For the 62% of Americans who actually pay income taxes, today is the last day to submit your paperwork! Take heart...even an A-list supervillain like Doctor Doom is feeling the pressure..even with tax preparation software!
Like a bird without feathers, or pancakes without syrup, comic book superheroes would be nothing without their villains!
Although little more than gangsters or mad scientists in the early years of superhero comics, villains gradually became as flashy and powerful as the costumed crimefighters themselves. Ultimately, the sheer number of supervillains caused most of them to be forgotten as soon as they appeared. However, a small percentage of them have risen above obscurity and made a big impression on me. I've selected ten of my favorite supervillains, some of which most would agree with...and a few you might quibble with. But, if that's the case, the internet is in no danger of running out of real estate, so you can post your own Top Ten Villain list if the spirit moves you. For now, here's mine:
Reverse Flash: Considering my well-documented enthusiasm foropposite numbers, it's no surprise that my list begins with The Reverse Flash. Making his first appearance in Flash #139 (1963), Eobard Thawne was a 25th century criminal who gained super-speed from an old Flash costume using that era's ultra-advanced technology. Sometimes known as "Professsor Zoom", Thawne fought Barry Allen time and time again, eventually murdering his wife Iris and, some years later, lost his own life while attempting to kill Barry's fiance Fiona Webb. Recently, a villain named "Zoom" donned the costume of the Reverse Flash...but now that Barry Allen has returned to the land of the living, I suspect that ol' Eobard Thawne won't be far behind.
Bizarro: Let's face it: despite being the original superhero, Superman's rogue's gallery has never quite measured up to his vaunted status. Sure, Lex Luthor is usually offered up as one of his best...and from the brains vs. brawn angle, he IS a compelling villain, but his last two decades as a somewhat inert corporate & political figure has dampened his standing (at least with me). That leaves only a handful of Superman villains that could make the A-list...and chief among them is Bizarro. Taking the concept of "evil opposite" to its most literal extreme, this "imperfect duplicate" wasn't only a physical distortion of the Man of Steel, but a twisted, illogical version of his intellect and morality as well. Alternately portrayed as a figure of sympathy, humor, or terror (depending on the era or creative team), Bizarro has always embodied the frightening reality of the power of Superman untethered from wisdom and self-control.
The Kingpin: Making his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #50 (1967), New York's imposing "Kingpin of Crime" quickly developed into one of comics' most fascinating and complex characters. Part of that appeal stemmed from how much the Kingpin resembled "real world" figures of organized crime, with few trappings of the more traditional costume-wearing, gimmick-toting villain crowd. Although hints of a more complex personal life came to light during his years as a Spider-Man villain, it wasn't until a young turk named Frank Miller made him a Daredevil foe that the Kingpin (a.k.a. "Wilson Fisk") gained the compelling backstory and machiavellian personna that make him the A-list master criminal he is today.
Thanos:With his massive, craggy-faced appearance and space-god heritage, it's clear that Jim Starlin's Thanos character was at least partially inspired by Jack Kirby's Darkseid, who'd made his DC Comics debut a few years earlier. However, that's where the similarities end. Whereas Darkseid was primarily confined to Kirby's quartet of "Fourth World" titles, Thanos threatened the entire Marvel Universe right out of the gate. Originally appearing as a "cosmic villain" in Iron-Man #55 (1973), Thanos quickly rolled out a plan that spanned several Marvel titles...which became (quite possibly) comics' first mega-epic, multi-title crossover (am I forgetting anything before it?). Seeking to win the love of Death (personified as a mysterious hooded woman), Thanos had long sought to obliterate the universe through a variety of schemes and objects of power (such as the Cosmic Cube and the Infinity Gauntlet). Add to this inexhaustible ambition an origin story with fallen angel/Oedipal overtones and a sprawling supporting cast, and you've got yourself a Top Ten villain.
Two-Face:Formerly Gotham City's District Attorney and an ally of Batman, Harvey Dent
lost his sanity and turned to crime when one side of his face was
hideously disfigured. Like his bizarrely mismatched outfit, Dent's
psyche was also split down the middle, requiring the flip of a coin to
determine his good or bad actions. This constant theme of duality,
beyond his chilling look and M.O., is the primary reason I enjoy
Two-Face so much. He seems to embody the warring sides of human nature
itself, as good and bad behavior coexist yet battle for control with
the capriciousness of a coin flip.
Stay tuned for part two of my Top Ten Comic Book Villains!
The Green Goblin:Despite a rather underwhelming debut in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (1963), the Green Goblin was still the most mysterious and intriguing figure in Spidey's burgeoning rogues gallery. Unlike other comic book villains, the true identity of the Green Goblin was kept secret from even the reader for several years. According to comic book legend, co-creator Steve Ditko wanted the Goblin to remain completely anonymous, having grown tired of stories where the villain is unmasked as someone known by the hero. Well, thankfully (in this case) Ditko was overuled by Stan Lee, because in Spider-Man #39 (1966) the Goblin was revealed to be Norman Osborn, the father of Peter Parker's best friend. That same issue, Osborn discovered Parker was actually Spider-Man, escalating their conflict to an intensely personal level. Another fascinating (and somewhat groundbreaking) aspect of Osborn was his struggle with mental illness. Sure, insanity had been a pillar of supervillainy for quite awhile, but Osborn's psychosis gave readers a glimpse into the twilight world of mental illness that no comic book had really explored before. This cyclical struggle culminated in the death of Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man #121 (1973), followed by the ironic death of Osborn the very next issue.
Sadly, anyone familiar with the current Marvel Universe knows that Norman Osborn was retroactively resurrected some years ago, was revealed to have secretly fathered two children with Gwen Stacy (!), and is now some kind of out-of-control Homeland Security official bent on world domination. Or something.
Well, in my mind, Norman Osborn is still dead from a bat-glider to the chest...with his evil still haunting Peter Parker from beyond the grave.
Galactus:For the first quarter century of superhero comics, villains didn't do much more than steal money from banks or priceless artifacts from museums. However, in Fantastic Four #48 (1966), Jack Kirby and Stan Lee upped the ante to the Nth degree with Galactus, an elaborately-armored space god so powerful, he could steal the life force of entire planets! Although many near-omnipotent figures have come along since Galactus, ol' bucket-head remains my favorite (despite some funky costume issues in his first few appearances). As the years went by, Galactus became a more ambiguous figure...less a straight-up villain and more a universal force of nature who occasionally assisted the planet Earth when he wasn't threatening to consume it.
Magneto: X-Men #1 (1964) not only marked the first appearance of Marvel's future cash cows, but of their number one villain as well. Starting out as a more one-note "take over the world" bad guy (complete with a dopey Magna-Car), Magneto evolved into a richer, much more complex character whose mutant power and hatred of humanity was triggered by the Holocaust. For a brief time, he worked with fellow mutant Charles Xavier to help other mutants, but their friendship ended when Magneto believed mutants should rule humanity instead of peacefully co-exist with it. Besides the compelling backstory, Magneto's immense power over Earth's magnetic fields and his unique costume design (love that helmet!) more than qualify him for Top Ten status.
Doctor Doom: Yet another utterly unique creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Victor Von Doom has menaced just about every Marvel superhero since his debut in Fantastic Four #5 (1962). Like no other villain before him, Doom was the ruler of an entire country, a tiny Balkan kingdom named Latveria. Thanks to his diplomatic immunity, Doom was free to roam the world with impunity, using his mastery of both sorcery and super-science to conquer it (well, attempt to conquer it). His iron mask, armor, and flowing cape are said by some to the be the inspiration for Darth Vader's look (a claim I've yet to confirm), but whatever the case, Doom's medieval costume, skull-like mask, and towering hubris are the paragon of classic comic book evil.
The Joker: Coming as a surprise to exactly nobody, the Joker wins the number one slot on my Top Ten Villains list. This ghastly, clown faced killer made his first appearance in Batman #1 (1940) and is clearly one of the most chilling, frightening figures in all of fiction. Except for a brief period when he was portrayed as a relatively harmless, light-hearted nuisance, the Joker has always been a deadly, darkly humorous figure whose roots go far deeper than his comic book origins. Like the comedy and
tragedy masks of antiquity, as well as various jester/harlequin archetypes from across the centuries, the Joker's sardonic smile taps into the darker recesses of the human psyche. After all, at the core, most humor has an element of cruelty to it...which the Joker ruthlessly embodies and exploits. Adding to his appeal is the blank slate of his background before he became the Joker. A bit like what Steve Ditko had wanted for the Green Goblin (see #5 above), the Joker's anonymity makes his existence all the more mysterious and...in some ways...borderline supernatural. Bottom line? The Joker is, quite simply, the perfect embodiment of uninhibited cruelty and chaos that many of us find disturbingly...liberating? How many comic book villains can have that kind of impact?
Whew. There you have it. Ten really evil, yet really entertaining bad guys.
When comic book superheroes ushered in a modern sort of mythology, it was only fitting that one them resembled a figure from ancient mythology. As comics' first super-speedster, the most distinctive feature of the Flash's costume was the winged, wide-brimmed helmet that evoked Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger of the Greek gods, later renamed "Mercury" when the Romans co-opted the Greek deities.
However, there was one feature of Jay Garrick's original costume that definitely wasn't based on ancient images of Hermes. Appearing on the cover of Flash Comics #1 (1940), check out the snazzyyellow lightning bolts adorning Jay's blue pants!
(click on the image for a larger view)
The "leg lighting" only stuck around for two issues...or, to be more precise, one and a half issues. By the middle of Flash Comics #2, the leg lightning started popping in and out, until finally disappearing for good by the story's end.
From that point forward, the leg lightning was history...with only a few random exceptions over the next year or so. Sometimes a tiny icon of a lightning-legged Flash would appear on covers that featured other characters from the anthology title (such as Hawkman), yet the interior stories stuck with the lightning-free blue pants (click on the icon art to the left for a closer look).
When the cover icon was discontinued after issue #7, the last remnant of the leg lightning had faded away. That is, until it inexplicably returned on the covers of Flash Comics #8 and #10... as well as in an utterly random single panel in issue #13! (click to enlarge)
Were there any additional appearances of Flash's infamous lightning legs? I'm not sure...but maybe my pals over at the Flash-centric Speed Force website have more to add.
The Obscure Adventures of Comics' Greatest Generation!
Before they changed their name and full-time focus to "Archie Comics", MLJ Comics published a modest selection of superhero titles during the Golden Age of Comics. One such title was Zip Comics, starring a guy named Steel Sterling, Man of Steel. Despite sharing Superman's famous sobriquet (Steel actually beat him to it), there was one aspect of Steel Sterling that made him utterly unique in the history of comics: having the only origin story to involve skinny dipping in a vat of molten steel!
After gangsters financially ruined and then killed his father, scientist John Sterling vowed to battle "gangdom" by making himself invulnerable to physical harm. Coating himself with a chemical of his own invention, Sterling then jumped into the red-hot cauldron and emerged with the "resistance, the magnetism, and strength of steel" (and rivet-encrusted swim trunks).
That's right...Steel was protected from ALL forms of destruction, including...
And that was just his first story!
Of course, the only thing Steel Sterling was vulnerable to were the low sales that struck down most superhero comics following World War II. Disappearing for several years, Sterling has briefly resurfaced for various revivals of the old MLJ heroes.
But let's not dwell on the decline of Steel and his fellow 4th-stringers. Instead, let's think of the happier times...like when Steel would activate his magnetism-powers by running his fingers through his hair!
Question: What's more American than the game of baseball? Answer: An Amazon warrior in a flag-themed costume and her trained gorilla PLAYING the game of baseball! Truly one of the most insane Wonder Woman stories of all time...and THAT'S saying something!
Name:Andy the Gorilla
First Appearance: Wonder Woman #78 (1955) History: In an effort to save a beloved private school from closing, Wonder Woman must defeat an entire baseball team...with her only teammate a circus gorilla named Andy...who can't play baseball. So...Wonder Woman expertly pitches, bats, and fields, while simultaneously teaching Andy the same skills. Needless to say, Wonder Woman and Andy win the game and save the school from closing.
Powers and Abilities: A .300 batting average and an animal behind the plate.
Just like Fridays back in school, it's time for another pop quiz!
Beginning with Robin in Detective Comics #38 (1940), comics have had a long tradition of kid sidekicks palling around with adult superheroes. Despite the obvious "child endangerment" issues, publishers of that earlier era believed that young readers would identify with the boy (or sometimes girl) heroes who faced the same dangers as their grown-up mentors...thereby increasing sales.
Looking back over that wonderfully bizarre era of juvenile superheroes, I've put together a 10-question quiz (with an assist from the ProProfs website), which you can take by clicking on the "Start Quiz" button below. Oh, and disregard that "name" box...you don't need to enter your name in order to take the quiz.
In the past, I've joked about how comic book fans (me included) complain about rising cover prices, yet...being the addicted idiots we are...just keep shelling out the cash (click on the image to the left for a lighthearted, yet all-too-depressing summary).
However, as Marvel stomps on the gas and blasts through the $3.99 cover price barrier (with other publishers expected to follow suit throughout the year), I'm here to say: I've finally had enough...and it's time to do something about it.
My little rebellion began earlier this week as I blew off the new issue of Thor...a character and series I honestly enjoy, but I refuse to pay four bucks a pop for it. It's not for economic reasons alone, though. Frankly, I can afford the price increase without much trouble...but as a matter of principle, I'm not going to put my stamp of approval on such a crass and clueless money grab.
A few days later, I came across a fascinating thread on Blog@Newsarama that asked how comic fans were managing their pull lists in the midst of this hellish economy and the cover price increases. The thread obviously hit a nerve (at this writing it's at 120 responses and climbing), with most of the respondents saying they will be drastically cutting back their purchases, both out of economic necessity and as a form of protest.
Within that thread, a few posters recommended taking a look at various mail-order comic book retailers, most of whom offer deep discounts for new comics and reasonable shipping costs.
I'd been aware of these online services for years, but had never seriously considered them until this week. After checking a few of them out, I decided to take the plunge and order ALL of my June comics through an Indiana outfit calledHeroes Corner. The savings were amazing. A batch of comics retailing over $37 will cost me only $20. To further save costs, I chose the "once a month" shipping option (which costs only about $5.00), so we'll see how it goes getting all my comics at once at the end of the month instead of as a weekly "fix" (which I've been doing almost as long as I can remember).
A bit of an experiment, to be sure, but I think the reduced frequency of getting comics will also help out in the long run by "breaking the cycle" and making comics more of a vaguely anticipated "surprise" in my mailbox than a weekly "gotta get to the store" habit. Further saving me money is the Heroes Corner policy of shipping all comics bagged and boarded, another rising expense I'm more than happy to eliminate on my end.
So...we will see. If the service of Heroes Corner is as good as I think it will be, this may be the way to go from here on out. I have some regrets about abandoning my local comic book shop, but this dysfunctional status quo is unsustainable...and I will no longer be a part of it.
Of course, this big change shouldn't have much (if any) impact on Comic Coverage, since commentary on the weekly comics zeitgeist has never been my focus, and never will be. Nevertheless, I'd still love to hear what readers have to say about their own purchasing habits in light of the economy and the boneheaded $3.99 cover price looming before us. What are you guys doing? Cutting back? Joining a mail-order service like me? Quitting altogether? Post your thoughts!
Although Superman's villains don't enjoy as high a profile as, say, Batman's, most comic book fans are aware of Brainiac, an inhuman computer mind bent on destroying civilizations and stealing their knowledge.
However, modern fans may not be aware that Brainiac's earliest appearances portrayed him not as an malevolent computer, but as a living, green-skinned humanoid with an advanced intellect. Sort of an intergalactic version of Lex Luthor. In fact, his original design in Action Comics #242 (1958) didn't even include the telltale diodes that have criss-crossed the top of his head for decades (and, strangely, that same issue's cover).
Then, six years later in Superman #167, Brainiac was suddenly revealed to be the evil computer we're familiar with today. Why the sudden switch? For the answer, look no further than the Special Announcement printed on this issue's letters page:
Considering Otto Binder's affinity for actual science (which I infer from his work on Space World magazine), I'm guessing that his selection of the name "Brainiac" may not have been the "remarkable coincidence" the editor claimed it to be (perhaps under advisement from DC's legal department), but setting that aside, it IS pretty amazing to find out how DC Comics intersected with a guy like Berkeley (above inset photo), very much a "brainiac" himself in the nascent field of computer science & robotics.
So...how did DC respond to Mr. Berkeley's earlier claim to the term "Brainiac"?
Now, as much as I love the straight-forward innocence of these old letter pages, the 21st century cynic in me wants to peek a little further behind the scenes. In other words, was this public acknowledgment of the name duplication, and DC's decision to make Brainaic a "computer personality" enough for Edmund C. Berkeley and/or those representing his interests (i.e. "lawyers")? My answer seems to materialize in the very next paragraph, as DC hypes the living daylights out of Mr. Berkeley's "Brainiac" home computer kit...a little quid quo pro, perhaps?
Far be it from me to just end it here, right? After reading about this mysterious Brainiac Computer Kit, I just had to see a visual. After a bit of searching, I finally found a shot of an original kit in all of its "less than $20" glory. What do you think...does that look "simple" enough to construct at home?
It's a special edition of Real-Life Superheroes, as we take a look at British sensation (and recent World Record setter) Bananaman! From the BBC (interspersed with my own commentary):
A man who took part in the London marathon dressed as Bananaman has set a new record for the fastest runner dressed as a cartoon character.
ME: Bananaman is a long-running superhero parody published in Great Britain. Poking fun at characters like Superman and Marvelman (a Captain Marvel knock-off) Bananaman gains (and augments) his powers by...you guessed it...eating bananas.
Darren Stone, 22, from Taunton, Somerset, took three hours, 36 minutes and seven seconds to complete the race.
ME: "Taunton"? As in "smelly Hothian beast of burden"? Oh, wait...that's "tauntaun". Carry on.
"You go through moments when you slow up and other runners tap you on the back and say 'come on Bananaman you can do it' - it's unreal," he said.
Mr Stone's achievement has been confirmed by Guinness World Records.
ME: Is it safe to say that the Guinness Book has now officially run out of ideas for world record categories?
"I checked on the internet because I wasn't sure how the other cartoon characters had done," he said.
"I scouted out before that Danger Mouse would be my main competitor but I have heard that I've got the record," he added.
ME: Danger Mouse--yet another British cartoon character.
Darren Stone completed the marathon in three hours, 36 minutes and seven seconds.
ME: So there you go: the time for all of you challengers to beat!
Mr. Stone, who runs a cafe in Taunton town centre, said he chose to run as a cartoon character because his business is next door to a fancy dress hire shop.
ME: My guess is that a "fancy dress hire shop" translates to a "costume shop" here in the States.
"They wanted me to run as Buzz Lightyear but the costume was too heavy," said Mr Stone.
"It was so hot that once I started sweating the suit just doubled in weight anyway," he said.
ME: Bananas and intense body odor. Not a good combo.
"I'm in a world of pain now but finishing was the best feeling I've ever had.
ME: Yeah....kinda like that time I stopped pounding my head with a hammer. Best feeling I've ever had.
Mr Stone, a semi-professional footballer, has raised £1,400 for the St. Margaret's Hospice in Taunton but hopes to reach his goal of £2,000.
ME: In all seriousness, THAT'S some truly heroic work! Great work, Mr. Stone!