempting to merge alternate timelines into one, was actually the original Stalwart Kid, Chesterfield Stalwart. This was one of the biggest surprises in Doc Stalwart history, and ended up being a very divisive choice among the fandom. The letters column for the next year contained letters from outraged fans that Doc’s own nephew would have been the one to turn on him in such a way. Lord Synchronous went on to become one of Doc’s most persistent villains, and the fact that this was a nephew of his own from an alternate timeline only increased the stakes in their various battles.

However, the smaller controversy of this reveal paled in comparison to what would happen in 1992. In Mighty Doc Stalwart #307, during “The Great Time Conundrum” storyline, it was revealed that Lord Synchronous had been gay the entire time, and his attraction to Doc Stalwart was what had caused him to turn to evil. This decision was met with immediate, and universal, derision. 

To much of the mainstream, that a gay character appeared in comics was still largely unfathomable. This caused Doc Stalwart to receive national attention, much of it negative. In some states, his comic series was temporarily banned. However, those who supported gay rights were even more outraged. The National Foundation of Gay Rights issued the following statement: “while we are heartened by efforts to bring gay characters into the mainstream of our culture, we are shocked and saddened by the thoughtless way this has been done in this instance. To suggest that a gay character would be motivated by being gay to commit atrocities does significant harm to our work for acceptance. Furthermore, to have this character be the nephew to the character he is attracted to is a level of inferred incest that is difficult to fathom. That anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond the pale”.

While New Stalwart Press issued an immediate apology, and made significant financial contributions to the NFGR, the damage was done. This ultimately became one of the darkest marks on the history of the series, and one of the greatest mis-steps in comics publishing history. While Lord Synchronous continued to appear thereafter, all references to his sexuality were notable by their absence.

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