Reading comics and collecting comics aren’t always synonymous. Some will spend years, decades, a lifetime hunting down runs of comics that they will never read. Why? They are completists, they like the thrill of the chase, the whiff of ancient newsprint and four color nostalgia. The long-sought comic in the back-issue bins, the box of bronze-age heaven that appears one day in a charity shop.
After all, you can read things digitally these days right? No need to crack open those issues. Wrong. There is a ton of stuff you cannot get digitally, some you probably never will. In some cases there may be no archival copy. In others, copyright disputes to some 1970s toy crap like Rom or the Micronauts that was made into a little piece of the fantastic by people of talent. Price hikes by comixology can happen any time, or the service shuts down and we lose access to our comics. And sometimes, just no one wants to read it.
Which brings us to Shamrock.
Shamrock is not a popular character. Nor indeed is she a character that many have even heard of. Small wonder – Molly Fitzgerald has only a handful of appearances in comics and none of them can really be regarded as classics. Why then would I devote an article and no small amount of time and money to Ms F? Simply because I realised that I could truly make my name in comics journalism with the definitive article on Shamrock. Err, ok. Maybe not. The actual answer is the Contest of Champions.
There have been a few comics called Contest of Champions, and apparently some kind of video game but the original came out in 1982. It was filled with new and original international heroes. From China came the Collective Man, Israel had Sabra, from Saudi Arabia the Arabian Knight. There was also the likes of Defensor from Argentina. Europe was represented by France’s Le Peregrine and Blitzkrieg from West Germany (that was a country at the time young people, and one extremely unlikely to name their superhero after a nazi military tactic.) Originally the plan had been for an international contest to reflect the olympic games due to be held in Moscow in 1980. But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent US boycott of the olympics led to the title being delayed and a different version released two years later.
The huge cast list is the big draw for this comic and writers Bill Manto, Steven Grant and the brilliant Mark Gruenwald did a great job with the title. With beautiful art by John Romita Jr the cover saw the first glimpse of Shamrock. The opening issue also featured one of my favourite panels in all of Marvel comics when Captain Britain and Shamrock meet. Fan of the movie Thor Ragnarok? A lot of the ideas therein can be traced to this comic.
Of course, I loved it.
At the time (and even still today) any reference to a national superhero for Ireland could not escape the difficult fact that a ugly, bloody, deadly conflict was taking place in the part of the island that unionists call Northern Ireland and republicans refer to as the six counties of the North. For myself as a kid of around 11 years old the news consisted of daily stories of bombings and assassinations. Of course, the news told only a fraction of the true story.
So how was Shamrock positioned? She was the daughter of a militant IRA member (from Meath, not the likeliest place for a die hard provo but not impossible) who had herself turned her back on violence. One of the earliest scenes shows her disposing of a bomb in Belfast.
Her origin story was revealed in Marvel Comics Presents issue 24 from 1989. The story entitled ‘I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain’ saw her father attempt to harness her ‘good luck’ powers as part of a plot involving the evil Dr Arnim Zola. Scott Lobdell was the writer for this one and artist Dennis Jensen did not draw Shamrock in costume.
As near as I can tell, I’m a vessel for all the countless souls that have died as innocent victims of war. Under normal circumstances these displaced poltergeists manifest themselves – one at a time, and only for a fraction of an instant – as a telekinetic burst of energy that ultimately causes improbable incidents to occur on my behalf.Shamrock, Marvel Comics Presents 24
Throughout the Eighties Shamrock appeared mostly in brief cameo appearances in the likes of The Hulk and Rom. Scott Lobdell must have been fond of Shamrock because she appeared again in one of his comics Alpha Flight 108 in 1992, an issue that also saw Le Peregrine putting in an appearance.
One of the best and most significant appearances of Shamrock came as an ‘alternate universe’ story in Guardians of the Galaxy Annual 3 from 1993. In a world where the Martians from War of the Worlds have conquered, it focuses on Irish myth and legend with sites such as Newgrange – a neolithic stone passage tomb from the aforementioned County Meath.
It also featured other Hibernian heroes such as Dr. Druid and a newcomer in the shape of the Irish Wolfhound – the legendary hero Cúchulainn. All the 1993 annuals had new characters who were also featured on free cards that were included with the issues – yes readers, I have started collecting them as well.
A cracking read from writer Michael Gallacher and penciler Colleen Doran, the art in the issue is great and features a new look for alternate-Shamrock with her hair flowing free and sometimes incorporating the spirits that she harnesses.
Shamrock was to have few appearances in the years to come and most appearances chart her career progress outside of the superhero business as a teacher, hairdresser and bar tender. Indeed she became so obscure that a hairdressing appearance in Excalibur 108 was used as a competition – to guess who she was.
In recent years we have seen service-industry Molly in comics like Fearless Defenders and Uncanny Avengers. One of the best was in Girl Comics issue 2 where an older and wiser Shamrock is seen trying on her old costume before joining Invisible Woman, Black Cat and Hellcat to take down the Trapster (yes, good old Paste Pot Pete himself.) A great story from Kathryn Immonen and Colleen Coover.
Shamrock of course had her own Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe appearance not to mention a rather cheeky mention in a Wizard Magazine calendar as the St. Patricks Day entry.
So excluding some zombie-universe nonsense with Deadpool and a once mentioned job as a SHIELD agent that is the complete Shamrock. Shamrock devotees (just me probably) can track down the script to an unpublished Marvel Comics Presents story here.
I have been fortunate to have some nice commissions of Shamrock in recent times. At the top of the article you can see a lovely ‘Girl Comics’ era Molly from Mat Greaves (colour version here). A terrific sketch from Vince Hunt that I got at Thought Bubble and a lovely contribution from Alan Henderson of the Penned Guin fame.
Let’s hope we will see a bit more of Shamrock, maybe time for a new incarnation to take up the green. You never know – we might be lucky.