Craptacular Crimefighters of Christmas Past
Remember me…King Moonracer? No, not the 1979 James Bond film. You know, from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer…the flying lion who ruled the Island of Misfit Toys? Well, at least until Santa kidnapped them and pawned them off on naughty boys and girls. What…you thought he gave square-wheeled trains and Charlie-In-The-Box toys to good kids?
Anyway, when the freakish toys abandoned me, my need to rule over rejects and losers remained strong, so I rededicated my kingdom to receive a new population of outcasts….this time housing the wretched refuse of the comic book crimefighting world. Welcome, my friends…to the Island of Misfit Superheroes!
Some of my oldest subjects date back as far as the fabled Golden Age of Comics. Granted, superheroes were still a relatively new concept in those days, so mistakes were bound to be made. Ah, but when it came to guys like the Red Bee, who made his debut in Hit Comics #1 (1940), some mistakes aren’t easily forgiven. Sporting striped leotards, chiffon sleeves and a swarm of “trained bees” (along with…no lie…a “special bee” named Michael he kept inside his belt buckle), the Red Bee wasn’t what most would consider a juggernaut of justice.
The list of red-tinted rejects expands with Mr. Scarlet and his sidekick Pinky the Whiz Kid, who first appeared in Fawcett’s Wow Comics #1 (1941). Essentially Batman and Robin knock-offs (right down to living in Gotham City), one can only imagine the shame experienced by criminals apprehended by this, shall we say, less-than-intimidating pair.
When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sparked the Golden Age of Comics with Superman in 1938, who’d have guessed that only ten years later they would be banished from their creation and schlepping out a low-wattage character like Funnyman? Mercifully, Siegel and Shuster’s comedic crimefighter (based loosely on comedian Danny Kaye) lasted a paltry six issues, with a Funnyman newspaper strip lasting only a few months more.
Another fading Golden Age star named Joe Simon oversaw the “Giant-Size Thrillers” line of superheroes for Harvey Comics in the mid-1960’s, which included jaw-dropping oddities like Jigsaw, the Man of 1,000 Parts! When astronaut Gary Jason crash-landed on the moon, friendly aliens used spare parts from their lunar laboratory to reassemble his obliterated body. Resembling a human jigsaw puzzle, Gary returned to Earth for two issues of surreal superhero glory before the plug was pulled.
Many more laughable losers sprung from the mind of Joe Simon before Harvey’s “Thrillers” line met a swift and deserving end…but none of them were quite as laughable (or quite as unsettling) as Tiger Boy. Using his “will power”, an alien passing as a young human named “Paul Canfield” could transform himself into a tiger...while inexplicably retaining his human head. He could also transform into a robot named “Steel Man” and a stretching superhero named “Rubber Man”. Oh, and did I mention that he bitterly hated the entire human race? Naturally, I have him working in our Misfit Island public relations office.
A few years later, Joe Simon continued his streak of two-issue wonders with DC’s Brother Power the Geek, a mannequin brought to life by lightning. The super-powered dummy soon adopted the ways of his new Hippie friends, including their ham-fisted “hip” lingo (as penned by a fifty-something and decidedly un-hip Joe Simon).
Continuing the Falling Star Parade were Otto Binder and C.C. Beck, co-creators of the legendary Captain Marvel. As with many of the Golden Age greats who returned to comics, Binder and Beck’s more whimsical sensibilities didn’t mesh well with the growing sophistication of the 1960’s comics scene…as you can see here with Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer. Sporting a costume design similar to the aforementioned Big Red Cheese, Van Crawford could change into a human flying saucer by drinking a strange chocolate-flavored liquid. A lesser-known ability, as you can see here on the cover of Fatman #2 (1967), was his fireproof crotch.
Speaking of Captain Marvel, Carl Burgos (creator of the original Human Torch) dreamed up a new Captain Marvel for the short-lived M.F. Publishing company. Looking almost identical to the blond haired, red-garbed Human Torch (who was also an android), Captain Marvel could break his body parts into autonomous segments by yelling “SPLIT!”. Amazingly, the Detachable Cap lasted a whole four issues before “splitting” for good.
Although Jack Kirby remained a co-creative juggernaut at Marvel Comics through most of the 1960’s, his solo work of the 1970’s and 80’s proved that great skill with a pencil didn’t necessarily translate to the typewriter.
Creating The New Gods for DC Comics, Kirby populated his sprawling space opera with larger-than-life characters that were equal parts cosmic and campy, many of whom have since found their way to my island paradise. Leading the way was the Black Racer, a cosmic personification of death who zig-zagged through the cosmos (much like the Silver Surfer character Kirby created for Marvel only a few years earlier). Question: Would you tremble with fear or laughter at an embodiment of Death who wore a bright yellow cape, a knight-visor helmet and rode “Celestial Skis”?
Kirby wasn’t the only artistic giant to fall short in the character development department. Groundbreaking illustrator Neal Adams fell flat on his face with the colossally dork-tastic Skate Man. Secretly ex-soldier and roller derby champ Billy Moon, Skate Man fought a host of stock criminals straight from the set of Starsky and Hutch while wearing only a dew-rag, roller skates, and acid-washed shorty shorts.
Wearing even less clothing than Skate Man was DC’s B’wana Beast, who’s mystical helmet and magic elixir gave him the ability to not only command the animals of the jungle, but to create bizarre hybrid creatures out of them as well. Lasting what has become the customary two issues, it’s alleged that plans for a third issue were scrapped when artist Mike Sekowsky quit over what he perceived to be yet another “racist” B’wana Beast script.
A few years earlier in Mystery In Space #103 (1965), DC unleashed Ultra the Multi-Alien, a human spaceman who was shot by four alien transformation rays at the same time! Got that? Good…because following the quadruple ray-blast, Ace Arn had a new body that was an amalgamation of the four alien physiologies, each section possessing its own unique superpower. Looking more like a third grader’s nightmare therapy drawing than a superhero, Ultra lasted an astounding seven issues of Mystery In Space before somebody at DC finally contacted Yours Truly.
One of my favorite misfit recruiting centers has always been DC’s Legion of Superheroes, whose membership is chock-full of losers like Bouncing Boy, Stone Boy, and (my favorite) Matter-Eater Lad! Hailing from the planet Bismoll (I kid you not), Tenzil Kem was able to eat and digest all forms of matter.
From the stomach-churning abilities of Matter-Eater Lad, my magic gaze moves to a stomach-churning visage of body hair and leather known as Vartox. With a look heavily based on Sean Connery’s character from the kinky sci-fi flop Zardoz, Vartox imported an icky XXX vibe into the otherwise G-rated Superman universe of 1974. This balding, short-vested superhero from another world would return every couple of years to reassure Superman that there was indeed something worse than wearing red underwear over blue tights.
Lest you think that DC Comics was Public Enemy Number One when it came to quality-challenged superheroes, Marvel had quite a long rap sheet themselves. Near the top of the sheet was U.S. Archer, a trucker whose metal-plated skull allowed him to pick up CB transmissions and mentally control US 1, his high-tech eighteen wheeler. After twelve issues of battling villains like Baron Von Blimp, Iron Mike (King of the Bike), and the whip-crackin’ Midnight, friendly space aliens upgraded US 1 into a space-faring big rig so Archer could cruise the spaceways as an interstellar trucker.
As bad as the space trucker was, it was Tolstoy compared to NFL SuperPro, the spawn of Marvel’s unholy alliance with the National Football League in 1992. I think this comment I nabbed from a message board pretty much sums it up:
"I had an issue of this wherein SuperPro fought a
guy named 'Instant Replay'. I was something like
eight years old and I still knew it sucked."
Wow. 'Nuff said.
As you've now learned, the Island of Misfit Superheroes is a crowded place…though you’ve only seen a fraction of its nonsensical citizenry. Fear not…I shall be back again some day with more accounts of my losers…er…loyal subjects.
That is, if Santa doesn’t pull another Rudolph and airlift them outta here tonight!
From the staff of Comic Coverage,
a Merry Christmas to you all!