The History of Prehistory in Superhero Comics
The prehistoric world has always fascinated the modern audience, most likely because it’s so completely out of our reach.
Unearthed artifacts and scattered remains offer some vital clues as to what prehistoric life might have been like, but ultimately that ancient era and its people are unknowable to us. Despite this knowledge gap, our collective imagination has settled upon a standardized archetype of early man: the fur-clad, hairy brute lugging a massive club (or stone-tipped spear), generically referred to as a “caveman”. Whether he was capable of speech (or not), a contemporary of dinosaurs (or not), or able to propel stone cars with foot power (I’m looking at you, Flintstone), the caveman has been a remarkably versatile and enduring member of the pop cultural pantheon.
Proof of that versatility can be found in Tales of Suspense #40 (1963), as Iron Man (in only his second adventure) meets Gargantus, a caveman bent on conquering the small town of Granville. However, Gargantus was no run-of-the-mill caveman, but actually a robot created by invading aliens who wanted to avoid detection. Because, you know, a twelve-foot giant caveman is much more subtle than invading aliens.
That same year, another caveman invasion threat appeared on the cover of Blackhawk #189, specifically the jet ski riding, heat-ray shooting Super-Cavemen of 15,000 B.C!
The Batcave was invaded by what appeared to be a rare redheaded caveman in Batman #102 (1956). In truth, he was only an actor named “Carlin” who believed himself to be an actual caveman following a movie set head injury.
Four years later, Batman and Robin face the real deal on the cover of Detective Comics #285 (1960). After thawing out from suspended animation, then getting framed for murder (I hate when that happens), the unnamed caveman ultimately gives his life saving Batwoman (the pre-Crisis, heterosexual version).
The Dark Knight met a prehistoric parallel in Batman #93 (1955). The mask-wearing Tiger Man teamed up with the Dynamic Duo to defeat the tyrant Borr and his "secret weapon"...a thawed-out dinosaur!
In World's Finest #138 (1963), Superman, Batman and Robin go undercover as cavemen to bust an alien mind-control/caveman slavery scheme. In other words, the usual threats facing ancient mankind.
Finishing out Batman's caveman scrapbook was World's Finest #102 (1959), which featured the threat of “The Caveman from Krypton”. After a meteor containing a caveman(!) crashes to Earth, our heroes realize he’s from Krypton when he exhibits powers identical to Superman’s. Naturally, they’re unable to restrain the super-powered primitive and he soon falls in with a gang of criminals pretending to be his friend. The crooks eventually use ever-available Kryptonite to subdue both the caveman and Superman. Sadly, Krypton Caveman ended up dying from the combination of Kryptonite radiation and “the cosmic rays that he was exposed to during his journey”.
Another dead super-caveman appears on the cover of Action Comics #350 (1967). The skeleton was actually that of Guarr, a caveman bully Superman met while marooned and powerless in the prehistoric past. Guarr coveted Superman's "colorful skins" (his costume) and, after receiving the costume of a Superman robot (don't ask), he proudly wore it the rest of his days.
Completing the super-caveman trio is Superman #171 (1964), as Superman visits a planet with a sun that alternates between yellow and red. Naturally, Superman loses his powers when the sun turns red, then promptly gets his butt kicked (and costume stolen) by yet another caveman bully.
Metamorpho, one of the most bizarre characters in superhero comics had an equally bizarre supporting cast, including a member of a near-human species named Java. Metamorpho, Java and the rest of his eccentric cast made their debut in The Brave and the Bold #57 (1964).
Although cavemen are typically pictured dragging women by their hair, the caveman on the cover of Plastic Man #19 (1949) boldly breaks from tradition by dragging Woozie Winks, sidekick of Plastic Man (or, in this case, Plasti-saurus).
A "devolved" (and super-sized) Professor Koravyk becomes Kor the Conqueror in The Doom Patrol #114 (1967), thanks to a mysterious time-warping energy barrier.
While fleeing hostile Indians on the cover of Tomahawk #15 (1953), frontier hero Tom Hawk and young Dan Hunter run into “The Wild Men of Wigwam Mountain”.
Even our very own fighting G.I.’s experienced the savage, rifle-smashing fury of a caveman in Weird War #36 (1975).
Of course, not every encounter with comic book cavemen was a hostile one. In fact, things were downright cozy on the cover of The Marvel Family #5 (1946) as Cap, Mary and Junior nonchalantly give prehistoric mankind the gifts of the wheel, fire, and the alphabet.
Unfortunately, the Prehistoric Peace would soon come to an end in Master Comics #90, as The Caveman found his way to 1948 to give Captain Marvel Jr. a club sandwich.
The newly formed Teen Titans encountered Garn, the “Million Year-Old Teenager” in Teen Titans #2 (1966). Garn helped the Titans defeat a giant terrorizing the town of Smedleyville, despite its citizens believing him to be in league with the giant. It’s then up to the Teen Titans to teach the townsfolk a Valuable Lesson about judging people by their looks!
On the cover of Bob Hope #43 (1957), things get really friendly between a cave girl cutie and the legendary comedian…despite the dreadful punnery (and creepy advanced age) of Old Ski Nose.
Speaking of cave girls, Anthro #6 (1969) finds the teenaged title character enjoying a hunk of meat while two girls fight for his affections. I ask you: could life get any better?
In Action Comics #169 (1952) Cave-Girl Reporter Lois Lane is enjoying her complete editorial control of The Stone Age News, oblivious to an attack by a saber-tooth tiger (possibly an angry reader).
What appears to be the exact same saber-tooth tiger shows up on the cover of Star Spangled Comics #71 (1949), this time teaming up with Robin the Boy Wonder against an obviously terrified caveman.
Look closely and you’ll note Robin using the tiger’s teeth as handlebars to steer the beast toward the hapless caveman!
In the realm of science fiction, any grain of truth or esoteric theory can be warped into countless entertaining configurations, and the comic book caveman is certainly proof of that. From flying cavemen with heat rays to Bob Hope-smooching cave girls, these Neanderthal Renaissance Men (and women) could do it all...while wearing fur underwear, no less!