Captain Comics: Brush up on all the Egypt, mummy history
With the release of "The Mummy" on Friday, Universal launches its "Dark Universe" — a series of inter-connected movies featuring classic monsters. That's reason enough to look at these important dates in mummy history:
‒ May 22, 1819: The city of Memphis is founded by future president Andrew Jackson and two other guys, named after the famous city in Egypt. Memphis currently has a pyramid and a statue of Ramesses, but no mummies ... yet. There should be a lot of angry ghosts around, from all the slaughtered Chickasaws who used to live there.
‒ 1882: England declares Egypt a protectorate and immediately starts swiping everything that isn't nailed down. (Hey, stuff needed protection from thieves, right?) Artifacts like mummies and "Cleopatra's Needle" obelisks — three are shipped to London, New York and Paris, where they still stand — ignite a public fascination with all things Egyptian.
‒ 1903: Bram Stoker (yes, the "Dracula" guy) cashes in on Egyptophila with "The Jewel of Seven Stars," a novel which not only involves the mummy of an Egyptian queen, but also the mummy of an Egyptian cat. The mummy is that of "Queen Tera," a fictional character believed to be based on Queen Hatshepsut, who reigned from 1479 to 1458 BC.
‒ 1922: Howard Carter discovers the tomb of Tutankhamen, and everybody associated with the archaeological expedition immediately dies of unknown causes. OK, that's not true. Carter's canary and a couple of old people died, and newspapers played up a "Curse of the Pharaohs" angle, which — combined with the discovery of the tomb itself — sets off another round of Egyptomania.
‒ 1932: Universal releases "The Mummy," starring Boris Karloff as the ancient Egyptian Imhotep, who is mummified alive for sacrilege, and brought to life by the Scroll of Thoth when his tomb is discovered. Imhotep escapes, and — masquerading as a modern Egyptian — searches Cairo for the reincarnation of his girlfriend (as you do). The goddess Isis puts an end to his shenanigans.
‒ 1939: The Three Stooges go to Egypt to find the remains of King Rootin-Tootin in the short film "We Want Our Mummy." Alleged madcap antics ensue. The trio indulge in more eye-poking and face-slapping in ancient Egypt for "Mummy's Dummies" (1948).
‒ 1940: Captain Marvel (Fawcett Comics), Dr. Fate (National Allied Publications) and Hawkman (All-American Comics) make their first appearance. The three characters all have roots in ancient Egypt (Captain Marvel through the wizard Shazam), meaning mummies are an occupational hazard.
‒ 1940: Another mummy, this one named Kharis, comes to life in Universal's "The Mummy's Hand" and also searches for love. (You'd think, after 3,000 years, a mummy's first concern would be a nice meal.) This one gets immolated by an outraged boyfriend, but somehow returns for three more movies. Tom Tyler ("The Adventures of Captain Marvel") plays the first Kharis, then hands the bandages to Lon Chaney Jr. ("The Wolf Man") for the sequels.‒ 1955: Abbott and Costello meet The Mummy in, of course, "Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy." The comedians had already met Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Invisible Man, Jekyll and Hyde, "The Killer, Boris Karloff" and The Wolfman. So really, this was just completing the set.
‒ 1959: Hammer Films releases "The Mummy," which cobbles together the concepts of all the 1940s movies about Kharis. The film stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, who had put Hammer on the map with Dracula and Frankenstein revivals, and brought with them what Hammer historian Marcus Hearn calls the "sex and death formula" of those movies. Another big change: Kharis isn't the laughably slow-moving mummy of the Universal films, but instead what Hearn calls "a ruthless, neck-breaking serial killer" and Lee considers "a bandaged juggernaut." It's a success, spawning three sequels — one of which gets around to adapting Stoker's novel as "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb."
‒ 1964: A new Blue Beetle (there have been four distinct versions) debuts at Charlton Comics, this one powered by a mystical scarab from ancient Egypt. He fights "The Giant Mummy Who Was Not Dead" in his first adventure. Sadly, that is the only giant mummy on our list.
‒ 1973: Marvel Comics debuts "The Living Mummy," who stars in 10 issues of "Supernatural Thrillers" before being relegated to supporting-character status. N'Kantu of the fictional Swarili tribe is enslaved by Egyptians to help build pyramids, but leads a failed slave rebellion instead. His punishment, which seems overly harsh to me, is to be wrapped in bandages, have his blood replaced by a mysterious alchemical preservative and entombed for 3,000 years. Currently N'Kantu is a member of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s monsters-only "Howling Commandos," and could shamble into a Marvel movie or TV show any time now.
‒ April 22, 1978: Steve Martin performs "King Tut" on "Saturday Night Live," backed up by the Toot Uncommons (actually the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). The tune features the line "buried in his jammies," referencing mummy wrappings, which gives me an excuse to include it here. The song peaks at No. 17 on the Billboard chart.
‒ September 1986: The Bangles release "Walk Like an Egyptian," which hits No. 1 on the Billboard chart for four months. There are no direct mummy references here — I just like the song.
‒ 1999: Imhotep gets a reboot in a new "The Mummy" starring Brendan Fraser as a swashbuckling adventurer and Rachel Weisz as an Egyptologist in the 1920s. More Indiana Jones than Boris Karloff, "The Mummy" is nevertheless a hit and spawns two sequels. "The Mummy Returns" (2001) lives up to its name, but "The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (2008) gives us a different mummy, this one from China.
‒ 2002: "The Scorpion King" stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and gives the back story on a character who appears in "The Mummy Returns." It's set 5,000 years ago, and spawns three direct-to-DVD sequels (which, as you might guess, don't star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson).
‒ December 2016: Hammer Comics publishes "The Mummy: Palimpsest," a five-issue miniseries which involves men abusing live girls and mummy girls alike in rituals to extend life. Our heroine is a modern girl who is possessed by the ancient Egyptian priestess Nebetah, whose spirit is trapped in the afterlife and whose mummy is the source of immortality. The girls team up to put an end to "the Sect of Anubis" and the really old boys who are its members.
‒ Friday (June 9): "The Mummy" stars Tom Cruise with Sofia Boutella ("Kingsman," "Star Trek Beyond") as our new Mummy dearest. The Dark Universe movies will also include Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll and Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man. The second in the series, "Bride of Frankenstein," is due in 2019.
Did I miss your favorite mummy? Send me an e-parchment at the address below.
Contact Captain Comics at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more comics news, reviews and commentary, visit his website: comicsroundtable.com.
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