Superheroes Face the Strange
Since starting Comic Coverage in August of '06, I've "covered" many of the bizarre physical transformations that have stricken the ranks of comic book superheroes. You name it: sudden morbid obesity, rapid aging, freakishly large heads, monsterization, reversions to childhood, or gigantic growth spurts. In short, when it comes to documenting the major categories of superhero mutation, I'm your go-to guy.
However, in the process of cataloging these strange transformations (so you don't have to), I've found that some of them can't easily be classified into any large, overarching theme or category...but are still deliciously warped and weird enough to deserve your full attention. So...let's visit the Freak Show, shall we?
The first unlucky member of our "random mutation menagerie" is, appropriately enough, the first superhero himself: Superman. You see, in addition to deadly Green Kryptonite, a new red variety came along during the 1960s that, instead of weakening Superman, triggered a kaleidoscope of freakish transformations...each lasting precisely 48 hours. One of the strangest occurred in Action Comics #296 (1963) as Superman gained the head and buzzing antennae of a giant red ant.
Besides Kryptonite, Superman (like any other physical being) was also vulnerable to the power of magic. Exhibit A: Action #243's "Super-Lion," courtesy of Circe, an ancient Greek sorceress who had a thing for transforming men into animals.
Magic was also the culprit in Lois Lane #92 (1969) when Superman's girlfriend galloped off as a lady centaur (while sporting a yellow polka-dot bikini top).
In Jimmy Olsen #65 (1962), magic changed everyone's favorite redheaded cub reporter into a human porcupine and star freak show attraction!
Justice League #10 (1962) finds evil sorcerer Felix Faust with a literal handful of heroes, as the tiny torsos of the Justice League are magically grafted to his fingertips!
One issue earlier, it wasn't magic but weird science that transformed the Justice League into trees during a flashback of their first adventure together.
Similarly, it was never real sorcery but advanced 64th century science that allowed Abra Kadabra to commit what appeared to be magic-based crimes...such as transforming the Flash into a wooden puppet in Flash #133 (1962).
On the cover of Green Lantern #29 (1964), the devious Black Hand used what appeared to be an ultra-advanced Etch-A-Sketch to send the Emerald Warrior into another dimension. Halfway through the process, GL managed to stop the machine....which left him stuck with only half a body!
When a criminal exposed Batman to "Magnetic force energy" in Detective Comics #275 (1960), it not only caused him to repel all objects (think "reverse black hole") but also transformed him into the bizarre Zebra Batman!
As you've realized by now, when it came to random physical transformations, DC Comics was king. That's not to say their somewhat more reality-based rival Marvel Comics was completely exempt from freakish mutations...and I'm not talking about the X-Men!
In Captain America #407 (1992), everyone's favorite star-spangled superhero was captured and transformed against his will into Cap-Wolf by werewolf specialist Dr. Nightshade.
When Peter Parker created a potion to rid himself of his spider powers, little did he know it would make him even more spider-like by giving him four additional arms! Fortunately, those extra arms came in handy against the double threat of the Lizard and Morbius in Spider-Man #102 (1972).
In a stunning reversal of the fairy tale formula, a woman's kiss transformed the Prince of Asgard into a frog (courtesy of Loki's sorcery) in Thor #363 (1986). After defending the noble frogs of New York's sewers against evil rats, Frog Thor eventually found his way back to Asgard in Thor #366, defeated Loki, and then returned to normal.
Of course, "normal" is a highly relative term in the superhero biz. While some costumed crimefighters would go their entire career without so much as a single random mutation, others mutated with a frequency and reliability you could set your watch to...making their constant abnormality strangely "normal" over the long haul. Whatever the case, maybe there's a lesson in there for those of us in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century. Maybe change isn't so bad after all...that is, if it doesn't involve becoming a wooden puppet, a human porcupine, or a zebra-striped reverse black hole!