No, you haven’t missed a super-hero team. ‘The League Of Regrettable Superheroes’ is a book by Jon Morris about American super-heroes from across the three ages with sillier names than usual. Some vanished without a trace. Some survived a while. Some even made a comeback as different people. After all, DC also had an Amazing or rather a ‘Mazing Man back in the 1980s, although he was omitted. Scarily, I think I still own some of the comics where there character appeared. There is some 44 from the Golden Age, about 35 from the Silver Age and about 45 from the Modern Age. The ‘about’ is because there are some teams included. All of these characters have either a cover and/or sample page of their activities to back up their existence and many extend to four page entries.
Considering the pedigree of some of their creators, like Will Eisner, C.C. Beck, Sigel & Schuster and Garner Fox in the Golden Age, it’s hardly surprising some of them lasted more than a single issue. Along the way, you do get a lot more interesting facts. I mean, did you know Fantomah (1940) actually predates Wonder Woman (1941) and is thus the first female super-heroine? Indeed, there were two others as well, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil (1940) who might have been first except she appeared in newspaper strips first so probably has a claim to fame that way. The third lady was ‘Nelvana Of The Northern Lights’ (1941) who was also Canadian. Looking at the abilities of her and her brother, Tanero, and you see most of the abilities attributed to Marvel’s original Alpha Flight.
If you thought cross-dressing was a modern phenomenon, then you missed ‘Madam Fatal’, also back in 1940, where an actor uses a female guise to take on the bad guys. It isn’t just the names but the display of talent and how they do it that qualifies them here.
Some things Morris poses as mysteries, I had no problem solving. Using the Puppeteer from 1944 as an example who has a ‘V’ on his chest, he fails to notice in his own text, he describes the character as using a ‘V-beam’ as a means of flight. Ever got the idea that maybe him being called the Puppeteer (which even Morris says was hardly a good disguise name) was because he might have been called V-Man or something beginning with ‘V’ first and someone thought better of it but a bit late to change the costume?
I found the Red Bee (1966) interesting from several fronts. A male super-hero wearing gossamer and he has bees that don’t die after stinging someone. No less fascinating is Speed Centaur (1939) who as a disguise puts on a horse’s head. Pantomimes were never like that but I guess he was the mane man. Morris definitely has his tongue in his cheek a lot of the time as well and it does catch on after a while.
Seeing Fox Features ‘Spider Queen’ (1941) and how much of a resemblance to a certain science student twenty-two years down the line is, as Morris points out, funnily coincidental.
When it comes to the Silver Age, where most of us comicbook fans are more familiar, I come across characters that if I hadn’t read, then I definitely know something about. I often wonder why the golden gorilla inhabited by Congo Bill as Congorilla has never been attacked by poachers let alone the various sentient gorilla tribes on DC Earth, of which there are many but don’t get a mention here.
There are the occasional omissions, like Chameleon Collie in ‘The Legion Of Super-Pets’, although Morris probably thinks it’s a good name. Likewise, the Big Red Cheese is still Captain Marvel at DC Comics, it’s only the comicbook title that is called ‘Shazam!’ Seeing how Mick Angelo recreated Miracleman across countries in a decade does make for some interesting reading.
This is also the kind of book you’ll read and wonder if any were missed and I can see group discussions on this. ‘Robot-Man’ does get a mention but Doom Patrol’s Cliff Steele wasn’t the first with that moniker. One I think Morris missed include Slug from Marvel’s ‘The Micronauts. At the time, I thought it odd that she was named after a gastropod but, thinking about American culture, I wonder if she was supposed to be named after a bullet. Even so, I think she deserved to be included. It isn’t like some advertising super-heroes weren’t included.
I can also see discussions of where their powers might return in other guises. Granted that Dynamite Thor or just plain Dynamite (Thor is his actual surname and nothing to do with Norse mythology) who could survive blowing himself up does have a passing similarity to the later Marvel super-villain Nitro, who took it one stage further and blows himself up.
Don’t think dumb characters were just stuck in the Golden Age. The likes of Steranko, Ditko, Kirby Stan Lee and Neal Adams, amongst others, also had their share of dumb characters. I was surprised that ‘Rom, Spaceknight’ was included because at 77 issues, he had to be one of the most successful of the characters in this book. Mind you, the other spaceknights had less than cool names.
Considering that most of the good names have been used up now, it’s hardly surprising that some rubbish names turn up yet most of them didn’t come up for that reason. A lot of the time, names come up to reflect abilities and no after-thought that they could have had better choices.
I’d love to see a follow-up book of unfortunately named super-villains (some are mentioned here) or even a book on characters whose names don’t quite match their super-powers like the second Captain Marvel (actually in the book from 1966) who could break his body into parts to attack villains and was included in this book. Both him and the original Human Torch hold the distinction of being androids and not human. Mind you, I always wonder why some characters broadcast their abilities by their names as well. Would you really want to tell a villain you could become a phantom, shape-shift or become invisible?
Although Morris points out in the margin when these characters first appeared, it is only in the text that he sometimes cites for how many appearances. It might have been better to include this information there as well. Granted with the early 40s, errors might creep in but it would be better than no numbers at all.
I did spend some time thinking about any characters that I think he missed but drew the conclusion that maybe he thought Marvel’s Forbush Man and DC’s ‘The Inferior Five’ (with the likes of Merryman, Awkward Man, White Feather, the Blimp and Dumb Bunny) and the aforementioned ‘Mazing Man were just spoofs. Saying that, the likes of Slapstick and Thunderbunny are included so I doubt if that was a restriction. It’s also a shame he didn’t include characters whose names are a mouthful to say, like the Star-Spangled Kid.
This is the kind of book that you can both widen your comicbook knowledge and rack your brain and that of your friends about who did he miss out. The length of this review will show you I had a blast with this book which makes for a worthwhile experience.
(pub: Quirk Books. 256 page medium-size hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $26.95 (CAN), £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-59474-763-2)
check out website: www.quirkbooks.com